Tuesday, October 31, 2006

No Super Bowl This Year

Before I get into my rant, I’m going to take a step back and look at the broader picture: The Vikings are 4-3 overall, 4-1 in conference and have a ridiculously easy schedule remaining. They are still one of the favorites to make the playoffs. They are not, however, Super Bowl contenders. And I think it’s probably for the best that the Patriots demolished that pipe dream now, so we can enjoy the stretch run, rather then having it destroyed when the Vikings lose in the first or second round of the playoffs.

That being said, RUN THE %$*#$&*#$ BALL.

The Vikings and Patriots both had the same game plans last night: rather then attack the defenses’ strength by running the ball, they would come out throwing. This, as we saw, worked well for the Patriots. With Tom Brady making accurate throw after accurate throw while under no pressure, they quickly marched down the field for a touchdown. When the Vikings got the ball for the first time, Brad Childress tried the same thing. The problem, of course, was that Brad Johnson is his quarterback. And even with Theisman trying to talk up the idea of a contract extension (I’m done if Brad Johnson gets a contract extension and is handed the starting job next year) BJ made some stunningly bad decisions, his normal amount of poorly thrown passes and the Viking’s offense sputtered and turned the ball over on its way to zero points. Basically, Brad Childress forgot who his offense was, and the Vikings got destroyed because of it.

The defense didn’t exactly hold up their part of the bargain either, as the secondary left receiver after receiver wide open. It looked exactly like the Buffalo game, only against a Hall of Fame quarterback and an offensive coordinator that knew what they were doing. That wasn’t the only thing that was reminiscent of the Vikings other bad loss this year. Against Buffalo, the Vikings ran the ball 16 times. Last night? 15, seven of which were before the half. Against the Bills, Brad Johnson threw two interceptions. Against the Patriots, he threw four, and then was benched for Brooks Bollinger.

That final bit of embarrassment was the last straw in the Vikings’ worst loss of the year. They forgot who they were, had their weaknesses exploited and dispelled all talk of a possible Super Bowl run. Again, there is no reason to give up on the season, but the Patriots showed how to beat the Vikings: Attack the secondary, force the Vikings to abandon the run, and make Brad Johnson beat you. The scary thing is, the Bills were able to carry out that game plan, which means that it could happen against any team, something that does not bode well for the Vikings' playoff chances.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Please Fire Sean Salisbury

Before I get into tonight’s big game, I just wanted to take a moment to beg the members of the internet community to please, please, please set up fireseansalisbury.com. If there is justice in this world, he will get canned. I just watched him answer a fact or fiction this morning on faltering starting quarterbacks and I'm never going to be able to unsee what I just witnessed.

First, he was asked if Chaz Batch should replace Ben Roethlisberger. (Is it Chaz now? Or is he still going by Charlie? Remember when he was just a young buck and starting for the Lions? He was so cute then.) His answer? FICTION. Big Ben is a WINNER! How soon we forget about the Super Bowl! (I didn't--Big Ben had an historically awful performance). You have to let starters play through the rough spots!

Next, Salisbury addressed the Jaguars QB situation. Obviously, it’s FICTION that David Gerrard should start. Byron Leftwich is a WINNER! It doesn’t matter that Gerrard is more mobile. Leftwich is a WINNER! He might have some rough spots, but he knows how to win! (Do you see a trend forming?)

The next question he “answered” was about the Chiefs. Should Trent Green start when he returns from his injury? FACT! Trent Green is a WINNER. You have to go with your starter here. Damon Huard has played well, but he’s no Trent Green. Green is a WINNER.

At this point, I was just staring at the TV in disbelief. Thankfully, there was only one more to go, and it revealed a lot about the train wreck that is Sean Salisbury: Football Analyst.

The last question concerned the other benching that occurred this week—Sage Rosenfels replacing David Carr at halftime of the Texans-Titans game. So, Sean Salisbury—is it fact or fiction that David Carr should remain benched? FICTION!!!!!!!!!!! He just needs to work through the rough spots! He doesn’t have as many as I did! He’ll work through it if you give him time!

See what he did there? He gave us a peak into his mind. And in his mind, Sean Salisbury is not the awful backup QB that he was in reality. No, in his mind, Sean Salisbury was a stud QB who just didn’t get the support that he needed. He just needed some time to work through the “rough spots because he was a winner. A WINNER. It is a FACT! It is FICTION that Sean Salisbury was a joke of a quarterback. FICTION I SAY!!!!

