Friday, September 29, 2006

The Vikings in the Red

Once again, the Vikings’ offense is matched up against a top notch defense. The Bills D has a secondary full of studs, Takeo Spikes and London Fletcher at linebacker, and a defense line that has done a solid job stopping the run and getting to the passer. And so, once again, the Vikings are going to have problems putting points on the board.

Luckily for them, the defense should be able to help by creating turnovers. While Willis McGahee is a stud, and isn’t known for fumbling, the Bills have the erratic J.P. Losman under center. The secondary, full of veteran ball hawks, should be able to pick up where they left off against da Bears and create some turnovers.

Unless they house those turnovers, though, it’s going to fall on the offense to turn them into points. And by points, I mean touchdowns, not field goals. At this point in the season, the Vikings’ offense has been mediocre in the red zone, only scoring two touchdowns in nine trips to the red zone. Thankfully, they have a great kicker in Ryan Longwell, but if this team is going to achieve its goals, they're going to have to start scoring seven points in the red zone instead of three.

So why does the offense stall once it gets past the opponents twenty? Is it poor play calling? Poor execution? Penalties? Or is it some combination of the three?

Against Carolina, the Vikings problems were a result of poor line play. Against Carolina, the Vikings had three drives stalled by a holding penalty on Artus Hicks, an intentional grounding penalty on Brad Johnson and a sack. On the fourth drive, the Panthers stopped three straight rushing attempts on the goal line.

Against da Bears, the Vikings only got within the red zone twice. Both times, they failed to gain yards on first down. The first time, they took a shot at the end zone that Travis Taylor was unable to haul in, and the second time, Chester Taylor was stuffed for no gain. Their failure to gain yards on first down helped lead to third and longs that they were unable to convert, leading to more field goals.

Aside from Carolina’s goal line stand, every time the Vikings failed to score in the red zone, they managed to get themselves in obvious passing situations on third down. The problem is that the Vikings aren’t really equipped to convert in these situations. They don’t really have the playmakers necessary at wide receiver or at quarterback to gain a lot of yards against good defenses that know the Vikings are going to pass.

In order to be successful in the red zone, the Vikings have to stay out of third and long situations, because they are rarely going to be able to convert them with the players they have. And when they do end up facing third and 8, they need to try something besides relying on Brad Johnson and their receivers. The most success they had was on third and 15 against Carolina, when they went handed it off to Mewelde Moore and he gained eleven yards. They need to learn from this and be willing to use screens and draws to make up for their deficiencies in the passing game, especially in the red zone. Otherwise, they are going to continue to fail miserably at scoring touchdowns.

So what does this mean for the Vikings this Sunday? Well, it depends on if Brad Childress figured this out as well. The Bills are a similar team as the Vikings’ last three opponents—good at defense and average on offense. And while the game is on the road, the Vikings match up well against the Bills rushing game. So it’s going to come down to whether or not the Vikings’ offense can score. As usual, I’m going to be optimistic, and guess that Childress has made the necessary adjustments to his red zone offense. That’s why I’m picking the Vikings’ to win, 20-13, with the offense scoring one TD and the defense adding another.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Dear Drew

Dear Drew,
Can I call you Drew? Thanks. I just thought I'd welcome you to the Vikings. We're glad to have you. I know your signing wasn't the biggest story of the day, though I have to say I'm glad that T.O. only kinda sorta not really tried to commit suicide and that he's ok. I really don't know what I'd do without some T.O. in my life. I'm sure you feel the same way.

Anyway, I know that you haven't had the most successful professional athletic career, but I'm still excited to have you on the squad. I like Darren Sharper, but it's because of his safety skills, not because of his quarterbacking ability. And I know you aren't actually on the active roster yet, but I'm sure you'll be a hit in practice, and with Tarvaris recovering, well, it'd be nice if you realized some of that promise.

I'll let you go, since I'm sure you have to go spend some time studying the playbook. I suggest you pay particular attention to the plays designed for the red zone. Maybe you'll be able to see something that the Brads don't. A fresh perspective might just be what the offense needs to figure out what they need to do to score touchdowns instead of field goals.

Anyway, good luck and Skol Vikings!


Monday, September 25, 2006

A Tricky Situation

Personally, I thought Brad Johnson’s contract was a non issue. Something writer’s had drummed up during training camp and had gone away. I guess not. To be honest, I’m not sure what the Vikings should do here. Brad Johnson is not the starting quarterback of the future. He might not even be the starting quarterback next year. And if that’s the case, I think the Vikings should save their money.

