Free Head Exam: Minnesota Vikings
December, 19, 2011
By Kevin Seifert | ESPN.com
After the Minnesota Vikings' 42-20 loss to the New Orleans Saints, here are three issues that merit further examination:
- Vikings Nation is abuzz, sort of, with draft fever. Now that the Indianapolis Colts are 1-13, it remains possible for the Vikings to finish the year in a tie for the worst reord in the NFL. To determine draft order, the NFL breaks ties in reverse order of strength of schedule. There are three teams that could finish 2-14: The Colts, Vikings and St. Louis Rams. For the moment, the Vikings have the tiebreaker edge over the Rams and thus are positioned with the No. 2 pick. But what would happen if the Colts win once more this season? The Vikings would have to hope their final strength of schedule is lower than the Colts' and remains lower than the Rams'. As of this moment, it is not lower than the Colts. Prior to Monday night's game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and San Francisco 49ers, I have the Colts with an 8.5-game "lead" in the race for the least difficult schedule between the two. So if you want the Vikings to have the No. 1 overall pick, you should root either for the Colts to win their final two games or for everyone they've played to win and everyone the Vikings have played to lose, when possible.
- Yes, Saints quarterback Drew Brees is having an MVP-caliber season. And it's true that he put together the second-most productive game by an NFL quarterback this season, based on Total Quarterback Rating. But the Vikings' pass defense has fallen into a state rarely seen in the history of the NFL. They now own an NFL record by going nine consecutive games without an interception, and their defensive passer rating has now jumped to 110.8. The league record for highest passer rating allowed in a season is 110.9, set by the Detroit Lions in 2009. Reports that defensive backs have openly disregarded coverage calls this season only add to the perception of chaos.
- Quarterback Christian Ponder is continuing a worrisome late-season regression after a strong debut as the Vikings' starter. There's no reason to think the Vikings will give up on him this winter, but at the very least, they will be in a tempting position to consider a quarterback at the top of the draft. Solid performances in the Vikings' final two games could go a long way toward limiting what could be an offseason of speculation surrounding the position. "[These games] are crucial," Ponder said. "They're huge. Going into the offseason, we've got to finish strong. We've got to put in two solid performances, and our goal is to win those two games to kind of have a springboard going into the offseason."
Kevin SeifertFollowing their loss against the Saints, the Vikings take a seat in the examination room.
Defensive end Jared Allen made an interesting point to reporters, wondering aloud if the Vikings are making good use of the otherwise meaningless nature of the second half of their season. Allen: "At some point, you just have to say, 'What the heck? We're 2-12, what do we have to lose? Try to make every play.' A lot of people are probably going to get fired at this point anyways. What are you going to lose?" That includes being more aggressive on fourth down, opening up the offensive playbook and trying something different on defense as the pass totals continue to pile up. Coach Leslie Frazier is as traditional and conventional as they come, however, and doesn't strike me as someone who approaches the game differently when out of the playoff hunt.