After losing in Week 1, there isn’t much optimism for the Minnesota Vikings. Losing to the Cincinnati Bengals has cast a shadow over a season that was supposed to feature a return to the playoffs.
Instead, the Vikings look a lot like they did last season. With an offensive line that hasn’t been fixed and a conservative approach in the passing game, it’s easy to see this team falling into a deep hole with three contenders next on the schedule.
But there’s also a reason this team can turn their season around. Outside of the hackneyed “it’s only one game” rhetoric, the Vikings can look back to where they were a year ago and reflect on what happened to their Week 2 opponent, the Indianapolis Colts.
The Colts came into their Week 2 matchup with just as many questions as the Vikings have right now. They went on the road as heavy favorites to open the season and wound up handing the Jacksonville Jaguars their only win of the season in a 27-20 defeat.
A lot went wrong for them in Jacksonville, especially Philip Rivers’ play. While it wasn’t on the same scale as Kirk Cousins’ performance in Cincinnati, he also showed the same reluctance to go downfield. Rivers threw for 363 yards in the game but only averaged 7.8 yards per attempt.
With a pair of interceptions, Rivers didn’t play terribly, but he didn’t have an elite running game to support his cause.
The Colts also had issues with a defense that featured plenty of new components. They acquired Justin Houston, DeForest Buckner, and old friend Xavier Rhodes in the offseason, and all three looked uncomfortable in their debut. The result? Three touchdowns from Gardner Minshew, including a pass to Keelan Cole for the game-winning score.
Following the shocking loss to Jacksonville, the Colts went into Week 2 with a sense that their plan wasn’t going to work. Then they obliterated the Vikings.
A 28-11 victory over Minnesota served as a springboard for the Colts. They went on to win seven of their next nine games, including a victory over the Green Bay Packers. While they also lost to the Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Ravens, they weren’t overmatched in those games and looked like a legitimate playoff contender.
The Colts finished ninth in scoring and benefitted from the emergence of Jonathan Taylor and Michael Pittman Jr. The defense also hit its stride, finishing 10th in points allowed behind its new additions and star linebacker Darrius Leonard.
Indianapolis probably deserved a better fate than the AFC’s lowest-seeded playoff team and losing in the first round. Still, it was an impressive turnaround for a team that could have been written off after Week 1.
There’s no reason why the Vikings couldn’t pull off the same feat.
The Vikings’ offense has a better arsenal of weapons than the Colts had last year. In Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, Cousins has two playmakers he can target downfield, assuming he can trust them to make plays. He also has Dalvin Cook, who can provide a steady baseline for the running game.
Worried about the offensive line? Remember, it could transform over the course of the season. Although Rashod Hill struggled on Sunday, Christian Darrisaw’s return may be near. If Ezra Cleveland and Oli Udoh continue to struggle at guard, it could create an opportunity for Wyatt Davis, and the Vikings could at least be adequate in the trenches.
Although the defense gave up 27 points in Cincinnati, it also has the makings of a top-10 unit. Patrick Peterson, Bashaud Breeland, and the other newcomers should get better as the season progresses and become more familiar with the system. That should also be the case with established players like Danielle Hunter and Anthony Barr, who are coming off of major injuries.
This provides an optimistic view heading into Sunday’s matchup with Arizona. But if there’s one thing the Vikings don’t have in their favor, it’s their schedule.
When the Colts went on their run, a lot of their success came against favorable matchups: the New York Jets, Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions, etc. While the Vikings have no problem beating bad teams, they are entering a stretch against the Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, and Cleveland Browns. The Carolina Panthers aren’t pushovers, and when the Vikings come back from their bye, they’ll face six teams that made the playoffs last season.
In other words, the Vikings can come back, but it won’t be easy. But just like the Colts, they have the talent to turn things around, which should make Sunday’s game more intriguing.