The Vikings talked big last week about ending the Packers' run at an undefeated season. Instead, they produced their most lethargic performance of the year. Defensive end Jared Allen called it "disgusting" and fellow defensive end Brian Robison felt compelled to say via Twitter: "We have not quit." When a team lays that kind of egg on national television, public discussion naturally turns to the effectiveness of the head coach. I'm not ready to go there yet with Leslie Frazier. He took over a complicated situation and is trying to navigate a roster transition while still prodding the remaining veterans. As an organization, the Vikings are approaching their situation as a remodel rather than a rebuild. They might have underestimated the work ahead of them.
There is a line of thought in the NFL that you don't play rookies and/or backups just to play them, or in the blind hope that they will provide an upgrade over the status quo. But the Vikings have enough low-functioning players to justify it at several positions. I see no reason why rookie defensive tackle Christian Ballard shouldn't continue to start ahead of Remi Ayodele. It's worth seeing whether rookie safety Mistral Raymond is any better than Tyrell Johnson, Jamarca Sanford or Husain Abdullah. In basketball terms, at 2-7 and after displaying the kind of lethargy we saw Monday night, the Vikings need to empty the bench. If nothing else, it's a method for holding players accountable. No one has tenure in the NFL.
Amid it all, we should note that Allen continues to bring it hard on every play this season. He was in the face of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers all game, finishing with seven tackles, including three for a loss, and one sack to bring his season total to 13.5. I would imagine his NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidacy will be negatively impacted by the Vikings' poor team performance, but that's too bad. One of this generation's best pass-rushers is having the best season of his career. Allen's production and energy level have never been higher. He's setting an example that, quite frankly, isn't being noticed by enough of his teammates.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
What does the future hold for cornerback Antoine Winfield, whose season is probably over after fracturing his collarbone Monday night? He will be 35 when the 2012 season begins and has been limited by injuries in two of the past three seasons. The Vikings have uncertainty across the board at cornerback, from fellow starter Cedric Griffin to second-year player Chris Cook, who is inactive because of legal issues. And it's worth nothing that the Vikings negotiated a de-escalator into Winfield's most recent contract, one that would pay him $7 million if he is a starter but about $3 million if he is a nickelback. Winfield is part of an old guard of Vikings defenders who eventually will be phased out. Will it be this offseason?