1. What was more disappointing in the Vikings loss to the Eagles, the O or the D?
Nate Leer: I am certainly more disappointed with the effort of the D in the game. They looked slow from beginning to end. There were some particular lapses of concentration and physicality that really hurt the team. We all saw CB Tre Waynes get duped badly on a flea flicker. S Harrison Smith was complaining about picks being set by the Eagles WRs, which was fair, but he was running around them as opposed to through them which makes it WAY less likely to get called. DE Everson Griffen was contained most of the game and the one time he had a shot at getting a big hit on QB Nick Foles, he stopped pushing the off balance OL and went for the strip. If he would just have pushed the OT into Foles, the QB would not have converted a big 3rd down. After the poor performance against the Saints in the 2nd half, this bad game looks even worse. It appears this D is nowhere as good as we thought and it was exposed by back to back good offensive coaches. Hopefully they just need to mature at key spots in order to take another step forward but it is scary considering how heavily the Vikes management has invested in the D. As for the O, sure they sucked but the Philly D is legit. Plus, QB Case Keenum showed why he is a good backup and no more. The silver lining to this bad loss is that hopefully the Vikes are more sure than ever that Keenum is not a long term solution and they DO NOT overpay to bring him back.
Kras: I must agree with Nate Leer on this one. Although the O was brutal, that is not the strength of this team. The strength of this team is the D, or at least we thought. As Nate Leer hints, the D has been terrible over the last 6 quarters of football and HC Mike Zimmer’s lack of ability to adjust during the game showed up big time. The D stopped nothing in the game against Philly and I think part of that is due to the fact that they could not get off the field. The O’s inability to sustain any drive after the first series was also a shot to the D as they could not get off the field for any length of time. The bulk of the blame in this game lies on Zim and the D. The Vikes showed they may be further away than we thought going into this postseason.
2. What should the Vikings to about the QB situation moving into next season? Would you sign Case Keenum to a long term deal?
Kras: I don’t see Case being a long-term solution to the QB problem that the Vikes are facing moving forward. Keenum played well for the most part this season and will likely draw some attention from other teams but that doesn’t mean the Vikes should get crazy and offer him 4+ years for around $20 million per year. That would be insanity, in my opinion. For the most part, I was a fan of what Keenum was able to do this season but what he showed in the postseason was not enticing. Granted the play of the O-line fell off towards the end of the season but Keenum showed a lack of arm strength and some incredible inaccuracy when under pressure. I believe Keenum will get a serious look from the Vikes this offseason but I truly believe HC Mike Zimmer would love to go back to Teddy Bridgewater.
Nate Leer: I think my feelings about Keenum are pretty clear from the answer above but I do not think Keenum should be signed long term and/or for big money. His lack of arm strength makes him unable to make throws he thinks he can and that is very dangerous. Plus, although it is good that he looks to pass first, he seems to be reluctant to run when necessary and that is one of his very few above average skills. All in all, Keenum is way too risky of an investment for the Vikes to spend close to 20 million a year on, as he will probably demand on the open market.
3. Is there a free agent hitter that would be a good value and fit for the Twins?
Nate Leer: I would like to see them bring in OF Jose Bautista. He bats right which would help the manager give his lefty corner OFs more days off against tough lefties. He also has enough credibility as a power hitter to help balance the middle of the order. This would be especially important if 3B Miguel Sano draws a significant suspension. Bautista is well past being able to play the OF regularly but he started as an IF so should be able to help at 1B as well. The Twins like what they got from OF/DH Robbie Grossman in 2017 but he is not nearly the type of power threat that would ideally be in the middle of the lineup. Obviously the Twins will not overpay for Bautista but he would fit nice as a bargain buy this year.
Kras: Personally I would love to see them pursue OF J.D. Martinez. Unfortunately I don’t think he is going to come at good value. That said, I will be interested what happens with OF Carlos Gonzalez. The Rockies have yet to make him any offer to return. Adding an outfielder that is a career .288 hitter who brings plenty of pop to the lineup, would be nice in the OF if Byron Buxton can’t find his swing for 2 months to start the season. On a related note to Gonzalez’s power numbers, he played half his games at Coors Field, a reputable hitters park, an advantage he would not have at Target Field. To touch on what Nate Leer said about the uncertainty of 3B Miguel Sano, I would also like to get 3B Mike Moustakas. Moose has been a streaky hitter but then again Sano hasn’t been overly productive to this point either. Moose would bring some pop to the lineup, having hit 20+ HRs in 3 of the psat 4 seasons. It would be interesting to see if he could give the team some additional ABs from DH and 1B. I would like to think he could slide into the OF and function if needed but that remains to be seen. Moose may also be a bit of a reach financially given his age and production last season.
