Minnesota Vikings vs. Washington Redskins Preview

Things seem to be falling the ‘ way today. beat the and, playing for home-field advantage (and this time of year, playing at Lambeau is a decided advantage), the had their ass handed to them by the .

With a win tonight, the Vikings will clinch a playoff berth.

But the 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 to make them pay.

The Vikings offensive line will need to play much better tonight than they did last week, especially . 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 .

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 Bevel call a trick play on the fist series.

What scares me the most about Washington, though, is .

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 and , 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 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.

All Of A Sudden, The Vikings Are A Good Team

Let’s remember that the last three games the have played were against the dreadful against the and on possibly the worst game of his career, and the free-falling .

That said, the Vikings have been an infinitely more palatable team to watch during this winning streak.

The Vikings Offensive Line

Adrian Peterson
Originally uploaded by

Not coincidentally, the offensive line has been awesome for the past three games. It looks like we’ve found our starters on the right side with guard and tackle . Cook took care of in the Giants game and has been burying people on the run blocking.

They are giving plenty of time to throw the ball and are opening massive holes for and .

Tarvaris Jackson

But the single biggest improvement has come at the quarterback position, and that makes a huge difference.

I’ve been about as critical of Brad Childress as can be over playing Jackson when he clearly wasn’t ready to play. And I’ve complained that Jackson has not even shown any progress thus far.

Well, he has now. During the New York game, he wasn’t spectacular, but he made no  mistakes and he did connect with on a long bomb, a pass he hadn’t been able to make till then. Against the Lions, it wasn’t just that he kept the mistakes to a minimum (his only mistake was the interception), he actually showed progress in his development. A lot of it.

Nearly all of Jackson’s passes were dead-on accurate; he threw with touch when that was required and drilled it in there when he needed a bullet. He knew when to pull the ball down and run it and when he did, he knew how to slide to avoid the big hit. He made some plays with his athleticism, but it wasn’t his weapon of first choice.

Jackson showed pocket presence; he stepped up in the pocket to avoid the rush and looked comfortable doing so. That’s the first time I’ve seen him looking natural in the pocket, feeling the pressure, and sliding around to avoid it. His timing passes were right on time.

Jackson has been looking off defenders and he read the blitzes accurately and got the ball to the right receivers to make the defense pay. His decision making was superb.

Maybe the Vikings coaches have scaled down the playbook to the plays with which Jackson is most comfortable, or the offensive line has started to click, or maybe the game just begun to slow down for Jackson. Whatever it is, I hope it continues because Jackson actually looked great against the Lions.

Adrian Peterson

It helps enormously, of course, to have Adrian Peterson back in the lineup. The guy has missed two games, yet he still leads the league in rushing. He was his usual self against the Lions: 116 yards on 15 carries.

Let me just get this on the record: Adrian Peterson will run for 400 yards in a game this season and his best chance of doing that will be this Sunday against the .

There, I said it.

Vikings Defense

On defense, the Vikes are blitzing a lot more but are not getting burned because they do such an incredible job of disguising their defense. and and will creep up to the line of scrimmage, showing blitz, and hold…hold…hold…until the second before the sack and then drop into coverage. Two plays later they’ll show the same look and come with a full on blitz.

The artistry of maintaining a look until the very last second is helping to confuse opposing quarterbacks. The Vikings D is getting plenty of pressure now, just not with their front four. The nice thing is, with the offense now seemingly capable of scoring a lot, the defense can afford to lay off the blitzes and just bring pressure with the front four because they’re backed by a big lead.

It’s clear that the Vikings gained a lot of confidence by trouncing the Giants and that carried over into the Detroit game. That helps a lot. You play a lot better when you’re confident you’re going to play well.

I hate to get my hopes up because I’ve done that too often with this team, but considering the Vikings’ remaining schedule, they have every reason to be confident. Everyone they have left to play this year is a losing team.

Minnesota Vikings vs. New York Giants Preview

How shall the beat the today? Let me count the ways.

If I had a smidgen of confidence in our offense, I might have hope that the Vikes could pull out a win today. But I don’t. If they want to have any chance at a wild card spot this season, the Vikings need to beat the Giants today. I just do not think they are capable of a victory over a Giants squad whose 7-3 record is far less impressive than it looks.

