We Vikings fans should by now be called, as a matter of course, Long Suffering Vikings Fans.
It’s been more than three decades since the Vikings have appeared in a Super Bowl. Their best squad of the 70s, the 1975 team, had a Super Bowl berth stolen from them by the Hail Mary pass.
In 1987, the Vikings were a correctly run route away from probably making it back to the Big Dance.
In 1998, we assembled one of the best teams in the history of the league, set a season scoring record, lost only one regular season game, yet still couldn’t close the deal to make it back to the Super Bowl.
These days, we simply ask for a playoff appearance or two.
And so it is with resignation that we watched the Vikings blow a chance to secure their place in the post season this year by generously handing the Atlanta Falcons a win last week and watching the inevitable as the Packers collapsed to the Bears.
All the pieces are falling into place for yet another Vikings December collapse.
Now we have the far more difficult task of beating a New York Giants team that is infinitely better than the Falcons or hoping beyond hope for a Texans’ victory over the Bears.
You can see why we are Ye Of Little Faith these days.
But though I’m not holding out much hope for the post season this year, I will nevertheless focus on the positive.
First and foremost, the most positive development is the seemingly drastic turnaround of Tarvaris Jackson‘s game. After last week, his play has improved so much, in fact, that I had no reservations whatsoever of buying a TJax uniform for my nephew for Christmas.
He was thrilled.
As am I at Jackson’s turnaround. He’s making great decisions; his ability to run with the ball adds another dangerous dimension to the offense that opponents will have to defend. When defenses play man against us, there’s always the threat of Tarvaris ripping off a 15 yard gain (though I’d be perfectly happy if he’d learn how to slide at the end of them).
He’s made some fantastic throws. About the only throw he still has a problem with is the long ball. It baffles me that he apparently has absolutely no touch on a ball that I think is one of the easiest to throw.
Still, he moved the team up and down the field against a good Falcons team and were it not for the seven (seven!!) fumbles, the Vikings would have won the game. It wasn’t because of Jackson that we lost the game. If he continues his great play against the Giants, I think we will have seen enough to give us confidence that he is the quarterback of the future we’d hoped he’d be.
And if that happens, I think Brad Childress has secured his future as head coach for another year, regardless of whether or not we reach the playoffs this year. If TJax justifies Childress’ faith in him and considering the strides this offense has made this year, we should see Chilly return next year.
The question remains, though, of whether he keeps his offensive coordinator, Darren Bevell, as his playcaller. The Vikings offensive play calling has been uninspiring at best and consistently predictable.
The other big story on the offensive side of the ball this year has been Visanthe Shiancoe. Shiancoe has turned out to be the rockstar Childress predicted he’d be. Here’s another case where Childress’ talent evaluation has proven correct–though it took a mighty long time for the evidence to surface. Bernard Berrian‘s 99 yard touchdown reception was possible because Shiancoe is a legitimate threat; the safety bit on that play to cover Shiancoe, leaving Berrian all alone.
We haven’t had a big play tight end like Shiancoe since Steve Jordan. It’s been that long.
Adrian Peterson is, of course, Adrian Peterson. He’ll end the season as the leading rusher in the NFL this year. But he’s had eight fumbles this year and his fumbles last week cost us a game we needed to clinch a playoff appearance.
As phenomenally talented as he is, he needs to improve next year: 1) He has to stop fumbling and learn to switch the ball to his outside arm during runs, and 2) he needs to improve his pass blocking skills so he isn’t on the sideline on third downs and in obvious passing situations.
The defense has been outstanding and that bodes well for next year. Jared Allen has made all the difference in the world; by improving the pass rush exponentially, he’s improved the pass coverage that much as well. Defensive backs and linebackers do not have to cover receivers as long as they used to because we’re getting to the quarterback much faster this season.
I’ve had a lot of problems with Chad Greenway‘s play; his trouble shedding blocks and some of his decisions have been poor. But he’s made tremendous strides this year. With the return of E.J. Henderson next year, the Vikings should have a top-five linebacker corps next year.
Cedric Griffin has turned the corner with a vengance. He had another outstanding game last week: Staying with receivers, batting away passes, making Winfieldesque tackles, jamming receivers at the line, and playing in control. If he continues this progress (and there’s no reason to think he won’t), we should have a top-five cornerback tandem next year as well.
