After last week, when they had a chance to lock up their playoff spot, it’s sorta pointless to talk about or get your hopes up for a Vikings post-season this year. They could come out and stink or they could play wonderfully and still not make it with a motived Redskins team playing Dallas‘ second-stringers.
The Denver Broncos‘ defense is 30th in the league against the run but even a really bad defense can improve significantly against the run by deploying eight or nine men in the box. So we’ll see, but there’s plenty of reason to hope for a big ground game for the Vikings and for Adrian Peterson in particular.
The one thing the Vikings will have to do for Peterson to have a big day, of course, will be to make the Broncos pay for stacking the box. And that depends upon Jackson making those plays, something he hasn’t done consistently.
Maybe the Vikings should come out in no-receiver sets. Sit the receivers in favor of tight ends and fullbacks and maybe an extra offensive lineman. Say to the Broncos, we’re running the ball; try and stop us. It ain’t gonna happen but I’d love to see it.
In the passing game, I want to see Jackson make better decisions and not get flustered in the face of a heavy rush. He seems to do just fine when he’s got sufficient time in the pocket, but he’s going to have to learn play well under pressure.
Those are my modest hopes at the end of a disappointing season.
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.
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.
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.
A couple weeks back I saw a brief clip on Vikings Weekly where former Vikings running back Darrin Nelson was asked how he thought fans remembered him.
Nelson said he thought fans remembered him as a fast back with good hands. I, of course, snorted “Nooooo, fans will remember you for The Drop.”
The Drop being the pass thrown to him (that went into and out of Nelson’s arms) at the goal line by quarterback Wade Wilson on January 17, 1988, with 56 seconds left in regulation of the 17-10 NFC Championship Game against the Washington Redskins. Had Nelson scored and the Vikings converted the extra point, the game almost certainly would have gone into overtime, with the Vikings having a chance to return to the Super Bowl for the fifth time.
It would take another decade for the Vikings to get so close to the big game.
For 20 years, one month and sixteen days I have laid the blame of that loss solely at the feet of Darrin Nelson. I am not alone. Most Vikings fans I know who watched that game blame Nelson as well.
But now I know I owe Darrin Nelson an apology. I’m sorry. I was wrong and I apologize.
I recently watched an NFL Films piece on the NFL Network about the Washington Redskins’ historic season that clearly demonstrated that I was wrong.
First a little context.
The 1987 NFL Season
In 1987, the NFL players went on strike after the second week of the season. The league scheduled games and arranged for replacement players to play them. Tony Adams, a backup for the Kansas City Chiefs for four seasons nearly a decade before, came out of retirement to play as a scab for the Vikings. The Replacement Vikings were miserable.
The real Vikings won the first two games of the season and The Replacements promptly lost three divisional games in a row to the Replacement Packers, the Replacement Bears, and the Replacement Buccaneers.
The real Vikings returned to work after three games boasting a roster loaded with talent:
The defensive line was manned by ends Chris Doleman and Keith Millard and rookie defensive tackle Hank Thomas; the linebacking corps included Walker Lee Ashley and Scott Studwell; and the defensive backfield featured cornerbacks Carl Lee and Issiac Holt and was anchored by safety Joey Browner.
In addition to Darrin Nelson, the offense was lead by veteran quarterbacks Tommy Kramer and Wade Wilson and a rookie quarterback named Rich Gannon. They threw to wide receivers Anthony Carter and Hassan Jones, and tight end Steve Jordan, and were protected by center Kirk Lowdermilk, guard David Huffman, tackles Tim Irwin and Gary Zimmerman,
The special teams units included punter Greg Coleman a small wide receiver/punt returner Leo Lewis.
That roster was able to overcome the devastating three divisional losses served up by The Replacements to gain a Wild Card berth and blow away both the Saints (44-10) in the Wild Card game and the dynastic San Francisco 49ers (36-24) in the divisional playoffs.
The Redskins’ season began with coach Joe Gibbs nearly trading castoff quarterback Doug Williams but having a last minute change of heart because he had a gut feeling that somewhere down the line, Williams would help them get to the Super Bowl that year.
Unlike the Vikings, the Redskins scabs won all three games they played, so Washington was well positioned for a playoff run.
Williams was protected by an outstanding offensive line that included Jeff Bostic, Russ Grimm and Joe Jacoby and among his trio of receivers, “the posse,” was Art Monk. On the defense, the Skins boasted the fastest man in the NFL in defensive back Darrell Green, and defensive ends Dexter Manley and Charles Mann.
Doug Williams was selected by the pathetic Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the 17th overall pick of the 1978 draft led the team to the playoffs the following year. Williams lead the Bucs to the playoffs twice more before an acrimonious contract dispute prompted him to leave the NFL for the newly-formed United States Football League. The experience left him feeling disrespected.
Tampa Bay would go to become a perennial loser and laughing stock and it would take 14 years before the team returned to the playoffs.
After the USFL folded, Williams returned to the NFL as a backup for Washington quarterback Jay Schroeder. Schroeder was a prima donna whose position as starting quarterback nearly caused a mutiny within the team.
Schroeder eventually suffered an injury and Williams stepped in to lead the team for the final five games of the season.
Williams lead his team to a 21-17 victory over the NFC Central Division champions Chicago Bears in the NFC Divisional Playoff game. That victory set up the Conference Championship game against the Vikings.
The two teams had recent familiarity with one another by playing each other on the final week of the ’87 season, a game in which Skins eeked out an overtime victory. That was a close game so the Conference Championship figured to be no different.
The game was tied 10-10 into the fourth quarter but the Redskins pulled ahead 17-10 on the strength of a seven yard touchdown pass from Williams to Gary Clark.
Here is where we return to my original topic: Darrin Nelson.
The 1987 NFC Conference Championship Game
The Vikings drove down the field and were down to their last chance on a fourth-down play in the red zone with 56 seconds remaining in the game. If they could score seven points, they could send the game into overtime with momentum on their side.
Washington defensive back Darrell Green figured you go to your playmaker when you absolutely must have a play, so he was going to cover Vikings wide receiver Anthony Carter with an eye toward him getting the ball.
The play Vikings quarterback Wade Wilson ran was designed to use Carter to clear the way for Darrin Nelson to score. The play unfolded on the left side of the end zone with Nelson running a crossing route at the goal line and Carter clearing the way by running Green off to the deep corner of the end zone.
The problem was that Carter ran a comeback route directly into Nelson’s route. Nelson had his defender beat, but Carter’s broken route brought Darrell Green into the play. All Green needed to do was play the ball, which he did, knocking it from Darrin Nelson’s arms.
Nelson did not drop the ball; it was knocked out of his hands. It’s on the tape. UPDATED 01/31/11: You have to watch closely, and the play is at the very beginning of this clip but there’s no replay, but you can clearly see Anthony Carter right next to the play, having pulled his defender into Nelson’s route:
Here’s another view:
So, again, I apologize Darrin Nelson.
The Redskins, of course, went on to win Super Bowl XXII. And Doug Williams made history by becoming the first black quarterback to not just play in a Super Bowl but win it and win it impressively in a 42-10 route over John Elway‘s Denver Broncos.
For his performance, Doug Williams won the game’s MVP honors.
It would take 12 years for another black quarterback to play in the Super Bowl when Steve McNair’s Tennessee Titans came within a yard of tying up the score on the last play of the game against the St. Louis Rams during Super Bowl XXXIV in what to date has been the most exciting Super Bowl ever played.
Were it not for Darrell Green’s play, Steve McNair may have been the trailblazer.