Minnesota Vikings: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 11

Tim Arcand@@TArcandCorrespondent INovember 11, 2013

SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 04: Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks looks to pass the ball during play against the Minnesota Vikings at CenturyLink Field on November 4, 2012 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

The best thing about the Minnesota Vikings' 34-27 win over the Washington Redskins is that we get 10 days to appreciate it—it could very well be the last one this season. The offense has done a very good job scoring points, but the defense has been equally good at giving them up. As Doug Farrar from SI.com pointed out, this win does little for the 2-7 Vikings. 

Matt Cassel has been the quarterback at the end of both the Vikings' wins.
Matt Cassel has been the quarterback at the end of both the Vikings' wins.Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

Including the wins over the Steelers and Redskins, five of the Vikings' games have been decided in the last minute of the game. If the defense could have come up with three more plays this season, one for each of the three losses to the Bears, Browns and Cowboys, they could be 5-4 and in contention for the NFC North title.

Of course, that's a lot to ask of this defense.


Division Standings

On Sunday, the Detroit Lions broke the logjam at the top of the NFC North with their 21-19 win over the Bears in Chicago.  Quarterback Matthew Stafford threw three touchdowns—two of them to Calvin Johnson to beat Jay Cutler in his return to the lineup after missing one start with a groin injury.

For Green Bay, after winning four straight to take over the lead of the division, they have dropped their last two games and are down to their third-string quarterback. Against the Eagles, Seneca Wallace left following the Packers' first series with a groin injury.  Kevin Siefert from ESPN reports that Scott Tolzien will get the start when the Packers play at New York next Sunday. It will be the third different starting quarterback in three weeks for Green Bay. 

Including Christian Ponder, who missed games earlier this season with a rib injury, Stafford is the only quarterback in the NFC North to start every game this season.

NFC North Standings
TeamWinsLossesWeek 11 Opponent
Detroit Lions63@ Pittsburgh
Chicago Bears54vs. Baltimore
Green Bay Packers54@ New York Giants
Minnesota Vikings27@ Seattle Seahawks

There's a very good chance that the Lions will be able to extend their lead in Week 11.

According to Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune, Bears head coach Marc Trestman has ruled Cutler out of the game against the Ravens with a high ankle sprain. The Packers are struggling to find enough arms to fill out their depth chart, and according to NFL.com, they worked out former backup Matt Flynn on Monday.

Matt Flynn worked out for the Packers on Monday.
Matt Flynn worked out for the Packers on Monday.

It would seem the team with the healthy quarterback wins the division this year.   


Injury Report

In his press conference on Monday from Vikings.com, head coach Leslie Frazier indicated that everyone except nose tackle Fred Evans participated in practice. He also indicated that Ponder, who suffered a shoulder separation against the Redskins, was progressing and was not ruled out for the Seattle game. 

The following injury comes from Pro Football Reference.

Minnesota Vikings Injury Report
Matt AsiataRBShoulderQuestionable
Chris CookCBHipQuestionable
Rhett EllisonTEAnkleQuestionable
Fred EvansNTKneeQuestionable
Letroy GuionNTChest/KneeQuestionable
Charlie JohnsonOGElbowQuestionable
Phil LoadholtOTConcussionQuestionable
Christian PonderQBShoulderDoubtful
Kyle RudolphTEFootOut
Jamarca SanfordSGroinQuestionable
Pro Football Reference

Speaking of injuries, according to the Seattle Post Intelligencer, the Seahawks activated Percy Harvin from the physically unable to perform list. This leaves the possibility for Harvin to be a headache for his former team for a much different reason. 

The last time Harvin played was Week 9 of last season when the Vikings were in Seattle. 


What Must Improve

The answer to what must improve is becoming a broken record—or to put it in more present terms—it's like a six-second video on constant replay. The Vikings' biggest weaknesses are on defense. That's probably the reason they have been hesitant to re-sign their pending free agents.

So far, the only player to get a contract extension has been Brian Robison.  

The defense ranks near the bottom in most categories. 

Minnesota Vikings Defensive Rankings
CategoryRankingYards or Points
Total Defense30th399.3 yds/game
Rushing Defense19th113.9 yds/game
Passing Defense29th285.4 yds/game
Scoring Defense30th31.0 pts/game

It's no surprise, then, that the defense also performs poorly in the following game statistics.

Minnesota Vikings Defensive Game Statistics
Game StatisticRankingValue
3rd Down Percentage32nd50 percent
1st Downs30th24.0/game
Time of Possession31st34:50

The three stats are highly correlated. The Vikings allow their opponents to convert too many third downs, which keeps them on the field longer. It really comes down to the defense making a play once in a while.

The Packers converted 13-of-18 third downs and two fourth downs in Week 8.
The Packers converted 13-of-18 third downs and two fourth downs in Week 8.

The precipitous fall for the defense comes somewhat as a surprise. Last season, they had the third-ranked rushing defense and allowed almost 10 fewer points per game in 2012.

When the Vikings face the Seahawks, they will face another team that runs the ball well. Seattle, ranked second in the NFL, averages 153.4 rushing yards per game—that's 2.2 more yards per game than Washington averages.

In Week 9 of last season the Vikings and Seahawks combined for 438 rushing yards.
In Week 9 of last season the Vikings and Seahawks combined for 438 rushing yards.

Last week, the Redskins netted 191 rushing yards. If the Seahawks, with the sixth-ranked scoring offense, can run all over the Vikings, this will be a long game. The Vikings cannot rely on the offense to outscore the Seahawks, who have the third-ranked scoring defense, allowing only 15.9 points per game. 

Even if the defense can improve in any defensive category—it won't be nearly enough against the best team in the NFC.


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