by Patrick P. Marek
For the Vikings, moving into a tie for first place during the bye week must have been like getting a work performance bonus while you’re on vacation. It’s a great feeling, but after the last celebratory margarita, the job is still going to be there … with more pressure than ever to earn the next prize.
The bye week is a wonderful thing, and having it so late in the season is a gift that keeps on giving … for fans and players alike. The purple faithful were able to take advantage of a glorious weekend to catch up on last-gasp outdoor projects, prepare for Thanksgiving, cheer the Gophers on to victory, and savor the destruction of Aaron Rodgers and a suddenly vulnerable Packers team … all with absolutely no chance of a Vikings’ loss.
For the team, the bye and the extra days before their Monday night Football collision with the Seahawks provide much-needed time for injured players to heal, for coaches to fix the defensive secondary, and breathe new life into the stalled running game.
Key performers Adam Thielen, Linval Joseph, Josh Kline, Anthony Harris, and Harrison Smith all have had the time to get healthy just in time for the team’s crucial last five games. The return of any or all of these players would be a huge shot in the arm for the momentum the team needs in the stretch run to the playoffs.
Minnesota’s secondary, especially the cornerbacks, have been the weak link of the defense so far this year. They started the season in zone coverage, but were nickel-and-dimed to death by quarterbacks who used quick throws to nullify the pass rush. Zimmer instituted a modified press-coverage scheme after the horrible loss to the Bears. It reduced the amount of short passes and the number of end-zone touchdowns, but it also resulted in more long completions (especially on third down), and revealed some disturbing personnel flaws … despite the fact that the Vikings have invested over $42 million in this year’s salary cap to the defensive secondary.
Vikings’ cornerbacks have only two interceptions coming out of the bye, and although they seem to be providing tight coverage, they are losing virtually every contested catch. If the secondary can learn the art of looking back at the ball they will come down with more interceptions and stop the bleeding of the countless holding and pass-interference calls. It seems like every time we get a contested throw, even when the receiver is double or triple covered, it’s the constant replay of old highlights of incredible completions from Joe Montana to Jerry Rice. We have been playing against rookies and back-up quarterbacks. They have enjoyed astounding success against what is supposed to be an elite defense. How is this possible?
The answer is simple … and depressing at the same time. Their receivers want it more than our defenders. Good luck to the coaches finding a magic potion or magic bullet that can solve that problem. Maybe the answer is addition by subtraction.
Now it’s time to get back to work. Minnesota’s remaining games include character-building battles with the Seahawks, 49ers, and Packers that will be a true test of whether this team has what it takes to make a deep playoff run. This week the Vikings travel to Seattle with hopes of breaking Zimmer’s string of five straight losses to the Seahawks. To come home with a victory they are going to have to contain Russell Wilson, stifle the Seahawks’ potent running game, and light a fire under Dalvin Cook, Kirk Cousins, and the offensive line. Can Cardiac Cousins feed off his come-from-behind victory against the Broncos and lead us to the promised land? Sunday’s game will give us a good indicator of the way Minnesota’s playoff dreams will progress.
Stay purple my friends … and Godspeed Fred Cox.