After Minnesota Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford lit up the New Orleans Saints defense for 346 yards and three touchdowns, the Vikings fanbase exploded with optimism. A season after the Vikings offense couldn’t hold its own alongside the league’s third-ranked defense, fans felt that the Vikings finally had a Super Bowl-contending recipe for success. Instead, Bradford was listed as questionable on the team’s injury report after being limited in practice all week. His availability is in question in the coming weeks and the Vikings offense brought back painful memories of Tarvaris Jackson-led teams. After seeing the peaks of week one, week two provided three less optimistic Vikings takeaways from their loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Week Two Minnesota Vikings Takeaways
1) Bradford’s Knee is a Big Issue
Whether it was precautionary or not, the decision to hold out Bradford was telling. The optimist will say that the team didn’t want to risk making a twice-repaired ACL worse against an out-of-conference opponent; but the fact that Bradford would be held out at anytime of a competitive season is troubling.
While one could blame the offensive line for Case Keenum‘s struggles yesterday, throwing 20 completions on 37 attempts for 167 yards and no touchdowns won’t win many games in the NFL. Keenum missed receivers and was quick to escape the pocket against the Steelers. Accumulating less than 50 percent of the week one aerial attack did little to calm concerns regarding Bradford’s knee.
Finally, even though coach Mike Zimmer assured the media in the post-game press conference that Bradford would be fine, there are reports that Bradford will have chronic issues with this knee that go beyond the 2017 season. He could potentially be dealing with discomfort and swelling as side-effects of his two past knee surgeries, and in a season that he and fellow ACL-plagued quarterback Teddy Bridgewater‘s futures are in the air, the Vikings front office has to weigh Bradford’s potential ability against his potential lack of availability. Next week’s game will be against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. An NFC opponent will weigh heavier against the Vikings, so his status next week will be very telling on how serious this knee injury is.
2) Penalties Killed Any Hope for a Big Underdog
The Vikings were underdogs heading into their matchup against the Steelers, but Bradford’s last-minute scratch forced the team into a situation where they needed to play near-flawlessly. Unfortunately, that didn’t last long.
The Vikings had 11 penalties for 131 yards, including an encroachment penalty by defensive end Brian Robison on a fourth-and-one play that extended the Steelers first touchdown drive in the first quarter. Multiple pass interference calls on Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes helped extend the first two touchdown drives and put the Vikings in a 14-0 hole that was never seriously threatened.
An offensive line that played very well against the New Orleans Saints in week one had its fair share of holdings that put the team in first-and-long situations that were too much to overcome with a backup quarterback. While the Steelers boast a strong front-seven, the line will be facing more tough tests this season, and this team isn’t built to pick up big chunks of yards consistently.
3) Just How Good is this Defense?
While the Vikings defense was far from poor, multiple penalties flipped field position and set up easy scores for a dangerous Steelers offense. Even with two sacks, the team could have added a few more as they flat out and allowed Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to move the chains. Roethlisberger ended up throwing 23 completions on 35 attempts for 243 yards and two touchdowns, and that isn’t factoring in deep shots that drew penalties.
The Vikings defense gave up 335 yards of total offense, and while that isn’t a horrendous stat, this is a team that is defined by a strong defense. When a big piece of the offensive lineup is out, the defense is expected to step up and make plays that keep the team competitive.
Finally, the team failed to register a turnover in its second straight game to open the season. While no one will question the unit’s effort in the season opener against the Saints, this was a game where a perceived strength on the team needed to lift up and carry a weak offense led by a backup quarterback. The run defense gave up 102 yards which was just enough to keep the defense on their heels.
So What Does it All Mean?
At best, this was an unfortunate situation where a tough road game was made tougher with the circumstances at quarterback. The offense showed little one week after lighting up a weak Saints defense. At worst, Bradford’s knee injury is long-term and this game foreshadows what the rest of the season holds. This may be a hiccup that most teams face in a given season, and a healthy Bradford facing the Buccaneers next week will provide a much better representation of the season than Sunday’s loss at Pittsburgh did.