The Skol Debate: Is It Time to Embrace Doom and Gloom in Vikings Land?
Doom and gloom in Vikings land. It’s like peanut butter and jelly, peaches and cream, or wine and cheese: the two just go together.
The Vikings’ recent shellacking at the hands of the Lions has brought a fresh infusion of woe. At various points, it’d be easy to forget that this team has piled up 10 wins and is one lonely win away from securing the North.
The defense, of course, inspires a lot of concern, but the issues don’t stop there. Thankfully, PurplePTSD will be offering a hearty debate to breakdown just how bad things are, asking, “Is It Time to Embrace Doom and Gloom in Vikings Land?” Take a look at where the debaters stand:
The Purple Corner: Josh Frey (don’t overreact, things are fine)
The Gold Corner: K. Joudry (abandon hope, start watching hockey)
With that out of the way, let’s get to the debate.
Doom and Gloom in Vikings Land
KJ: The sky is falling, Josh, and I’m here to tell you why.
Since the bye, things have been going worse and worse for the Vikings’ defense. More recently, we’ve seen them accomplish something they had no interest in accomplishing: allowing a franchise-worst 5 games of 400 or more yards in a row (as the game broadcast showed during the Lions game). Indeed, take a look at the numbers:
- Week 10: 486
- Week 11: 458
- Week 12: 409
- Week 13: 486
- Week 14: 464
The wild thing is that the team hasn’t exactly played the most formidable offenses in that stretch. Sure, Josh Allen is sensational and Dallas has an excellent collection of talent. Nevertheless, Minnesota has also seen Mac Jones, Mike White, and Jared Goff. Regardless of the opponent, the result has been the same: giving up a pile of yards and (at times) a pile of points.
The team is 3-2 over its past 5 games.
Making matters even worse is that the special teams still give reason for concern. Greg Joseph’s FG percentage stands at 79.2 and his XP percentage is at 85.3 (shout out to PFR). The Lions converted on a fake punt in Week 13 and Minnesota’s punt returns remain blah. Touchdown aside, Kene Nwangwu is having a modest season.
Kirk Cousins, God bless him, has been playing well, and Justin Jefferson is the best receiver currently on the planet (can’t speak about the other planets, but I imagine they’d have a tough time producing a better receiver). Nevertheless, the offense still has shortcomings, as evidenced by Dalvin Cook’s 15 carries for 23 yards last Sunday.
I say all that to illustrate the broader point: things aren’t great right now for the Vikings. In fact, I’m making the case that doom and gloom in Vikings Land might be warranted.
You disagree with this perspective. Give me the reason(s) why.
JF: I suppose it would depend on what the “doom and gloom” revolves around. If it is because the Vikings probably won’t win a Super Bowl this upcoming February, and that was the expectation, then sure, that sense of doom is probably warranted.
I’ve been on record, on this very debate, saying that the Vikings could be Super Bowl contenders this year given the winning stretch they had capped off by the victory over the Buffalo Bills.
After these five games where the defense has continuously struggled, I’m backing off that soap box. However, I would turn everyone’s attention to the bigger picture outside of these most recent five games (where, even with bad defense, the Vikings have had a winning record) and argue that this season cannot be a disappointment based on preseason expectations.
When the 2022 NFL season was about to get underway, everyone and their neighbor put out predictions for how the season would go. Many didn’t believe the Vikings would improve from 2021 by more than a game or two.
The majority of folks had Minnesota finishing somewhere between 8-11 wins and maybe sneaking into the playoffs as a Wild Card team. Every once in a while, there would be the outlandish folks who thought that first-year head coach Kevin O’Connell could get this team to 12 wins.
Well, the Vikings now sit at 10-3, even after a dreadful loss to the Detroit Lions. Any preseason expectations for this 2022 iteration of the Vikings have been met or surpassed. One more victory ensures that they will win the NFC North and host one, likely two, playoff games.
If the ultimate goal is to win a Super Bowl, I believe the Vikings are much closer to doing that than they were one year ago. Because of that, it’s going to be hard for me to count 2022 as a failure or that the sky is falling unless an utter collapse occurs in the final weeks of the season.
Do you foresee that utter collapse coming?
KJ: A large part of me fears that the 2022 Vikings are the 2021 Cardinals.
Last year, Arizona looked like one of the league’s very best teams. Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray seemed to have things figured out. They began the year 7-0 and entered their Week 12 bye at 9-2. By the end of the season, though, they had sunk down to 11-6. The first round of the playoffs brought forth a disappointing loss to the Rams. Arizona could only put together a measly 11 points.
What I’m trying to say is that it’s not altogether uncommon to see a surprise team surge to the top of the NFL rankings but then trail off as the season nears its conclusion. That trailing foreshadows the playoff outcome: an early exit at the hands of a superior opponent. Right now, the Cardinals are 4-9, proving that their late-season struggles were a reflection of where this team is at.
Thankfully, Arizona’s struggles don’t lock in Minnesota’s; in fact, there is no causal connection between what happened last year with the Cards and what is currently going on with the Vikes.
