The Vikings have issues requiring immediate attention
For only five decades or so, Vikings fans have complained about their team raising hopes only to crush them with a midwinter loss. • The 2015 Vikings are threatening to skip the first step. A loss Sunday to Detroit would mean that within six days of their season starting, the Vikings, supposedly one of the most promising teams in the NFL, would be facing imminent irrelevance. • A loss to the Lions would make the Vikings 0-2 in the conference and 0-1 in the division, having lost one of their more attractive divisional games — at home against the franchise that put Bud Grant into the Hall of Fame and kept Mike Tice employed. • Just 25 percent of NFL teams that lost their first game of the season have made the playoffs since 2002. Just 9 percent of teams that began 0-2 have made the playoffs in that time. Those statistics include hopeless teams that should have been expected to start 0-2, but the numbers remain daunting.
So while coach Mike Zimmer and others at Winter Park this week kept intimating that this is no time to panic, this might be exactly the right time to panic.
The Vikings displayed two flaws Monday night that could be season- and even franchise-damaging:
1. The tackling-optional run defense.
2. Adrian Peterson and Teddy Bridgewater’s skills compatibility.
Zimmer was hired because of his defensive expertise. Through 17 games, his run defense has performed poorly. With Linval Joseph healthy, improved depth across the line and the theoretical upgrading of linebacking talent, the Vikings were supposed to be better at defending the run this year. In Game 1, they were turnstiles.
Bridgewater and Peterson never had played in an NFL game together before Monday. The common presumption was that Bridgewater would benefit from Peterson’s production and opposing defenses’ preoccupation with him.
After one game together, they have much to prove as a duo. Peterson neither had obvious holes nor did well making extra yards in Game 1. His only impressive play of the game came when he caught a short pass and carried five defenders an extra 8 yards.
Bridgewater is a spread-offense passer. He likes taking a shotgun snap and choosing between a large number of receivers.
Peterson is a power back. He looked uncomfortable taking handoffs from Bridgewater in the shotgun. Most of his career, Peterson has run behind a fullback or from a one-back set behind a quarterback under center.
If taking handoffs from the shotgun robs Peterson of an aggressive first step, Bridgewater and Peterson might not be as compatible as expected.
Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards in 2012 when he had Jerome Felton as his lead blocker. The current Vikings roster does not employ a lead blocker of Felton’s caliber or skill set.
This offseason, the Vikings signed kicker Blair Walsh to a four-year deal including $3.75 million in guaranteed money. Felton opted out of his Vikings contract to sign a four-year deal with the Buffalo Bills that includes $3.6 million in guaranteed money.
The Vikings may regret both developments. Felton is one of the NFL’s best blocking backs and seemingly would have fit well into Norv Turner’s offense, which once featured a blocking back named Daryl Johnston.
The Vikings may have made a mistake investing heavily in Walsh, whose accuracy has diminished from 92 percent on field goals as a rookie to 87 percent in 2013 and 74 percent last year. Walsh missed his first attempt of the season Monday. Since Oct. 26, 2014, Walsh has made 13 of 21 field goal attempts, or 62 percent.
If Walsh had made his first attempt Monday night, the Vikings would have taken a 3-0 lead, and Zimmer may have allowed Walsh to attempt another in the first quarter instead of asking his offense to convert a fourth-down-and-3.
Walsh of 2012 probably would have given the Vikings a 6-0 lead, which may have changed the flow of the game.
On Sunday, the Vikings will be forced to change the flow of a season that is only six days old, or be forced to re-examine the compatibility of their most important players, and the prescience of some of their most important decisions.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On