It shouldn’t be, at least yet, but the sky is starting to fall for Minnesota Vikings fans.
A lot can and has changed for the Vikings since a 5-0 start. Their mounting injuries are catching up, the offensive line is a mess despite playing better last week and now the Vikings’ defense is struggling.
The talk of winning the NFC North Division is gone, and now fans are skeptical that they’re even a playoff team. What’s easy to forget in this latest skid is that the Vikings still lead the NFC North at 5-3. They didn’t help themselves at all with Sunday’s loss to the Lions.
Here are four takeaways from a disappointing overtime loss, their first at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Shurmur Shakes Up Vikings Offense
While the Vikings only scored 16 points Sunday, the offense looked vastly different in their approach after Norv Turner resigned earlier in the week. Sam Bradford spent a lot of time in the shotgun, and on a majority of passes the ball was thrown within three to five seconds. The offensive line played better, but it also didn’t have a big chance to fail.
There were a lot of screens, quick passes and plays designed specially so Sam Bradford wouldn’t face pressure. They may have only rushed for about 80 yards on the day, but there weren’t many negative plays. It was a step forward, but they also needed to convert in certain situations and take advantage of opportunities to score points. The killer for the Vikings’ offense was getting the ball at the Lions’ 18-yard line after a Chad Greenway interception, and after penalties and a sack, they were punting four plays later. They started on the 18 and had to punt, think about that. That can’t happen if they have playoff aspirations.
Struggles Continue For Blair Walsh
Blair Walsh has been an easy target for angry Vikings fans this year. He hasn’t helped himself a lot, either. Walsh hit and extra point off the right upright Sunday, then overcompensated and had a field goal blocked. Had it not been blocked, it was hit so low and so far left that it looked like a duck hook on the first tee at a golf course.
Walsh is 12-of-16 on field goals this year and leads the NFL with three missed extra points. He also made a critical kickoff error after the Vikings went ahead in the fourth quarter that allowed the Lions to move the ball far enough to get the game to overtime with a long field goal. It was bad enough that Mike Zimmer brought in kickers for a workout this week, putting Walsh’s future with Minnesota in doubt. Maybe it was just a motivational ploy or scare tactic.
Vikings fans want him gone. But with his contract and the fact that he’s a Rick Spielman draft pick, it’s not that easy. The Vikings are sticking with Walsh, who badly needs a good kicking game this week to rebuild his confidence.
Vikings Defense Struggles In Crunch Time
In five victories, the Vikings’ defense was among the most dominant in the NFL. In their last three losses, the defense has had some puzzling performances. They’re not getting a ton of pressure on the quarterback, they’re not stopping the run and the secondary isn’t living up to its high standards. They’re missing tackles, which is the most uncharacteristic of a Zimmer defense.
One play summed up their struggles of late, and it was the game-winner for the Lions. Golden Tate caught a pass, and Xavier Rhodes completely whiffed on a tackle. To make it worse, Harrison Smith also missed a tackle. Smith and missed tackles rarely get uttered in the same sentence.
The defense needs to get back to playing angry and winning at the line of scrimmage. Teams aren’t afraid of them anymore, something that’s changed since their 5-0 start.
Zimmer’s Time Management
Mike Zimmer’s clock management came into question on a play where the Vikings actually scored to take the lead in the final minute of regulation. Rhett Ellison scored a 1-yard touchdown to give the Vikings a 16-13 lead with 27 seconds left. He called a timeout before the third down play, and it should’ve been called with far less time on the clock to not give the Lions one last chance. They took advantage of it and sent the game to overtime.
There are a lot of little things to clean up, and it starts this week as the Vikings hit the road to take on the Redskins, who are 4-3-1 after tying Cincinnati in London last week and losing to the Lions the week before. While there’s a lot to fix, the good news is that the Vikings still control their own destiny.