How can a 6-0 team look so dominant and so mediocre in the same game?
What am I saying; the Vikings have done this all year. It's habit, now. An addiction.
Step one: Get out to a big, early lead. Look like the second coming of Lief Erickson storming Newfoundland.
Step two: Go into a shell while waiting for the other team to score, turtle-style.
Step three: See what happens.
This addiction worked out against the Nowhere Teams of the NFL: Detroit, Cleveland, and St. Louis. It worked out fine—barely—against a Green Bay team featuring one leaky offensive line. It only worked against San Francisco because of Favre's arm and voodoo—which is kind of redundant in a way.
On Sunday, it worked against Baltimore because of the scared, timid leg of an inexperienced kicker, and probably some Mississippian frantically sticking pins in a new doll labeled "Hauschka."
So here is Minnesota, 6-0. This should have Vikings' players, coaches, and fans sky-high, riding cloud nine.
But it isn't, for good and bad reasons.
Let's get the bad out of the way, starting with the secondary. When was the last time the Vikings' secondary was not a concern, by the way? Joey Browner's hey-day, eh?
At least since the age of Warren Moon, the Vikings' secondary has been nothing but trouble, and it is no different this year. One could argue that the stats are inflated because teams need to throw the ball, and that is a very good argument to make.
But that doesn't excuse all the problems the defensive backs are having right now.
Minnesota came into the Baltimore game 18th in the NFL against the pass, giving up 225 yards/game. Joe Flacco threw for 385 yards against them Sunday, and fairly easily led the Ravens into field goal territory for the potential game-winner.
Karl Paymah—who admittedly wouldn't have played as much if not for an Antoine Winfield injury—was routinely burned by Flacco and whichever receiver happened to be there. To top it off, Winfield needs an MRI for his foot. It would be a blessing if he misses only four games.
Regarding the pass defense, the safeties seem to be the main problem as of now.
Tyrell Johnson and Madieu Williams need to make more of an impact in the cover game. Who knows if that means helping out the corners or jumping underneath passes; the game of football is a funny thing, and they could be doing their job perfectly as is.
But it appears those two are allowing too much space for passes down the seams, and not recognizing the corner or post routes quick enough to give needed help.
The offensive line, while improved from a couple weeks ago, is still a source of consternation. Ditto the special teams; Chris Kluwe's 39-yard punt late in the fourth quarter gave the Ravens incredibly good field position, as did the coverage unit on a couple of kick and punt returns.
The Vikings' inability to play four straight quarters of consistent football is also a concern. Every single game has left some form of question mark, be it allowing San Francisco, Green Bay, or Baltimore back into the game; or allowing Cleveland and Detroit to take early leads; or all the yards given up to St. Louis.
Considering the outcomes, it should not be a concern; after all, Minnesota is atop their division and tied for the No. 1 seed in the NFC. However, this year isn't about a division title, or a No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
This year is about the Super Bowl.
The Vikings know that. And that is good.
After the Ravens game, the defensive unit talked about how disappointed they were in giving up a 30-17 lead in less than three minutes. Brad Childress talked about not settling for field goals; no, seriously, he did.
The team realizes the Ravens game should not have come down to a missed field goal, that a Super Bowl team would not have allowed that. And that is good.
More good: Sidney Rice (who is the Minnesota Larry Fitzgerald—which is kind of redundant in a way). Rice and Favre are developing something special. Of course, Favre is developing something special with Visanthe Shiancoe, too. Favre seems to be doing alright with Bernard Berrian and Percy Harvin, as well.
More good: E.J. Henderson was near the ball all day, Chad Greenway continued his Pro Bowl campaign, and Kevin Williams continues to be Kevin Williams.
And Adrian ended up with a pretty impressive performance.
Then Chicago lost the Sunday night game, and Minnesota found themselves two games up in the NFC North.
The Vikings are undefeated, two games up in the division, and have not scored less than 27 points in any game all year.
There really shouldn't be too much to complain about.
And yet there is.