Sometimes, NFL teams take on the traits or character of their leader.
The Minnesota Vikings, clearly, have not.
Back when I was covering the Vikings for local radio from 2006-2010, they weren't always the best team in the world, but they were tough and gritty, and the addition of running back Adrian Peterson was just a part of that.
We saw glimpses of that toughness at times Thursday. We saw it in defensive tackle Kevin Williams' 2.5 sacks and four total QB hits. We saw it in a defensive stand to end the game. Yet more than anywhere else, we saw it in Peterson, who almost single-handedly willed his team to victory for the umpteenth time in his career.
This team can't hold a candle to the toughness the Vikings used to embody.
Those were the days of the "Williams Wall," featuring defensive tackles Pat and the aforementioned Kevin Williams stuffing running backs in their tracks and putting quarterbacks on the turf. Opponents didn't run on the Vikings. They just didn't. Period.
Giving up 139 yards to Alfred Morris isn't exactly embarrassing, but the way the Washington Redskins running back barreled through the line and bounced off tackles certainly was. That wouldn't have been tolerated just a few years ago. It would have been unheard of.
Then again, those were also the days of center Matt Birk and guard Steve Hutchinson. Those were two of the smartest linemen I've ever had the pleasure of talking to, but also two of the toughest. Hutchinson once told me it was a "pleasure" to block for a guy like Peterson, because a back like Peterson makes the most out of the holes his line gives him.
Now, those holes are few and far between and Peterson has been tasked with perpetually making something out of nothing.
Peterson is still successful because of who he is, but the Vikings offensive line gets pushed around on a weekly basis.
Center John Sullivan has been a disappointment after it appeared he was stepping into elite territory last season. He's gone from being Pro Football Focus' top-ranked center (subscription required) to their 10th, and he has taken a huge step backward in the run game.
Tackle Matt Kalil can challenge Sullivan for Most Disappointing honors, however. The second-year player barely clings to a rank among the top half of tackles in the NFL. The Vikings can't run behind Kalil and have seemed, at times, to give up trying. Kalil was supposed to be a franchise cornerstone at left tackle—a significant upgrade from Bryant McKinnie. Instead, he's been anything but rock-solid.
Then, there's tackling.
Or, more apropos, there isn't much tackling.
If the Vikings ever offer to teach a "Heads Up" tackling clinic at your local school, hide your children. Keep them locked up inside, where the scary arm-tackling of the Minnesota back seven can't get to them.
I know I called out the Vikings run defense already, but a big reason they give up the yardage on the ground they do isn't just the matchups lost in the trenches; it's also the inability to bring runners down on first contact.
Remember defensive backs like Antoine Winfield and Darren Sharper? How about linebackers like a healthy E.J. Henderson, or Chad Greenway (before his play fell off a cliff)? They didn't let a lot of guys bounce off of them.
Toughness is supposed to be a hallmark of this coaching staff. Leslie Frazier is known as a mild-mannered coach, but his players swear by his ability to bring out the most in people. This staff has Mike Singletary on it for heaven's sake! My goodness! How are these linebackers not ripping people's heads off? Even if they stink, at least tackle correctly!
Over the course of this season—and the last—much of the focus has been on how quarterback Christian Ponder has held this team back. That's not something I would argue with, but he's certainly not the only problem, and I would question if he's even close to the biggest problem.
The team is 2-7 with an awfully tough schedule ahead. Unless they play out of their minds against teams like Seattle, Baltimore and Cincinnati and take care of business by running the table in the division, it's clear they're no longer playing for a playoff slot this season.
If they need something to play for, may I suggest the following: Get back to your roots.
Adrian Peterson and Kevin Williams can't will this team to a win every single week with the occasional assist from defensive end Jared Allen. No, the line needs to step up on both sides of the ball. This was a franchise that prided itself on trench play—it's time to get back to that. On defense, the emphasis needs to be on tackling and fundamentals. It's basic stuff that this team used to do extremely well.
If the Vikings can't get back to those roots, it will be time for a leadership change—both on the coaching staff and roster.
For a pro like Peterson, who has rarely had enough help around him, the concept of another rebuild might be scary, but he deserves a team willing to put in the same effort that he does week in and week out.