Hi kids. Are we doing better this afternoon? No? Look, it's football. Life goes on, and there's 15 more games left. They won't all be this bad.
At least I hope they won't, because what we saw last night was pretty troubling. And since I've had the night to digest things, I have some questions about this team that I think need to be answered pretty quick. Because if they aren't, we might be in for a long, long season.
I'll even try to answer them, but as always, they're just my opinion, and I have no idea if the answer is right, or if I'm even asking the right questions.
1. Why is Chad Greenway still playing significant snaps?
Look, I like Greenway, my brother Brad has a Greenway jersey (Brad is an Iowa season ticket holder), and he's been a very good linebacker for the Vikings for a decade. But he isn't anymore, and he hasn't been for a few years now. It's uncomfortable watching him play. He probably knows what the offense is going to do once he finishes his pre-snap read, but physically, he can't do it. If it hasn't been obvious these last couple seasons, it was painfully obvious last night. He reminds me of Greg Biekert when he came to the Vikings at the end of his career in 2002-03 time frame. The mind was willing, but the body was no longer able. Don't remember Biekert? Here, watch this. He's #54, trying in vain to tackle Michael Vick.
Personally, I thought the Vikings and Greenway should have parted ways before 2014, but as a new coach coming in, I understood Mike Zimmer's decision to keep him for his veteran leadership, locker room presence, etc. But after last year, with a bevy of promising linebackers in camp, to include Mike Mauti and Brandon Watts, keeping Greenway over those guys seems almost borderline criminal at this point.
And playing Gerald Hodges out of position at the Mike only seemed to exacerbate issues last night. It's too early to call the Hodges move a failure; that would be the most over reaction-y thing in a game that bred over reactions. I thought the Vikings linebackers were at their best last season with Hodges, Audie Cole, and Anthony Barr. Barr and Hodges seem best suited to pass coverage and lateral pursuit to the outside, and Cole is decent, but not great, as a Mike.
But decent is a lot better than what we saw from Greenway last night.
2. How Was The Team As A Whole So Seemingly Unprepared?
One of the things I loved about the Mike Zimmer hire was that he was going to have the Vikings ready to go each week. And in 2014, they were, week in and week out. It was a team that was reeling, with a rookie QB running an offense set up around a running back who didn't play in 15 games. Still, they competed each week, and Zimmer and his staff did a pretty good job of putting the players in a position to succeed, every game.
Last night though...woof. It was as close to a Leslie Frazier level of preparedness since, well, Leslie Frazier. The entire team seemed listless and disinterested, which was one of my biggest pet peeves about the end of the Frazier era. On offense, there was zero tempo, flow, and continuity. After the special teams blocked a field goal and set the Vikings up to take the crowd out of the game with an early, easy score, the offense literally threw the opportunity away. Teddy Bridgewater went 0-3 passing, and then Blair Walsh missed a field goal. It was comically inept, and the offense, other than Mike Wallace, really never got untracked. It was about as bad a performance as you could imagine, with Adrian Peterson a non factor all night. But the offensive line was as bad as everyone else, and unless that patchwork group figures things out fast, it's going to be a long season. I understand going down two starters isn't optimal, but there are no magic pills coming to fix it. It's time to coach them up and grind it out.
On defense, things were just as bad. The defensive line was manhandled almost as bad as the offensive line, and RB Carlos Hyde disemboweled the Vikings front seven all night long.
What we thought was a good mix of youth and experience looked, at least last night, to be the worst of both--the experience can't get it done because they're too slow and unathletic now (Greenway, Brian Robison), and the youth isn't to the point where they're dominant (Barr, Shariff Floyd). Instead of complimenting each other, they're in kind of a No Man's Land where they cancel each other out. No one is making a play, and the staff isn't making any adjustments.
It was comically bad, and unless it changes fast, this team will be shredded, on both sides of the ball, all season long.
3. Why Did The Vikings Not Try To Change The Dynamic On Offense?
Everyone is down on Cordarrelle Patterson, I get that. But when the running game isn't working, and your quarterback is erratic, you need to try and change the dynamic. Patterson is a guy that can do that, but not if he's only on the field for two offensive snaps the entire game. One of those two snaps he came in motion left to right, Teddy Bridgewater faked a handoff to him around end and then gave it to Peterson off tackle instead. The play gained seven yards, which was AP's longest carry of the night. Hmmm. As dissed as Patterson has been by the fan base, defensive coordinators still know you need to account for him, because if you don't you won't see him until he's in the end zone. When the 49ers did have to account for Patterson on that one play I just described, AP found some running room. Coincidence?
As ineffective as the offense was last night, would it have been a crime to try and get Patterson more involved in the offense? He's a guy that can make a big play out of nothing, whether it's a jet sweep or a catch and run, and a big play might have just been the spark the offense needed to get going. Another guy with big play potential is WR Stefon Diggs, who was deactivated before the game. I understand you can't dress all 53 on game day, but Diggs is electric with the football in his hands, and him and Patterson on the field at the same time would have created a serious mismatch somewhere; if not with those two, then with AP, Charles Johnson, Mike Wallace, or Kyle Rudolph. The only ‘spark' play I can think of was the deep throw to Wallace in the end zone early in the game. He had beaten his guy, and was interfered with. No, the penalty wasn't called, but it showed that there were big plays out there for the taking. Yet the Vikings didn't take another shot for the rest of the night.
4. Will special teams be this bad all year?
It doesn't look promising, field goal block aside. Blair Walsh and Jeff Locke might be, as it stands today, the worst kicker/punter combination in the NFL. Both Walsh and Zimmer have said ‘he's close', but to what? Getting it together or completely falling apart? I can be swayed either way on this. He made one field goal and missed another, and that was a pretty bad miss. Locke had a decent game, but his track record tells me he needs to keep doing so over the course of several games before I think he's anything other than the worst punter in the NFL.
A lot of people on Twitter have asked about bringing in a kicker to compete with Walsh, or flat out cut him. That isn't happening, at least this season, because of the contract he just signed. It's just too cost prohibitive right now, so at least for 2015, we roll with Blair Walsh and hope he figures it out.
5. Was this an anomaly, or a trend?
At this point, I think it's too early to press the panic button. There wasn't much to like about last night's game, but there's still a lot to like about this team overall. Is the defense as bad as we saw last night? No, I don't think so. Adjustments need to be made, game plans need to be better, and I think the Vikings need to make some personnel changes, but this isn't a bad defense. It's a defense that had a bad game.
Is the offense this bad? No, but with a caveat. If the offensive line play doesn't get better fast, it really won't matter if you have all the playmakers in the world in the backfield and on the perimeter, because the offense will be stopped before it even starts. There are things that need to be fixed, especially on the line, but a serviceable line means the offense will be okay.
So that's what I'm asking myself today. What are you guys asking?