It's always nice to open the regular season with a victory, particularly when that victory comes away from the friendly confines of home. For the Minnesota Vikings, they managed to shake off a sloppy and lethargic first half of football to take down the Tennessee Titans by a score of 25-16. While we'll always celebrate Vikings victories, there's really no denying that the team has some issues they're going to have to hammer out going forward. This is probably going to sound like a lot of gloom and doom, but addressing the issues a team has is something we do here, so let's have at it.
No Offense. . .Seriously, No Offense
Yes, the Vikings' side of the scoreboard had a 25 under it when the final gun sounded at Nissan Stadium on Sunday. Yes, it was awesome seeing Eric Kendricks and Danielle Hunter making some big plays and finding the end zone on defense. But those things, in hindsight, serve to mask the fact that the Vikings' offense continues to sputter when they get close to the goal line.
The Vikings have not scored an offensive touchdown since the third quarter of last year's regular season finale at Lambeau Field. That's just under ten quarters of football that have been played without the offense finding the end zone. This is thoroughly unacceptable, and it's something that needs to change very rapidly if this team is going to have any sort of success. After all, you're not going to get two defensive touchdowns in every game, and when your kicker has developed the football equivalent of Steve Blass disease. . .more on that in a bit. . .constantly settling for field goals isn't the answer.
The issue on offense on Sunday was not Shaun Hill. Sure, Hill wasn't perfect, but he didn't allow himself to be sacked all afternoon and, more importantly, didn't turn the ball over. The issue on offense was how utterly pathetic the running game looked. Tennessee has a solid defensive front, but an Adrian Peterson stat line of 31 yards on 19 carries shouldn't happen. The revamped Vikings' offensive line just got thrashed by the Titans' front in the run game, and given that fact, Hill's performance was definitely more impressive than it looks on paper.
I'm not an offensive coordinator, so I'm not sure if I have the answer to the Vikings' red zone issues. But somebody that's paid to do that sort of thing needs to come up with an answer, and quickly.
Seeing the Vikings go to fourth down and call on Blair Walsh to come and attempt a field goal is now every bit as scary as The Blair Witch Project, because Walsh is somehow even more shaky than the camera that was used to make that film. Walsh had a rough first half, missing a 37-yard attempt that would have tied the game and missing a 56-yarder at the end of the first half so badly you might have thought he was doing it on purpose.
To his credit, Walsh came in and drilled second-half attempts of 50, 33, 45, and 30 yards. . .while throwing in a missed extra point after Eric Kendricks' pick-six. . .and maybe that's what he needed to get himself going again. I'm not inside Blair Walsh's head or anything, but it certainly seems like that last field goal attempt from last year's playoff game is living there rent-free at the moment. There could be issues with some of the holds as well. . .I haven't examined things closely enough to know for sure.
Jeff Locke also continues to be erratic. He was called on to punt three times on Sunday, averaging just 37.7 yards and placing one of those three punts inside the 20-yard line. His longest punt, a 51-yarder on the Vikings' first drive, was returned for 14 yards, keeping in line with his day's average. His other two punts were 36 yards (fair caught at the 27-yard line) and 26 yards (fair caught at the 15).
If the Vikings are going to be serious contenders, the special teams need to get better, at least as far as the kicking and punting games are concerned. . .the return game seems to be doing alright for itself.
Mularkey Ends Titans Chances
I had to break this down on social media yesterday, and I'm not quite sure why it was so hard to understand, but I'm going to do it again here.
Titans' head coach (and former Viking) Mike Mularkey pretty much ended the game for his team on Sunday with his decision to go for two points after the Titans' last touchdown. DeMarco Murray's catch made the score 25-16, and Mularkey elected to go for 2 in an attempt to get within seven rather than attempting the extra point to get within eight.
Yes, if the Titans wanted to win, they needed to get a 2-point conversion at some point. In a vacuum, it might have been a good move. However, given that there were only 28 seconds left in the game when the Titans scored, the decision seems absolutely ridiculous. Had the Titans made the extra point to make it 25-17, they could have had an opportunity to win with an onside kick recovery, a touchdown, and a two-point conversion.
However, as they went for two and failed, they still found themselves down by nine. . .and, as we know, you can't score nine points on one possession in the NFL. So, the Titans would have needed to recover an onside kick, score a touchdown, recover another onside kick, and make a field goal, all in the space of 28 seconds with no time outs left.
I'm happy that Mularkey made the decision he did. I can't imagine that many Titans fans are.
See, I told you this wasn't going to be all negative, because we have to talk about the performance of Minnesota's defense, particularly in the second half.
Despite the pre-game loss of cornerback Xavier Rhodes. . .and we're hoping like heck his knee issue isn't anything serious. . .the Vikings went out and did what they were supposed to do. Yes, they spent a lot of the first half getting pushed around, but coming out of the locker room after the half. . .no doubt on the heels of a hellacious reaming by Mike Zimmer. . .they remembered who they were and bludgeoned the Titans into submission.
Minnesota forced three turnovers in the second half and took two of them to the end zone. Again, this method of winning football games definitely isn't sustainable, but damn it's fun to watch, isn't it? Yes, there should have been a fourth turnover courtesy of an interception by Harrison Smith, but after Everson Griffen pushed Marcus Mariota, causing him to fall to the ground and cry like Nancy Kerrigan (™ Eric Cartman), it was negated. I couldn't tell when the shove occurred in relation to the pick, but as Griffen said after the game, he has to know better. Still, in the second half, the Titans had
seven eight (because counting is hard sometimes) offensive possessions. Here's how they went.
-Garbage time touchdown
What we saw in the second half is what the Vikings need to continue to do going forward. Over the course of the next two weeks, when the Vikings will host the Green Bay Packers and travel to take on the Carolina Panthers, they're going to have to continue to be the aggressors on defense.
We'll probably talk about this game a bit more over the next day or two, and then turn our attention to the home opener this coming Sunday night.