Ok. Breath TBird. Breath.

Alright, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, it’s time to focus on tonight’s game. Richard Seymour traveled with the Patriots, but he's still questionable. His ability to impact the game will be the major factor in the Vikings’ success. We know that the Vikings’ defense is good, but we also know that the offense has to be competent for the Purple to win. And in order for them to be competent, they have to be able to run the ball. If Seymour is out, or his injury renders him ineffective, the Vikings’ offense will be successful and the Vikings will win. If he’s 100%, it’s going to be a lot harder for them to run the ball and the Vikings’ are going to need a big play out of their special teams (Paul Ferraro has been picking Bethel Johnson’s brain) and defense (the Patriots top two guards aren’t playing) in order to win. I think they get them. And so I think that the Vikings are going to pull it out, 20-17, officially announcing their status as a Super Bowl contender.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Irresistible Pair v. The Immovable Duo

The Vikings currently have the number one rushing defense in the NFL. That might sound like crazy talk, but it’s true. The Purple People Eaters, are, in a way, back, lead by the Williams duo, Kevin and Big Pat. And they are facing their biggest challenge of the season on football’s biggest stage.

The Patriots are averaging 133 yards per game on 33 carries. Their per carry average isn’t spectacular, but it’s pretty good (3.9 yards per carry) and if you’re getting four yards a play, for thirty three plays, that’s the kind of success that can carry an offense by itself. As scary as Tom Brady is in close and late situations, the Patriots offensive success rests mainly on the shoulders of Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney.

Not what you want to see on Monday

And, considering how successful the Patriots’ pair of backs have been, it was an easy choice for Belichek to make. Handing the ball to a guy who’s going to get you four yards (or 4.2) is the obvious decision, especially when your leading receiver is your tight end, and your top three wide outs are Troy Brown, Doug Gabriel and Reche Caldwell. Belichek isn’t going to pull a Mike Martz and forget about his All Pro backfield with that receiving core, that’s for sure.

And so the Vikings are going to see Brady hand the ball off to Dillon and Maroney on at least half of the Patriots’ plays. If they can limit them to three yards a carry, like they’ve been able to do so far, they’ll have success. The Vikings secondary can shut down the Patriots’ passing game in third and long situations. They aren’t, however, going to have much success in short yardage situations, especially considering that Brady is accurate, has a good arm and likes to go to his tight end. It’s harder to cover a tight end in ambiguous situations, because the linebackers will have to play the run first, giving Watson an all important step or two on the coverage. And Watson has shown he knows how to exploit that advantage.

What you want to see on Monday Night

I’m probably preaching to the choir here (how’s that for a cliché?) but I don’t think I can emphasize enough how crucial it will be to stop the Patriots’ rushing game, nor how hard it's going to be. Dillon and Maroney are both number one backs, and they are comfortable sharing carries. If they wear down the Vikings’ defense, it’s going to open things up for Brady and the game is going to get ugly. If Big Pat and crew can stop them like they did Willis McGahee, and Kevin Jones, well, then they will have earned the title of best rushing defense in the NFL. That, and the Vikings will be 5-1.

A Fortuitous Injury?

It’s official: Marcus Robinson is not going to play on Monday. That’s a big blow to a Vikings team that is going to need a decent passing game against the Patriots. Robinson had established himself as the Vikings go to guy and their main deep threat--something the Vikings offense has been lacking. They can’t afford for Brad Johnson to go into check down mode on Monday night because the best way to attack the Pats is through the air. Their passing defense is an average one, while their rushing defense is amongst the best in the NFL. Because of that, the Vikings offense will likely face a lot of third and long situations, and Johnson will be playing directly into the Patriots’ hands if he dumps it to the running back or tight end right away.

Those third and longs, however, might not be as problematic for the Vikings as it would seem. As usual, the Vikings are going to face a quality opponent at less then full strength. Richard Seymour is questionable for Monday night’s game and like Pat Williams for the Vikings; he is the key to their defense (when he was out last year, the Patriots had problems stopping the run). Luckily for the Vikings, he’s having elbow problems, and even if he does play, will likely be wearing a huge brace on his elbow. That could seriously hinder his effectiveness, because defensive tackles need their arms to control blockers. If his brace slows his hands down, Steve Hutchinson is going to be able to get into his body and control him, which means there will be a huge hole for Chester Taylor to get through.

