The Vikings’ Defense Is Going To Get the Blame. But Should It?

Photo Credit: Kyle Terada (USA TODAY Sports)

I get it. You want to blame the defense. The Minnesota Vikings again gave up 30-plus points in their 34-26 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. A week after beating the Green Bay Packers 34-31 in a nail-biter and falling to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 9, 34-31

You want to blame the defense because that’s Mike Zimmer’s bailiwick, and you’re starting to waver on the curmudgeonly ball coach again. The Vikings are 5-6, after all. Destined for another season in .500 purgatory. You’re sick of it.

It doesn’t matter that they’ve led by seven points in every game they’ve played; these are the same ol’ Vikes. They gave up a touchdown before halftime again. There was the missed extra point. Kirk Cousins throws a dart to a linebacker and lines up under guard in a crucial situation. We’ve seen this movie before, only now they’re giving up over 200 yards rushing.

But hold on a sec. Take a breath and think about this for a second. Greg Joseph’s missed PAT has nothing to do with the defense, right? And when Zimmer gave Cousins the green light to air it out, he probably didn’t okay tossing it eight yards to an opposing defender. Trust me, they didn’t have Cousins taking snaps from a player without the ball in practice. Yes, that’s the same Vikings weirdness we see every year, but that’s not Zimmer’s weirdness.

Let’s talk about the defense for a second. Danielle Hunter and Michael Pierce are injured. Dalvin Tomlinson is unvaccinated and tested positive for COVID. Everson Griffen is dealing with a mental health issue. Given that Griffen had established himself as a starter, that means the entire defensive line was out. Anthony Barr went down with an injury in the game, meaning they’re without their leader, the guy with the green dot on his helmet. This unit is banged up.

What about the secondary? Well, Patrick Peterson has been good, but he’s not prime Xavier Rhodes. PFF rated Bashaud Breeland as the 103rd-best corner at one point in the season, and the Vikings let Mackensie Alexander sign with the Cincinnati Bengals before returning this season. Sure, Eric Kendricks and Harrison Smith are still great, but this isn’t the 2017 defense. The offense is going to have to carry the Vikings this year. Fortunately, it should be capable of doing so.

So let’s parse through the offensive performance today.

I gotta say, Adam Thielen looked pretty good. Five receptions for 62 yards and two touchdowns? Contorting his body to catch a Cousins pass for the second one? Pretty, pretty good. Justin Jefferson finished with four catches for 83 yards. It’s a shame he never found the end zone, mainly because Deebo Samuel pantomimed Jefferson’s Griddy on his first score. But still, Cousins targeted Jefferson nine times and Thielen seven. The days of checking down to C.J. Ham appear to be over. Let’s pray that’s the case.

The offense was not without fault, though. It was the definition of inconsistent. Minnesota’s first five possessions went punt, touchdown, punt, touchdown, punt. Consistently inconsistent if you want to be generous. But I know you don’t — this loss stings.

Things became even more turbulent in the second half.

The Niners come out of the tunnel, promptly march down the field to go up 21-14, and Kirk — MVP Kirk, Conservakirk, weight-of-the-franchise-on-his-shoulders Kirk — loses track of Azeez Al-shaair in coverage.

The Vikings then proceeded to score two touchdowns that were only worth six points each. Joseph pushes the extra point on the first one, and then they fail to convert a two-point conversion chasing the missed point on the second one. Kene Nwangu housed the kickoff to score Minnesota’s fourth and final touchdown, meaning the offense only accounted for 20 points.

The last three drives could not have gone worse.

Dalvin Cook fumbled the ball and injured his never-been-injured-before shoulder on the play. The electric back, who accounted for 64 yards through the air and 39 on the ground, was gone in an instant. Alexander Mattison is a good backup, but he’s not a one-for-one replacement. Nwangu got a carry, but he’s too green to step in for Cook. That loss hurts.

The final two drives ended with a turnover on downs. Minnesota’s penultimate drive ended on San Francisco’s three-yard line. Twelve plays, 72 yards, and nothing to show for it. The final drive ended on a two-minute drill where the Vikings only had one timeout. One was called because Cousins lined up under guard. The other was on a challenge where it looked like Thielen caught the ball. One was Minnesota’s fault; the other wasn’t.

In the end, it didn’t matter. The Vikings offense only scored 20 points. They missed an extra point and failed to on a two-point conversion. They couldn’t score from three yards out, and the game ended on a failed two-minute drill. Ladies and gentlemen of the Bold North — you surly Skoldiers, you perplexed Purple People — this one’s on the offense.

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