Seemingly ages ago, the Minnesota Vikings were 5-0, sported the best defense in the league, and got a shocking amount of production from an offense led by the surprisingly competent Sam Bradford. Now the team’s 6-6 and losing ground in the playoff hunt, and Thursday night’s loss to the Cowboys offered little to feel confident about.
That was an objectively weird game. It was exactly the kind of plodding, defensive-minded affair that affords a team like the Vikings every opportunity to steal a win from a superior opponent. Minnesota smothered the Cowboys’ passing attack, stood relatively strong against Ezekiel Elliott, forced two fumbles, and won the time-of-possession game by a hefty margin. All of that sounds like it should have added up to a 14-10 or 10-6 Vikings win, but the team came up two points short in the end, with nobody to be mad at but themselves (and maybe the officials).
Clearly, the formula that carried the Vikings through their hot start was a volatile one. For a second there, it looked like we were seeing the reincarnation of last year’s Broncos team, one with a just-functional-enough offense being carried to wins by an elite defense. But the offense is no longer doing enough to keep the team in games, and last night was a representative performance.
The problems start with the offensive line, which has helped to create the league’s worst rushing attack and can’t do much to protect Bradford from opposing pass rushers. It’s never a good sign when the starting left tackle is putting together a performance like this:
Bradford also has regressed considerably from where he was at the start of the season, and suddenly looks like his old checkdown-happy self. He hasn’t exactly been bad—a 13:3 touchdown to interception ratio and a completion percentage of 71 sure are nice to look at—but the passing attack has looked nothing but anemic in his hands. His average yards per attempt last night was a pitiful 5.49, and it felt like every throw he made was an act of surrender.
The Vikings aren’t dead yet, and could conceivably win each of their next four games (against the Jaguars, Colts, Packers, and Bears), but even if they accomplish that and make the playoffs, it’s tough to believe that they’ll make any noise in the postseason. Is Adrian Peterson suddenly going to return and legitimize the running attack? Will Sam Bradford suddenly stop being the guy he’s been his whole career and throw at receivers who aren’t the safest, worst options? There’s no help to be found here, and no reason to believe the Vikings will stop being exactly who they are right now: a team that simply isn’t good enough.