The Giants wins have come at the expense of such NFL powerhouses as , , the , , the , the and last week against the reeling . Their losses have been against good teams: Twice to the and once to the . And the Green Bay loss was during the second week of the season, when the Pack was not nearly as good as they are now.

If the Giants have proved anything this year, it’s that they can beat bad teams. Lucky for them, they face the Minnesota Vikings today.

The Giants Running Game

Will be nonexistent. With New York down to their third down back, , the Giants will not seriously commit to the run. They will beat the Vikings as everyone does, through the air.

The Giants Passing Game

New York tight end will eat up the Vikings D underneath today. They will take advantage of the Vikings’ Cover 2 deep defenders by challenging Minnesota’s linebackers to cover underneath, of which they haven’t proved capable.

With out, rookie corner will be challenged just as much as his fellow corner, Cedric Griffin. I expect the Giants will pick on Griffin–since everyone seems to do that–by matching him up against the 6’5" . That’s a match-up against which Griffin simply cannot physically succeed.

The Vikings Running Game

The only way the Vikings will have a chance is if they eat up the clock with long, run-dominated drives that end in scores. With apparently warming the bench today, that effort will be much harder. proved he could run for far more than 100 yards last week, but he’s still no Adrian Peterson.

If the Vikings offensive line and receivers run block as they have since the Chicago game, they certainly could execute a time-consuming, run-mostly strategy.

The Vikings "Passing" Game

When the Vikings are in passing situations, the Giants can be counted on to bring maximum pressure on Sidney Ri—um, .

What does it say about Tarvaris Jackson that our first passing play last week was thrown by our wide receiver, ? What does it say about Jackson that our longest pass play from scrimmage this year was thrown by our wide receiver, Sidney Rice? What does it say about Jackson that the first red zone pass by Jackson last week, from the three yard line, resulted in a drive killing interception?

With left tackle matched up against speed rusher and right tackle taking on and still having to account for middle linebacker , Jackson is nearly certain to have a defender all up in his grill on every passing play.

And he has yet to prove he can handle that pressure. What he has proved is that he’s indecisive and there’s no reason to believe he’ll anything other than indecisive as well today. That indecision will result in sacks or interceptions today.

A loss today means the effective end to the Vikings’ 2007 season. Sadly, we’ll be playing for picks from here on out.

Brad Childress’ Trades

I’ve already discussed head coach Brad Childress, his , and his handling of the .Today, then, I look at the Vikings trades under the Childress regime.

2006 Minnesota Vikings Trades:

Let’s knock them down one at a time.

The Daunte Culpepper Trade

This turned out well for the Vikings. didn’t want to play for the Vikings anymore and as much as I wanted to sit him, let him sulk on the bench until he fully rehabbed and then trade him for more value, trading him immediately was the right move. Culpepper was a disaster in Miami and only this year does he look like he resemble the quarterback he was when he played here.

With the 51st overall pick they got from Miami, the Vikings drafted T/C . Most people thought it was a hell of a reach to draft Cook at that spot; that the fourth round was a more reasonable place to pick him. Cook is starting at right tackle, but he has been extremely raw.

He is improving, though, so so far, so good.

Trade Up For Tarvaris Jackson

The Vikings traded two third round picks to the Pittsburgh Steelers to grab Jackson in the second round. The move surprised a lot of people because Jackson wasn’t anyone’s radar screen and was considered a sixth or seventh round pick.

With the two third rounders, the Steelers chose FS Anthony Smith and WR Willie Reid. Smith has played in 26 games and started nine of them for the Steelers. During the past two years, Smith has made 67 tackles, defended seven passes and intercepted three balls.

Reid has played in three games for the Steelers during the past two years and has a whopping three catches during that period.

Jackson has hardly lived up to his billing and worse, he doesn’t seem to be improving. Meanwhile, the Vikings’ safeties are older and have lost a step. We could use some young depth at the position. With a roster that boasts , , and , Reid is not likely to see much action any time soon, so who knows how good he is. At least with the Vikings, we’d find out.

At this point it sure looks like trading up for Jackson was a bad move.

Vikings Trade Picks To Eagles For Artis Hicks

Artis Hicks is no longer starting and he was pretty bad when he was.

The Vikes traded the 115th and 185th overall selections to the Eagles for Hicks and the 127th overall pick. The Eagles subsequently traded both picks to the Green Bay Packers.

