Minnesota Vikings: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 8

Tim ArcandCorrespondent IOctober 23, 2013

Head coach Leslie Frazier appears to be running out of answers as the Vikings fall to 1-5.
Head coach Leslie Frazier appears to be running out of answers as the Vikings fall to 1-5.Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings looked so bad against the New York Giants on Monday night that it's entirely possible this team will not win another game this season. No doubt, head coach Leslie Frazier's days are numbered with the Vikings. 

While it doesn't make any sense to fire him during the season, it makes even less sense to keep him after the season ends. In less than three full seasons as the coach of the Vikings, Frazier has a 17-27 record—that's a .386 winning percentage. 

The Vikings owners must have known what they were doing when they failed to offer Frazier a contract extension following the team's surprising 10-6 record in 2012. 

Each embarrassing loss this season only proves what an aberration last year was when this team made the playoffs. With three first-round draft picks and the free-agent signing of Greg Jennings, the expectations were extremely high—at least until the regular season began. 

It will be interesting to see how much Josh Freeman improves in his second start for the Vikings—after all, he cannot possibly play any worse.

/Getty Images

On Tuesday, Frazier announced that Freeman would be the starter when the Vikings host the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night. Then on Wednesday, during his press conference on Vikings.com, Frazier announced that Freeman has concussion-like symptoms and Christian Ponder will be the starter. That pushes Freeman's next possible start to Week 9, when the Vikings face the Cowboys in Dallas.

 

Too Much Quarterback Is a Bad Thing

Freeman is the third different quarterback to start a game for the Vikings this season. In the previous five games, the Vikings averaged 33.8 passes per game. On Monday, they opened up the offense and let Freeman sling the ball 53 times.

It's only the eighth time in the past 20 seasons that a Vikings quarterback has thrown that many passes. The Vikings are 3-5 in those games. 

By far, Freeman's performance Monday night is the worst of the bunch. He has the fewest completions and yards among those eight games. It was also the third game in his career that he has thrown more than 50 passes—and all of them were losses.

Nothing good usually comes when a quarterback has to throw the ball that often.

Minnesota Vikings Quarterbacks With 50 Passes in a Game
DateQBCompAttYdsTDIntRateResult
10/20/94Moon31502710259.7Win
12/13/98Cunningham32553452181.3Win
10/29/00Culpepper29533131262.9Loss
9/29/03Culpepper29532730253.4Loss
10/10/04Culpepper365039650128.4Win
10/25/09Favre33503340176.6Loss
10/14/12Ponder35523522283.2Loss
10/21/13Freeman20531900140.6Loss
ESPN

A concussion might explain why Freeman looked as bad as he did in Monday's game. Here's hoping the Vikings can put together a complete game with a more balanced attack against the Packers. Last year, Adrian Peterson rushed for 508 yards against Green Bay in three games. He had games of 210 and 199 yards in the regular season. In the playoffs, the Packers were able to shut him down, holding him to only 99 yards.  

If the Vikings have any shot at beating the Packers, Adrian Peterson will need to have his best game of the season.
If the Vikings have any shot at beating the Packers, Adrian Peterson will need to have his best game of the season./Getty Images

 

Division Standings

Things really bunched up in the NFC North last week—at least at the top of the division. Green Bay's win over the Cleveland Browns leapfrogged them into the division lead as both the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions lost close games. 

NFC North Division Standings
TeamWinsLossesWeek 8 Opponent
Green Bay42@ Vikings
Chicago Bears43bye
Detroit Lions43vs. Cowboys (4-3)
Minnesota Vikings15vs. Packers
Pro-Football-Reference

The Packers opened the season 1-2, losing two of their first three games to a couple of playoff teams from last season. Since then, they have rattled off three wins, putting themselves atop the division.

The uniforms may be ugly, but Aaron Rodgers has the ability to overcome any number of losses to his receiving corps.
The uniforms may be ugly, but Aaron Rodgers has the ability to overcome any number of losses to his receiving corps./Getty Images

Averaging 434.7 yards per game, the Packers have the second-ranked offense in the NFL. This could make for a long game this Sunday night for the Vikings' 27th-ranked ranked defense that has yielded 391.2 yards per game.   

The Bears lost more than their game against the Washington Redskins last weekend. They also lost a key player on both sides of the ball. Jay Cutler will miss at least four games with a torn groin muscle:

They also lost linebacker Lance Briggs for at least four games—and possibly more—with a broken bone in his shoulder:

If both miss only four games, that means they would return in Week 13 when the Bears face the Vikings at the Metrodome. At this point, the Vikings would be the perfect team for the Bears to welcome back their captains. The bye will allow the Bears to lick their wounds and give them an extra week to patch things together when they face the Packers in Week 9 at Lambeau Field. Even an extra week won't help, though. 

The Lions have come back to earth after opening the season 4-1. They've lost two of their past three games. Calvin Johnson's nine catches for 155 yards and two touchdowns was not enough to help the Lions avoid their first home loss of the season.

