The offense struggled against Carolina, but the Vikings defense returned to an ailment that plagued them before the bye. Another issue is that teams may be figuring out how to attack the defense.
The fact coach Brad Childress wanted to pull quarterback Brett Favre
out of the Vikings' game at Carolina on Sunday has been the big story around Winter Park this week.
But all that controversy does is help cover up some of the real issues affecting the Vikings (11-3), who have clinched the NFC North but have lost two of their past three games.
One of the main problems has been the play of the defense, which struggled in a 30-17 loss at Arizona on Dec. 6 and looked awful in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 26-7 defeat against the Panthers.
A big issue was the Vikings' inability to tackle, as they gave up 20 fourth-quarter points. That's an area where the Vikings struggled before their bye in early November but seemed to have cleaned up.
Things were so bad Sunday that Antoine Winfield
, one of the top hitting cornerbacks in the NFL, missed several tackles and also was beaten by wide receiver Steve Smith
The concern for the Vikings is that Arizona found a flaw in their defense, and that becomes a much bigger issue if the tackling is not sound. Good passing teams can use quick drops and deliveries in order to avoid the Vikings' pass rush and create plays.
The Vikings pass defense isn't nearly as good as its run defense, and if the ball is out quick and receivers have it in their hands, Minnesota must be able to at least tackle.
"We pressured the guy, he just threw the ball quick," defensive tackle Kevin Williams
said of Panthers quarterback Matt Moore
. "That's what everybody has been doing. You look at it. They are not going to block us with five guys. They are keeping eight guys in and sending two guys out or keeping seven guys in and then send three guys out.
"If they block us with five, we are going to eat them up. We're still working. We've got to work, got to get there. And we got around them all day (against Carolina). He just threw quick. He was doing a quick five- or three-step drop. We've just got to get the guy on the ground. Can't let them make 5-yard plays into 30-yard plays. Especially late in the game."
QB Brett Favre's performance isn't the main storyline these days. The fact that Favre and coach Brad Childress are feuding and Childress wanted to remove the quarterback from the third quarter of Sunday's loss at Carolina has become the big issue in Minnesota. Favre, of course, told Childress he wasn't going anywhere and did not leave the game. Childress and Favre will need to patch up things quickly or a team that appeared like a legitimate Super Bowl contender could be in big trouble.
RB Adrian Peterson has gone a career-high five games without rushing for 100 yards. He had only 35 yards on 12 carries on Sunday against the Panthers, but much of that was due to the fact the offensive line had a terrible game both in run and pass protection. Peterson did catch three passes for 73 yards, including a 63-yard gain.
RB Chester Taylor had only 6 yards on two rushing attempts and caught one pass for 7 yards against the Panthers. The Vikings ran only 45 plays for the game, so Taylor had limited opportunity to make much of a difference on offense. Taylor is fifth on the Vikings with 40 receptions for 346 yards and a touchdown this season. He also has 297 rushing yards on 79 carries with a touchdown.
TE Visanthe Shiancoe was tied for second on the Vikings with three catches for 24 yards against the Panthers and now has 45 receptions for 432 yards and a team-leading nine touchdowns on the season. Shiancoe did have what has become a rare dropped pass in Carolina.
WR Bernard Berrian caught only three passes for 25 yards against Carolina and is averaging only 10.2 yards per catch this season. Last season, Berrian proved to be a big-play threat on a consistent basis averaging an NFL-leading 20.1 yards per catch. A major issue is that Berrian has been bothered all season by hamstring issues.
WR Percy Harvin, the front-runner for NFL offensive rookie of the year honors, returned Sunday at Carolina and missing his first game of the season because of migraine headaches. Harvin reportedly also has two bulging disks in his neck and went to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., on Tuesday. It's uncertain what will be done long-term about the situation. Harvin caught one pass for 10 yards against the Panthers and returned two kickoffs for 31 yards.
WR Sidney Rice led the Vikings with four receptions for 69 yards against Carolina and has a team-leading 71 receptions for 1,144 yards on the season. Rice continues to be Brett Favre's top receiver
SS Tyrell Johnson returned to the starting spot after missing one game because of a concussion. Johnson missed a handful of tackles against the Panthers and needs to become better in that end of the game.
LB Jasper Brinkley has replaced E.J. Henderson in the middle, and clearly teams that can pass the ball are going to go after him to try to exploit the rookie. Brinkley's issue is that it's key for him to be effective dropping into pass coverage, but his inexperience could cost him.
CB Antoine Winfield had one of the worst games of his NFL career against Carolina. In his second game back after missing six because of a foot injury, Winfield might have missed as many tackles as he does in an entire season. Winfield was coming off an excellent game against Cincinnati, but it was clear his foot was bothering him in this one.