I made this highlight reel at NFL Recut.
Things seem to be falling the Vikings‘ way today. Philadelphia beat the Saints and, playing for home-field advantage (and this time of year, playing at Lambeau is a decided advantage), the Packers had their ass handed to them by the Bears.
With a win tonight, the Vikings will clinch a playoff berth.
But the Redskins scare me.
They are ninth against the run, so it’s going to be a tough game tonight. They will probably not have to put eight or nine men in the box to stop the run, which means it will be more difficult for Tarvaris Jackson to make them pay.
The Vikings offensive line will need to play much better tonight than they did last week, especially Matt Birk. Birk was man-handled by the Bears back-up defensive tackle last week. Despite Washington’s tough run D, the Vikings are going to have to pound the ball often to make the play-action work. And, by the way, there’s always an excellent chance of Adrian Peterson ripping off a long TD run or two. He nearly had two last week.
How bout a dual backfield with both Peterson and Chester Taylor and let the Redskins pick their poison about who they want to stop? I’ve been waiting for this all season and I think today is the day to implement it.
The Redskins are 18th against the pass, so there’s a good chance we’ll see Jackson toss the ball with some frequency but he’ll have to avoid the mistakes he made against the Bears last week. He’ll also be without wide receiver Sidney Rice.
This is a game where it will be a huge advantage to get out on top early and then pummel the Skins to demoralize them early. I wouldn’t be surprised to see BevelChildress call a trick play on the fist series.
What scares me the most about Washington, though, is Todd Collins.
First, since he hasn’t started in 10 years, there’s precious little tape of the guy, so the Vikings defense has had one and a half games worth of material with which to prepare for him. Second, Collins has been in the same system for years, so presumably he knows his offense inside and out. Lastly, the Vikings have historically played poorly against backup QBs.
Washington has the 11th ranked rushing offense and despite boasting a dangerous duo of Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts, but I’m only concerned with them to the degree that they are able to set up a credible play-action.
The Redskins have the 4th worst special teams unit, so Aundrae Allison could have a big game returning kicks. And that could prove to be the difference in this game.
I expect most of this game will be a fight for field position, tough and close. The single most promising thing that emerged from last week’s game was that the Vikings played badly but still found a way to overcome their poor play and turnovers to win the game. That’s something we haven’t seen in a while.
I don’t know that I buy into the Vikings being the hottest team going into the playoffs, as so many national pundits have proclaimed them to be, but a win tonight will go a long way toward convincing me.
Yesterday, I discussed Brad Childress‘ handling of the Vikings’ quarterback position,
so I need not address those players here. Let’s look at the Vikings personnel that Childress is responsible for bringing to the purple and
gold through free agency or the waiver wire.
- Guard Steve Hutchinson. Fantastic acquisition, even though he wasn’t all that last year.
- Running Back Chester Taylor. Not very fast but a tough runner who was worth the investment. Great acquisition.
- Kicker Ryan Longwell. Last year he had a hell of a time getting kickoffs to the one yard line or beyond but he’s fixed that this year with a vengeance. Great pickup, even though we have to listen to him talk about golf ad nauseum.
- Safety Dwight Smith. He was more of an import from Mike Tomlin‘s Tampa Bay days, but Childress gets credit for him. He’s been a hard hitter and has generally played well. Good acquisition.
- Fullback Tony Richardson.
He only started seven games last year due to injury, so that was a bit
of a waste, but he’s a damn good run blocker and has laid some people
out. Good pickup.
- Wide Receiver Bobby Wade. I was absolutely skeptical but I’m happy to say he’s proved me wrong. Wade is a good possession receiver who can make yards after the catch but he’s not the number one he was acquired to be. Still, good acquisition.
- Wide Receiver Robert Ferguson.
He’s been good when he’s gotten the ball in his hands, but he doesn’t
get a lot of touches. By our standards for Wide Receiver, good pickup.
- Tight End Visanthe Shiancoe. Was brought in to be a receiving tight end who could stretch the field on seam routes. When he’s gotten down field for apparent big gains, his quarterbacks have failed to get him the ball (see previous post). Remains to be seen.
- Fullback Naufahu Tahi.
This guy’s got some quickness for a fullback. I’ve liked what I’ve seen
but I’ve seen too little to really judge. Decent pickup.
- Defensive End Jayme Mitchell. Not bad. He hasn’t really been able to show what he can do, but hasn’t been disastrous, either.
- Safety Mike Doss. Eh. He was more defensive coordinator Leslie Fraizer‘s pick, than Childress’. Hasn’t played much so it’s tough to tell.