With the 115th pick, Green Bay took cornerback . Blackmon has one tackle in the eight games he’s played for the Packers during the past two years. With the 185th pick, the Packers selected DB , who had one pass defended in 2006. He is no longer on the roster.

The Vikes took DE with the 127th pick. Edwards is great as a starter but between the 115th and 127th picks, the Vikes missed the opportunity to take RB (averaging 4.3 yards a carry this season), WR (55 receptions in 2006, 20 thus far this year), and the diminutive defensive end , who’s blowing it up with the Broncos–8 sacks last year, 8.5 thus far this year).

This was a bad trade.

Hank Baskett For Billy McMullen

A team that has been in dire need of receivers since Childress took over ships off a 6’4", 220 lbs receiver with 4.3 speed for, for…wait for it…Billy McMullen!

McMullen was a fine possession receiver but we didn’t need a possession receiver. We needed an explosive receiver and Baskett was the closest we’ve come to that during the Childress era.

Though his stats are not stellar, is still playing still playing with the Eagles as their third receiver. McMullen, meanwhile, hasn’t played since we cut him.

Bad, bad trade.

Mosely For Bollinger

The Vikings, belatedly, realized they needed another quarterback so they shipped the talented DT to the Jets for Brooks Bollinger. Bollinger has been just okay and Mosley hasn’t cracked the Jets starting lineup. We needed a QB and Mosley wouldn’t have seen much playing time here anyway, so not a bad trade.

Goldberg For Undisclosed

has started four games during the past two years for the Saint Louis Rams, despite losses on the offensive line this season. But we’ve needed as much help at guard as possible, so I’m just sayin’.

We don’t know what we got for Goldberg yet, so it’s too early to tell.

Vikes Trade Down And Pick Sidney Rice

Sidney Rice looks like he’s going to be a fine receiver, maybe even a great one. The Vikes traded the 41st pick for Atlanta’s 44th overall pick and the 121st overall pick.

The Falcons chose CB , who has started six games for them this year.

The Vikings traded the 121st pick to the Denver Broncos for the 176th and 223rd overall picks.

Straight up, this was a good trade. The Vikings didn’t need more corners but they did need a young receiver and they turned the 121st pick into two more selections.

Vikings Trade Up For Brian Robison

The Vikings gave up the  106th and 182nd overall picks  to move up to the 102nd slot to take Robison. Robison is super athletic and has provided the Vikes some much-needed speed rushing from the edge. The Buccaneers took safety Tanard Jackson and linebacker Adam Hayward with their picks. Jackson has started every game this season while Hayward hasn’t done much at all.

As I said above, the Vikings certainly need some youth at safety but they also need some speed from their defensive ends.

This trade is a wash.

Fourth Round Pick For A Sixth & A Seventh

The Vikes trade the 121st overall pick to the Broncos for the 176th and 233nd overall picks which they use to select linebacker Rufus Alexander and wide receiver Chandler Williams, respectively.

Alexander was highly regarded but was placed on injured reserve during the pre-season, so we haven’t seen what he can do. Williams was last seen in a Miami Dolphins uniform, but he has no statistics this season.

The Broncos chose DT , who has started just one game, has only 11 tackles, but does have an interception.

It’s too early to tell whether or not this was a good trade. We’ll have to see whether Alexander pan out.

  • Good Trades: Culpepper, Trade down for Sidney Rice: Two Good Trades.
  • Bad Trades: Trade up for Tarvaris Jackson, Picks for Hicks, Baskett for McMullen, Mosley for Bollinger (though I said it wasn’t a bad trade, I’m docking Childress some points for completely mismanaging the quarterback situation from the start, and the Bollinger trade is part of it): Four Bad Trades.
  • Washes Or Too Early To Tell: Goldberg for Undisclosed, trade up for Robison, fourth round pick for a sixth and a seventh: Three neutral trades.

The Book On Brad Childress’ Draft Picks

This week we’ve looked at head coach Brad Childress‘ handling of the Vikingsquarterback position and his free agency/waiver wire moves. So now let’s look at his draft picks:

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.

In 2006, we got Chad Greenway (who’s been okay, though he is essentially a rookie), Cedric Griffin, Ryan Cook, Ray Edwards, and Tarvaris Jackson–all 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.

