It’s difficult to imagine even the most optimistic of Viking fans believing the team still has a chance to make the playoffs after Sunday’s loss to the Chicago Bears. It isn’t just that the Vikings fell to 3-6, it’s the way they lost the game. The team’s two alleged great strengths – the running game and the pass rush – both failed to show up in a must-win contest. Adrian Peterson had his most unproductive performance of the year, rushing for only 51 yards on 17 carries. And the defensive front, despite playing against an offensive line that had been dominated for much of the season, failed to get a consistent rush on Jay Cutler, who spent much of the game standing in the pocket, tearing apart an unbelievably soft Vikings secondary. Had it not been for one idiotically bad pass attempt into the endzone, Cutler would’ve had a brilliant day against the Vikings; as it was, he had a very good day – certainly good enough to defeat a Vikings team that, despite being able to move the ball with fair efficiency at times through the air, found itself once again stymied in the red zone.
The red zone issue has become more-and-more vexing as the season has worn on. It’s hard to decide now which is more responsible for the team’s ineptitude when close to paydirt: the playcalling or the execution. On Sunday it was largely the execution, the most glaring example being Greg Camarillo‘s failure to haul in a bullet-like Brett Favre pass that would’ve been a touchdown. The sad reality is that Greg Camarillo is not Sidney Rice. Neither are Greg Lewis or Hank Baskett. Maybe it would’ve helped to have Sidney on the field Sunday and not sitting on the sideline in a hoodie after deciding he wasn’t quite ready to make his return from off-season hip surgery. And maybe it would’ve helped to have Bernard Berrian who also sat out, after getting a good look at the wet Soldier Field turf and deciding his groin was too sore for him to play. But, there’s no use dragging out the injury excuse – the Vikings have played without Rice all year, and without Berrian giving them much production even when he is in there. And anyway the lack of front-line receivers was not the only thing working against the Vikings in the red zone – there was also, in the same series where Camarillo dropped the would-be TD pass, the puzzling decision to use Toby Gerhart instead of Adrian Peterson inside the 20. Gerhart did run for 9 yards to get it to the 11, but was then stuffed on successive plays, forcing the Vikings into the 3rd-and-11 play that ended with Camarillo’s miss. I’m not saying Peterson would’ve necessarily scored there, but certainly, Peterson has more ability to make something happen than Gerhart, so if you’re playing the percentages, it only makes sense to hand it to AD. Things like that are why people want Brad Childress fired.
Speaking of wanting people fired…perhaps it’s time for irate fans to add Leslie Frazier‘s name to the Want-Gone list. Early in the season it seemed Frazier’s unit was holding the whole team together – despite the alarming lack of statistical production from the front four – but now the defense has pulled even with the offense for disappointment and occasional outright ineptitude. If we’re going to hold Chilly responsible for dropped passes, questionable quarterbacking and poor pass protection, we should hold Frazier equally responsible for our non-existent pass rush, atrocious coverage and deteriorating tackling. After Sunday’s game, several things became even more apparent than they were previously: 1) Kevin Williams is not the same player anymore. 2) Our linebackers still can’t cover. 3) We sorely miss Cedric Griffin. 4) Ray Edwards and Jared Allen are lousy on grass. If there was anything at all positive to take from the defensive effort, it was that Husain Abdullah seems to have emerged as a legit safety after his two interceptions (both were gift-wrapped, but still, give the man credit for finishing the plays). But outside of Abdullah and the continued Pro Bowl-level play of Chad Greenway? To call that effort frustrating would be an understatement. And Frazier didn’t help matters by persisting in his stubborn refusal to dial up blitzes. Yes, we know the Cover-2 is not a blitz-happy system – but when you’re facing a quarterback like Jay Cutler, who is known to get rattled and start making bad mistakes, you need to force the issue. On my personal wish-list of changes for 2010, I would like to see the Vikings scrap the Cover-2. The system only works right if you get pressure from your front-4, but clearly, this is not a front-4 that can get pressure by itself anymore. Continuing to go with the same game-plan – rush 4 guys and play zones even high school quarterbacks could probably diagnose – week-after-week is now looking as futile as Chilly’s vaunted “power” running attack (which he attempts to execute despite not having any true power backs or an offensive line that is capable of getting consistent push). Sadly, even when Frazier does try to mix it up, his players don’t always help him out. Example: Yesterday Frazier tried a zone-blitz only to see a dropping Ray Edwards fall on his ass, allowing Devin Hester to make an easy touchdown catch-and-run. Once again, it’s not the coaching or the execution, it’s the coaching and the execution.
So we’ve more-or-less admitted by now that the Vikings don’t have the players to open things up offensively or defensively. Nor are they dominant enough in the trenches to go on the road and grind out a win either by stuffing teams or steamrolling them with the power run game. They are an indoor team that can’t high-fly it unless they’re playing a dreadful defense like the Cardinals. They are hopeless on the road, even more so on grass. Their quarterback has become an official member of the Ailment of the Week club. It’s possible the team has lost total faith in the coaching staff, which frankly hasn’t done much this year to earn faith, from the players, the fans or the owner. To put things bluntly: The Vikings are just a bad team right now. Their only wins are home victories against other bad teams. The only shred of hope is that returning Sidney Rice to the mix might restore some of the offensive thunder. But even if Rice returns, you’re still rolling with banged-up men at lots of key positions, and fast-fading oldsters like Steve Hutchinson, Pat Williams and Antoine Winfield at others. The upshot of it is, it will take a miracle for the Vikings to even finish over .500 now. For them to make the playoffs they would almost certainly have to run the table. Does this team have even a two-game winning streak in it, let alone a 7-game winning streak? It doesn’t look like it.
Topics: Adrian Peterson, Antoine Winfield, Bernard Berrian, Brad Childress, Brett Favre, Chad Greenway, Chicago Bears, Greg Camarillo, Greg Lewis, Hank Baskett, Jared Allen, Jay Cutler, Leslie Frazier, Minnesota Vikings, Sidney Rice, Toby Gerhart