My only concern is Darren Sharper, who I expect will be allowed to leave for free agency after the season. It looks like Sharper has lost a step. He seems to be late in coverage and has consistently taken bad angles on tackles this year. Tyrell Johnson played well at the beginning of the season, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start next year.
There’s a lot to be encouraged about for next year regardless of how this season turns out.
Today’s game is the best chance the Vikings have among the two remaining games of the season of controlling their own destiny. Though the Falcons boast the second best runner (second only to Adrian Peterson, of course) in the league, the Vikings match up better against Atlanta than they do against the last team on their regular season schedule, the New York Giants.
After an abysmal year with Michael Vick‘s legal troubles and the coach abandoning his team, this year’s Falcons squad is a great story. Rookie quarterback Matt Ryan has been stellar and running back Michael Turner has been the steal of free agency.
Still, like the Cardinals, Atlanta seems to be a better team on paper than they are in person. Yes, they have a winning record (9-5) but like Arizona, their victories have mostly come at the expense of soft teams. They’ve split their series with division rivals and only barely pulled out a win last week at home against a fading Tampa Bay team minus starting quarterback Jeff Garcia.
Division games are unique in that division opponents are much more familiar with one another since they play each other twice a season, every season.
Take away their division victories and the only team Atlanta has beat with a winning record has been Chicago, and that game they won by only two points. Outside of their division, they lost to the two teams they’ve played with winning records, Philadelphia and Denver. Atlanta’s losses within their division all occurred on the road.
The Vikings are coming off their first victory in which they really played together as a team for the first time this season. They made few mistakes. Even on the drive that began with two false starts, which earlier in the year would have derailed a drive, they overcame the penalties by capping the drive with a score.
Cedric Griffin had his best day as a Viking and has steadily improved over the course of the season. Matched up against Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald with league MVP candidate Curt Warner throwing them the ball, Griffin more than held his own. He jammed receivers off the line, stayed with them in coverage, and made an amazing one-handed interception (and he probably should have had two more). Griffin doesn’t give receivers nearly as much cushion and when he goes for the tackle now he’s not only quick but also under control. Remember how he used to fly off receivers because he came in too fast to wrap them up? No longer.
While Griffin can credit Jared Allen and the pressure the defensive line brings to bear on opposing quarterbacks, there’s no question his game has improved immensely.
Despite Arizona’s blocked kick return for a touchdown, special teams were uncharacteristically solid during recent weeks. I can only imagine that Childress heeded the screams of Bud Grant telling him to use more veterans on the unit.
It’s true that Tarvaris Jackson has looked a lot better during the game and a half since subbing for the injured Gus Frerotte, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I know the clamor among fans and media alike has been to start Jackson for the rest of the season but let’s be real. He rallied us to a win against…the Lions. And his primary job last week was to hand off to Adrian Peterson. It was Frerotte, after all, who got us to this point.
That’s not to say there isn’t a lot to be happy about Jackson’s recent play and hopeful about his future. He did not looked panicked under center, which is probably the most important improvement in his play. He made good reads for the most part and threw some very tough passes–the touchdown’s to Sidney Rice and Bobby Wade in particular.
A primary complaint I’ve had of Jackson during his entire tenure as a Viking has been his abysmal inaccuracy on the long ball. The commentators and post-game analysts proclaimed Jackson’s TD pass to Bernard Berrian “perfect” but it wasn’t; it was under thrown and Berrian had to pull up to haul it in. It was a great catch by Berrian. But at least it was catchable and I’ll take that over his typical unreachable overthrow.
But as we’re looking to clinch a playoff berth, shouldn’t we be dancing with the one who brung us? That’s why I’m a little surprised Childress has opted for inexperience over the unflappable veteran leadership of Frerotte.
The Vikings’ game plan against the Falcons should be pretty much the same plan they used against the Cardinals. Run the ball a lot on offense, control the clock to keep the ball out of the hands of Ryan and Turner, and to put Jackson in high-percentage passing situations.
A heavy dose of Peterson and Chester Taylor will help to neutralize pass rusher extraordinaire John Abraham. The Falcons will play Abraham on either side to take advantage of mismatches, so the Vikes can’t put Ryan Cook out on an island against him or we may see Jackson become panicky again.
