2014 started with promise. A 34-6 win over a depleted St. Louis Rams. Adrian Peterson primed to carry Minnesota to a better place. Green Bay in trouble. A new and improved defense. Teddy Bridgewater.
And then reality.
Some things have not changed since Mike Zimmer took over for Leslie Frazier. Minnesota's defense is still surrendering over 40% conversion on third downs. The passing game is woeful, with our starting quarterback possessing a 75.0 passer rating. Minnesota is 0-3 vs. the NFC North, averaging losing by 18 points per game.
Minnesota's offense is 28th in scoring. 30th in yardage. 29th in passing. 12th in rushing.
It is clear that the offensive line is much to blame for the inadequacy of the offense. All three QBs Minnesota has put behind center were beaten and bruised. Matt Cassel was injured early. Christian Ponder pounded into submission. Even rookie Bridgewater has to be thinking his Louisville O-line did a better job protecting him.
It hurts that Adrian Peterson, possibly the best running back to ever wear purple, has been absent since the earliest part of the season. The loss of AP due to child abuse charges has hurt more than a season-ending injury would. It has damaged the faithful fans. How can we have hope for our team without Peterson? How can we cheer for him? The story only has gotten darker and more painful. It has challenged our morals as fans.. something we do not like to do. Sports is supposed to be our escape from all that.
Minnesota's receiving corps is pitiful. Greg Jennings, signed to a large contract in 2013, leads the team with 36 catches in 10 games. His two receiving touchdowns are also tops on the team. Considering the Vikings barely average more than a half of a touchdown pass per game, two is pretty good. Tight end Kyle Rudolph's promising season a mirage. Cordarrelle Patterson has 28 catches and one touchdown, and now can be found on the sideline as often as the field. In fact, Charles Johnson appears to be our best threat at wide receiver. He of 12 catches, 147 yards, and 0 touchdowns.
It is bad. However, there is a few bright lights.
The defense has shown life. If you remove the 42-10 loss to these same Packers in Lambeau, Minnesota has averaged giving up less than 20 points per game. That is a large improvement from 2013. Everson Griffen has 9 sacks, Harrison Smith 4 interceptions, and rookie Anthony Barr among team leaders in tackles and sacks.
The Vikings, while 0-3 and a -54 in point differential vs. North opponents, are 4-3 with a plus 15 versus the rest of the NFL. Only two teams dominated Minnesota: New England and Green Bay. It those two ended up in the Super Bowl few would be surprised.
The Vikes remaining schedule is not too tough. Sure facing the Packers right now is near lethal, but it is at home, where Minnesota overcame a hot Falcons team earlier in the season. And the following two games are also at home; and the Panthers and Jets are teams looking UP at the 4-6 Vikings. After road games at Detroit and Miami, Minnesota finishes at home against the Bears.
To make the playoffs Minnesota would probably have to go 6-0.
To claim respectability, Minnesota might have to go at least 4-2.
To obtain an early draft pick, the Vikings must lose near every game.
If Minnesota were in the NFC South this year, they would be tied for first place with Atlanta and New Orleans. But they are not. Instead, we are three games back of the co-leading Lions and Packers. And with three games remaining versus divisional opponents, resignation that 2014 is another building year is all we have.
Minnesota faces today the team that has thrived off of smart administration, solid coaching, receivers who make plays, and impeccable quarterback play. If fans look close enough, they may see that Green Bay does not have a better defense. They do not have a better offensive line. Special teams are similar. Not much else is different.
Yet we are leagues apart.
Until that changes, fans in purple will remain unhappy.