It’s amazing to see the turnaround that the Minnesota Vikings have experienced in the span of 10 weeks of the 2016 NFL season. They started the year with five wins, beating teams that many felt were frontrunners to make the playoffs this season – Carolina, Green Bay, Houston and the New York Giants.
Yet, over the last month, the Vikings have lost four straight to teams that few anticipated would be 2016 playoff teams – Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit and Washington.
What was different in the first five games and the last four? An unprecedented rash of injuries, especially on offense, has been the partial undoing of the Vikings. Their current two starting offensive tackles were backups to start the season and, when both of their starting tackles were placed on injured reserve, the Vikings felt their best chance to win was to sign oft-injured veteran Jake Long, who tore an Achilles tendon.
But just as important has been a slow but steady decline in the play of the Vikings defense. During their five-game winning streak, the Vikings defense was dominant. In the last four? Not nearly as much.
The loss to Philadelphia couldn’t be pinned on the defense because they created four turnovers and held the Eagles to just 238 yards of offense. But a special teams touchdown and four Vikings turnovers spelled doom at Philly.
The Chicago game was a very different story. The Vikings defense allowed Bears running back Jordan Howard to run for 153 yards on 26 carries, part of a 403-yard outburst from the Bears that led to a 20-10 loss that would have been even worse if not for a prevent-defense touchdown late in the game to cut the deficit down to 10 points.
The loss against Detroit was especially painful because the offense did its job, scoring what appeared to be the game-winning points with 23 seconds to play. But the Vikings defense allowed the Lions to score as time ran out in regulation and were gutted by an 11-play, 87-yard drive on the first drive of overtime for a 22-16 loss that could be blamed directly on the inability of the defense to close out the game.
Last week against Washington, the Vikings defense allowed Rob Kelley to run 22 times for 97 yards and Kirk Cousins to throw for 252 yards with two touchdowns and a passer rating of 110.9 in a 26-20 loss that saw the Vikings allow the Redskins to score four second-half field goals while the Vikings offense was blanked.
The offense has been the reason most point to the Vikings slide, but, even in the five-game winning streak, the offense was sputtering. Minnesota has been the worst rushing offense in the league almost all season and now their overall offense is ranked 32nd. You typically don’t make the playoffs when you are the worst at anything, much less your entire offense.
If the Vikings are going to turn things around, the defense will have to revert back to its aggressive ways from the first month of the season. It may entail taking chances that might burn them, but, with the 2016 season falling apart, it may be time to start taking chances again and start beating teams that you’re not expected to.
VIKINGS-CARDINALS BY THE NUMBERS
- The Vikings are 32nd in offense (32nd rushing, 23rd passing) and third in defense (10th rushing, 6th passing).
- The Cardinals are seventh in offense (14th rushing, 7th passing) and second in defense (12th rushing, 2nd passing).
- Arizona is averaging 382 yards of offense a game (273 passing, 109 rushing). Minnesota is averaging 302 yards a game (232 passing 70 rushing).
- The Cardinals are allowing 295 yards a game (195 passing, 100 rushing). The Vikings are allowing 309 yards a game (212 passing, 97 rushing).
- Minnesota is second in takeaway/giveaway ratio at plus-12 (18 takeaways, 6 giveaways). Arizona is tied for 15th at even (16 takeaways, 16 giveaways).
- Only Buffalo (five) has fewer giveaways than the Vikings.
- Only three teams have more takeaways than the Vikings – Kansas City (22), Denver (20) and San Diego (19).
- Arizona is 14th in red zone offense, scoring touchdowns on 18 of 30 opportunities (60 percent). Minnesota is 23rd at 48 percent (12 touchdowns in 25 possessions).
- Minnesota is 10th in red zone defense, allowing touchdowns on 12 of 23 possessions (52.2 percent). Arizona is 18th at 55 percent (11 touchdowns on 20 possessions).
- Only Baltimore (11) has allowed fewer red zone touchdowns than Arizona.
