How good are the Minnesota Vikings? Christopher Gates of SB Nation’s Daily Norseman takes on that and more in this week’s ‘5 questions’ segment as the New York Giants prep to face those Vikings on Saturday.
Ed: The Vikings have a point differential of only +2, extremely low for a team with an 11-3 record. How good is this team? Is it a true championship contender?
Christopher: I do think this team has an above-average level of talent, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. It definitely hasn’t been pretty all the time, but as a pretty famous football coach once said, “You are what your record says you are,” and right now the Vikings’ record says that there’s only one team in the NFL that has won more games than they have. I think they can definitely contend for a championship but there are things that they certainly need to fix, specifically the constantly disappearing pass rush and an offense that seems to take a nap for a stretch in each game. If they could be a more consistent team for 60 minutes each week I think it would go a long way toward dispelling some of the doubts that people have about them, but that hasn’t been the way things have gone this season. For whatever reason, this team seems to have a real aversion to making things easy on themselves and would rather take the most difficult route possible to winning football games. The numbers say that it isn’t sustainable, but they’ve managed to sustain it for 14 games this season, so maybe it is. I think they can be better, but they’ve still been pretty good so far this year for the most part.
Ed: What does Kevin O’Connell, in his first year as head coach, bring to the table that helps the Vikings?
Christopher: The biggest thing that O’Connell has brought to the franchise is a culture shift. Towards the end of the Mike Zimmer era, there was just some sort of gloom that seemed to be hanging over the team and they were completely unable to deal with any sort of adversity. They’d have one bad thing happen over the course of a game and it would completely snowball until they couldn’t get themselves out from underneath it. Under O’Connell, this team truly never believes that they’re out of it, as we saw this past weekend against Indianapolis. O’Connell has this team believing in itself and he’s made it clear that he believes in Kirk Cousins, which is something that we never really got from Zimmer, either. As the second-youngest coach in the National Football League, he has a fresh perspective on things and his enthusiasm has really seemed to rub off on the rest of the team. There’s just a totally different vibe coming off of this team than there has been over the past couple of seasons, and I think that’s almost completely attributable to Kevin O’Connell and the GM that hired him, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah.
Ed: If you could take one player off the Giants’ roster and put him in the Vikings’ lineup, who would it be? Why?
Christopher: I’m gonna take the ridiculously obvious choice on this one and go with Kayvon Thibodeaux. In the National Football League you can’t have enough pass rushers, and even with Za’Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter on the defensive side of the ball this team has had stretches where they can’t even sniff an opposing quarterback. Thibodeaux would immediately help to change that. We saw what he did in the Sunday Night game against Washington this past week and he’s only going to get better. He’s also got the athletic ability to be an outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme that the Vikings are transitioning into after so many years of running a 4-3. Thibodeaux is a guy who is going to make life miserable for opposing offensive coordinators for the next decade, and I would absolutely jump at the opportunity to bring him to Minnesota.
Ed: The Giants face a second-contract decision with Saquon Barkley. Considering Minnesota’s experience with Dalvin Cook, should the Giants have any hesitation to give Barkley big money?
Christopher: I’m firmly in the camp that believes that you don’t give a big second contract to a running back in today’s NFL. Even if a back is truly special, like a Saquon Barkley or a Dalvin Cook, as long as there’s a salary cap in this league you’re going to have to put your roster together wisely. And if there’s one position on the football field you can save quite a bit of money at, it’s running back. They tend to wear down and slow down faster than any position in the league because of the amount of contact they deal with, and usually by the time you get them halfway through a second contract they’ve already started to slow down and you’re on the hook for a huge cap figure. We’ve seen teams in this league like the 49ers (pre-Christian McCaffrey trade) roll out a bunch of running backs you’ve never heard of and still have one of the most dynamic rush offenses in the league, which frees up money to be spent elsewhere. I know that fans would hate to see a player like Barkley walk away, but for the long-term it might end up being what’s best for the franchise.
Ed: The Vikings are favored. Are you picking them to win? If the Giants are able to pull off the upset, what is that likely to look like?
Christopher: I do think the Vikings are going to win this game, and it’s probably going to be a nip-and-tuck, down-to-the-wire roller coaster ride like pretty much every other Vikings win this season. That’s just what this team does. If it’s a close game late in the contest, this team firmly believes they’re going to find a way to pull things out. If the Giants do pull off the upset, it’s probably going to be because the Vikings didn’t get significant pressure on Daniel Jones (again) and the secondary gave up some big chunk plays to the Giants’ receivers, in addition to the Giants finding a way to at least slow down Justin Jefferson and harass Kirk Cousins to keep him off his mark.