15 Reasons Brad Childress Is Not A Football Personnel Genius

Yesterday, I discussed Brad Childress,
so I need not address those players here. Let’s look at the personnel that Childress is responsible for bringing to the purple and
gold through free agency or the waiver wire.

Chili’s Guys

  • Guard . Fantastic acquisition, even though he wasn’t all that last year.
  • Running Back . Not very fast but a tough runner who was worth the investment. Great acquisition.
  • Kicker . 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 . 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 .
    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 . 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 .
    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 . 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 (). Remains to be seen.
  • Fullback .
    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 . Not bad. He hasn’t really been able to show what he can do, but hasn’t been disastrous, either.
  • Safety . Eh. He was more defensive coordinator Leslie Fraizer‘s pick, than Childress’. Hasn’t played much so it’s tough to tell.
  • Defensive Tackle . Eh. Hasn’t played enough to truly judge.
  • Linebacker . Was brought in to be a special teams ace. His most memorable play was getting juked out by a punter. I see in on more plays than Ciurciu.
  • Wide receiver : Eh.
  • Wide receiver : Sure handed possession receiver who was just that but nothing special. We traded the speedy, six foot four 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 : Eh.
  • Kick Returner . 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 from Philadelphia; the Vikes could have gone after the Eagles’ , one of the better guards in the league. But, no, we got Hicks who was average at best and lost his starting job.
  • Cornerback . Whitaker was given a spot on the roster even though he was outplayed by the quick .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 . Who knows? Has he even played?
  • Tight End . 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.

Minnesota Vikings At Detroit Lions Preview

This week’s matchup pits the Vikings against a Detroit Lions team that has a competent quarterback in Jon Kitna, this year’s number one pick Calvin Johnson, a proven big-play wide receiver in Roy Williams, and no-slouches-themselves receivers Mike Furrey and Shaun McDonald, and pass-first offensive coordinator Mike Martz.

Vikings Defense vs. Lions Offense

The Lions like to employ four- and five-receiver sets.

We’re are going to find out how just much the Vikings’ pass defense has improved, particularly our pass rush.

Cornerbacks Marcus McCauley and Charles Gorden look to see a lot of action and will probably be targeted by Kita and company because of their inexperience.

The Lions rushing attack will feature Tatum Bell because both Kevin Jones and T.J. Duckett are injured. And though Bell ran for 87 yards against the Raiders last week, don’t expect a repeat performance against the Vikings. The Vikings run defense is better and Martz will prefer to pass against the Vikings anyway.

For the Vikings to be successful against the Lions’ offense they’ll need to shut down the run, done, and then, ideally, bring enough pressure with the front four that they make Kitna uncomfortable in the pocket.

The nice thing about four- and five-receiver sets is that there are fewer people to pass block on the line. That means no double-teaming the Williamses, leaving Udeze, Edwards, Scott and Robison to bring pressure off the edge. I’d expect to see a lot of rookie Brian Robison at left end if Udeze can’t bring sufficient pressure. Look for Spencer Johnson to get a lot of work, as well.

The cornerbacks will have to be physical at the line by jamming and rerouting their receivers to disrupt the quick passes and allow the D-line enough time to get to Kitna. Ideally, this would allow Leslie Fraizer the freedom to use the linebackers primarily in coverage rather than blitzing.

Kitna is definitely rattleable. Last week he threw two picks and last year he had 22 interceptions against 21 touchdowns. If the Vikes can get to Kitna, there might be some scoring opportunities on picks. If Kitna goes down, the Lions are in serious trouble because, with backup QB Dan Orlovsky injured, they’d have to rely on third string quarterback, former Viking, J.T. O’Sullivan.

Vikings Offense vs. Lions Defense

The Vikings will want to play ball control offense by running the ball as much as they can and creating long, time-consuming drives to keep the Lions offense off the field. In a game they should have won, they Raiders had success running against Detroit, with LaMont Jordon gaining 70 yards and a touchdown on just 15 carries for a 4.6 yard average.

It will help the Vikings cause a great deal if Chester Taylor is healthy enough to play to keep the Lions guessing as to who will get the rock. If Taylor’s healthy, I’d expect to see a lot of him and Adrian Peterson in the backfield at the same time.

If the Lions are successful against the run, then obviously we’ll need Tarvaris Jackson to make them pay with the passing game.  He will have an additional weapon at his disposal this week, with receiver Robert Ferguson expected to be active this week.

