MINNEAPOLIS — Things in Minnesota went south in the fall of 2013 as the Vikings stumbled to a 5-10-1 record as coach Leslie Frazier’s version of the Tampa 2 defense began showing more holes than a fishing net.
The Vikings gave up nearly 400 yards per game that season, ranking 31st in the NFL, and Frazier was promptly replaced by Mike Zimmer in January 2014 with the promise that the former Cincinnati defensive guru would turn things around on that side of the ball.
Zimmer did just that, with the purple immediately going from good the following year to great in 2017, leading the NFL in yards allowed at just 276 per game. The Vikings, however, slipped to fourth in 2018, 14th in 2019 and should rank somewhere around 115th in the 32-team league after laying an egg Sunday in a 43-34 loss to the Green Bay Packers in the season opener at U.S. Bank Stadium.
This was embarrassing, and for a proud guy like Zimmer, it has to irk, but breaking it down, it is not as surprising as it might appear on the surface. Yes, nobody would have predicted the Vikings getting torched for 522 yards and 43 points — most of the Zimmer era — but look at the facts and one could have seen something like this coming.
Minnesota’s defensive backfield is barely old enough to legally drink, and Lord knows, they could certainly use a few beers to try to forget about this one. Of the Vikings’ six DBs Sunday, the average age was 22.7.
And with no preseason, Vikings’ rookies are receiving on-the-job training, with future NFL Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers providing the schooling Sunday. Rodgers — the Packers quarterback for those who live under a rock — finished 32-for-44 for 364 yards, four touchdowns and a couple drops by Marquez Valdes-Scantling. His top target was Davante Adams, who sometimes got laughable separation en route to 14 receptions for 156 yards and two touchdowns.
What would have helped out all the Vikings’ young guys, of course, would have been a pass rusher, but the Vikings never got close enough for even the proverbial after-the-play butt slap. No sacks, nothing.
Minnesota will need standout edge rusher Danielle Hunter to return from injury ASAP to help in that regard or this could be ugly. Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who was brought in to help in that regard, recorded no tackles but was credited with a quarterback hit Sunday. Hey, it’s just nice to see that $12 million still gets you something, even in this day and age.
With no fans allowed in U.S. Bank Stadium due to the coronavirus pandemic and no pass rush, old No. 12 could just sit back and play pitch-and-catch with his receivers in relative silence — no 12th man here — as the Packers won their third straight in the rivalry.
This game felt like a dress rehearsal, and the offensive players were the stars, in particular, the Packers. Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins was 19-for-25 for 259 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception, but all but 54 yards of that came after the Packers had already seized control (I was going to say literally here, but if I see the world’s most overused word again, I’m going to puke green). The Packers held the ball three times longer than Vikings in the first half, 22:45 to 7:15, and this one could have been worse if they didn’t settle for two field goals in the first half, not to mention getting stopped on fourth and goal (about the lone highlight on an otherwise dreadful day for the Vikings’ D).
I don’t know, this just felt awfully boring to watch in person. For replays and injury timeouts, it was almost silent. All you could hear was the air running through the ducts.
With slick packaging, perhaps the television product was more exciting to watch. Certainly, Paul Allen, the Vikings’ radio play-by-play man, sounded as excited as ever when the Vikings scored. They played a couple of his calls at the stadium here, and one would think it was the Minnesota Miracle reincarnate.
With that said, there were certain benefits to watching this game in person — in U.S. Bank Stadium, suddenly silent and now a bastion of quiet emptiness — that can’t be understated.
I didn’t have to listen to the Aaron Rodgers schmoozefest, undoubtedly, drone over and over on television, and I didn’t have to listen to Packers’ superfan Edward “Ray Ray” Erickson blabber over and over at the Eagles club in Superior until my ears, and everyone else’s, were bleeding.
In this era of pandemic pandemonium and social unrest, you have to take your positives wherever you can find them, so I’ll say hallelujah to that.