The Minnesota Vikings lost to the Indianapolis Colts, 34-6. In what was one of the worst performances of the season, the Vikings failed miserably in every phase of the game. There is certainly plenty of blame to go around, but what was the main reason for the loss?
The easiest scapegoat would be the offensive line. Sam Bradford was sacked five times by a defense that ranked 25th in the league in bringing opposing quarterbacks down. The Vikings also mustered a paltry 34 yards on the ground, furthering the team’s case as the worst rushing attack in the NFL. But at the end of the day, there have been so many injuries along the offensive line that it’s almost unfair to bash on them anymore.
Turnovers are another obvious problem that ailed the Vikings on Sunday. Adrian Peterson returned after sitting out since week 2 with an injury and proceeded to fumble the ball during one of his six carries. Bradford fumbled once to go along with an interception, and should have had another one that was fortunately called back because of a penalty on the Colts.
The Vikings’ defense was unable to even those scales, failing to force a turnover for the fourth game this season (all losses). This Vikings team is predicated on defense and ball-control, so winning the turnover battle is crucial. Only twice this season has the team won the turnover battle and lost the game.
The porous offensive line and giving the ball away three times both undoubtedly contributed to the Vikings’ loss to the Colts, but neither was the true reason the Vikings lost. The real reason the Vikings lost is because of their lack of a pass rush.
The Colts were starting three rookies along their offensive line, and entered the game allowing the second most sacks in the NFL. The Vikings’ Everson Griffen, Brian Robison, Danielle Hunter and Anthony Barr should have been able to dominate the line of scrimmage, yet the quartet ended the game with 2.5 tackles and a quarterback hit between the four of them.
This most recent game left plenty to be desired by Minnesota’s pass rush, but this problem is not new.
Everson Griffen has been the Vikings’ best defensive end this season, but has failed to register a sack in five of the last six games. He only has eight sacks this season, but there are still two games left for him to avoid finishing with single-digit sacks for the first time since he became the starter. Griffen has a Pro Football Focus grade of 81.7, good for 27th among edge rushers.
Brian Robison has been inconsistent this year, and it’s likely his last season as the starter in Minnesota. Robison has seven sacks this year, which is right around his average. Robison, who will turn 34 this offseason, is having the worst year of his career according to PFF. His player grade of 46.3 ranks him 84 out of 105.
Danielle Hunter is a phenomenal young talent who will be the successor to Robison next season. Hunter leads the Minnesota Vikings with 10.5 sacks, a feat made even more impressive because he is a backup playing two-thirds the snaps when compared to Everson.
Danielle has impressive speed when rushing the passer, but his best attribute is stopping the run. His run defense grade of 81.4 is 15th best in the league for edge defenders. Hunter is the Vikings’ most consistent pass rusher, and the Colts game was just the fifth time all year he has been held without a sack.
Anthony Barr is without a doubt the biggest disappointment on the Vikings’ defense in 2016. In his rookie season, Barr was given a PFF grade of 80.1. In his sophomore season in the league, Barr was the second best linebacker in the NFL with a 91.8 player grade and appeared to be a star in the making.
However, the 2016 campaign has seen Barr fall… hard. His player grade this year is an abhorrent 41.1, ranking him 84 out of 91 qualifying linebackers. Barr has played 910 snaps this season, 8th most by a linebacker.
With his high rate of usage and unexplained regression, Anthony Barr has become a liability for the Minnesota Vikings.