By Joseph Gunther
The Minnesota Vikings were the early surprise of the NFL, but Thursday night’s performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has the national media doubting the purple.
The Vikings fell to just two games behind the Chicago Bears and into a tie with the Green Bay Packers following their respective wins on Sunday.
“5-3 is still one of the best records in the NFL,” Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder said on KFAN radio Tuesday morning. “We’re not satisfied with where we’re at, but we’re still excited with where we’re at.”
The Vikings’ bandwagon has gotten a little lonelier, but the team feels good about what can happen in the final eight games of the season.
“All of our goals are still achievable,” Ponder said on KFAN radio. “We control our own destiny.”
The Vikings remaining schedule is one of, if not the, toughest in the league. The eight games ahead come against teams with a cumulative record of 37-22 (including two games against the 6-1 Bears and 5-3 Packers).
The Vikings have several areas to shore up before starting the daunting second half of the season.
First area of improvement: Tackling
The Vikings have not stopped anybody on the ground recently. Doug Martin of the Buccaneers, LaRod Stephens-Howling of the Arizona Cardinals and Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins topped the 100-yard mark in each of the last three weeks against the Vikings.
The reason they have racked up big yardage is because the Vikings are missing tackles. The running backs on the remaining schedule includes the likes of Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks, Matt Forte of the Bears twice, Stephen Jackson of the St. Louis Rams (provided he is not traded by Thursday’s trade deadline) and Arian Foster of the Houston Texans. Lynch trails only Adrian Peterson for the league lead in rushing yards. The other three are pretty good as well. They all are very good at making defenders miss; a lot better than Martin, Stephens-Howling and Griffin.
Linebacker Chad Greenway leads the NFL in tackles, but, he, along with just about everyone else in the defensive unit, has taken bad angles and used poor tackling techniques.
The Vikings need to, as the old cliché goes, get back to basics.
Second area of improvement: Don’t force the deep pass
The Vikings did just fine with the short and intermediate passing game while Jerome Simpson was on the sideline for the first three games. The free agent acquisition was said to be the deep threat to open up the offense. He has been inconsistent and injury-plagued. He has had moments, but is not a very good route runner and is just not consistent at any aspect of his game.
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave needs to find ways to use the whole field, but not force it; he needs to let it happen. Kyle Rudolph and Michael Jenkins are big targets, but lack the speed to get behind corners and safeties. Percy Harvin has the speed, but lacks the size to go up and get it with some defensive backs.
Ponder has thrown for more passing yards than the Vikings opponent’s starting quarterback in four games this year, including two wins. The second-year quarterback can put up the yards. It just takes a little more creativity because of the receivers’ lack of something and Ponder’s lack of a big arm.
Third area of improvement: Do what you do best
Peterson leads the NFL in rushing. Yet the Vikings gave him the ball just three times in the first three series against the Buccaneers. In those three carries, he had 17 yards. The other six plays netted minus-one yard on a run by Harvin and no passing yards on five incompletions. The fourth series, just after the Buccaneers took a 10-0 lead, Peterson got carries on back-to-back plays for 11 yards each. The Vikings then called back-to-back pass plays and gained five yards before fumbling on the second play.
In the five wins, the Vikings have rushed for 147.4 yards per game. In the three losses, it rushed for 109.7 yards per game. Peterson is a dynamic running back and one of the most powerful runners in the league.
For more Local Football Bloggers and the latest Vikings news, see CBS Sports Minnesota.
Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. His work can be found on Examiner.com.