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.
The Vikings have actually drafted very well during the Childress era. We got Adrian Peterson (who fell to us, it should be noted), Sidney Rice, Marcus McCauley, Brian Robison, and Aundrae Allison. All of them have started this season and all of them look like they could develop into consistent starters.
But it is Jackson who is the exception to our generally exceptional
drafts. During the 2006 draft, Childress moved up by trading two third
round picks to position the team to reach deep into the sixth round and
pick Jackson with the 64th overall pick of the draft. No one expected Jackson to go that high, not even the quarterback himself.
The last time an NFL team drafted a I-AA quarterback, his name was Spergon Wynn.
The reach would be easier to swallow if 1) it wasn’t such a crucial position, 2) we had a backup quarterback plan, or 3) there was some glimmer of hope that Jackson could become a franchise quarterback and remain healthy.
Not only has Jackson often looked like he is in over his head but worse, there doesn’t seem to be any improvement to his game.
Adrian Peterson kicked serious Chargers ass last week, but let’s be real; Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers had an awful game, the team was without starting linebacker Shaun Phillips; and standout Luis Castillo was knocked out early in the second half. It’s not coincidental that Peterson ran for 253 yards and two touchdowns during the second half.
That’s not to say that it wasn’t a phenomenal performance by Peterson, it was a thing of beauty (watch the highlights). It’s no surprise, too, that the offensive line put in their best performance of the year and Peterson got a lot of help from outstanding blocking by the receivers down field.
Here’s something else that’s not a coincidence: The offense suddenly looked a lot better after Tarvaris Jackson was knocked out of the game and we got a signal caller with a semblance of passing accuracy in Brooks Bollinger.
Before he was knocked out, Jackson threw directly to the defensive back who was positioned in front of Sidney Rice on a five yard slant route. How did Jackson not see that Rice was covered? Later, Jackson missed an open Aundrae Allison on a deep route.
During the third Vikings’ series of the second half, after five straight running plays, on first and ten, Bollinger hits Sidney Rice for a forty yard touchdown on a stop and go route.
Those plays have been there all year but neither Jackson nor Kelly Holcomb have been able to hit open receivers. This is how inaccurate our starter and primary backup have been: Tarvaris Jackson has an abysmal 46.4% completion percentage and Holcomb is not much better with 50.6%. Bollinger boasts a 70.8% completion percentage.
Indeed, Bollinger leads the team in every significant statistical category: Yards per Attempt (9), Touchdown Percentage (4.2%), Interceptions (0 verses 5 for Jackson and 1 for Holcomb), sacks (4 versus 5 for Jackson and 12 for Holcomb), and quarterback rating at 112.3. Is it time to stop grooming Jackson and put in the guy who gives us the best chance to win?
Which brings us to today’s game.
Running Against The Packers
The Vikings face the league’s 7th ranked defense today against the Packers but then they faced the same challenge last week against the Chargers’ 7th ranked run defense.
Boasting the league’s best running back coming off a historic performance, it is no secret what the Vikings will do on offense today. Run to daylight.
The difference this week may very well be Brooks Bollinger, who is expected to start behind center. The Pack will stack eight or nine players in the box in order to stop Peterson and the Vikings need to–as they have all year long–take advantage of that defense.
Passing Against The Packers
Bolliger’s accuracy gives the Vikings the best chance to exploit the crowding of the box. Starting free safety Nick Collins is out, so rookie Aaron Rouse will be starting in his stead. Throw in the fact that starting strong safety Atari Bigby (great name!) has been playing miserably lately, we may see some deep passes actually completed today.
And that would help open up the running game, as well.
Defending The Packers
The Packers’ offense is last in the league in rushing and second in the league in passing; the Vikes are second in the league against the run but 31st in the league against the pass, so we know what’s gonna happen.
The best defense for the Vikings must be a good offense. Just keep Brett Farve off the field for as much of the game as possible.
When the Vikings D is on the field, they should ignore the run, especially the play-action because it’s unlikely to be a run anyway. We need to get in Farve’s grill with a strong pass rush to keep him from getting comfortable and we need to jam the receivers to disrupt their short, West Coast routes.
The Vikings defense will need to bring the game they played against the Chargers if the team is going to have a chance to win.
It wouldn’t hurt at all if Darren Sharper picked off his old mate.
The thing about this season is that the Minnesota Vikings just have to get a little better than last year to win a lot more games. Consider the games the Vikings lost last year:
- In September, the Vikings lost to the Bears, 16-19
- In October, the Vikings lost to the Bills, 17-12
- and to the Patriots, 7-31
- In November, the Vikings lost to the 49ers, 9-3
- to the Packers, 17-23
- and to the Dolphins, 24-20
- In December, the Vikings lost to the Bears again, 23-13
- to the Jets, 13-26
- again to the Packers, 9-7
- and to the Rams, 21-41
The two games against the Packers and Bears each were winnable. The margins of victory for each of those four games were 3 points, 6 points, 10 points, and 2 points. The Vikings lost to the Bills by 5 points; to the 49ers by 6 points; and to the Dolphins by four point.
Instead of 6 and 10, they could have easily been 10 and 6 and division winners.
But the defense, of course, wasn’t the problem last year. The offense was.
We improved on offense significantly with the addition of Adrian Peterson. I am officially a converted fan of Bobby Wade, who has proven very adept at making yards after the catch. Robert Ferguson is a great addition if he can stay healthy. Sidney Rice is a nice big target who has shown he’s got good hands, is not afraid to catch the ball in a crowd, is very athletic and has excellent body control. And if we can get Troy Williamson to catch a few long bombs, we’ll at least have the semblance of a deep threat.
The offensive line returns with one year together playing the zone blocking scheme, so they’ve got to improve simply because they are more familiar with one another and with zone blocking.
The big question is Tarvaris Jackson. He looks very poised and by all accounts is a smart kid, a quick study, and a quick decision maker. The main thing for Jackson is to avoid mistakes, which is to say turnovers, while he learns the ropes.
The most glaring weakness of this team is the coverage units, which are absolutely horrible. I’m not too confident that they’ll improve that much.
Looking at the schedule, I think it’s reasonable to think that the Vikings could go 9-7 or even 10-6 this year. I’m giving the Vikings both games against the Detroit Lions, even with Calvin Johnson. That team has to prove to me they can win, cause they’ve never done it before. I’d split the Chicago Bears series as I would the Green Bay Packers series, though I think the Vikings could sweep them as well.
So that’s eight wins.
The Kansas City Chiefs are beatable with Damon Huard at QB. The Dallas Cowboys are beatable. They’ve got a rookie coach and we don’t yet know whether Tony Romo is the real thing. The San Francisco 49ers and the Denver Broncos look as if they will be good, but they’re sorta at that stage where it’s too early to tell. Even the Eagles could be beatable because you never know if Donovan McNabb will be healthy.
Thee only guaranteed loss is to the San Diego Chargers.
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.