The Minnesota Vikings find themselves in an unenviable position, opening the season with three straight losses—and surprisingly, it's not quarterback Christian Ponder's fault. The Vikings' offense has actually opened the season with their highest average score since 2009, Brett Favre's first season with the Vikings.
Through three games, the Vikings have averaged 27.0 points per game. That currently ranks them seventh in the NFL (before Monday's game between the Raiders and the Broncos). Part of the problem is that the Lions (27.3 points per game), Bears (31.7) and Packers (32.0) are all above them.
Let's try to put into perspective how amazing this is. In 2009, when Favre led the Vikings with the second-highest-scoring offense in the NFL, they averaged 29.4 points per game, and that was one of the best seasons in Favre's career. That's only 2.4 more points per game than with Ponder leading the offense this year.
Mind-boggling, isn't it?
On Sunday in the Vikings' home opener, the fans were very eager to boo Ponder. It proves that a lot of people are not looking at the total picture. They're focusing on the fact he has thrown five interceptions and only two touchdowns—and the team is 0-3.
This team, with Adrian Peterson only averaging 93.7 yards per game, is scoring more points than last season when they finished 10-6 and made the playoffs. Imagine how good this offense could be if he was putting up 131 yards per game like he did last season.
Fortunately for the Vikings, they find themselves in pretty good company. In the NFC, there are only five teams above .500. The Giants, Redskins and Buccaneers are also still looking for their first win of the season. Green Bay, San Francisco and Atlanta, all playoff teams from last season, are 1-2.
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How much bigger does that loss to the Bears in Week 2 seem now? If the Vikings offense could have converted one field goal in each of their past two games into a touchdown, they would be sitting at 2-1 and leading the division.
There's still a glimmer of hope. The record of the Vikings' next four opponents is 2-10.
On the negative side, this is only the fourth time the Vikings have opened the season 0-3 in franchise history, and head coach Leslie Frazier owns two of them. The best they ever finished was 6-10 in 2002, in Mike Tice's first year as head coach. If the Vikings don't at least match that record, this will be Frazier's last year as head coach.
In the Browns game, the Vikings defensive secondary took a huge hit. Safety Jamarca Sanford suffered a hamstring injury, and cornerback Chris Cook left the game with groin injury after only three plays. Cook's replacement, A.J. Jefferson, suffered an ankle injury and only played seven snaps. That forced Marcus Sherels to see his first significant action on defense. He finished with eight tackles to lead the team.
Here's a look at the Vikings' last injury report leading up to the Browns game from team's website.
With three of the team's starting offensive linemen on the report, that may explain why they played poorly on Sunday.
What Must Improve
Obviously when a team opens the season 0-3, there are plenty of areas that need to be improved. We could spend hours listing the areas that have underperformed so far this year.
The offense needs to convert more trips in the red zone into touchdowns. But, as stated above, they are ranked in the top 10 in scoring, so more points isn't really the problem.
The offensive line has allowed 10 sacks this season, giving up six to the Browns, and the running game it not as effective as last season.
But perhaps the biggest area that must improve is the defense—specifically the pass rush from the defensive line. Sure, the secondary has been putrid through three games, but the opposing quarterbacks have had plenty of time to pick apart the secondary.
The Vikings only have four sacks on the season, and only two of them have come from the defensive line. Jared Allen and Brian Robison, the team's top sack producers the past two seasons, are only averaging 0.33 sacks per game. At this pace, they will only finish with five sacks on the season.
For Allen, that would be the fewest sacks since he finished with 7.5 sacks in 2006 while playing with the Chiefs. Not exactly the kind of season that will produce a big contract for 2014.
That lack of pressure has led to 970 passing yards, eight touchdowns and a 63.0 completion percentage. The defense is ranked 29th in total yards allowed. While the offense has scored 27 points per game, the defense has given up 32, ranking them 30th in the league.
As stated above, if the offense had converted a couple of field goals into touchdowns, the Vikings would be 2-1. However, if the defense played even slightly better and had come up with at least one key stop in the past two games, that would also give the Vikings a couple of wins.
If the battle is won in the trenches, then the defensive line is MIA.