And I thought that was the case, prior to the announcement on Friday that Tarvaris Jackson was going to miss a month of the season undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his knee. I figured Tarvaris was on Daunte’s career path, only without all the fumbled snaps. That all changed with the injury—that month of practice was important for Tarvaris’ development. How much, we won’t know for awhile, but knee surgery for a mobile quarterback trying to make the jump from 1-AA could be the kind of setback where the Vikings’ don’t feel comfortable with him under center next year.

All of which brings us back to Brad Johnson and his contract extension. If this is his last year starting for the Vikings, then upgrading his contract is probably a mistake. If they need him for next year too, then they should invest the money and make sure he’s happy. If he’s going to back up Tarvaris next year, then it isn’t worth it. It’s the kind of decision you can’t make without knowing how quickly Tarvaris rebounds from the surgery, but one that likely can’t wait that long.

And that’s why, as much as it pains me, I think the Vikings should make sure they take care of BJ. My guess is they’ll need him under center next year because of Tarvaris’ setback. They might end up moving him back to the second string next year, but, provided he doesn’t require a massive contract upgrade to be happy, I think the Vikings’ should make sure he is.

[I would also like to say that wins for quarterbacks are even more meaningless than they are for starting pitchers in baseball. If the Vikings had won on Sunday, Brad Johnson would have had about as much to do with it as I did. You’d think that Trent Dilfer’s Super Bowl ring would have put that stat to rest, but I guess some people are still clinging to it. Yes, there is a difference between a quarterback that loses games and the Dilfers/Johnsons of the world. Not losing the game does not, however, mean that the quarterback had ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE WIN. So let’s stop pretending it matters that Brad Johnson is 9-3 with the Vikings, because it doesn’t.]

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Wasted Opportunity

This was a game the Vikings should have won. Instead, poor play calling and an awful turnover gave da Bears the win. The way the Vikings' finished their last two "drives" on offense wasted a great performance by the defense and handed Brad Childress is his first loss.

First off, why did the Vikings' throw the ball on 2nd and 8 the play before Chester Taylor fumbled? Secondly, why did they throw the ball on 4th and 2 on their last drive (I'm not even going to ask why they threw a deep pass. I'm not sure I could deal with the answer right now). Did they forget that they're a running team? Did they forget that Brad Johnson is their quarterback? Hmmm?

This Vikings' team can be successful this year. They have a shot at the division, and should make the playoffs. If they're going to do that, however, they have to remember that BRAD JOHNSON IS THEIR QUARTERBACK. He's old and has a weak arm. He's a fine quarterback, if you want a game manager, which is all the Vikings are looking for right now. He is not going to win you games by himself. He is not going to make astounding plays. He's not even going to make good plays that often. He's 39 years old for Ragnar's sake. Don't ask him to throw the ball when your offense needs to kill clock. And for the love of all that is holy in this world, DO NOT ask him to complete a long pass on 4th and 2, at the end of the game, down by 3 points

So help me, I'm going to break a whole lot of things if something like that ever happens again.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Da Bears, Dey Are Da Overrated

As I’m sure you know, Da Bears are overrated. I think we can safely say that, despite their 2-0 record, this team is not 1985 part deux, and I doubt many people outside of Chicago are going to argue that point. Their first two opponents were the Packers, led by Captain Interception, and the Lions, led by RoyIt was stupid how close we were to putting 40 points on the board” Williams. Both of those teams are awful. Let me say that again—The Lions and Packers are AWFUL. Blowing them out is something that good teams should do. The thing about playing bad teams, however, is that the final scores don’t tell you as much about the quality of a team as does the way that that team won. So let’s break down how Da Bears have played while cruising to their 2-0 record.

1) Da Bears have forced six turnovers so far this year. Captain INT continued his march to overtake George Blanda in the opener, throwing two picks, and his teammate Noah Herron showed why the Milli Vanilli braids that Packers’ players are always sporting are not conducive to success when he coughed up a fumble. Against the Lions, the Bears recovered three fumbles. The Vikings, thankfully, are unlikely to cough the ball up anywhere near as much, with Brad Johnson under center and Chester Taylor (only 8 fumbles in 539 touches) getting most of the carries.

2) They are having trouble with the run on both sides of the ball, only averaging 2.8 yards per carry, while allowing 4.0 yards per carry. Now, these stats should be taken with a grain of salt, as Da Bears opponents have been forced to the air after falling behind (only 37 total rushes), and have been able to stack their defenses against the run when the Bears were running out the clock. That being said, 2.8 yards per carry is pretty bad--it's the fifth lowest average in the NFL.

