It’s the worst time of year during the best time of year, the best being football season, and the worst being your favorite team’s bye week. While seemingly every other fan is enjoying their football Sunday, you’re watching Red Zone or checking on your fantasy team’s stats, hoping that these miscellaneous football-related mediums will fill the temporary void in your heart, all the while Counting Crows plays in the back of your mind. You don’t know what you got til it’s gone.
So let’s do the thing that gets us by during the dog days of summer, during the grind of OTAs and minicamp, when we find ourselves watching game replays on NFL Network, or mindlessly arguing on Twitter about the merits of playing Jayron Kearse or Anthony Harris in place of Andrew Sendejo. Let’s talk about it. Let’s speculate on the Vikings’ season so far, and where the fan community stands right now.
Sports And The Art of Speculation
This is something that’s brought up a lot during the offseason that really bugs me, and heading into the bye week with a 6-2 record, it’s a mantra I keep reading on various social media platforms:
“Just enjoy the win.”
“Why are people complaining when we’re 6-2?”
“I’m so tired of people debating things they can’t control.”
“I don’t care who starts, as long as we win.”
It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, whether we’re in Mock Draft season, midseason, or postseason. There will always be someone there to shame you for discussing your favorite sports team in terms that aren’t purely present-tense. There’s this odd behavior that many of us share as sports fans where we consider speculation to be some kind of dirty habit, especially when we begin calling one another’s expertise into question.
Folks, outside of the final score of the game, there is no purity in discussing sports.
Whether it’s stats, draft or free agent acquisitions, chemistry between players, or those good ol’ “it” or “clutch” factors that Teddy Bridgewater fans like myself like to babble incessantly about, almost everything we discuss with each other when it comes to sports requires some measure of context, and when you’re dealing with context, you likely need someone’s opinion to interpret what it means, and when you’re using an opinion as an instrument to determine the value of something, even the smartest football minds will get it wrong sometimes. So yes, when it comes to discussing what will happen or who will outperform who, speculation is largely pointless. So why do it?
Because it’s fun. Sports is supposed to be fun. There’s no law that says we need to take things so seriously. Of course we’re enjoying the win (plural, if you’re a Vikings fan!). And we want to keep winning, so what do we do if we’re sports fans? We BS with that fellow fan we know at work. We engage in conversation with a stranger sitting next to us at the bar who happens to be wearing a purple T-shirt. And when all else fails, we get online and discuss it with people that have the same rooting interests. We talk about how we can keep winning moving forward. We’re never satisfied with a regular season victory, who are we kidding? We want a damn Superbowl, homeboy, and we gravitate towards ideas that we think will get us there. And if the season is lost? Hell yeah, show me those mock drafts. I don’t care that they’re bound to be wildly inaccurate this time of year, it’s fun to talk about.
It’s okay to be wrong. It’s also okay to have an opinion that’s based purely on gut instinct, even if stats or film don’t correlate with your prediction. It’s football, and crazy things happen sometimes. If the guy sitting next to me at the bar thinks Kyle Sloter is the quarterback of the future for the Vikings, I’m probably going to think he’s out of his damn mind, but I’d rather talk about that with him than have the conversation go something like this:
“So…33-16 last Sunday, huh?”
“Yep. We won the game.”
“So what’d you think about Case Kee-”
“Look, man, I don’t like to speculate. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We won the game, that’s all that matters.”
You probably wouldn’t say something like that to someone in person, so why do it online? It’s okay. Go nuts. It’s only football.
Hot Hand Case & Teddy Two Gloves
This really is the most Vikings debacle ever. When the season began, I knew we’d eventually have a real QB debate that didn’t involve pure hypotheticals thrown around on the Twittersphere. I figured it would go something like this: Sam Bradford would start hot, cool down towards the bye week with some off games, and Teddy would get activated, plunging us deep into a hurricane of hot takes. Nothing is official on Bradford, but the combination of rumors from insider sources and how he looked against Chicago, I’m guessing Sammy Sleeves won’t be in the equation for the remainder of the season, likely ending his career as a Viking. Not to worry, however. The play of Case Keenum is somehow generating a controversy in the wake of Teddy Bridgewater’s expected activation.
