Vikings

Same Old Vikings? Tell That To Za'Darius Smith

Phot Credit: Jim Rassol, The Palm via USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings may be 5-1, possess a commanding two-and-a-half game lead on the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North, and have won four straight, but fans just can’t help themselves. You see, in order to be a true Skoldier, there always has to be something to complain about, regardless of circumstances.

Are the Vikings winning this season by dominating teams for 60 minutes? Of course not.

Is the offense still leaving a noticeable amount of meat on the bone? No question.

Is Chandon Sullivan doing his best Mackensie Alexander impersonation from last season by getting completely cooked as Minnesota’s nickelback? Absolutely.

Before you spend the bye week dwelling on Minnesota’s propensity for down-to-the-wire ballgames or Minnesota’s inconsistent offense, let’s take a moment to revel in what makes this year’s Vikings team noticeably different — for the all right reasons — than those of years past.

Kwesi Adofo-Mensah landed a Moby Dick of a free-agent acquisition. Just one year removed from a second-team All-Pro season with the Packers, folks were skeptical about edge rusher Za’Darius Smith‘s potential impact with the Vikings. Smith had only played in parts of two games last season (including the postseason) due to a lingering back issue. He also recently turned 30 years old, which to fantasy football enthusiasts means that Smith officially became washed.

After six weeks, though, Smith has turned into Minnesota’s most important player. Dynamic edge rushers who can play both inside and outside are truly a rare breed. They’re the ones defensive coordinators covet arguably more than any other position. Despite what Vikings fans want to believe about this being The Same Old Vikings, Smith’s presence pokes major holes into that line of thinking.

Have we since forgotten that Minnesota has been without an All-Pro caliber edge rusher since 2019? Yes, Danielle Hunter is healthy and looked like his usual, game-wrecking self in Week 5 against the Miami Dolphins with six pressures and a sack. But his struggles have been magnified in Ed Donatell’s scheme, and the production simply hasn’t been there.

Remember Skoldiers’ favorite go-to excuse over the past two years?

“If only Danielle Hunter could stay healthy” was more popular around here than a Kid Rock concert for rural Minnesotans.

With Smith, Vikings fans no longer need to live in the past and think of ways for this team’s inevitable doom. If you’re in need of reasons why Minnesota currently sits just outside the top 10 in points allowed, look no further. The former Packer has made a substantial impact, seemingly from the jump, and just singlehandedly dominated the Dolphins in Week 6.

Smith recorded 11 pressures, four hits on the quarterback, two sacks, and two tackles-for-loss on Sunday.

On the season, Smith is a league leader at creating pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Historically speaking, to be taken seriously as a contender in the NFL, you better have a serious dude (or two) on your front four. Recent examples are the San Francisco 49ers with Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead. Or the Los Angeles Rams with Aaron Donald and Von Miller. The 2020 Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers had Jason Pierre-Paul, Ndamukong Suh, and Shaquil Barrett. The 2021 Dallas Cowboys with Demarcus Lawrence, Micah Parsons, and Randy Gregory sure fit this description. How about the 2019 or 2020 Packers with Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, and Rashan Gary?

Make no mistake about it, Za’Darius Smith is that dude for the Vikings.

Following the beatdown Smith put on the Dolphins in Week 6, the local media asked him what is the identity of Minnesota’s edge department.

“B.M.F….we some Bad Mother F***ers,” said Smith.

Yeah, that should definitely hit with the Skoldiers. Now I’m hoping Minnesota comes out of the Week 7 bye introducing the Vikings’ defenders before kickoff to Rick Ross’ 2010 smash hit, “B.M.F.”.

There are certainly areas where the Vikings can improve as they embark on the stretch run of the season. But as long as Smith is leading Minnesota’s B.M.F. crew, they completely deserve to be taken seriously as a legitimate contender to win the NFC — and to punch the franchise’s first ticket to the Super Bowl since 1977.

And if Smith’s presence up front helps sustain Hunter’s high-level of play from Week 6, the Vikings can make even the most high-octane offenses extremely uncomfortable. Smith and the B.M.F. will have a golden opportunity to do just that in Week 10 when they head to Buffalo to take on MVP frontrunner Josh Allen and the Bills.

But for now, sit back and enjoy the bye. And don’t apologize for allowing yourself to believe that this Vikings team is a completely different ball club with Za’Darius Smith leading Minnesota’s drastically improved defense.

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