1. Which newly hired, or soon to be, NFL coach do you see having the most success with their new team?
Nate Leer: I think the new coach with the best chance at success is the Titans Mike Vrabel. Vrabel is a well respected defensive mind as a former Super Bowl champion with the Patriots and more recently as the Titans D coordinator. The Titans were a playoff team built around their D and power run game. That D had some issues in the playoffs but since D is Vrabel’s specialty, a quick turnaround is possible. On O, the Titans have been stockpiling skill position players and linemen through the draft and free agency the last couple of years. Now Vrabel can pick which of those guys fit and get rid of dead weight without leaving the cupboards bare. Of course the main piece is young QB Marcus Mariota but RB Derrick Henry and WR Corey Davis offer tantalizing upside. The O-line also has many talented pieces, TE Delanie Walker is still very productive and several of the other WRs have had success at this level at some point in their careers. I will be interested to see what kinds of systems Vrabel runs on both sides of the ball. Does he stick to a heavy ground game or get more creative with Mariota passing the ball? Does he run a 3-4, 4-3 or hybrid D similar to what he excelled in for the Pats? If he learned anything from Bill Belichick, hopefully it is the benefit of tailoring scheme’s to fit his best talent. That too would help make the turnaround that much quicker.
Kras: I think the Giants will be a team that will rebound with new HC Pat Shurmur and find some immediate success. The Giants will have the #2 overall pick in the draft, which will give them their pick for QB Eli Manning’s replacement. Speaking of Eli, I believe Shurmur can get him right. It will help to have a healthy slate of WRs going into the season including the ever dangerous Odell Beckham Jr. I also have to give some love to my Lions. I believe new HC Matt Patricia will have some success with the Lions. The Kitties have a solid O in place anchored by QB Matt Stafford. The D may be a question with players such as DT Haloti Ngata and DE Ziggy Ansah set to be free agents. The Lions were weak upfront last season after the Ngata injury and if Patricia is the defensive mind we think he is, he will be able to shore up the holes the D has.
2. Does the NFL need to put in an ejection rule for players that make illegal hits, a la Jags S Barry Church’s hit on New England TE Rob Gronkowski?
Kras: I think the NFL needs to implement some form of the college targeting rule. Assuming things continue like they have, we are few short years away from watching a player get killed on the field. Go back to earlier this season when Danny Trevathan crushed Davante Adams and he had to be braced up and carted off the field. These players are only going to get bigger, faster, and stronger so I would think the NFL has to do something sooner than later. I am not sure what the penalty should be for the “illegal hit” but it has to be severe enough to get defensive players to pay attention to how they are contacting someone deemed defenseless. I would think the punishment would have to start at being tossed immediately from the current game and an automatic one game suspension, subject to more upon further review. It’s far from perfect but so are the current standards.
Nate Leer: I think that is a logical next step as the league looks for ways to protect players. Although it still wouldn’t necessarily always be a “fair trade” on the field, an ejection rule would also help balance out a player being lost due to an injury from an illegal hit. In the example from the AFC title game, the Pats losing Gronk would not hurt quite as much competitively if the Jags would have also lost their starting S. Kras is 100% correct that an ejection and suspension rule is not perfect but it is a step in the right direction. At this point the league needs to take more drastic action to protect players’ brains and the product on the field. While I am certainly more concerned for the health of guys targeted in recent weeks such as Gronk and Pit WR Antonio Brown, the fans also lose when great players are carted off because their opponent went head hunting.
3. Do the Cleveland Cavaliers need to make a major trade and/or coaching change to win the East?
Kras: I think they still have a chance to win the East, because they have LeBron James. Outside of James, the Cavs are looking like a complete mess. Isaiah Thomas, I believe, is still working himself into game shape and trying to build some chemistry with his new teammates. That said, Thomas is not Kyrie Irving. Simply put, the Cavs have downgraded significantly at the PG position and that might be the biggest reason they have had more obvious struggles this season. I think the loss of Irving will cause this team to falter this year in the postseason. With rumors of James moving on from the Cavs after this season, do they really want invest to heavily and mortgage the team’s future to maybe make one more run with James? The Cavs are in a very delicate situation right now and if they don’t start winning at a regular rate, the King will leave the building.
Nate Leer: While some of HC Tyrone Lue’s strategies, such as playing Kevin Love at C, can be questioned, I think this is more of a talent issue than coaching. The Cavs have not had a decent rim protector nor perimeter defender besides LeBron in years. The addition of PG Isaiah Thomas in the offseason was necessary because of Kyrie Irving’s desire to be moved. However, Thomas is a severe liability as a defender who also hasn’t worked well offensively. I would expect the O to improve with time but Thomas is not going to get any better on D. F Jae Crowder also came to Cleveland in the Irving trade but he has fallen on his face after looking like a borderline Allstar as recently as last year. Crowder is another player who can improve offensively and he is a good defender. However, the rest of the main perimeter players are garage on D and over the hill to boot. So a trade is the only hope they have and I don’t know that there is an impact player out there that they can or will get. As Kras mentions, the Cavs are trying to avoid trading the likely high 1st round pick they got from Brooklyn because they know that might be there only hope at a quick rebuild if LeBron leaves. If they can put together a package, even including Thomas or Love, to get Clippers C Deandre Jordan the team would look way better. That’s a longshot to happen though. One idea: Trade everyone. If they dumped Love and Thomas, LeBron may want to go and think what they could get for him. It would be a hard sell in Cleveland but the right move for the franchise.