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The Vikings Still Have Playoffs on the Brain

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After watching the Minnesota Vikings clumsily fall to the Dallas Cowboys on Halloween, you might’ve thrown in the towel.

But the team did not – not by a longshot.

The Cowboys upended the Vikings on Sunday Night Football for the masses to see, playing anemic offensive football while collapsing on defense in the game’s most crucial moments. Indeed, that combination is disappointing, yet it’s nothing new for the 2021 Vikings. The Week 4 contest at home versus the Cleveland Browns was essentially a cookie-cutter experience to the Cowboys gaffe. Minnesota scored on the first drive, convincing a home crowd “things were going to be all right.” Nobody knew those respective first-drive scores would be all she wrote for touchdowns. But they were.

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With a 3-4 record, the Vikings sat in an awkward spot at the trade deadline, which passed on Tuesday at 4:00pm. Would the team trade for a defensive end to replace Danielle Hunter, who will miss the remainder of 2021 with a torn pectoral muscle? Nope. Would general manager Rick Spielman conduct a mini-fire sale, unloading players on one-year contracts for draft picks? Nope.

The Vikings stayed put.

And that means they’re still intent on reaching the playoffs. Through eight weeks, Minnesota is a half game out of the NFC playoff picture, dealing with the depressive emotions of losing a primetime game at home to a team with a backup quarterback. Spielman could’ve surrendered, stockpiled draft picks – and maybe even fired head coach Mike Zimmer. But he did none of that.

Zimmer’s job security is still very much dicey, but he did survive the gut-wrenching loss to Dallas. That is probably an indicator Spielman will allow the Vikings skipper to sink or swim in the final 10 weeks of 2021. Unless there is an extremely bizarre back-alley deal, it is close to assured Zimmer will be terminated if the Vikings fail to qualify for the postseason. He’s been in charge for eight seasons, and if the Vikings don’t totally revamp this season, the Zimmer brand of Vikings will have missed the playoffs in five out of eight seasons – which is inexcusable for an otherwise good coach.

The Vikings would’ve traded players like Anthony Barr, Xavier Woods, Bashaud Breeland, Sheldon Richardson, or Everson Griffen if they did not believe the playoffs were achievable. They didn’t do it. Spielman is granting Zimmer one final “playoff push” with this core group of players – a bunch that, on paper, should be winning ballgames.

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So far in 2021, they’re losing more often than winning. And Zimmer will have to flip the win-loss record with a daunting slate of opponents. Up next for the Vikings is a rolling cross-country jaunt, seemingly every week: at Baltimore Ravens, at Los Angeles Chargers, home versus the Green Bay Packers, back west against the San Francisco 49ers. Then, a little relief sets in with a game at the Detroit Lions, a team that will have absolutely nothing to lose one month from now.

All the Vikings have to do is win without their best defensive player. Meanwhile, someone must get rid of the dink-and-dunk offensive playcalling approach because it ain’t working. If Hunter is reasonably replaced by someone like D.J. Wonnum or Patrick Jones II and the offense flashes back to its tendencies on display in Week 2 against the Arizona Cardinals, sure – the team can rebound.

Right now, though, that feels unlikely.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).

The post The Vikings Still Have Playoffs on the Brain appeared first on Vikings Territory.





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Who’s the New Guy on the Vikings?

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In the wake of Danielle Hunter’s season-ending injury – he tore his pectoral muscle in Sunday’s loss to the Dallas Cowboys – the Minnesota Vikings signed a depth player to possibly grab some pass-rushing snaps.

His name is Nate Orchard, a 2nd-Round pick by the Cleveland Browns in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Aug 30, 2018; Detroit, MI, USA; Cleveland Browns defensive end Nate Orchard (44). Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Orchard is a 28-year-old journeyman EDGE linebacker, spending time in multiple spots amid the last seven seasons. These are the teams that Orchard’s played for in some capacity:

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  • Cleveland Browns
  • Buffalo Bills
  • Kansas City Chiefs
  • Seattle Seahawks
  • Miami Dolphins
  • Washington Football Team
  • Houston Texans
  • Tennessee Titans
  • Minnesota Vikings

The Viking hopped on that list after a different free-agent signee, Jonah Williams, failed a physical and wound up not playing for the team in 2021. He was going to inhabit Orchard’s new role after a release by the Los Angeles Rams but no such luck.