- Defensive Tackle Fred Evans. Eh. Hasn’t played enough to truly judge.
- Linebacker Vinny Ciurciu. Was brought in to be a special teams ace. His most memorable play was getting juked out by a punter. I see Heath Farwell in on more plays than Ciurciu.
- Wide receiver Bethel Johnson: Eh.
- Wide receiver Billy McMullen: Sure handed possession receiver who was just that but nothing special. We traded the speedy, six foot four Hank Baskett to the Eagles to get him, though. McMullen is no longer on our roster but Baskett is still making plays for the Eagles.
- Definite Chili guy Defensive tackle Ross Kolodziej: Eh.
- Kick Returner Koren Robinson. Though he made the Pro Bowl for us last year, he had to be cut because of his off-field problems, so at the end of the day, he’s go to be counted as a bust, though he wasn’t a very expensive bust. It should be noted, too, though, that Childress was depending on him to be our number one receiver this year even though Robinson had proved in the past that you shouldn’t depend on him. Result: We had to scramble to find receivers.
- Guard Artis Hicks from Philadelphia; the Vikes could have gone after the Eagles’ Jon Runyan, one of the better guards in the league. But, no, we got Hicks who was average at best and lost his starting job.
- Cornerback Ronyell Whitaker. Whitaker was given a spot on the roster even though he was outplayed by the quick Dovonte Edwards.Last
year, Whitaker distinguished himself as an eminently exploitable
nickleback. He’s still on the team but plays only as a special teamer.
Keeping Edwards would have been a vast improvement.
- Tackle Chase Johnson. Who knows? Has he even played?
- Tight End Garrett Mills. Again, who knows?
So what’s the verdict? Childress has brought in three rock stars in Hutchinson, Taylor, and Longwell; three solid contributors in Smith, Wade, and Richardson. There are six guys–Ferguson, Shiancoe, Tahi, Mitchell, Doss, and Evans–who, ehhhhhh, who may or may not prove to be contributors. Three guys–Ciurciu, Johnson, and McMullen–are nothing special. Four guys are busts: Robinson, Kolodziej, Hicks (who was brought in to start and is not), and Whitaker; and two guys–Chase Johnson and Mills–haven’t really had a chance to prove themselves.
Out of the 21 free agent/waiver wire players Childress picked up, six contribute consistently and meaningfully. Five of those–Hutchinson, Taylor, Longwell, Smith, and Richardson are integral parts of the team. That leaves 15 of Childress’ players who haven’t contributed significantly during the coach’s two-year rule.
We don’t know if our pathetic passing game is a result of a substandard receiving corps, substandard quarterbacking, or both.
Still, six of 21 ain’t that great.
Football season couldn’t have come at a better time. With the Twins being such frustrating teases all season long, hovering around six games back with a chance to get back in the pennant race but not being quite good enough to win the games they should win, it’s nice that they aren’t the only game in town anymore.
Vikings Free Agency
This off season was a particularly painful one for Vikings fans. In a weak market for receivers, the team went after one high profile guy in Kevin Curtis and settled on Bobby Wade, a guy who had a well-deserved reputation for dropping passes. The team signed a tight end no one had ever heard of in Visanthe Shiancoe, a special teams ace in linebacker Vinny Ciurciu, injured safety Mike Doss, receiver Cortez Hankton and another "wide receiver" Todd Lowber, a guy who has never played football.
So you’re thinking, great, the rebuilding continues…with average players. I do not remember a more dispiriting Vikings off season.
The Vikings Draft
But then the 2007 Vikings draft rolls around and the picks give you reason to hope. Adrian Peterson is clearly a talented and explosive back but who has durability issues. We stocked up on receivers with Sidney Rice, Aundrae Allison, and Chandler Williams; took a cornerback who was project to be a first round pick last year in Marcus McCauley; got depth at linebacker with Rufus Alexander; took a pass rushing defensive end in Brian Robison; and got another young gun in quarterback Tyler Thigpen.
The draft gave me a bit of hope. If he stays healthy Adrian Peterson could be an amazing running back; Sidney Rice, at 6′ 4" is a nice tall target and Allison and Chandler Williams have got speed. Then there’s Marcus McCauley, the first-round grade cornerback.
Hope springs eternal during the preseason and I’m perfectly happy to oblige.
