The Minnesota Vikings had their playoff hopes dashed on Christmas Day when they lost a shootout to the New Orleans Saints, 52-33. They have one game left in this disappointing season and the loss in New Orleans ensured they will continue their streak of having a losing record in even years, dating back to Mike Zimmer’s first season in 2014. While the offense stepped up at times, this year’s defense was historically bad, and key players look disinterested.
Here are a few things we learned about the team as they approach the end of this miserable year:
This defense is historically bad
The Vikings’ defense has become historically bad. They established new low marks for the franchise by allowing the most points scored by any Vikings team since 1963. They also set a new record for yards allowed in a game with 583. The Saints never even punted in this game and if it wasn’t for a few interceptions, New Orleans could have potentially scored 70 points.
After the game Mike Zimmer said this defense was “the worst one I’ve ever had,” and he’s right. This unit has just taken way too many injuries and is loaded with players who should be on the practice squad and not on an active roster — let alone on the field playing meaningful snaps. The loss of Eric Kendricks was the final straw, and truly broke the back of this defense as they’ve really struggled since he went down with that freak calf injury.
It also doesn’t help that veteran players like Shamar Stephen, Harrison Smith, and Anthony Harris aren’t playing well. Stephen has been poor all season long, and Smith and Harris just aren’t making the plays they usually do. Perhaps they are trying to overcompensate for some of the talent missing, but whatever the reason, they aren’t making this struggling unit any better through their veteran leadership.
The good news for the Vikings is that there is only one game left, and they have a chance to play better against the Detroit Lions and not end the season with this horrible and embarrassing performance that would leave a foul taste in their mouths all offseason long.
The offense can put up points against anyone
As bad as the Vikings defense is, the offense is on the other side of the spectrum. They have played some very good defenses recently and have shown they can put up points against anyone. They were able to move the ball at will against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ stout defense, but couldn’t cash in and Dan Bailey melted down in that one, of course. They also put up 27 points and 429 yards of offense against the Chicago Bears’ resurgent defense. The Saints were the third-ranked defense in the NFL heading into this game, giving up just 22 points per contest, and the Vikings had no problems moving the ball.
Despite subpar offensive line play, especially in pass protection, they were able to hang with New Orleans’ potent offense for the majority of the game. They scored 33 points and had 381 yards of total offense.
Kirk Cousins has been using his weapons and they are making plays for him.
- Adam Thielen is still giving it his all on every play and will throw his body in harm’s way to attempt to make any catch.
- Justin Jefferson is a dynamic option in the passing game and has developed into a sharp route runner who is dangerous with the ball in his hands.
- Irv Smith Jr. has also stepped up since coming back from injury and has become Cousins’ new favorite target in the red zone.
- Dalvin Cook is one of the best backs in the league, and it doesn’t seem to matter how good a defense is against the run, if the team keeps feeding him, he’ll get his yards.
Cousins has also been great recently. He is under constant duress but is able to find his targets and has relied on his legs this season to create extra time in the pocket. The Vikings’ offense is humming, and it’s a real shame the defense has become so bad because, with even an average Zimmer defense, the 2020 Vikings could have been something special.
Harris looks disinterested
One thing we learned that was as glaring as Rudolph’s red nose is that Anthony Harris has checked out. He played with about half effort and just didn’t try on many of the Saints’ most explosive plays. One example was on Alvin Kamara‘s first touchdown run: Harris could have come up and hit him just after he broke through the first wave of defenders. Instead, he took a poor angle and then half-heartedly dove at his ankles.
That play summed up Harris’ day. He looked disinterested the majority of the game. He also gave poor effort in coverage and really wasn’t interested in tackling Latavius Murray either. It was a little bizarre seeing this from Harris because while it is unlikely he re-signs with the Vikings, he should be trying to put his best effort forth as part of an audition for other teams who may want to sign him in the offseason. Harris’ poor play and lack of effort not only could’ve cost him his future with the Purple, but it may have lost him some money when free agency kicks off in March.