Vikings report card: Failing the eye test

Monday night’s stinker in the Meadowlands somehow lived up to the advanced billing between the 1-4 Minnesota Vikings and 0-6 New York Giants. Besides failing the eye test for two teams that either were in the playoffs or right on the outside last season, the numbers prove the disaster.
Minnesota is now 1-5 after Monday night’s 23-7 loss to the previously winless Giants and will have to make some hard evaluations.
Here’s how the Vikings graded out in each phase on Monday night:
Pass offense: F
Josh Freeman’s first start in Minnesota didn’t give much hope for finally providing stability and consistency at the quarterback position. Freeman was considered an inaccurate passer in Tampa Bay and didn’t look like anything had changed. Playing only two weeks since signing with the Vikings, Freeman routinely overthrew receivers all game long. There might have been a disconnect with receivers since he hasn’t had much time with them, but he was routinely missing open players, a case more likely of his accuracy than timing.
Making matters worse, the Vikings — formerly known as a run-first team — put the entire game on Freeman’s right arm. He threw 53 passes Monday night and completed just 20. He threw a poor interception in the red zone, negating a potential scoring chance and ended up with 190 passing yards on 53 attempts. It’s hard to fault the receivers in this game. Most of the throws they had no chance to haul in. Greg Jennings led the team with four catches for 41 yards.
Run offense: F
The game was in Freeman’s hands instead of the reigning MVP running back. That might be all that’s needed to explain the offensive performance Monday night. Adrian Peterson ended up with 13 carries for 28 yards, his lowest output since gaining 26 yards in a game against Oakland on Nov. 20, 2011. Of course, Peterson didn’t finish that game. The run-first Vikings had 53 pass attempts to 14 total runs.
Peterson was facing a New York team designed to take him out of the game and was dealing with a hamstring injury. But Peterson has been facing defenses focused on him for years and Minnesota hasn’t had the same success this season. Much of the blame can be placed on the offensive line, which was so good in run blocking last year. Peterson touched the ball on two of the first nine players for the Vikings in the first half and then carried the ball once in the first five plays in the second half after Freeman had already begun to struggle.

Pass defense: C
The numbers will look better for Minnesota against Giants quarterback Eli Manning, and any steps need to be taken as an improvement for the pass defense this season. Yet, New York also missed several chances itself and the Vikings dropped two potential interceptions. Manning was sacked just twice, one on an incredible play by defensive end Jared Allen, who reached around the left tackle to grab the quarterback. Manning ended up 23-of-39 for 200 yards a touchdown and no interceptions. Marcus Sherels dropped a potential interception return for a touchdown and Andrew Sendejo had a diving attempt go between his hands.
Yet, the defense did enough to keep Minnesota in the game Monday night. The Giants were 3-of-4 on third downs on the opening drive and then 4 of 15 the rest of the way. A defense that hadn’t been able to get off the field in recent games, finally did so. The beleaguered secondary, at times, showed improvement against what is a potentially good passing attack with three quality receivers in Victor Cruz (five catches, 50 yards), Hakeem Nicks and Reuben Randle.
Run defense: C
Monday night’s game shaped up to be just what the Vikings’ struggling run defense needed. New York’s top two running backs, David Wilson and Brandon Jacobs, were out with injuries. The Giants started Peyton Hillis, who was signed last week, and seventh-round rookie Michael Cox. Playing with the lead, New York tried to control the clock with 32 total carries, but averaged just 2.0 yards per carry.
Hillis led the team with 18 carries for 36 yards. He did have a short touchdown run, coming after Sherels fumbled a punt giving the Giants the ball at the 3-yard line. Cox had 11 carries for 23 yards. Minnesota’s run defense was at its best this season against a team that hasn’t been able to run the ball all year long.

Special teams: C
The special teams were filled with highs and lows. There was Sherels’ 86-yard punt return for a touchdown, supplying the only points of the game for the Vikings. Then there was Sherels’ fumble when he went to the ground untouched leading to Hillis’ touchdown. Sherels ended up averaging 29.8 yards on four punt returns.
Kickoff returner Cordarrelle Patterson provided a play that looked to get Minnesota back in the game with a 69-yard return, but the Vikings couldn’t take advantage. It was his only return of the game.
Minnesota caused a fumble on a punt return and set up the team in prime scoring position again, but Freeman threw his interception two plays later. Meanwhile, rookie Sharrif Floyd returned a short kickoff and tried to advance the ball upfield, getting the ball knocked out for a Giants takeaway.
Kicker Blair Walsh missed the first 50-plus yard field-goal attempt of his career, coming up short on a 53-yard attempt. The left hamstring injury seemed to bother Walsh as he didn’t have the usual power in the kick. Punter Jeff Locke handled some of the kickoff duties and also punted seven times for a 44.6 yard gross average and 38.1 net average.
Overall: D
For the second straight game, Minnesota didn’t seem ready to play an important game. Instead of the defense letting the team down, this time it was the offense and the quarterback. The game play seemed strange for a quarterback making his first start with a team two weeks after signing and now Minnesota’s has to avoid a downright spiral like it did in 2011 when the team went 3-13. Making matters worse, the Vikings have a short week to prepare for the Green Bay Packers in another primetime game this week Sunday night. The Packers seemed to be hitting a stride and now lead the NFC North.

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