Troubles Reflected in Rankings

Vikings coach Dennis Green knows his team is struggling, and there are a dozen reasons why, as the stats to date point out.

So why are the Vikings struggling so much? That is the million-dollar question these days surrounding Winter Park, the Vikings' practice facility, and office water coolers across the state.

A midseason (or close to it, anyway, after seven games) look at the team's rankings in comparison to the rest of the NFL and NFC just might answer that question. But there are nearly as many answers as stats. The Vikings aren't playing well consistently in most phases of the game.

Poor field position, giving away the ball and not creating turnovers, an anemic rushing attack, a passing attack uncharacteristic of the Vikings, and sideline rants are all a part of the troubles. The last isn't kept statistically, but the others are and show a lack of production across the board.

For total offense, measured in yards, the Vikings actually rank fourth in the NFC, behind St. Louis, San Francisco and Green Bay, with the Vikings averaging 331.3 yards per game. But a truer measure of their struggles is in the rushing column, where Minnesota's rushing attack is ninth in the NFC, and really only there because of quarterback Daunte Culpepper's contributions. He leads the team with 319 yards coming out of the team's bye week, nearly 100 yards ahead of any running back.

And while the Vikings' passing attack is supposed to be their strength, they are only sixth in the conference.

Individually, the offense has been coming apart and the frustration has been shown on national television at least twice, with sideline scuffles and wars of words between wide receiver Cris Carter and special teams player Fearon Wright, the coaching staff and defensive end Lance Johnstone. Wide receiver Randy Moss continues to give his earful of input to quarterback Daunte Culpepper and anyone else who will listen, as well.

Frustration mounts faster than the positive statistics.

Carter, normally one of the league's leaders in first-down receptions, isn't even in the top 20 in the NFC; meanwhile, Moss, normally the league's biggest deep threat, has been limited to a poor man's possession receiver, ranking 12th in the NFC for first downs and having 12 third-down receptions.

The roles have been slightly reversed, with Carter going deep more often than Moss, and the angular Moss running more intermediate routes across the middle of the field more than ever before. That strategy to foil the cover-two defenses designed to stifle Moss' deep threat has worked with little success. Moss hasn't had a 100-yard game to date, while Carter only has one, breaking through with 111 yards during a mid-October matchup against a severely depleted Detroit Lions defensive secondary.

Culpepper, one of the best fourth-quarter passers in the league last year, can barely buy his way onto the leader board at 15th in the NFC with a 70 passer rating in the final quarter. He has only two 300-yard passing games, average for most quarterbacks, but far below the Vikings' offensive expectations.

Defensively, Minnesota is 10th in the NFC, ninth against the run and 13th against the pass.

The real telltale of why the Vikings can't win the close games they have become accustomed to winning in the past three years is turnovers. Coaches preach it, but when players continue to commit turnovers on offense, it only put the Vikings' defense in worse shape.

The Vikings are an NFC-worst minus-8 in give-away/take-away category. While 16 turnovers on offense in seven games is hardly protecting the ball, the defense hasn't help the team much, either. There, the Vikings have only five interceptions and three fumble recoveries. Only Buffalo has fewer take-aways than the Vikings' eight.

Getting and creating turnovers isn't the only area contributing to the Vikings' poor field position. Special teams isn't helping the team's cause.

On kickoffs, the Vikings are averaging a starting position of the 24-yard line, third-worst in the NFC. And the team is fourth-worst in the conference at covering the kickoff,.with their opponents averaging a starting position of the 28-yard line.

There are at least a dirty dozen reasons why the Vikings have struggled this year, and it will take far more than one correction to right the ship toward the playoffs with the normally necessary 10-6 record it takes to make the postseason.

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