The Vikings have been one of the bigger disappointments in the 2010 season. Coming into the season with legitimate Super Bowl expectations, the Vikings have stumbled to a 3-6 start and are on the brink of being on the outside looking in for a playoff berth this season.
As shocked as fans have been, the Vikings players and coaches have been even more stunned by the developments that have taken place. In each of their six losses, the Vikings have had chances to win the game late. Most of their problems have been self-inflicted. Teams haven't imposed their will against the Vikings, but turnovers, red zone ineffectiveness and defensive collapses at critical times have all played into the Vikings' lack of success. Compound that with injuries at cornerback and wide receiver, and cornerback Lito Sheppard said that, while they should be better, the injuries have played as big a role as anything with his new team.
"We know we have a good team, it's just about being on the same page and putting it together," Sheppard said. "We just haven't done that yet. We're not the team that we think we are, but we have the talent and we can put that together every game. We've shown spurts of it, but we need to get it going for 60 minutes, not a few minutes here and a few minutes there. But we have a lot of injury problems, especially at wide receiver. If we had the same personnel last year with the same kind of injuries, I think we would be in about the same spot we are now."
Players have been constantly asked about whether the distractions that have dominated the 2010 season have affected the focus the team has on a game-to-game basis. Kicker Ryan Longwell said the team has been battling with pushing too hard to make things happen to get out of their tailspin and that, in the process, at times they make things worse with paralysis by over-analysis.
"It's a fine line in this league between not focusing enough and pressing too hard," Longwell said. "Every team fights it. When things start going your way and are going well, you ride the wave. When they're not, you really have to press hard to get in to score, get into field goal range and not turn the ball over. When you start thinking about trying to avoid problems, it's when they come up."
Compounding the problem is that the Vikings offense has been able to move the ball up and down the field only to sputter and die in the red zone. Only Carolina has come away without points more often than the Vikings in the red zone – the Vikings have come up empty on eight of 29 red zone drives on offense. Nobody has a worse giveaway-takeaway ratio and many of those turnovers have come deep in opposition territory or deep in Vikings territory, making the problems even more pronounced.
"That's what has made it so much tougher," Harvin said. "We're the same team that we were last year, but it's the little things – having the ball on the 2-yard line and punching it in for seven instead of getting three or going for it on fourth down and getting no points. Those are the kind of things that have been biting us."
Running back Adrian Peterson said the frustration has grown as the season has progressed, prompting offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to implore his players to force the opposition to stop them instead of the Vikings finding ways to stop themselves. Everybody screws up from time to time, but the frequency with which the Vikings have failed to take advantage of scoring opportunities has been a source of constant frustration throughout the season.
"When you're driving down the field and you get in the red zone in a position to score, and self-inflicted (problems like) penalties that's backing you up and keeping you from putting seven (points) on the board, it's a little more frustrating," Peterson said. "That's the main thing. Coach Bevell talked about offense and said guys just remain focused and the Vikings not beating the Vikings."
It doesn't make it easier when the team reviews games on film. Safety Madieu Williams said that it would be one thing if opponents just blew their doors off like the Eagles did last Sunday to the Redskins. But the Vikings are making the kind of game-changing mistakes that are more their fault than being dominated by opponents.
"Week in and week out, when we watch the tape, we see that a lot of our problems are self-inflicted," Williams said. "They are things that you can correct. If it was a case that we just didn't have the personnel to hang with other teams, that would be one thing, but we're seeing things that can be corrected because we have the talent to beat any team we play. We can't let the mistakes we've made in the past affect us in the present or the future."
The Vikings are near the bottom of the league in many key statistical categories, but guard Anthony Herrera said there aren't many numbers that really matter except wins and losses. Just as the Vikings were riding high at 8-1 a year ago at this point, he said you couldn't get caught up in the numbers that were associated with those wins. Every week brought a new opponent and a new challenge. The same is in play this time around, except in reverse – the Vikings have posted dismal numbers, but Herrera said that shouldn't impact Sunday and beyond.
"We're just trying to stay positive," Herrera said. "The numbers aren't good, but, at this point, that's all they are – numbers. You can't go back and change them. You can only try to improve on them from this week forward. The only numbers that matter to us is that we're 3-6 and Green Bay is 6-3. We have to change that."
In the end, the Vikings can point to their own implosions – turnovers on offense, the lack of turnovers on defense and big plays not going their way – as to why they find themselves in their current position. Nine games into the season, perhaps in only the Dallas game did the offense, defense and special teams all play well at the same time for 60 minutes. Once that happens, things will change for the better, but until it does, the Vikings malaise-laden 2010 season will stay on the same course.
"We've got to stop doing it to ourselves," cornerback Asher Allen said. "Once we start doing that and all the phases play together like we know we can play, we're going to be OK."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.