After the loss to the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer (probably) went back to TCO Performance Center immediately to dissect his team’s performance from a Week 2 disaster. Just as he was about halfway through a bottle of bourbon, a cricket began talking to him (or at least so he thought).
As the cricket began to sing, Zimmer told him to get to the point. The cricket pointed to a star and told Zimmer he had one wish for the rest of the season. Zimmer sighed and said he wished that football could get back to the good ol’ days, when passing offenses were merely a way to keep defenses honest and the way to win was pounding your opponents in the trenches and running the ball with authority.
From there, Zimmer passed out and woke up the next day ready to go. As he looked at his docket, he saw game prep for the Oakland Raiders at 7 a.m. and smiled.
OK, odds are that’s not how it happened at TCO Performance Center and if it did, I believe Zimmer would have crushed that cricket with a stone cold death stare. Regardless, as the Vikings get ready for Sunday’s game with the Raiders, this is a game that should be right in Zimmer’s wheelhouse.
The Raaaaaaiders are pretty good in the trenches
The Raiders come into Sunday’s game with a 1-1 record and a roster that isn’t going to make anyone scream Super Bowl contender. Their front office structure is composed of two guys that were on national TV just a couple years ago and their biggest accomplishment was keeping Antonio Brown happy for about two months before he decided to pull a Ted Williams impersonation in a cryogenic chamber.
If there is one thing that this team does do well, however, it’s winning the battle in the trenches. With Gruden at the controls, he’s decided to throw things back to about 1996 when Garrison Hearst was a beast in "NFL QB Club" for Super Nintendo. With free agent signee Trent Brown and 2018 first-round draft pick Kolton Miller leading the way on the line, the Raiders have fed Josh Jacobs plenty and have averaged 4.8 yards per carry — the 10th highest clip in the NFL.
Such is a smart strategy when your quarterback is Derek Carr and the top receiving options are Tyrell Williams (who is actually pretty underrated) and Darren Waller, who has already eclipsed career highs across the board this season after playing in two games.
While the offensive line has fueled the Raiders' efforts with the ball, the defensive line has had a similar effect without it. Through two games this season, the Raiders have allowed just 2.8 yards per carry, the fourth-lowest clip in the NFL.
While there aren’t any household names on this unit, they’re still effective as Johnathan Hankins has rebounded in his second chance after a failed stint with the New York Giants to post a 17.6% run stop percentage, according to Pro Football Focus. Josh Mauro and Maxx Crosby have also contributed to a defensive line that’s starting to show signs of life.
Of course, this presents an issue on both sides of the ball for the Vikings. On offense, the Vikings will have to try and crack the Raiders stout defensive front with the electric Dalvin Cook, who currently leads the league in rushing. The offensive line has been solid in the first two games of the season, but this will also be another big test for Garrett Bradbury, who has struggled against elite defensive tackles Grady Jarrett and Kenny Clark to open his NFL career.
Defensively, this puts more pressure on the front seven to stop the run. With Gruden wanting to pound the rock like a high school football team, Linval Joseph, Stephen Weatherly and the rest of the interior defenders will have to be stout at the point of attack and make Derek Carr throw the ball. Things could be even tougher if the Vikings are without the services of Anthony Barr.
In the end, the Vikings will have to win the battle in the trenches, which makes this opponent a dream for Zimmer and his staff. If Minnesota can get going, it should lead to a happier Zimmer this time around. If not…well, good luck to the Minnesota Vikings.