If the Vikings are going to be successful on Monday night, they need to exploit the Patriots weaknesses. If Seymour is out, or can be neutralized, then the Vikings should continue pounding away with Chester Taylor. If they aren’t able to establish the run (and even if they do), then they are going to need Brad Johnson to throw the ball down field like he did against Seattle. If the loss of Marcus Robinson makes him regress to his pre bye conservatism, then the Vikings’ offense isn’t going to be on the field for very long, which could lead to disaster against a team that’s as good as running the ball as the Patriots are.

[I suggest you take the time and read the Boston Globe's article that I linked to. It does a good job of describing what a defensive tackle is supposed to do in order to be successful. If you can't get at it, here are some logins you can use]

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

NFC Playoff Table: Week 7

So here it is: My masterpiece. This table breaks down PRECISELY the race for the NFC Wild Card spot. It includes every team without a losing record, except da Bears, who will be included if the Vikings move within a game of them. Until then, I'm going to assume they're going to win the NFC North.

In order to avoid confusion, here's a quick explanation of the table. The first three columns are self explanatory (Conference Record matters because its the tiebreaker used if head to head matchup can't be used). The fourth column lists who the team holds a tiebreaker over. You'll notice there are no division teams listed right now, because until the two games are both played, it's just speculation. The fifth column lists the upcoming games against out of division playoff contenders, the sixth lists upcoming division games, and the final column lists the upcoming nonconference games and games against teams that are out of the playoff race. In the last two columns, teams in bold have winning records, and italicized teams in the final column are in the NFC. [Due to formatting issues, the chart is well after the "analysis". If anyone knows how to fix this, it'd be appreciated.]

So are the Vikings going to make the playoffs? While it's early, I'd have to say they are the favorite to do so. They currently are tied with the Giants and Seahawks for the second best conference record (behind da Bears) and only have to play two more games against NFC teams with winning records, one of which is at home. The Seahawks have an easier conference schedule remaining, but since the Vikings hold the tiebreaker, it won't factor in if they are tied for a wild card berth. Aside from the Rams (who have three road games against NFC playoff contenders) every other team has at least four more games against NFC playoff contenders and most also have games against AFC contenders as well.

This is why the Vikings division is so helpful. Instead of having four division games against good teams, they only have two. The NFC West is equally as easy, but the Vikings already beat the Seahawks, and will get to host the Rams, giving them control of their own destiny.

The other six teams in contention all have to play each other, and play each other alot. Each team from the NFC South and NFC East has at least four games against teams on this chart. They're either going to beat up on each other (ruining their conference record) or one of them will emerge from the pack relatively unscathed (meaning the Vikings will likely have a better record then the wild card contenders AND a better conference record). It's too early to decide on which teams will come away with the division titles (My guess is the Giants in the East and the Saints in the South), but considering the schedules and the tiebreakers, I would be surprised if more then one team from those two divisions got a wild card berth. The Seahawks' injuries (Memo to Matt Hasselbeck--Quit whining. You're better than that. It's Mack Strong's fault, not E.J.'s) are the only reason I'm not writing off the NFC East and NFC South for wild card berths. But make no mistake about it. The Vikings should make the playoffs this year. Failing to do so would be a massive choke job, which sadly, is what this franchise does best. So be prepared for it--we all know it's coming.

[The Chart is coming]

[Almost there!]

[Here it is! Whoo hooo!!]



NFC Record


Tiebreaker Games Left

Division Games Left

Opponents Left
































































[Sorry About the formatting. I have no idea how to make it fit. Any help would be appreciated, because I plan on updating this chart weekly]

Monday, October 23, 2006

Hitting on All Cylinders

Well that was fun, wasn’t it? I’ll have an in depth analysis of the Vikings’ playoff chances later this week (they’re looking good!), but today, I’m going to focus on the Vikings’ first complete game. They played well on offense, defense and special teams (not counting Longwell’s missed FG) for the first time this year, and it was gooooood.

Everything was coming up Vikings on Sunday. The defense continued to dominate, holding the Seahawks to 13 points, creating turnovers and scoring a touchdown for the third time this year. And apparently, the offense just needed a week off, as they actually scored some points, both in the red zone and on two home run plays (Taylor and Robinson’s TDs). Not to mention Mewelde Moore having a solid game returning punts AND throwing passes (bringing the number of quarterbacks on the Vikings that are better then Brad Johnson to three) and Bethel Johnson looks like a solid pickup, averaging 31 yards a return, including a 49 yarder to open the game.

