To hear the talk surrounding the Vikings over the last six days, you might think they are playing one of the dynasties of the past, the Patriots of the early 2000s or the Cowboys of the 1990s. In some ways it's understandable, given Detroit's putrid past and the excitement surrounding all those high first-round draft picks finally firing all cylinders for the Motor City.
In another way, and to a lesser degree, it feels similar to the 2009 playoff hype surrounding the Vikings and Cowboys. The Cowboys were the hot team of destiny and all the Vikings heard about in the locker room was the tremendous talent dripping within the Dallas jerseys. Maybe these Vikings are getting sick of hearing about their opponents, but until they become a more consistent team and start winning games, their mood will only become more agitated.
The players can easily shut up their critics and the questions rolling their way if they finish a game and finish off a good opponent. It's been a long time since the sports networks hyped the Lions more than the Vikings, but that's what happened last week and it was deserved. Unless Minnesota finally stands up and starts playing like a playoff team, the Vikings will continue to be pushed into the background.
If they are going to get it done, they likely will put the Cover-2 blanket over Johnson and will have to at least pressure Stafford, if not knock him down for his first sack or two of the season. But this year Stafford has proved he can be a patient man, and that's been the key for the Lions offense so far and the way to beat the Vikings defense.
Vikings fans are critical of the safeties and cornerbacks, but the deep pass hasn't been the issue this year. According to official NFL game-charting data, the Chargers and Bucs combined to attempt only 12 deep passes in Minnesota's first two games, and the Vikings rank 11th or better in the completion percentage against them in the deep thirds of the field.
The problem has been defending the short pass. They rank 16th and 11th in the league for the number of passes thrown to the short left and right, respectively. Opposing quarterbacks have completed 72 and 88 percent of their passes to those two areas – and that, in a nutshell, is why the Vikings have the 31st-ranked pass defense overall.
They have given up 560 passing yards through two games and allowed more than twice as many first downs passing as Minnesota's offense has been able to generate. In other words, the dink-and-dunk offense is killing the Vikings' ability to sustain the leads they have built up at halftime.
The players also know it is killing them and seem to have resigned themselves to it being a product of the defensive system they are running.
Asked what needs to change to decrease the amount of short-yardage success teams are having against them, linebacker Chad Greenway shed light on the situation.
"Nothing. That's kill-zone football. That's Cover-2. That's what it's designed to do. It's been that way since it was implemented here," he said. "Make them check it down and come tackle it and get off the field on third down when we have the opportunity."
It seems in Minnesota you get to pick your passing death – slow and steady by way of a patient quarterback willing to take six yards and cloud of rubber pellets, or the pyrotechnics that Ted Cottrell's feeble bunch of cornerbacks (not named Antoine Winfield) used to surrender six years ago (recall Steve Smith paddling of Fred Smoot).
The Vikings will surely have to guard against Johnson, but Stafford has proven he has the patience to slowly poke the Minnesota defense to death with a thousand needles. In his first two games, Stafford has gone deep on only 14 of his 72 pass attempts, and his checkdown options have proven adept at gaining yardage on his short targets, which he completes about 70 percent of the time.
Defensive coordinator Fred Pagac talks about the players being the ones needing to make adjustments, but eventually the scheme has to adjust to counter the offense's intentions when it counts.
"The 11 players have to make better adjustments, as far as just playing football. The same calls we played in the first half we called in the second half and for whatever reasons we didn't get the job done," Pagac said last week. "We just have to play better football. We have to play 60 minutes of football."
That's true. Being in the right gap, getting off blocks, making tackles and avoid penalties would all contribute to winning ways. But even if the Vikings do all that, Stafford's patience could test the patience of fans at Mall of America Field if the Vikings' only goal is to keep the Lions' passing attack in front of them.
"That was a tough loss, so I understand the fans. That was a tough one and we have a passionate fan base," Frazier said. "I talked to our players about that when we came to training camp. That's one of the reasons I love our fans so much. I know how passionate they are and how much they want to win. We have a strong desire to deliver that championship to Minnesota. I understand their frustration."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.