We release two Minnesota Sports Ramble blogs a week, one on Tuesday (Minnesota Vikings related) and one on Thursday (Minnesota Wild and Minnesota Timberwolves related).
In this debut edition, Vikings analyst (and Sports Ramble podcast co-host) Mike Coenen and Rambling On founder Erik Ritland assess the Vikings 2018 season so far. They also look ahead to what they have to do to be successful for the rest of the year.
We’re a quarter of the way through the season. What has surprised you most about how the Vikings have performed?
Mike Coenen: The defense is surprisingly mediocre, with flashes of being downright bad. The pass rush has been almost nonexistent, the secondary play has been terrible, receivers are getting wide open on a regular basis, and quarterbacks are getting a lot of time to throw. It's a bad combination, and teams are taking advantage of it.
Erik Ritland: Obviously, how poorly their defense has played has been a huge disappointment. However, how poorly special teams has played is getting lost in the shuffle. Wasted draft pick Daniel Carlson didn't last to the third game, the blocked punt in Green Bay had consequences, and the punting game in general has been underwhelming. It's hard to compete with how far the defense has fallen, though
What grades would you give the quarterback and offense?
MC: I would give Kirk Cousins an A-. A lot of people might not agree with that, but he has actually played well, considering the fact the offensive line play has been as bad, if not worse, than expected. He has a 10/2 TD/INT ratio and has completed 69% of his passes through four games. He's on pace to have solid pro-bowl caliber numbers.
The offense as a whole has played relatively well, again, despite the fact that the offensive line is really bad. The running game has suffered the most as a result of the poor offensive line play. Dalvin Cook is not the problem. He has nobody up front blocking for him. The Vikings are also sporting two elite wide receivers in Thielen and Diggs. The offensive line drags the overall grade for the offense down to a B-.
The defense gets a C-. This unit was supposed to be the league's best. Instead, they have looked slow, soft, disorganized, and even inept at times. The defensive problems are more disconcerting than the poor offensive line play. Nobody thought the O line would be any good, but everybody expected the D to be extremely good, and what we have is something subpar.
ER: Looking back at his career, the inconsistent start of Kirk Cousins isn’t surprising. He’s always been a streaky, feast or famine sort of guy. Considering the performance of Case Keenum and Sam Bradford, he was obviously still the right choice, but he’s still the third (maybe fourth?) best quarterback in the NFC North. All you can do is hope that he plays more like he did against the Rams and the second half of the Packer game rather than how he played against the Bills. Grade: C+.
As far as the offense goes, the inability of Dalvin Cook to stay healthy has been pretty difficult to overcome. Combine that with the offensive line playing pretty poorly – it was their fault that Cousins got strip sacked at the end of the Rams game – and things haven’t looked pretty. The combination of Cousins, Rudolph, Diggs, and Thielen has still had plenty of good moments, though, and they alone have the ability to keep the team in games. Grade: B-
What did you expect going into the Rams game? How disappointed were you in the Vikings loss, and what if anything gave you hope?
MC: I did not know what to expect from the Vikings going into the Rams game. I was confident they would play better than they did against the Bills, which of course would not have taken much effort. I did not think they would win, however. The Rams are just too good, and their offense has been hitting on all cylinders thus far this season, as they did again on Thursday against the Vikings. The Vikings offense played well, however, which gave me hope.
ER: I expected the Vikings to look pretty good and maybe even win. They had a chip on their shoulder, and the Rams defense was dealing with some key injuries. It all came down to the Vikings offense being able to keep up with that of the Rams, and they almost did. The loss gave me a modicum of hope that, even if the defense stays as shaky as it has been, Cousins and company can still keep them in the game.
Do you think the Vikings will beat the struggling Eagles this Sunday? Why or why not?
MC: The Vikings have a 50/50 shot. They will put forth their strongest effort of the season, simply out of desperation. It may or may not be enough to beat the Eagles.
ER: I think they’ll easily win this game. The Eagles are having a really bad post-Super Bowl slump and the Vikings are out for blood. Like the Rams game, it’ll be high flying, but I think the reeling Eagles will continue their downward spiral.
You predicted the Vikings would go 12-4 and be one of the best teams in the league. Do you still think that’ll be true?
MC: Through the first four games the Vikings have not been a 12-4 caliber team. At 1-2-1 there is still time to right the ship, however. It is still early in the season. The pieces are there. They have to figure out what the problem is, particularly on defense.
ER: Well, obviously they can't go 12-4 now, considering that they tied the Packers haha. A lot is riding on the Eagles game. If they’re able to build off the Rams game, and if the defense is able to get itself together, they could still win a handful of more games. Winning 12 is a stretch, but 10 isn’t, and that could still win the division.
With the Bears overachieving, and the Lions even beating the Patriots and making all of their games competitive, do you think that there will be a real race for the NFC North?
MC: The North appears to be more competitive than I thought it would be. The Vikings and Packers don’t seem as good, while the Bears and Lions don’t seem as bad. I am still confident that the Vikings and Packers will emerge as the two better teams, while the Bears and Lions will both struggle to get to 500. It usually takes about eight weeks for things to shake out, and for the pretenders to fall to the wayside. The Bears and Lions are pretenders.
ER: This has turned out to be a scrappy as heck division. The Packers and Vikings are underwhelming, the Bears look sort of legitimate, and the Lions are quietly not doing as poorly as their record indicates. That being said, I absolutely think the NFC North will be a real race. As I predicted at the beginning of the season, I still see the Packers pulling it out, but I wouldn’t be surprised if each team in the division wins 8-10 games.
Mike Coenen is a writer, historian, professor, and author from Little Falls, Minnesota. He is the Vikings analyst for Rambling On and is the co-host of the Minnesota Sports Ramble podcast. Since 2016 he has been creating content for Rambling On as sports analyst and podcast co-host.
Erik Ritland is a writer and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. Founder of Rambling On, he has written hundreds of articles and hosted almost a hundred podcasts. He also directs all of the content on Rambling On, created and maintains the website, and is social media content director. Previously, he was Lead Staff Writer for Minnesota culture blog Curious North. Support Erik's music by visiting his music page or buying his music on BandCamp, reach him via email, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.