The Vikings Preseason
The Vikings are heading into the 2007 season with essentially three number one draft picks. There’s Adrian Peterson, of course, but If you also count Marcus McCauley, who, as I said, most people consider a first round talent, and last year’s first round pick Chad Greenway, who didn’t play last year because of injury, we’ve got three first rounders this year.
You have to figure the offensive line will be better–hopefully much improved–after a year together in the zone blocking scheme. So the only questions on offense are 1) playcalling, 2) Tarvaris Jackson, and the wide receiving corps.
The defense looks to have gotten stronger with a healthy Greenway, a healthy Dovonte Edwards and Tank Williams, and the addition of McCauley and Mike Doss. I think we’ve got four starters at the corners, intense competition at safety, more speed at linebacker, and the only question is at the defensive end positions.
I was very impressed with Ray Edwards last season and now he’s got a year’s experience under his belt. But it remains to be seen how Erasmus James will bounce back from his injury and Kenechi Udeze has done nothing to warrant anyone’s confidence.
I don’t know if special teams can get much worse than last year, so we’ll see what happens there.
So what do we know after two preseason games? So far, so good.
The offense looks to be better for having been liberated from Childress‘ playcalling script.
Thus far, Tarvaris Jackson hasn’t done anything to make you groan but he hasn’t had many chances to make mistakes yet, either. He has lead a few impressive drives, he looks decisive, and he hasn’t had any center/quarterback exchange problems, so his concentration is good.
But if Jackson isn’t the real deal, then we’re in real trouble.
Against St. Louis, the Vikings got the ball to Troy Williamson early and frequently and the receiver caught all the catches you expect him to make. On the one he didn’t haul in, it was a difficult catch because the ball was thrown high and Williamson had a receiver draped all over him. He probably should’ve caught it, but at this point, who are we to quibble? It’s progress.
Against the Jets, Williamson got a long bomb down the right sideline and he fought for position with the defender, got the position, looked to have a bead on the ball with his hands in position for the catch but the safety came in to swat the ball away before Williamson could have a chance at it.
It is notable that they haven’t yet thrown to him down the left sideline. Williamson has historically had the ball slip through his arms on deep passes where he’s had to look over his right shoulder. That’s something to watch for in the remaining preseason games.
Bobby Wade is as advertised. He’s a catch and run slot guy who has caught nearly everything thrown to him. So far he’s proved me wrong about him being stone-handed. He did not make a tough third down pass that would have given the Vikes a fresh set of downs but he did have a defender all over him. Still, he should’ve caught the ball. He’s shown several times that he’s got the ability to make people miss and make a lot of yards after the catch, so that’s very good.
Wad is also an excellent blocker, a talent he showed off on Peterson’s 43 yard run against the Jets by sealing one defender to allow Peterson to get out on the edge, then moving on to another which freed Peterson up for a long run.
What little we’ve seen of Sidney Rice thus far has been good. He’s a big guy who’s not afraid to catch the ball in a crowd. Aundrae Allison and Chandler Williams have yet to make an impression, but Martin Nance has had a few nice nabs.
New tight end Visanthe Shiancoe has not yet shown up as a receiver, so we’ll watch for him to make some plays.
We didn’t get to see much of what Adrian Peterson can do against the Rams but man did we in his performance against the Jets. The shake and bake, the spin, the acceleration; we haven’t seen that in a running back since Robert Smith. You could see his power when he hit congestion at the line and moved the pile. For all his toughness, we didn’t see a lot of that from Chester Taylor last season. Peterson looked like he was hitting the holes a little too quickly at times but the patience should come. If he learns to pick up blitzes effectively, we could be in for a lot of entertaining football. Here are Peterson’s highlights from the Jets game:
The offensive line looks good enough but depth is still an issue; against the Jets, Marcus Johnson demonstrated yet again his trouble picking up the outside rush.
Well, it looks like the defense will still be the strength of the team and very possibly much better than last year.
The defense has been fantastic thus far. Against the Rams, linebacker Dontarrious Thomas took his pick 82 yards to the house for the Vikings’ only touchdown and safety Dwight Smith picked Marc Bulger to end another Rams’ drive. Against the Jets, both Darren Sharper and Chad Greenway returned interceptions for touchdowns and rookie Brian Robison recovered a fumble for a score.
I think the secondary is stronger than last year. A healthy Tank Williams and newcomer Mike Doss provide competition and depth at the safety spots. If they both make the team, we’ll have experienced starters as backups regardless of what the depth chart looks like.
