Once 5-0 and looking like Super Bowl contenders, the Minnesota Vikings have lost three-straight. What’s behind their recent issues?
Armed with one of the best defenses in the NFL and a suddenly resurgent Sam Bradford, the Minnesota Vikings were one of the best teams in the league through the first five weeks. Bradford, Stefon Diggs, and Kyle Rudolph were dealing, and the defense had a whopping 12 turnovers during that time span.
Article continues below ...
Obviously this came as a bit of a shock. What with Teddy Bridgewater’s knee injury ending his year in preseason and with Adrian Peterson’s injury soon after, this team seemed destined for trouble. However, they started hot and looked to be proving everyone wrong. Unfortunately, that hasn’t lasted in Minny.
As of right now, the Vikings are 5-3 and no longer the best team in the NFC. Only the Atlanta Falcons and Dallas Cowboys have better records, but Vikings fans should be concerned by the team’s latest showings. Losses to the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions have to hurt and the Vikings struggled mightily on offense against both opponents.
Norv Turner resigned as offensive coordinator, but the Vikings are still searching for answers. There are several reasons why they can’t seem to buy a win lately and I’ll supply five of the most important and glaring.
Nov 6, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford (8) reacts following a sack during the third quarter against the Detroit Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Lions defeated the Vikings 22-16. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
5. Lack of Blocking Up Front
Although Sam Bradford was affected by poor blocking less than usual in the team’s 22-16 overtime loss to the Detroit Lions, the struggles of the offensive tackles can still be noted in how the Vikings chose to attack their opponents.
Minnesota decided to go for quick-hitting passes, as they averaged just 8.8 yards per completed pass. Most of the offense went through Diggs, who is by far the team’s best weapon, and he finished with 13 receptions for 80 yards on 14 targets. It’s incredible how Diggs soaked up his targets from Bradford for receptions, but that’s an average of just 6.2 yards per reception.
Jake Long may finally be coming around, but how much can the Vikings trust a player on his last legs at left tackle? Meanwhile, right tackle T.J. Clemmings is a walking disaster of Germain Ifedi proportions. What’s worse is the depth behind both of those men just doesn’t exist.
Bradford knows how to work behind poor blocking, but the problem is that the blocking limits what the Vikings offense can do. As something that might come up later, the Vikings don’t have a running game. This puts more pressure on the passing attack to carry the load for this team. Now, the Vikings defense lets the offense get away with a lower scoring output on the road to victory. But they still have to be able to move the ball. And it’s awfully hard to quickly put up points when you don’t have the time to drive the ball down the field.
The Vikings struggles up front have also hurt the rushing attack and, although people like me dissed Adrian Peterson early in the season, it sure isn’t easy for backs without his toughness and savvy to generate yardage behind shoddy blocking.
Nov 6, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Ronnie Hillman (33) is tackled by Detroit Lions safety Glover Quin (27) during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Lions defeated the Vikings 22-16. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
4. One-Dimensional Offense
The Vikings offense is 22nd in the NFL in net yards per pass attempt, so it’s hard to say that they are actually good at throwing the football. However, it isn’t easy to be efficient as a passing offense when you have the league’s least effective rushing attack by your side.
Peterson’s injury has indeed impacted the Vikings, because the likes of Jerick McKinnon, Matt Asiata, and Ronnie Hillman just don’t have the skill-set or talent to overcome bad blocking as a lead running back.
Their average of 2.7 yards per carry is the worst in the NFL and the Vikings ineptitude on the ground was on display in Week 9. The Vikings averaged just 3.1 yards per carry with Hillman’s 30 yards leading the way.
McKinnon should have been a solid part of the offense, but he’s been the team’s worst running back in terms of yards per carry this year. After last week’s performance against Detroit, we could be in line for more Hillman, but I doubt that solves the problem. The Vikings are built around a great, hungry defense and an extremely accurate quarterback, but they are missing the final ingredient—a quality rushing attack.
Oct 23, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes (29) intercepts a pass during the first quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
3. Turnover Fluctuations
When the Vikings won five straight games to start the season, their turnover differential was absolutely off the charts. As I noted earlier, the Vikings forced 12 turnovers on defense. This is actually sustainable, because the Carolina Panthers forced more than two turnovers per game in the 2015 season en route to a Super Bowl appearance.
