The Minnesota Vikings opened up their season with a big win over the San Francisco 49ers. The offense meshed well from the start, and the defense gave the 49ers trouble all day long. Sheldon Richardson, Mike Hughes, and Harrison Smith headline the best performances from week one.
The Vikings made a big splash this offseason with the signing of quarterback Kirk Cousins. That move was the talk of the off-season, and rightfully so, but the signing of Sheldon Richardson may have been more important. There is no doubt that Kirk Cousins is an upgrade over Case Keenum, and the Vikings needed to get a true franchise quarterback. But adding Richardson to the dominant front-seven will carry this team to a new level.
In March, Richardson signed a one-year deal to join the Vikings and try to win a championship. After one game, it is safe to say that the move is paying off. The stats do not tell the whole story from week one. Richardson only had six tackles and a half of a sack, but he had three quarterback hits. His pressure on Jimmy Garoppolo created opportunities for other players to make plays. The Vikings forced four turnovers, thanks in large part to Richardson.
Sheldon Richardson was awesome yesterday. Exactly what this defense needed at the 3T position pic.twitter.com/EvYIqAaP1l
— Josh Mensch (@JoshMenschNFL) September 10, 2018
Sheldon Richardson yesterday:
• Half a sack
• Two run stops
• Three QB hits
• Seven total pressures (leads all DTs)
• Third-best PFF grade among DTs, behind only Fletcher Cox and Linval Joseph pic.twitter.com/zJ2JmnRbG2
— Nick Olson (@NickOlsonNFL) September 10, 2018
It is unsure if Richardson will be a long-term option for the Vikings, but he is a stud for now and that is all that matters. He is the key to the team’s success in 2018.
The Vikings shocked a lot of people when they selected a cornerback instead of an offensive lineman in the first round back in April. Mike Zimmer loves his defensive backs and he grabbed Mike Hughes with the 30th pick in the 2018 draft. There is no question that the Vikings have a ton of depth in the secondary, and Hughes proved as much when he entered the game on Sunday. In the third quarter, Hughes intercepted a pass and returned it 28 yards for a touchdown.
A pick-6 in the NFL debut from the @UCF_Football rookie!
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) September 9, 2018
After the interception, Hughes made a big play in the end zone to deflect a pass and prevent the touchdown. Trae Waynes went down with an injury, and the rookie stepped up. Mackensie Alexander was inactive, giving Hughes the opportunity to play the nickel corner and eventually take over outside for Waynes. Hughes had his fair share of mistakes, but it was his first NFL action. His debut was impressive and he will be worth a deeper look throughout the season. If Trae Waynes, or any other cornerback, misses any significant time, the Vikings have a quality replacement in house. Hughes will have to be more consistent, however, as he was beaten from time to time.
#49ers rookie Dante Pettis was creating absurd amounts of separation all offseason. I was curious to see how he’d fare in the regular season. Here’s Pettis against the #Vikings’ first-round pick, Mike Hughes:
— Rob Lowder (@Rob_Lowder) September 10, 2018
Hughes will have a chance to shine as he joined arguably the best defense in the NFL. He isn’t considered a favorite to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award right now, but he might be soon. If Hughes makes plays on special teams, he will get his name out there even more. Of course, the award isn’t supposed to account for special teams, but big plays as a returner can only help Hughes’ case. There is a lot of excitement around the young defensive back.
Every time the 49ers seemed to be on the verge of a comeback, Harrison Smith made a play. He came up with a huge third-down sack on Garoppolo in the fourth quarter. He also stopped an outside run in the backfield, forcing a third-and-long. His eight tackles led the Vikings on Sunday, and he intercepted a pass in the final two minutes to seal the win. By now, it is no secret that Smith is the heart and soul of the defense.
Harrison Smith making an early head start on his Defensive Player of the Year campaign:
• One sack,
• Two tackles for loss,
• One goal line stop
• One goal line fumble recovery
• And the game-winning interception. pic.twitter.com/E84vMGFWff
— Nick Olson (@NickOlsonNFL) September 9, 2018
The best player on the best defense in the league always answers the call. Mike Zimmer calls upon Smith when he needs a big stop, and Smith delivers with consistency. Hopefully, the 2018 season will bring more respect to Smith’s name and he won’t initially be overlooked for accolades. Smith was named the NFC defensive player of the week on Tuesday.
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