Minnesota Vikings Vs. Arizona Cardinals

Monday Morning Quarterbacking

Predictably, the Tice/Green rivalry hype amounted to much radio talk show sound and a lot of column-inch fury signifying pretty much nothing at all. Much more interesting was what happened on the FieldTurf on game day.

Vikings’ Defense

For a preseason game, it was quite a delight to see the Vikings field a team that foreshadowed potential defensive prowess. Long-suffering Purple fans have to reach back to Tony Dungy to recall a time when the Vikes displayed defensive dominance. True, it was Cardinals they were playing (with an injury-depleted roster at that), but still, the Vikes had seven sacks and kept the Cards to 79 yards in the first half and allowed them to score only one field goal. The most impressive stat is that they allowed Arizona to convert only one of seven third downs in the first half.

The Pass Rush

It’s been a while since we’ve seen the front seven dominate so completely. Linebackers Smith, Newman, and Rogers had sacks and defensive linemen Lyon, Williams, Mixon and this year’s first round pick Kenechi Udeze got his first sack and impressively batted down a pass. Hell, the guys on KFAN even generously gave Chris Hovan credit for knocking down a pass that was really just thrown at his head!

Digression: Hovan now has no excuse to whine about being double-teamed. If Hovan doesn’t produce with the talent he’s got around him this year we’ll know that it wasn’t his weight that produced his dismal 2003 campaign but that he was just a flash in the pan. And that would make him…a Dennis Green defensive draft pick!

The Linebackers

It’s easy to get carried away with the performance of our new-look linebacker corps because second-round pick Dontarrious Thomas was flying around the field, somewhat allaying my concerns about the linebacking corps being the weak link on defense. So it is wise remember that this was just one preseason game, and that our linebackers are, as Pioneer Press reporter Greg Johnson writes, fast but raw.

The Secondary

The secondary played a solid game but it’s hard to know how much of that play to attribute to the talent of the DBs or to the effectiveness of the pass rush. The major concern here, is the injury to Brian Williams, who may miss the opener against Dallas with a sprained ankle.

Vikings’ Offense

Randy Moss looked as spectacular as usual on his 48-yard touchdown catch. It was tough to tell from the replay whether the Cardinals’ safety simply took a bad angle or made a poor tackle attempt on Moss’ touchdown play, or if it was Moss’ adjustment that made the safety miss. Either way, the play made me think of how remarkably agile Moss is in positioning his body. One of the things you worry about when you’ve got a 6’4" receiver–especially when they catch passes over the middle as Moss has increasingly done since Cris Carter left–is that they’re gonna break!

You take a tall, lanky guy like Moss, send him across the middle, toss him a pass high enough that he has to go airborne to catch it, and it’s highly likely that a safety is going to nail him in mid-air and potentially do some serious damage.

But I can’t ever recall Moss getting decked and I think that’s because 1) he’s got great field awareness and therefore knows where everyone is on the field, and 2) he seems to instinctively sense where he should position his body both to make catches and to avoid hits. If I’m right, he may put up career numbers that could be untouchable for a long time.

Speaking of taking hits, Nate Burleson seems to know how to take them pretty well. On his first catch, he absolutely got clocked, hung onto the ball and coolly got up and signaled a first down. He also had that nice, juggling, look-what-I-found catch.

It was great to see Marcus Robinson muscle down the sidelines on his 55-yard catch but the one that Robinson just dropped looked like a sure touchdown because he was cutting in on the safety and had the angle to break any attempted tackle.

It seems that Daunte Culpepper can only work on one aspect of his game per year; last year it was reducing his fumbles, the year before that it was becoming a "student of the game." This year it is reducing his interceptions. So it was an inauspicious beginning with his gimmie interception on a bomb to Moss into triple coverage. The thing is, Moss had a step on the coverage and if Culpepper had thrown the ball earlier, it could have been a touchdown. His slow recognition has been a weakness in Daunte’s game that if fixed, would go a long way toward reducing his interceptions.

Vikings’ Kicking Game

Everyone seemed to want to give placekicker Aaron Elling a break. Both the TV crew covering the game and the KFAN crew during halftime blamed Elling’s missed 51-yard field goal attempt on Punter/Holder Darren Bennett‘s delay in placing the ball. Well, yeah, but Bennett did get the ball down for Elling to kick it, Elling did kick the ball, he had enough distance but it sailed on him. And accuracy is the issue with Elling.

But not just accuracy. Elling’s leg strength has got to be raising some questions because two of his kickoffs were caught at the ten yard line! Tice has professed faith in Elling and refused to bring in veteran competition but nevertheless, you gotta ask, if both his accuracy and leg strength are suspect, what are you left with? Answer: Dan Orner.

The Rivalry/Denny Green’s Return

The media’s theme of the week for the Cardinals game has clearly been The Return Of Denny Green. The NFL schedulers handed the lead to the reporters by making the rematch the first preseason game and it only made the story more irresistible when Green was hired; so sports reporters ran with it.

There have been stories all week about Green’s return, so why should we expect anything different when there might be other interesting stories to report? What’s clear from the reporting is that Green is not all about making a big deal over his return. While I’m definitely no fan of the guy, I gotta sympathize with him. It’s a preseason game, fer Chrissakes!

Pioneer Press reporter Brian Hamilton‘s "Repeat after Green: Just another game" is a wry piece on Green’s return with this wonderful opening line: "The high road apparently does not have an offramp, even after two years." That was from yesterday. Today Hamilton’s story on Tice wanting to win preseason games to establish a winning mentality fuels the rivalry/revenge angle

The Strib runs with Mark Craig‘s story "Camp Fear," about Green’s politically motivated personnel moves. Sound familiar? That story is a sidebar to Craig’s main piece about the Cards skeptical "fan base" (why not just fans?). Kevin Seifert goes with the story about Tice’s emphasis on preseason wins.

