The slow train wreck that has been the Vikings’ 2011 season continues today at the Metrodome against the Arizona Cardinals. Hey guess what everybody? This is a team we should be able to beat. Remember when we thought that last week before the Kansas City game? And then what happened? That’s right, we didn’t beat them. But at least the offense looked a little better, right? What’s a little better than awful? Almost mediocre? Nearly adequate? Bordering on the acceptable? Maybe this week the Vikings will make that giant leap up to average.
If they can play average on offense and not crap themselves on defense, they should be able to beat the Cardinals, who are not exactly great themselves. The thing we have to worry about is Larry Fitzgerald getting off the same way Calvin Johnson did two weeks ago and Dwayne Bowe did last week. The big play is killing this defense. Every week it’s the same story: They hold up reasonably well for awhile and then bam, they get burned.
The main offenders on the defense have been the secondary guys, who’ve been struggling in both coverage and tackling. Fred Pagac tried to cover for them last week by not blitzing too much but it didn’t really matter. And this week…no Antoine Winfield. This shouldn’t make a huge difference against Fitzgerald since Winfield doesn’t normally cover outside receivers anyway, but it will make a difference in the run defense and in covering the short passing game. Asher Allen, who will be in on nickel, has to make the tackles. It would also help if the linebackers would show up a little more in coverage. Right now Pagac is hesitant to bring those guys on the blitz, and when they drop back in coverage they’re really not making plays.
Speaking of making plays…what the Vikings really need on defense are more turnovers. It’s asking a lot for guys to keep covering and tackling and rushing the passer play after play after play – occasionally you need to kill a drive by forcing a fumble or picking off a pass. The defense has simply been overworked this year, partly because the offense can’t stay on the field, and partly because the defense has no ball-hawkers who can end a drive with one play. Chad Greenway’s comments about wanting to be more like the Ravens demonstrate how aware the players are of their inadequacy in this regard, but just being aware of your shortcomings doesn’t fix anything.
But what can the Vikings actually do to become more of a turnover-generating defense? The sad thing is, I don’t think there’s anything they can do. Turnovers result from having playmakers on the field, guys who have a nose for the ball, and the Vikes simply don’t have enough of those. Their defense right now is predicated on hoping Jared Allen and Brian Robison get enough pressure on the QB to force underneath throws, then hoping the linebackers and DBs make the tackles. The idea that a safety or a linebacker or a corner might actually break on a ball and take it away seems like some far-fetched notion from a fantasy novel. The Vikings right now epitomize the bend-but-don’t-break philosophy…and unfortunately they are breaking too often.
For the Vikes to win, they must win the big play differential. More big plays on offense and more big plays on defense. They should have some guys on offense who can deliver the big play but the problem has been creating those situations. Donovan McNabb has to be more accurate in his throws so guys like Percy Harvin and Visanthe Shiancoe have a chance to catch-and-run. The offensive line has to block better so Adrian Peterson has more chances to break big runs. It goes without saying that the Vikes need more action in the deep passing game which means more looks for Devin Aromashodu, the only guy on this team who has demonstrated any ability to stretch a defense. Really, it all comes back to the pass blocking and McNabb, and taking the down-the-field shots when they’re there.
Big plays. Turnovers. Somewhere Bud Grant is nodding knowingly.