Opening the season with two wins certainly gives the Minnesota Vikings the start they wanted. Opening the season with two wins, and having yet to hit the home turf gives the Vikings an even added boost. Averaging an impressive 30 points per game, good for fourth in the league, the Vikings have easily passed the first two tests of the season.
Playing two patsies, the Cleveland Browns and the Detroit Lions, a combined 0-4, (and what the heck just for fun, counting last year, a combined 4-32, yikes!) the Vikings should have won, and won easily. The Vikings are an NFL powerhouse and should look impressive in putting away lightweights.
However, let's identify some flaws that have shown up, even though admittedly it is very early to draw any real conclusions as to whether or not these flaws will be season-long trends or not.
First, in both games the Vikings have gotten off to sluggish starts. The defense gave up early scores, and the Viking offense took a while to get "cranked up" in each contest. If the tendency to relax early, fall behind, and just turn it up in the second half becomes habit-forming, the Vikings may get bitten when better teams eventually do show up on the schedule.
Secondly, consistency on offense has been as sluggish as the overall starts to games have been. Third down efficiency has not been good. At 36%, 24th in the league, the Vikings' ability to convert third downs into first downs has fallen off slightly from last season's average of 39%. In the first two games, eventually big runs by Adrian Peterson, and/or big turnovers created by the defense has bailed out the offense's inability to move the ball consistently.
Thirdly, the passing game, while definitely being safe and error free, has not really been much of a weapon early. Averaging only 119 yards per game, (last in the league), and only seven yards per completion, if the Vikings do not come out of their shell and open up their passing attack, eventually legitimate NFL defenses will begin to "squat" on the line of scrimmage, and take away the dinking and dunking's effectiveness.
Fourthly, the defense, while "settling-in" after shaky starts, has looked suprisingly vulnerable against the run. The Vikings own the NFL distinction of being the only team to lead the league against the run for three consecutive seasons. If this record is going to extend to a fourth season, major improvement will have to take place, and take place soon. In the previous league leading seasons, the Vikings gave up 61 yards per game in 2006, 74 yards per game in 2007, and 76 yards per game last year. This year thus far, the defense is yielding 109 yards per game on the ground, which is only 15th best in the league.
In recent years, every season has produced teams that come from out of nowhere to become playoff forces - for example last year's Arizona Cardinals - and this year we are yet to see who will rise from the 2008 ashes, to prominence in 2009. The Vikings' next opponent, the San Francisco 49'ers, have a chance to be one of those teams. Only 7-9 last year, the 49'ers are 2-0 this year and opened the season by defeating the NFC defending champion Cardinals in Arizona.
For the Vikings, the "extended preseason" (stops in Cleveland and Detroit), is over. In order to continue their winning ways, the Vikings' level of play is going to need to improve, because - ready or not - the level of competition is about to.