What isn’t sustainable is the lack of turnovers on offense, because the Vikings turned the ball over just once in the first five games. A turnover ratio of 12:1 is just nuts. You have to give Sam Bradford a huge amount of credit for not throwing an interception until his poor game against the Philadelphia Eagles, but it was always a bit of fool’s gold.
In the three games since the bye week, the Vikings have forced five turnovers and turned the ball over four times themselves. They had an even 4-4 split against the Eagles, a 0-0 split against the Bears, and a 1-0 split in their favor against the Lions. The Vikings turnover differential will be closer to their 12:1 ratio in the first five weeks than their 5:4 ratio in the last three. However, it will indeed be somewhere in between, but that’s an obvious conclusion to make.
Meanwhile, Bradford, with his 68.3 percent completion rate this season and his 65 percent completion rate last year, is a careful and accurate quarterback. A big part of the stark split in pre and post-bye record is due to fluctuations in turnovers.
Oct 31, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (84) catches a touchdown pass against the Chicago Bears during the second half at Soldier Field. Chicago defeated Minnesota 20-10. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
2. Failure to Get Yards After Catch
We know the Minnesota Vikings don’t have the time to set up the deep ball in their passing attack, and teams that fail to do this need their receivers to make plays after the catch. Unfortunately, the Vikings have failed to do this, because, per Sporting Charts, the team is just 29th in the NFL in yards after the catch.
Pass-catchers on the Vikings are averaging a meager 4.02 yards after catch per reception. For perspective, there are only four teams with an average under four yards after catch. These teams are the Buffalo Bills, Houston Texans, Baltimore Ravens, and San Francisco 49ers. Judging by the lack of success these other teams are having when throwing the football, this is not good company.
Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, and Cordarrelle Patterson are useful receivers at worst, but the Vikings receiving corps is still probably the worst in the division. Green Bay and Chicago (sans Kevin White) aren’t great in that department and the Lions lack in depth. However, Bradford has made flawed talents behind Diggs look better. It doesn’t help that Laquon Treadwell has just one catch as a rookie, which he notched in Week 9 against Detroit.
Since the Vikings are dead last in yards per carry and dead last in “Big Plays” on offense, they need their skill position players to step up in the passing game by making something happen after the catch. I think this is on Shurmur. Regardless of blame, though, the Vikings have to scheme for players like Patterson, McKinnon, and even Diggs in space.
Bradford and the receivers have been better than expected this year. So really, this will all come down to the coaching staff’s ability to recognize a problem and concoct an effective solution.
Nov 6, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur speaks into his head set during the game with the Detroit Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Lions won 22-16 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
1. Unpredictable Nature of Last Three Games
I could spit out another stat about how the Vikings are 31st in the NFL in first downs and then I could discuss why they have benefited greatly from playing on short fields as an offense. However, I’d just be rehashing the same arguments I’ve already made about the Vikings offense. Instead, the final piece leading to the Vikings’ three-game slide, is the simple fact that the Vikings just emerged from a stretch of games that was, well, weird.
Football games are difficult to predict regardless, but the Vikings’ last three games were completely volatile in that regard. Against the Eagles, the turnovers for both teams left the game in flux for much of the afternoon. With four turnovers for each team in that matchup, it’s just a zany game that either team could win.
The Bears and Lions games were also bizarre. Any division game will be difficult to predict and, while this doesn’t absolve the Vikings of blame, it is worth keeping in mind that overreacting to division losses is rarely fruitful. I mean, think of all the times the Seattle Seahawks have lost to the Rams, only to finish the season with 11 or 12 wins.
Now, the loss to the Bears was due to a complete lack lack of execution. The offensive line didn’t give Bradford a chance and Diggs was the only source of offense. Defensively, the Vikings were torn to shreds by rookie Jordan Howard, and they made it too easy for Jay Cutler to play a clean game.
Against the Lions, though, the Vikings saw how strange football can get. They missed an extra point and had a field goal blocked, while Matt Prater nailed a 58-yarder in the clutch. Then, Matthew Stafford and Golden Tate finished them off in overtime on a ridiculous play. The Vikings, by the way, had more first downs and yards than the Lions, who needed two game-winning plays to pull off the win. Just keep that in mind when you remember the Vikings first home loss of the season.