Here we are again picking apart another disappointing Vikings loss. With five losses in the books now it’s easy to see some trends developing. The big one for me is the slow start factor. Looking at the last three losses in particular, the Vikings have really been hurting themselves by not coming out of the blocks fast enough. For whatever reason this team often just doesn’t seem mentally or physically into the game from the get-go. Is it a product of poor preparation? Something that’s just missing from this team’s overall make-up? Lack of a hearty breakfast? I don’t have the answer. I just know that, against the Bears as against Tampa Bay and Seattle, the Vikings looked mentally and physically out-of-it in the first half.
The very first play of the game set an ominous tone. Bill Musgrave elected to come out in an empty backfield look, possibly thinking this would scare the Bears into pooping themselves and running away. But the play only resulted in a 9-yard sack of Christian Ponder. I get breaking tendencies but why not come out running or doing your standard two tight end stuff given the environment? Did Musgrave think spreading it out and throwing on the Bears early would catch them by surprise? Because the guys on the Bears’ defensive staff have never imagined the concept of a running team trying to establish a passing game early?
You’re outside, on the road, on the grass against a tough defense. And your best player by far is your running back. So here’s my idea. Run it. Not only did the Vikes eschew the run on the first series, which resulted in a 3-and-out, they also inexplicably got away from the run for the rest of the first half. Adrian Peterson ended up with just seven carries in the first two quarters. I realize he fumbled but one fumble shouldn’t be enough to make you shy away from handing the ball to Peterson. Especially when – and here’s the key point – he’s just about all you have on offense.
The offensive struggles were certainly partly due to the Bears’ efforts, but the Vikings also did a good job of killing themselves. The series before the Peterson fumble actually was telling. The Vikings had the ball on a short field after Matt Forte’s own fumble. Here was a chance for them to stick the ball in the end zone and really grab hold of the game early. And what happens? Three plays and a field goal. The third down play on that series was the troublesome one. A pass to Jerome Simpson that was flat out dropped by Simpson. That would not be the last wide receiver drop of the day. In fact, drops would become a recurring theme. Jerome Simpson? Give me a break dude.
Had the Vikes managed to punch it in after the Forte fumble, taking a 7-0 lead instead of 3-0, maybe the game would’ve turned out differently. But they didn’t punch it in. They settled for the field goal. And then the Vikings stopped them on defense – largely thanks to a sack of Jay Cutler that wasn’t a sack but actually was just Cutler tripping over his own center’s foot – and then on their next possession Peterson fumbled. And the Bears easily scored to make it 7-3. And the Bears never looked back.
And this brings us now to the defense. What do we say about this unit? The front four is supposed to be the strength of the defense but lately it has been anything but. If you want to point to one thing that’s really been disappointing this year, it’s the production of the defensive line. And forget about sacks. How about just playing smart and disciplined and good football from one down to the next? How about being sound against the run as well as ferocious against the pass? How about just showing up in the first half? How about somebody up there make a play?
I thought the first half against Seattle was an embarrassment for the defense. In that game the Vikings’ offense played pretty well early, mostly thanks to Adrian Peterson who absolutely mauled Seattle for two quarters. But the defense just let Seattle gash them. It really looked like the D left their brains and hearts at home in that game. Against the Bears in the early going, it was another pitiful defensive display. That supposedly porous offensive line looked impenetrable against the Vikings’ feeble rush men. And of course Jay Cutler, with plenty of time to pick his targets, had no problem tearing up the Vikings’ secondary (which has not been the same without Chris Cook). Cutler destroying the Vikings is nothing new but this time it was particularly frustrating. Because the Vikings were supposed to eat up the Bears’ pass protection. And the Vikings’ secondary is supposed to be more physical. And Cutler was supposed to be a little rusty after missing a week with a concussion. And the Vikes were supposed to have a good game plan coming off the bye.
But the Vikings front four didn’t come to play in the first half against the Bears. They were manhandled. Do I even need to say it? The front four is vastly overrated. Jared Allen is no longer an elite pass rusher. Kevin Williams is tailing off very fast. And Brian Robison is only good in spots. Now of course you have the other factor of natural grass. We know this unit is less explosive on grass. Well then maybe how about a blitz or two? This might have been a good game for Alan Williams to help out his men up front. Try to overwhelm that supposedly out-manned offensive line and frustrate Cutler. Cause we know a frustrated Cutler is a much less effective Cutler. But that didn’t materialize. The Vikings barely laid a finger on Cutler all day. And even when they hit him he completed passes.
It just seemed like everything went wrong for the Vikings right from the start. The game plan was not a solid one on either side of the ball. Turnovers were killers. Christian Ponder’s interception over Devin Aromashodu’s head? Terrible throw. Seven carries for Adrian Peterson in the first half? Silly. Evaporating pass rush? Inexcusable. Again, the Vikings played back on their heels early. They failed to capitalize on some opportunities. They gave the Bears short fields. They didn’t get after it on defense. In the second half Christian Ponder got some rhythm going, Adrian Peterson got plenty of yardage and the defense locked down a little. All too late. Sadly, that seems to be the character of this team especially in tough road environments. No juice in the first half. Too many physical and mental mistakes. Questionable game planning.
And that’s why this isn’t a playoff team. Got to come out looking confident and focused, especially on the road against division opponents (he said in his best Leslie Frazier voice). This is a team with a lot of developing and maturing to do. No excuse for this one. It was just a bad show.
Like The Viking Age on Facebook.
Follow Dan Zinski on Twitter.
Get the all-new FanSided iPhone app.
Want to blog about the Vikings? Fill out the blogger application and join the team. Serious homers, negative types, tape wonks and general wack-jobs all welcome.