At the corners we’ve got Winfield and Cedric Griffin, who I liked a lot last year. He’s got a year under his belt and should only improve. Marcus McCauley has looked solid so far and Dovonte Edwards is healthy and had a pick against the Jets. Those two will battle for the nickel spot and regardless who wins the spot, we’ll have an upgrade in both speed and talent at both the nickel and the dime positions.
At linebacker we lost Napoleon Harris and so E.J. Henderson will move to the middle linebacking position. He didn’t fare so well at that position early in his career but he had a fantastic season last year and let’s hope that experience and maturity will help him excel at the Mike position.
Ben Leber returns after a solid season last year and Greenway is healthy. Chad Greenway didn’t do much against the Rams but he was outstanding against the Jets. In addition to scoring on an interception return, he lead the team in tackles and sniffed out a screen and tackled the Jets’ back for a loss. He’s very fast, so our drop coverage in the Tampa 2 will probably improve. Dontarrious Thomas provides depth as a roaming backer but with rookie Rufus Alexander lost for the year (what is it with linebackers and season-ending injuries?) with an ACL injury and Jason Glenn retiring, we’re a little thin at the position.
Ray Edwards has been a rock star at defensive end so far this preseason; in both games he’s put consistent pressure on the quarterback and his rush of Chad Pennington caused the ill-advised pass that Greenway picked off for a score.
It has been rookie Brian Robison who has had the most eye-opening performance this preseason. He had one sack against the Rams and was absolutely unstoppable, putting constant pressure on the passer. But I withheld judgment until I got to see him play against a first-team line. Against the Jet, Robison had four tackles, one sack, and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.
I was wrong about Robison. When the Vikings picked him, it looked like a reach to me. I was really wrong. The guy is lightning-quick. He made D’Brickshaw Ferguson look like he was playing in water and put some pretty good moves on the tackle on his way to the quarterback.
On one play he motored in around the tackle and though he didn’t have a chance for a sack, he batted the ball out of Kellen Clemens‘ hands for a forced fumble that the Jets recovered. On the very next play, the Jets center snapped an errant ball that Clemens couldn’t reach from the shotgun position.
Robison, of course, was there in the backfield and as Clemens reached down for the ball, he smartly pushed the quarterback out of the way, and all in one motion scooped up the ball, and dove into the end zone for the score. A lot of players would have either tried to tackle the quarterback or dove for the ball but Robison realized he’d have a clearer path to the ball by simply pushing the QB out of the way.
If Erasmus James returns to his former self and we can get either Edwards or Robison to play the opposite side, we won’t have to worry about whether or not Udeze fulfills his promise.
Vinny Ciurciu doesn’t seem to have improved the coverage units measurably, so that remains a weakness. Alex Reyes, however, may just beat out Chris Kluwe for the punter position on the strength of his kickoff power and his directional punting ability. Reyes’ kickoffs haven’t been particularly consistent but at least he’s hit some to the one and three yard lines. Neither Kluwe nor Reyes has displayed much power on their punts, but Reyes can do the coffin corner.
It was impressive to see the field goal unit quickly assemble on field as time ticked away before the half of the Jets game and nail a 54 yard field goal as time expired.
And, by the way, it was a 54 yard field goal. Outside. In wet weather. Last year, Ryan Longwell was solid inside the forty but had trouble with the longer field goals.
Next Saturday: Seattle Seahawks
We should get to see some extended play of Tarvaris Jackson on Saturday and I expect he’ll throw a lot. Expect the ball to be thrown primarily to Troy Williamson, Sidney Rice, Aundrae Allison and Visanthe Shiancoe.
The defensive spotlight will shine on Erasmus James to see how his recovery has progressed.
It sure took a long time. But in the end, it was worth the wait. Seattle Seahawks Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson is now a Viking. At 6′ 5", 313 pounds, Hutchinson will be a massive presence lining up between center Matt Birk (6’4", 309 lbs) and the even more massive tackle Bryant McKinnie 6’8", 335 lbs). This left side helps explain why the Vikings didn’t go after a marquee running back like Edgerrin James: Anyone should be able to run behind these guys.
Anyone is Chester Taylor and the Vikings new back got some help today, as well, when the team signed Kansas City Chiefs fullback Tony Richardson. Richardson was a nice pick up. At 6’1", 238 lbs, Richardson is a true fullback who can do it all. Though he has been used primarliy as a lead blocker for the past several seasons, he’s got soft hands and he can carry the ball as well.
Frankly, if the Hutchinson deal had fallen though, the Vikings efforts in free agency would’ve been a disappointment. We needed at least one rock star signing and we got that with Hutchinson, turningg a weakness into a strength by shoring up at least half of a line that was disasterous last season.
