As the Vikings get deeper and deeper into the 2013 season their losses are becoming more and more embarrassing. A playoff team one season ago, the Vikings of today are putting some of the most putrid displays of football on the field that I have ever seen, and I’m counting the high school competitions I’ve watched… including junior varsity… in Alaska.
This team has been so awful in so many ways that it is difficult to diagnose any individual problems. There are some obvious players to pick on, guys that lack certain skill sets, but all 32 teams in the league have guys like that. There is something different about this Vikings team. Something that just isn’t right. Something that can’t be explained away by citing an overall lack of talent. This team isn’t old, but it isn’t so young that it should be this bad. In the past I’ve talked about Christian Ponder just not seeming to have that elusive “it” trait, which is a hard thing to explain about an individual player, but now I venture to say that this entire team just doesn’t have “it” this year. How that happens to a collective group is even harder to explain.
Still, I have to do something other than pretend my website doesn’t exist. I can’t just let you guys down and stop writing, no matter how much of a chore it feels like these days. I can clean my gutters before I write, however, which is exactly what I did. Despite the dirty task, Tuesday night has already been more of a success (and more enjoyable) than Monday night was.
There were no hidden treasures in my gutters tonight and, homers be warned, there are no hidden treasures in my analysis of last night’s debacle. Here are 10 things that the Vikings need to fix prior to 2014 and I attempted to prioritize them:
10. We Need A New Guard
Whether their regression is permanent or an anomaly, the Vikings will go into the future with their current starting tackles and center on the offensive line. The guard positions are a different story, however, and if this team is going to make a move along the O-Line it will come at these spots. Brandon Fusco hasn’t been too terrible this season, but Charlie Johnson should not be starting in the NFL, and these guys collectively need to be held accountable for their share of the Vikings struggles both running and passing. It is once again time for the organization to bring some serious competition to the line and make a statement: Continuity within the unit needs to be earned, not gifted.
9. Aging Defensive Line
Jared Allen made a play that will forever be a part of his career highlight reel (also given an interesting nickname by ESPN’s post-game broadcast) when he sacked Eli Manning by grabbing hold of him while bear hugging the Giants left tackle. Outside of that play, and a few opportune tipped passes, this defensive line has done nothing to instill fear into opposing quarterbacks. Brian Robison disappears for stretches, like he did last night, and the defensive tackle has been mediocre. You need not look any further than our third down percentage if you need evidence that this group is in decline. There is little-to-no consistent pressure coming from this group, like we had grown accustomed to seeing, and this defense would have been much worse off last night if they hadn’t been gifted so many drops by Giants receivers. Which brings us to…
8. Our Pass Catchers
If you watch really, really closely you will see that Josh Freeman was on target on a couple of occasions last night. Drops from Jarius Wright, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Jarius Wright did us no favors, though. Drops aren’t the only problem. There was poor route running and terrible field awareness (again, Wright) on a number of occasions. These receivers have had the unenviable task of playing with three different quarterbacks in six games, but dropping bubble screen passes and running routes out of bounds are inexcusable
7. Sophomore Slumps
I don’t have any statistical evidence to prove that the old “sophomore slump” theory is reality, but looking at our current group our only hope is that this is exactly what is happening to them and that they’ll be able to rebound next season. Kalil is sluggish. Blair Walsh missed a field goal. Wright was terrible. Harrison Smith is on inured reserve (but was playing well prior to that). Josh Robinson has been the weakest link in a very weak secondary. There is talent here, as we witnessed in 2012, so all we can really hope for is a quick return to productivity for this group.
6. Special Teams Needs To Get Back To Fundamentals
I remember not that long ago that Mike Preifer was mentioned as a speculative head coaching candidate for the Vikings, or elsewhere, by some very knowing experts. Now his unit can’t even play mistake-free football. A missed field goal, a defensive tackle returning (and fumbling) a kickoff, failures to pin the opponent deep, and mental errors cost the Vikings special teams the credit they earned from a Marcus Sherels punt return for a touchdown and then some. This unit has the potential to be game-changers, but first they need to refresh themselves on the fundamentals of football, and learn how to not lose the game through stupid mistakes.
5. Balancing Act
How does a coaching staff take a brand new quarterback, with only four practices under his belt, and task him with throwing 53 passes on Monday Night Football? Adrian Peterson carried the ball only 13 times. Something is backwards there. Not only is this unbalanced football, in a game where they were always within at least two scores, it is letting the scales swing way to the wrong side. Leslie Frazier acknowledged that they need a more balanced attack on offense, but I am extremely puzzled as to why we didn’t see this happen Monday night.
4. Chris Cook
We know his arms and hands work. There are court documents proving it. Why he can’t lift them to intercept the first pass of his career, even when they are easy pickings, is a testament for why he needs to go after this season. He’s undependable and unproductive. Next!
3. This Staff Isn’t Getting It Done
It saddens me to go down this road, it really does, because I still believe Leslie Frazier is a good football mind that is capable of leading a team to greatness. I really don’t want the Vikings to give up on him, but from a practical standpoint I can’t really defend their decision to stick with him beyond this season if they decide to. He has surrounded himself with coordinators that seem consistently questionable, rarely genius, and often lost. Throwing short of the sticks on third down. Seeing consistent problems get worse, not better, such as dropped interceptions. Rookie defensive tackles returning kicks. Moronic penalties. Frustratingly inept and uncreative play calling. Players looking like they are in preseason from seven weeks into the regular season. It all adds up to just too much to overcome this season, and big changes are coming so it doesn’t spill into 2014, and many of those changes will be necessary.
2. This Ship Needs A Captain
Following Monday’s record-breaking (not in a good way) performance from Josh Freeman, I witnessed normally cool-headed Vikings fans turn into catty Real Housewives in their arguments for or against certain quarterbacks on this team. Freeman did some good things in terms of manning up against heavy pass rushes and throwing the ball with some zip, but in the end he looked like a taller, curlier-haired version of Tim Tebow. He certainly has plenty of excuses at his disposal, considering the circumstances, but Ponder can attest to the fact that eventually those excuses do you no good. I can honestly say that I have no personal fondness for any of our three (or four) quarterbacks, nor any personal hatred, and I just want to see one of them step up to lead this team into the future. I also happen to think that, of the three, Freeman has the best chance of accomplishing that. But, what do I know… I wanted us to draft Tebow.
I guess this goes back to the “it” factor. This team appears to have no heart. Not only do they have no heart now that their playoff hopes have contracted Ebola, but they have had no heart since the day this season began. There is no fire. There is never any sense of urgency. There is little leadership or comradery apparent to outside observers. They constantly look like Ben Stein gave the pre-game speech. They look like they listen to John Denver on their headphones when riding the bus to the game. They look like they are a bunch of guys having to clean their gutters instead of playing a fun, emotional, intense game for a living. Every week they look about as enthused to do their jobs as I looked when I sat down to write this depressing article about the state of our beloved franchise.