Orchard joins a group of EDGE rushers for the Vikings that includes Everson Griffen, D.J. Wonnum, Patrick Jones II, and Kenny Willekes. The group is suddenly deprived of stardom without Hunter’s mighty reputation no longer attached. Wonnum is slated to start in Week 9 – he actually started to begin the season before Griffen seized his RDE job – and it is unclear how much tread Jones and Willekes will get in Mike Zimmer’s defense. This week, Zimmer called Jones a “violent and aggressive” pass rusher, precisely what is needed in Hunter’s absence.

In six seasons, Orchard has played in 46 games (13 starts) and tabulated six sacks, 85 total tackles, two forced fumbles, and 16 quarterback hits. His best season was 2015, the rookie campaign for the Utah alumnus. He played 48% of all defensive snaps that season, never playing more than that for a team again inside a single season. Recently with Washington, Orchard was afforded more special teams work than on the defensive side of the ball.

Named Napa’a Lilo Fakahafua at birth, here’s the new Viking’s Pro Football Focus resume:

  • 2020: 67.7
  • 2019: 67.0
  • 2018: 54.3
  • 2017: 66.3
  • 2016: 40.0
  • 2015: 64.8

He’s likely not a savior for Minnesota’s pretty-good defense – few are other than Hunter – so expect him to play a role as Jordan Brailford did in 2020. If he’s activated to the gameday roster, Orchard could see a few snaps here and there. Otherwise, the Vikings have more invested in Wonnum, Jones, and Willekes.

Through eight weeks, the Vikings defense ranks fourth-best in the NFL for defensive DVOA, but it has a nasty habit of collapsing late in games — see: Detroit Lions, Carolina Panthers, and Dallas Cowboys contests. They’re executing plenty of bend-don’t-break in the middle of football games — which is great — but crunchtime has been disappointing for Zimmer’s defense. And now with Hunter lost, the prognosis is grimmer. Without Hunter last year, the Vikings pass rush was awful. Perhaps Orchard will see some action if Wonnum, Jones, and Willekes underwhelm or get injured.

Orchard is of Tongan descent.

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Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).

The post Who’s the New Guy on the Vikings? appeared first on Vikings Territory.





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The View from Purple PTSD: Kyle Shanahan and Minnesota, Zimmer Hot Seat, and the Return of Adrian Peterson

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The sister-site to VikingsTerritory is PurplePTSD.com, and the guys and gals over there roll out the Minnesota Vikings analysis just as much as we do.

Here is some of their top content for the week.


The article was jointly posted on VikingsTerritory and PurplePTSD. It was authored by Wesley Johnson and singlehandedly started the Shanahan-to-Vikings discourse.

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The Zimmer hot seat chatter is fierce, and a man from Brazil has thoughts on the eventual replacement.

PPTSD editor Kyle Joudry has analysis on Peterson’s spot in history.

Noah Moore bemoans the Vikings third-down woes.

And finally, an explanation of why Zimmer’s rump is toasty.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).

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The post The View from Purple PTSD: Kyle Shanahan and Minnesota, Zimmer Hot Seat, and the Return of Adrian Peterson appeared first on Vikings Territory.





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The GM’s View: Keys to Vikings Beating Ravens in Swing Game

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Vikings Insider, The GM’s View

The Vikings season is at a crossroads over the next few weeks, beginning with another swing game at Baltimore Sunday.

Find a way to win, and the Purple are back to .500 at 4-4 and possibly holding the final NFC playoff spot if the Patriots beat the Panthers as expected. If the Vikings fall to Lamar Jackson and the Ravens, they’ll sit at 3-5 with a tough couple weeks ahead at the Chargers and hosting the Packers before another tough road game at the 49ers.

The 5-2 Ravens are coming off their bye that followed a surprising 41-17 thrashing at the hands of the Bengals. They have a narrow lead in the AFC North over Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, plus several close wins, including over Detroit on an NFL record 66-yard field goal by Justin Tucker. And there were exciting comeback wins over the Chiefs and Colts where Jackson flashed his MVP form.

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But the Bengals showed that Baltimore could be beaten with a prolific passing attack as Joe Burrow threw for 416 yards and three touchdowns, while Ja’Marr Chase had eight receptions for 201 yards and one touchdown.

Here are my keys to the Vikings beating the Ravens in what should be a high scoring game:
1. Offensively, get back to what worked in Carolina in Week 6 when Minnesota had 571 yards total offense, running and throwing it well against a good defense. The Vikings wide receivers were targeted 37 times (Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and K.J. Osborn combined for 25 catches for 284 yards and 2 TDs).