"Take it from me kids--you don't need to drink to be good at returning kicks."

All that being said, I feel it necessary to point out a major reason for the Vikings’ win—Mack Strong pushing E.J. Henderson into Matt Hasselbeck. Once Hasselbeck went out, well, the Vikings’ immediately became the favorites. I’m not saying that it was guaranteed, but at that point, the Vikings’ should come away with the win. It wasn't that surprising that they were able to, considering they’ve yet to beat a team not missing a key player (Clinton Portis, Steve Smith, and Roy Williams / the Lions entire o-line come to mind). It’s something that we all need to remember, before we get too excited and start rewriting the words to pop songs to indicate that the Vikings are going to the Super Bowl.

Don't get me wrong--even if Hasselbeck had avoided injury, the Vikings would still have had a good shot at coming away with a win. BJ was actually taking shots down field, Chester Taylor is starting to get into a groove and Marcus Robinson is in the process of solidifying his position as the Vikings’ number one receiver. That offense actually looked like a competent one (except, of course, when Marcus Johnson tried to ruin another trip to the red zone with a holding penalty). And what can I say about Mewelde’s pass? It was a great throw under pressure, and an even better catch by Jermaine Wiggins. Plays like that can win you Super Bowls (see Steelers, Pittsburgh) and the Vikings finally have a coach who’s willing to take risks AND can design trick plays that don’t come out of illegal formations.

The defense, as usual, didn’t need trick plays to be successful. They still have not allowed more than 19 points in a game and they did what they were supposed to by shutting down an offense missing its two best players. Make no mistake; the Seahawks were still dangerous without Hasselbeck. Their receiving core is skilled, they have one of the best left tackles in the game and Seneca Wallace is not a bad backup quarterback, and he could eventually become a good starter with the proper support. He isn’t yet, however, and the Vikings did what a good defense should do against a backup QB—hit him hard and often.

"This one's for you Big Pat"

The entire front seven, it seemed got in on the action. Ben Leber continued his strong push for the title of “Best Free Agent Pickup” when he went around Walter Jones, nailed Wallace and forced a fumble in the end zone that Kevin Williams recovered. E.J. Henderson was in the backfield all day, and Napoleon Harris joined him for a key sack before halftime. You could see that Mike Tomlin’s game plan included applying pressure to the Seahawk’s weak spot—the interior of the line. Vikings were coming through the middle the entire game.

I could go on all day about this game, and I would love to. My employer, however, would likely have a different opinion, so I’m going to wrap this up without discussing the Vikings big stop on 4th and 1 in the fourth quarter , Chester Taylor’s run, Cedric Griffin's impressive INT or the fact that the Vikings’ clearly came out ahead in the poison pill “trade”. That was a huge win on Sunday and one that should springboard the Vikings back into the playoffs.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

New Rules

Dear readers,
I ask that you be patient with me as I tweak the award for player of the game. While striving to make it the epitome of subjective awards, I've eliminated it's name (it's no longer the Loki), added a prize (Many Wisconsin women come from the same stock as Heidi Klum) and today, I even considered giving the award to players on the other team.

Have no fear though--after today's game, I've come up with two new rules. The first, is that only Vikings can win the award. Opposing players aren't going to be shut out, however. They can win an honorable mention, which entitles them to serve as the winner's wingman. Hopefully, this incentive (remember, the prize is plural, not singular) will help the Vikings out down the road. And so, I bestow upon Mack Strong,for pushing E.J. Henderson into Matt Hasselbeck's knee, the right to be the wingman for this week's winner.

That isn't the only rule that I decided on this week. Nor was it the most important. Like many of you, even after Hasselbeck went out, I still expected the Vikings to find a way to lose. I've seen too many scrubs lead their team to victory after the Vikings' knocked out their starting QB. My anxiety only got worse after Ryan Plackemeier pinned the Vikings inside the ten. And then, well, then, Chester Taylor took the handoff, knocked around on the inside of the line, found his way to the outside, and then out ran Michael Bouleware for 90 yards on the way to end zone, scoring the Vikings' first rushing touchdown in 21 quarters, and with his 95 yard romp (here's where the rule comes in) set a record for the longest touchdown run in franchise history.

