I am a bit like you when it comes to the 2011 Minnesota Vikings. I cannot figure out how in the world the same thing manages to happen to the same team three weeks in a row. Home or away, purple jerseys or white, regardless of the opponent or anything else, the Vikings have found a way on three straight Sundays to snatch disappointing defeat out of the jaws of almost certain victory.
When this sort of thing happens this often, the first thing that we want to do is figure out why. After all, even with this being a supposed “rebuilding” year, no one would guess that you could build three double digit leads and squander them all in the last 30 minutes of the game. In the second halves of games this season, the Vikings have scored 9 points. Read that sentence again, because nine is not a lot of points for 90 minutes of game clock. They’ve scored 54 points in the first half, and I’d daresay that if your production is 600% better in the first half than the second, there are a few critical areas that need to be addressed, and they need to be addressed quickly.
This season, I would argue, is just about over in terms of the Vikings being a relevant factor on the wider stage. It’s very difficult to come back from an 0-3 start, and harder still when you still have five divisional games (3 of which are on the road) in your remaining thirteen games. That being said, this season can still tell us plenty of relevant things about the Vikings. We need to start finding answers to the following questions in order to know what we really have in 2011 and beyond:
++ Is Leslie Frazier capable of making credible in-game adjustments? Look, this is a fair question at this point. We took a very conservative “wait and see” attitude on Frazier after the first two games, but now that it’s happened a third time, I see no reason to be gracious or to give the guy a pass. He can and does plan to attack the weaknesses (or address the strengths) of a given opponent: putting CB Chris Cook on WR Calvin Johnson paid dividends in the first half Sunday, as did targeting WR Michael Jenkins and TE Visanthe Shiancoe on offense. So Frazier is capable of preparing his team for an opponent. What he’s not been able to do is manage himself and his staff in making on-the-fly adjustments to maintain the leads that are being built. That has to change if this team is to be competitive.
++ Can Donovan McNabb continue to be a viable threat? The best thing for McNabb about starting with a 39 yard passing performance is that ever since then, his stats have looked monstrous by comparison. Overall, I think that McNabb will continue to be average, and I hope for this team’s sake that he comes up with a monster performance or two along the way, but I have my doubts. Go back and look at Sunday’s tape – even the passes that were caught were of questionable accuracy (WR Percy Harvin slid all over the field to make several grabs), and McNabb has yet to really strike fear into the heart of any defense. I still think he’s a better option than QB Christian Ponder at this point, but that’s not to say that Ponder won’t see significant action as the season moves along.
++ Will the Minnesota Defense as a whole make a second half stop at some point? Maybe its coaching, maybe its individual play, but it really seems as though the defense goes full bore for 30 minutes and then simply hopes that the lead is big enough to escape. Robison and Allen looked great harassing and sacking QB Matt Stafford in the first half, and Chris Cook’s performance against Calvin Johnson deserves a second mention, simply because he used his size admirably in holding up one of the NFL’s best receivers. But the thing is, you have to keep those things up for a full 60 minutes, and whether it is conditioning (I doubt it) or a mental block when playing with a lead (maybe), or simply an ability to re-adjust when the offense makes halftime changes, something has to change for this defense. Until it does, great first half performances will continue to be wasted by epic second half meltdowns.
For the Vikings, change starts at the top. These coaches have proven that they can prepare for games, and it is the ability to close (or lack thereof) that will define this team over the next 14 weeks.
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