On defense, the Vikings will need to do what they’ve done all season: Shut down the run and harass the quarterback. This will be much easier said than done. The Falcons have not only dynamic running back Michael Turner in their backfield but also Jerious Norwood, who, though he doesn’t get much action, is no slouch. You can’t have the second leading rusher in the league without having a great offensive line, regardless of the softness of your schedule. This line has given up precious few sacks, as well. And we’ll be facing Turner and Ryan minus Pat Williams. Today we get to see what kind of depth we’ve got at defensive tackle.
But that’s what we need to do to win. Shut ’em down and make Matt Ryan beat us. The Falcons haven’t fared too well when Ryan throws 30 to 40 passes. While he’s clearly talented, he’s still a rookie and he’s never played in a venue as loud as the Dome. We’ll need to get in his face and make him uncomfortable, if not sack him.
Our corners will need to bump the receivers off the line to delay their routes, especially Roddy White, who has finally decided to turn into the elite receiver many expected him to become.
While Darren Sharper ma y have plenty of fond memories of Eli Manning interceptions, the New York Giants are a very good team and the Falcons may not be. This is our best chance for victory of the two games that remain.
…and no, I’m not talking politics for a change. I’m talkin’ Vikings.
The Vikings have got to beat the Texans at the Dome today to build some confidence and start some momentum during stretch of schedule that will make or break their season. After Houston, the Vikes face the Packers at home, travel to Tampa Bay and Jacksonville, two tough teams, and come home to face their second division opponent of this stretch in Chicago. These next five games will determine Brad Childress‘ fate as our head coach.
Houston is considered a team on the rise, with an offense that is fifth in passing and 11th in rushing. But their four losses have come at the hands of tough teams and their three wins at the expense of weak teams. They have yet to win on the road. And their defense is 26th against the run.
Now, the Vikings are no powerhouse but they are better than Detroit, Miami, and the Bengals, the three teams the Texans have beat.
The offensive line had better show up today and Tahi will need his A game (and it’s open to debate as to whether he has one) if the Vikings want to talk away with a win today.
They’ll need to grind it out with long drives and heavy doses of Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor in order to take advantage of Houston’s weak run defense and to keep their dynamic offense off the field.
Though the mythical Madieu Williams is allegedly set to start for the first time this season, we have no idea what we have in the safety. And with our troubles at linebacker (the slow Chad Greenway and the still adjusting Napolean Harris), it’s probably best to try and limit the damage Matt Schaub and receiver Andre Johnson are likely to do to the Vikings.
The last two things the Vikings need to improve are the offensive playcalling and the abysmal special teams coverage units. Sadly, I have little hope that either will be any better than what we’ve seen thus far.
Here’s hoping for the win but I’ve learned not to expect anything from this team.
The Vikings enter a relatively soft part of the schedule, starting with today’s game against the winless Lions at the Metrodome, then to Chicago to play a 3-2 Bears team that may or may not be good (they beat a weakened Colts team in the opener, beat a disappointing Eagles squad, and dominated Detroit).
After the bye, we’ve got the Houston Texans and the Packers, both at home.
The Packers beat us in a close game in the season opener when Tarvaris Jackson was leading the team. Green Bay has two wins so far, the second of which came at the hands of the Lions.
The Vikings could easily go 4-0 during this stretch and face Tampa Bay with a 6-3 record. The question then will be are we really a 6-3 team?
Despite offseason upgrades, the Vikings pass defense remains poor. Jared Allen has brought more pressure on opposing quarterbacks but Ray Edwards has not been able to pay for opponents double-teaming both Allen and Kevin Williams. Our left end must be able to beat one guy.
Opponents have been picking on Cedric Griffin all season and that will not change. So, understanding how offenses are going to attack our defense, isn’t there some way we can get Griffin some help?
Our pricey free agent safety Madieu Williams has been AWOL all season. Rookie Tyrell Johnson has played as well as we could hope to expect for a rookie safety but he’s still been taken advantage of in a way I presume Madieu Williams would not.
Our biggest problem on defense, of course, is the loss for the season of E.J. Henderson at middle linebacker. We can only wait and watch to see how that plays out.
