If there is any take-away from the Minnesota Vikings' 2011 NFL season it is that there is no telling what the team will do next--a reality that ought to be construed in the worst possible light. For a team with an atavistic offensive philosophy, seemingly no defensive philosophy, unless the team's front office is playing the over each week, substantial breakdowns on special teams, poor or non-existant play by last year's top two picks, and losses week after week, this recipe is further evidence that current head coach Leslie Frazier is not a good fit as head coach--at least not of a team that does not have all of the pieces in place.
There were numerous signs of coaching short-comings evidenced in yesterday's games. Chief among those was the Vikings' utter inability to make any sort of adjustment whatsoever to stop Drew Brees. At this point, nothing should be considered too extreme or too far-fetched. That certainly includes throwing out a Tampa-2 defense that depends on having very good corners, smart safeties, and a terrific middle linebacker--none of which the Vikings have.
Yesterday, the Vikings were gashed for nearly 600 yards of offense and five touchdown passes. The pass defense was so woeful that, despite carrying two legitimate goal-line backs, the Saints twice went to the pass on first and goal from the one yard line. Both times, of course, the Saints converted. Only when the outcome was secured five times over did the Saints show an sympathy, handing off to Pierre Thomas in a similar situation, leading, of course, to a similar result.
The Vikings' quip this season, too often aided by those covering the team, is that the team simply is bereft of talent in the secondary. While it certainly is true that the Vikings, owing to poor drafting and poor assessment of talent, are short on good corners and safeties, that should not be read to mean that good coaching cannot at least compensate somewhat for these shortcomings. What the Vikings are currently doing is nothing short of simply acquiescing to the passing game--no fight, no adjustments, no consideration of alternatives, nothing. It is and embarrassment traceable both to execution and design.
Switching out of the Tampa 2 requires switching to something. A read-and-react secondary philosophy is one option. It is difficult to imagine that this could produce a worse result than the present disastrous scheme--a scheme that has been highly unsuccessful during Leslie Frazier's entire run in Minnesota. It is also a scheme that is now favored in the NFL, particularly for teams that do not have an elite middle linebacker.
Switching to the 3-4 defense also would help this team, allowing the Vikings to move Kevin Williams to the middle and drop another player into coverage in the base package. That would require identifying another linebacker. The Vikings have that player, but on offense--fullback Ryan D'Imperio, a former linebacker with decent speed. That would give the Vikings four average linebackers. While reducing the pressure up front, that loss presumably would be marginal given the Vikings' penchant for all or nothing front line play.
Offensively, the Vikings need to join the rest of the league in employing the forward pass. Christian Ponder had his second straight awful game and, if overseen by this current staff, is likely to see many more such days. Ponder's check-down appears to be the primary play and is almost always a short dump off play in the flat. Understanding this, opponents routinely jump the flat and, too often, blow up the play.
The Vikings seem finally to have acknowledged that Ponder will have to learn the pocket game by being allowed to roll out. Unfortunately, the coaching staff has deemed it necessary to force Ponder to roll left. In one particularly embarrassing moment yesterday, the Vikings called a left-side rollout on third and two for the right-handed Ponder. Not surprisingly, the Vikings did not convert. If the game is about putting players in a position to succeed, that play epitomizes the Vikings' coaching decisions this season, more often seeming experimental--without purpose--than thoughtfully designed.
Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave also appear convinced that Joe Webb is a great athlete, yet they continue to jerk him around, putting both Webb and the offense in the worst possible situation when Webb is in the game. That, of course, was again true yesterday with the Vikings' continued and unwarranted use of the Blazer package.
The Vikings' use of the Blazer has no apparent upside but carries with it significant downside--both usually indications of a scheme that ought to be discarded but which the Vikings' coaches continue to trot out on the field, particularly when Ponder is struggling.
When the Blazer package is in the game, opponents know that either Webb is going to run the ball or try to get it to Percy Harvin. Of course, Ponder could accomplish either, making the Blazer unnecessary. Thus, bringing in Webb to run the Blazer merely puts the defense on notice that one of two plays is coming and offers no upside. If the Vikings want to get Webb in the game, the purported upside of the Blazer, they ought to find him a position that does not exist only in the Blazer package.
In addition to the clear and continuous coaching gaffes pertaining to defensive scheme, offensive philosophy, and use of personnel, there is the exasperating issue of non-use of personnel. At the beginning of the season, Musgrave touted his two-headed tight end attack, employing Visanthe Shianco and second-round pick Kyle Rudolph. Not only do the Vikings not have a two-headed tight-end attack, they do not have even a one-headed attack. The reason for this is anyone's guess. Shianco and Rudolph have proven their abilities as receivers--a seeming asset for a team with offensive line challenges. That would suggest greater use of the tight ends. This year, the Vikings are on pace to pass to the tight end less than any time since prior to Shianco's arrival. That flies in the face not only of the Vikings' needs but also of the direction in which the better managed teams in the league have moved. Whether Musgrave's or Frazier's decision, the decision ultimately ought to be Frazier's.
Frazier's assets as a head coach appear to be his pleasant personality and the occasional ability to jettison a cancer. Those can be useful traits in the NFL. But significantly more important is an ability to manipulate the talent on the team and oversee the minions. Frazier appears to do neither of these things remotely well. Combined with what is likely to be the Vikings' worst season ever in virtually every respect and there is little reason to believe that merely bringing in better talent will do more than make the Vikings an average team in the league under Frazier, as the Vikings have both personnel and scheme issues in all phases of the game.
Firing Frazier is not the proper first step toward rectifying the Vikings' current situation, however. That proper first step is for the owner to recognize that he does not have a firm enough understanding of the NFL to make personnel decisions and to hire someone who does. Rick Spielman has made some good moves--bringing in Jared Allen and drafting Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson--but those were obvious good moves. Spielman has been far less successful when the move has been less obvious, with the only significant addition in this category being Toby Gerhart, who has emerged from the garbage heap to become a decent power back.
Should the Vikings part with Frazier--a near necessity after yesterday's demolition--the sense is that they would lean toward hiring a coach in whom they also would invest GM responsibilities. That's almost always a mistake in the NFL. For an ownership group seemingly forever intent on learning the hard way and fighting precedent, that is, therefore, also almost a certainty.
Up Next: In a Season of No Rhyme or Reason, What Should Vikings' Fans Expect?