I’ve written about the Vikings four games in, eight games in and now twelve games in. The common theme at the beginning of each is that we don’t have many answers about this team. When you are three-quarters of the way through a season and you don’t have many answers one way or another I think it’s clear one thing is wrong: consistency. One week, the Vikings are doomed because they lost to the Bears. The next week, they’re back because they beat the Packers. Now, they’re doomed again because they lost to the Patriots.
It has been one of the more frustrating seasons to watch as a Vikings fan, because we know that they are talented. In fact, I think that they can beat anybody on any given day, it just hasn’t come together, and it’s looking unlikely that it ever will this year. Kirk Cousins has made throws I’ve never seen before from a Vikings quarterback. A healthy Dalvin Cook looks like the best player on offense. Adam Thielen has broken records set by Randy Moss. Stefon Diggs is just plain old good. So what gives..?
John DeFilippo Is Not Who We Thought He Was
In an immediate bias off the Patriots game, John DeFilippo gets the first round of criticism. With the weapons he has at his disposal, there has not been enough offensive productivity. Rewind to Teddy years, where the concern was his inability to throw the ball downfield. Well, in 2015, Teddy’s average depth of target was 7.5 yards. This year, Kirk’s is 7.0. Despite being a far superior downfield thrower, the Vikings offense is forcing Cousins to throw short routes and rely on the receivers after-the-catch ability. It has worked to an extent, but the lack of stretching the field is head-scratching and has hindered the offense.
As for the running game, two things have bothered me. The first is the lack of touches for Dalvin Cook. The Patriots game is a prime example where Cook was dominating whenever he touched the ball; however, DeFilippo decided that 9 carries for 84 yards was enough and stopped giving him the ball. The second is the non-existent run-pass options that burned the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game. When the Vikings hired DeFilippo, I expected a new-age, innovative offense with run-pass options and new play-designs to create mismatches. Instead, we have an offense that relies on shallow, crossing routes and play-action.
The only thing I can think of for the reason behind the offensive scheme, especially the short passing game, is the offensive line’s severe deficiencies. Kirk can’t hold the ball long enough for plays to develop, and DeFilippo is trying to mask the Vikings greatest issue. While probably true, the offense still needs more variance and more shots to be taken downfield.
Kirk Vs Kurt
Kirk is the quarterback that led the Vikings back in Lambeau. He threw for over 300 yards in a must-win in Philadelphia and he torched the Packers again in another must-win in Week 12. Kurt fumbled twice against the Bills. He threw a pick-six against the Saints. He showed up against the Bears, and again this week against the Patriots. I said there hasn’t been enough consistency with the Vikings and it starts with their $84 million quarterback. He has shown the flashes worthy of the contract and has showed up in some big games, while disappearing it in others. If the Vikings have any chance, Kirk needs to show up for the rest of the season.
Third And Short
These are the worst five teams at converting on 3rd and short this season:
- Jets – 43.8%
- Vikings – 50%
- Broncos – 50%
- Dolphins – 50%
- Browns – 52%
3rd-and-2 should be near-automatic, not a coin flip. The other four offenses on this list have half the talent of the Vikings. Keeping drives alive when they have short distances has been another achilles heel for the offense. They have to be better. The best teams in the league convert between 75-85% of the time.
- Week 3 – Two early fumbles against Buffalo doom the Vikings
- Week 5 – Cousins is strip-sacked on the final drive against the Rams
- Week 8 – Thielen fumbles in Saints territory (10-14 point swing) ; Cousins follows with a pick-six in the second half
- Week 11 – Cousins throws a pick-six against the Bears to go down by 14
In the Vikings losses, turnovers have been the story. Most notably, their three losses to the top three teams in the NFC (Rams, Saints, Bears) have all been a result of timely turnovers. With better ball security, this team has at least one more victory and a lot less criticism.
No ‘Killer Instinct’
The Vikings aren’t putting anybody away this year. Whenever they have a chance to run away with the score, they let the other team stick around. None of these instances have hurt them this season (unless you count the Thielen fumble against the Saints), but it doesn’t instill any confidence.
Whenever they seem to be up by a score late in the game, they never go down the field, score and extend the lead. They always seem to settle for a field goal or punt. On the flip side, when they are within a score and have the ball, they never come back to take the lead. In the Patriots game, there were two instances the Vikings received the ball down 10-7. They punted and kicked a field goal. Great teams get in the end zone and put some pressure on the opposition. Great teams turn a deficits into leads.
The Defense Finding Its Footing
It took a few weeks, but the defense is back in the top-5 in total defense. They are back to the unit we are accustomed to, leading the league in third-down percentage and getting off the field. There are currently injuries to be worried about, mainly in the secondary, but the defense is not holding the team back (though it was at the beginning of the season). This team needs balance. When the defense plays well, the offense plays poorly and vice versa.
What drives me crazy is how well they’ve played without winning results. The Vikings have played four games against the NFL’s top-3 quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady). Combined, those quarterbacks are: 89/125 for 910 yards, 4 TDs and 2 Interceptions, an average of a 71.2% Completion Rate, 227 yards, 1 TD 0.5 INTs. Pretty damn good for the defense, except, the Vikings are 1-2-1 in those games. When you play elite quarterbacks and limit their production, you have to win those games. The Vikings are finding ways to beat themselves, and none is more evident than losing to the Bears while forcing this stat line:
At The End of the Day…
The Vikings are going to make the playoffs. If their play doesn’t improve, it may even be by default. Currently, I’m telling myself that the only way I will be excited about their playoff prospects is if they finish 4-0 with a statement win in Seattle. 4-0 likely gets you the division and a home playoff game. With the team’s inconsistencies, a 3-1 is more likely, but nothing to write home about, as the competition the last three weeks is lackluster (especially if the Bears don’t need to play their starters in Week 17). A 2-2 finish might even be enough to get them in the playoffs this year.
The Vikings aren’t playing like the team that began the season with Super Bowl aspirations. If it can clean up the areas above and be more consistent, they will be hard to beat on a week-to-week basis. Regardless of how you get there, anything can happen in the playoffs, but in order for ‘anything to happen’ this team needs a lot needs to change and the offense and defense need to better compliment each other, rather than carry one another.