Let’s remember that the last three games the Vikings have played were against the dreadful Oakland Raiders, against the New York Giants and Eli Manning on possibly the worst game of his career, and the free-falling Detroit Lions.
That said, the Vikings have been an infinitely more palatable team to watch during this winning streak.
The Vikings Offensive Line
Not coincidentally, the offensive line has been awesome for the past three games. It looks like we’ve found our starters on the right side with guard Anthony Herrera and tackle Ryan Cook. Cook took care of Michael Strahan in the Giants game and has been burying people on the run blocking.
But the single biggest improvement has come at the quarterback position, and that makes a huge difference.
I’ve been about as critical of Brad Childress as can be over playing Jackson when he clearly wasn’t ready to play. And I’ve complained that Jackson has not even shown any progress thus far.
Well, he has now. During the New York game, he wasn’t spectacular, but he made no mistakes and he did connect with Sidney Rice on a long bomb, a pass he hadn’t been able to make till then. Against the Lions, it wasn’t just that he kept the mistakes to a minimum (his only mistake was the interception), he actually showed progress in his development. A lot of it.
Nearly all of Jackson’s passes were dead-on accurate; he threw with touch when that was required and drilled it in there when he needed a bullet. He knew when to pull the ball down and run it and when he did, he knew how to slide to avoid the big hit. He made some plays with his athleticism, but it wasn’t his weapon of first choice.
Jackson showed pocket presence; he stepped up in the pocket to avoid the rush and looked comfortable doing so. That’s the first time I’ve seen him looking natural in the pocket, feeling the pressure, and sliding around to avoid it. His timing passes were right on time.
Jackson has been looking off defenders and he read the blitzes accurately and got the ball to the right receivers to make the defense pay. His decision making was superb.
Maybe the Vikings coaches have scaled down the playbook to the plays with which Jackson is most comfortable, or the offensive line has started to click, or maybe the game just begun to slow down for Jackson. Whatever it is, I hope it continues because Jackson actually looked great against the Lions.
It helps enormously, of course, to have Adrian Peterson back in the lineup. The guy has missed two games, yet he still leads the league in rushing. He was his usual self against the Lions: 116 yards on 15 carries.
Let me just get this on the record: Adrian Peterson will run for 400 yards in a game this season and his best chance of doing that will be this Sunday against the 49ers.
There, I said it.
On defense, the Vikes are blitzing a lot more but are not getting burned because they do such an incredible job of disguising their defense. Greenway and Henderson and Smith will creep up to the line of scrimmage, showing blitz, and hold…hold…hold…until the second before the sack and then drop into coverage. Two plays later they’ll show the same look and come with a full on blitz.
The artistry of maintaining a look until the very last second is helping to confuse opposing quarterbacks. The Vikings D is getting plenty of pressure now, just not with their front four. The nice thing is, with the offense now seemingly capable of scoring a lot, the defense can afford to lay off the blitzes and just bring pressure with the front four because they’re backed by a big lead.
It’s clear that the Vikings gained a lot of confidence by trouncing the Giants and that carried over into the Detroit game. That helps a lot. You play a lot better when you’re confident you’re going to play well.
I hate to get my hopes up because I’ve done that too often with this team, but considering the Vikings’ remaining schedule, they have every reason to be confident. Everyone they have left to play this year is a losing team.