The choice to start Gus Frerrote for the remainder of the season has given the Vikings a chance for a winning season when it was clear we couldn’t win two winnable games with Jackson at the helm.
But Bernard Berrian, our pricey free agent wide receiver, decided to show up just this last week; with him nursing an owie on his big toe, who knows how much we can rely upon him?
And, by the way, isn’t it important for your receivers to run the routes they’ve been assigned? Especially in an offense that requires precise route running?
Berrian may have caught a crucial touchdown last week, but he admitted the pass was not intended for himself and yet he still made a play for the ball. It’s a good thing he caught the ball because if the pass hadn’t been completed, he could rightly be criticized for brining his defender into the play.
Sydney Rice has missed the past few games while nursing a PCL injury and the running game has been bottled up of late.
Despite all that, we’ve been competitive for the most part, so there’s reason for hope.
Predictable Play Calling
The most exasperating aspect of coach Brad Childress‘ tenure has been the absolutely unimaginative offensive game plans. It was unbearable during Childress’ rookie year, when he insisted on three-yard passes on third and nine. Thankfully, it has gotten a lot better than that.
But the play calling remains unimaginative. Faced with defenses that refuse to allow Adrian Peterson beat them, the offense has turned more often to the passing game. Fair enough.
But when you’ve got one of the best players in the league, you’ve got to find a way to utilize him. Why are we not trying harder to get the ball to Peterson in space? Why don’t we send him out on pass routes to get him matched up with a linebacker more often? How ’bout sending him deep a few times? He’s certainly faster than most defensive backs in this league.
And why oh why are we not seeing both Peterson and Chester Taylor in the backfield at the same time more often?!? We’ve got two starting running backs; let’s use ’em. Keep defenses off balance by making them pick their poison. Both backs can catch the ball; let’s use a mix of run plays, play action, screens.
Why were we running Peterson outside nearly the whole game last week when the Saints were missing their starting defensive tackle and the replacement is not an every down player?
Kluwe’s not the problem. He certainly can improve his directional punting but the Vikings missed four tackles on one punt return last week, many more on others, and faired poorly on kick returns when Kluwe was not on the field.
This unit has been weak all year. Maybe adding more veterans to the unit but who knows? Veteran receiver Robert Ferguson took an inexplicable angle on one of Reggie Bush‘s TD punt returns last week that took Ferguson out of the play when he could easily have had a shot at the Saints’ running back.
So, given all this, will the Vikings simply be a tease again after the next four years or will we seriously have the contender we hoped for before the season began?
So Reggie Bush‘s two punt returns for touchdowns are all punter Chris Kluwe‘s fault? Really?
It’s more than a little pathetic to see coach Brad Childress taking out his special teams coverage unit’s incompetence on one player of that unit, or, as ProFootballTalk.com (the blog the pros read) says, throwing him under the bus.
The coverage units have been woeful all year and most of it has to do with missed tackles. And by the way, the coverage units are just as bad when Kluwe is not on the field during kickoffs.
So, according to Viking Access, Childress is working out punters either for the purpose of signing one or to send a blunt message to Kluwe to get better at kicking the ball out of bounds.
That, and calling Kluwe out publicly, are pretty classless.
Kluwe has been a top-notch punter for several years. In 2005, he was the franchise. He doesn’t deserve the berating he’s getting.
That was a complete disaster.
Frerotte’s Gallant Effort
Gus Frerotte did everything he possibly could to win but dropped passes, poor protection, fumbles and penalties ensured the Vikings’ loss today.
Frerotte threw 43 times for 266 yards but four fumbles led to 21 Titan points and seven penalties kept the offense from ever really getting in rhythm.
On the Vikings’ first drive of the game, Tahi fumbled on the first series, giving the Titans the ball on the Vikings 33 yard line. Four minutes later the Titans had scored a touchdown to pull ahead 10-0.
Adrian Peterson ripped off a 28 yard touchdown run at the beginning of the second quarter to pull within three, but then fumbled later in the quarter to start a series, giving the ball to the Titans on the Vikings 11 yard line.
LenDale White punched it in to give the Titans 14 points off Vikings turnovers. The Vikings managed only three more points in the first half, and couldn’t capitalize on a late Titans’ fumble.
