Heading into last week’s date with the defending NFC Champions, the Minnesota Vikings’ surprisingly perfect record was in serious jeopardy as they began life without Adrian Peterson and the Carolina Panthers prepared to make an example of their first potential NFC playoff opponent.
Of course, unrivaled parity has long been one of the NFL’s most underrated assets. And despite facing their toughest test to date without Peterson, starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and offensive tackle Matt Kalil, the Vikings stormed back from a ten-point deficit to upset the mighty Panthers and remind us all of the ”Any Given Sunday” atmosphere that the league has become famous for.
In just three games, head coach Mike Zimmer and the Vikings have gone from an early playoff favorite surrounded by lofty expectations following last season’s division-winning effort, to an injury-plagued pity party with next to no hope of success, to their current status as the NFC’s resident giant-killers and the proud owners of one of only five perfect records.
Initially, Minnesota’s coaching staff seemed to accept the painful fact that backup quarterback Shaun Hill was the only option to run the offense after a freak injury on the practice field sent Bridgewater to the sidelines with a torn acl. But the reality of playing an entire season with Hill at the helm soon set in, and a few days before their season-opening trip to Tennessee, the Vikings acquired the services of starting quarterback Sam Bradford from the Philadelphia Eagles.
Since his arrival, Bradford has found success by operating an offense that’s better suited to his skill-set, totaling 457 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions while playing some fairly error-free football. Above all else, Bradford has somehow managed to lead the Vikings to victories over two of the top opponents on their schedule.
But while Bradford has done an undeniably decent job with little preparation, Minnesota’s defense is the hero that’s saved this team from a complete collapse following the loss of Bridgewater and Peterson.
Entering Week 4, Minnesota’s defense leads the league in both sacks  and takeaways [nine], while ranking third in defensive scoring [13.3 ppg], and following last week’s win in Carolina, linebacker Chad Greenway talked about the collective mindset of a group that also sits within the NFL’s top-ten in run defense, pass defense, and total yards allowed.
”We’re not going to back down from anybody,” said Greenway via ESPN. ”We know how good these teams are. I mean, this is a great football team here in Carolina. You will not hear the last of them obviously. They’re great. But we’re not going to come in and be a lollipop for anybody. We want to play as hard as we can. We want to make it four quarters. We’ve got to continue to get better in certain areas, but it’s going to be a [battle]. That’s what we want.”
A week after sacking Carolina quarterback Cam Newton a total of eight times, something that clearly hindered his post-game fashion sense, the Vikings’ defense will be tasked with trying to stop the productive passing game of the New York Giants in a prime-time showdown on this week’s edition of Monday Night Football in Minnesota.
Following last week’s frustrating divisional loss to the Washington Redskins, Giants’ starting quarterback Eli Manning and his trio of top targets will be looking to feast on Minnesota’s secondary. But New York has yet to face an elite defense like the one that awaits them in the Twin Cities, and after the Vikings prevented Carolina wideouts Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess from registering a single reception in Week 3, the Giants would be wise to approach Monday’s match-up with more caution than usual.
On top of the team’s stingy secondary, the Vikings are undoubtedly planning to pressure Manning with a unit that includes two of the league’s top-five sack artists in defensive end Everson Griffen [four sacks], and defensive tackle and former Giant Linval Joseph [three sacks]. While speaking to the media following the three-sack performance against the Panthers that made him the second Viking to earn conference ”Defensive Player Of The Week” honors within the first three weeks of the season, Griffen had high praise for the division leaders.
”We have a great team—the best team that I have been a part of,” said Griffen via ESPN. ”We come from every area on the field and we get sacks.”
Going forward, the chemistry that Bradford has started to create with tight end Kyle Rudolph and wide receiver Stefon Diggs will be crucial to Minnesota’s season, and the very recent addition of running back Ronnie Hillman to an Adrian Peterson-less backfield consisting of Jerrick McKinnon and Matt Asiata has the potential to add another dimension to this offense. But ultimately, the 2016 Vikings will only go as far as their defense can take them.