Flying into St. Louis, the Minnesota Vikings were three point underdogs — and that was after the Rams’ starting quarterback was lost for the season to an ACL tear in the preseason. With all the coaching changes, a weak draft, and the loss of key players like Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, and Chris Cook, all the mainstream media have been predicting that the Vikings will end up with a worse record than the 5-10-1 of 2013. The defence that leaked touchdowns last year was predicted to be even worse this time around. The middle-of-the-pack offence (even with former league MVP Adrian Peterson) was going to be worse than last year as well, because … well, because.
Perhaps the Rams were taken in by the media reports, because they certainly didn’t seem to take the Vikings seriously. The Vikings long-standing woes on the road probably played into the Rams’ attitude: the Vikings have a terrible road record even in otherwise average years (they’d lost nine straight road games coming into Sunday’s game). Unfortunately for me, the game was not broadcast in the Toronto area, so I watched the Bills beat the Bears while obsessively checking my Twitter feed for game updates from St. Louis.
Daniel House sums up the game at Vikings Corner:
The Minnesota Vikings opened the season with a convincing 34-6 win on the road against the St. Louis Rams. Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson ran for 102 yards on three carries, including a 67-yard touchdown run off of a pitch out of the backfield. The Vikings defense shut down the Rams offensive attack, helping Mike Zimmer pick up his first win as an NFL head coach. The Rams were able to handle running back Adrian Peterson, allowing him to rush for just 75 yards on 21 carries. They couldn’t handle Cordarrelle Patterson out of the backfield and it proved deadly on multiple occasions in today’s game. The Vikings defense surrendered just 72 rushing yards and prevented the St. Louis offense from reaching the end zone. Safety Harrison Smith added a 83-yard interception return touchdown later in the 4th quarter, capping the Vikings 34-6 win. Most importantly, the team won their first game on the road since the end of the 2012 season.
Matt Cassel didn’t play at an elite level by any stretch of the imagination, but he managed the game and didn’t make any critical mistakes. That is all he needs to do for this team to be successful and today was the perfect example. There were several communication issues between the coaches and Cassel early in the game, but these problems were slowly resolved as the game progressed. Cassel finished the day 17-for-25 with 170 yards passing and two touchdowns. He connected with Greg Jennings and Kyle Rudolph for scores and continually spread the ball around the entire game. Cassel connected with seven different receivers and most importantly, didn’t make mistakes that have plagued this team in the past. If Matt Cassel can manage the game, make the throws when necessary, and continue to play mistake free, the Vikings can be a formidable offense in this league.
At Vikings Journal, Arif Hasan points out the good and not-so-good on the Vikings defence:
Linval Joseph ended the day with five tackles, ranked third on the team, and all of them were “good” tackles that resulted in an offensive loss. To that, he added a sack and a literal tackle for loss and more than one quarterback pressure (and a hit). His first live action after a shooting injury that saw a bullet hit his calf, Joseph dominated the Rams offensive line, who felt appropriate to sub out Rodger Saffold after his terrible day to put in Greg Robinson.
It was Greg Robinson who gave up the pressure late that led to the final interception.
On the other side was Sharrif Floyd, who wasn’t as good as Joseph, but still a powerful defensive tackle that influenced much of the game through hurries and a tackle for loss in the run game. For someone who had struggled so much as a rookie the year before, Floyd is on track to change things, and he may have put together the best game of his career so far.
The biggest worry was at safety, with most of the tight end receptions given up (with an exception of one to Lance Kendricks) a result of safety play, almost entirely because of Blanton. There were times that Blanton showed well — he bracketed Jared Cook on the corner route that Josh Robinson jumped for the interception, and he also broke down his tackle against Tavon Austin excellently — but he also gave up several easy yards to tight ends despite the bodybags the Rams were trotting out at quarterback.
Harrison Smith, on the other hand, has been as advertised. He was all over the field, recording a pass deflection, a sack, a hit, a hurry, a tackle for loss, a standard tackle and the game-ending interception that he ran in for a score. Smith couldn’t be stopped and was lights out throughout the game, and did all of this without being targeted very often at all.
The fact that the Vikings have multiple defensive players — one at every level of the defense — worthy of the game ball (Joseph, Barr and Smith) as well as an offensive player that stole the show (Patterson) feels nearly unprecedented in recent Vikings history. With all of the work that Barr did off camera and away from the Ball I would award it to him, but it could just as easily have been awarded to any of the other four.