Two teams came into the Metrodome today at 1-3 and hoping to turn their seasons around. One showed up to play, the other didn’t. Right from the outset, the Carolina Panthers looked like the more prepared, emotionally engaged team. The Vikings looked uninspired and sloppy and not ready to take the field. Which is inexplicable coming off a bye week.
Things went wrong early when Matt Cassel was picked on an overthrow in the direction of Greg Jennings. Jamarca Sanford had a chance to get it back on an errant Cam Newton throw but let it clang off his hands. The Panthers would go on to dominate the first half, going down the field at will against the Vikings’ defense. Minnesota finally got on the board with decent 2-minute drill, highlighted by some Adrian Peterson effort plays, making it 14-3 at the half.
The Vikings needed to come out in the second half adjusting to Carolina’s unusually aggressive blitzing and effective run game, but did neither. Instead the beat went on for Carolina. The big play of the third quarter was a long touchdown to Brandon LaFell after Josh Robinson evidently failed to play the correct coverage, letting LaFell get behind him. That seemed to completely demoralize the Vikings defense.
Offensively it wasn’t much prettier. After an effective effort vs. Pittsburgh, Matt Cassel reverted to the form that got him run out of Kansas City. He ended the day with 2 picks and a garbage-time TD to Kyle Rudolph that was mostly about Rudolph’s effort. The running game never got on track largely thanks to Carolina’s unrelenting blitzing, a scheme the Vikes were never able to pass Carolina out of.
And that exposes the problem with this offense as run by Matt Cassel or Christian Ponder. Lack of a deep game means teams will sell out to stop Adrian Peterson. AD is great but he can’t carry you every week. Against Carolina’s terrific front-7, led by a Pro Bowl-level MLB, you need to pass outside the hashes and go deep. That dimension is consistently lacking from Minnesota’s attack. Maybe Josh Freeman can help change that and maybe he can’t.
But this game isn’t about the offense, it’s about the complete lack of defensive effort coupled with an inexcusable lack of preparation. When a team isn’t mentally focused, that’s got to be on the coaches. We know the Vikings are short personnel-wise in their secondary but that’s only part of the problem. At some point Leslie Frazier has to bear the burden of accountability for the chronic lack of discipline and effort shown by his team.
It might be time to plant Frazier on the hot seat.