OPINION: Minnesota Vikings Are Not Super Bowl Contenders

I’m just a 30 year old guy with a $200 Chromebook.

I am not a former NFL player or coach. I don’t have some crazy insider access. I’m not the guy that’s going to feed your football analytics craving. Heck, I’m not even that strong of a writer.

I’m just a guy that loves Vikings football, started a website, and surrounded himself with enough talent to make this whole thing fairly successful.

Since Sunday’s epic failure at TCF Bank Stadium, I have been reading everything I can get my hands on about this Vikings team, and I can tell you that the media coverage of this team has abruptly changed their narrative. Perhaps to an even stronger degree, the fan reaction to those articles and radio shows has gone to an extreme end of the spectrum, as well.

I’ve told you what I’m not, as a writer, but what I am is someone that’s been around the block a time or two covering this team. And, let me tell you, writing about a team’s failures is enormously E-A-S-Y.

It is far easier to write about glaring mistakes leading to a loss than it is to illustrate for a reader just how, exactly, a team found success. It is easier to write a powerful article about a player hurting a child than it is to pen a compelling piece about a linebacker that helps them every single day (Vote for Chad!). It is easier to call for a man’s head than it is to produce a list of adequate replacements.

It is just easier to point out the negatives at every turn, both as a writer and as a fan, than it is to articulate the positives.

So, why the ramblin’ preamble?

Well, I want you to know that what I am about to write isn’t an attempt to pile on. I’m not trying to kick this Vikings team while they are down. It isn’t coming from a place of wavering fanhood. I’m not trying to be negative simply because it is E-A-S-Y and popular to do it at this moment.

I’m just a guy at his keyboard… a guy who has carefully observed the 2015 Minnesota Vikings… a guy who says there is no way in hell this is the year they bring home the Super Bowl victory.

To those that have remained level-headed for the last six months or so, this probably doesn’t come as a shocking statement, and they may even consider it to be stating the obvious. To those that have become swept up in the regular season success, letting preseason expectations give way to postseason hopes, this statement might infuse some anger or disgust.

There are a laundry list of problems with this roster and the on-field execution. We’ve been over a number of them right here at Vikings Territory, sometimes in great detail, over the last thirteen weeks.

What I’m saying is a little different, though. I’m saying that I believe this team has fatal flaws, a few of them, that literally guarantee they cannot string together three or four consecutive postseason wins against playoff caliber teams despite the pipe dream that any team can “get hot” at just the right moment to make history. Some teams can do that, and have done that, but it won’t be the 2015 Minnesota Vikings.

Here is why:

FATAL FLAW #1: The Offensive Line Is Simply Terrible

This offensive line can’t protect Teddy Bridgewater well enough, despite getting lots of help, to even fully evaluate him as a quarterback, let alone allow us to win games against elite defenses. The injuries to Phil Loadholt and John Sullivan (and probably Brandon Fusco) were clearly not a part of the preseason plan, and the loss was too great for Rick Spielman’s recent lineman investments to cover for.

The struggles of this offensive line are well documented in every form of analysis, from general observations to in-depth analysis, and there is almost no denying they are collectively the weakest link on this team.

The line is too easily overwhelmed by talented defenses. At best, like in Detroit where run blitzes were abound, the Minnesota Vikings offense is forced to survive while being one-dimensional. At worst, like against Seattle, the line can’t even block four man fronts well enough to be one-dimensional… the offense just flounders around with, well, no dimensions.

There is no quick fix, especially this late in the season, and it is futile to hope that a gradual build of chemistry-through-continuity will suddenly make them more talented as a group. It isn’t going to happen in time for the playoffs and it just isn’t reasonable to expect a running of the postseason table when your offense can so easily be shut down.

FATAL FLAW #2: No Answer For Mobile Quarterbacks

By my personal definition of an impressively athletic quarterback, the Vikings have played three this season, and struggled against each. Those three quarterbacks are Colin Kaepernick, Aaron Rodgers, and Russell Wilson. All three of those games featured quarterbacks making plays with their feet, from slipping away from the pass rush to running wild down the field, and the results show when you consider those three games were all losses for Minnesota.

Kaepernick was sacked once for no loss of yards. He ran the ball seven times for 41 yards. The Niners converted 42% of their third downs in that game.

Rodgers didn’t have the best game of his career against Minnesota, but his ability to escape the rush did a lot to ensure the blowout at TCF Bank Stadium. He only took two sacks on the day and rushed for a measly six yards on three carries. That nifty footwork, however, played a hefty role in Green Bay’s ability to convert on 38% of their third downs.

Wilson is the most recent, and the most frightening, example of what a mobile quarterback can do to this Mike Zimmer defense that appears so stout in so many other ways. The Seahawks only allowed Wilson to be sacked one time, according to ESPN, for a loss of eight yards. He shredded the defense for 51 yards and a score on nine rushing attempts.

The Seahawks converted 69% of their third down attempts against the short-handed defense and the Vikings appeared to be at a total loss for how to handle that dual threat.