- The Cardinals are ninth in third-down offense, converting on 56 of 128 opportunities (43.8 percent). The Vikings are 16th at 39.4 percent (50 of 127). The league average conversion rate is 40.1 percent.
- Arizona is sixth in third-down defense, allowing conversions on 47 of 128 opponent opportunities (36.7 percent). Minnesota is 17th at 39.5 percent (47 of 119).
- Carson Palmer has four 300-yard passing games. Sam Bradford has one 300-yard passing game.
- Neither the Cardinals nor the Vikings have allowed a 300-yard passer this season.
- The Vikings have four 100-yard receiving games – three from Stefon Diggs and one from Adam Thielen. The Cardinals have three 100-yard receiving games – one each from Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown and Michael Floyd.
- Arizona has allowed one 100-yard receiver. The Vikings have yet to allow a receiver to gain 100 yards.
- David Johnson has three 100-yard rushing games. Minnesota has yet to have a 100-yard rusher.
- Both the Cardinals and the Vikings have allowed one 100-yard rusher.
- Bradford is 23rd in pass attempts (283), 19th in completions (197), third in completion percentage (69.6), 23rd in passing yards (2,022), tied for 17th in touchdown passes (11), tied for fourth in interceptions (2) and sixth in passer rating (99.9).
- Palmer is 12th in pass attempts (331), 13th in completions (207), 21st in completion percentage (62.5), 10th in passing yards (2,444), tied for 17th in touchdown passes (11), tied for 24th in interceptions (8) and 24th in passer rating (86.0).
- Bradford is seventh in fourth-quarter passer rating at 103.1. Palmer is 30th at 70.9.
- Bradford is sixth in third-down passer rating at 99.1. Palmer is 14th at 89.6.
- Johnson is fourth in the league in rushing with 760 yards. Jerick McKinnon is 48th in rushing with 241 yards. Matt Asiata is 49th with 240 yards.
- Fitzgerald is second in the league in receptions with 68, one behind league leader Antonio Brown. Diggs is tied for fourth with 61 receptions. Johnson is tied for 44th with 40 receptions.
- Diggs is 10th in the league in receiving yards with 710. Fitzgerald is 13th with 687 yards. Johnson and Thielen are tied for 49th with 453 yards.
- Johnson is tied for third in scoring among non-kickers with 60 points (10 touchdowns). Fitzgerald and Kyle Rudolph are tied for 29th place with 30 points (five touchdowns each).
- Arizona’s Chandler Catanzaro is 26th in scoring among kickers with 54 points. Former Vikings kicker Blair Walsh will likely end up leading the Vikings in scoring with 51 points, which currently ties him for 27th place.
- Johnson is second only to Ezekiel Elliott in total yards from scrimmage with 1,213 (760 rushing, 453 receiving). Diggs is tied for 23rd with 720 yards (710 receiving, 10 rushing). Fitzgerald is tied for 30th with 692 yards (687 receiving, 5 rushing).
- Jeff Locke is 29th in punting average at 43.2 yards. Arizona’s Drew Butler doesn’t have enough punts to qualify for the league lead.
- Locke is 18th in net punting average at 40.0 yards.
- Marcus Sherels is fourth in punt return average at 13.7 yards. Brown is 23rd with a 5.9-yard average.
- There have been five punt returns for touchdowns in the NFL this season and Sherels has two of them.
- Cordarrelle Patterson is third in kickoff return average at 26.9 yards. Nobody on the Cardinals has enough returns to qualify for the league lead.
- Arizona’s Marcus Cooper is tied for fourth in the league with three interceptions. Minnesota’s Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Andrew Sendejo, along with Arizona’s Patrick Peterson and D.J. Swearinger are all tied for 13th place with two interceptions each.
- Chandler Jones is tied for eighth in the league with seven sacks. Everson Griffen and Arizona’s Markus Golden are tied for 17th with six sacks. Danielle Hunter is tied for 23rd with five sacks. Brian Robison is tied for 38th with four sacks.