Matthew Coller is a published author and football writer who covers the Vikings. He also writes a weekly Vikings column for Bring Me The News, in addition to hosting a livestream on the Bring Me The News YouTube and Facebook pages every Tuesday. You can find more of his work at Purple Insider.
You know that first cold breeze that you feel in early October that lets you know that winter is on its way? Sure, there will be warm days and you can get out on the golf course a couple more times but you can feel that the end is near? That’s sort of how it works with changes being made in the NFL.
Only Minnesota Vikings fans haven’t felt the icy winds of change in a long time. They have been the snowbirds of the NFL. Every time it feels like the Vikings could fully come apart and make a seismic shift to the organization, they find a way to get things back on track. Minnesotans go to Florida, the Vikings play Detroit.
In 2019, the season was saved by a run of abominable teams on the schedule that followed a loss to Chase Daniel on the road. In 2020, Carolina, Jacksonville and Detroit were their safe haven after a 1-5 start. And the Vikings had plenty of plausible deniability last year with fan-less games and a roster that lost a number of ex-stars to age and expense.
This time there may be no plane to the Motor City to take them to safer grounds. After a loss to never-played-before backup quarterback Cooper Rush, the Vikings stare at three games against three of the NFL’s best squads: Baltimore, Los Angeles and Green Bay.
The cold winds aren’t just gusting from time to time, they are blowing at full speed.
On Wednesday, Mike Zimmer addressed the media with a piece of paper in his pocket that had a bunch of cherry-picked stats on them.
“We’re eighth in turnover differential, 12th in points per game, number one in sacks, fifth in third downs, 13th in first down per game,” he said. “And so there’s some good things.’’
Unfortunately for him, numbers like ranking 12th in points allowed, eighth in this thing, seventh in that and 13th in whatever else made a very different point more clear than the one Zimmer was trying to make. Ranking in the upper-middle but nowhere near the top is what has come to define this era. Do they put, “ranked 12th in some stuff” on the Lombardi Trophy?
It’s hard to say exactly what his point was but everyone spent the day on social media trying to navigate his numbery labyrinth to figure out its intention.
Maybe it’s a counterpoint to people who have been throwing around stats like: The team is 28-27-1 since the Minneapolis Miracle or that they haven’t been above .500 since January 2020 or that the six longer tenured coaches than Zimmer all have Super Bowl rings.
Or maybe it’s a plea for more time -- a way of saying, “Look, the numbers say it will get better!”
Of course, any honest analysis of the Vikings’ overall statistics puts them in the same place they have been for a very long time: Fighting for the final playoff seed. Eighteenth in points for, 12th in points against. One game under .500. Yawn.
The only interesting thing about the rambling of stats is that this is how it goes when things fall apart. Vikings fans haven’t seen it in a long while but everyone has seen enough major changes in local sports organizations to know that chill when you feel it.
When the team is no longer defiant. When the tweaks to the gameplan aren’t changing the results. When the national media sharks start circling and making your team a talking point with “HOT SEAT” written across the bottom of the screen and when the head coach doesn’t have any other route to defend his team beyond telling everyone that winter won’t come this year. These are the signs.
When coaches start having their teams run gassers for mistakes or when they scream out, “PLAYOFFS?” that usually means they feel the wind blowing and they know exactly what’s on the calendar if things don’t change soon.
The question the Vikings face isn’t whether they can rank 12th in points against or whether they can make the “In The Hunt” graphic on TV again this year, it’s whether they can keep doing this same up-and-down dance year after year. It wasn’t shocking that they lost to Cooper Rush because they’ve done that before. It’s not surprising when the clock was mismanaged or when the team seemed overly tight in a big game because ….been there and been there.
The seasons in which Cooper Rush-style L’s have been taken on numerous occasions and primetime games have ended in disappointment and they’ve sat in 10th place in November are piling up. In the past though, there has always been something that appeared on the horizon that could be fixed and then they’d get back on track. If they could only get better guard play! It’s the offensive coordinator’s fault! But the Vikings have tried fixing the line and changing the offense. Heck, they are on their third or fourth week in a row of saying, “We have to look at some things” or that it’s time to self-scout.
Even Viking legend Cris Carter bemoaned on Twitter: “We’re so average and content: it sucks.”
Reaching 3-4 doesn’t mean by any stretch that the season is completely lost or that they can’t reach the postseason. Heck, they are capable of beating Baltimore, Los Angeles and Green Bay. But falling to Cooper Rush’s Cowboys brought into question whether the DNA can be changed without winter coming.
They can’t convince anyone that it can be different with a bunch of jumbled stats. They have to prove it by beating good teams, something they couldn’t do last week with a backup quarterback in, much less Lamar Jackson or Justin Herbert.