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5 Qs: ‘Vikings can’t seem to get unstuck from their quagmire of mediocrity’

Getting to know the enemy

Cleveland Browns v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

It sure has been a rough season for the Detroit Lions and things are only getting rougher. The Lions are going into this Week 5 with basically nobody on the roster and the guys that are there, have been wildly underperforming.

Still, any given Sunday and all that stuff. We wanted to know more about the Lions latest opponent, so we reached out to our pal Eric Thompson from The Daily Norseman to get the skinny on the Minnesota Vikings. Here’s what he had to say:

1. Of all the NFC North teams, the Vikings are the most unpredictable. What is the rap this team?

“What is the rap on this team?” might as well be the franchise’s official motto at this point. The Vikings have had so many ups and downs through the years that we shouldn’t be surprised at anything that happens by this point, yet most weeks, we still end up being surprised one way or another. The Whack-A-Mole of problems never ceases. For every breakout performer, there’s a devastating injury. For every impressive victory, there’s an equally heartbreaking and/or inexplicable defeat.

For most of 2020 and the first two and a half games of the 2021 season, the offense had played fairly well overall, but the once-proud Mike Zimmer defense had become a laughingstock. But now that the defense has finally started playing a little better by holding opponents to only 14 points over the past six quarters, the offense disappeared after the first drive against Cleveland last week.

Far be it from me to start a pissing contest with a Lions fan about which fanbase is more tortured, but the Vikings can’t seem to get unstuck from their quagmire of mediocrity. The highs can be really high, the lows can be really low, and they mostly seem to cancel each other out as the team is always on the knife’s edge of being a playoff contender without ever being a serious championship contender.

So, to answer your question: I have no freaking idea what the rap on this team is. I wouldn’t be all that surprised if the Vikings won by three scores on Sunday, and I wouldn’t be all that surprised if they lost by three scores on Sunday. Everything is on the table with this team.”

2. What are their strengths?

“When the offensive line isn’t allowing 29 pressures and letting Myles Garrett look like he’s starring in his own personal John Wick sequel, they can move the ball pretty well. We can debate the merits of Kirk Cousins relative to the size of his contract until we’re blue in the face—which is basically what Vikings Twitter does on a daily basis—but there is little debate that he’s an excellent quarterback when he has a clean pocket and the offense is running on schedule. Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson are still one of the very best 1-2 wide receiver combos in the league, and this year they have breakout second-year receiver KJ Osborn giving them a legitimate third option. By his own words Dalvin Cook isn’t currently at 100%, but when he’s relatively healthy, he’s one of the best backs in the NFL. His backup Alexander Mattison is no slouch either. The offensive line has been much less of a dumpster fire overall, highlighted by the pleasant surprise of former 6th round pick Oli Udoh at right guard.

On defense, Danielle Hunter is all the way back from the neck injury that kept him out all of last season. With both Detroit starting tackles possibly missing this game, I’m guessing that we might hear his name a handful of times during Sunday’s broadcast. Eric Kendricks and Harrison Smith may not be playing at their previous elite forms, but are still among the top tier of players at their respective positions. Michael Pierce and Dalvin Tomlinson have been big upgrades in the middle of the defensive line.

And outside of one very notable missed kick in Week 2, the special teams unit has actually played very well overall this year.”

3. What are their weaknesses?

“When the line is allowing pressure, Cousins and the rest of the offense basically return a 404 error. They’re completely short-circuited when forced to play off schedule. Even when they are moving the ball, they aren’t finishing games very well; the offense hasn’t scored a second half touchdown in three straight games. Udoh was impressive through the first three games and then proceeded to allow eight pressures against the Browns. First round pick Christian Darrisaw finally saw his first NFL action last week in special teams duty, but it sounds like he’s still at least a couple games away from starting at left tackle. That can’t come soon enough, because career backup swing tackle Rashod Hill has struggled mightily starting on the left side.

Speaking of rookies, that’s another weakness for the Vikings this year. They took 11 players in the 2021 NFL Draft. Those players, along with undrafted rookies the team signed, have combined for a grand total of NINE offensive and defensive snaps through the first four games. That’s the fewest number of rookie snaps in the league by quite a wide margin.

The defense was supposed to be greatly improved in 2021. So far, we haven’t seen it. The revamped secondary has been less than stellar to say the least. Patrick Peterson has been solid, but nothing special. Bashaud Breeland has been a disaster, ranking dead last in PFF grade among qualifying cornerbacks through four weeks. Edge rusher DJ Wonnum showed promise last year, but has been basically invisible in a starting role opposite Hunter. Pierce will miss Sunday’s game and is out indefinitely. Anthony Barr might finally play for the first time in 19 games this week, but he’ll probably be on a limited snap count. The end of first halves have been particularly nightmarish for the defense—they have already allowed an almost incomprehensible 35 points between the two-minute warning and halftime this season. With all the new pieces, expecting the defense to immediately transform back into the top-10 unit they have usually been under Zimmer was probably unfair. But it’s certainly fair-minded to think that they would have been better than what they have shown through the first month of the season.

And of course, this is the Minnesota Vikings we’re talking about here. One of their biggest weaknesses was, is, and seemingly always will be the inability to stay out of their own way at the most inopportune times. A dozen penalties and an overtime fumble snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in Week 1. The latest book in the Encyclopedia of Heartbreaking Vikings Missed Kicks derailed a Week 2 upset. The offensive line turned back into a (rotten) pumpkin in Week 4. The Vikings remain the Vikings’ toughest opponent on far too many occasions.”

4. Will the Vikings miss an important kick this week? If so, will Paul Allen say he made it? Let’s be honest though, it’ll be record breaking attempt and it will go in.

“Like I already mentioned, the special teams have been a pleasant surprise overall. Joseph hasn’t missed a kick before or since the Cardinals game.

That said, if this game does come down to a late Vikings field goal or extra point attempt, it will be amazing theater. Which evil curse will win out—the Vikings’ decades of crucial missed kicks, or the Lions’ uncanny ability to lose on historically improbable last-second plays? For everyone’s sake, I really hope we don’t have to find out. Neither of these teams are worth the respective coronary trauma they continually inflict upon their fans.”

5. Who’s wining this thing?

“Again, I’m not sure any result on either side of the ledger would really surprise me here. But I really think the Vikings should take care of business at home against a very beat up and rebuilding Lions team. Cousins and the wide receivers should be able to make some big plays. Hunter should be able to get through the Lions’ patchwork O-line and pressure Jared Goff into mistakes. I’ll say Vikings 31, Lions 20.

If the Vikings do win, it probably won’t move the needle for me very much in regards to the prospects of the season going forward. They’re supposed to win this game. Even at 2-3, there would be a ton of work to do with a very difficult stretch of the schedule on the horizon. I’ll be much more impressed once they defeat a couple teams that actually have playoff aspirations.

On the flip side, a Vikings loss on Sunday would probably force me to hop on the “fire everyone” bandwagon. I don’t think the season would be salvageable after a 1-4 start.”