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The 2018 Minnesota Vikings: 1 step forward, 2 steps backward

What a difference a year makes.

Between October 9th of 2017 and January 21st of 2018, the Minnesota Vikings lost one game. One. If you did the math, that’s one “L” in 104 days. Now juxtapose that with the fact that those same Minnesota Vikings, who returned nine of their 11 starters on defense (and the two new players were actually upgrades) and nine of their 11 starters on offense (with one of the new guys being an expensive upgrade at quarterback) from 2017, already have two losses in the win/loss column, and we’re not even through the first week of October yet.

In 2017, the Minnesota Vikings allowed the fewest yards per game and fewest points per game, and finished as the 2nd best overall defense (by DVOA) in the NFL, among the very best in the league at stopping the run and the pass. On offense, they were among the top 10 teams in the NFL in rushing yards per game, total rushing touchdowns, and fewest sacks of their own quarterback. In 2018, the Minnesota Vikings are literally the exact opposite of all of those benchmarks.

For those of you old enough (like me) to remember the Saturday morning cartoons: this team reminds you of that classic Looney Tunes conundrum where the ill-fated protagonist sticks their finger in that last hole leaking water, only to have more and more holes pop open, and they run out of fingers, toes, and other appendages with which to fill said holes.

This time, it’s not the QB’s fault

In all fairness, Minnesota started last season with a 2–2 record, and as we all know, they ended up in the NFC title game. But that was sparked by the “addition by subtraction” of Sam Bradford getting injured (yet again) and Case Keenum jump-starting the team’s offense.

Right now, the quarterback isn’t the problem. Kirk Cousins — he of the three-year, $84 million guaranteed contract — is tied for 6th in the NFL in touchdown passes (10), and is averaging 347 passing yards per game. According to FootballOutsiders.com, he’s ranked 8th in Total QBR and 13th in DVOA.

Honestly, Cousins’ numbers would be even better if he didn't have an offensive line with more holes than Swiss cheese. Minnesota’s injury-depleted line was already a concern coming into the season, and they’ve allowed 29 quarterback pressures in their last two games. They’re tied for the most sacks allowed on third down in the NFL, with nine. The seemingly hapless Buffalo Bills blitzed Cousins without relent, and it clearly worked.

[Side note: as a fan of the Washington Redskins, to borrow a simile from Bill Simmons: the entire Kirk Cousins situation is like ending an up-and-down relationship with an otherwise attractive girl, and then watching her immediately jump into another relationship with some personal trainer who helped her lose those stubborn last five pounds, and she suddenly starts posting hot, thirst-trap photos of herself on Instagram. Sure, we ourselves have moved on with a great — and far-less maddening — significant other of our own, but we can’t help but notice what’s going on with our ex-.]

Good if by land, bad If by air

But the porous offensive line and virtually non-existent running game aside (Minnesota is dead last in the NFL in yards per carry, rushing attempts that have gone more than 10 yards, and rushing touchdowns), as shocking as this would’ve seemed about six weeks ago, it’s the Vikings defense that’s been the real disaster.

Minnesota has allowed 90 or more rushing yards to each of their four opponents, but that isn’t overly terrible, especially considering none of the running backs they faced — including Todd Gurley — have rushed for more than 83 yards.

But then again, why would teams even bother running against the Vikings, when Minnesota’s secondary literally can’t stop anyone?

Last year, Minnesota finished with the #2 defense in passing yards allowed per game, and #4 in passing defense DVOA. Yet this same secondary, with the exact same four starters, is:

  • 25th in passing defense DVOA
  • 26th in passing yards allowed per game (277.5)
  • 27th in opponent's passer rating (105.9)
  • 27th (tied) in completions of 20+ yards allowed (17)
  • 30th in opponent’s yards per attempt (9.18)
  • 31st in opponent’s yards per completion (13.99)
  • 32nd in passing touchdowns of over 20+ yards (five)

Vikings’ head coach Mike Zimmer is as stoic and calculated in his press conferences as any coach in the NFL, so when he makes a statement saying he’s probably never had a team that’s been this poor in pass coverage, that speaks volumes

Now, Vikings fans & apologists can rationalize those numbers by saying two of Minnesota’s first four games were against the Green Bay Packers in Lambeau Field, and against the Los Angeles Rams in the Coliseum; neither of those are exactly walks in the park. And yes, two of the next three weeks offer “tune up” opportunities with contests against teams like the Arizona Cardinals and New York Jets.

But they’ve still got to face Carson Wentz on Sunday, Drew Brees at the end of the month, Aaron Rodgers again on Thanksgiving Day, and Tom Brady the week after.

Minnesota better hope that September was merely a case of the NFL’s “extended preseason,” with teams using the first month of the season to make up for the time they previously had in OTAs and training camp to fully come together and build synergy (though i’m not sure why this would so critical for Minnesota since they’re returning 18 of 22 starters from last year). Because what we saw from them in September didn’t have the look of a team with legitimate postseason aspirations. Since halftime of their Week 1 win against the San Francisco 49ers, the Vikings have been outscored 107 to 80. In two of those ensuing three games, they never held the lead over their opponent.

Again: last year showed us that there’s still plenty of time for Minnesota to turn this around. But this year — at least so far — has shown us there aren’t a lot of reasons to believe that Minnesota will turn it around.

Week 5 NFL picks

Indianapolis at New England (-10) —pick made Thursday evening
Baltimore (-3) at Cleveland
Jacksonville at Kansas City (-3)
Tennessee (-3.5) at Buffalo 
NY Giants at Carolina (-7)
Denver at NY Jets (-1)
Atlanta at Pittsburgh (-3)
Green Bay (-1) at Detroit
Miami at Cincinnati (-6.5)
Oakland at LA Chargers (-5)
Arizona at San Francisco (-4)
Minnesota at Philadelphia (-3)
LA Rams (-7) at Seattle
Dallas at Houston (-3)
Washington at New Orleans (-6.5)

Last Week: 5–8–2
Season To Date: 25–35–3