The Minnesota Vikings came into Philadelphia favored by 3 points in the NFC Championship, but suffered an ugly loss to the underdogs.
Riding the wave of one of the greatest game finishes in NFL history in their 29-24 win over New Orleans, the Purple People Eaters made the trip east to Lincoln Financial Field for a shot at Super Bowl LII. A night which expected an epic matchup of two of the league’s best defenses yielded a show that was tough to watch. Minnesota lost 38-7 and ratings for the evening conference championship game this season were down 12% from last year.
What Happened Against Philadelphia:
Minnesota started off about as strong as they could have hoped for, scoring on a 25-yard touchdown from Case Keenum to Kyle Rudolph to go up 7-0 in the first five minutes of the contest. Pressure from Eagles defensive end Chris Long on Keenum forced a Patrick Robinson interception that was taken all the way from midfield to the end zone to get Philly started. From that point on, the Eagles defense didn’t miss a beat, while the Vikings D gave up one big play after another.
The Eagles running game, led by LeGarrette Blount, was a force throughout the night. Philadelphia took the lead on an 11-yard run from Blount in the second quarter. Then, Eagles quarterback Nick Foles went to the air, getting Alshon Jeffrey, Zach Ertz, Torrey Smith, involved in the downfield passing game, including touchdown connections from 41 and 53 yards out.
Key Play: 41-yard Touchdown Pass from Nick Foles to Torrey Smith in the 3rd Quarter
Down 24-7 at halftime, Minnesota faced a tough uphill battle. The Eagles came out of the locker room swinging however, and this flee flicker toss to Smith to start the second half sealed the Viking’s fate:
Key Stat: Vikings 0-3 in the Red zone
The 38-7 final score wasn’t an accurate representation of how these teams played each other throughout the evening. A fumble and an interception from Keenum, followed by a turnover on downs spoiled any shot the Vikings had at a comeback. Minnesota’s inability to produce anything in the red zone left no chance of a close game.
The Biggest Issue Of The Season: Making Big Plays on Offense
Despite playing the majority of the season with its starting running back and two quality quarterbacks hurt, the Vikings managed to get to the NFC championship without any major holes in their roster, while dropping only three games on their regular season schedule. With the top-ranked defense in the league and an offense ranked top-ten in points, time of possession, and rushing. One of the very few weak spots on the Vikings’ stat sheet this season was the offense’s inability to make big plays.
The offense’s longest passing play of the season went for 65 yards (tied for 24th in the NFL), while 58 yards (tied for 15th in the league). The Vikings were in the lead most of the time, so the team was not playing with urgency for big plays. However, the potential to stretch the field at any given moment was limited with Case Keenum at quarterback.
The team also played most of the season without its most talented running back, rookie Dalvin Cook. Had their offense been better equipped for big plays, the Vikings may have been able to make the NFC Championship more competitive when they went down in the second quarter.
Plan for the Offseason
1. Identify a franchise quarterback
For college football programs, having as many great arms in the QB room as possible comes with no drawbacks. In the NFL, having a stacked quarterback depth chart can create problems with the salary cap. The Vikings cannot afford (literally) to hold onto Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford, and Case Keenum in 2018. They will have to choose. This is a crucial task, particularly in the NFC North, which includes arm talent like Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford.
2. Add a wide receiver
In 2017, Minnesota’s wide receiver corps saw a steep drop off in production between its top two receivers, Adam Thielen (1,276 receiving yards) and Stefon Diggs (849 receiving yards), to its third-leading wide receiver Laquon Treadwell (200 receiving yards). The Vikings could target free agent wideouts like Jarvis Landry, Mike Wallace, and Paul Richardson. Minnesota will also be taking a look at late first round receiving talent like USC’s Deontay Burnett, Colorado State’s Michael Gallup, or Florida State’s Audin Tate in the draft.
3. Keep the defense together
Most of the starters from Minnesota’s top-ranked defense are still under contract. Re-signing free agents like starting defensive tackle Tom Johnson and valuable rotation players like cornerback Terence Newman and outside linebacker Emmanuel Lamur could go a long way in maintaining synergy on that side of the ball.
Minnesota will face an uphill battle with Aaron Rodgers back in the fold next season for Green Bay and incoming Lions head coach Matt Patricia sure to shore up the defense in Detroit. If they can retain as much of their defense as possible, get a healthy Dalvin Cook to step up as the anchor of the running game, and most importantly, choose a quarterback to commit to long-term, the Vikings will have a chance to repeat as NFC North champions or grab a wild card spot in 2018.
Edited by Brian Kang.
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