EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — It’s been 541 minutes, 9 seconds … and 9/14ths of one incredibly lousy season since the Vikings last intercepted a pass.
“Ooohwee,” said cornerback Antoine Winfield, who has been sidelined by injuries for all but a handful of those minutes in one game.
Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, no team had gone nine consecutive games without an interception until the Vikings reached that point after Sunday’s 42-20 loss to the Saints.
“Man!” said Winfield, shaking his head on that one.
Wait, ’Toine. There’s more.
Since safety Jamarca Sanford picked off Cardinals backup quarterback Richard Bartel with 1:09 left in Week 5, the Vikings pass defense has given up 2,447 yards and 25 touchdowns on 73.6 percent passing (243-for-330).
“Wow,” said Winfield, mentally dropping to one knee with that verbal body blow.
And here comes the knockout number: 110.8.
That’s the NFL record for the highest passer rating ever allowed for a season. It was set by the 2008 Lions en route to the league’s only 0-16 season. It also happens to be the exact number for the combined passer rating against this year’s 2-12 Vikings.
“Well,” said Winfield, “it’s just been that kind of season. A season to forget, for sure.”
The staggering numbers help explain why it appears defensive coordinator Fred Pagac is a virtual lock to be replaced. It also explains why coach Leslie Frazier is open to anything from tweaking to overhauling his defensive personnel and schematics.
Frazier, however, remains steadfast in his commitment to a run-first offense in a pass-first league. And all indications are that will continue with offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave building a more conservative, ball-control attack around Adrian Peterson, the best running back in the league, if not a generation.
But as good as Peterson is, can it really work in today’s game?
If anyone should know the value of having to throw the ball a lot and very well to keep up and succeed in today’s game, it’s the Vikings.
They’ve faced five of the 11 top-ranked quarterbacks a combined seven times this season. They’re 0-7 and have been outscored 228-136. That’s an average spanking of 32.6-19.4.
The Vikings also have faced the top two ranked quarterbacks — MVP co-front-runners Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees — a combined three times. They’ve been outscored by an average score of 40-18 while Rodgers and Brees have completed 79 of 100 passes (79 percent) for 997 yards and 12 touchdowns with, of course, no interceptions.
Granted, the Vikings defense is a depleted disaster right now. But even if the Vikings had a respectable defense, doesn’t Frazier hesitate when it comes to building an offense around the running game when he looks across the field and sees highly-successful, pass-first offenses in places such as Green Bay (13-1), New Orleans (11-3) and Detroit (9-5)?
“I really don’t,” Frazier said. “I know we have the best running back in the game, and we’ll get to the point where we’ll be a team that can compete with New Orleans and Green Bay better than we have this season.
“Very, very happy that we have Adrian Peterson as our running back and that we can build our offense around Adrian. It’s going to be good for our team, good for our defense, offense, our special teams, the fact that we have Adrian as our guy, and it should help our quarterback.”
There’s no disputing that Peterson is good for any team and any quarterback. And, yes, a run-first team that plays great defense can be successful, as evidenced by how the 49ers (11-3) and Texans (10-4) have clinched their divisions this season.
But even if the Vikings stay committed to a run-first, stop-the-run mentality, they mustn’t let it consume them to the point where they ignore their receiving corps again. This is still a passing league. And in this aerial circus, the Vikings are stuck sweeping up after the elephants in part because they rank 28th in passing and, of course, 30th in defending the pass.