Minnesota Vikings: 7 Moves the Vikings Need to Make to Rebuild
It's a new season, but the story line remains the same. The Minnesota Vikings are 0-2 lead by a post-prime veteran quarterback and looking for answers.
Blowing a 17-7 half-time lead against the San Diego Chargers in Week 1 and a 17-0 half time lead in Week 2 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Vikings head in to Week 3 desperate for a win against the Detroit Lions.
The unfortunate part for Minnesota is that the Detroit Lions are not the Detroit Lions of old—meaning a guaranteed victory for all opponents. In fact, with the Lions displaying a potent offense thus far into the season, and the Vikings offense, at least from a passing standpoint, being almost non-existent, Minnesota may be on the brink of a role reversal.
Yes, the Vikings have many problems to solve and although just two games in to the season salvaging it may seem like an impossible feat, there are some things the Vikings could do to make this a possibility.
For that, is a short list of moves the Vikings need to make right now. However, in the event that this year's downfall forges and becomes irreparable, also included is a list of rebuilding moves the Vikings need to make for the long term.
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In an effort to turn things around with the current season, the Vikings have a multitude of short-term corrections they can make. First things first, the Vikings need to finish games. In both of the losses the Vikings have compiled to start the year they have forfeited substantial halftime leads in practically giving away games.
Whether the defeats can be credited to a non-existent second-half offense, ill-timed penalties, lack of focus, missed tackles or a combination of all four, the Vikings have no one to blame but themselves for their late game meltdowns. Forfeiting 41 second-half points in two losses is simply unacceptable.
In Week 1, despite a dismal 37 passing yards from quarterback Donovan McNabb, as well as an interception on his first snap of the game, the Vikings somehow lead the San Diego Chargers 17-7 at halftime, appearing posed for the upset.
Unfortunately for Minnesota though, there are two halves in a football game, and they only showed up for one. Spearheading the downfall, McNabb threw for just two yards in the second half which resulted in the passing game being a non-factor and the running game being ineffective.
Meanwhile, the Chargers' offense heated up as they slowly took a 24-17 lead. Then, with the Vikings facing a last-ditch effort in the final few minutes to get the Chargers offense off the field to give their offense one more shot, the defense was called for three penalties, sealing Minnesota's fate.
In Week 2, this time with a dominant 17-point halftime lead, the Vikings once again fell victim to their own suicide. This time though, the offense displayed an impressive balanced offensive attack of running and passing, the defense was making plays, highlighted by an incredible Jared Allen interception, and it seemed almost certain the Vikings were on their way to victory.
Instead, it was deja vu. The Vikings' offense failed to capitalize on opportunity, the defense once again lacked mental focus, racking up late game penalties, and Bucs' quarterback Josh Freeman picked apart Minnesota's secondary while running back LeGarrette Blount slipped through tackles like he was covered in baby oil.
In neither of these defeats did Minnesota's opponents pull off anything heroic or out of the ordinary to get the wins, but rather the Vikings made numerous mistakes to get the loss. Therefore the solution is simple, show up for two halves, maintain concentration and finish a game.
Establish a Consistent Passing Game
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As mentioned earlier, the Vikings' passing game has flat-out struggled. Although McNabb did improve from 39 passing yards in Week 1 to 228 passing yards in Week 2, the numbers do not tell the full story.
Minnesota is amongst only Seattle, Jacksonville and San Francisco still awaiting a receiver to catch over 100 yards. This comes as no surprise as McNabb has barely even made an attempt downfield thus far in the season.
In fact, McNabb's only reception longer than 19 yards came on a 42-yard checkdown screen play to running back Toby Gerhart in which he ran for a majority of the yards. With that said, almost all of McNabb's pass completions have consisted of checkdowns and dump offs, typically to Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson.
Posing very little passing threat and absolutely no downfield threat, the Vikings' have nothing to take the pressure off of the running game which, with just a little bit of help, could be very effective.
McNabb is not totally to blame though as the offensive line could be better and the receivers definitely need to step up, which leads me to my next slide.
Get Receptions or Get Replaced
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When Sidney Rice left Minnesota during free agency for more money in Seattle, he left the Vikings without a No. 1 receiver and very few options to replace him. Sure, the Vikings still have Percy Harvin, but Harvin is a dynamic playmaker best used in the slot or on an end around, not lined up on the outside as a No. 1 wideout because he simply does not have the size.
