The Minnesota Vikings have clearly returned to the floor of the league after an exciting run last year, and after four games haven't looked too impressive. Like many teams at the bottom of the NFL, they are mired in a quarterback controversy, in what is becoming quickly familiar for the snakebitten franchise. But in all honesty, the biggest issue facing the Vikings has nothing to do with the most important player on the roster.
It's the defense.
Overall, it would be easy to point out the many culprits on the defensive side of the ball, but fans shouldn't lose track of the big picture.
The Vikings offense, when adjusted for strength of schedule, has actually been in the top ten of points scored. That shouldn't be a surprise, as they've averaged 28.75 points a game. They rank seventh in offensive touchdowns scored per game (which gets rid of defensive and special teams scores) and rank 11th in the percentage of drives that have ended in a score.
To be clear, there are still significant issues with the offense. And while the quarterback position is no joke, a better performance from the defense would easily produce two more wins.
The Vikings defense, both when controlling for defensive efficiency and simply points scored, falls to nearly the bottom of the league. They are 26th in points allowed when adjusting for opposing offenses and 24th in defensive efficiency.
Despite an ability to create takeaways, ranking fourth in the percentage of drives on defense that ended in turnovers, they've allowed too many points to put the offense in a position to win.
Much of this has to do with the poor linebacker play, including normal stalwarts like Chad Greenway, but the primary culprit might be the secondary. While Chris Cook has been fine while on the field, he simply hasn't been able to get on the field. Xavier Rhodes does well, but doesn't see the field.
A.J. Jefferson and Josh Robinson have been terrible in their opportunities. Robinson alone has allowed 92.1% of passes thrown in his direction to be completed, according to Pro Football Focus, the most in the league. His only saving grace is that he has miraculously allowed zero touchdowns, although this is likely a function of who he has to cover instead of how well he covers.
He has allowed more receptions per snap in coverage than any other cornerback in the league as well and is a part of the defense's remarkable passing inefficiency.
That's not to say the passing game is the only problem. In "Power" situations, which are defined by Football Outsiders as third or fourth down with two yards or fewer to go, the Vikings are 26th in the league. And the linebackers are partially to blame. Their second-level run defense ranks as the 30th, according to Football Outsiders.
Overall, this has led to consistent gains by opposing offenses, and they've been able to generate a first down or touchdown on 74.3% of their opportunities, which ranks the Vikings defense as 29th in the NFL.
There is a significant amount of talent on the defense, from star defensive linemen like Jared Allen and Kevin Williams, a premier linebacker in Chad Greenway and a powerful safety in Harrison Smith to young up-and-comers like Sharrif Floyd and Xavier Rhodes.
Alan Williams hasn't been able to organize the defense as effectively as he had been last year. Without a turnaround, the Vikings may very well end up remembering their victory against the Steelers as a lone bright spot instead of the turning point.
The offense isn't perfect, and the quarterback position is a significant concern.
But it isn't the problem.