It appears that a number of mobile quarterbacks will lead their teams to the playoffs this year, possibly including Rodgers and Wilson, but it also appears that the road to the Super Bowl will go through Carolina this year.

Thinking about what the 2015 version of Cam Newton could do to the 2015 version of the Minnesota Vikings is the stuff nightmares are made of.

From where I stand, the odds of earning a trip to the Super Bowl drop way off for every mobile quarterback from the NFC that gets in. They just don’t have an answer for those guys and the sudden rash of injuries does nothing to help mask that deficiency.

FATAL FLAW #3: I See A Leadership Problem

I’m willing to chalk this up to a team in their second season under a new head coach transition from the old guard to the new blood, but the Vikings seem to have a leadership problem.

There’s the awkward, and quite frankly hard to fathom, inability for Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson to both be successfully featured at the same time. There’s the obvious discontent with some of Norv Turner’s choices on offense. There’s a vague lack of leadership on defense, with youngster Eric Kendricks taking over at middle linebacker, on top of the sudden transfer of on-field communicator duties going to Chad Greenway in Anthony Barr’s absence.

None of those items are particularly worrisome. Combined, they present some interesting challenges, but not a one of them can’t be “fixed” in time for the playoffs if certain pieces fall into place.

The biggest piece of evidence, or perhaps proof, that the Vikings have a leadership problem came in the form of some Captain Munnerlyn post-game comments this week, however.

“Some guys think we arrived and we [have] not,” Munnerlyn said following the loss to Seattle.

Wait, what?

How in the hell is it even possible for the Vikings to strut into Week Thirteen with some players thinking they have “arrived” only 14 days after Green Bay kicked the living snot out of them? Seriously, how is that possible?

If what Munnerlyn described is true, then there is a vocal veteran presence missing in that locker room, plain and simple. The Vikings have plenty of veterans that know all too well what falling short feels like and they’ve signed a few guys, like Linval Joseph, that know exactly how difficult it is to actually “arrive” as a team.

Why this team had players overconfident as they prepared to face Seattle is a mystery that absolutely floors me. That attitude, and the presumed lack of intelligence that led to it, is as clear of a sign as ever that this team has plenty of room to grow before anyone should take them too seriously.

BUT (Yes, There Is A But)

The future is bright!

My hack blogger infancy was during the Childress Administration. I grew up a bit during the Frazier years. Both of those head coaches provided plenty of E-A-S-Y fodder for me to play with and I never, not even during 2009, did I get the warm and fuzzies about this team’s long-term direction like I do right now.

I’m still a hack blogger, that much will never change, but I’m entering a new era in this adventure because of this weird optimism that I just can’t shake. My assessments have led me to believe that there is no way a Super Bowl win is in the cards this season, but they’ve also left me impatient for the start of the 2016 season.

I love Mike Zimmer. I think Bridgewater is the real deal. I’m already working on lists of the great free agency and draft options that Rick Spielman could target to take this roster to the next level. A couple offensive linemen, a little growth out of young players, and a legitimate strong safety ought to bring immediate optimism to a fan base prepared to move into a new stadium.

This team has me excited and you, fellow Vikings fans, should also be excited about what is on the horizon. We’ve seen great strides taken this season, our preseason hopes and dreams are coming true in a lot of ways (including a current lead in the NFC North), but the reality is that this just isn’t the year we finally get that championship.

In the meantime, enjoy the ride.

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Adam Warwas

Adam Warwas (Founder) has been writing about the Vikings for a total of eight years. Five of those years have been here at Vikings Territory where he continues to surround himself with enough talented individuals that people keep coming back. As proud as he is of what Vikings Territory has become, his real treasures are in his home... a beautiful wife and three amazing children (and a dog named Percy).

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  1. I agree with you in part about the future. Where we disagree is on the offense. We don’t have one! I’m not optimistic about next year either. Last year our O line wasn’t very good either but we had Kalil to blame. The others weren’t the hottest but with Kalil there, they were easy to overlook.

    Zim has stated many times what his overall game scheme is. Shut down the opposing teams offense and then grind the ballgame out. That scheme can only work if we have a functioning offense that can put up 18 to 20 points a game. This group can’t do it and they won’t be able to do it next year either (against good teams)…..

    There’s something slightly off about us. We are unbalanced. Fixing the O line is a no brainer. Running a better offensive scheme is a no brainer. Problem is that we haven’t shown any progress in doing it. Is it Norv? Some people think so. One thing I’ve noticed is that we don’t seem to be developing offensive players as we do defensive players. Zim does pretty good with what he has. Can’t say the same for Norv and I don’t know why. Our O line has played together for 12 games but are playing worse or as bad as their first game of the season. Why is that?? Zim said he’d fix the O line problems.. He hasn’t ??? What’s going on??

