In time, Week 3 may be looked at as a turning point for the Vikings 2014 season. They lost to the New Orleans Saints, but rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater made his debut and the defense responded well after giving up two early touchdowns. The silver lining in the 1-2 start is that Bridgewater's debut brings optimism and the defense is clearly on the right track under head coach Mike Zimmer.
What else can we take away from Sunday's loss? And what's in store for this weekend's game against the Falcons? Here are three lessons and three questions as the NFL calendar nears Week 3.
1. Zimmer's defense is on the fast track to improvementIt's easy to look at the Vikings two losses this season and, after a surface-level evaluation of the defense, conclude that Mike Zimmer's group has a long way to go. While Zimmer will be the first to acknowledge there is still work to be done if the Vikings are to get where they want to go, it's only fair to point out just how far the defense has already come. Last year's Vikings defense ranked near the bottom of the NFL in most statistical categories, and this year's defense is vastly improved from that effort. Consider the following:
-- Against the Rams in Week 1, the Vikings did not surrender a touchdown and they caused two turnovers, with one of them going back for a touchdown (Harrison Smith's 81-yard interception return)
-- Against New England in Week 2, the Vikings defense allowed just two touchdowns and one of them was after a Matt Cassel interception was returned to the Minnesota 1.
-- Against the Saints in Week 3, the Vikings defense bowed up after allowing two early touchdowns and kept the game close. After those two touchdown drives, the Saints total yards gained and drive result on the following four series was: 14 yards/punt; 21 yards/punt; 25 yards/punt; six yards/punt.
It hasn't been perfect for the Vikings defense in 2014, but it's been vastly improved and it's been the product of coaching by Zimmer and his staff, play calling by Zimmer and Defensive Coordinator George Edwards and disciplined, fast and smart effort by players.
2. Vikings depth will be testedThe Vikings are a banged up bunch. Adrian Peterson is out of the mix, Matt Cassel broke his foot, Kyle Rudolph appears to be out for an extended time, Brandon Fusco left Sunday's game and Chad Greenway is dealing with two injuries. Suffice it to say, the Vikings depth will be tested going forward and there's a good chance several young players will have opportunities to step up.
3. Situational football will still be emphasized and practicedExpect Zimmer to be extra demanding of his players this week in practice when it comes to 3rd down, red zone and goal line periods. On Sunday, the Saints were nine of 13 on 3rd down, two of three in red zone chances and one of one in goal-to-go situations. The Vikings were okay on 3rd downs (six of 15) but were zero for two in the red zone and zero for one in goal-to-go situations.
Ever since he stepped foot on a Vikings practice field, Zimmer has stressed to his team the importance of situational football and executing in critical areas of the field. During the offseason program and training camp, Zimmer even dedicated one period to a specific situation so that when the team encountered that situation in a game they would have at least rehearsed it once. That practice habit will likely continue this week as Zimmer and his staff continue to mold this young team.
1. What changes for the Vikings offense with Bridgewater under center?Coaches and player will be asked this question plenty this week, but they would be wise not to be too forthcoming with their answer; they should leave it up to us to speculate. The bulk of the offense likely won't change because that would waste months of previous work, but there will be subtle changes made with a new quarterback under center. Perhaps a little read-option, which we saw at least once on Sunday in New Orleans. With Bridgewater's mobility, Norv Turner may be more likely to use bootlegs. We've already seen one designed quarterback draw called, too.
2. Why isn't Cordarrelle Patterson logging more rushing attempts?The Vikings called three runs for Patterson in Week 1 and all three yielded great production. Since then, the Vikings haven't called many runs for Patterson and when they have it hasn't worked well. Granted, the Vikings primary goal should be to establish Patterson's presence as a receiver, but perhaps they'll try to incorporate him a bit more into the running game this week, too.
3. What does it take to get a turnover on defense?The Vikings defense caused two turnovers against the Rams in Week 1, but they've now gone two straight games without taking the ball away. The overall defensive performance has been solid for Zimmer's group, but the next step is becoming a unit that takes the ball away from the offense and sets up their own offense with great field position.