Sports sycophant/columnist Sid Hartman balances things out by pointing to some of Green’s better qualities: Four division titles, two NFC championship games. Sure, Sid, but he did not win any of those championship games and he got 10 years to try.

Me, I can’t wait to see just how good this Minneapolis kid Larry Fitzgerald, Jr. really is.

Fear & Loathing In Purplesville

Going into the first pre-season game against the Cardinals, Vikings’ fans have several things to wring their hands over. Chief among those worries are two players who’ve spent plenty of time on injured reserve and a placekicker who, apparently, cannot hit the side of a barn.


Both papers have been following Aaron Elling‘s kicking misfortunes for the past few days but today the PPress’ Bob Sansevere is the first one to suggest that maybe it’s time to panic. Elling made 18 of 25 field goals last season and, Sansevere writes, Coach Mike Tice “liked what Elling did in the offseason.”

Really? 18 of 25? Remember all those times Tice went for it on fourth down last year rather than going for a field goal? What could Elling have possibly done in the offseason to restore the coach’s confidence enough to not even bring in a veteran kicker to compete with Elling during training camp? Making field goals during training camp is apparently not a criteria for Vikings kickers.

Walking Wounded

I’ve telling everyone who’ll listen that if Marcus Robinson can stay healthy and returns to the form that produced his stellar season for the Bears so many moons ago, the Vikings’ offense could be as dominant as 1998’s 15-1 team. Unfortunately, those are big ifs. And Robinson is inspiring ab-so-LUTE-ly no confidence that he’ll be what we all hope he will be for the Vikes. Robinson has been nursing injuries much of camp and yesterday the Strib reported that Robinson missed morning practice because of a tight hamstring and now Tice is saying that Nate Burleson could overtake Robinson for the number two spot.

Now, I’m a big fan of Burleson but the guy’s six feet tall and 197 pounds and not a speedster of the Randy Moss/Kelly Campbell variety. Robinson’s 6′ 3″, 215 lbs. and he’s supposed to be able to stretch the field; that’s what makes him so appealing, he fills a gap in the offense that we’ve been missing since Cris Carter left.

The frustrating thing is, we had our chances–and the money–to sign a proven free agent wide receiver this offseason but we again opted to go for inexpensive potential rather than spend some money on an all-but-sure thing.

There’s plenty of time for Robinson to prove me wrong but it’s beginning to look like we’ve got another experiment at WR.

On paper, it certainly appears that the weak, or, if you want to be more charitable, unproven link in the defense is the linebacking corps. With our projected starters of Chris Claiborne, E.J. Henderson, and Dontarrious Thomas/Mike Nattiel, we’ve traded experience for speed. Henderson and Nattiel are coming off their rookie seasons and Thomas is a rookie. Entering his sixth season, Claiborne is the savvy veteran amongst the group.

Claiborne has been hobbled during training camp after offseason surgery. It’s early in camp, of course, but the Vikes need Claiborne to remain healthy because they need his experience on the field. While it’s nice that we’ll have faster linebackers, I’m worried that quarterbacks will be able to take advantage of the group’s inexperience.

The Small Games

Yesterday, Pinoneer Press columnist Sansevere made the point that the Vikings have a rich history of dominating tougher opponents and, maddeningly, playing down to their lessers. That should bode well, as they open the season with back-to-back games against playoff teams. It’s the small games the Vikes often have problems with–they never seem to want to clean their feet on the doormats of the NFL. But as we’ve seen over the years, the Purple do play well on national television.

Sansevere quotes Claiborne and Bryant McKinnie:

“That’s what we want. That’s the key,” linebacker Chris Claiborne said. “National TV.”

Offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie, standing beside Claiborne, chimed in, saying: “You play harder on national TV. You don’t want to be embarrassed.”

And losing to the Giants, Raiders, Chargers–the Chargers!?!–and the Cardinals on the last play of the game, to end the season, and keep you from the playoffs, is not embarrassing? Curious.

Greener Pastures?

I’d been meaning to follow the Arizona newspapers to see how the press was taking to new Cardinals head coach Denny Green. I thought it’d be interesting to see how they reacted to the Dennis Green we’d come to know over 10 championshipless seasons. How’d they take to Dennyspeak (and I paraphrase: If you don’t score enough points you won’t win) ? How’d they take to Green’s front office and locker room politics? How long would the honeymoon last?

Well, the Strib’s Patrick Reusse reports that Green’s got a far tougher media audience in Arizona than he did here in the passive/aggressive Midwest. Green’s honeymoon, apparently, is over.

Carl Eller

It’s about time Carl Eller got into the Hall. Why oh why do they never include video highlights of the inductees’ careers on the Hall of Fame Web site?!? Is it just me, or is that a no-brainer? On Eller’s Hall page their idea of "multimedia" are still photos. Very lame. Leave it to Minnesota Public Radio to fill in the multimedia gap by posting a Real Audio feed of Eller’s induction speech. MPR had Eller on their Midday show today. It was a very good interview that mostly covered his social activism rather than his football career. KSTP TV has a short Windows Media video clip on Eller’s speech at their site and Twin Cities Public Television ran an interview with Eller on their Almanac program.

What is it, though, about Minnesota inductees using their platform for social crusades? Alan Page did the same thing. I don’t recall Bud Grant‘s speech but he did not lack for political activism; he can easily get all worked up about Native American fishing rights.

Here’s something I can get all worked up about: Jim Marshall not getting in this year.