Oct 20, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson (81) catches pass in the end zone while being defended by Cincinnati Bengals outside linebacker Vontaze Burfict (55), free safety Reggie Nelson (20) and strong safety George Iloka
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Working in the Lions' favor is they have an easy schedule the rest of the way. Their remaining opponents have a 22-37 record. They only face three teams with a winning record, including the Bears. Their toughest two remaining games are both at home against the Cowboys and Packers.

It's possible that the Lions could go 7-2 over the remaining schedule—with possible losses to the Cowboys and Packers. That would give them an 11-5 record for the season. That would certainly be enough to get them into the playoffs.     

Oct 20, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Cincinnati Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham (84) during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Bengals won 27-24. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The problem is their defense is ranked 30th in total defense—without any improvements, their only hope is to win a lot of high-scoring games.   

 

Injury Report

Against the Carolina Panthers, the Vikings lost linebacker Desmond Bishop for the season with a torn ACL and safety Harrison Smith for at least eight weeks with turf toe. Monday night backup running back Matt Asiata suffered a shoulder injury, and Rhett Ellison injured an ankle.

Here's the Vikings' most recent injury report leading up to Monday's game:

Minnesota Vikings Injury Report
PlayerPositionInjuryMonday's Game Status
Jared AllenDEAnklePlayed
Matt AsiataRBShoulderInjured during the game
Rhett EllisonTEKneeInjured ankle in the game
Josh FreemanQBConcussionInjured during the game
A.J. JeffersonCBAnkleDNP
Matt KalilLTLow BackPlayed
Adrian PetersonRBHamstringThat explains his bad game
Christian PonderQBRibRode the pine
Xavier RhodesCBAnkleCame up limping in the game
Rodney SmithWRHipInactive
John SullivanCHandPlayed
Blair WalshKHamstringMissed a 53-yard FG
Kevin WilliamsDTKneePlayed
Jarius WrightWRAnkleThat's why the ball was overthrown
Vikings.com

Like most teams at this point in the season, the Vikings have plenty of names on the injury report. The Vikings placed Bishop on the injured reserved list and Smith on the injured reserve/designated to return.

The Vikings need to find a diamond in the rough off a practice squad who can come in and provide some kind of spark to a team in desperate need of help. Perhaps there is a cornerback who can tackle or provide some coverage across the field and break up an occasional pass, or even make an interception.  

 

What Needs to Improve

In very simple terms, based on the performance against the Giants, everything needs to improve.

 

On Offense the Biggest Improvement Needs to Come in the Running Game

The Vikings running game begins and ends with Peterson. 

Last season, the Vikings had the third-ranked rushing offense, averaging 164.8 yards per game. This season, they've fallen to 19th in the NFL with only 102.0 yards per game.

Peterson has rushed for over 100 yards just once this season. He is averaging 85.2 yards per game, 45.9 fewer yards than last season, a 35 percent drop in performance. In his last two games, he has a total of only 90 rushing yards. 

Oct 21, 2013; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants cornerback Trumaine McBride (38) trips up Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (28) at Metlife Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Chris Faytok/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports
The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

That drop in production has also come with a drop in scoring. After scoring six touchdowns in the first four games, he has only one in the last two.  

For some reason, what the Vikings have been trying all season is not working. The following picture is how the Vikings typically line up on first down—one running back and three wide receivers. 

This invites the defense to put eight defenders near the line of scrimmage. This leaves three defensive backs to worry about Greg Jennings, the receiver lined up wide right. 

It looks like the play is designed to run to the left, the side where two of the tight ends are lined up. But a possible hole appears to the right, where Brandon Fusco was lined up.

Instead of going for the hole, Peterson runs right up the back of center John Sullivan, slowing him down and minimizing the gain as the safety comes to the line and makes the tackle. 

There are two problems on this play. First the formation compacts the defense at the point of attack, and secondly, Peterson makes a bad decision and misses the hole.

A lot of people want to blame the blocking of the offensive line, but perhaps there's plenty of blame to spread around.  

 

On Defense the Biggest Thing to Improve Is Making a Play on Third Down

The Vikings defense is ranked 31st in the league, allowing the opposition to convert 46.5 percent of its third downs. Only the New York Giants are worse. That many third-down conversions puts the Vikings last in the NFL in time of possession. The Vikings' opponents have held on to the ball for an average of 34 minutes, 10 seconds. 

/Getty Images

The longer the defense is on the field, the more chances opposing quarterbacks have to take advantage of the Vikings' 29th-ranked passing defense.  

Sep 15, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall (15) catches a pass between Minnesota Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes (29) and cornerback Josh Robinson (21) during the second quarter at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry
Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

It's unlikely that the Vikings will be able to improve the defensive backfield, especially with the loss of Harrison Smith for eight games. Therefore, they need to keep it off the field as much as possible. 

Of course, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers might not need that many plays to torch the Vikings defense. Minnesota could wind up playing fewer plays and still lose the game.