Much of the concern has to do with expectations, a tricky beast. As you mention, there weren’t too many people who thought the purple and gold could seal the North by Week 15. By that standard, the Vikings are doing exceptionally well. The issue, of course, is that expectations are a ferocious monster, a beast that refuses to be tamed. We thought we knew who we’d be wrestling with but so many wins necessarily changes our understanding of this beast.
Sure, the team has done better than the vast majority thought, and yet we’ve seen what the team is capable of doing. Going into Buffalo and stealing away a win after being down 17 points in the second half radically altered how many people view things. I’m certainly among that bunch.
As a result, I’ll remain on the doom and gloom train. Yes, 10-3 is an elite record. Yes, the team is very likely heading toward an NFC North crown. Yes, the great fans of Minnesota are going to experience playoff football at U.S. Bank Stadium. Nevertheless, we think we can see where this train is heading. Rather than cruising past a few stops on the way to Lombardi Station, we appear to be destined for Heartbreak Valley.
Now that I’ve thoroughly embraced metaphor to help explain my purple pessimism, I’ll kick it back. What evidence do we have for believing Minnesota can not just get into the postseason but find some success once there? By success, I mean winning the opening round and – at the very least – putting together a truly competitive effort in the Divisional Round.
JF: If we look at the likely suspects that the Vikings run into during the Wild Card round —i.e. New York, Seattle, Washington—- I still think there is a very good chance that they come away victorious in any of those games.
Both New York and Seattle have floundered far worse in recent weeks than even the Vikings, going a combined 2-6-1 since Week 10. The Vikings have already gotten the better of the Commanders this year too, beating them on the road.
Because of the lack of success from New York and Seattle, I’d expect one of them to be the seven seed. If we are going to have doom and gloom over the Vikings defense, we have to keep that same energy for them, too.
Seattle has allowed 28.4 points per game on the road this season, second-worst in the NFL. New York hasn’t won a game since Week 10, and they’ve also allowed 400+ yards in each of their last three games. Excluding the debacle against the Cowboys, the Minnesota Vikings have scored 29 PPG in home games this year. I have faith they’d be able to put up points against either of these teams.
That brings us to the divisional round, most likely against the Brock Purdy 49ers. Obviously, this is going to be a difficult game, but like last week, I would once again harp on the fact that this 49ers team is different at home compared to on the road. A few big differences can be seen, particularly defensively.
Here’s a few of their metrics in home games compared to where they rank in the NFL:
- 3rd Down Conversion % allowed: 33.3% (8th)
- Penalties per game: 4.7 (5th)
- Turnover margin per game: +1.6 (1st)
And here’s how they perform on the road by these same metrics:
- 3rd Down Conversion % allowed: 42.86% (22nd)
- Penalties per game: 6.5 (T-19th)
- Turnover margin per game: -0.8 (29th)
The 49ers are much less efficient in road games, making it possible for them to accrue losses to each of the Bears, Broncos, and Falcons. Meanwhile, the Vikings rank among the top 10 in PPG, yards per game, 3rd down conversion percentage, penalties, and turnover margin as a home team.
The most important thing here could be turnovers. In games where the Vikings have forced turnovers, they are 9-1. When they don’t, they are 1-2. Meanwhile, in games where the 49ers commit a turnover, they are 4-4. When they don’t, they are 5-0.
It may be oversimplifying a complex game, but it seems like if the Vikings can win the turnover battle against the 49ers, this season’s results suggest they can win a game, especially if it takes place inside U.S. Bank Stadium. This is why I still believe holding onto that No. 2 seed is crucial. If this game were to take place in San Francisco, things would get much more difficult.
KJ: Sure, that’s making some sense. Turnovers, as you suggest, are the not-so-secret ingredient to the Donatell defense. In the scenario you explore, a home game against SF could plausibly lead to a MN victory and thus an appearance in the NFC Championship Game (nothing has ever gone poorly in an NFC Championship game, right?).
To end things, let’s maybe shrink things down to the here and now. The Colts come to U.S. Bank Stadium tomorrow. I think we’d both agree that this is a game where Minnesota really should win; a loss against Jeff Saturday’s squad would be a major disappointment, especially if the defense struggles.
With that said, I’ll kick it over with a simple concluding question: if the defense struggles once again and Minnesota adds their 4th loss onto the pile, would you give the doom-and-gloom thinking some more credence?
JF: If the Vikings for whatever reason manage to lose to this version of the Colts team, I am all for doom and gloom in Vikings Land. The Colts have no business going into any team’s house and beating them, let alone the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
This is especially the case considering that the Vikings defense is built around thriving on turnovers. If there is any QB the Vikings should be able to force turnovers against, it’s Matt Ryan. The Colts QB leads the league in both INTs (13) and fumbles (14) this season despite playing only 11 games.
Hopefully, about 24 hours from now we are not discussing the aftermath of a 10-4 team who is hanging on by a thread with the playoffs right around the corner.
NFC North Playoff Tilt Lurks into View
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