Vikings in disarray before Lions showdown

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Sam Bradford

Allen Park – In two weeks, the Minnesota Vikings have gone from NFC frontrunners to a franchise in disarray. The team has dropped two straight, including an embarrassing 20-10 loss to the lowly Chicago Bears in primetime. Then, on Wednesday, offensive coordinator Norv Turner unexpectedly resigned.

Despite having one of the league’s worst offenses, Turner’s resignation blindsided the Vikings.

“I was very, very surprised,” coach Mike Zimmer said.

In an exclusive interview with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Turner cited philosophical differences as a reason for his decision.

“I just got to the point where I didn't think it was going to work with me, so I removed myself,” he said. “I truly think this move may end up being a positive thing for the Vikings.”

Tight ends coach, and Dearborn native, Pat Shurmur will serve as the coordinator and offensive play-caller for the remainder of the season. He previously worked as a coordinator in St. Louis and Philadelphia.

The Vikings (5-2) have little time to regroup with the Detroit Lions (4-4) coming to town this weekend for a meaningful NFC North showdown. If the Lions can pull off the road win, they’ll be just half-game back of the Vikings heading into the bye.

The game could hinge on a matchup of weaknesses – the struggling Lions defense against the banged-up, underperforming Vikings offense.

Every NFL team must cope with injuries, but the Vikings have been dealt a worse hand than most. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater suffered a season-ending knee injury during an August practice and All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson, as well as the team’s starting left and right tackle, have all since landed on injured reserve.

Quarterback play hasn’t been the issue for Minnesota. To replace Bridgewater, the team sent a package of picks, including a future first-rounder, to Philadelphia for Sam Bradford. The veteran has exceeded expectations, posting career-best numbers. He’s completing 66.5 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and one interception.

The problem has been Bradford’s protection, especially after losing offensive tackles Matt Kalil and Andre Smith to injury.

In the Vikings’ two loses, Bradford has been pummeled, getting sacked 11 times. The team signed former Michigan standout and No. 1 overall pick Jake Long off the street and he’s struggled at left tackle, while second-year man T.J. Clemmings has been a turnstile on the right side, surrendering pass-rush pressure 13 times.

Detroit counters with an inconsistent pass rush that appears to be trending in the right direction since the return of Pro Bowl defensive end Ziggy Ansah. He’s still looking for his first sack, but the team has gotten to opposing quarterbacks five times the past two games.

On the other side of the ball, the matchup is equally compelling. Minnesota boasts the league’s top-ranked defense, which has held opponents under 300 yards and 15 points per game, but is coming off its worst performance, against the Bears.

“We don’t listen to a lot of stuff outside the building no matter what, but after our performance this past game, we didn’t put the best defense in the NFL out on the field on Monday night and we know that,” safety Harrison Smith said. “I think we’re going to have a lot of guys that are extremely anxious to get back on the field and get some things right.”

The Vikings’ pass rush is struggling. The team has recorded one or fewer sacks in three of their past four games after racking up 15 the first three weeks.

Zimmer, a master of dialing up pressure, has had a lot of success scheming against the Lions. The last time the two teams met, the Vikings brutalized quarterback Matthew Stafford, sacking him seven times.

The Lions have since changed the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach and are hopeful will help keep Stafford upright more often.

“Certainly they give you problems and we’ll see if our answers work and that’s going to be the key,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “Rather than talk about it, you better be able to do it because it’s on the road as well, so there are some innate issues with noise and those kinds of things that if you’re a hair off you’re going to have a problem.”