The NFL is a fickle mistress. One week you can be the talk of the town and a month down the line, you can be shot down to no-hopers that got a little lucky.
That’s exactly what has been the case for the Minnesota Vikings, the darlings of the early season. Despite some serious injuries, they were 5-0 heading into their bye but since then, they have been 0-4 without many signs of turning that around.
So, what has gone wrong? Where have they fallen off after such a promising start?
The first issue many will point to is the running game, that sits bottom of the NFL at a staggering 69.8 yards per game. They have only had one game where they totalled over 100 yards on the ground and only two more games over the 80 mark, a figure not helped by the absence of future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson.
However, this was an issue before the bye that just hasn’t got better. Their worst total of 30 yards rushing came in a victory over the Green Bay Packers, while the 93 yards they managed in the defeat in Philadelphia swaps the 58 and 65 they got in wins against the Carolina Panthers and the Tennessee Titans respectively.
Sam Bradford’s production has declined slightly but he’s not giving the ball away from passing, with only 2 interceptions this season. Since the bye, the quarterback has been sacked 16 times, double what was given up in the first five games.
Some may pin some of that liability on the Matt Kalil injury and while he is a good left tackle, they need a better contingency plan. Now that Jake Long is out for the season as well, it doesn’t look like the poor offensive line that has struggled in both blocking and protection will recover.
Added to those woes is the fact that their offence just doesn’t always get going. They are 25th in the league on third-and-out percentages, with 23 coming this season. It was most evident in a woeful display against the Chicago Bears, where they racked up five in a row in the first half and allowed a poor team the lead that they could not claw back.
The well-liked offensive coordinator Norv Turner resigned seemingly out of either pride, empathy or in an effort to save his reputation. The group has not gone forward since he left and there simply aren’t enough pieces outside Stephon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph to pull them out of the mire.
The buck is then passed on to their stout defence, something that coach Mike Zimmer is a specialist at. They trampled over teams in the opening third of the season, essentially winning them games in some respects, but have they kept it going?
The easiest way to say that is no, even if they do rank first in points allowed this season. First of all, they simply aren’t creating the havoc they had in the first few games of the season against a few teams that have struggled to keep their QB upright.
Their pass rush amassed 19 sacks in five weeks to start the season. That statistic has dropped off considerably to three in their last four, which shows that the pressure from their front liners is not as panic-inducing as previously thought.
They have also stopped turning the ball over, which was a huge factor in their wins to start the season. The defence had seven interceptions and six recovered forced fumbles in those five wins, just 3 INTs and 2 FFs since then, giving their offence less possession and their defence more time on the field that seems to have worn them out.
All of that is then compounded by a poor kicking game from Blair Walsh. He is 12/16 on field goals this year and has missed four extra points, including one against the Detroit Lions that would have seen them win the game.
It really looks like that kid has not recovered from the miss against the Seattle Seahawks in the playoffs last year. There was no surprise when he was cut earlier today.
All of that combines for a team going down, down, deeper and down. There is a chance for them still, with a relatively soft schedule and in a division without anyone doing much better, they could still make something of this season.
But saying that, they can’t afford many more slip-ups. If they can’t recover against the Arizona Cardinals or especially against the Lions, this team is cooked.