It was another disjointed effort by the Vikings on Sunday afternoon. On the one hand they were able to get their run game going while still continuing to pass the ball well overall, but on the other hand the defense couldn’t do much to stop the Chargers offense most of the afternoon. And the Vikings continued to struggle with turnovers and bad luck- losing a potential interception that turned into a touchdown on a tipped ball while losing a potential touchdown that turned into an interception on a tipped ball to end the game.
But overall, the Vikings simply struggled with consistency and couldn’t make enough plays on either side of the ball- particularly on third down- to win the game. The Vikings were stopped several times on key third downs and had several opportunities to get off the field on 3rd-and-medium/long defensively but were unable to do so.
Indeed, it was key situational football that killed the Vikings’ chances at victory Sunday afternoon. They struggled on third down. They struggled in the red zone- particularly late with the game on the line- and on both sides of the ball. And they continued to struggle with turnovers.
Flores’ Defense Not Getting Home
The Vikings gave up 475 yards of offense to the Chargers- almost all through the air- as the Chargers had the answer to Brian Flores’ blitz-heavy pass rush. The Chargers continually went with the quick passing game- something the Bucs did week one- and take advantage of cushions outside for short gains along with slants mainly to Keenan Allen. The Chargers were able to continually move the chains and drive the field with a steady diet of quick passes, adding a trick play for a touchdown as well, which the Vikings were unable to counter.
The Vikings will need to play press man more often when blitzing to counter the quick passing game, but Flores did not do so against the Chargers on Sunday much, which like the lack of adjustment to the Eagles ground game the previous game, left the Vikings defenders in poor position to make plays.
The other aspect of Flores’ scheme is that his blitzes seldom produce a free rusher. That allows opposing quarterbacks enough time to complete quicker passes- and occasionally allowed Justin Herbert to complete longer, intermediate passes as well. At this point, it looks like opposing offenses have a pretty good idea of Flores’ scheme on tape, and are able to adapt to it readily, while Flores has not challenged them with counters to their counters to his defensive scheme.
The one aspect of the defense that was good again against the Chargers was run defense- the Chargers had just 30 yards on 15 rushing attempts- 2 yards per carry- and also tackling on the perimeter for the most part which limited yards after catch. But that wasn’t enough to make up for allowing an 85% completion rate on 47 passing attempts. That spoke to the Vikings not getting home in the pass rush and/or the Chargers executing the quick pass game in front of Vikings’ defensive backs.
While much of the Vikings’ defeats can be chalked up to bad luck- like recovering only one of nine fumbles so far- clearly the Vikings need to finish plays better than they have done.
For example, TJ Hockenson was involved in both turnovers for the Vikings on Sunday. In the first, he was stripped of the ball late in the play. He appeared to have two hands on the ball, but somehow still coughed up the ball. With proper technique, there’s really no excuse for being stripped of the ball like that. Late in the play, when your momentum is stopped, secure the ball and go to the ground. Hockenson failed to do so. In the interception to end the game, Kirk Cousins said he placed the ball where he wanted it- away from Hockenson’s body and the defender, essentially allowing for either a Hockenson catch or an incomplete pass, which would stop the clock and give the Vikings another shot at a touchdown to end the game. Hockenson managed to tip the ball upward, however, allowing for an interception which ended the game.
Prior to that interception, KJ Osborn had an opportunity to haul in a pass for a touchdown, but once again could not bring a ball that hit him in the hands. Yes, it was a bit overthrown, but once again Osborn could not adjust to the ball and bring it in. And then there was the interception that turned into a touchdown as Akayleb Evans was unable to hold on to the ball for what would’ve been a key interception. Instead, the ball bounced off his hands and into those of the Chargers’ receiver for a touchdown. Those are the plays that win and lose games. There have been plenty of others too where a Vikings player is in position to make a play, but somehow falls short or gives up one instead.
In a league where parity is commonplace and ‘any given Sunday’ prevails- the Cardinals beating the Cowboys on Sunday is a perfect example- it’s rare for a team to consistently have a better game plan, better scheme, and better players than their opponent. It’s almost always a mixed bag and often there’s not a lot separating one team from another overall. And so making key plays becomes more important- and more critical for success. So far the Vikings have lost three games they could have and should have won, but for a few key plays they weren’t able to finish well. But such is the difference between winning and losing in the NFL, and the Vikings are now faced with an 0-3 hole and greatly reduced prospects of making the postseason.
As a fanbase, this loss probably changed expectations for the season from cautiously optimistic to start the season, to pessimistic now after losing a third straight game- something the Vikings have not done since the 2020 season when they lost their first three and another three-in-a-row toward the end of the season as well.
The playoff probability for a team starting 0-3 is just 12% under the new 17-game season and 7 playoff team system, so the Vikings indeed face long odds of making the postseason. But, as Kevin O’Connell mentioned in his postgame press conference, he has been a part of a team that lost three in a row (although not to start a season), and still won the Super Bowl. While a good rejoinder to a three-game losing streak to start the season, it will be up to Kevin O’Connell and company to prove this team is capable of turning things around and winning not just the games they’re supposed to win, but tougher games as well.
That will include winning on the road, as 8 of their final 14 games will be away from US Bank stadium, and also beating the best if they want to be the best. They’ll have that opportunity in their next two home games next month against the Chiefs and 49ers, the current favorites to represent their conference in the Super Bowl. They also have two must win road games against Carolina next Sunday and in Chicago between those two big home games. Winning October would go a long way to righting the ship after losing September, but at this point the Vikings have everything to prove when it comes to playing clean football, finishing, and winning games. It’s not a bridge too far for the players and coaches that make up this team, but at this point it’s not the expectation either. It will be up to the Vikings to change our minds.
Will the Vikings make the playoffs this season after starting 0-3?
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