Taylore Breaks Loose!!

That helped him on his way to a 169 yard day on 26 carries, and the right to party with the Vikings' cadre of Wisconsin Women. Why? Because anytime you set a franchise record while making the pivotal play of the game, you get to be the player of the game. And with that title comes the Wisconsin Women. Hopefully Mack Strong can help him get all the enjoyment out of his experience that he could possibly want.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Can the Optimism Remain?

One of the habits that I've been trying to get rid of is my inability to be realistic about the Vikings' chances. Every week I find a new reason to pick the Vikings. Whether its because da Bears are overrated (they are) or JP Losman is a bad quarterback (he is) or because Chris Carter had the Vikings' mentally ready to walk into the Meadowlands and destroy the Giants (they weren't), I find a reason why the Vikings should leave the field triumphant.

It seemed to me that I'd be able to break the habit in the next two weeks. It's hard to be optimistic about playing the reigning NFC Champs on the road, followed by a game against the always tough Patriots. And yet, things keep popping up. Shaun Alexander, orginally slated to be back from his foot injury in time for the game, is going to be sitting out. That wasn't enough though-the Seahawks passing game is just too good for the Vikings to handle. Deion Branch, Darrell Jackson, Bobby Engram and Nate Burleson are all quality recievers.

Except now, Bobby Engram is out. That recieving core isn't as scary anymore. It almost looks manageable. And the Seahawks haven't found a replacement for Hutchinson, which could be a big issue against one of the best defensive tackle combos in the NFL. Maybe the Williams can get some pressure on Hasselbeck and force a turn over or three. Maybe the Vikings' secondary can handle Seattle's three headed recieving monster. Maybe the Vikings figured out how to run their offense effectively during the bye week (if so, I bet it involved Childress slapping BJ upside the helmet everytime he checked down unnecessarily).

But you know what? I can't do it. I can't convince myself that Bobby Engram sitting out is going to be the difference in this game. He's good, but it's not like the Seahawks are losing Randy Moss.

So I'm going to have to pick against the Vikings, for the first time this season. The Seahawks are going to have a field day with a Vikings secondary that had problems with the Bills air attack and the BJ is going to keep checking down on 3rd and long keeping the offense sputtering and the defense on the field.

Seahawks 27, Vikings 10.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A Look Around the Tubes

What to write about… What to write about. Hmmmm…I already previewed the game, and I have to wait until tomorrow to make my prediction. And sadly, no one on the web is making outlandish claims about awful losses. But, this being the internet and all, the tubes are full of lots of stuff worth checking out. And there are outlandish claims, but they’re about people setting off dirty bombs at NFL stadiums. I really only have two things to say about that: First, I’m glad the Vikings are away, so we Minnesotans don’t have to worry about getting hit and secondly, I’d bet this isn’t the first time a Viking and the phrase “dirty bomb” were used in the same sentence.

Moving away from bad sex boat jokes, but staying on the topic of sex, Josh Brown is apparently nowhere near as clutch when it comes to the ladies as he is kicking field goals. He, in fact, has all the closing skills of 15 year old kid—he managed to get Carrie Underwood’s number, which is pretty impressive when you consider kickers don't have the same skills with the ladies that punters do. But then he didn’t call her! If I found out that Ryan Longwell had pulled a similar stunt, well, I wouldn’t be anywhere near as confident in him nailing a 45 yarder as time expired, I can tell you that.

It wouldn’t affect how I thought of him kicking off, however. It doesn’t matter who tees up the ball—once “Welcome to the Jungle” starts blaring, I’m going nuts. Not everyone feels the same way. Someone who’s heard the “Immigrant Song” will have to tell me if it would fit, but I’m against using it on kickoffs, if only because I’d hate to give in to those pencil necked geeks living in their parents’ basement, playing with numbers and surfing the internet. They don't understand what it takes to win games. Man do I hate those people.

Finally, it seems that those internet nerds aren’t as smart as they think they are. I can’t name names, but I can prove that at least 94 people have all the brain power of, well, Mike Tice. That or Tice is doing a piss poor job of trying to rig this poll.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Matchups That Will Decide the Game

After a break to take Peter King to task, it’s time to look at the five key match ups for the Vikings on the defensive side of the ball. I would say these are more important than the offensive match ups, because this team has to win games with its defense. The Vikings are not going to win a shootout anytime in the foreseeable future, that’s for sure.

