Three Reasons to Not Panic About The Vikings After Week 1

Will Ragatz

It's both natural and understandable to overreact to the first game of any NFL season. After months upon months of speculating about what a team is going to look like, that first sample of real action arrives and briefly confirms all of the offseason's hopes or worries, depending on the outcome. It's a time that lends itself to bold proclamations and all-or-nothing thinking.

During the aftermath of Week 1, it's important to remember that what you just witnessed is merely one of 16 games. No matter how well or how badly things went, one game isn't enough of a sample size to accurately make broad conclusions about the quality of a team. Adjustments will be made, young players will develop, and things will stabilize.

That's arguably truer than ever in 2020. With no preseason games leading into this unusual NFL season, teams took the field this weekend knowing very little about what they would look like against an opponent wearing a different jersey. Every team learned a lot about themselves this weekend and will attempt to use that knowledge to get better going forward.

That's not to say you can't or shouldn't analyze what happened in the first week, nor that it's meaningless in any sense. When you give up 43 points and 522 yards like the Vikings' defense did on Sunday, there's plenty of reason to be legitimately concerned. Being blown out in your own stadium by a division rival is a frustrating and disappointing way to start a season.

But again, it's just one game. Think back to 2015, when the Vikings opened their season with a 20-3 loss to the 49ers on Monday Night Football and went on to win the division. Or 2017, when a 26-9 loss to the Steelers in Week 2 was quickly forgotten in a 13-3 campaign.

In the case of the 2020 Vikings, this weekend's loss was a perfect storm that might have made things look worse than they really are. At least, that's the optimistic view of things that I'm choosing to explore in this article.

Here are three reasons why you shouldn't panic about the Vikings just yet.

1. This was a brutal matchup for a young group of cornerbacks

One of the most obvious takeaways from the 43-34 loss on Sunday is that the Vikings' young cornerbacks have a long way to go. Holton Hill, Mike Hughes, and rookie Cameron Dantzler all struggled mightily against Aaron Rodgers, allowing him to explode for 364 passing yards and four touchdowns. Not a single member of that trio proved capable of covering Davante Adams, who posted a 14-156-2 line seemingly without breaking a sweat.

But does that mean those corners are destined to play poorly all season long? Does it mean that their impressive performances in training camp meant nothing? Of course it doesn't.

Let's get one thing out of the way first: despite no longer being in his prime, Rodgers is still one of the most talented passers in this league. When he's on his game like he was Sunday, he's accurate, lethal, and capable of making throws that don't quite seem possible. Not to mention that Adams is a top-five receiver who has incredible chemistry with Rodgers as they kick off their seventh season together. 

Without any preseason action to get re-acclimated to the speed of the game, being thrown out there against Rodgers and Adams is a tough assignment for a trio of corners under the age of 24. 

Patience was always going to be important with this group, regardless of the outcome in Week 1. This was Hughes' sixth NFL start. It was Hill's fourth. It was the first NFL game of any kind for Dantzler. Give them the chance to watch the film and work with Mike Zimmer in practice this week, and let's see how they respond.

"We didn’t play very well defensively," Zimmer said. "We didn’t make enough plays. Guys got out of position a couple times. We’ll just get back to work; we’ll be alright.” 

It'll also be interesting to see if Jeff Gladney becomes a bigger part of the gameplan against the Colts next Sunday.

2. The pass rush wasn't at full strength

Rodgers took advantage of the Vikings' cornerbacks on Sunday, but he also took advantage of a complete lack of a pass rush. For the vast majority of the afternoon, he had just about all the time in the world to drop back and deliver throws from a clean pocket.

At some point this season – hopefully just a few weeks from now – the Vikings will unleash one of the best defensive end duos in the NFL. But on Sunday, they were missing half of that tandem, and the one guy they did have was dealing with circumstances that made it difficult to be effective.

Danielle Hunter is on injured reserve. He's arguably the best player on the Vikings' entire roster and would've made his presence felt if he were healthy and available for this game. Meanwhile, Yannick Ngakoue is still acclimating to his new surroundings and learning the Vikings' defense. Perhaps more importantly, he was slowed by an ankle injury and was frequently going up against All-Pro tackle David Bakhtiari.

The Vikings still have at least two more games without Hunter, so they need people like Ngakoue and Ifeadi Odenigbo – plus literally anyone else on the defensive line – to step up and put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Once those guys get rolling and Hunter returns to wreak havoc, this should once again be a highly disruptive group of pass rushers.

3. Outside of a nightmarish stretch, the offense did some good things

Yes, I know that heading might seem a bit ridiculous. You can't ignore what Kirk Cousins and the Vikings' offense did with the most important possessions of the game, and I'm not saying you should. After beginning the season with an excellent touchdown drive, here's what the offense did the next three times it got the ball:

  • Cousins sacked by blitzing Jaire Alexander for safety
  • Brian O'Neill beaten by Za'Darius Smith for sack, Vikings go three and out
  • Cousins throws worst pass of the day, intercepted by Alexander

That sequence, plus a couple of high-difficulty touchdown passes from Rodgers, helped turn a 7-3 lead into a 22-7 deficit in less than 12 minutes of game time. The Vikings also didn't score on their first two possessions of the third quarter, stalling at midfield and then failing to connect on a deep shot to Tajae Sharpe on 4th and 3 from Green Bay's 39. It was a rough stretch that led to the offense setting a franchise low in time of possession.

But if you'll bear with me, let's try to focus on the good things the offense did. 

The o-line, which remains an ongoing source of uncertainty, played better than many probably expected. The interior didn't cause any major problems, which is notable. O'Neill had a couple uncharacteristic mistakes (allowing a sack and committing a false start) that he'll clean up.

The running game was mostly effective, with Dalvin Cook scoring two touchdowns and Alexander Mattison quietly posting 80 yards from scrimmage on ten touches. Cousins even got involved as a scrambler, picking up first downs with his legs on consecutive plays.

Lastly, I know Cousins' big fourth quarter came in garbage time, but he and Adam Thielen offered some reason to believe that better days are ahead. They connected for two deep touchdowns, both of which were beautiful throws by Cousins on deep routes. Thielen finished with six catches for 110 yards and two scores, looking every bit like the elite receiver he was back in 2017 and 2018.

Justin Jefferson and Irv Smith Jr. also got involved with catches in the fourth quarter. With Cousins, Cook, and Thielen leading the way, those young guys should begin to play bigger roles going forward.

Is it possible that I'm just trying to talk myself into all of this and that the Vikings are on their way to a disappointing season? Of course it is. But I really do believe that it's too early to panic about this team. Let's be patient and wait a couple more weeks to start drawing major conclusions about the 2020 Vikings.

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