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Plagued by Penalties

With the Minnesota Vikings leaping out to a commanding 0-4 start for the 2011 season, there are lots of things for us to write about and dissect here at the Daily Norseman. It's almost an embarrassment of riches in terms for material to write about, like an enormous buffet of bad. Should I go with the quarterback situation? The receivers? Coaching?

All those topics are important, but the thing that continues to irk me in a season that is more irksome than a pesky little brother is the penalties.

In a season marked by inconsistency the Vikings have found a dubious element of their play to be consistent in-accumulating penalties. The Vikings first four games have seen a consistent hail of penalty flags, not quite what we were all hoping for in terms of consistency. NFL officials are going to need to ice their throwing arms after games with the way the Minnesota Vikings keeping them busy during games.

This cover seemed to set the right musical tone.


More talk about penalties after the jump.

Sometimes a team gets out-played, they get beaten because the other team is just better. That wasn't the case on Sunday when the Vikings played the Kansas City Chiefs. With both the Vikings and the Chiefs at 0-3 heading into Sunday's game, the teams appeared to be evenly matched. But, while the Chiefs had 6 penalties for 57 yards and the Vikings had 6 penalties for 45 yards, the Vikings seemed to time their penalties for maximum self-sabotage.

Here are two examples of that self-sabotage at critical points on Sunday. Defensive end Everson Griffen's facemask penalty on Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel kept an otherwise stalled Chiefs' drive alive, ending in a Chiefs' field goal. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe had a 14-yard reception nullified by an illegal shift call on the Vikings offense and the Vikings went three and out in that series.

Defensive end Jared Allen was quoted in Monday's St. Paul Pioneer Press saying, "Penalties have been killing us for four weeks now."

A lot of sports writers covering the Vikings have been saying that, despite what Coach Leslie Frazier has told his team, the Vikings aren't a very good football team-not now and, possibly, not for a long time to come. I don't know if that's true or not, but when a team is averaging 74 yards in penalties a game, they're not putting themselves in a position to win.

Even if the Vikings aren't a very good team, they should at least make their opponents beat them rather than beating themselves. The largest amount of points the Vikings have lost by so far this season is 7 points--hardly blowout losses. With the Vikings losing by margins that small, it's hard not to wonder if fewer penalties might have made the difference.

A certain amount of penalties are to be expected when a team is playing aggressive football. Mistakes happen at game-speed like players mistiming a grab or a shove. There are also plays that are judgment calls from the officials, like the horse-collar call on Chad Greenway in week three, things that may or may not be a penalty depending on how a rule is interpreted by the officials on the field. But the Vikings have drawn plenty of other penalties like Phil Loadholt being flagged just about every week for holding. Penalties like holding, or illegal shifts, or jumping off-sides, seem to suggest a lack of focus, maybe even a lack of discipline.

So, how costly is undisciplined football? Let's say that Loadholt draws a 5-yard penalty in every single game of the season. By the end of the season those 5 yards every game have added up to 80 yards in penalties. If the penalty is for 10 yards every single game the total season yardage is 160 yards. If there's a 15-yard penalty charged every game, by the end of the season that's 240 yards. And, if the Vikings continue to amass an average of 74 yards in penalties every game, they will have put themselves at a 1,184-yard disadvantage over the course of the 16-game season.

Suggesting there's a lack of focus and discipline with the Vikings concerns me because it seems to indicate an issue with leadership. I like Leslie Frazier, he's the kind of guy who you wish was your next-door neighbor. The possibility that he might not be keeping the team focused and disciplined is hard to even contemplate, but with an underperforming team it has to be contemplated.

There are several elements that may be contributing to the Vikings' collective lack of focus, with a new head coach, new offensive coordinator, and the NFL lockout preventing teams from holding off-season mini-camps, but when it comes down to it the penalties are on the players. No one is forcing them to commit holding penalties or to jump off-sides. The 2011 Vikings might not be as good of a team as we thought or hoped they would be, but they don't have to help their opponents beat them.