But we did sign him and you gotta give the Vikings all the credit for putting their money where they mouth is.
Not a bad first day of free agency for the Vikings.
As expected, they lost cornerback Brian Williams, who reunited with Mike Tice by signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars for six years for $32 million, including a $10 million signing bonus. Corey Chavous was reunited with former Vikings offensive coordinator and now Rams head coach, Scott Linehan. Chavous a five-year deal worth $16 million that includes a $4 million signing bonus.
Losing is tough but he deserves the big contract. The Jags made a good move.
I liked Corey Chavous but he wasn’t all that great last year; he was out of position so often. You gotta wonder what happened. He was amazing in 2003, making the Pro Bowl with 108 tackles, eight interceptions and 15 passes defensed. Maybe he’s lost a step since then or maybe he’ll return to form with the Rams where he will apparently play free safety, instead of the strong safety position he played last year.
Thirty minutes before free agency began the Vikings signed wide receiver Koren Robinson to a three-year deal is worth $12.7 million with a $1 million signing bonus.
Chester Taylor’s four-year contract is worth $14.1 million and includes $5.6 million in guaranteed bonuses. From the Pioneer Press‘ Sean Jenson‘s article today, it appears Taylor’s slated to carry the load for us in the backfield, getting 20 to 30 touches a game. That probably means we’re not going after a first round running back. Too bad; I would’ve like to see Maroney in Purple.
Ryan Longwell signed a five-year deal for $10 million that included $3 million in guaranteed bonuses. I liked Paul Edinger but Longwell is definitely an improvement; he’ll improve in the Dome and he knows how to kick in inclement weather as well.
Ben Leber’s deal is for five years, $20 million and includes guaranteed bonuses of more than $4 million. The Vikings must see something about this guy beyond what’s on paper because, well, there’s not much there on paper. It is disappointing that it appears Will Witherspoon is not in the Vikings plans because, gawd, that would’ve been fan-tast-ic! But even though this is a great draft for linebackers, I don’t see how the Vikings can’t sign another veteran linebacker or two when you consider that Keith Newman is probably a goner and Sam Cowart definitely is. The other top-ranked linebackers available are the 49ers‘ Julian Peterson and the Redskins LaVar Arrington.
The Seattle Seahawks’ Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson is supposed to be in town today. He’s a transitional player, so if the Vikings want him (and I really hope they do, considering the Cleveland Browns landed the other superstar free agent lineman, LeCharles Bentley), they’ll need to make him an offer that the Seahawks will not even want to consider matching so we don’t have to continue to shop for a guard).
Dexter Jackson earned a Super Bowl MVP by intercepting two Rich Gannon passes. With Tampa, the 6′ 10" 210 pound Jackson played free safety under Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin. The seven-year veteran had 32 tackles last year with 13 assists, one sack, one interception, and four passes defended. He’s played his entire career with Tampa Bay except for 2003, when he played for the Arizona Cardinals. That was his best year, statistically: He made 75 tackles with 13 assists, six intereceptions and seven passes defended.
Will Demps has his own web site (I’ll spare you the vanity flash intro). He’s a four-year veteran stands 6′ 0" and weighs in at 205 pounds. Last year he had 48 tackles with four assists and two passes defended. The year before he had 66 tackles with 19 assists, 2.5 sacks, one interception, and six passes defended.
It is interesting that both safeties played free safety, which tells me they want a swifter, more roaming type defensive back to fill their strong safety position.
Check out the Vikings site for the press conference transcript.
Technorati tags: minnesota vikings | nfl | nfl free agency | free agency | steve hutchinson | ryan longwell | chester taylor | ben leber | will witherspoon | lavar arrington | julian peterson | dexter jackson | will demps
The Koren Robinson signing is big because in addition to being our best reciever, he’s a great return man, something we haven’t had in a long time. Robinson would certainly have garnered quite a bit of interest because he would’ve been among the best of a thin free agency field of receivers. I would’ve hated to lose him.
Jamal Lewis‘ backup his entire career, Taylor’s best season was 2004 when he played in all 16 games and started four. He finished second on the team in rushing and made a career high 160 carries for 714 yards, averaging 4.5 yards per carry. He scored two touchdowns and caught 30 receptions for 184 yards.
Though he gained on 487 yards on 117 carries last year, that was still good enough for a 4.2 yard per carry average. He upped his reception total to 41, gaining 292 yards.
Taylor was used primarily as a third-down and change of pace back by the Ravens.