EAGAN, Minn. – The NFL season is already reaching its quarter pole.
The Athletic's Alec Lewis handed out some Vikings awards after four games. Lewis named a Team MVP, Top Rookie and highlighted offensive and defensive takeaways.
The Vikings offense has been a bit of an enigma. Spurts of explosiveness are drowned out by turnovers. High-end efficiency is dampened by frequent bouts of three-and-outs.
On the whole, the unit ranks in the top 10 in the league in most metrics. The Vikings are third in yards per play (6.2), fifth in success rate (45.7 percent) and second in explosive play rate (14.6 percent). Their passing attack carried them the first two weeks against the Buccaneers and Eagles, but the rushing attack has come along in the last two weeks against the Chargers and Panthers.
In fact, the team has gone from 21st in success rate per rush following Week 2 to third after Week 4.
Lewis wrote turnovers "are the only statistic keeping this unit from being amont the elite." Minnesota has lost seven fumbles and suffered four interceptions.
On the defense, Lewis wrote:
The success of the Vikings defense in 2023 was always going to hinge on Brian Flores' ability to create chaos. Thus far, Minnesota's unit has improved from a season ago, ranking 20th in DVOA, which is up from 24th last season. Notably, the Vikings have also improved in yards per play allowed, going from 30th in 2022 to 10th this season.
No NFL team has blitzed more this season than the Vikings (57 percent of snaps). This is one of the key differences between the 2022 defense under Ed Donatell and the 2023 version with Flores at the helm. Although their pressure rate this season is lower than last year, they are forcing opposing quarterbacks to get rid of the ball more quickly on average. This is keeping the ball in front of the defense. Only the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens have given up fewer explosive plays.
Lewis noted Flores' mixture of six (dime) or seven (quarter) defensive backs in special packages checking in at a rate of 19.6 percent, compared to 1.4 percent by the Vikings in 2022.
No surprise who Lewis named Team MVP. On Justin Jefferson, Lewis added:
He leads the NFL in receiving yards. He is on pace for 140 catches. He is responsible for more plays of 20-plus yards (14) than Patrick Mahomes. When you have Justin Jefferson, you have the ingredients for an explosive offense.
Jefferson's ability single-handedly dictates how opposing defenses game-plan to face the Vikings. Two-high safety looks with light boxes frequently open up premium rushing opportunities. Double coverage on Jefferson also leaves T.J. Hockenson, K.J. Osborn and Jordan Addison in 1-on-1 opportunities. The result is a high-octane passing attack.
Click here to read the rest of The Athletic's Vikings awards.
Star Tribune Does Film Review on Cam Akers
Each week, Star Tribune writer Andrew Krammer breaks down key plays from the Vikings game.
Krammer highlighted running back Cam Akers, and detailed why he is a fitting complement to the Vikings offense.
In his Vikings debut, Akers was effective with 51 yards on seven touches. He flashed acceleration and power, while benefiting from the season's best blocking and perhaps the lightest competition to date. He immediately had a limited three-down role, taking every snap in a 10-play drive in the second quarter.
All making for a confidence-building opener to Akers' "fresh start" in Minnesota. Head Coach Kevin O'Connell referred to Akers, acquired Sept. 20 via trade from the Rams, as complementing starter Alexander Mattison, who still dominated the playing time and workload with 98 yards from scrimmage. But O'Connell envisions a role for both.
Krammer's breakdown included an all-22 clip of Akers' 10-yard run.
Before the snap you can see Panthers linebacker Frankie Luvu telling safety Vonn Bell to come closer to the line. Once again, both Panthers safeties are playing deep — this time on a second-and-3 play. Perhaps Luvu sniffed out the run.
Akers still finds daylight quickly to the outside against off coverage. Edge rusher Brian Burns jumped inside and was pinned by left tackle Christian Darrisaw. Receiver Justin Jefferson took out Bell, leaving Akers 1-on-1 with the cornerback.
Mark Wilf Joins "Everyone Talks to Liz Claman" Podcast
Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf joined the "Everyone Talks to Liz Claman" podcast for an in-depth interview that covered his family history through which his parents emerged from the atrocity of the Holocaust to establish an American life that centers on football and philanthropy.
Wilf noted that his father and uncle, after building their real estate business from the ground up, had opportunities to invest in the AFL's New York Titans (now the Jets) or purchase the Eagles long before Mark, his brother Zygi and their cousin Lenny led the purchase of the Vikings in 2005.
"The people in Minnesota have been very welcoming, very encouraging when we purchased the team. We've had a great deal of partnership on the business side, public-private partnerships with our sponsors, and fans have been so welcoming to us," Wilf said. "Even though we didn't spend a lot of time in Minnesota growing up, we really feel like adopted sons, so to speak."
Wilf also described how much the Vikings have enjoyed partnering with Project Success to send Twin Cities high school students of color to Washington, D.C., as part of the Vikings Social Justice Committee's efforts.
"Sports and the NFL have that platform that we can really change people's lives," Wilf said.
Click here to listen to the entire interview.