I hate to say it, but keeping the Lions honest might depend on Jackson connecting deep with Troy Williamson.

Regardless, the Lions have a horrible record against us so they’ve got to prove to me that this group is different from any other Lions team we’ve face. I expect the Vikings to win a close one.

NFL.com’s Video Preview

Minnesota Vikings Vs. Seattle Seahawks

This is what I want to see tonight:

  1. : I hope they let him pass a lot. I mainly want to see if he makes good decisions in the passing game and doesn’t fumble the snap or the handoffs. We know he’s got a strong arm. We know he can run. We don’t yet know if he’ll be a smart quarterback. I also want to see him run the two minute offense.
  2. The right side of the offensive line: is starting tonight a right guard in place of , but Hicks will get plenty of playing time. It appears will be the right tackle and I’m fine with that. I thought, though he was raw last year, he was a vast improvement over . Will Johnson be overmatched again tonight?
  3. : A lot. Just because.
  4. Wide Receivers: I do want to see but only a little. He’s pretty much a known commodity: A good, tough receiver who gets hurt. I want to see them go deep a couple times to down the left sideline because that has always seemed to be the most difficult catch for him. I want to see a lot more of , , and , so we can see what we’ve got with those three. And how ’bout , that track star we invested a three year contract in? Let’s see what he’s got.
  5. : And a lot of him. Has he done anything this preseason except block? I guess he caught one pass, but I can’t even remember it, so it must’ve been unremarkable. I want to see if he can stretch the defense, as advertised. If teams are going to try and shut down our receiving corps, we’re going to have to kill them with Shaincoe, so he’s an important part of the passing game.
  6. : I hope to God he’ll return with that burst he showed last year before getting injured. If he’s healthy, we’ve got three good pass rushing right ends in James, and rookie . That would mean that with the way the Vikings rotate their D-lineman, we’ll be able to get consistent pressure on all downs from the right side. I’d like to see start on the left side because at least he gets some sacks. I am also looking forward to seeing what we’ve got in .
  7. : He had a great game last week but didn’t really show up in the first preseason game. I’d like to be assured that last week wasn’t a fluke.
  8. and : This is the best battle on defense and I think we’ll be fine with whoever wins the nickle spot. I give Edwards the nod because of experience. Edwards has got the speed but McCauley has got the size and he’s not slow, either.
  9. The Defense Against A Spread Offense: I don’t know if we’ll see it tonight, but the Jets tried it against us and we had an answer. I want to see consistent success against the spread.
  10. Oh, and I almost failed to mention: .

Preseason – Minnesota Vikings Vs. NY Jets

  Preseason – Rams 
  Originally uploaded by vikingsfrenzy

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 , a guy who had a well-deserved reputation for dropping passes. The team signed a tight end no one had ever heard of in , a special teams ace in linebacker , injured safety , receiver and another "wide receiver" , 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 rolls around and the picks give you reason to hope. is clearly a talented and explosive back but who has durability issues. We stocked up on receivers with , , and ; took a cornerback who was project to be a first round pick last year in ; got depth at linebacker with ; took a pass rushing defensive end in ; and got another young gun in quarterback .

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 , 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) , and the wide receiving corps.

The defense looks to have gotten stronger with a healthy Greenway, a healthy and , 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 last season and now he’s got a year’s experience under his belt. But it remains to be seen how will bounce back from his injury and 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.

Preseason Games

So what do we know after two preseason games? So far, so good.

The Offense

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, demonstrated yet again his trouble picking up the outside rush.

The Defense

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 , 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.

‘s defense looks very much like ‘s of last year, except with more blitzing. It’s been effective. We may even see some .

Special Teams

Vinny Ciurciu doesn’t seem to have improved the coverage units measurably, so that remains a weakness. , however, may just beat out 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, 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.

Barry B*nds Supplants Hank Aaron As Home Run King

Barry Bonds Ties Hank Aaron With 755th Career Home Run
  Bonds: 755 
  Originally uploaded by MarkDM

The photo above is of hitting the 755th home run, the one that tied for the career home run record. Notice in the upper left hand corner: There is a person taking a photo who is wearing an asterisk shirt. Yesterday, he hit number 756 to take the record and I couldn’t care less.

