Minnesota Vikings: Pretender or Contender?

Matthew GilmartinSenior Analyst IOctober 9, 2008

Before the NFL season started, many predicted the Minnesota Viking to reach the Super Bowl. 


Now the Vikings are proving all that preseason hype wrong.


They’re 2-3, and they’re lucky to even have two wins.


Their only victories are over the Panthers at home and Saints on the road.  But the win against the Panthers was really more of a matter of will, and the Saints gave Minnesota a freebie this past Monday.


Their three losses are to the Packers, Colts, and Titans.  While you can't fault them much for the loss to the Titans, the Colts and Packers have been utterly average this year. 


In the loss to Green Bay, Packers running back Ryan Grant ran for 92 yards on 12 carries—an average of over seven yards per carry—against the Vikings’ supposedly impervious run defense.  Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed 82 percent of his passes against Minnesota’s awful secondary. 


Offensively, the Vikings were terrible in the passing game, and Adrian Peterson’s stellar performance wasn’t enough for a victory.


In Week Two Minnesota gave the game to the Colts.  They were leading 15-0 at the 3:31 mark of the third quarter.  But they allowed the Colts to score two unanswered touchdowns to bring the deficit down to a point.  The Colts won the game on a field goal with three seconds left in regulation.


In Week Three against the Panthers, the Vikings started slow—the Panthers scored the first ten points of the game.  But cornerback Antoine Winfield knocked the ball out of Carolina QB Jake Delhomme's hand on a corner blitz and took the fumble back to the house for six.  The game was dominated by the Vikings on all fronts after that, and they won 20-10.


In the fourth game of the season, the Vikings’ goal line defense killed them—they allowed three touchdown runs of six yards or less.   Adrian Peterson’s two rushing touchdowns didn’t do much to salvage this poor Minnesota effort.


How the Vikings beat the Saints this past week is beyond me. 


Minnesota’s punt coverage was so bad that they gave up two punt return touchdowns to Reggie Bush of 71 and 64 yards.  Adrian Peterson, normally the Vikings’ most reliable offensive weapon, ran for only 32 yard on 21 carries.  I guess the Vikings won because Saints kicker Martin Gramatica missed two field goals and Gus Frerotte kept the passing game moving just enough. 


In the Vikings’ three losses, some big problems have been exposed. 


Adrian Peterson got stuffed by the Saints rush defense, which ranks only 16th in the NFL.  Their ability to finish games is in question—there's no way in hell that their supposedly stellar defense should have given up a two-touchdown lead to a reeling Colts' offense in just over a quarter.  Their punt coverage is at risk.  The quarterback situation isn't solved yet.  Tarvaris Jackson was benched awhile ago, but Gus Frerotte hasn't shown enough consistency to be the long-term answer. 


Note that these problems are the ones that have cost the Vikings so far, and they are the problems that could affect the rest of their season.  But they are by no means chronic problems that will bring their whole season down if they aren't rectified.  As a matter of fact, all of them are one-time things that may not pop up again.  But they should still be accounted for.


But there are some glaring issues that could affect them in the future.


Even with Gus Frerotte at quarterback, Minnesota's offense is still too one-dimensional.  They still rely on Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor way too much.  While this pair can be formidable, we've also seen what can happen when they get shut down—their chances of losing go way up. 


Case in point: the Saints game from this past Monday night.  The only reasons the Vikings won are New Orleans kicker Martin Gramatica's missed two field goals and the pass offense's ability to take advantage of the Saints' horrible secondary for two touchdowns.  That's a 20-point swing.  The Vikings won by three.  They easily could have lost big.


The Minnesota pass offense isn't going to cut it against many teams.  Their running game produces the bulk of their offensive output, but the running game alone, even with a great tandem like Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor, usually can't win a game on its own.


The Vikings defense is a mixed bag.  The run defense is stifling, ranking third in the NFL, but the pass defense is porous, ranking 24th in the league.  It's not hard to beat a defense as one-dimensional as this one.    


The way to beat this defense is simple—a heavy dose of play-action mixed with minimal running in culled spots. 


The play-action entices the aggressive run defense and opens up the receivers, who are likely only dealing with light coverage, down the field.  This kind of situation is ripe for a deep pass play.  Or if the receivers are covered, the opposing quarterback can easily scramble for a first down because the defensive players are either too spread out or too far down the field to make a play. 


Then once the opposing team gets the Vikings off-guard, they run at carefully-selected times—times at which they know the Vikings will be fully committed to pass coverage.


Play-action in particular has killed the Vikings this year.  Countless big pass plays for the opposition of been a result of play-action.  But goal line defense has been a huge thorn in the Vikings' side, too.


The Vikings are tied with several other teams for the third-most rushing touchdowns allowed this year with six.  All six touchdowns have been allowed on runs of six yards less.  The Vikings defense basically disappears inside the ten. 


Despite the fact that these problems are confined to the defense, the offense still isn't much good.  The passing game isn't good enough to keep the defense from stacking the box. 


What this all comes down to is the fact that the Vikings are too one-dimensional on both sides of the ball to compete for the playoffs.  Their 2-3 record at this point is no slow start.  It indicates the true state of the team.  Actually, to go even further, their record is a little better than they really are.  The Vikings are a preseason contender-turned- pretender.