3) Most of the yardage Da Bears have gained has been through the air. They’ve basically been able to throw the ball at will, averaging 273 yards per game. Rex Grossman has been great so far this year. He’s also never played a full game at the Metrodome (If I were a Bear’s fan, I’d be worried, since the last time Grossman played the third game of a season at the Dome, he left the field on a cart). Heck, he’s never played more than three games in a season. And no matter how good their passing game looked, all of those yards were gained at the expense of the Packers and Lions’ secondaries.

4) The vaunted defense of Da Bears has completely shut down their opponents’ passing game, only allowing 181.5 yards per game. This is even more impressive when you consider that the Lions and Packers threw the ball a lot. Then again, how impressive is shutting down a passing attack led by an erratic, over the hill gun slinger so desperate for receivers that his team signed a drunk to be their number one option? And I know the Lions spent all their first round picks in the last decade on wide receivers, but that doesn’t mean they’re any good. Not to mention that Jon Kitna and his 75.5 QB rating was trying to throw them the ball. And yes, I know that both teams would have carved up previous Vikings’ secondaries—that’s not the point.

So what does this all mean? It means that the Vikings match up well with Da Bears. They don’t turn the ball over, are committed to and successful with the run, have a good, veteran secondary, and a passinng attack that's good enough to keep Da Bears from stacking the line of scrimmage. Is it going to be enough for them to take the lead in the NFC North? Once again, my optimistic nature says yes—the Vikings will win on Sunday, 17-13.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Erasmus' Dominos

Erasmus James is out for the season with a torn ACL. And once again, the Vikings’ have found a way to buzzkill what little joy they bring to their fans, this time through injury after injury to their defense. First Tank Williams, then their first round pick Chad Greenway in the first preseason game. No sooner do Vikings’ fans start to get over those losses, then Dovonte Edwards, he of the amazing interception off of Brett Farve last year, and the first good starting nickel back for the Vikings’ in a long time, broke his arm. And now, after turning in two solid performances, and showing flashes of the talent that made him a first round pick, Erasmus James has to have season ending knee surgery.

So the Vikings’ lose yet another player they were counting on to play an important role in their defense, both this year and in the future. Yes, the Vikings' lost last year’s first round pick to an injury that may sap his most valuable asset, speed, but what effect is it going to have on the defense this year? The defense isn’t going to collapse, that’s for sure. James was playing well, but he isn’t even close to the best defensive lineman on the team. And last year, Darren Scott played well at left end after James was hurt (And yes, I’m avoiding calling him injury prone yet.) The Vikings, thankfully, have depth on their defensive line. Kenechi Udeze will be fine shifting over to right end, and Scott will be fine at left end. What James’ injury does, however, is remove the depth that the Vikings had. If either Udeze or Scott is hurt now, the rookie from Purdue, Ray Edwards, will be seeing significant time. And one thing the Vikings’ cannot afford is to have a significant drop off in the play of their defensive line, considering how important it is in the Tampa-2 scheme.

The Tampa-2 relies on the line to get pressure on the quarterback, saving blitz’ for special occasions. The defensive line’s ability to pressure the quarterback is the key to the success of the Tampa-2. If the line can’t get pressure, the Vikings will have to blitz, which means they’ll open up a lot of holes in their coverage, especially considering the lack of depth in the secondary and the lack of quality linebackers (I don’t care how well Napoleon Harris played on Sunday—I’m not going to trust the linebackers for a long time). And so go the dominos—James is out, Udeze gets dinged, Edwards can’t get to the quarterback, freeing lineman to double team the Williams, forcing Tomlin to call blitzes, allowing receivers to get open enough for even Jon Kitna to hit them. Suddenly the Vikings' defense is back to the mediocrity of the past few years. And that is why James’ injury could be so such a huge blow to the Vikings’ defense and their season.

Edit: I just realized this morning that James' injury is yet another blow to the Vikings' ability to play guys with cool names. They've now lost Erasmus, Dovonte, and Tank. That's almost half of the guys with sweet names that get to play--the only ones that are left who will see the field are Mewelde, Ciatrick, Kenechi and Napoleon. Of course, the Vikings were smart about putting their roster together--Dontarrious, Tarvaris and Khreem are waiting in the wings should they be needed to keep the announcers on their toes

Sunday, September 17, 2006

2-0? Who'd Have Thunk It?

I’m sure I wasn’t the only Vikings’ fan that would have settled for a competitive 1-2 to open the season. When you consider that they were facing three of the best defensives from last year and that the Vikings’ offense is running a new scheme, has a remade offensive line, a brand new running back, and a passing attack consisting of a weak armed 38 year old game manager and a bunch of no name receivers, 1-2 was a worthy goal. And now, thanks to two great efforts by the Vikings’ defense, two solid efforts from the offense, and some fortuitous injuries to their opponents’ stars, they’re 2-0, with a home game against the defending NFC North champs up next.