Barry Bonds, Before & After
  Barry Bonds Before and After 
  Originally uploaded by gokmop

I have nothing against Barry Bonds personally. I don’t hate him or anything. I just think he’s a cheater. Yes, I know, I’m supposed to presume innocence but that’s in a court of law, not the court of public opinion. And except for San Francisco, I think the public has returned the verdict on the overwhelming circumstantial evidence that Bonds took steroids.

I mean, c’mon! Some argue that every era has it’s cheating and this is just another part of that. But a corked bat or spit on the ball (or, if we’re talkin’ , here, an ) is a far cry from artificially improving your body, your power and reflexes, at the expense of your peers who are not taking steroids.

I heard an interview with , the convicted designer of the steroid Bonds is accused of taking, . The steroid is named that because it was specifically designed to be undetectable by steroid tests. Arnold was interviewed on Costas Now and he ridiculed Bonds’ claim that he didn’t know what he was taking. He also said that the steroid does improve reflexes and has the effect of putting athletes "in the zone."

There’s a world of difference between the manipulation of the physical objects within the game and the manipulation of the athlete’s body itself. I think ANYONE caught using steroids should be banned from the game and their records erased.

It is completely unfair to Henry Aaron, (though he’s not complaining), , and the rest of the top non-steroid era sluggers on the . I’d kick out not just Bonds, but and as well. I’m absolutely fine with that.

Historic Significance Of Hank Aaron’s Record

Hank Aaron Home Run King Baseball Card
I owned this card

I’m biased also biased against Barry Bonds, I should disclose. And the reason I’m biased is Hank Aaron. Let me tell you why.

On April 8, 1974, the day that Hammerin’ Hank Aaron broke ‘s career home run mark, I was a ten year old kid living in the suburb of New Brighton, Minnesota. My best friend at that time was a black kid named Arthur.

Art’s family was the only black family I knew of in New Brighton. There were some white neighbors the next block down who had adopted a couple of black children, but Art’s was the only black family probably in New Brighton at the time.

The only time I’d see African Americans back then was if we drove into Minneapolis or occasionally there would be a black kid on a little league team against whom we’d play. Mine was nearly an all white world.

As a ten year old kid, I did not think of race at all. Art was my buddy and that was that. The only time I was forced to think about race was when some kid made a racist slur against Art and it did happen sometimes. It was a dangerous thing to do, I thought, because I was pretty sure Art could have absolutely kick those kids asses.

I knew. I played football against him all the time so I knew how punishing he could be just playing a game. All knees and elbows, Art was. But we’d talk trash back and that was the end of it.

So back to April 8, 1974. Art and I were at his house messing around and Art’s father was in the other room watching a baseball game, the Braves against the Dodgers. Art’s father called him into the room:

"You gotta watch this," he said.

And so we watched Hank Aaron’s at-bat. We watched as Aaron took his majestic swing that sent ‘s ball deep, deep, deep as Dodgers outfielder scaled the wall, hoping to pull it in, only to watch it drop in the Braves bullpen where reliever caught it. We watched as the crowd erupted and Aaron rounded the bases and a couple of college students left their seats to trot alongside him. We watched as the crowd around Aaron grew as he approached home plate where his mother awaited him.

And I watched as Art’s dad pumped his fists in the air and scream and dance with delight. I thought, damn, he must really like Hank Aaron! I knew that Aaron had just broken Babe Ruth’s record and I thought it was cool and all, but I was absolutely oblivious about the significance of the home run as a racial equality event. I didn’t comprehend the extent of what Aaron’s accomplishment meant to Art’s father.

Not until later, of course. I found myself thinking of the experience often when my family moved to Indiana during high school and I saw routine, undisguised, in-your-face racism. I was fortunate enough that my parents raised me to treat everyone as I would like to be treated myself. They didn’t say anything about race, they just said to treat people decently.

Because of that upbringing, I was baffled with racism. I couldn’t comprehend how anyone could hate–hate–someone they had never met and had done nothing to deserve a drop of vitriol. But my experience in Indiana taught me that racism was inherited, that the racist kids that I knew had racist parents.

So I will forever be thankful for having the good fortune to be in Art’s home at that time. The experience prepared me for later life in so many ways. I was able to understand a lot about people as a result.

So, yeah, I’d rather have the person who breaks Aaron’s record earn it. While Hank Aaron will always be my home run king, I can always hope that stays healthy enough to surpass Bonds.

Go A-Rod!

See also: