Vikings fans (myself included) are willing to take any victory that the team can muster at this point in the season. After an extremely disappointing stretch of "almost got 'em" losses, the Vikings desperately needed a victory against the Saints on Monday to keep this season on track.
The Vikings playoff hopes are being kept alive by how poorly other teams in the NFC North are performing. With the Lions bringing up the distant rear, the Vikings are competing with a Packers (2-3) team that will soon need it's one M.A.S.H. unit and a bi-polar Bears (3-2) team that has Kyle Orton at the helm. The Vikings have a very real chance of staying in the race, or even taking the lead at some point this season.
However, once the excitement from the Monday night victory wore off, I realized some disturbing things about the game. I've listed the problems I spotted below.
- The special teams coverage is outrageously bad - The Vikings continue to struggle with special teams coverage. Teams can plug nearly any player in at kick returner and count on making at least the thirty-yard line. This problem gets exacerbated when teams have dangerous returning weapons like Reggie Bush (who took a break from running out of bounds and falling over to run two back on the Vikings). The fact that this continues to be such a huge weakness is really mind-boggling. Unless the coaching staff is taking a bathroom break during kickoffs, this has been an obvious weakness of the team for at least four games. (However, in reality, it's been a weakness for more than a year.) Brad Childress promptly threw punter Chris Kluwe underneath the bus after the game, commenting that if Kluwe couldn't kick the ball out of bounds he would "find someone that can..." The fact remains, though, that the team couldn't tackle Bush regardless of where the Vikings' resident World of Warcraft guild leader punted the ball.
- The offense was listless and predictable - With the exception of a Chester Taylor touchdown pass to Vinsanthe Shiancoe, the offense continued to look just as vanilla as ever. Adrian Peterson was never able to get going against the Saints, which was surprising considering how poor they've been at containing runners thus far. Some of this was due to Bevell's continued insistence that Peterson charges up the middle into the grasp of waiting defensive players. Coaching staff made no effort to give him the ball in space, where he thrives. Receiver Bernard Berrian had the first 100-yard passing game for a Viking since sometime in 2006, which is encouraging. However, confusion seems to reign on the offense, still. On several occasions, Frerotte could be seen motioning wildly to receivers who had lined up in the wrong spot or failed to go into motion. Berrian's TD reception came as he ran over Aundrae Allison (the intended receiver) in the end zone. (I'm not complaining, mind you. It was great to see. It's just illustrating my point.) The Vikings offensive line struggled late (when mistakes needed to be avoided) with consecutive pre-snap penalties.
- The defensive line continued it's disappearing act - Kevin Williams had a respectable game, batting down the field goal attempt that Antoine Winfield returned for a touchdown. However, the defensive ends are still struggling to register sacks on opposing quarterbacks. Occasionally, they are able to penetrate and get some pressure, but we haven't seen much action from Ray Edwards or Jared Allen.
The most frustrating thing about some of these issues is that they continue to be ignored. (Particularly the special teams issues.) Childress' job is almost certainly safe through the season unless there is a major meltdown late. However, I believe that he is in trouble if the Vikings fail to make playoffs, or register a worse record than 2007. In the end, a victory is a victory. But, the Vikings will need to address these problems as they approach their bye week if they want to be a playoff contender.