Vikings fans are used to seeing Xavier Rhodes included on Ike Taylor's weekly list of cornerback rankings for NFL.com.
This week, however, Taylor highlighted the entire Vikings defense. The former cornerback typically emphasizes the performance of one stand-out player in his "Ike's Island" category, but he felt an entire unit deserved the designation heading into Week 14.
Taylor called Minnesota's defense a "bend-but-don't-break" unit that has "stars at every level," but he specifically highlighted Rhodes, Everson Griffen and Harrison Smith as the best at their respective positions. Then he added:
But the main reason this unit has been so dominant is its front four (Griffin, Danielle Hunter, Linval Joseph and Tom Johnson). With the Vikings being able to get pressure by rushing just four, they're able to keep an extra guy in coverage, forcing the opposing quarterback to throw into small windows.
In my opinion, Minnesota boasts the best front four in the league, particularly feeding off Griffen, who's having a more impressive season statistically than Von Miller in 2015. Griffen has more sacks in 11 games this year (12) than Miller had in 16 games in 2015 (11.0).
According to NFL Media Research, Taylor said the 2017 Vikings defense "compares favorably" to the 2015 Broncos unit in scoring defense, pass defense, third-down defense, red-zone defense and big plays allowed.
As we all know, the Broncos put on a clinic in the 2015 postseason and shut down league MVP Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50. With the similarities of that Broncos unit and this year's Vikings, can [Head Coach Mike] Zimmer's defense lead Minnesota to its first-ever Lombardi Trophy?
Within his regular rankings, Taylor not only included Rhodes again but moved him up five spots this week into fourth place overall.
*Last weekend's Rhodes vs. Julio Jones matchup was a big one, and Rhodes came out on top. *
Against Carolina, I expect Rhodes to follow Devin Funchess. Minnesota's CB1 had better get ready to defend back-shoulder fades and rebound the jump ball, because Newton throws the ball to where Funchess can use his height.
2017 Vikings defined by a 25-day offseason stretch
A number of earmarks have come to define Minnesota's success thus far in 2017: excelling in the red-zone; executing both offensively and defensively in third-down situations; playing the run well on both sides of the ball.
But according to John Holler of *Viking Update, *it's actually a 25-day stretch long before the season even started that has come to define this year's team. He recounted a timeline between March 9 and April 3 during which the Vikings signed Riley Reiff, Latavius Murray and Case Keenum in free agency as well as re-signing Terence Newman and Adam Thielen. Holler wrote:
The Thielen signing has already proved to be clairvoyant theft.
Keenum had more than three weeks to peddle his wares with any of the 32 NFL teams. He had no takers. One can only imagine those that were close and didn't seal the deal are doubting themselves now.
For a team that last left the field on the losing side of a game on Oct. 1, most will believe that the 2017 season was defined in October, November and the first Sunday of December.
In reality, the 2017 Vikings most important 25 days weren't the last 25 – a span in which they took out the Rams, Lions and Falcons. It was the 25 days from March 9 to April 3 that have come to define 2017.
Former NFL MVP Sipe can relate to Keenum's journey
It's fair to say that lots of eyes across the nation are on the 10-2 Vikings and Case Keenum, who stepped in after Week 1 for an injured Sam Bradford.
There's one individual, however, who relates more than others to Keenum's NFL journey up to this point.
ESPN's Courtney Cronin spoke with former quarterback – and 1980 NFL MVP – Brian Sipe recently about his path through the pros after starting as a backup who bounced around before getting a shot and finding his groove. Cronin wrote:
Sipe got his spot when Mike Phipps went down with an injury in the Browns 1976 season opener. Sipe led them to a 9-5 record, a six-game improvement from the disastrous season before. Phipps never got his job back and was eventually traded.
Sipe viewed his NFL career as an evolution of goals. Five seasons in, he had finally proven (to himself, at least) that he belonged.
"That year, my goal moved from just getting the job to hanging on to the job," Sipe told Cronin. "That's not always an easy thing to do, but my objective was to prepare, play my best, grow as a quarterback and establish myself as a starter in the NFL. That was my highest aspiration."
Sipe went on to be an eight-season starter for the Browns and remains the all-time passing leader in franchise history, having racked up 27,713 yards and 154 touchdowns.