The Minnesota Vikings opened their 2017 season with a 29-19 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Monday night, getting a season opening win for the second straight year. This victory, however, was much different from last year’s opening game.
Unlike last season where the Vikings defense had to produce points in order for the Vikings to win the game, this game saw what many hope is an offense that can finally complement an elite-level defense.
That defense, minus the takeaways in this game, put up a repeat of last season’s opening performance by making the Saints offense one-dimensional and forcing Saints quarterback, Drew Brees, to beat them through the air. Overall, the Vikings got one of their most balanced performances in more than a year.
Rushing – For much of the first half of the game, the running game didn’t seem to have improved much from last season. By the end of the game, the floodgates had broken open as rookie running back, Dalvin Cook, had racked up 127 yards on 22 carries. It was a slow build as the Vikings stuck with the run until eventually the Saints’ defensive front had been worn down. Though the offensive line’s performance was a catalyst for the running game, there were still some points of concern, such as the interior run blocking. Aside from that, this was an overall good start.
Grade – B+
Passing – This was the kind of show that Vikings fans had been waiting to see: a passing game that was firing on all cylinders. It took over a quarter to do it but when quarterback, Sam Bradford, finally started throwing deep, it was essentially game over from that point forward. Receivers Adam Theilen and Stefon Diggs ran rough shot all over the Saints’ secondary all game long. The offensive line was absolutely outstanding in pass protection, allowing just one sack and an additional hit. The passing attack helped to set up the running game’s success later in the second half.
Grade – A
A few dropped passes, some points left on the field, and the interior run blocking were the only things keeping this from being an A+ performance.
Total Offensive Grade – A-
Rushing – Being the biggest question mark on this side of the ball, the defense answered the call. They shut down what many thought would be one of the top rushing attacks heading into the 2017 season, holding the collective of former Viking running back Adrian Peterson, Mark Ingram, and rookie Alvin Kamara to a combined 53 yards; 60 yards total for the Saints. By the late third quarter, the running game was all but eliminated.
Grade – A+
Passing – Overall, they got the job done. The pass rush may not have taken down Brees often, but they did manage to keep the pressure on him and force him into several throws he didn’t want to make. The Saints receivers were largely ineffective against the Vikings secondary. Despite reaching the red zone four times, the Saints settled for field goals on three of those trips, and the one touchdown they did manage came after the game was out of reach. Though the Vikings gave up a lot of yards through the air, more than a third of that came on the Saints’ final two drives in garbage time.
Grade – B
A few penalties and a couple of big plays were about all that was really wrong with this group. Otherwise, it was another day at workshop for this group.
Total Defensive Grade – B+
With the Vikings offense coming through big, special teams was a limited factor but a positive one. Kai Forbath made all three field goal attempts but missed an extra point, something that may bear watching. Ryan Quigley was solid in his limited action, preventing any returns on his two punts. Jerrick McKinnon showed that he is very much capable of picking up the slack for departed kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson, averaging 27.0 yards on four returns. Marcus Sherels didn’t have many opportunities to break a punt return but was his usual, solid self in this one.
Total Special Teams Grade – B+
Overall, this was a great opener for Minnesota. There were some flaws, but there was plenty to be excited about in this one. The offense was clicking by the begin of the second half and the defense picked up where it had left off last season. What we saw in this game is the kind of formula for sustained success over a long season. If the Vikings can play similarly to this or better going forward, this has the makings of a special year for the purple and gold.
Week One Grade – A-