    1. There are two injuries and Harris really shouldn’t be a starter. I think they should move Fusco back to the right side of the line and get a good left guard in the offseason. Kalil still scares me too but he hasn’t been as bad, or maybe I just haven’t noticed it as much because the rest of the line sucks this year

      1. Except Harris has played well for the most part. He and Berger have been our best starters this season. Fusco is terrible at left guard but I’m not sure if he’s fully recovered from last year’s injury. The question for me is, if Fusco cannot play LG when he’s healthy, what do we do with two starting-level right guards? The answer may be to let Harris walk after the season when his contract is up, but that’s a risk if Fusco can’t get back to his 2013 form.

  2. I think if you even consider the Vikings going to the Super Bowl they better win it, I don’t even think it’s reasonable to expect this team to do it . They would never beat the Patriots . They are so much better than Christian Ponder being back there, and lame ass Frasier, and whoever thought Peterson would come back ? Get a few more pieces and playing that new fancy stadium next year things could change

  3. While I don’t disagree with you, I think we have a tendency to over react when we win and when we lose. Without Joseph, Smith, and Barf on the field this defense is as the Packers offense would be without Rodgers, and Nelson. It’s not the same team and its not who we are.

    I am not ready to run Norv out of town just yet. The offensive line is not his fault not is it his fault that Adrian has to be used in very specific way that may not be conducive to Teddy’s game. (Honestly this offense was more effective without AD.). Norv is not without criticism and I’m not defending him, but I would like to see some personnel changes before judging. Again I think the offense put up pretty good numbers the second half of last year, and has at times this year looked sharp (albeit unable to finish far too often).

    As to defensive leadership, I don’t see this as a problem. I think Zimmer heads that ship well, and with the exception of the SF and GB game I think the defense has been elite. I don’t count Seattle because our too three defensive players were out.

    Coming into the year I felt we would make the playoffs as a wild card and likely lose in the first round. I expected our offensive line to be our down fall, and I expected our defense to be top 5. I think we are tracking very close to those expectations. In fact despite the curb stomping against Seattle, I think we are ahead of schedule. If our defense gets healthy we have shown we can play with anyone, and I think we could actually win a playoff game. Seattle and Green Bay are both beatable if we are on. This year is invaluable experience for this young team, they are learning what it takes which will serve us well in the future. But its also important to note that we can win a playoff game this year, and this team when healthy is nothing like the team we saw against Seattle.

    Mission Super Bowl win at home in two years in well on track, and making the playoffs in itself is a milestone on the track.

  4. Completely agree. The offensive line is patched together at best. Granted next season we will return Loadholt and Sullivan allowing Joe Berger (who is the highlight of our weak offensive line) to move to a guard where I feel will prosper. Also possibly moving the undersized right tackle T.J. Clemmins to the right guard spot could be a fix. As for the free safety position I feel as if Trae Waynes will grow in this offseason and earn the corner spot next to Xavier Rhodes allowing the Vikes to move Terrance Newman back to the strong safety spot next to the Hitman. Newman of course is no long term fix but can stabilize the position for another season or so at which point Antone Exum could take over. Yes he played awful against the Seahawks you have to remember he was injured the entire game. He is an athletic hard hitting safety who can cover which is something the Vikes need to compliment Smith. Making these adjustments could lead to the best secondary in the NFL.

    1. Jury is still out on Exum. Yes he was hurt but he was out of position, tackled poorly, and didn’t cover very well. You would at least expect him to be in better position and cover. His tackling was awful. He just plain missed people. Remember Zim wouldn’t play him until everyone else was hurt. I’m going with Zim on this one..

  5. I like your summary Adam. I also believe you started with the most glaring of issues, and the problem is the time it takes to get an Oline to a higher level. I thought Kalil was a good move at the time. I am not impressed with him at all, but what you gonna do? You are quite accurate that it really is impossible to evaluate Teddy based on this issue. Watch a Patriot game and look at the time Brady has compared to our games. And if someone can put pressure on Brady, he drops to average very quickly.

    This is a team that, granted, wasn’t ready to handle first place mentally. Throw in the absence of perhaps our top three defenders, and the ingredients were there for a rout. Its all part of growing up as a team, but while one may suggest we’re not as good as our 8-4 record suggests, I would argue that 8-4 in the NFL is nothing to minimize or complain about. Winning two of three in the NFL is darn, darn hard to do. I think when the year started, we would have all been pleased with 10-6, and I feel that is still well within our grasp.

    Again, nice piece Adam.

  6. Biggest issue with the OL is the lack of investment by Rick.Kalil was a first round pick,but apart from that these guys are all lower round picks or cast offs from other teams.Just because they are lower ranked picks doesn’t make them bad per se,but I think they have limitations.
    The future of this offence depends heavily on what Rick does in the off season,there needs to be a heavy focus on fixing the OL,and if that means investing high draft picks on linemen then so be it.Rick has to be prepared to break his normal draft trends,and play hard ball in FA.
    The organisation has made an investment in Teddy Bridgewater, and to cash in on that investment you must be able to protect it.