Fred Zamberletti, who has been with the franchise from its inception, believes the Vikings of 2011 are like the Vikings of 1972 – a talented team that has had bad fortune ruin their record. Plus, an in-depth look at the numbers between the Vikings and Panthers.
Fred Zamberletti was working his way through the Vikings locker room this week and was working the room as only Freddie can. An icon of the organization since its infancy, Zamberletti is a beloved figure in the lore and history of the franchise.
As he exchanged pleasantries with the working media in a non-working moment, he was asked about the sorry state of the 1-6 Vikings. He shrugged and said, "It's like '72 all over again."
The meaning of that phrase was immediate and telling. Last year, Viking Update celebrated the 50 years of the Vikings with lists of the top this, that and everything – players, games, teams, moments, etc. Among the topics was the debate among current and former Vikings as to which was the greatest team in franchise history. There were three primary contenders – the 1969, 1975 and 1998 teams. When asked his pick for the best team, Zamerletti threw VU for a loop when he said the 1972 Vikings.
The '72 Vikings, for that era, stunk. From 1968-78, the Vikings won their division title 10 times. The only time they didn't was in 1972. But, in Zamberletti's view, that team was the most prepared to win a Super Bowl.
"You had everything in place," Zamberletti said. "We were a veteran team, but we weren't an old team. Everyone was in their prime. We had (Fran) Tarkenton back and it was everyone's belief that there would be no stopping them. But it just seemed like that team was snakebit. A bounce here. A bounce there. Whatever could go wrong did at key times."
The 1972 Vikings came into the season with high hopes. Instead, they found new and bizarre ways to lose. They finished 7-7. From 1969-76, when teams played just 14 regular-season games, the Vikings won 10 or more in seven of those eight years and 11 or more in six of those. But, in 1972, five of their seven losses came by three or fewer points. Bad weather. One key mistake. A blocked field goal. If there was a way to botch what looked like a win, that team did it.
As it turned out, 1972 was a blip on the radar of the most successful era of Vikings football. Perhaps 2011 will be the same, although coming off a 6-10 season, losing is becoming much more of a trend that it ever was. But, for someone who worked alongside Norm Van Brocklin, for Zamberletti to make the comparison means something. As they head into their mid-season bye week after today's game, the Vikings will have time to reflect on what could have been or should have been in a season where their talent hasn't been reflected in the only statistic that counts – the win-loss ledger.
VIKINGS-PANTHERS BY THE NUMBERS
The Vikings have the 21st-ranked offense in the NFL (3rd rushing, 29th passing) and the 19th-ranked defense (4th rushing, 23rd passing). Carolina has the 5th-ranked offense (8th rushing, 5th passing) and the 17th-ranked defense (29th rushing, 12the passing).
The Panthers are averaging 417 yards a game (289 passing, 128 rushing) on offense. The Vikings are averaging 329 yards a game (176 passing, 153 rushing). Defensively, the Panthers are allowing 358 yards a game (225 passing, 133 rushing). The Vikings are allowing 363 yards a game (275 passing, 88 rushing).
Both teams are better at rushing than their numbers indicate. The Panthers are fifth in average per rush, while the Vikings are second.
Carolina's offense is 10th in third-down efficiency, converting 42 percent of the time (37 of 88). The Vikings are tied for 14th at 39.6 percent (36 of 93). The league average is 38.6 percent.
Both defenses have been dismal in getting off the field on third downs. The Vikings are 24th, allowing 42.6 percent of third downs to be converted (40 of 94). The Panthers are 30th, allowing third-down conversion on 45.5 percent of chances (40 of 88).
Brian Murphy, the former Vikings special teams coordinator, is the Panthers special teams coach and is seeing his share of struggles when his team has to kick. The Panthers offense is 30th in punt-return average, 29th in kick-return average, 31st in gross punt average and 32nd in net punt average.
The Vikings are tied for 26th in points allowed (178), while the Panthers are 30th (183). It should be noted, however, that neither team has had its bye week yet.
The Vikings are tied for ninth in giveaway/takeaway ratio at plus-3 (nine takeaways, six giveaways). The Panthers are tied for 19th at minus-2 (eight takeaways, 10 giveaways).
The only team in the league with fewer giveaways than the Vikings is the Detroit Lions with five.
The Panthers and Vikings are both tied for 17th in red zone efficiency – scoring touchdowns on 50 percent of their opportunities. Carolina has scored touchdowns on 14 of 28 chances, while the Vikings have hit the end zone on 12 of 24 chances.
Defensively the Vikings are tied for second in red zone efficiency, allowing touchdowns on just 10 of 26 chances (38.5 percent). The Panthers are tied for 20th, allowing touchdowns on 54.2 percent of chances (13 of 24).
The only team that has had more opponents in the red zone than the Vikings' 26 defensive stands is Indianapolis (30).
Rookie Cam Newton has three 300-yard games, including two of the top four passing days of the 2011 season (432 and 422 yards). The Vikings have yet to have a 300-yard passer.
Both the Vikings and Panthers have allowed opponents to throw for 300 yards or more three times.
The Panthers have had five 100-yard receiving games – four from Steve Smith and one from Jonathan Stewart. The Vikings had their first 100-yard receiving game last week when Michael Jenkins topped the century mark.
The Vikings have allowed three 100-yard receivers, while the Panthers have allowed just one.
Adrian Peterson has three 100-yard rushing games. The Panthers have just one from DeAngelo Williams. The Panthers have allowed three 100-yard rushers, while the Vikings have allowed none.
Call it karma or not, as it currently stands Donovan McNabb has completed 94 of 156 passes for 1,026 yards with four touchdowns, two interceptions and a passer rating of 82.9. Former Viking Tarvaris Jackson has completed 99 of 157 yards for 1,012 yards with six TDs, five interceptions and a passer rating of 81.0 with Seattle.
Newton is fourth in the league in passing yards (2,103), but tied for 31st in interceptions with nine.
Peterson leads the NFL in rushing with 712 yards. Williams leads the Panthers with 337 yards, good enough for 23rd place. Stewart is 31st (278 yards) and Newton is 33rd (266 yards).
Peterson leads the NFL on third-and-1 conversion rushes, making good on all five situations.
Steve Smith is tied for fourth in receptions in the NFL with 39. Jenkins and Percy Harvin are tied for the team lead on the Vikings with 27, tied for 29th place.
Smith leads the NFL with 818 receiving yards. Jenkins leads the Vikings with 332 yards, good enough for 46th place.
Peterson is tied for second in scoring among non-kickers with 48 points (eight touchdowns). He trails only Calvin Johnson of the Lions, who has nine touchdowns. Newton is fourth with 42 points (seven rushing TDs).
Carolina's Olindo Mare is ninth in the league in scoring among kickers with 54 points. Ryan Longwell is tied for 10th with 52 points.
Mare is tied for second in the league with 24 touchbacks. Longwell is tied for 24th with 10. Only 14 of Mare's 38 kickoffs have been returned.
Smith is third in the league in total yards from scrimmage with 824, (818 receiving, six rushing). Peterson is seventh with 761 (712 rushing, 49 receiving).
Marcus Sherels is sixth in the league in punt-return average at 12.8 yards.
Harvin is third in the league in kick-return average at 31.3 yards per game.
Because of the inordinate number of touchbacks resulting from the move of the kickoff line from the 30- to the 35-yard line, the number of returns per game to qualify for the league leadership has dropped to an average of more than one per game.
Jared Allen leads the league with 11.5 sacks. Nobody else has more than eight and Allen has recorded at least one sack in his last nine games.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.