The Vikings are 5-2, own the second-best record in the NFC, lead the North and have allowed fewer points than any other NFL team. They are not in crisis. It only seems that way when they stop blocking and tackling.
Here’s how the Vikings can get back on the road to their next heartbreaking postseason loss, in nine easy steps:
1. Force out Norv Turner. (Sorry, wrote this on Monday.)
2. Have the foresight to hire Turner’s replacement a year before he decides to “resign.’’ Pat Shurmur will have to change his business cards that read: “Norv Turner’s future replacement.’’
3. Schedule the Lions. Throughout Vikings history, Lions games have been more like therapy than competition. Minnesota leads the series 71-36-2 and went 18-2 against the kittens in the 2000s. The series is tied 6-6 this decade, which is why the Vikings are on their third head coach this decade. If you can’t get well with the over-the-counter medication that is the Detroit Lions, you may need to see a surgeon.
4. Keep Rhett Ellison on the field.
Yes, Rhett Ellison. I’ll wait while you Google him. The Vikings have lost the past two games because they have not helped out their offensive tackles. You can blame T.J. Clemmings for playing badly, but he’s not playing badly. He’s playing like T.J. Clemmings.
He’s not going to get dramatically better in the middle of a season, so it’s up to the Vikings coaches to lessen his impact on the game. Turner was willing to watch Clemmings get Sam Bradford tenderized. Keep Ellison in to block, Bradford remains upright and has time to find receivers. (And if it’s not Ellison helping the line, it can be fullback Zach Line.)
The best offensive coaches I’ve spoken to — including Tom Moore and Joe Gibbs — always believed pass blocking was far more important than any other aspect of offensive football.
5. Remember Musgrave.
When he was the Vikings offensive coordinator, Bill Musgrave was ridiculed by fans and eventually fired by the front office.
Here’s what Bill Musgrave did:
• Went to the playoffs with Christian Ponder as his quarterback.
• Found a way to make a rookie receiver named Cordarrelle Patterson look like a star during the second half of the 2013 season.
• Helped Adrian Peterson rush for 2,097 yards against defenses that stacked the line of scrimmage to stop the run.
Play-calling isn’t often about fooling the opponent. Good teams run when they want and throw when they want. Musgrave schemed ways to beat defenses’ strengths. Shurmur needs to remember Musgrave, and get Patterson more involved.
6. Don’t look for gimmicky solutions.
If Harrison Smith or Jayron Kearse had tackled Jordan Howard before he ran for 69 yards, the Vikings might have beaten Chicago. If the Vikings had blocked just well enough to keep Bradford from turning the ball over in the red zone, they probably would have won at Philadelphia.
No matter who is calling plays or how the game plan is devised, football often comes down to blocking and tackling, and the Vikings have been poor at both in their past two games.
7. Don’t try to motivate professional football players with stuffed animals.
8. Reset expectations.
The Vikings have a new quarterback working with a new offensive coordinator, playing behind backup tackles and handing off to backup running backs. They fooled us into thinking this might be a 13- or 14-win team, but there would be nothing wrong with winning 10 or 11 games under these circumstances.
9. Don’t criticize fans for jumping off the “bandwagon,” as Kyle Rudolph did. However he meant it, what I heard was: “Sure, you have plenty of entertainment options and, sure, you may have to sell your car to attend a game at our new publicly financed stadium, but you owe it to us millionaire players to support us emotionally even when we ruin your Sunday.’’
If the players require unconditional affection, they should wipe the blood off those stuffed animals.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On