Vikings' postseason hopes could be undone by offensive confusion

MINNEAPOLIS -- The schedule affords the Minnesota Vikings a chance to move on from Sunday's loss to the Seattle Seahawks -- a 38-7 drubbing that matched the third-worst home loss in team history -- relatively quickly. The Vikings head west on Wednesday afternoon for a pivotal Thursday night game with the Arizona Cardinals, so there's not much time to dwell on what happened on Sunday.

The loss, and the tight turnaround, should stamp out any trace of overconfidence that coach Mike Zimmer and older players like Chad Greenway seemed to detect last week.

The linebacker alluded to some instances in practice that were uncharacteristic of a typically focused Vikings team. And after the game, Zimmer said, "We're not quite as good as what we think we are."

The Vikings also don't have to wallow in the defeat; they were without four starters on defense, and they were right to shake their heads about a bizarre personal foul that extended the Seahawks' second touchdown drive when Brian Robison grabbed Russell Wilson's legs after the whistle had blown at the end of a play that both men clearly thought was still going.

But it's important not to miss what happened here. Even if the Vikings had been healthy and up to the task on defense Sunday, and even if they hadn't had some dubious calls go against them, they would still have to sort out an offense that wasn't good enough to stand up to the Legion of Boom after Adrian Peterson was controlled early. This offense has struggled all year to stand up for itself when Peterson is stopped.

The running back had 18 yards on eight carries -- the fewest in his career during a game in which he hasn't been hurt -- and was fuming on the sidelines in the first half, when the Vikings handed him the ball a season-low five times. Peterson met with Zimmer to discuss concerns with the team's offensive strategy after he got just 13 carries against the Green Bay Packers. He didn't sound happy with the number of carries he received on Sunday, either, saying the Vikings were outcoached "in so many different ways" and that the team got away from its identity on offense.

He wasn't the only player to hit on that theme.

"It seems like all the losses this year, it's been that way. Every time we end up being one-dimensional on offense, it really makes it hard on [offensive coordinator] Norv [Turner] to call a play," said guard Brandon Fusco. "You want to be able to run the ball with the best running back in the NFL, wear defenses out, and we just didn't do that."

The Vikings, in many ways, are a better version of what they were in 2012: They are in their comfort zone when they build an early lead, can base their offense on Peterson and allow their defense to shut opponents down. But much like that team, the Vikings don't seem to be built to come from behind. What's more, they seem to be having an identity crisis about what they should do in those situations.

Should they continue to give Peterson the ball, knowing their best big-play threat requires a time-consuming investment that allows him to wear defenses down? Or should they turn to Teddy Bridgewater, asking him to ignite the offense while defenses are going to come after him?

Pass protection has been a problem all season and even the answer there remains elusive. The Vikings have toyed with more max-protection sets, they've dialed up some quick-hitting passes for Bridgewater and they've asked him at times to get the ball out sooner, all with fluctuating results. They haven't come up with a way to capitalize on teams selling out to stop Peterson, who saw eight or more defenders in the box on six of his eight carries against the Seahawks, according to ESPN Stats & Information data. As a result, the balanced and potent offense they hoped for hasn't materialized.

Whether it's through adjustments in the scheme or cleaner execution (probably both), the Vikings aren't going to go far in the playoffs if they can't figure it out. They have suffered two lopsided defeats to playoff contenders in back-to-back home games and would be entering an NFC postseason field that sports bruising defenses. And they can't necessarily count on locking in their preferred formula with a few big runs from Peterson early on.

The answers aren't easy ones for the Vikings, but before another tough assignment on Thursday, they'll have to find them quickly.

"Well, we kind of got away from who we are a little bit once the score got to 14-0," Zimmer said. "Then threw an interception; it was a poor throw by Teddy. Then it was 21-0 at halftime. We still couldn’t get anything going offensively. We didn’t block good, we didn’t throw the ball good today."