Am I nuts in thinking that this shouldn’t even be close in terms of debate? Case Keenum isn’t losing us games, but I’m not sure how anyone can believe he’s winning them. I can’t recall a single pass made by him that didn’t appear to be completed by the receiver taking extra effort to get into the right position to make the catch. He’s routinely missing open receivers, remaining locked into his first read. Both @JoshMenschNFL and @JReidDraftScout have excellent breakdowns of Case’s flaws on their Twitter timelines from the London games.
Is he performing at a level you would expect a backup to? In that regard, he’s exceeding expectations. But after perusing social media the last couple weeks, and listening to callers on KFAN a few days ago, I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that at least half of our fan base thinks we need to stick with Keenum for the foreseeable future as the starter.
The level of success we’ve seen from Keenum is barely sustainable for the remainder of the regular season, and it’s certainly not going to win us a playoff game. This Vikings team is solid. Our defense is playing at a near-elite level, Pat Shurmur is calling plays like a wizard, and we finally – finally – have some above-average offensive line play. We don’t need Brett Favre to don the purple jersey again. But we do need quarterback play that is above backup caliber, even if it’s solid backup caliber like we’re currently getting from Case, if we want to see a deep playoff run for our beloved Vikings.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” This offense is a lot like a vehicle that starts, runs, has well-maintained fluid levels, proper inflation in the tires, and windshield wipers that kind of smear the glass when they’re used. Sure, your vehicle isn’t technically broken. It’ll get you into town so you can do your grocery shopping on a clear Sunday afternoon, but the playoffs won’t be a brisk October day. It’ll be a January snowstorm, and while you could risk just keep driving with those old, ratty windshield wipers, you’re far less likely to crash into a guardrail if you went ahead and replaced them now.
Friends, Teddy Bridgewater is the new set of windshield wipers. Despite what many on Twitter believe, I’m not calling him the next Tom Brady. I’m not calling him elite. I’m not denying that he isn’t a risk, given the gruesome injury he suffered last year. But if he can come anywhere close to what he was playing at before he went down, we have a much higher chance of weathering the storm than we do with Case Keenum. It’s a risk that we need to take if we’re not satisfied with the moral victory of just making the playoffs, and with the rest of this roster, we shouldn’t be. Our expectations should be nothing less than the NFC Championship game.
I feel prompted to spend a great deal of time defending the talent of Teddy Bridgewater, but I’m really exhausted with it. You can’t discuss the merits of his play pre-injury without someone coming out of the woodwork to say “14 TDs!” or “It was because of AP!” (which always prompts some Sooner purist to lecture you about how his nickname is AD – we get it, guys. Let it go). It’s unending, like that hydra in Disney’s Hercules. Slice one head off, and three more grow in its place, all chanting the same phrases over and over again.
Let’s just get a couple bulletpoints straight.
- Teddy is not a read-option or scrambling quarterback.
- Despite not having the strongest arm, Teddy is capable of throwing downfield when he’s asked to.
- A large volume of carries for a runningback doesn’t always translate to benefiting a young QB.
- Intermediate accuracy is a strength of Teddy’s and could make our receivers look even better.
The Adrian thing bothers me the most. We usually identify a productive runningback as a benefit to a young quarterback. The theory, of course, is that they’ll take the pressure off by either relieving them of the need to pass, or giving them a favorable distance to the first down marker if the situation calls for it. Not only did we give Adrian the most carries in the league by far in 2015 with 327 runs, many of those plays resulted in a short gain or a loss of yards. This was Adrian’s historic calling card. Bust, bust, and then boom, a massive gain, though we saw a lot less of the booms behind a terrible offensive line. And what happened when it didn’t work? We put our young quarterback in a 3rd-and-long obvious passing situation and a 7-step drop that had him running for his damn life because our tackles were the equivalent of traffic cones with inflatable arms.
Yeah, not exactly a recipe for success. Look, we can talk about whether or not Teddy Bridgewater is a viable quarterback for the future of this team, but can we please stop with this silliness about how he should have looked like an MVP-caliber quarterback with Adrian Peterson in the backfield?
