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Monday Morning Mailbag: Vikings Lack of Energy & Inability to Get Above .500

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I was struck by the lack of urgency and intensity in what was essentially a playoff game. I feel like not only do the fans expect more of the same, but the players as well. At this point a change in coach is needed. There's too much talent to be playing like this.

— John Edwards

Because it's now been since 2019 that the Vikings were over .500, if ownership doesn't make a coaching change, then ownership isn't interested in winning. We were outcoached yet again.

— J.B. Brunet in Keller, Texas

I've been quiet for a while, and there are several reasons for that. But I'm compelled to express a vote of confidence in Coach Zimmer. IF his players aren't playing for him, IF his players aren't listening to him, IF he's lost his desire to coach here, IF he's lost his ability to teach and innovate, then yes, he should be relieved. But unless some or even any of those conditions exist … he knows how to coach, he knows how to teach, he knows the game. He attracts quality players (like Patrick Peterson). He has a contract. Honor it and then see where things stand.

— Jeff in Sacramento, California

No Victory Monday this week, but we begin with the rare triple email on the same topic. I included this trifecta from John, J.B. and Jeff because I felt they all summed up the pulse of the fan base — and also all touched on the same topic.

As we enter Week 17, fans have made it quite clear that there are plenty who would like to see a coaching change at the end of the season. And as I have stated in the Mailbag in previous editions, I'm not going to call for a change, or offer my opinion on what should be done.

John and J.B. offer their points on one side of the spectrum, while Jeff is leaning to the other side. We'll have to see what happens in the final two games of the season before we get some clarity from the Wilf family on what will happen.

View game action photos between the Vikings and Rams during the Week 16 matchup at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Let's take a look at each of these three emails separately…

I actually wrote about John's main point after Sunday's game, where players and coaches sensed a lack of energy in pregame warmups.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, looking to give his team a jolt, jumped in to the huddle to give the pregame speech to try and fire his team up.

Despite the Vikings having plenty to play for, it didn't work. Minnesota went three-and-out to start the game, allowed an opening-drive touchdown and never played with the lead against Los Angeles.

Is that all on Zimmer? No.

Players have to be focused and ready to go, too, and likely shouldn't need a fiery pregame speech from their 65-year-old coach to get motivated. But the fact that Zimmer felt he had to give one shows he was likely concerned that his team was about to start flat.

Moving to J.B.'s email, he brings up a topic that I've been tracking all season.

Minnesota has had four chances in 2021 to get above .500: Week 1 at Cincinnati (0-0 record), Week 8 vs. Dallas (3-3), Week 12 at San Francisco (5-5) and Sunday vs. Los Angeles (7-7).

Four tries, four failures for the Vikings to get over that hump. There are many frustrating things about this 2021 squad, but the inability to have a winning record might be what defines them the most.

Teams that make the playoffs almost always have a winning record. The Vikings, who have to win their final two games in order to get above .500, haven't had one of those all season.

And they now find their playoff hopes dangling by a thread. Minnesota faces a must-win scenario Sunday night in Green Bay, as a Vikings loss coupled with an Eagles win means no postseason for Zimmer's crew.

And as for Jeff's email, those are all questions that the Wilfs will think about, if they haven't pondered them already, when it comes to Zimmer's future.

For what it's worth, I don't think the Vikings have quit on Zimmer by any means, and I say that even after pointing out the lack of early energy.

If the Vikings had quit, they would have let the Rams steamroll them by 20-plus points. Once again, the Vikings lost by one possession, making it 12 straight games decided by one score (six wins, six losses).

If we know anything about this team, it's that it will play close games every day of the week.

Punch in that first Anthony Barr Interception and don't allow that punt return for a touchdown, and it is a different game. They made the big plays. We did not. That was the difference. One thing I can say about this team is we fight. We are not an easy win. Darn consolation prize.

— Gerald Goblirsch

Gerald's email highlights the lack of killer instinct that the Vikings showed Sunday, and have repeatedly shown all season.

Down 10-0, Matthew Stafford lobbed a late Christmas gift to Barr that set up the Vikings at the Rams 11-yard line. By only managing a field goal, Minnesota failed to take full advantage and put pressure on Los Angeles.

Instead, a short field goal showed the Rams that they could make mistakes and still get away with them. Good teams simply don't do that, and I think we're past the point of deciding that the Vikings are a good team.