  1. Shaun Alexander v. His Foot

At this point, we can probably safely say that Alexander is not going to be playing on Sunday. This is what I like to call a “good thing”. I don’t care how explosive Maurice Morris is supposed to be—he’s not going to win the MVP award any time soon, or set the record for most touchdowns in a season. Big Pat, Napoleon Harris and the rest of the defense can handle him, just like they’ve handled every other running game. Don’t look now, but the Vikings have the fourth best rush defense in the NFL. Shocking, isn't it?

  1. Darrell Jackson and Co. v. Antoine Winfield and Co.

This match up is what is going to decide the game. The Vikings secondary has been good, but not great, which might not be enough on Sunday. They’re only allowing 201 yards a game through the air, but a lot of that is a product of the teams they’ve faced. The only offense they’ve seen run by a good quarterback (Jake Delhomme) was missing its best receiver. And there was the Buffalo game, where the Bills’ wide outs were so open it seemed like the Vikings were playing a man down in coverage on every play. As Pacifist pointed out on Monday, the Seahawks have a definite advantage here, with four competent receivers (Jackson, Deion Branch, Bobby Engram and Nate Burleson), and a good quarterback. The Vikings don’t really have the personnel to match up, especially when you consider Fred Smoot's play has fallen a long way since the days when he covered the third of the world not covered by water.

  1. Kenechi Udeze and Ray Edwards v. Walter Jones

One way the Vikings can mitigate the Seahawks' advantage over their secondary is by getting to the quarterback. I can’t say I’m optimistic about their chances, considering that Walter Jones might be the best left tackle in the NFL. Udeze has been something of a bust this year, while Edwards has played well when he’s on the field, but somehow, I doubt either of them have any success against Jones.

  1. Matt Hasselbeck v. Poor Decisions

Matt Hasselbeck has already thrown seven picks this year, only two less then he threw all of last year. And they all came in three games: two against Arizona, three against the Giants and two against Chicago. If he tries to force a pass or three into tight coverage, the Vikings MUST come away with the ball. And if they do, they need to think end zone, because as we all know, the offense sure isn’t going to score a touchdown no matter how close to the goal line they start.

  1. Mike Tomlin v. Mike Holmgren

Holmgren has been running his offense successfully for years. He’s the oldest remaining coach on the West Coast Coach family tree and he knows what he’s doing. But he’s not such an offensive genius that he can’t be stopped by a defense executing a great scheme, like, say, the Cover 2 (see Bears v. Seahawks in Week 4). If Tomlin can create a game plan that works as well as Ron Rivera's did, the Vikings are going to have a great chance to win. If Holmgren learned his lessons and made the necessary adjustments, well, it's going to get ugly.

Koren, There's Always Next Year

So, does everyone agree now that cutting Koren Robinson was the right move?
" Green Bay Packers wide receiver Koren Robinson was suspended without pay Tuesday for a minimum of one year for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy."-ESPN.com
Hopefully this decision helps Brett Farve start throwing interceptions again. If he doesn't, he's not going to set the career mark this year.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Thanks a Bunch Peter King

My take on the five key defensive match ups for Sunday is going to have to wait. Why? Because Peter King is being an idiot. Last night’s game was not, nor will it ever be, considered one of the "biggest choke jobs in sports history". Yes, it was bad. Yes, the Cardinals are a snake bitten franchise. But, I’m sorry, blowing a 20 point lead to the best team in the NFL, IN THE REGULAR SEASON is not a historic choke job. Da Bears were only down 10 points going into the fourth quarter. 10 POINTS—that’s it!

I know this shouldn’t anger me like it does, but I consider myself, as a Vikings’ fan, something of a connoisseur of choking, and hyperbole like this gets to me. This is the kind of crap I’d expect out of someone like Sean Salisbury, or, well, pretty much anyone involved with ESPN, but Peter King is a better writer than that. I mean, I can name five choke jobs involving the Vikings off the top of my head that were much worse than this one. If I included other teams, and other sports, I’m not sure the Cardinals' loss would even crack the top 100.

