Sunday slant: Vikings still fight for Frazier

Say what you will about the Vikings' losses this season, but the players really haven't given up … on themselves or Leslie Frazier. In deciding Frazier's fate, there are numerous factors to consider.

There is still fight in Leslie Frazier.

The Minnesota Vikings coach isn't one to show his emotions, or his true feelings, to the outside world. During a wild finish against the Baltimore Ravens, FOX commentators talked about the drastic differences in emotions exuding from Ravens coach John Harbaugh and Frazier.

You feel each tense moment in Harbaugh's actions: bending, twisting, working the refs, shouting at players. On the opposite side is Frazier, contemplative and surely sorting through a range of emotions with the game in front of him, not the least of which were several questionable calls (OK, let's be honest, they were brutal, wrong and cost the Vikings a chance to kneel down on the ball for the win, but in a game that meant little to the Vikings' playoff hopes, it was hard to get too bent on a bad officiating performance).

The game might have had significant meaning for Frazier's future, however. The Vikings have shown time and again this season they are good enough to play with division contenders in the NFC and AFC. They even played right along with the team considered the best in the NFL – the Seattle Seahawks – before Christian Ponder gifted that one away in the second half.

Still, the Vikings have also shown they aren't closers. Not this year, anyway, and that leads to wondering if Frazier and his coaching staff are good enough in the battle of the minds, whether that is in-game adjustments, making the right calls in personnel, or week-before preparations.

This much I know: Frazier is a top-notch human being in the way he treats people. He is patient beyond comprehension, an incredible quality for interpersonal communication. But is he too patient with his players and coaches? In some instances, yes.

He stuck with Ponder – for the most part – until the postseason was lost. He stuck with defenders that struggled at times. But through it all, his players have stuck with him, too, and that shouldn't be underestimated as owners and management decide Frazier's future.

"He's definitely been holding things together," receiver Greg Jennings said. "As far as the future, I don't know – just like from a player's standpoint, we don't know, we don't control that. That all goes from upstairs, down. All we can do is control what we do and that's what he's been doing as a head coach, and making sure that he's been hitting the points of emphasis. It's about us executing."

Time and again, NFL coaches preach about the fine line between a win and a loss – a play here or there – and no one knows that more than the 2013 Minnesota Vikings. They have lost four games and tied another when they led with less than a minute left.

Was it execution or was it schematic failure? The ultimate judgment on that is for better football minds with more skin in the game, but it's likely some combination of both.

There is an emerging philosophy, however, that the Vikings' schemes, especially the Tampa-2 base defense, are becoming antiquated. That is Frazier's baby but run by defensive coordinator Alan Williams.

"We've been in all these ballgames for the most part, aside from a couple. They've been just tight games that we just fall short on," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "Obviously, we've talked. It's not the effort. It's not that. We're preparing well. We're practicing well. We're just not making the critical plays at that time to get off the field or to drive on offense or to do whatever to win a game, basically. So I think we're all on board."

Greenway credited the locker-room leadership for helping players stay together while knowing that little playoff hope remained in November. He said players hold each other accountable in meetings, but there has been a remarkable lack of public finger-pointing between players, and between coaches and players.

Looking at the mess with the Washington Redskins' quarterback, coaching and ownership imbroglio, there is something to be said for the way the Vikings have handled a trying situation.

For whatever reason, quite possibly his tangible and intangible leadership qualities, Frazier hasn't lost his players.

"I think that you would see no fight in the guys within this locker room (if Frazier lost the players)," Jennings said. "The one thing I can say about guys in this locker room is we stick together like glue. No matter what the outcome has been, we fought. Last week after the game, hard loss – some would say it's a devastating loss – the vibe in the locker room amongst the guys that fought throughout that game, it wasn't like ‘Oh my gosh;' it was more like ‘Man, that one got away.' No matter what the outcome, we all take ownership in a loss or win."

Two out of three losing seasons doesn't bode well for Frazier's chances to keep the job, but there are several factors to consider.

  • With better quarterback play, would this have been a playoff team? In the NFC North, it's hard to say they wouldn't have been in the thick of it. Frazier had little to do with his available quarterback options, but ultimately he is the one that stuck with Ponder instead of a move to Cassel when the playoffs were still a possibility.

  • What if Frazier was retained and much of his staff under him were replaced? In some ways this makes sense. Frazier has a quality about him that makes those surrounding him want to play for him, but the schemes – or at least what is being called at certain times – has to be questioned. This would almost have to be a move forced upon him because he can be loyal to a fault.

  • In most coaching changes, teams tend to go for the opposite of what they had. The loose ways of Mike Tice were replaced by the rigid Brad Childress, who was replaced by the relaxed Frazier. At every turn, Frazier has been easy to like, but if management and ownership replace him with an established, powerful entity, it could also take away from the power of general manager Rick Spielman, creating an interesting dynamic in the decision.

    All involved know the NFL is a results-oriented business. Wins matter most and the Vikings have been on the losing end more often than not because of last-minute collapses. What does that mean for the future of Frazier and his staff (if they are connected together)?

    It's likely not good news for Frazier, but it's also not a slam dunk that he's gone. The dynamics are more complicated than meets the eye.

    QUICK SLANTS

  • Adrian Peterson wasn't the first Vikings running back to be the target of snowball fire out East. Back in the 1970s, the Vikings were playing the Buffalo Bills in the final game of the season. Bills fans were throwing snowballs at Vikings players throughout the second half, but no one had it worse than RB Chuck Foreman. He took a direct shot to the eye, proving that it's not always fun and games when it comes to snowballs as Ravens coach John Harbaugh suggested when Peterson was critical of Ravens fans.

  • No Viking has been more of a warrior this season than Greenway. Last year it was Jared Allen who played the entire season with a torn labrum because he didn't want to have surgery in the offseason that would have taken away from the start of his season. This year, Greenway broke his wrist early in the season, had it in a cast for about three weeks, but became so frustrated with his own missed tackles that he had the cast removed and has been playing lately with a combination of heavy tape and hard plastic reinforcement so he has better use of his hand.

  • It's uncertain whether or not Toby Gerhart will play against the Eagles because of a strained hamstring, but the last month has meant big money for the scheduled free agent. He has gotten more opportunities with Adrian Peterson ailing with groin and foot injuries.

    "It's been big. I've got this chance to really contribute these last few weeks and get multiple carries. It's been good," Gerhart said. "It's fun to help the team and to play pretty well.

    "… I know my chances are going to be limited playing behind (Peterson), but when you get a chance, try to make the most of it."

  • Cordarrelle Patterson ranks second in the NFL in all-purpose yards with 1,629 – second to Eagles RB LeSean McCoy at 1,744 – and Patterson is the only rookie in the top 10.

  • McCoy has the respect of Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams: "Dynamic. Dynamic in every phase. Dynamic out of the backfield. Dynamic when you have him bottled up. He's Houdini. You think you have him bottled up and he's right there. You look away and the next thing you know you're looking back at the film and he's 30 yards down the field. So, we'll have our hands full. We have to tackle and then we have to tackle, and then we have to tackle."

    Greenway said McCoy is "unbelievable, Reggie Bush-like … just a matchup nightmare."

  • Eagles QB Nick Foles leads the NFL with a 120 passer rating, 9.04-yard average gain and 9.2 touchdown percentage. He has 20 TDs and one interception.

  • In his only start against the Eagles in 2009, QB Matt Cassel had two touchdowns, no interceptions, and a 124.5 rating.

  • DE Brian Robison has six sacks in his past six games and had his fifth game in a row with a sack last Sunday.


    Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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