The Vikings were once again embarrassed at home by a team that, on paper, should have been very beatable. The 35-10 beatdown delivered by the Panthers was frustrating to watch and served as a loss of all hope for many Vikings fans this season. The mess that is the 2013 Minnesota Vikings has so many problems that are so widespread, it is difficult to sift through it all and diagnose any problems, but here are eight things that have stuck out to me through the first five games of the season. Sorry for focusing solely on the negative, but even hack bloggers need to vent.
1. Musgrave Is Tripping Over Himself
Bill Musgrave made a Monday Night Countdown appearance on the “C’mon Man” segment thanks to his incredibly undersized play card. I think ESPN deserves the award, however, as there are about 99 other things that Musgrave should be called out on before the size of his playbook. For starters, how is it that Adrian Peterson only gets 10 carries against Carolina? Think about what the acronym “MVP” stands for and then tell me that it is truly, honestly, absolutely possible for an opposing team to neutralize him that quickly and that early in a game. He’s a true game changer and the Vikings should never stop feeding him the ball. The team abandoning the run game was magnified by the ineptness of Musgrave’s passing game.
Perhaps even worse is the fact that Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton only saw six snaps all game long. That’s right, the same Vikings team that had no answer for incoming power blitzes intentionally kept a Pro Bowl caliber blocker on the sideline. I can’t imagine the reasoning here and it is just the latest example of Musgrave, who had already shown an inability to deal with these types of blitz schemes in the preseason against Buffalo, shooting himself in the foot for no apparent reason.
2. Yes, Quarterback Is Still Important
I am amazed at the number of Vikings fans giving Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel passes for their poor performances. It is like these fans forgot how important the position is, how critical it is, and how hard it is for a team to find a guy that can lead them to the promised land. Yes, this team has plenty of needs, but Rick Spielman got a steal when he signed Josh Freeman last week and he should be a beacon of hope for Vikings fans looking beyond this lost season.
Leslie Frazier said he didn’t know if Freeman would be ready to start by Monday (which prompted me to wonder if any of the other 52 were ready to start this week), but expects to have made a decision by Wednesday. Translation: Rick Spielman will get around to ordering Frazier to start Freeman by Wednesday.
And that, Vikings fans, could be a franchise defining moment that should not be overlooked no matter how abysmal the rest of this roster is looking.
3. Bad Angles
Why are Vikings defenders still taking inside angles on ball carriers? You would think Alan Williams would have coached his players up on this by now, if any film study on the previous four games was watched, because it is a consistent problem. The first guy to the ball carrier needs to, at the very least, force the runner back inside. It is basic. It is fundamental. The problems on this defense are very complicated and run deep, but if the fundamentals aren’t there in week six then what hope could we possibly have?
4. The Never Ending Secondary Story
Despite getting healthy during the bye, the Vikings secondary was still looking confused and overmatched, which looks all too familiar to us in Minnesota. Josh Robinson is still developing, but him gaining experience at the expense of the team is frustrating to watch, especially since Marcus Sherels appears to have developed pretty well and hardly sees the field. Robinson and Rhodes made some mistakes, as is expected of young players, but Robinson is just getting ruined on a weekly basis. It might be time to give someone else a chance while Robinson continues to learn.
I like Jamarca Sanford. That dude can’t catch. Dropped picks are just a given with him at this point and I’m not sure there is much to do about that, other than begin the search for his replacement.
5. What’s Up With The Bye Week?
The most damning stats Leslie Frazier has to answer for this week are ones directly connected to him, as a head coach, since taking over in Minnesota. Following bye weeks, Frazier’s Vikings are 0-4 and have been outscored 137 to 47. I like Frazier. I think he can be a good coach at times, shows poise and promise, and has done a nice job keeping Vikings players out of jail. Still, how can a team be that consistently unprepared with an extra week of preparation?
The seat is heating up for Frazier. Reports that he didn’t think the Vikings should sign Josh Freeman, and the fact that he was overruled, speak volumes about how losing football games is casting a shadow upon his future in Minnesota.
6. Fire Sale Speculation
I’ve seen and heard Vikings fans suggest we should trade… well, just about everyone. The idea is that this season is lost, so cutting bait with certain players and stockpiling 2014 picks would basically be a way of jumpstarting the offseason. It makes sense… except when it doesn’t.
The Vikings aren’t going to get anything for Jared Allen. He’s expensive, aging, limited to a 4-3 scheme, relatively unproductive, and in a contract year. Plus, the market was flooded with veteran pass rushers this last offseason and they remained free agents for quite a long time. There just isn’t a market there to trade Allen, and he might be more valuable as a potential compensatory pick in 2015 than he is in a mid-season trade right now.
Toby Gerhart? Christian Ponder? Chris Cook? Now, those options might make a little more sense. Doubt anything happens, but trading those guys is at least in the realm of possibility.
7. Unleash The Rookies
For whatever reason, Frazier’s Vikings are hellbent on “saving” or “shielding” their rookies before letting them truly play meaningful football. Rick Spielman did a nice job of gifting Frazier three first round talents this offseason, but limiting them the way Frazier is seems like an awful waste. Sharrif Floyd is coming along nicely and should keep seeing his snaps increase. Xavier Rhodes hurt himself, but should be ok soon reportedly, and he deserves to be starting in the base package. Keeping Cordarrelle Patterson on the sideline for so many offensive snaps, while other teams make use of less talented rookie wide outs, is mind boggling.
Perhaps the injury to Desmond Bishop (torn ACL, out for the year) will force Frazier and Williams to play their Penn State boys soon. Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges could benefit from some live action, and it is tough to imagine them being that much worse than the current group.
It is time for us to throw these guys into the fire and see what they have.
8. The O-Line Still Needs Work
This offensive line is a puzzle. I don’t think they are as responsible for the pressure allowed on Sunday as Musgrave and Cassel. The inability to have enough guys blocking on the overload blitzes is ridiculous, and until they are allowed to magically block two guys at once, I pin those failures on the team’s overall inability to adjust.
Rick Spielman has invested heavily in keeping the offensive line together, but that could end up being a major mistake, as the results just aren’t there. Matt Kalil is in a sophomore slump, but I firmly believe he’ll come around. Signing Phil Loadholt to such big money could end up being good in the long run, but it isn’t paying off right now, especially considering the loss of Antoine Winfield was a direct result. John Sullivan is limited by his physical ability, but remains somewhat solid at center. Fusco has had good moments at right guard, but still struggles with consistency, while Charlie Johnson will soon be forgotten after being replaced.
The offensive line needs to be a priority this offseason, which is disappointing given recent efforts made by the front office in that area.
Here’s another thing: I am starting to sense that Leslie Frazier is losing his players. His post-game comments were uncharacteristically defensive and he is starting to sound like a man worried about his job. He is starting to sound like Brad Childress right before the hammer dropped. I hate to see it happen, but when your team shows such little heart in a home game, and the players are disinterested… well, you just can’t help but wonder how big the coming changes are going to be.
And, make no mistake, changes are coming.