Minnesota's Close Wins Are Covering Up Fundamental Issues

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings are happy to be 3-1 heading into their Week 5 matchup with the Chicago Bears. But make no mistake, they escaped London after playing poorly in a game they could have put away early. A win’s a win, and nobody cares if they come ugly. Still, the Vikings let the New Orleans Saints hang around, and they nearly lost to a team without Jameis Winston, Alvin Kamara, and Michael Thomas.

Are they resilient? Sure. Flawed? Absolutely.

“Once again, really back-to-back weeks, showing different types of resiliency,” said Kevin O’Connell. “There’s a lot we can do better: a lot more consistent play, capitalizing on some opportunities offensively, and continuing to grow and progress and play as good as we can on the defensive side.”

Kirk Cousins threw an interception that seemed to take the wind out of the offense’s sails. Greg Joseph converted five field goals because the Vikings couldn’t score in the red zone. Instead of capitalizing on New Orleans’ mistakes, the Vikings routinely settled for three. It was an improvement from the Philadelphia Eagles game, where Cousins threw three picks in the second half. But the Saints game was still disappointing.

Fortunately, they understand that.

“You don’t want to kick five field goals,” Cousins said, unsolicited. “We want to score touchdowns, and I think more success in the red zone would have enabled us to pull away a little bit, and that was a disappointment.

“Field position all game, I thought was really favorable. It says a lot about our special teams and defense and getting us the ball on a short field. So there is a lot to clean up still, similar to coming at it from the Lions game with a win. You feel great about the win, but you also feel like there’s a lot that you leave out there, and you gotta get better.”

The Vikings started the season by beating the Green Bay Packers 23-7. But they didn’t score in the second half of their 24-7 loss to the Philadephia Eagles, and the Detroit Lions led them for all but 45 seconds in Minnesota’s 28-24 win last week.

We’re starting to see the Vikings repeatedly make the same mistakes. O’Connell’s clock management was poor in the first half of the Saints game, just like it was against Detroit. They’re having trouble capitalizing on mistakes and scoring in the red zone. And a team full of talented players in a McVay offense sputtered in the middle of the game like it did in Philadelphia and for vast swaths of the Lions game.

“It’s kind of a reoccurring theme the last few weeks, just kind of hurting ourselves,” said Adam Thielen. “Kind of making some plays, having some penalties that are really costly to the drive and momentum.

“I felt like we were getting first downs, then something would happen that kind of inhibited us from moving the ball and scoring a touchdown. In this league, when you get down to the red zone, which we got down to the red zone quite a bit, you got to score touchdowns. You got to get seven points and take some pressure off our defense.”

There is some inherent value in winning ugly at this point of the season. The Vikings are 3-1 when they easily could be 1-3. Fortunately, they are entering a soft spot in their schedule.

  • They get Chicago next week, and the Bears look like the worst team in the NFC North.
  • Then they play the Miami Dolphins, who looked formidable early this year. But Tua Tagovailoa suffered a concussion on Thursday Night Football, and they won two unlikely games before that.
  • Following the bye, they face the Arizona Cardinals in Week 8. Their only win is an improbable comeback against the Las Vegas Raiders – a team that entered Week 4 with an 0-3 record.
  • Then they’ll face Carson Wentz and the annually hapless Washington Commanders a week later.

The Vikings played a demanding schedule to start the season. Only the Detroit game was played at noon; the other three have been primetime games. But they have a relatively easy schedule this season, especially if the Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots end up not being very good. However, Minnesota will lose to bad teams if they keep playing like they have so far.

They could have put the Saints away if they scored on their final two possessions of the first half. Instead, they failed to convert on third-and-one from the New Orleans 10-yard line. Then the defense strip-sacked Andy Dalton on the first play of the next Saints’ next possession. But the Vikings only gained two yards on four plays, failing to take advantage of the field position, and again settled for a field goal.

As a result, they entered the locker room up 16-7 when they could have been up 24-7. If that sounds familiar, that was the halftime score of the Eagles game. It’s a formidable lead, but it’s impossible to build – or overcome – for a team that’s unable to finish off drives.

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