Monday Morning Quarterbacking
Predictably, the Tice/Green rivalry hype amounted to much radio talk show sound and a lot of column-inch fury signifying pretty much nothing at all. Much more interesting was what happened on the FieldTurf on game day.
For a preseason game, it was quite a delight to see the Vikings field a team that foreshadowed potential defensive prowess. Long-suffering Purple fans have to reach back to Tony Dungy to recall a time when the Vikes displayed defensive dominance. True, it was Cardinals they were playing (with an injury-depleted roster at that), but still, the Vikes had seven sacks and kept the Cards to 79 yards in the first half and allowed them to score only one field goal. The most impressive stat is that they allowed Arizona to convert only one of seven third downs in the first half.
The Pass Rush
It’s been a while since we’ve seen the front seven dominate so completely. Linebackers Smith, Newman, and Rogers had sacks and defensive linemen Lyon, Williams, Mixon and this year’s first round pick Kenechi Udeze got his first sack and impressively batted down a pass. Hell, the guys on KFAN even generously gave Chris Hovan credit for knocking down a pass that was really just thrown at his head!
Digression: Hovan now has no excuse to whine about being double-teamed. If Hovan doesn’t produce with the talent he’s got around him this year we’ll know that it wasn’t his weight that produced his dismal 2003 campaign but that he was just a flash in the pan. And that would make him…a Dennis Green defensive draft pick!
It’s easy to get carried away with the performance of our new-look linebacker corps because second-round pick Dontarrious Thomas was flying around the field, somewhat allaying my concerns about the linebacking corps being the weak link on defense. So it is wise remember that this was just one preseason game, and that our linebackers are, as Pioneer Press reporter Greg Johnson writes, fast but raw.
The secondary played a solid game but it’s hard to know how much of that play to attribute to the talent of the DBs or to the effectiveness of the pass rush. The major concern here, is the injury to Brian Williams, who may miss the opener against Dallas with a sprained ankle.
Randy Moss looked as spectacular as usual on his 48-yard touchdown catch. It was tough to tell from the replay whether the Cardinals’ safety simply took a bad angle or made a poor tackle attempt on Moss’ touchdown play, or if it was Moss’ adjustment that made the safety miss. Either way, the play made me think of how remarkably agile Moss is in positioning his body. One of the things you worry about when you’ve got a 6’4" receiver–especially when they catch passes over the middle as Moss has increasingly done since Cris Carter left–is that they’re gonna break!
You take a tall, lanky guy like Moss, send him across the middle, toss him a pass high enough that he has to go airborne to catch it, and it’s highly likely that a safety is going to nail him in mid-air and potentially do some serious damage.
But I can’t ever recall Moss getting decked and I think that’s because 1) he’s got great field awareness and therefore knows where everyone is on the field, and 2) he seems to instinctively sense where he should position his body both to make catches and to avoid hits. If I’m right, he may put up career numbers that could be untouchable for a long time.
Speaking of taking hits, Nate Burleson seems to know how to take them pretty well. On his first catch, he absolutely got clocked, hung onto the ball and coolly got up and signaled a first down. He also had that nice, juggling, look-what-I-found catch.
It was great to see Marcus Robinson muscle down the sidelines on his 55-yard catch but the one that Robinson just dropped looked like a sure touchdown because he was cutting in on the safety and had the angle to break any attempted tackle.
It seems that Daunte Culpepper can only work on one aspect of his game per year; last year it was reducing his fumbles, the year before that it was becoming a "student of the game." This year it is reducing his interceptions. So it was an inauspicious beginning with his gimmie interception on a bomb to Moss into triple coverage. The thing is, Moss had a step on the coverage and if Culpepper had thrown the ball earlier, it could have been a touchdown. His slow recognition has been a weakness in Daunte’s game that if fixed, would go a long way toward reducing his interceptions.
Vikings’ Kicking Game
Everyone seemed to want to give placekicker Aaron Elling a break. Both the TV crew covering the game and the KFAN crew during halftime blamed Elling’s missed 51-yard field goal attempt on Punter/Holder Darren Bennett‘s delay in placing the ball. Well, yeah, but Bennett did get the ball down for Elling to kick it, Elling did kick the ball, he had enough distance but it sailed on him. And accuracy is the issue with Elling.
But not just accuracy. Elling’s leg strength has got to be raising some questions because two of his kickoffs were caught at the ten yard line! Tice has professed faith in Elling and refused to bring in veteran competition but nevertheless, you gotta ask, if both his accuracy and leg strength are suspect, what are you left with? Answer: Dan Orner.