The Vikings went about business as usual at Winter Park on Monday, 24 hours after their season drifted closer to an abyss that eventually could bring organizational changes.
Leslie Frazier announced no changes, and he attempted to remain upbeat after a 35-10 home loss to the Carolina Panthers left his team with a 1-4 record.
Several veterans vented in the postgame locker room, with defensive end Jared Allen offering a particularly blunt salvo. “When you lose, heads roll,” he said. “That’s just the way it is.”
Frazier doesn’t need any reminders that a 1-4 start in 2011 deteriorated into a 3-13 nightmare. What transpired Sunday had a similar look and feel. “It’s not a lost season,” Frazier said. “There has to be a sense of urgency, there’s no question about it. We can still get things turned, but we’re going to need everybody believing that, as well.”
Here are four areas that need immediate improvement to avoid a repeat of 2011:
1. A never-ending quarterback carousel
On Wednesday, the Vikings could announce their third different starting quarterback in six games. That’s never a good sign.
Frazier said he hopes to choose his quarterback that day so the starter — presumably Josh Freeman — can get the majority of snaps in practice this week. Freeman received a crash course on the offense after signing last Sunday night. Frazier said he wants to talk to Freeman to gauge his comfort level with the new system.
Given Matt Cassel’s two interceptions against the Panthers and the team’s overall record, Freeman looks like a safe bet to start because the Vikings need to evaluate him to determine if he is a long-term answer in their never-ending quest to solidify that position.
Cassel and Christian Ponder have accounted for nine of the team’s 12 turnovers and their combined 76.5 passer rating ranks 24th in the league.
The coaches said they will need to condense the playbook for Freeman because he is learning on the fly, but at this point, there’s no downside to evaluating how the offense functions with him at the controls. Freeman’s strong arm could bring a legitimate vertical aspect to an offense that lacks a consistent downfield presence.
2. Defense equally at fault
The Vikings rank 31st in total defense, 30th in scoring defense, 29th in pass defense and 31st in third-down defense. Can’t win that way.
Their deficiencies are particularly glaring on third down. Opponents are converting 49.3 percent of their third-down opportunities, which essentially means it’s a flip of the coin whether the Vikings make a stop and get off the field.
Their third-down defense is even worse than in 2011 when they allowed 44 percent conversions. Not surprisingly, the Vikings also are allowing more points per game than in 2011 — 31.6 vs. 28.1.
Frazier has resisted changes in scheme or personnel and instead pointed to a lack of execution.
“You’ve got to execute your assignments,” he said.
3. Too many blades of grass
Anyone have a number for Pat Williams? Remember when the Williams Wall — Pat and Kevin — anchored the best run defense in the NFL?
The Vikings used to be so stout against the run that their motto was “blade of grass.” Give them a blade of grass and they could defend it.
The Vikings became the first team since the 1970 merger to lead the NFL in rushing defense three consecutive seasons (2006-08). They ranked second in 2009.
And now? They rank 17th in rush defense after finishing 22nd in each of the two previous seasons.
The Vikings once prided themselves on being able to make teams one-dimensional and thus predictable. But their inability to stuff the run puts even more pressure on their beleaguered secondary.
“When you can’t stop the run and you can’t stop the pass, what can you stop, right?” Allen said.
4. Blocking breakdown
The offensive line was expected to be an area of strength this season, but that group’s performance has fluctuated week to week. The entire offense revolves around Adrian Peterson’s running and the line’s ability to open holes and clear lanes for him.
Peterson is averaging 96.6 yards rushing per game and 4.7 yards per carry. Those numbers are pretty similar to his career averages.
But of Peterson’s 102 carries this season, 21 have resulted in zero or negative yardage. That puts the offense in unfavorable situations on second and third down.
Opponents will continue to commit extra defenders to stop Peterson so the Vikings must be able to control the line of scrimmage for their offense to properly function.