The Minnesota Vikings aren’t actually that different from last year. That is an odd thing to say about a team that is 1-6 but made the playoffs last year, yet it still seems somewhat true.
The defense is very similar in terms of how well it has played. Names have changed, but it ranked 21st in defensive DVOA last year and ranks 25th this year. That is a small drop, but not one to explain their collapse. On the other side of the ball, the Vikings dropped 11 spots from 15th to 26th in offense. That drop is probably even understated as DVOA can at times understate the advantage running the ball can give. So the question then is, what changed on offense to account for the drop?
The team did lose Percy Harvin, which certainly hurt them, but they picked up Greg Jennings. He has not been great, but many blame the quarterback situation, not Jennings. Quarterback seems to be the biggest issue as Christian Ponder languished this year after a decent outing in 2012. That would seem to be the explanation, but Ponder was no godsend last year and the offense still ran smoothly. The Vikings still have the best running back in the league, but it has not translated into points.
What this narrative shows is that the running game just isn’t enough to power an NFL offense anymore. The Vikings seemingly disproved that last year when Adrian Peterson dragged them to the playoffs, but in fact that was the exception to the rule. Last year, Peterson had the greatest running season in the modern NFL. If that season shows that transcendent running backs can carry the offensive load this season shows that very good running backs cannot. Peterson has come back down to earth this year, averaging just around four and a half yards a carry. Last year, eight or even nine players had to be in the box, but this year teams are putting just seven sometimes and getting away with it. This has hurt Ponder and every other Viking quarterback, and while Peterson has been very good he has been unable to capitalize. Peterson is no longer performing at an all-time great level, and that slight drop-off has destabilized the entire offense.
The Vikings need a good quarterback to succeed. That might seem obvious, but it was not always true. Unfortunately for Peterson and all the other top running backs, he just isn’t enough.
Jay Cullen is a NFL writer for RantSports.com. Add him on Google.