Don’t believe me? Here are five choke jobs (in no particular order) that were worse:

1) 1998-99 NFC Championship Game—Minnesota Vikings choke against Atlanta Falcons

The Vikings had the best offense ever and were undefeated at home (their average margin of victory at the Dome was 23 points) with a perfect kicker. When Gary Anderson lined up to kick the field goal that would put the Vikings’ up 10, the game was over. Until he missed. You can fill in the rest yourself. I'm not getting into it.

2) 2000-01 NFC Championship Game: Minnesota Vikings choke against New York Giants

Unless you’re Temple, losing 41-0 is a massive choke job. Care to guess the common theme between this choke job, the 1998-99 NFC Championship game and the Cardinals loss last night?

3) 1997-1998 NFC Wild Card Game—New York Giants choke against Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings put up 10 points in the final 90 seconds, including recovering an onside kick, in the Meadowlands to knock the Giants out of the playoffs. Possibly the only time in the history of the franchise that the Vikings' opponent, rather than the Vikings' themselves, choked.

4) 2003-Week 17—Minnesota Vikings choke against Arizona Cardinals

Leading 17-3, the Vikings allowed the Cardinals to drive down the field and score a touchdown with 1:54 to play. After E.J. Henderson lit up Emmitt Smith to prevent him from getting in the end zone on the two point conversion, the Cardinals recovered the onside kick. Then, just to make it more painful, they gave up two sacks, pushing them back to the 28 yard line with almost no time left on the clock. Then, well, I’m sure you remember Tyrone Poole’s touchdown as he was pushed out of bounds. And if you're like me, you’re still haunted by Paul Allen's screams of anguish on the radio.

5) Super Bowl IV—Minnesota Vikings choke against Kansas City Chiefs

Coming into the game, the Vikings were 13 point favorites and had the NFL’s best offense and best defense. Of course, that didn’t matter, as the Vikings never showed up against the Chiefs, turning the ball over five times and generally looking like a 2-12 team, not a 12-2 team. This choke job was so bad, it's taint still sticks with the franchise today.

So there you go. 5 games that were worse choke jobs than last night’s, all involving the Vikings, and four of them by the Vikings. I’m going to close by thanking Peter King for making a statement so inane that I felt it necessary to relive the most painful moments in Vikings’ history just to prove him wrong. Thanks a bunch Peter.

[Edit: Gary Anderson missed field goal would have put the Vikings' up 10, not 13, as this article on Wikipedia implies. Last time I trust Wikipedia over my own memory.]

Monday, October 16, 2006

It's a Game Week Again!

Is there anything worse than a bye week? The off season is bad, but you have the draft, free agency and hope and optimism. The bye week is different—it forces you to stop and wait—it’s like the scene in the first new Star Wars, where the two Jedi are fighting, but force fields keep popping up between them and they have to sit and stare at each other until the force fields go down and they can resume fighting. It’s excruciating. And, thankfully, it’s over, and nothing bad happened (that we know of).

So now the Vikings can focus their attention at the 11 game sprint to the playoffs, and these next two games are going to be huge. If they can split with the Patriots and Seahawks, they’ll be 4-3 and likely favored in seven of their last nine games. Now, there's no need to panic even if they drop the next two games, because they’ll still have a good shot at 10 wins and a playoff berth, but their margin for error will be pretty slim at that point.

Since it’s a game week (Have I mentioned that fact yet?), I’m going to spend today and tomorrow looking at the important match ups on both sides of the ball, starting with the offense. The Vikings can beat the Seahawks in Seattle, but they’re going to have to play their best game of the season in order to do so. And here are the match ups that the Vikings’ offense are going to have capitalize on to come away with a victory on Sunday.

  1. Troy Williamson and Marcus Robinson v. Michael Boulware

Seattle’s defense is bad against the pass. They’re the 5th worst in the NFL, allowing 239.2 yards a game through the air. If the Vikings are going to win, their receivers are going to have to get open. In order to do so, Williamson and Robinson must beat both Boulware and their suspect hands on their deep routes. If they can stretch the field, it will open up the underneath routes and create running lanes for Chester Taylor, and the offense might actually start to click.

  1. Brad Johnson v. Checkdowns

It doesn’t matter how open the receivers get if Brad Johnson keeps checking down on every play. He has to fight his instinct to dump it off immediately and look for his receivers deep, otherwise the offense is going to continue to be unable to move the ball. Due to the Seahawks' suspect secondary, the receivers are going to be open, but will Brad trust his arm enough to throw them the ball?

