LONDON – If the Vikings were playing well enough to be taken seriously, flying to London for a purported home game would have been seen as a risk to their playoff hopes.
At 0-3, the trip is ideal. The Vikings ingeniously discovered an English-speaking country where nobody cares enough about Christian Ponder to boo.
Pick up a newspaper in London, and there is no angst over the Vikings’ embarrassing performances.
The Times features a hefty sports section beginning on the back page. Monday, the Times chronicled soccer, rugby, cricket, Formula One racing and cycling. There was no mention of Leslie Frazier’s challenge flag or Ponder’s critical pass toward a cheerleader, two throws equal in accuracy. There was no mention of the NFL, as they say here, “a-tall.”
The league schedules games in London as part of its plan for worldwide domination, but to date most of London views American football the way most Americans view cricket — as an odd-looking sport with indiscernible rules.
One of the Vikings’ many problems is that the game suddenly seems indiscernible to their coaches.
It has been a terrible three weeks for Frazier. The Vikings didn’t sign him to a contract extension after he took the team to the playoffs in 2012, making this a must-win or at least must-impress season, and he has started 0-3 in the most unsightly of ways. If he is fired during the season or dismissed afterward, he might regret his choice of coordinators.
When Frazier replaced Brad Childress during the 2010 season, he promoted linebackers coach Fred Pagac to defensive coordinator, Frazier’s former position. Pagac was a disaster.
In January of 2012, Frazier demoted Pagac to linebackers coach and hired Alan Williams, with whom he worked in Indianapolis, as his new defensive coordinator. By not hiring a recognized name for the position, the presumption was that Frazier would spend at least a little of his time overseeing the defense.
Because of the murkiness of that arrangement, it’s difficult to apportion blame for the Vikings’ inept play on defense this season. What is clear is that the arrangement has not worked.
In January of 2011, Frazier hired Bill Musgrave, the Atlanta Falcons’ quarterback coach and assistant head coach, as his offensive coordinator. The move was remindful of Denny Green hiring Jack Burns in 1992. Neither Musgrave nor Burns were considered elite coaches or innovators, but both could bring ideas from a high-functioning offense.
Green dumped Burns after the 1993 season.
Musgrave in 2012 appeared to be a mixed bag. He frequently made befuddling moves, like leaving Adrian Peterson or Percy Harvin on the sideline in decisive moments. He also appeared to help Peterson, Harvin and Ponder perform to the best of their abilities.
Only three games into the 2013 season, it appears the Vikings have been outcoached three times.
They had all summer to prepare for the Lions’ Reggie Bush, but couldn’t keep him from shredding their defense in whatever manner he chose, costing the Vikings Game 1.
They left the defense in vulnerable formations on at least two key plays of the Bears’ game-winning drive in Game 2, calling into question the soundness of an arrangement in which Frazier and Williams have to think on their feet together under pressure.
In Game 3, Frazier threw a challenge flag when he shouldn’t have, and Musgrave for a third consecutive game failed to make spectacular rookie receiver Cordarrelle Patterson a constant presence in the offense.
In 2012, the coaching staff seemed to drain every last yard out of Peterson and every last completion out of Ponder.
In 2013, the coaching staff has failed. Ponder has regressed. The defense has regressed. Peterson’s production has regressed.
Monday night, the Vikings were scheduled to fly to London. They’ll play in Wembley Stadium and visit the Tower of London. They’ll be granted refuge from a fan base disgusted with their decisionmaking, and prepare for a game that could effectively spell the end for Frazier, his staff and an accomplished group of veteran players.
It might be a good week to read up on the Premier League. It might be a good week to go where nobody knows your name.
Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib. • firstname.lastname@example.org