The tremendous goal-line stand and subsequent 99-yard TD the Vikings put together in the 2nd quarter last night have the potential to be a defining moment in this heretofore disappointing season. We've seen this sort of thing before heading into December, and the Vikes have a way of blowing it, but you at least have to feel good about the way the defense is playing. The only scores they allowed in the game came on a 65-yard slant and scurry by Devin Hester and a 4-yard "drive" that followed a Gus Frerotte interception.
And that got me thinking. Since the NFL doesn't have the equivalent of MLB.TV, I haven't been able to follow the Vikes as closely as I'd like. But in the few games I have seen, it seems like all the TDs the defense allows come as the result of big plays, or a short field following a turnover, or a penalty. In other words, mistakes. The Vikings don't give up TDs because they get outplayed. They only seem to give up TDs when they screw up.
To test that theory, I reviewed the opponents' scoring drives from the first 12 games of this season. The Vikings have given up 29 TDs so far. 8 of them came with the defense on the sidelines (6 TDs have been given up by the special teams, costing the Vikings close divisional games at Chicago and Green Bay). Of the 21 TD drives allowed by the defense, 8 started in Vikings territory as the result of a turnover or poor kick coverage. That leaves 13 TDs in which the opposing offense didn't have a short field to work with in 12 games - pretty stout defense.
But furthermore, of those 13 long TD drives, 10 contained either a play of 25+ yards or a defensive penalty. While it is possible for a big play to be the result of an outstanding individual effort on the part of one or more offensive players, in most cases they are the result of blown coverage or bad tackling by the defense. This implies to me that the vast majority of the TD drives the Vikes' defense allows are more the result of their own mental lapses than of being inferior to their opponent. The baseball equivalent would be of a pitcher who has dominant stuff but loses the game when one bad pitch gets jacked out of the park (i.e. Scott Baker in the 1-0 loss to the Rangers this past July).
While it's frustrating that the Vikes have lost a bunch of games because of their own mistakes, it's also heartening to realize that their mediocre record is their own fault. Mistakes can be cleaned up, after all. There's nothing coaches and players can do to make up for inferior talent, which is not the Vikings problem. If they play their best, they can keep up with any team they've faced so far - even the ones they lost to.