Whether or not they hand Da Bears their first loss of the year on Sunday, they will still be in the driver’s seat for the playoffs. Once again, the Vikings’ have a relatively weak schedule, including 4 games against the Lions and Packers, road games at Buffalo and at San Francisco and a home game against the Jets. You have to figure that the Vikings will be the favorite in all 6 games, which means that if they take care of business, they only need to pull out two of the following games: @Miami, Arizona, St. Louis, Chicago, @ Chicago and New England. All of those are winnable games—all the Vikings need to do is win two of them, and take care of business, and they’ll be 10-6 with a playoff berth in Brad Childress’ first year.

And now, some thoughts on today’s game:

Where you going? NOWHERE!

  • I learned today that Chris Gamble is dumber than most rocks, and the Panthers need a new special teams coach. I can’t believe that John Fox decided to try for a “Music City Miracle” play on a punt, that it wasn't even in the playbook, or the Gamble would even attempt to throw that ball when both he and his target were under so much pressure. It’s just too crazy. That play might work on a kickoff, but on a punt? No chance. The players aren’t going to be able to create the kind of time necessary for the returner to throw it, and his target has to come from the line of scrimmage, rather than being lined up next to the player who received the kick. That being said, it’s kind of nice watching another team fail miserably to run a poorly thought out play, isn’t it?
  • Welcome to the Vikings’ Chester Taylor! Childress stuck with the run again today, calling for 33 rushes, and Taylor made the most of his 24 carries, gaining 117 yards, including a 33 yard run to set up Ryan Longwell’s game winner. If the Vikings can keep running the ball like this, they’re offense is going to be more than good enough to help carry them to the postseason.
  • Brad Johnson did not have a good day today, mostly due to poor pass blocking. That being said, his interception was simply inexcusable. He had all the time in the world on that pass, but instead of making the smart decision, like he normally does, he chose to force a pass to Marcus Robinson that Ken Lucas stepped in front of. The Vikings cannot afford for Brad Johnson to make throwing dumb passes a habit, as their offense isn’t potent enough to make up points they give to the other team via turnovers.
  • Make sure you mark down today on your calendars, as today was the first day that the Vikings’ looked like they didn’t give Randy Moss away for free. Troy Williamson looked like a #1 receiver, catching pretty much everything thrown his way, and then gaining significant yards afterwards. Adding to that, Napoleon Harris was dominant on defense, making 10 tackles and coming up with two huge sacks on important third downs (I’m still not sure why the refs overturned his second sack in OT). If the two of them keep it up, Vikings’ fans won’t have to worry about the Moss trade joining the Herschel Walker trade in the infamous section of the Vikings’ history.

Off to the Races!

  • Finally, despite all the injuries, the Vikings’ defense has been great so far this season. While their competition must be taken into account (the ‘Skins are having trouble adopting to Al Saunder’s offense and the Panthers were missing Steve Smith and offensive linemen), they’ve still held their opponents to 16 and 13 points respectively. So far, they’ve applied pressure, played solid coverage and done a good job of wrapping up. While they’ve had some issues stopping the run (both the ‘Skins and Panthers averaged 4 yards a carry) and have yet to create any turnovers, they’ve been great on third down, holding the Panthers to 3 of 14 on third down conversions (and the ‘Skins to 4-13). That kind of big play success will be necessary for the Vikings to continue to be successful, especially if they can’t force the other team to start coughing the ball up.

Farve Interception Watch: When Omar Stoutmire of New Orleans picked off Brett Farve in the end zone, not only did he prevent the Packers from scoring in a game the Saints won by 7, he also helped Farve along in his quest to overtake George Blanda for the most career interceptions thrown. Farve has 3 for the season, which means he only needs 20 more to reach 378 and pass Blanda’s mark of 377. If he keeps up his pace of 1.5 picks per game, he’ll set the record in the final game of the season. Let’s go Brett! Throw those picks!

George Blanda is Back!!

Now, I don't want to set the precedant where Ryan Longwell gets to party with the Wisconsin Women just because he kicks a game winning field goal. Kickers are important, but they don't normally win games so much as finish them out, similar to a closer in baseball. However, when you are responsible for all of the Vikings' points, including the game winner in overtime, AND you throw a touchdown pass on a fake field goal? Well, that's the kind of performance those Wisconsin girl appreciate, as I'm sure Ryan Longwell knows from his days in Green Bay, which is why he gets to party with them tonight!

