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.
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.