Missed tackles plague Vikings run defense

The Minnesota Vikings lost for the third time in four games on Sunday in which only the running offense was able to perform up to expectations.

Sunday’s 30-20 loss on the road to the Seattle Seahawks has Minnesota (5-4) in a precarious position as several facets on offense and defense have faltered in many games recently and the result is a slip in the NFC North standings. The Vikings have a home game next week against the Detroit Lions (4-4) before their bye and will need to improve in several areas, as noted below, to keep from sliding further.

Here’s how Minnesota graded out against Seattle:

Pass offense: F

Simply put, the Vikings have one of the league’s worst passing games right now, and might be at the bottom of the league in passing yardage when the week is over. For the second time in three games, Minnesota has finished with less than 100 net yards passing. Three times this season, the Vikings have passed for 100 net yards or less.

From quarterback Christian Ponder to the offensive line to the receivers, the passing game is in disarray. Ponder has regressed and seems to have lost any confidence to come up with a clutch throw despite talking about his growth this offseason and the strong start. He doesn’t look like the same quarterback who was efficient and poised in beating the San Francisco 49ers in Week 3.

And with Ponder, his line and receivers all misfiring and mistiming, Minnesota has no passing game to sustain drives. Receiver Percy Harvin was leading the league in catches coming into the game, but had two catches for 10 yards. Running back Adrian Peterson led the team with three catches Sunday. Jerome Simpson’s 14 yards led the team in yards.

Tight end Kyle Rudolph was held without a catch for the second time in three games and has just two catches in the past three games. As a result, Ponder finished 11 of 22 for 63 yards and an interception. He was sacked four times for 19 yards as Minnesota ended up with 44 net passing yards. Unable to get any kind of passing game means the Vikings aren’t able to put together drives and they were 3 of 10 on third downs.

Run offense: A

Despite the continued problems passing and with teams able to focus on the running game, opponents just can’t stop Peterson, who is on one of the best stretches in his entire career. The Vikings lost Sunday despite rushing for 243 yards as a team. Peterson had 17 carries for 182 yards and two touchdowns. He had five carries of 15 yards or more, accounting for five of the six biggest plays for Minnesota. Harvin also had a 15-yard carry. Peterson had three carries for more than 20 yards, including a 74-yard carry on the second play of the game, his longest run of the season.

He’s eclipsed 100 yards in three straight games and extended his league-leading rushing total to 957 yards in nine games. Yet, he entered halftime with 12 carries for 144 yards and finished the second half with just five carries, gaining 38 yards. Of his 38 yards in the second half, 28 came on one play as Minnesota couldn’t get any momentum going and give Peterson more chances, in what was still a close game throughout. The Vikings had won games earlier this season led by Peterson and the defense. But Peterson can’t do it all himself as the passing offense has failed and the defense has slipped.

Pass defense: D

Seattle passed for just 190 net yards, but really wasn’t forced to go to the air much, perhaps skewing the total. Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson completed 16 of his 24 passes for 173 yards and three touchdowns. He was only sacked once, a combined sack by ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison in the fourth quarter. Cornerback A.J. Jefferson got the start for the injured Chris Cook due to his size, with one touchdown by Golden Tate coming directly on his coverage.

Former Vikings receiver Sidney Rice caught all four of his targets for 54 yards and a touchdown, and even had a 25-yard pass that fooled Minnesota’s defense. Tate had four catches for 28 yards and two touchdowns.

Run defense: F

Wilson didn’t need to pass much because for the fourth straight game a Vikings opponent had a player rush for over 100 yards and controlled the game on the ground. Marshawn Lynch, who entered the day second in the league in rushing to Peterson, had 26 carries for 124 yards. He ran with power and also had big holes opened up in the defense by his line. Minnesota stressed staying in their gaps all week and not missing tackles. Seattle was more physical running the ball than the Vikings’ defense on Sunday, blown out of gaps.

Missed tackles were a problem for the third straight week. Lynch ran for 69 yards in the second half, helping the Seahawks slow the game down. Wilson added 27 yards rushing. Backup running back Robert Turbin and Tate each had 21 yards rushing, as Seattle averaged 4.3 yards per carry. The Vikings will surely be talking about the same thing this week, playing their gaps on defense and missed tackles, as they try to get back to stopping the run as they had in the past and the first few games this year.

Special teams: B

Minnesota’s special teams weren’t spectacular, but did what they were supposed to do. Rookie kicker Blair Walsh continued his strong season, connecting on his two field-goal attempts, including a 55-yarder. Marcus Sherels had three punt returns, but for only one total yard. He had to fill in for a hobbled Harvin on kick return, and had one return for 24 yards. Earlier in the game, Harvin had a 39-yard return, almost breaking another long one this season. Seattle returner Leon Washington wasn’t able to do much with one kick return and two punt returns.

Perhaps the brightest spot on special teams was punter Chris Kluwe, who showed more leg with a 48.3 yard average on three punts. He had a 57-yarder as part of his game, showing some improvement after two down games.

Overall: D

The Vikings are just a one-phase team right now and running the ball as the one strong suit isn’t enough to win in the NFL right now, especially on the road. Peterson is a threat every game and on every carry, but the offense hasn’t been able to establish anything other than Peterson. And with the defense, especially the run defense, struggling, Peterson simply isn’t enough.

The Vikings had four extra days to prepare for this game after playing on Thursday last week. And coming off Thursday’s disappointing loss, Minnesota didn’t make the necessary improvements to win in Seattle, one of the tougher road venues in the league. The Vikings were 3 of 10 on third down and committed six penalties for 33 yards. Minnesota has lost three of its past four games and fans were crying for backup quarterback Joe Webb to replace Ponder. A tough stretch could linger if the Vikings aren’t careful and don’t make the necessary adjustments in a hurry.

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