Gonna Party with the Wisconsin Women Tonight!

That all being said, I hope he invites Napoleon Harris (for his 10 tackles and two huge sacks including the one that was erroneously overturned in OT) and Chester Taylor (for having a break out game and busting off a 33 yard run to set up Longwell's game winning field goal) to his party, as they were just as deserving as he was tonight.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Ain't No Party Like a Vikings' Party

While my computer issues may put a small damper in my posting plans, that doesn’t mean I’m going to neglect my loyal readers. My laptop’s decision to cut a third of the alphabet, including most of the vowels, means I’ll have to keep most of my posts short, as I’ll be writing them at work, or on my roommate’s laptop until I can get my own fixed. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, it’s time to award the season’s first Wisconsin Women to the player most responsible for the Vikings’ victory. After every victory this year, one player will get to celebrate with Hudson girls, which as we learned after the Raven’s game, is clearly the best way to celebrate (by the way, mad props to Childress for suspending Dwight Smith—Now THAT is some discipline my friends).

So, without further ado, let’s introduce our first winner to his prizes (drum roll please) and the winner is…Brad Johnson! BJ’s play against the Redskins was superb last night, as he completed 16 of 30 passes for 223 yards and a touchdown (there’s a reason Wisconsin women are partying with Vikings’ QBs now—it’s the lack of interceptions), and he should have had more yards, except for Troy Williamson dropping passes he should have caught. He also did a great job of avoiding the Redskins’ vaunted pass rush by stepping up and sidestepping the Redskins defenders, buying valuable seconds for his receivers to get open. And finally, sealing the deal with the Hudson girls, he taunted the Redskins on the way out, flashing his old ‘Skins jersey. So congratulations Brad Johnson, for leading the Vikings to victory, taunting your former franchise and closing the deal with the Wisconsin Women!

Where the Wisconsin Women At?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Farve Watch and a Prediction

I'm having computer issues, so no big preview post before today's game. I'll be at the game though, rocking my new Antoine Winfield jersey and singing "Skol Vikings" after the Purple score ("Hail to the Redskins" has nothing on "Skol Vikings"). I've managed to get a working computer, so I'm going to start my Farve countdown and make my predicition for the game.

First off, after being intercepted twice against the Bears, Brett Farve only needs to throw 21 more interceptions to pass George Blanda (277 INT thrown) for most picks thrown in a career. He can set the record this year--he's thrown 23 or more interceptions four times in his career. I wonder when ESPN is going to start putting up a fancy graphic over his INT highlights, like they do when Barry Bonds hits a home run?

And my prediction: Vikings win 17-10. The Vikings' defense is dominate, the line opens up some holes for Chester Taylor, and Travis Williamson steps up and has a good day, in support of Brad Johnson, who plays a smart game, out dueling Mark Brunell.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Redskin Interrogation!

First off, I'd like to thank Ben from the Curly R for asking me to do a 5 question exchange with him about the Redskins and Vikings. His questions about the Purple (and my answers) are over at the Curly R. And now, for your reading pleasure, the transcript of the interrogation (In case you're wondering, I used the same tactics the CIA uses--it's how it's done in Washington).

Question 1. Living in the Washington, D.C. metro area, I can't help but notice the buzz surrounding the Redskins this year. Do you believe the Super Bowl hype? And if so, does your opinion change if Clinton Portis' injury is more serious then they are letting on, and you have to rely on T.J. Duckett and Ladell Betts for a significant part of the season?

Curly R: I'm optimistic about the Redskins chances this season, but I'm reserved in my predictions. I think the Redskins need to play to 80% of their potential to in order to stay in the playoff hunt, and each of the other teams in the NFC East needs to have some kind of meltdown. For the Giants, Eli needs to play down to his true potential, or Tiki (Wahoowa!) needs to fall apart. For the Eagles, Dono needs to be just average, since the running game will disappoint and the receivers are mostly new. For the Cowboys, TO needs just to be TO.

About Clinton, I tend to believe a fellow Redskins blogger Master4Caster's theory that the Duckett trade was defensive in order to cockblock the Eagles from getting their hands on him. As evidence of this, they brought broken-down bruiser Stephen Davis in for a tryout the next week. Did I mention the Eagles running game will be weak? The Redskins had the horses without TJ, but adding him to Ladell gives them a solid running game. I'm not worried about Clinton.

Question 2. Who was your favorite Clinton Portis character and why?