If there’s any question about whether or not Teddy can “make the throws”, I encourage you to check out this thread by Jonathan Kinsley (@Brickwallblitz) on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Brickwallblitz/status/877402555407585280
I can’t say for sure what Teddy will look like coming back from injury. But if it’s anything like that, he’s our best shot at having home-field advantage in the Super Bowl this year.
Adam Thielen is a Star, For Better Or Worse
We all know the story of Adam Thielen, Pride of Detroit Lakes, by now. Every television network that has broadcasted a Vikings game has beat the story to death, perhaps desensitizing us to what is still an incredible ascension to where he is now. It feels like we’ve placed a ceiling on Thielen’s potential since his first training camp with the team, and each season he busts through it, only to Superman his way through the next limit we box him into. I’ll admit that I fully expected his level of play to plateau after a full season of tape for opponents to watch and adjust accordingly to.
It hasn’t mattered. Thielen is still producing like an upper echelon receiver, even with Case Keenum under center for the majority of this season. Even when Stefon Diggs is sidelined with injury, it still feels like number 19 gives you pretty good odds for an incredible catch if you chuck it in his direction. It’s the ultimate point of pride for “One of Us” Nation.
Adam Thielen is a budding star, but his evolution into the role has given us more than just spectacular play, and I can’t help but feel bothered by it.
There are few things more annoying to me in a football game than a player that won’t cease their endless begging for flags. Besides his otherworldly ability to consistently beat up on my favorite team and keep our rivals in the playoff hunt season after season, one thing that irritates me to no end when watching Aaron Rodgers is how the cameras always seem to show him in the aftermath of a play with his arms in the air anytime a defender is close enough to smell his receiver’s sweat-soaked shoulderpads. That incredulous slack-jawed expression makes it so easy to root against him, especially when he follows it up with a lower-lip pout that you could land a damn plane on. Matthew Stafford has a penchant for this, too, but I’ve always thought the Vikings were relatively clean in terms of habitual flag beggars.
Thielen has taken that mantle. It seems like every single time there’s a shot of him on the field in the aftermath of a play, he’s jawing at some ref or throwing his arms in the air. Our unlikely star receiver has developed some diva along with his receiver prowess, and this aspect of his game just rubs me the wrong way.
I don’t know if it has any kind of real impact on the game. You could make arguments that his Offensive Pass Interference call against Baltimore was retaliation by the referees, and you could debate that his protests earned him a call in the endzone against Cleveland, aided with some savvy theatrics. It’s hard to quantify what the impact is, but as a fan watching from his couch, I feel like it’s only fair for me to give it proper scrutiny when I’ve complained about the same behavior from rival teams.
Maybe just dial it back a little, Adam.
To conclude, I’d like to offer a few rapid-fire apologies to those I owe them to, from either public or privately stated criticism:
Pat Shurmur: I had little to no faith in our offense’s ability to look anything more than a Jarvis Landry Completion Simulator this season, especially after those first couple preseason games. I’m sorry I doubted you, Shurmur. Please stay.
Riley Reiff & Mike Remmers: I understood why Rick had to make the move, and that it’s not always possible or even logical to go after the most-sought free agent at every position of need. Still, I thought these were weak signings early on, and I thought that even a slim upgrade wouldn’t provide the needed contribution to our offense. Neither have been perfect, and maybe this is more a testament to how apocalyptic things really were with TJ Clemmings on either side, but I couldn’t be happier with our offensive line play, and it’s largely in part due to these guys.
Trae Waynes: I’m not ready to budge on him being a “good” cornerback yet, and I still think he’s being largely overrated by the fan base. That said, I called for him to be benched multiple times early on this season, and that would have been a mistake. He’s been serviceable, especially for the volume of passes being tossed his way.
Everson Griffen: This fear was private, but his extension made me nervous. I was worried about a dropoff in production this season due to age and lack of sack totals against some suspect backup tackles last season. Clearly, I don’t know anything about football.
That’s all I’ve got for now. Stay strong this weekend, Vikings family. We’ll get through this together.