Vikings reeling but Frazier 'certain of improvement
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings are a mess.
Coach Leslie Frazier said he’s certain this can be cleaned up. Progress will have to happen fast, though, or else these early season issues will linger.
“We’ve got to look at what we’re doing and try to figure out ways to try to improve our team, and I think we can get that done,” Frazier said Monday. “I’m certain of it, that we can get that done, and we’ve got the right people on our team for it to happen.”
The Vikings (1-4) have allowed 31.6 points per game, third most in the league.
The offense has plenty of problems, too, as evidenced by the two interceptions and four punts on nine possessions in a 35-10 loss Sunday to Carolina.
The Vikings face the winless New York Giants (0-6) next Monday night.
But if they don’t figure out how to fix the soft coverage on third downs, increase their pass rush and put together the kind of sustained, time-consuming touchdown drives the Panthers enjoyed, then they won’t be able to beat anybody.
“I’m a positive human being, but I also think there’s something to a little negative reinforcement. I hope this sticks in everyone’s gut a little bit, in their craw,” defensive end Jared Allen said after the game.
He added: “I think it might be the worst home loss I’ve ever experienced in my career.”
The starting quarterback is in question, after Matt Cassel was picked off twice Sunday. Josh Freeman could take over, and Frazier said he’d like to make up his mind in the next few days. He said he’s not leaning one way or another.
“I want to sit down and discuss some things with those guys and make a decision as I get a feel for where they are,” Frazier said.
The coach acknowledged the challenge for a quarterback in joining a team with a season in progress and having to absorb the playbook so quickly.
But he also called Freeman “a bright young man” and gave no indication that he felt Freeman wasn’t ready. He’s only been with the team for one week, having been cut by Tampa Bay.
Cassel said he didn’t know if he’d start again.
“I hope that I am,” he said. “I think that this team is going to turn things around, and I would love to be the starter. ... But at the same time, the coach makes the decisions. So we’ll see.”
Tight end Kyle Rudolph wondered why this was an issue. Cassel is 48 for 69 for 489 yards and a 69.6 completion rate, three touchdowns and the two turnovers in two games since replacing Christian Ponder.
“I don’t see why. I think Josh needs some time to get comfortable here, learn the offense,” Rudolph said.
In three years under Frazier, the Vikings have lost their first game after their bye weeks each time, by a combined 108-27 score.
“It’s not a lost season. We’ve just got to do some things a little better than what we’re doing, and if we do things will turn around for us,” Frazier said.
The secondary has struggled all season, a young group going through all kinds of growing pains without their leader Antoine Winfield.
Frazier said struggling cornerback Josh Robinson will stay in the starting lineup, despite being at least partially responsible for two of Carolina’s touchdown passes.
While cornerback Chris Cook and safety Jamarca Sanford returned Sunday, the literal pains continued.
Safety Harrison Smith suffered a turf toe injury on his left foot that required an MRI. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes sprained his right ankle, but he shrugged that off in the locker room Monday.
“Nothing that can hold me back,” he said.
The Vikings also lost starting linebacker Desmond Bishop to a season-ending anterior cruciate ligament tear in his right knee, another setback in a series of them in 2013 for this playoff team from the year before.
Frazier’s job status has grown tenuous with this bad start. The same goes for offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and defensive coordinator Alan Williams. But Frazier voiced his support for them Monday.
“They’re working as hard as they can to put our players in the best position to succeed,” Frazier said. “And our players, when they’re put in those positions, they’ve got to execute their assignments when that happens.”