Curly R: my personal fave is Coach Janky-Spanky, a defensive guru who's plan to stop Clinton Portis is to put two more Sean Taylor's on the field. The all-time best, though, is Southeast Jerome, who showed up with his homey Johnny Whiteguy (Chris Cooley taking a break from screwing Redskins cheerleaders).
Southeast Jerome

Question 3. The 'Skins brought in Al Saunders and his offense by giving him head coach money this offseason. What do you think so far? Is the offense suited for the 'Skins personnel?
And do the rumors of Saunders' back stabbing previous coaches worry you?

Curly R: So far I'm confident, even though I thought it was a little odd. Gibbs has always run the offense, so I look at this as setting up a succession plan as much as trying to win a Super Bowl. After this season or next, Joe will step down, perhaps to President of Football Ops, and be succeeded by either Gregg Williams or Al Saunders. That Gibbs has ceded the offense to Saunders tells me it will be Saunders, and Gregg Williams will get another shot as head coach for another team.

I do think this offense will work with these players. The Saunders and Gibbs run-first-QB-manages-the-game philosophies are very similar. Saunders has produced high-octane offenses everywhere he's been. It's all about Brunell. If he can't get it done, it doesn't matter who's calling the plays.

Now I have heard nothing about Saunders stabbing Vermiel in the back, but rather about how Chiefs ownership passed over Saunders in favor of Herm Edwards who was the defensive backs coach in Kansas City under Marty Schottenheimer, and who the ownership had their eye on for some time. If Saunders wanted to be a head coach, he would be, and I think we'll start to hear rumblings a la Marvin Lewis tward the end of this season.

Question 4. Shawn Springs is doubtful for Monday's game. How important is he to your defense, both at corner and as a leader? And how do you feel about having to start Kenny Wright instead, considering Wright was a major factor in the awful Viking secondaries of this decade?

Curly R: Shawn is a starter, so I don't want to downplay his importance. He's had the injury bug going back to the Seahawks, always one thing or another. I don't think the Redskins ever expected Springs to go 16 games in any season, and how much does your abdominals tearing off the pubic bone suck? Corner is one area where the Redskins lack depth, but I don't think this will hurt the Redskins because Sean Taylor hits so hard Marcus Robinson is taking out some extra insurance.

Question 5. What are your feelings on Dan Snyder? Is he a good owner that just needed some time to control his inner Steinbrenner? Or is Joe Gibbs the only reason Snyder isn't treating the Redskins like a fantasy football team?

Curly R: Dan Snyder is an ass and I despise him for soaking Redskins fans for every last cent (Remember two seasons ago when he tried to limit Redskins season ticket holders to re-upping only with the Redskins Visa card?) . He's cash-rich, and as long as cash-solves-cap, he can keep doling out big money, but until someone puts him in his booster seat and tells him to butt the fuck out, it's pissing in the desert. So far, it looks like Joe Gibbs is that guy.

Finally, a bonus question: What are your feelings on Heath Shuler possible return to Washington? Have you joined the Stop Shuler Campaign yet?

Curly R: Heath. What a disappointment. Who were the two marquee QBs in the 1994 draft? Heath and Trent Dilfer. Granted Trent has a Super Bowl ring, but he got it playing for a Ravens team that did not score an offensive TD in the month of October. Baltimore could brought in Barry Switzer to run the wishbone that season and they still would have won it all. The Ravens defense was historic and Ray Lewis was a killer that season.

I've seen Stop Shuler, and it's hilarious. I think Heath will be a great Congressman, a conservative Democrat that can carry a southern district. He's running against Charles Taylor, the guy that brought us Freedom Fries. North Carolinians should vote for Shuler on that issue alone.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Two Backups for the Price of One

I’m taking a break from my team preview (I’ve already looked at the Vikings’ special teams and offense) to recommend that Brad Childress take a page from the playbook of different Hall of Fame coach than Bill Walsh. If he’s smart, he’ll notice while scouting the ‘Skins that their quarterback situation is very similar to the Vikings. They have a veteran quarterback that’s reached the “game manager” stage of their career as their established starter, a quarterback that’s bounced from back up position to back up position and a young quarterback that’s has the talent and ability to be a star but is still a year or more away.

While Childress is leaning toward installing the recently acquired Brooks Bollinger as the backup ahead of Tarvaris Jackson, Joe Gibbs has already decided what to do with future star Jason Campbell and journeyman Todd Collins—he’s making both of them the ‘Skins number two quarterback. If Brunell gets hurt during a game, Collins will go in to finish, but if Brunell’s is out for the week, Campbell will get the start, and gain valuable experience.

