Sunday night was the worst kind of Vikings game, one that starts with a resounding hurrah, giving fans false hope of a back and forth battle to come. Cordarrelle Patterson turned in one of the Vikings only highlights of Sunday night, a 109 yard kickoff return for a touchdown. After that, little else went right for the purple. They couldn’t run or pass the football, they allowed a special teams touchdown of their own, and most importantly, they didn’t stop Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense once all evening. Despite the score being more competitive than the previous two weeks, the Packers were in control pretty much the entire contest.
The two biggest shortcomings for the Vikings this past Sunday were offensive line and the entire defense — these two areas of the team failing are becoming a theme for this season. With the poor quarterback play the Vikings have had in 2013, it’s sad to think Ponder/Cassel/Freeman haven’t even been the worst aspect of this team. The defense literally never stopped the Packers offense on Sunday — literally never stopped them — the Packers scored on every single drive (except for the one “drive” before halftime where they received a kickoff with four seconds left). And the offensive line, they look like a patch-work job of scrubs, not an elite unit that propelled a 2,000 yard rusher just a year ago.
The defense was again the weight around the Vikings ankle, sinking them to the depths — the biggest difference between this week and last was the quarterback position, Rodgers compared to Manning. Aaron Rodgers made all those “tight window” throws, hitting all his targets to pummel the Vikings into ground, while Manning didn’t make those plays. That throw to Jordy Nelson for an opening drive touchdown was about as good as it gets — and in that instance, you cannot blame the coverage, as a throw that perfect cannot be defended. The Vikings posed no threat to the Packers offense (though they did sack Rodgers twice). Rodgers is decidedly one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and he did not look uncomfortable at all against the Vikings. Watching the game film to prepare for the Vikings secondary, Rodgers must have been licking his chops all week.
It also doesn’t help the Vikings were unable to create sustainable pressure with their front four — like I said, Rodgers was comfortable most of the match. With little pressure comes blitzing, and when the Vikings blitzed, Rodgers made them pay. The Packers offensive line deserves a lot of credit, because they played extremely well, both pass protecting and run blocking. They helped propel the Packers to 182 rushing yards. Like most offensive lines this year, they had their way with the Vikings defensive front.
It is blatantly clear the Vikings defense has cost them a lot of games this year. While the offense has been far from spectacular, the defense never makes enough plays to keep the team in the game. The Vikings are one of two teams in the NFL to surrender more than 23 points in every game this year — and really, the 23 scored by the Giants should have been a lot more. The team has surrendered the third most points in the NFL, an astoundingly awful average of 32.1 points per game. I don’t care if Joe Montana is your quarterback, giving up 30+ a game never gives your team a chance to win.
A football team also will rarely have success when the opposition is so fruitful on crucial downs. So many heard Chris Collinsworth pounding home the 3rd down failures of the Vikings, and he was right on point. The Packers were 13 for 18 on third down — and two of those “failed” conversions turned into successful fourth down conversions — the other three “failed” conversions all resulted in field goals. Rodgers was a perfect 12 for 12 on third and fourth down, with 187 yards and two touchdowns. It’s no surprise the Vikings are dead last on third down conversions, allowing their opponents to convert 51% of the time (not to mention opponents have converted fourth down 6 of 8 times this season).
By allowing the opposition to consistently make first downs, and the offense consistently sputtering, the Vikings clearly are not going to win many time of possession battles. The past two weeks were bad, but this week was horrendous: Packers (40:54), Vikings (19:06). This beat down is a representation of the Vikings season as a whole — the offense can’t put together any sustaining drives and the defense can’t get the opposing offense off the field. Where would you guess the Vikings rank in the NFL in time of possession? That’s right, last.
While the defense is a huge portion of the blame, Christian Ponder and the Vikings offense won’t get much credit either. Though Ponder “led” the team to 31 points, a miracle compared to the past two offensive efforts, one of those scores was a kickoff return touchdown and two were after the Packers already put 41 on the board and were in complete control (garbage time touchdowns).
Ponder almost had no pressure coming into this game — the team was 1-5, the season lost, and he had a chance to just let the ball fly to try and combat the Packers powerful offense. But Ponder played tentatively, scared almost to make a mistake, and never gave the Vikings one iota of quality play at the quarterback position. Off the bat it was clear the Vikings were not in a position to play conservatively, especially considering their defensive conundrum and their last place position in the standings. Despite that, Ponder never pressed the issue, he made almost no plays with his arm, and he never displayed anything to show he deserved the starting job he lost weeks ago.
But even going further than blaming Ponder, the biggest woe on that side of the ball was again the offensive line. I’ve talked extensively about this group in the past, and I’m not going to reiterate too much here, but suffice to say, they are the biggest joke on this team right now. Yes, even more than the defense. It’s not that they’re playing worse, it’s that it was expected they would play so much better in 2013. Along with Adrian Peterson, they were supposed to be the foundation of the team — yet, all they have done this season is fail time after time. Again, against the Packers they created no opportunities for Ponder or Peterson. While Ponder had “happy feet” in the pocket, not a positive for any quarterback, the offensive line is partly to blame. They were beat all day — even late in the fourth quarter when the game was in hand, the Packers were getting excellent pressure on Ponder simply rushing four. This unit should be ashamed of themselves and the few opportunities they have afforded the offense.
Briefly, I am on board with all those calling for Leslie Frazier’s head. This team has so many shortcomings it’s not all his, or the coaching staff’s, fault. But this team has poor leadership, suspect play calling (Adrian only had 13 carries yet again), and Frazier does not seem to have any spirit on the sideline. Granted the team is hard to watch, and fire is not in his personality, but some life to energize a team in a deadly tail spin could at least show he’s awake under the calm facade. The Vikings are in need of new leadership — Frazier can be one hell of a coordinator, but he is not the CEO type who can be the head of a football team.
The Vikings once again played awful in all three phases. Even though Cordarrelle Patterson had a monster night, the Vikings surrendered a punt return of their own. They were flagged for stupid penalties, put up little offensive fight, and proved to show no resistance to the Packers well-oiled offensive machine. Like I said last week, it couldn’t get much worse than getting beat down by the Packers. In retrospect, I’m not sure the season can sink lower than this. Watching your favorite team implode in every aspect of the game is just a bit depressing — seeing the Vikings best player looking despondent on the sidelines after a third straight hideous week is about as low as it gets.
Hey, here’s an idea Vikings: how about, just for one week, do something positive so every one of these articles I write isn’t completely full with negatives. Just put up a fight — these three straight lop-sided losses are hard to cover. All 53 men on that roster have to go a long way to start earning those paychecks — let’s start with a competitive game.
Photos via: ESPN