The Minnesota Vikings' Undefeated Start Is No Fluke
Immediately after, panic struck both fans and the front office, as the team traded for Sam Bradford.
After a come-from-behind 22-10 win on the road over the defending Super Bowl runners-up, the Carolina Panthers, in Week 3, the Vikings are arguably the most surprising 3-0 team in the NFL.
The Panthers, ranked third prior to Sunday, looked to be the team that would end the Vikings' short undefeated run but couldn't emerge victorious.
So, just how are they doing this, and can they keep pace?
Over the past two seasons, Griffen has produced 22.5 sacks, and he has started strong with 4 sacks in the first three games this year. Hunter, a rookie last year, produced six sacks and is already halfway to his total through just three games.
Using our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, the Vikings entered Week 3 ranked seventh in Adjusted Defensive NEP (-6.88), ninth in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP (2.85), and first in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP (-15.89).
This past weekend, Griffen and Hunter combined for four sacks on the reigning league MVP, Cam Newton, as the rest of the defense also sacked him four times.
Newton produced a pathetic -10.82 Passing NEP for the day on a -0.25 Passing NEP per drop back. For reference, Newton came into Sunday averaging 0.18 Passing NEP per drop back, and the league average rate last season was 0.11.
Although they have faced potent offenses in both Green Bay and Carolina, the Vikings are second, to only the Philadelphia Eagles, in allowing scoring drives. They have allowed a scoring drive to opponents on only 20% of their possessions.
With Griffen and Hunter, an emerging presence at only 21 years old, leading the charge up front for this defense, the Vikings are poised to continue producing strongly on defense throughout the year.
For nearly a decade, the Vikings have centered their offense around running back Adrian Peterson. Like Bridgewater a few weeks before him, Peterson suffered a potential season-ending injury just a week ago.
Now, the offense can revolve around the very dynamic second-year receiver Stefon Diggs.
Although Diggs turned in only 4 receptions for 40 yards on Sunday, he left Sunday with the second most receiving yards (325) in the league -- he had the most entering the day.
Furthermore, Diggs led the group of 76 wide receivers with at least 10 targets in Reception NEP (25.32) before Week 3, and he added 3.10 to that against the stout Panthers pass defense (ranked seventh in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP). While it was not his finest day, Diggs is a young receiver on the verge of stardom.
Additionally, Kyle Rudolph is showing signs of fulfilling the potential he has had at tight end since entering the league. He left Sunday with the sixth-most receiving yards (166) by a tight end for the year. With those receiving yards have come two touchdowns.
Before the day, Rudolph was tied for fourth among tight ends with 16 targets, and 40 tight ends had seen at least 5 targets over the first 3 weeks. While he was ranked 9th in Reception NEP (10.27), he was about average in both Reception NEP per target (19th) and Reception Success Rate (17th).
|Kyle Rudolph||Rec NEP/Tar||Rec Success Rate|
While his Reception NEP per target efficiency and Reception Success Rate appear only mediocre, they both show strong signs of improvement from him based on his same metrics last year. Even more promising, both metrics are above league average from last year.
While Rudolph may never become a special tight end, he is becoming a critical piece in opening up defenses and helping Diggs.
Finally, Bradford has performed admirably filling in for Bridgewater. His Passing NEP per drop back (0.34) ranked fifth, and his Passing Success Rate (54.29%) ranked fourth after one week against Green Bay among 33 quarterbacks with at least 33 drop backs.
Although he only produced a 2.38 Passing NEP against Carolina on 30 drop backs, Bradford shows he has what the Vikings need to manage games against tougher opponents.
Looking ahead, the Vikings face a schedule with many teams ranked in the bottom half of nERD.
A few weeks from now, the Vikings potentially will have a battle of unbeaten teams when they face the Philadelphia Eagles.
With their upcoming schedule and impressive wins so far, the Vikings deserve to be taken seriously and should be looked at as NFC contenders.