This week some Vikings tried to draw inspiration from 2012, when they fell to 6-6 before winning four straight to make the playoffs.
Having free-fallen to 6-6 with four theoretically winnable games remaining on the schedule this season, the comparison is mathematically logical but otherwise suspect. The 2016 Vikings are so dissimilar to the 2012 team it’s strange to think they were both produced by the same franchise.
Desperation and a quality defense are among the few common denominators. At least this year’s team can take solace in the knowledge that any potential playoff game would not include Joe Webb starting at quarterback.
The Vikings may also require another stunning performance by Adrian Peterson against the Packers in late December.
The 2012 team featured a powerhouse running game. Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards behind an offensive line featuring rookie and apparent future star Matt Kalil at left tackle, along with a lineup of sluggers that didn’t flinch when facing eight- and nine-man defensive fronts.
The offensive coordinator was Bill Musgrave, who was frequently ridiculed when the offense struggled in 2013, but who helped the 2012 team to the playoffs despite the limitations of second-year quarterback Christian Ponder, who would lose his job the next season, and a receiving corps featuring no one who caught 700 yards worth of passes.
The head coach was Leslie Frazier, didn’t swear and favored the passive Cover-2 defense.
The kicker was Blair Walsh, who had a stunning rookie season. And the punter was Chris Kluwe, whose verbal battles with special teams coach Mike Priefer did not keep Priefer from, four years later, being the choice to step in for ailing head coach Mike Zimmer last week.
The 2012 team was a surprise, having collapsed following the 2009 NFC title game appearance and finished 3-13 in 2011. And as strange as this may sound today, had Ponder been healthy, the Vikings would have had a chance to beat a good-not-great Packers team in the playoffs.
The 2016 team wasn’t supposed to resemble the 2012 squad in any way, and it hasn’t.
The 2012 team got 16 games out of its quarterback, star running back and every member of its offensive line. The 2016 team is relying on backups or replacements at quarterback, running back, left tackle, right tackle, center and offensive coordinator. With Joe Berger now out, the Vikings are down to two of their original offensive linemen.
A better dramatization of their problems: This summer they appeared to have Kalil, Andre Smith, Phil Loadholt and Mike Harris as their primary tackles. All are unavailable Sunday and by the sixth game of the season the team had signed Jake Long off the street. Then he was lost to a season-ending injury.
Injuries in the NFL are common. Platoons of injuries are rather unusual.
In 2012, the Vikings ranked second in rushing offense and were that low only because rookie quarterback Robert Griffin ran for 815 yards for top-ranked Washington. This year the Vikings rank last in rushing.
In 2012, the Vikings ranked 14th in offense, thanks largely to Peterson. This year they rank next-to-last.
In 2012, Frazier’s defense ranked 16th overall and just 24th against the pass. Zimmer’s defense this year ranks third overall and fourth against the pass but has faltered against the run, ranking just 17th. (The 2012 team ranked 11th against the run.)
Emotionally and tactically, the 2012 team leaned on Peterson and that healthy, aggressive offensive line. In the final four games, Peterson rushed for 154, 212, 86 and 199 yards against defenses that did not fear Ponder or the passing game.
Can Sam Bradford, the most important player on this year’s team, take control of this season the way Peterson did in 2012? Can Peterson return in time to make a difference? Can either survive behind the current offensive line?
Can Zimmer rally this team the way Frazier rallied his?
The season within a season begins today in Jacksonville. The Vikings can look to 2012 for theoretical inspiration, but not for a blueprint.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On