CAN THE MINNESOTA VIKINGS CLIMB OFF THE MAT?
The demise of the Minnesota Vikings as a playoff contender continued last night. They lost for the sixth time in seven games, fell to 6-6 and realistically gave away their last bit of margin for error. Those that bet on the Vikes and grabbed the (+3) were able to collect in the 17-15 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. But that’s small consolation for a team that was once the toast of the NFC and for futures bettors who may have invested in them.
What Minnesota does have going for them is a manageable schedule down the stretch. They go to Jacksonville. That’s followed by a home game with Indianapolis, then a visit to Green Bay. A home game at Chicago ends the season. It’s not unreasonable to think the Vikings could win four in a row and then hope for a modest fade by either the Lions in the NFC North or the Redskins in the wild-card race.
But any hope has to presume better play from the offense and that’s where things get dicey. Minnesota’s offense ranks 26th in the NFL in points scored. They can’t run the ball and they can’t throw it downfield. What else is left? Well, a lot of dink-and-dunk passing. It’s led Sam Bradford near the top of the charts for completion percentage at 71%, but with a meager 6.8 yards-per-attempt (26th among NFL quarterbacks), it’s not putting any points on the board.
The incompetence of the Viking running game was noted last night by Cris Collingsworth in the NBC telecast and it’s certainly backed up with data—the 3.0 yards-per-attempt that Minnesota’s running game averages is the worst in the league. But if you look at last night’s box score, you see the Vikings did run 19 times for 87 yards. That’s well over four a pop. Yet they threw the ball 45 times.
Minnesota has played five games since offensive coordinator Norv Turner shocked everyone with his sudden resignation. Pat Shurmur took over the playcalling duties. Here’s a brief look at the run-balance balance in the five games Shurmur has been calling the shots…
*vs. Detroit—25 rushes, 40 passes
*at Washington—21 rushes, 40 passes
*vs. Arizona—24 rushes, 28 passes
*at Detroit—16 rushes, 37 passes
*vs. Dallas—19 rushes, 45 passes
You will note the Arizona game is the only one where there’s even a semblance of balance. Will it surprise you to learn that this is also the game they won? That’s in spite of the fact that all of these games were close. The Redskins game was the only one where the Vikings trailed by any margin significant enough to alter playcalling—an early 14-0 deficit—and even that was wiped out by halftime.
It’s easy to think that because Minnesota doesn’t run the ball well, they should abandon it, at least until Adrian Peterson gets back on the field. But when a defense doesn’t have to at least respect the possibility of the run, they can tee off on the quarterback. The Viking offensive line is not good enough to handle pass rushers under any circumstance, much less when they’re in full-throated pass-rush mode.
Left guard Alex Boone is the only player in this unit who even reaches the level of mediocrity. Left tackle T.J. Clemmings might be the worst starting player in the league at any position. The Vikings honored their Hall of Famers last night at halftime and you couldn’t blame the coaching staff if they had asked Randall McDaniel, Ron Yary and Mick Tingelhoff to get back in uniform.
Throwing the ball as often as the Vikings do is justifiable if your quarterback is named Tom Brady. Or even if your offensive line can protect. Not when your quarterback is Sam Bradford, your only reliable target is Stefon Diggs and “throwing the ball” means a long night of three-yard buttonhook routes.
Minnesota’s running game might not inspire confidence, but showing a little bit more of it is the last bit of hope they have for their roller-coaster of a season to take one more turn back upward.