Analysis: Good Things Come in Threes

The Vikings' slow start in the win-loss column could turn around with improvement in three key areas – all revolving around the passing game.

Looking at the Vikings' season so far, patterns have emerged which help explain the team's 1-3 start.

A typical game so far unfolds like this: The Vikings defense dominates in the early part of the game, winning the field-position battle and giving the Minnesota offense plenty of chances to score points. The Viking offense stalls, which keeps the game within the reach of the opponent until they start moving the ball. The Vikings offense misses on big opportunities – a wide open receiver overthrown (see Kansas City and Green Bay games), or a fumble in the opponent's territory (Green Bay). Over the course of the game, the pass blocking deteriorates, and when the Vikes need to pass the ball late in the game, the sacks come in bunches. Throw in some highly questionable calls against them and the Vikes have lost the last three games by a total of 13 points. The worst loss was the Kansas City game, as the Vikes could easily have put the game away in the first half, but didn't.

Can they turn it around? The soft part of the schedule was supposed to be the first four games, but the 1-3 record doesn't reflect it. Both Green Bay and Detroit have surprised and played much better than expected, and the Vikes squandered the KC game. The schedule didn't look too favorable for the next several games, with the Bears, Cowboys, Eagles and Chargers coming up, but the Vikes come off a bye heading into the Bears game, and the defending NFC champs are struggling along at 2-3 with injuries on defense and little offense. The Chargers have also have a 2-3 record, and the Eagles have only played one good game. All of which shows that the old saying, "That's why they play the games," means more than ever in the NFL, with the standings muddled or upside down from the experts' predictions in many cases.

What do the Vikes need to do to play better, and how do they do it? The three key issues for the Vikes come down to the passing game. They need more pressure with their pass rush on opposing quarterbacks. Their dominant run defense forces opponents to throw a lot, but the negative is that the pass defense is wearing down more often than it is taking the ball away or sacking the quarterback. The return of Erasmus James may help this, as the main thing they need on defense is a dominant pass rusher off the edge. There is potential for this area to improve. With a dominant pass rusher, this defense will transform from very good with a weakness against the pass to being possibly an elite defense which could be among the best in the NFL. We all remember what players like Chris Doleman and John Randle did to opposing passers.

On offense, the quarterback play has been sub-par this season. This is frustrating for the team and the fans, as the Vikings are strong in so many areas and the passing game is holding the team back. Tarvaris Jackson is scheduled to return to the starting lineup this week. He's had time to heal and watch a lot of film, so perhaps he can play better than he did to start the season. If the team doesn't start playing better on offense soon, this will be a season of grooming him for next year; Viking fans and the organization were hoping to win games while he got up to speed. Will he play better this season? Who knows.

The third area is the pass blocking. Fans would like to say this area can improve, but there is also skepticism. The pressure off the edges is causing major problems for the passing game. Many fans complain about the conservative play-calling, but it's tough to run an offense when the line isn't holding up.

So, can the Vikes turn it around? Yes, if they get more of a pass rush and get some better quarterback play. If not, Vikings fans will be rooting for the team to draft a pass rusher, pass blocker, or possibly a quarterback with another high pick in the NFL draft. It's too bad if that happens, because this team has more talent than that.

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