Running back Adrian Peterson was ready for the Seattle Seahawks. The rest of the Minnesota Vikings weren’t in Sunday’s 30-20 loss that kept Minnesota’s recent slide going.
Minnesota ran for 243 yards as a team, with Peterson going for a season-high 182 yards, but it wasn’t enough as the Vikings (5-4) lost for the third time in four games. Many of the same issues that have come to the forefront in the recent losses again hampered Minnesota in Sunday’s loss: missed tackles, gap control on run defense, and the lack of any credible passing game. And the Vikings will have to right their sinking ship in a hurry with four NFC North games in the next five weeks, which includes their Week 11 bye.
Here are five things reinforced from Minnesota’s close, yet disappointing loss at Seattle:
1. The passing game has a long ways to go.
The perplexing performances of the Vikings’ passing offense continued against the Seahawks. Quarterback Christian Ponder and the offensive line couldn’t handle the pressure applied by Seattle, and Ponder couldn’t get on the same page with receivers who couldn’t get much separation. For the third time this season, Minnesota passed for 100 or less net yards. Ponder, two weeks after throwing for 58 yards against Arizona, was 11 of 22 for 63 yards and an interception Sunday. With four sacks, the Vikings had 44 net yards passing. Peterson actually led the team with three catches for 11 yards. Jerome Simpson led the team with 14 yards receiving, while catching one pass. Receiver Percy Harvin had two catches for 10 yards and tight end Kyle Rudolph was held without a catch for the second time in three games.
There are more problems than Ponder, but his regression after looking so efficient and confident earlier this season is troubling. The offensive line has struggled against the pass rush in recent games and haven’t handled blitzes as teams have upped the pressure. The quick, easy connections to Harvin earlier this season haven’t been off in recent games. The Vikings face the Detroit Lions next week, who they passed for just 100 yards against earlier this season before their bye. Whether it’s Ponder, playcalling, receivers, offensive line, or multiple aspects, the passing game must figure out how to at least pose a bit of a threat to have any chance with a tough second-half schedule. By the end of this week, Minnesota might be the owner of the league’s worst passing offense in terms of yardage.
2. Tackling is a real issue for the defense.
Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch entered Sunday second in the league in rushing only to Peterson and will probably end it in the same spot, even if he’ll be further behind Peterson. But Lynch showed the Vikings’ defense why he’s one of the league’s best runners with his physical, pounding style. The Seahawks offensive line opened holes and Lynch ran through a lot of tackles on his way to a 124-yard day.
Lynch is the fourth-straight opponent to go over 100 yards on Minnesota’s once-proud run defense. The string started with Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III and continued with Arizona’s LaRod Stephens-Howling and Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin. The Vikings have blamed poor gap control and getting out of their gaps while “trying to do too much” and they’ve also missed too many tackles. That was the issue again Sunday as Lynch was through holes quickly and then evaded poor tackle attempts by Minnesota’s defense. The Vikings continue to preach the need to return to the days when they would annually be one of the top defenses against the run. After a good start to the season in that regard, they are a long ways off now.
3. Peterson can’t do it all by himself.
Peterson simply continues to amaze. Peterson talked earlier this week that he felt a 300-yard game was still within reach. Early on it looked like he was shooting for the mark this season. For all the troubles the offensive line has had in pass protection, they’ve done enough to open up things for Peterson, who can then use his vision and cutting ability to get to the second level quickly.
Peterson took the second carry of the game 74 yards, but was tackled at the 1-yard line. He finished off a touchdown two plays later. He had four other carries of 15 yards or more while finishing with 17 carries for 182 yards and two touchdowns. The 74-yarder and 182 yards are season-highs as he went over 100 yards for the third straight games and just looks stronger each week. The past two weeks, he’s added the long plays that were just missing earlier. Unfortunately, after a 12-carry, 144-yard first half, he only had five carries for 38 yards in the second half, 28 of the 38 on one carry.
4. Rookie quarterbacks have their way with the Vikings’ defense.
Of the four losses this season for Minnesota, three have come at the hands of rookie quarterbacks and each has seemingly had his way against the Vikings’ defense while looking more poised than Ponder, Minnesota’s second-year starter. Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck threw for 224 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions against the Vikings. Griffin had 182 yards passing, completed 77.2 percent of his passes with a touchdown and interception, while also running for 138 yards and two touchdowns.
Sunday, Russell Wilson, a third-round pick by Seattle, was 16 of 24 passing for 173 yards and three touchdowns while going turnover-free. Wilson added nine rushes for 27 yards, escaping pressure. He was sacked only once. All of the rookies have been unusually composed even against Minnesota’s usually strong pass rush. Athletic quarterbacks like Luck, Griffin, Wilson (and even Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman) have been able to evade the pressure and find receivers downfield when needed.
5. There is no margin for error.
Because of the slide, Minnesota is losing ground in the NFC North. Once tied with the Chicago Bears at the top of the division, the Vikings could be in last place if they lose at home next week to the Lions. Since Minnesota beat Arizona 14 days ago, the rest of the division has gone 6-0. All three teams won on Sunday. Chicago (7-1) is well ahead. Green Bay (6-3) has won four games in a row and Detroit (4-4) has seemed to find itself in back-to-back wins.
The rest of the schedule is division intensive, which could be good or bad for Minnesota. The Vikings have played only one divisional game in the first half of the schedule and get four straight games against the NFC North, starting at home against the Lions next week. After the bye, Minnesota goes to Chicago and Green Bay in back-to-back weeks before returning home against Chicago. The regular season ends with a home game against the Packers. All three NFC North opponents are surging, while the Vikings are in their slide.