Taking a Look at What Went Wrong for the Vikings This Year
After going 11-5 and winning the NFC North division last season, the Minnesota Vikings entered this season with high hopes. After starting 5-0, the optimism continued. Things, however, went completely south after that.
Here is a look at what went wrong this season:
Injuries are a part of the game, so it is not exactly the best excuse to use for a team not performing well. But the Vikings dealt with more than the average amount of injuries. Running back Adrian Peterson tore his meniscus in the second game and only played one more game the rest of the season. Left tackle Matt Kalil missed the final 14 games due to a hip injury, and right tackle Andre Smith missed the final 12 games due to a triceps injury. Last year’s starting right guard, Mike Harris, missed the entire season due to an undisclosed non-football injury. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd missed the final 15 games due to a knee injury. Jake Long was signed to provide some stability in Kalil's absence before the sixth game of the season but only lasted four games because of an Achilles injury.
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater missed the entire season with a knee injury, but the Vikings were able to land Sam Bradford, who had a good season. It did cost the team a first-round draft pick, however. Also, wide receiver Stefon Diggs missed three games and punt returner Marcus Sherels missed five games.
Inability to close out games:
The Vikings were 2-4 in games decided by six points or less, the worst one occurring at US Bank Stadium against the Detroit Lions. The Vikings were leading 16-13 with 23 seconds to go before the Lions tied it up on a 58-yard field goal from Matt Prater, and Detroit later won, 22-16, in overtime. The Vikings fell to 5-3. They had numerous opportunities that game but completely blew it. Before scoring a touchdown to take a 16-13 lead, head coach Mike Zimmer took an early timeout instead of taking more time off of the clock. He also called for the prevent defense late in regulation, and Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford completed a 27-yard pass to set up the field goal. In the second quarter, linebacker Chad Greenway returned an interception to the Lions' 37-yard line, but the Vikings lost 22 yards and had to punt. Kicker Blair Walsh also missed an extra point and had a field goal blocked in the game.
The very next week, Minnesota fell to the Washington Redskins, 26-20. The Vikings drove to the Redskins' 28-yard line with 11 seconds left in the game, but Bradford was sacked on fourth down.
Two weeks later, the Vikings had a chance to get revenge on the Lions on Thanksgiving Day but lost, 16-13. The Vikings led 13-10 late in the game before the Lions tied it at 13. Detroit intercepted Bradford the next possession and won the game on another field.
Against the red-hot Dallas Cowboys the next week, Minnesota played them tough all game and nearly pulled off the upset. Wide receiver Adam Thielen’s late fumble on a punt return hurt their chances of holding on to the lead. Tight end Kyle Rudolph also dropped a pass in the end zone, which led to a field goal. The Vikings scored a touchdown late to trim the deficit to 17-15, but failed on the two-point conversion and lost.
Offensive line play:
We thought last year’s line was bad. This year’s was even worse. Tackle T.J. Clemmings struggled mightily. Brandon Fusco, despite being moved back to his natural spot at right guard, had a bad year. Guard Alex Boone was okay, but not as good as everyone hoped and expected.
Kalil is not great by any means, but having him healthy would have equaled two more wins, maybe three. If the Vikings cannot land a left tackle via free agency, there is a chance they could re-sign Kalil. The Vikings definitely need to sign at least two offensive linemen this offseason. They certainly will have the cap flexibility to do so.
Lack of a running game:
You can definitely put a lot of the blame on the offensive line, but not having Peterson healthy played a role too. Granted he is not the same Peterson we have gotten so used to watching over the years, but he still would have helped. There were several occasions where running back Matt Asiata was stopped short on 3rd-and-short or 4th-and-short. Peterson, even at his worst, would have converted on those runs more often than Asiata.
Running back Jerick McKinnon continued to show that he can catch passes, but like Asiata, he was not the answer to cure their running woes. Asiata, though, can also catch some passes here and there. Both can be solid backups runners but are not starting-worthy. Asiata is also a free agent this year and may not be back. Peterson may very well be gone, but even if he is not, look for the Vikings to draft a running back at least in the later rounds.
The Vikings were last in the league with 1,205 total rushing yards and last with 3.2 yards per carry.
There is still plenty of talent on this team. The question, though, is if they can have a good offseason or not and whether they have numerous amount of injuries again. Injuries happen, but like this season showed, it can occur more than usual.
It is very easy to be pessimistic at times when you are coming off a frustrating season, but this team can very well be back in the mix next year. Despite all their issues this year, they still came within a few plays of going 11-5 this year.
This year’s rookie class contributed very little, especially first-rounder Laquon Treadwell, who caught only one pass for15 yards in nine games. Second-round pick (cornerback) Mackenzie Alexander did not play very much but struggled when he did. Fourth-rounder (guard) Willie Beavers did not see much playing time despite all the injuries and inconsistency the offensive line had all season.
A lot can change in just one season. The Vikings went 10-6 and made the playoffs in 2012 after going 3-13 the year before. The Cowboys went 13-3 this season after going 4-12 the year before.
General manager Rick Spielman has a very big offseason ahead of him.