by Dallas Jackson - 09/23/2005
At 0-2, things do not look good for the Minnesota Vikings in the early going. All of the pomp and circumstance surrounding the Randy Moss departure and hoopla regarding the team unity and rebuilt defense all have seemingly become moot points after just two weeks. Sing-alongs and happy faces do not replace the best wide receiver in football, no matter what they want you to believe. The Vikes have stumbled out of the gates with two embarrassing losses and now this once chic Super Bowl pick is scrambling for answers.
There are several reasons why the Vikings are struggling. Their slide may continue until they address some of these very obvious problems. The Vikings are not in sync on offense, they do not travel well and this new look defense is "new look" alright; it's worse than the one they fielded last year.
Randy Moss leaving is not the only reason why the Vikings offense is performing so poorly. No one seems to mention the loss of All-Pro center Matt Birk -- gone because of a torn labrum -- or the departure of Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan to the Dolphins. Both of these losses have contributed to the poor start. However, the loss of these three key cogs in the Vikings machine have left the once-potent offensive attack ranking behind Baltimore. Baltimore?? Yep. The Baltimore "23-yards-at-halftime-last-week" Ravens.
The loss of Moss did have a tremendous impact on the passing game, no doubt. This has left Minnesota with no true deep threat. After two games, Daunte Culpepper has zero TDs and eight INTs. Those numbers not very good for any QB in the league, let alone an MVP contender last year. Culpepper is also the owner of a 41.6 QB rating, ranking him lower than Joey Harrington, Tim Rattay and rookie Kyle Orton.
The longest reception for the Vikings this season is a 25-yarder from former Raven Travis Taylor. No one is afraid of Taylor, aging Marcus Robinson or last year's leading receiver Nate Burleson. The lack of a deep passing attack has allowed defenses to stack up against the run. With a shaky offensive line and a mess at running back Minnesota has managed only 110 yards on the ground in two games. That is less than each of rookie Cadillac Williams' first two games. They will need to somehow improve upon that, if only to give the defense time to rest.
For a team focused on rebuilding its defense, the unit has actually taken a back-slide. On paper, this team should be great. Adding big run-stuffer Pat Williams should have anchored the line. New linebackers Sam Cowart and Napoleon Harris should have settled the linebacking core. And defensive backs Fred Smoot and Darren Sharper should have bettered the team's strength in the secondary, teaming up with Antoine Winfield and Corey Chavous. All of these "should haves" have turned into "have nots" as the Vikes rank third to the bottom in total defense, ahead of only the 49ers and Browns - except both of those teams have a win. First round pick Erasmus James has yet to see the field. And while I know it is only two games, and I should give them time to "gel," I don't like seeing a team building around a defense that's allowing 156.5 YPG on the ground, nor do I like Smoot and Winfield getting run all over the field last week in Cincinnati.
The Vikings do not travel well. This should not be news to anyone. They were 3-5 SU (4-4 ATS) on the road last season, but ended that on a 0-3 ATS stretch. This year's schedule is not favorable to a soft Minnesota team. They already lost their first trip of the season in Cincinnati. That embarrassing performance did not inspire much confidence for upcoming trips to Atlanta and Carolina, nor late-season trips to the NY Giants and Baltimore. A 1-2 SU and ATS in divisional road games could be a preview of what's to come for this year's squad.
All of the hype may have died down for the Vikings and, if you play on them, hope that you get some good points. The Vikings were 5-8 ATS as favorites last year and are 0-1 so far in '05. For a team that was supposed to roll in the NFC Central, I have not seen any semblance of an identity. As they say, "buyers beware," and I would wait for a strong buy sign before investing in the Vikings.