So enters Bernard Berrian back into the starting lineup, a 30-year-old wide receiver who accumulated just 252 yards and no touchdowns for the Vikings last year. With the departure of Rice, Minnesota hoped to see Berrian return to being the deep threat he was pre-Favre, in 2009, when he caught for 964 yards and seven touchdowns.
So far Berrian has a total of one catch for 17 yards on the season. With Berrian being a guy who wasn't overly dominant in his prime, this was definitely wishful thinking on Minnesota's part.
The Vikings' third option at wide receiver is Michael Jenkins who the Vikings signed in July, shortly after he was released by the Falcons. Having not seen many balls, Jenkins has not been terrible as a No. 3 receiver.
In Week 1 he was responsible for the Vikings only offensive touchdown and still remains the only receiver on the Vikings roster with a touchdown. Jenkins has also been commended by the Vikings coaching staff for his good work ethic and positive attitude. Jenkins has also mentioned how much he loves playing with McNabb so we won't count him out yet.
With all of that said though, it's looking more and more like the Vikings are going to need to make a mid-season wide receiver acquisition, whether that means signing a free agent or making a trade.
Right now the best available free agents at wide receiver are Terrell Owens or TJ Houshmandzadeh so perhaps the Vikings may target one of these guys, unless of course they try for another reunion with Randy Moss and attempt to pry him out of retirement, but that's not likely.
Convert 3rd Downs and Score in the Red Zone
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Despite the Vikings 2011 defensive woes of missed tackles, blown coverage and painful penalties, perhaps their biggest fault to blame in the second-half meltdowns are the lack of third down conversions and inability to score in the red zone.
On the season the Vikings are 9-of-22 in third down conversions. In the second halves of both games combined, the Vikings have converted one third down out of nine attempts ,as opposed to the eight second half conversions they have given up.
Blame it on dropped passes, penalties creating 3rd-and-longs or just failure to execute, but any way you put it this simply won't get the job done.
Furthermore, the Vikings have struggled to take advantage of red zone opportunities forcing them to settle for field goals. Against the Bucs the Vikings faced 1st-and-goal four separate times and were only able to score a touchdown on two of the four.
Both of these two factors together can help explain Minnesota's three second-half points in two games.
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To ultimately sum up the previous slides into one, what the Vikings have to blame for not finishing games due to penalties, break downs, dropped passes, lack of third down conversions and inability to score in the red zone is lack of focus and discipline.
When a team beats themselves due to stupid mistakes and faults of their own, there isn't much else to blame.
Pick a Quarterback and Go with It
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Now let's move on to long-term solutions, should the Vikings season continue to fail.
First things first, when a team is looking to rebuild it must have a quarterback. This does not mean a veteran quarterback with one to two decent years left who can provide a temporary solution, a la Brett Favre, Donovan McNabb.
This means acquiring a young quarterback with promise, developing him and stick with it. This is what the Vikings have yet to do.
Instead of finally admitting that things are at rock bottom and that it's finally time to absorb the hit of fully rebuilding, they instead search for short-term solutions which, as of lately, hasn't produced much better results.
After last year's outcome, and what's developing into a similar outcome for this year, maybe the Vikings will go forth with the process. After all, they already took the first step of using their top pick to draft rookie quarterback Christian Ponder.
Now the next move would be to actually put him in a game and instill faith in their investment. Sure he might enter a mess, but that's one way to learn.
Use Draft Picks Wisely
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With this year shaping up nicely to put the Vikings in a position near the top of the draft board, they need to take the opportunity to be selective, do their research and choose wisely.
In recent years, the Vikings have made a couple good picks with their first- and second-round selections, most notably Adrian Peterson and Percy Havin. However, the Vikings have also made a number of selections who never really lived up to there expectations, such as Erasmus James, Troy Williamson and Tarvaris Jackson.
There were even some people suggested that the Vikings reached at 12 selecting Christian Ponder last year.
Despite previous picks, with the Vikings likely going into full rebuilding mode with the conclusion of this season, what matters the most is how they use their up-and-coming picks.