This is the kind of intelligent coaching that the Vikings’ have been missing. Tarvaris has established himself as the quarterback of the future, but even the biggest rube knows he isn’t yet ready to be the starting quarterback, and having a rookie as the backup quarterback on a playoff team is asking for trouble. That being said, with a week of preparation, he gives the Vikings’ a better chance to win than Bollinger does, and it gives him a chance to gain experience while practicing as the starter and in the game. If Childress is as good a coach as I think he is, he’ll see that Gibbs’ two backup system is one that fits the Vikings’ situation as well as it does the ‘Skins.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Slightly Less Offensive

Today I’m continuing my season preview with a look at the Vikings’ offense, after previewing the special teams yesterday. As much fun as it was watching every other unit but the offense score last season, they shouldn’t have to rely on the defense and special teams as much for points and field position this year.

Offensive Line: Bryant McKinnie-LT, Steve Hutchinson-LG, Matt Birk-C, Artis Hicks-RG, Marcus Johnson-RT

The offensive line should be a vast improvement over last year’s. The return of All Pro center Matt Birk, when combined with the signing of Steve Hutchinson and the rebuilt right side means that only Bryant “The Giver” McKinnie returns from a line that endangered Brad Johnson’s life and averaged only 91.7 rushing yards a game despite facing opponents that allowed an average of 116.1 yards per game on the ground. While they haven’t gelled yet, as the Vikings’ poor preseason rushing totals show, they’re still a huge improvement over last year’s line. The sooner they gel, the more likely the Vikings are going to have a competent offense, as the new West Coast offense is dependant on the running the ball.


Quarterback: Brad Johnson

Let’s get this straight—Brad Johnson does not win the Vikings games. BJ is a game manager, nothing more, nothing less. Now, I’m not saying he’s a bad quarterback. My point is that he wasn’t responsible for the Vikings’ turn around last season as much as the defense forcing turnovers, Koren Robinson’s rejuvenation of the return squad and the drop in the quality of opponents was. That doesn’t mean the Vikings can’t win with him, or that they win despite him, but rather that his job is to not to win the game for the team, but is instead to turn the ball over and make the open play. He’ll be better in Childress’ West Coast scheme, since it will help hide his weak arm, but in the end, he is to the Vikings’ what Mark Brunell is to the Redskins, or Trent Dilfer was to the Ravens in 2000. The Vikings can go far with him behind the center, but only if the running game, defense and special teams take them there.


Running Back: Chester Taylor

To put it mildly, Chester Taylor has not impressed so far this preseason. To put it bluntly, he’s been awful, carrying the ball 37 times for only 2.6 yards. That is not good, not good at all. The question is whether his poor performance is due to some combination of his adjusting to a new team, a new role as the feature back, and a line that is still a work in progress or because he just isn’t that good. My feeling is that he’s a better back than he’s shown, since he’s averaged over 4 yards a carry in his 373 career attempts and his backup, Ciatrick Fason hasn’t had much more success carrying the ball. Whether or not Taylor steps up and becomes a 1000 yard back will be the difference between an awful offense and an average one, and likely the difference between the playoffs and another high draft pick.


Full Back: Tony Richardson

Tony Richardson should help the Vikings’ running game. He’s a veteran fullback and I think he’s going to enjoy the challenge that linebackers like Brian Urlacher, A.J. Hawk and Boss Bailey provide him. That being said, he doesn’t really add much as a receiver, so the running backs and tight ends will have to pick up his slack. Since the Vikings didn’t really have a full back last year, he has to be an improvement and regardless, his experience should be a boon to the team this year.


Wide Receivers: Troy Williamson, Travis Taylor, Marcus Robinson, Todd Pinkston/Kevin Kaspar

This is probably the weakest position the Vikings have offensively. They lost their two best receivers from last year, one to karma and one to a drunken Steve McQueen impersonation. The position isn’t barren, however, as there is some potential here. Troy Williamson should be more comfortable in the new offense than he was last year, especially with a year playing at NFL speed under his belt. Travis Taylor and Marcus Robinson have both played well this preseason also. Whether the Vikings use Todd Pinkston and Kevin Kaspar as their fourth receiver isn’t going to make or break the receiving core and the addition of Pinkston adds both depth and experience. If the Vikings were still running Mike Tice’s “offense”, these receivers would worry me a lot more than they do. Childress’ offense isn’t as reliant on stud receivers, which is easy to see when you look at the Eagles teams he coached. A great receiver might be necessary for the offense to reach its full potential, but it’s something the Vikings can worry about later, after they’ve finished rebuilding the team.


