Five Up, Four Down — Vikings Lose on the Road Again

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The Minnesota Vikings are the third team in the entire history of the NFL to lose four straight games after starting off 5-0 — the third team, ever.

This loss to the Redskins was another painful one similar to the Lions home loss in that the Vikings had plenty of chances to win the game, but shot themselves in the foot enough times to eliminate a possibility of winning. They didn’t completely blow it like the Lions matchup, but this was another heart-wrenching loss.

Just earlier today it was announced, much to the pleasure of many frustrated Vikings fans, that Blair Walsh had been cut by the team. I held out hope Walsh would rebound after last season’s playoff disaster — but after missing four extra points (one of those on Sunday) and four field goals in just nine games, it was time for him to go.

The story of the 2016 Vikings is clearly injuries. While all NFL teams sustain injuries to marquee and secondary players, very few lose as many pieces as the Vikings have lost in 2016. They have lost six total offensive lineman throughout the year including four starting tackles — FOUR! While the offensive line has been nothing short of awful, injuries have played a huge part in their lack of cohesiveness and success. Well that and Norv Turner’s poor game plans — speaking of Norv, he is another notable offensive departure from the team.

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Jake Long, while starting rocky in his first snaps on the o-line, began to look like a serviceable left tackle. Well, his season and likely his career are over after he blew out his achilles on Sunday. This Vikings team simply cannot catch a break within this unit.

While the offensive line wasn’t horrible on Sunday in terms of pass protection (minus the last two plays), they still could not get the running game off the ground. The Vikings are dead last in the league with a pathetic 2.7 yards per rush.

To make things worse, even with Norv Turner out as the offensive play caller, new offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur seems just as hellbent on “getting the running game going” as his predecessor. How painful was it to watch the Vikings on short yardage situations on Sunday? The text book definition of insanity is to repeat an action over and over and expect a different result.

They again resorted to the formula of blasting Asiata up the gut for zero yards. Again, I said this last week, what has either the offensive line or Matt Asiata proven to this point to deserve those play calls? I get it — it’s only one yard — but this line and third string back have proven again and again they cannot get the job done. Insanity.

The failure to get first downs on short yardage situations kept the defense on the field much of the second half. Though the defense could be playing better, I will argue during this four game skid the offense has done them zero favors.

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Two drives in the second half ended on third and one because Matt Asiata could not push forward for one yard. Two drives. Even after it took Asiata three plunges to get one yard to score a touchdown in the first half, even after last week where Asiata on short yards plays came up with the same painful ineffectiveness. Just awful play calling and execution on the Vikings part to not only try to sustain a drive, but to give their defense a rest longer than a 3-6 play offensive possession.

At this point, I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch to say the Vikings need to largely abandon the running game. Yes, abandon it. The Vikings don’t have the offensive line nor the talent running behind it to earn a role in this offense. Running plays on first and second down rarely have led to positive gains — cut your losses and substitute short passes, screens and trap plays in place of the running game.

Sure, run the ball every now and then to mix it up — but the ideas that “we need to have balance on offense” and “we need to run the ball with success to fix the offensive woes” are ridiculous. Looking at the Vikings offensive weapons, the team is slowly drowning itself by thinking they need to run the ball.

thelen

Ideally, yes, the Vikings would be able to run the ball even with some success. But at this point, the worst facet of the offense has been the running game and the best facet has been the short passing game. Get the ball to McKinnon and Hill with short passes and screens, and just feed your other playmakers. Diggs needs the ball and has proven un-coverable on his short routes — sure, he had 13 catches in back to back weeks — but with the running game the way it is, he needs 20 catches every week. Diggs is a monster, feed him in those crucial situations.

Plenty of other quality teams have resorted to this formula — the Patriots have had plenty of teams under Tom Brady that could not run or had a decimated offensive line. What did they do? Short passes, short passes, short passes. Smart coaches like Belichick see the strengths and weaknesses of each unit and plan accordingly. I thought Zimmer and his staff were better than this. Bradford played one of his best games on Sunday and he is capable of making smart decisions on short passes — put the game in his hands and let him get the ball to his weapons.

It’s painfully obvious to even the casual sports fan the Vikings cannot run the ball — it’s time for Zimmer, Shurmur Et al. to stop being so stubborn and solely play to this team’s strengths. If I see Matt Asiata get another carry up the gut on third and short I’m going to finger roll a brick into my TV.

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The defense was good on Sunday, but again, largely underwhelming. They rarely put tremendous pressure on Cousins (and only sacked him once very late in the game), they allowed the team to start down 14-0 and did not look even intimidating throughout much of the game. They again got gashed for large gains in the running game, which to this point has proven their biggest weakness. But again, with the offense not sustaining drives late in games, I feel bad for this unit — they are getting thrown under the bus over and over.

This 2016 season that started as a dream has quickly turned into a nightmare. It’s so hard to believe how far this team has fallen after starting out 5-0. Once toasted as the best in the NFL, this team now isn’t even considered a contender in the NFC. While I once looked at our schedule and wondered when we would experience our first loss, I now look and wonder when we could win again. I wonder if this team which I had locked into the playoffs will even sniff the postseason. After starting out 5-0, the Vikings are currently not in the playoff picture. I still cannot for the life of me wrap my head around that. Five dominating wins, four straight painful losses.

This nightmare doesn’t look to get much cozier as the next matchup is versus the hungry Cardinals who look to keep their playoff hopes alive, then onto the Lions in Detroit on Thanksgiving and then a previously heralded big time matchup against the dominating Dallas Cowboys. That matchup looked like one to showcase the class of the NFC, but with four straight losses, that is no longer the case.

This is what you get Vikings fans. You thought things were looking up for this team — but you forgot one thing — this is Minnesota Vikings football. Never forget that.

 

Photos by: Keith Allison 

 

 

 



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