They are a talented team, yes, but have been too inconsistent all season to deserve being called good.

The punt return was a big miscue, although some might point out that Dan Chisena was tackled while in coverage and Kene Nwangwu was held as he tried to grasp at the returner.

All gripes aside, the allowed punt return was not the sole reason the Vikings lost. It played a part, yes, as did Minnesota's putrid offensive performance on third downs, and the Vikings defense's inability to stop the run.

This team may fight, as Gerald pointed out, but based on the emails I get, fans are tired of hearing that mantra over and over.

Every player knows going in the protocols set by the NFL when it comes to COVID, yet we have players who are more than happy to throw the entire season, teammates, and the lowest rung on the ladder … the people who make their profession possible … the fans … under the bus. The Vikings can't afford to lose a single game from here on out, but that doesn't ring a bell with these guys.

— Steve A.

Steve's email (which came through on Saturday) probably had to do with Dalvin Cook going on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.

I'm not about to tell Steve how he can or cannot feel about players on the team he roots for. Would the Vikings have benefitted from Cook's presence Sunday? Absolutely.

Am I 100-percent surprised that dozens of NFL players are popping up on the COVID list these days? Nope.

Cook, who was recently following protocols for unvaccinated players by wearing a mask to his postgame press conference against the Steelers, is another in a long line of players (vaccinated and unvaccinated) who have had to miss time this season.

Based on Cook's timeline, he will hopefully be eligible to return on Saturday, a day before the Vikings final road game of the season at Lambeau Field.

We'll find out more this week on whether or not he might have a chance to play.

But here is what I wrote six weeks ago when an unvaccinated Harrison Smith went on the Reserve/COVID-19 list:

It's disappointing for the Vikings that they will likely be without one of their captains at a time when they need him to help try and get the ship righted in Los Angeles.

That was before the Chargers game in Week 10. But the same could have been said of Cook before the Vikings game against L.A.'s other team.

To put it another way, Zimmer said in training camp that players would miss games this season due to COVID. Every single team in the league has been affected by that, and some have handled it better than others.

Players have always had the choice to make their own decision, whether fans agree with it or not. But in saying that, fans certainly have the right to be frustrated by players missing games, especially ones that determine whether or not the Vikings make the playoffs.

What's happening with Wyatt Davis? His name is never mentioned in any of the articles we read regarding who is going to play guard for the Vikings. Is there any word on his progress as a pro football guard? I am still waiting for the "mauler" and "road grader" to emerge.

— Paul R. in Stanchfield, Minnnesota

At this point in the season, there's a reason why Davis hasn't been mentioned in terms of playing time.

He's simply not ready to play and hasn't shown the development and progress that coaches want to see from the rookie.

That's a disappointment, considering the high expectations Davis held when he arrived as third-round pick.

I went back and looked at what draft expect Dane Brugler of The Athletic compiled about Davis, whom Brugler has ranked as the No. 5 guard in the 2021 draft class.

Brugler wrote:

Overall, Davis must play under control and improve his snap-to-snap consistency, but his forceful hands, powerful anchor and finishing skills are NFL-ready. He projects as a guard who will compete for immediate snaps.

Reading that, you'd expect Davis to be playing by now, especially since he's competed against a tackle who moved to guard (Olisaemeka Udoh), a journeyman interior lineman (Dakota Dozier) and a player acquired for just a sixth-round pick (Mason Cole).

It's not as if Davis has had to play behind Randall McDaniel or Steve Hutchinson at the guard spot. But the hope is that he has grown and gotten better, even if it's been in practice and not on game days.

Davis was one of four Vikings third-round picks in 2021, all of whom haven't contributed much.

Davis and quarterback Kellen Mond haven't seen the field at all (although Mond was active Sunday for the first time all season because Sean Mannion was added to the Reserve/COVID-19 list). Linebacker Chazz Surratt hasn't played a single defensive snap, and defensive end Patrick Jones II has been a rotational piece at defensive end, even with plenty of absences there.

Some rookies take time to develop, and that's OK. But I think when you have so many of them, the expectation is that a few more of them contribute than what the Vikings have had this season.

With an early offseason potentially looming, there might be plenty of time soon to digest the 2021 Vikings and evaluate the roster.