Doomsayers around the NFL have been predicting the Vikings' demise for the last three years, and right now the Vikings are making them look like they may finally be right.
When the Vikings finished off a drive in Sunday's game against the Bears with their first touchdown of the game to extend their lead to 10-0, Viking fans everywhere breathed a sigh of relief. Surely, now the team would stop playing around, and start playing. It was not to be. The Vikings' famous offense is turning infamous, and the team is turning on itself. Minnesota fell apart late to lose to the Bears, 17-10.
Watching this debacle is conflicting for Viking fans. There are reasons that the offense is struggling, with new players on the offensive line, and new runners replacing the sorely missed Robert Smith. But, the Vikes have lost other great players in recent years and come back strong to leave the doubters shaking their heads, wondering how Denny Green gets this team to the playoffs every year. Green is going to have to pull a miracle this year to win the Central, because it's only going to get tougher from here.
First, the problems: the offensive line is not as good as it was the last few years. Outside of Matt Birk, all of the Pro Bowl linemen are gone, and it is showing up on the field. The Vikings cannot run the ball effectively enough to maintain drives. When they need short yardage to pick up a first down, the best threat is Daunte Culpepper. They can't use Michael Bennett's speed to the outside effectively because the tackles are getting pushed backward into him before he can turn the corner. They can't run inside consistently because they have no real inside running threat since Leroy Hoard left.
The passing game is suffering because opposing defenses are doubling up on Cris Carter and Randy Moss, taking them away early in the play. This forces them to make double and triple moves to get open. By the time they do get open, Culpepper may be under pressure, or looking elsewhere. Culpepper is holding the ball way too long, waiting for receivers who are doubled to clear, thus disrupting the timing of the offense. Teams are daring the Vikes to beat them with their other weapons, but right now they are not in sync enough to get it done. The frustration factor is setting in for the Vikings, who are used to success, and this is causing the team to press and make mistakes.
Suggestions: The coaching staff needs to come up with a ball control passing game that they can employ to offset the deep zone teams are playing against the Vikes and to help out the running game. Give Daunte some quick, easy throws to make until the team finds a rhythm. Until Minnesota shows that it can move the chains consistently against the cover-two zone, everyone will play it against them. This is nothing new, teams have been playing this against the Vikes for years, but Robert Smith and a strong offensive line made teams pay for that strategy in the past.
Right now, this season is looking the beginning of the '99 season, when the Vikes struggled to a 2-4 start behind a bewildered Randall Cunningham. Starting Jeff George the rest of the way turned that season around, but it doesn't look like there are any quick fixes this time. They can't bench Daunte, and there is really too much happening to blame any one player anyway. Speaking of '99, The Vikes lost to the Bears early that year and faced a huge game early in the year at home vs. Tampa Bay. Coming in at 1-2, the Vikes exploded for 21 points early, before hanging on for a 21-14 win. With an 0-2 start this time, here comes Tampa again. The Vikes have to win this game or face the very real prospect of starting the season 0-4 (New Orleans on the road the following week). Can they turn it around? Absolutely. They have done it before. But this season has the schedule stacked against them with several games vs. contending teams, and the Vikes will have to play much better to make the playoffs this year. The good news is that the defense is improved and the offense should not need to be as explosive as in the past to win.
Numbers and rants: Since starting last season 7-0, the Vikings have a 4-7 regular season record, and have lost five in a row. The beginning of this season is very much like the end of last year after Robert Smith was hurt, as the team can't seem to win without a strong running game.
I have two words of advice for Cris Carter: Grow up. We have watched you through the years be a great player, but over the last few years you are embarrassing yourself and the Vikings with your sideline rants and poor sportsmanship. Lead by example. You are not a coach, stop screaming at the coaches and other players. Randy Moss: Play harder. Block once in a while. Demand the ball underneath, and show you want to win, not just look pretty on the big play. The two of you should be recognized for what great players you are, not how you scream at your young quarterback in every losing cause.
Offense Imploding, But Reason For Hope
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