Quote of the Week: The Illusion of a Winning Record

Image courtesy of Vikings.com

The Minnesota Vikings may be 8-4, but winning records don’t always reflect a team’s actual place on the NFL’s totem pole. Power rankings and speculation aside, the Vikings are a team that’s too reliant on Adrian Peterson, too thin at a few key positions, and too predictable on offense to compete with the NFC’s best. That was painfully obvious on Sunday, when the Seattle Seahawks burst into TCF Bank Stadium and demolished the Vikings, winning 38-7 in a devastating loss for Mike Zimmer’s upstart team.

It’s time to put the Purple Kool-Aid down. Yes, the Vikings have the league’s best running back and a terrific young defense, but they’ve failed when it’s mattered most this season. They lost their two biggest games of the year —at home against the Packers and Seahawks — by a combined score of 68-20 and have yet to put together a “signature victory” over a quality opponent.

8-4 is impressive. The Vikings currently hold the NFC’s fifth playoff spot. If they win two of their next four games, they’ll finish the season 10-6 and likely play January football for the first time since 2012. But throw out the idea that this team is ready for anything beyond the first round of the playoffs; they’re not, and Mike Zimmer knows it:

[quote_center]”I’m concerned about a lot of things right now.”[/quote_center]

[quote_center]”Yeah, we’re not quite as good as what we think we are. Especially if we don’t play the way we’re capable of playing we’re definitely not as good as what we think we are.”[/quote_center]

When they’ve played up to their potential, the Vikings have been a force. They defeated the Lions twice and stole a game from the Bears at Soldier Field. Given their atrocious divisional record last year, the quick turnaround was unexpected. Two of those victories came in the middle of a five-game winning streak over teams like the Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs, and St. Louis Rams. The “soft” part of the schedule boosted the Vikings to the top of the NFC North and primed them for a run at the division title.

But against their three toughest opponents — the Broncos, Packers, and Seahawks — the Vikings have faltered. What worked against lesser foes, like relying heavily on Adrian Peterson, failed against three of the league’s most dangerous teams. Peterson, for all his greatness, isn’t meshing well with Teddy Bridgewater. Specifically, he’s not comfortable running from the shotgun, which is where Bridgewater has had his most success. And after yet another game where he wasn’t the focal point, Peterson complained, telling reporters that the Vikings were “outcoached in so many ways” by the Seahawks.

That may have been true, but Peterson’s return has made this offense one-dimensional. Left guard Brandon Fusco admitted as much yesterday, and it’s proven true in each of the team’s losses this season. When Peterson rushes the ball at least 19 times, the Vikings win. In their three worst losses, he ran the ball just 10, 13, and eight times, with his biggest performance a 45-yard outing against the Packers. Norv Turner’s reliance on Peterson and the offensive line’s struggles to protect Teddy Bridgewater have hindered the growth of Minnesota’s second-year quarterback, who hasn’t been able to carry this team when defenses shut Peterson down. It’s an ugly situation on the offensive side of the ball, and one that likely won’t be fixed until the line up front is fully healthy and Turner finds the balance of Bridgewater and Peterson’s collective strengths.

On defense, injuries are decimating a once-imposing unit. Anthony Barr (groin) and Harrison Smith (hamstring) left Sunday’s game early in the first quarter and didn’t return. Linval Joseph, the linchpin in the middle of the defensive line, was inactive, and Andrew Sendejo, the team’s most consistent strong safety, was out with a knee injury. Without four of their starters, the Vikings looked like a different defense on Sunday, often missing tackles and blowing coverages they normally wouldn’t. Depth at linebacker was a glaring issue, and Sendejo”s replacements gave up far too many deep shots in the secondary. For a team that’s drafted well and added some quality pieces late in the draft, injuries shouldn’t be an excuse for a lack of depth.

With just three days to prepare for the explosive Cardinals, the Vikings should be worried about losing their second-straight game for the first time all season. The Vikings will likely make the playoffs, but don’t kid yourselves — Minnesota isn’t ready for the bright lights of the postseason. Give them another year and a chance to flesh out glaring holes on the roster.