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8 Takeaways from Vikings 1st 8 Games of 2017

The Vikings have reached the midpoint of their 2017 season and are carrying a 6-2 mark into their bye week.

An intimidating defense, improved offense and solid special teams have all combined for Minnesota's first-half success.

The Vikings.com staff of Eric Smith, Lindsey Young, Mike Wobschall and Craig Peters picked out two major takeaways apiece.

By Eric Smith |@EricLSmith

Griffen on a torrid pace

On a defense that is full of playmakers at every level, Everson Griffen has stood out among the rest. The Vikings defensive end has 10 sacks through eight games, which has him tied for the second most in the league.

Even more impressive? Griffen has at least a sack in each game this season, and his eight-game streak with at least one sack is tied with Jim Marshall (1969) and Jared Allen (2011) for the longest in franchise history. Griffen would stand alone on the list if he's able to get a sack when the Vikings resume play in Week 9 at Washington.

Griffen has elevated himself into elite company with his production over the first half of the season, but more history could be on the way. As it stands now, Griffen is on pace for 20 sacks, a revered single-season number.

Since 1982 when sacks became an official statistic, there have only been 11 seasons of 20 or more sacks, including two with Vikings ties — Allen had 22 in 2011 and Chris Doleman had 21 in 1989. If Griffen can stay hot and keep up his stellar consistency and productivity, he could produce one of the best sack seasons in recent memory.

Quite the Case

Where would the Vikings be without Case Keenum? Probably not with a 6-2 record and in first place in the NFC North eight games through the season.

Keenum was signed this offseason to be a viable backup option behind Sam Bradford. He has been all that — and more — and he has made six starts and played more than half of another contest.

The Vikings are 5-2 when Keenum plays and 4-2 in games he has started. Aside from his 369-yard, three-touchdown performance against Tampa Bay in Week 3, the former University of Houston standout hasn't put up eye-popping numbers. But he hasn't needed to. He's been effective in the passing game while letting a dominant defense and diverse running game help carry the load through the first half of 2017.

Time will tell what Keenum's role will be with the Vikings for the remainder of the season. Bradford continues to recover from a knee injury, while Teddy Bridgewater has returned to practice and could be added to the active roster next week.

But whether Keenum continues to start or moves back to his original role as a backup, there is no denying that he has played an instrumental role in Minnesota's success this season.

By Lindsey Young |@LindseyMNSports

Getting the run game rolling

Through the first half of the season, the Vikings have significantly improved their run game since 2016, even after losing rookie running back Dalvin Cook.

The second-round draft pick got off to a hot start, recording 354 yards and two touchdowns on 74 rushes in three-plus games. Cook suffered a torn ACL against the Lions in Week 4, however, and Minnesota was faced with filling the shoes of its starter. Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray have answered that call, shouldering additional responsibility in Cook's absence.

McKinnon especially has surged ahead and currently has 287 rushing yards (261 of which were recorded during the past four games) on 69 attempts. McKinnon's three rushing touchdowns have already surpassed his previous career-best of two scores on the ground in a season. Murray has recorded 78 carries for 249 rushing yards and one touchdown.

Through eight weeks, Minnesota has accrued 960 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on 239 attempts. After seven games in 2016, the Vikings had 581 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 214 carries.

The Vikings are averaging 120 rushing yards per game so far this season, compared to 75.3 rushing yards per game in 2016.

A lift on the offensive line

The Vikings offensive line struggled in 2016 and was hit by a barrage of injuries, forcing Minnesota to start eight different starting-five combinations over 16 games.

The Vikings committed to focusing on the offensive line during the offseason and followed through. The team signed tackles Mike Remmers and Riley Reiff in free agency and drafted center Pat Elflein and guard Danny Isidora in the third and fifth, rounds, respectively.

Thus far, the revamped line has proven to be significantly improved from last season. The unit has allowed just 10 sacks over Minnesota's first eight games. In 2016, the Vikings allowed 21 sacks through their first eight games and 38 total sacks on the season.

The offensive line has also helped the Vikings improve their run game. Minnesota currently ranks 13th for rushing yards per game (120) compared to last season's ranking of 32nd with 75.3.

Minnesota has weathered a handful of injuries on the line so far but has proven able to fill those spots without missing much of a step.