Tight End: Jimmy Kleinsasser, Jerome Wiggins

Kleinsasser and Wiggins provide different looks at tight end, but both are quality players who can run block and catch passes. Kleinsasser is better at the former, Wiggins at the latter. Their ability to maintain their production will be a key to the Vikings’ passing game, especially considering the weakness of the receiving core.



The Vikings should be better on offense this year, but don’t expect them to look like the offenses from 1998-2000. Brad Johnson is a good fit for the new offense, and it’s a good fit for him as well, emphasizing good decision making and accuracy, rather than arm strength. The line has a lot of talent on it, but if it doesn’t do a better job of opening holes for the running backs, there are going to be as many games where the Vikings need an interception, punt and kickoff returned for a touchdown as last year. Zygi’s signing of Darrell Bevel, a real life offensive coordinator may end up being the biggest addition to the offense, however, and I expect that the offense will have a lot easier time putting points on the board with a full time coach.


Monday, September 04, 2006

Well, They're Special, Aren't They?

Only a few more days until the Vikings kick off out here in Washington, D.C. and thankfully, the preseason is finally over. Since the season will be upon us soon, I'm going to take a look at how the three units and the coaching staff compare with last year, culminating with my prediction for the season. I'm going to start this week just like a football game, with a look at the Vikings' Special Teams on the eve of the season (well that's kind of a fun little idea, isn't it?)

Kicker: Ryan Longwell
One of the Vikings' best offseason moves was replacing Paul Edinger with Ryan Longwell. As every Vikings' fan knows, Longwell has been consistent and clutch for the Pack the last 10 years, though he did have some problems with his accuracy last year, as he only completed 74% of his kicks, down from his 85% average the year before. His problems came when he lined up for kicks between 30-39 yards, only making 6-10, his worst percentage from that distance in his career. This preseason, however, he's been great, converting 5/5 under 40 yards and making 2 of his 3 40+ yard kicks. If he stays consistent on mid range kicks, he should be a massive upgrade over Edinger, both in terms of accuracy and range.

Punter: Chris Kluwe
There was some cause for concern here, since Kluwe had offseason knee surgery, but if anything, he's been better this preseason than he was last year. Kluwe is a good punter, and barring any injuries, he's going to be the replacement for Mitch Berger that the Vikings have been looking for.

Punt Returner: Mewelde Moore (?)
Like last year, Mewelde Moore is going to be returning punts, provided that he manages to stay healthy. Moore's injury problems are a big reason why exposing Jason Carter to waivers is a mistake. Mewelde seems to get dinged up a lot, and if he misses a game, as seems very likely, the Vikings would have to use Travis Taylor, who hasn't fielded a punt yet this year.

Kick Returner: Kevin Kaspar
Kaspar has looked good so far this year and he had better continue to perform, as the Vikings are going to rely on their return games a lot this year for both field position and points, just like last year. If Kaspar can't replicate the explosiveness of Koren Robinson, it's going to be a major blow to their ability to put points up on the board. This is where those drinks Koren knocked back are going to hurt the Vikings the most.

The Vikings improved at kicker and brought back a quality punter, but their reliance on the question mark that is Mewelde Moore, when combined with the loss of Koren Robinson mean their return game is worse than last year's, and Longwell just isn't enough of an improvement over Edinger to make this year's unit better than last year's.

Friday, September 01, 2006

I Hate the Preseason

The preseason is awful. It's boring, it's too long and it doesn't mean anything. And worst of all, there's really only one way to be successful, and it has nothing to do with wins and losses (or, you know, ties). The only way to be successful in the preseason is to avoid injuries to important players, like, say, your first round draft pick, your starting safety, or your starting nickelback.

Since, however, the Vikings seem to be allergic to success, they failed to get out of their final preseason game without another significant injury, this time to Dovonte "Farve Fears Me" Edwards. Nothing like a broken arm to your nickelback to get you ready for the season opener.

In other news, the Vikings are the least valuable franchise in the NFL. Now, I know the Metrodome sucks, but I'm not sure how the Saints are more valuable, considering everyone left their city. Then again, maybe playing in the Metrodome is worse for a franchise's value than having a hurricane destroy the city it plays in.

Finally, I'd like to thank everyone who participated in my search for a new jersey. Sadly, I was unable to go with either of the top two choices due to forces outside of my control--I couldn't find a white Smoot Jersey, and a custom Tarvaris jersey wouldn't have gotten to me in time. So I went with an Antoine Winfield away jersey. Hopefully #26 will work out as well for me as #84 did.

[Editor's Note: I just saw this article on Dovonte Edwards great play this preseason in the Star Tribune. Excuse me while I go break something]