For all intents and purposes, that was the game.
Bernard Berrian has hardly earned his salary thus far. He dropped several balls today. Worse, he got by his defender at one point but let a perfectly thrown ball slip through his fingers for what could have been a long touchdown.
He missed numerous blocks. Berrian may share with Troy Williamson the abiltiy to drop passes but he can’t hold a candle to the former Viking receiver when it comes to blocking.
Visanthe Shiancoe had a decent game, catching four balls for 47 yards. But, wide open on a seam route that may have been a little overthrown, rather than running to the ball and trying to catch it over his shoulder, Shiancoe turned toward the ball, ensuring he wouldn’t have a chance. Had he caught it, it would’ve been a touchdown.
Again this year, the pass defense looks suspect. The front four got little pressure on Kerry Collins all day, allowing him–as those before him have done–to pick on Cedric Griffin all day long.
Griffin is the weak link in the defense. He doesn’t play within himself when tackling, consistently running too aggressively to the ball carrier and ending up either getting juked or sliding off the the guy because he’s over pursued.
And he’s just a poor cover corner, which is why he’s constantly getting picked on.
Special Teams Cannot Tackle
God do I miss Heath Farwell! The special teams coverage unit has been missing tackles all year long. The Titans returned kickoffs of 23, 29, and 52 yards, all three of which could have been stopped for short returns but for poor tackling.
Gus Frerotte’s Injury
Frerotte injured his left hand late in the game, leaving the field with it wrapped in a bloody towel as he headed for the locker room. We do not know the extent of Frerotte’s injury as of this writing, but if he’s out for any significant time, this season is probably lost.
Unless, you know, maybe Daunte is willing to unretire.
That makes all the difference in the world, doesn’t it?, an accurate quarterback who makes sound, quick decisions?
It was amazing to watch the offense open up so drastically with Gus Frerotte at the helm. Suddenly the cameras are showing 30, 40 yards worth of view during plays. I’d almost forgotten what it looked like.
Frerotte’s ability to get the ball to his receivers 20, 30, 40 yards down the field made all the difference in the world. This is what he offense is supposed to look like.
Frerotte didn’t get a lot of help from his receivers early on, what with Visanthe Shiancoe‘s obligatory drop of what would have been a long first down and Bernard Berrian‘s failure to catch a catchable ball which resulted in an interception off the subsequent tip.
But by starting the game with the offense coming out firing, the Vikings demonstrated their ability to stretch the field, signaling to the Panthers that they would stack the box at their own peril.
While the Vikings’ first four drives ended in punts or a pick, the offense showed they had no fear of passes longer than ten yards. And that’s the most important thing the offense lacked under Jackson‘s leadership, the ability to keep defenses honest.
Though the offense didn’t score a touchdown in the second quarter, they had a drive that ate up more than nine minutes that ended in a Longwell field goal.
Antoine Winfield‘s sack, strip, fumble recovery and return for a touchdown gave the Vikings momentum and excitement heading into the locker room for the half.
On the Vikings’ first possession of the second half, under pressure from a blitz, Frerotte hit Berrian for a 48 yard reception to which Berrian did a very nice job adjusting for the catch. The drive ended with a 34 yard strike to one Visanthe Shiancoe down the seam who not only caught it, but shook off a tackle, made a cut, and raced to the end zone. Without dropping the ball.
Now defenses can’t solely focus on the running game.
And that’s what the Vikes did on their following drive, eating up eleven minutes and thirty-four seconds and capping off the drive with a field goal.
The defense, of course, was amazing, due in large part to the addition of Jared Allen. In addition to Winfield’s touchdown, the team sacked Delhomme five times and was in his face all day. They jammed Steve (Punk Ass) Smith at the line, keeping him to 70 yards receiving.
Ben Leber recovered a fumble and E.J. Henderson was an absolute rock star, racking up 11 tackles, three for losses, one of which was a highlight reel-worthy play in which he leaped across blockers to corral the running back behind the line.
The defense is so good that I’ve been saying all we needed was a quarterback that doesn’t suck. I’m not saying Frerotte isn’t good–he is–I’m just saying all we’ve needed was an average quarterback to win games. Luckily, we now have a good one.