The Vikings want their defense to return to its 2019 fire-breathing form. After one Sunday in Cincinnati, I have more concerns than optimism.
We'll find out soon enough, though, if the defense's clock can be turned back. The next two quarterbacks they'll need to stop, or at least slow down, this month: Arizona's Kyler Murray and Seattle's Russell Wilson.
Before we get to those two big challenges, a review of the reasons for concern that stacked up Sunday:
- Bengals rookie Ja'Marr Chase blowing past new Vikings cornerback Bashaud Breeland for a 50-yard touchdown dash.
- Joe Mixon rushing for 127 yards against a defense supposedly fortified by better health and offseason acquisitions.
- The Bengals scoring two touchdownsduring the final two minutes of the second quarter.
- And finally: Quarterback Joe Burrow, on fourth-and-a-centimeter, hitting C.J. Uzomahfor 32 yards and setting up the winning field goal. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer admitted that they had seen the same look and check from the Bengals on film, but they still couldn't stop it.
A portent of a season of watching opponents move up and down the field on the Vikings? It's not time yet to go there with this unit, which took the field Sunday with seven new starters from a year ago. Too early.
And it wasn't all bad. For instance:
- Danielle Hunter shaking off the rust of a missed season (neck injury) and registering his first sack in the fourth quarter. The Bengals respected his talent by running some plays away from him and having Burrow get the ball away quickly to reduce his pass-rushing ability.
- Michael Pierce, who also could have shown rust after opting out last season, coming up big with two sacks and seven total tackles, tied for third most on the team. That's evidence that Pierce and Dalvin Tomlinson will form a formidable tackle tandem.
- Linebacker Eric Kendricks being his usual busy self, with 15 total tackles. Once Anthony Barr returns to health, the Vikings will have their two best linebackers together again.
- And Nick Vigil, opposite Kendricks and subbing for Barr, piling up 10 tackles and a sack.
Some things need to be addressed right away in Week 2. Chase's catch on Breeland looked eerily similar to Tyreek Hill's score on him during exhibition play. Breeland and Mackensie Alexander had the lowest Pro Football Focus scores among Vikings defensive players. Sheldon Richardson didn't have a strong game, either.
It's easy to overreact after Week 1. How do you think Packers and Titans fans feel about their teams right now? The Vikings defense can raise its game — and it will need to.
The effectiveness of Zimmer's revamped defense will be determined over the next three weeks. Fairly grade this bunch after a visit to Phoenix, a home opener vs. Seattle, and a visit from old friend Kevin Stefanski.
Murray awaits Sunday. The Vikings have won five of their past six games against Arizona, but here are the names of the Cardinals quarterbacks in those games: Josh Rosen, Carson Palmer (1-1 against the Vikes), John Skelton, Kevin Kolb and Derek Anderson.
Murray, with four touchdown passes and a 121.0 rating in the Cardinals' 38-13 rout of the Titans, looks ready in Year 3 to jump up a tier in the NFL quarterback rankings.
Wilson will bring his 7-0 record against the Vikings to Minneapolis the following week. In those seven games, the Seahawks have averaged 29 points. And Tyler Lockett will be waiting for Breeland. Dangerous territory here.
October's opener is no easier. The much-improved Cleveland Browns get the next crack at conquering the defense, and Stefanski, the former assistant,knows what's in the secret sauce.
It's much too early to render a verdict now, after one game. But by Week 4's finish, in the late-afternoon hours of Oct. 3, we'll know if Zimmer's defense is worthy of top-five status once again.