"It's a bunch of new faces, a whole new group of guys. They seem to have jelled together, working well together," General Manager Rick Spielman told "Voice the Vikings" Paul Allen on 9 to Noon recently.  "[And] then if we have guys get hurt or guys go out, then we think we have enough depth with some of the guys that we currently have on our roster to just step in and keep moving forward."

By Mike Wobschall |@wobby

Kai keeps kicking well

The play of the offensive line may be the most obvious difference between this year's 6-2 Vikings and the 2016 version of the 6-2 Vikings. Another position that has seen an equally profound turnaround, though, is kicker.

Through eight games a season ago, the Vikings had made just 12 of 16 field goals and were a week short of cutting kicker Blair Walsh.  Eight games into 2017, Walsh's replacement – Kai Forbath – is tied for the league lead in field goals made with 21 in 22 attempts (95.5 percent); he is also the NFL's leader in field goals made (36) since signing with the Vikings before Week 11 of last season. Forbath has not missed from 40-plus yards out in 2017, including a four-of-four mark from 50 and beyond, and he also split the uprights on a game-winner at Soldier Field to cap a game in which he made two field goals and two extra points to help the Vikings on Monday Night Football.

Forbath was perfect on six tries against the Ravens and on four tries against the Browns over the past two weeks in Vikings wins. His consistency is a significant reason why the Vikings have notched scores on 14 of their past 24 (58.3 percent) possessions. With a defense that is surrendering only 16.9 points per game, a reliable kicker such as Forbath is a big deal.

Trae Waynes blossoming

The big names on the Vikings defense are playing like big-timers.

Griffen has a sack in every game, Xavier Rhodes eliminates one side of the field every snap, Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks are everywhere and Linval Joseph and Harrison Smith are monsters in the middle of the field. But they aren't the only ones playing well. Don't look now, but third-year cornerback Trae Waynes might be blossoming before your eyes.

Because Rhodes is a true shutdown cornerback, teams are targeting Waynes constantly — and Waynes is responding. Among cornerbacks who've played 50 percent of their team's snaps, Waynes is the fourth-most targeted in the league with 56 passes thrown his way. He's surrendered 36 completions for 435 yards on those targets and has the same number of interceptions as touchdowns allowed (two). Put it all together, and Waynes is allowing an 85.0 passer rating on passes thrown into his coverage, which is a solid mark for a No. 2 cornerback.

In addition, Waynes leads all corners (with 50 percent of snaps played) in run stops with 11, which is an important metric for a Vikings defense that committed itself to being better against the run in 2017. He's missed just one tackle all season and consistently demonstrates the willingness and ability to support the run.

The Vikings have allowed just one 300-yard passer this season and no 100-yard receivers, and Waynes' performances week-in and week-out are a big reason for that stingy output.

By Craig Peters |@pcraigers

Kendricks, Barr a dynamic do-it-all duo

The Vikings disruptive defensive front has allowed Kendricks and Barr to make a bevy of plays.

Kendricks has been credited with team bests of 80 tackles (coaches' tally) and 51 solo. Of those, seven have been for losses, including one sack. Kendricks has had 13 tackles in three games this season, including each of the past two outings.

Barr has been credited with 60 combined tackles (42 solo) and ranks only behind Kendricks in the categories. Barr also has seven tackles for loss, including a sack.

Kendricks has defended six passes, and Barr has broken up five.

Their dynamic level of play has helped the Vikings implement their nickel defense and still be strong against the run.

Barr has been a Pro Bowl selection in each of the past two seasons, and Kendricks is making a strong campaign for his first nod.

The versatility against the run and the pass that both have shown has kept Minnesota from allowing a 100-yard rusher or a 100-yard receiver in any game so far.

Thielen's hot and reliable hands

The secret's out on Adam Thielen.

The receiver who has worked his way up from tryout to practice squad to special teamer to starter is ranked second in the NFL with 627 receiving yards and fourth with 48 receptions.

Thielen has steadily produced and is the only player in the league this season to record at least five catches in every game.

Twenty-nine (60.4 percent) of Thielen's 48 receptions have resulted in a Vikings first down, and 11 have gained 20 or more yards.

Sunday against the Browns, Thielen's receptions gained:

17 on third-and-15

22 on third-and-11

18T on second-and-5

25 on second-and-9

16 on third-and-10

In addition to setting up defensive backs in man-to-man coverage with his route running or smartly finding a hole in a zone defense, Thielen also has shown a knack for staying alive during a scramble drill.

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