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The Minnesota Vikings Are Directionless

  • The Draft Network
  • December 7, 2021
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25 yards away from the play, Mike Zimmer hunched and watched on helplessly as Amon-Ra St. Brown reeled in a Jared Goff pass that gave the Detroit Lions their first victory in nearly a full calendar year. A simple pitch and catch practiced tens, if not hundreds of times back at their Allen Park, Michigan facility, Dan Campbell’s first win as head coach could be the loss that breaks Zimmer’s back as Minnesota’s man in charge. 

Now 5-7 and second in the NFC North, the Vikings are a franchise without an identity. And while a mid-December loss looks ugly on paper, especially when the opposing team enters without a victory, Zimmer’s group remains entrenched within the NFC wild-card race with a favorable schedule in the next two weeks (Steelers, Bears). But, a loss at Detroit, and that loss specifically, is the type of game that invites the loss of jobs. 

A roster headlined with premier talent and a season from Kirk Cousins that has seen him rank among the league’s best this fall, the Vikings, losers of two straight, are a long way from where they were in 2017—a win away from hosting a Super Bowl. A season looked upon as a potential make-or-break campaign from Zimmer, who’s remained Minnesota’s bench boss since 2014, has quickly turned the seat-heater on high for a group tearing at the seams due to a lack of depth. What was supposed to be a get-right game for the Vikings where they entered torn and battered with Dalvin Cook, Christian Darrisaw, Anthony Barr, and Eric Kendricks all sidelined, Minnesota still possessed the better roster, and controlled the time of possession for the better part of the football game. 

But, their loss dives deeper than just missing your top players; no team in football is fully healthy. From their aforementioned, inexcusable blunder on fourth down, to a head-scratching shuffle of players along the front five, the Vikings have now found themselves swimming upstream in the last month of the regular season. Outside of Justin Jefferson, the finger of blame didn’t have a hard time finding a target. Although the Vikings erased a 14-point halftime deficit, taking the lead with 1:50 left in regulation, it starts with Cousins, whose last two weeks have provided less than optimal performances, to say the least. And while the shuffle of bodies up front led to an army of defenders consistently in his face and the absence of Adam Thielen left a major vacancy on the perimeter, it’s not enough to lift the blame off his shoulders. 

In his fourth year under center in Minnesota, and with one year left on his massive $66M contract, it’s inexcusable to lose to the Lions at this stage in the season. A quarterback with nearly a decade of NFL experience, Cousins opted to revert to his old, overly-conservative ways, which makes his 75% completion rate on Sunday more understandable and less eye-poppingly good. He failed to stretch the field the first three quarters of the football game, attempting to dink and dunk his way down the field to points via check-downs and quick, short-yardage completions. With Thielen out, it’s understandable offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak’s game plan shifted to plan B, and taking what a defense gives you is a fine way to approach an aerial attack, but against Detroit, a defense near the bottom of the league in every major category, there’s no excuse for the lack of shots on offense where skill players, and speed, are in aplenty. Yet, the Vikings found themselves up four beyond the two-minute warning, with no timeouts left for Detroit, and 75 yards to defend against a team drained with optimism. 

A defense without many of its core athletes, the final drive by the Lions was as easy as it gets at the NFL level. Completing passes for eight, nine-yard chunks, Goff picked apart Minnesota, running 12 plays in 1:50, completing passes to five different receivers as if the Vikings weren’t on the field. Playing a soft, prevent zone shown until their backs were against the shadow of their own goal line, the final two minutes of Sunday’s loss have placed two roads in front of the Vikings as we enter the home stretch of the season. 

Whether they get healthy, reel off wins, and play to their ability as a contender in the NFC North, or sulk, underperform, and enjoy an early offseason remains up to the leaders of a team desperate for a voice to rally around. A group simply too talented to fall off the face of the playoff picture with a lot of meat left on the bone to scratch at, Thursday night’s showdown with Pittsburgh will reveal everything we need to know about the character of Zimmer’s Vikings.

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