The winding and wacky world of the National Football League has taken on more looks than any in recent memory. Perceived Super Bowl quality teams continue to struggle, while some afterthought teams are riding high 10 weeks into the 2003 season.
Taking a step backwards are some early-season pretenders, while some unlikely foes may be hitting their late-season stride.
Unfortunately, the Vikings may be falling into the pretender category, according to a league insider who has scouted the Minnesota Vikings extensively in recent weeks.
The Vikings are wallowing in a three-game losing streak, and may have tougher days ahead. No, the offense hasn't stalled and they are not suffering through an inordinate number of injuries. The story is all about the defense.
The opposition has figured out the Vikings are weak in containing the perimeter of the defense and they have paid for this inability in recent weeks. Gone are the vast number of turnovers the Vikings benefited from — now the ball has turned on the Vikings, and head coach Mike Tice must regroup the troops quickly before the 2003 season starts to slip away.
Why is this happening?
"Simply, outside linebackers Henri Crockett and Chris Claiborne have struggled in space, the defensive ends have shown the tendency to be inconsistent in containment, but there are other significant reasons behind the sudden demise of the Minnesota defense," the league insider said. "This Minnesota defense received significant acclaim as being a vastly improved unit, in comparison to the units on the field over the past couple seasons. The Minnesota defense appeared to be better — they have been certainly opportunistic. The number of turnovers this team has accumulated through the first 10 weeks of the season could easily make a below-average-or-worse defensive team look good."
Safeties Corey Chavous and Brian Russell have played reasonably well, better than anticipated heading into the season. While becoming ball-hawks for the Minnesota defense, both have had their ups and downs in recent weeks, as the Vikings have struggled in the defensive secondary.
"Minnesota is getting fairly solid production from the safety position. Chavous has been the best of the group. While Russell has been in the right place at the right time (in regards to interceptions), he has missed numerous assistance assignments that have gone for big plays against a Vikings defense that really is struggling," the source continued. "When a team has average speed at the corner positions and a lack of quickness at the Sam (strong-side linebacker) and Will (weak-side linebacker) positions, you can be passed on to death."
Getting pressure on the quarterback has been a problem the Vikings have dealt with the entire season. Defensive tackle Chris Hovan has been inconsistent, and has had a big hand in the team's inability to stop the run or make big plays from the interior of the defensive line. Hovan, who has been a strength to the Minnesota defense, has not played well in the 2003 season.
"Chris Hovan has always been a high-motor player that made plays on a defense that has been among the worst in the league," the league insider said. "The problem he is having this season is he appears to be playing out of control, with a disregard to discipline or defensive scheme integrity. Never has he appeared to be out of position as much as he has been this season, and he is generating absolutely no interior pass rush pressure, an area this team has struggled with tremendously.
"If this team (Minnesota) cannot generate any pass rush, their average cornerbacks will be thrown on, almost at will. It isn't too late to right this ship, but it appears the confidence in the defensive backfield is wavering."
With the season far from over, Mike Tice and his Minnesota Vikings are in a precarious position. Riding high at 6-0 this team was mowing down the opposition. Now the Vikings are in a fight for the NFC North Division title, one which wasn't expected only a few short weeks back.
Why The Sudden Exposure?
Viking Update Top Stories
Sunday slant: ‘No coddling’ in film sesssionsMike Zimmer is the “straight-up coach” in film sessions, not afraid to call out a player about a mistake in front of the team. Several of his defenders describe the experience.
Viking Update5:44 AM
Preview: Vikings facing aggressive EaglesThe Minnesota Vikings’ continued success on Sunday will be predicated on their ability to handle and exploit the aggressiveness of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 7:26 PM
Roads wins becoming a Vikings trademarkSince 2009, few teams struggled as badly as the Minnesota Vikings when it came to winning on the road. Since their 2015 bye week to their 2016 bye week, nobody has been better.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 7:20 PM
Key matchup: Former teammates face offOnly time will tell who got the better of the Sam Bradford trade to the Minnesota Vikings, but he and Carson Wentz will face each other Sunday after the trade that surprised them…
Viking UpdateYesterday at 7:06 AM