Compare that to the Dallas game when that trio had a total of 16 targets, 10 catches, and 109 yards. This was due to Cousins’ excessive checkdowns to the backs and tight ends as he felt the heat from the Cowboys pass rush even when there was time to throw. Skittish Kirk must be replaced by the return of confident Kirk, and the offensive line must be better against an aggressive Ravens pass rush.

Center Garrett Bradbury has landed on the Covid list, so it appears he’s out for the Vikings game against the Ravens. I’d love to see third-rounder Wyatt Davis get a shot at center, but vet Mason Cole likely will start. Davis was last year’s Big Ten lineman of the year and is more stout than Bradbury, so it would be interesting to see him in action.

As for the line overall, blocking vet stalwarts Calais Campbell and Justin Houston on the edges will be critical, along with handling an impactful linebacker in Patrick Queen. The Bengals did help their offensive line with backs and tight ends staying in often to max protect.

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Cousins needs to take more chances and give Jefferson and Thielen opportunities to make contested catches, especially in single coverage. Give Jefferson a chance to do what his former LSU teammate, Chase, did in repeatedly beating Ravens corner Marlon Humphrey.

And get the ball to Vikings tight end Tyler Conklin, as the Ravens were torched by K.C.’s Travis Kelce and Cincinnati’s C.J. Uzomah.  Cousins has only thrown two interceptions this season, which is a nice stat, but perhaps that means he’s being overly cautious at times. 

Memo to Vikings offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak: the Ravens are dead last in the league in pass defense and were severely beaten on first-down throws by Burrow (10 of 14 for 192 yards and 2 TDs). Yes, Dalvin Cook always must get his touches rushing and receiving, but Baltimore is better in run defense (fourth-ranked, in part because teams are throwing more against them). Playing conservative is not the formula to beat Baltimore or really any NFL team as the Dallas fiasco proved.  

2. Defensivel — yikes. No Danielle Hunter spells big trouble for the Vikings pass rush, a unit that leads the league in sacks per game (3.4). Hunter was their best pass rusher and best chance to contain Jackson. Batten down the hatches as much as possible against the NFL’s No. 3 offense led by Jackson, who has had some monster games this season (including 442 passing yards and 62 rushing yards in the OT win over the Colts).

Mike Zimmer and his defensive coaches will try to copy what Cincinnati did in limiting Jackson to 257 passing yards, which was by applying pressure, especially from the defensive end spots (5 total sacks and 3.5 from the DEs). Jackson has been sacked 21 times in seven games this season, so the Ravens’ pass protection isn’t great.

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Vikings defensive end D.J. Wonnum must step up his play in Hunter’s spot. It will be a huge test for linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr to contain Jackson’s elite scrambling ability (he is the Ravens leading rusher with 480 yards).

Jackson throws to some talented receivers, including a top tight end in Mark Andrews and his wide receiver trio of Marquise Brown, Sammy Watkins, and former Gopher Rashod Bateman. If Jackson has time, I don’t like this matchup with the Vikings secondary still missing their best corner in Patrick Peterson.

3. On special teams, Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh is a former special teams coach, and his team always excels in this area. He has the league’s best kicker in Tucker (14 of 15 field goals this season), who has the edge over the Vikings’ up and down kicker Greg Joseph.

Jeff’s Prediction:

I think the Vikings offense will score more points and be better in the red zone this week (a point of emphasis from Coach Mike Zimmer). I see the Vikings keeping it close but ultimately falling short in a high-scoring game as Jackson, and his receiving corps will make the big plays late to get the win. I hope I’m wrong, but I’ll call it 34-27 Ravens over the Vikings.

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Around the NFL Observations:
1. What an awful story involving Raiders receiver Henry Ruggs who is charged with DWI resulting in death after he reportedly was driving 156 miles per hour when his car hit and killed a 23-year-old woman and her dog. I’m sure every coach in every sport in America is using the Ruggs case as an example to their players of terrible decision-making and disastrous results. 

2. Aaron Rodgers tests positive: the Packers QB lied when he told the media he was “immunized,” and now he’s landed on the COVID list due to his unvaccinated status. Jordan Love will start in K.C., and if he plays well, it could give the Packers more confidence if they decide to let Rodgers leave after this season.

3. Adrian Peterson to Titans: this could be a good fit for the former Vikings star as he has been signed by Tennessee to help replace superstar runner Derrick Henry. The 36-year-old Peterson will run behind one of the league’s best lines, so it will be interesting to see how well he performs.    

Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President, and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl.

The post The GM’s View: Keys to Vikings Beating Ravens in Swing Game appeared first on Vikings Territory.



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