  1. The Offensive Line v. the Refs

The Vikings’ red zone woes can be attributed to two things—an inability to convert on third and long and the penalties that put them in third and long situations. They've only scored 3 touchdowns in 11 trips to the red zone and a lot of that can be blamed on poor line play. It seems like every time the Vikings get past the twenty, Marcus Johnson or Artis Hicks commit a holding penalty or false start and the drive stalls when they can’t convert on third and long. The Seahawks have a very good offense, and if the Vikings are going to keep up, they have to score touchdowns, not field goals.

  1. Chester Taylor v. Lofa Tatupa

It doesn’t matter how well Brad Johnson plays if the Vikings’ running game is shut down. Brad Childress has done a good job of sticking with the ground game (except against Buffalo), which means that Taylor is going to get 25-30 carries on Sunday. What he does with them will play a large factor in whether the Vikings’ offense is successful. If he can make Tatupa and Seattle’s other linebackers miss like he did against the Lions, he’ll have another big day, putting the passing game in situations where it can be successful (2nd and 5, 3rd and short). If not, the offense is going to have trouble putting together drives, since they aren't able to convert on anything longer than 3rd and 5.

  1. Bethel Johnson v. the Seahawks Coverage Team

Odds are the Vikings are going to need a big play out of their special teams or defense in order to win. That’s where the newest Viking comes in. The kick return team has done a good job of blocking, but Troy Williamson hasn’t been able to capitalize on it. If Bethel Johnson can find a hole, he has the speed to house one, something that would likely lead to a Vikings’ victory.

Don't forget to check back tomorrow, when I'll be breaking down the key matchups on the other side of the ball.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Vikings Youtube-a-palooza

No rooting guide today, mainly because it was quite stupid of me to think that there is a definite team to root for when two teams the Vikings are vying with for the playoffs are playing in Week 6. Just a silly idea.

So instead, I’m going to have a Vikings Youtube-a-palooza. You know you love it. Also, if anyone wants to buy this site for a hundred thousandth of what Google dropped for Youtube, I’m definitely willing to listen to offers.

Moving right along...I'm going to start out with the strong safety of the future, Greg Blue. Remember this hit? You might have seen it featured on Monday Night Countdown’s Jacked Up. That hit makes me feel all happy inside. The Vikings haven’t had a safety that could destroy people like that in a long time, that’s for sure.

While Darren Sharper isn’t laying people out, he is still one of the better free safeties in the league. One of the reasons is that he doesn’t have claustrophobia. I couldn’t sit inside a hyperbolic chamber like that without freaking out. I could deal with a tent, like OSU’s Anthony Gonzalez has, but not Sharper’s tube.

On the other side of the ball, it was a little harder to find good videos from the present—I wonder why. I did manage to find Troy Williamson’s highlight video from college though. It helped remind me why they drafted him 7th (and if you’re like me, you probably were mad they didn’t take Mike Williams instead. Wonder how he's doing?). As with all things Vikings, fans are a little too crazy—people need to take a step back and let Williamson develop a little before giving up on him. He’s only in his first real year of playing, and he’s stuck with Brad Johnson as his QB. Give him a little more time before you decide he's not a playmaker.

Of course, it doesn’t help that he’s being compared to Moss. Which is just unfair—Williamson has the potential to be a really good receiver. Moss is already one of the best-partly because he could pull off plays like this one.

Finally, I found a Chuck Foreman highlight video. I’m a relative new comer to the Vikings (1997 being the first season I followed them), so I’d never seen him play before. The man looks like he was a beast. Now, I couldn’t find this info on the internet, but did he have problems with fumbling? It looks like he carries the ball away from his body, like a loaf of bread. Anyone know?

I hope these clips help get you through the weekend, what with no Vikings’ game and all. And I’ll see you back here on Monday, when it’ll finally be game week again (and hope Shaun Alexander has a setback with his foot injury).

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Welcome Bethel!

The Vikings signed Bethel Johnson yesterday to return kicks and add depth to the recieving core. This is the kind of midseason pickup I like to see--it adds depth and addresses a weak spot. It also gets Troy Williamson off the kick return team, which is a great move--he wasn't all that great at it, there's a high risk of injury and it will allow him to focus solely on wide reciever.

So welcome Bethel! Hopefully Purple and Gold fits you better than Black and Gold (and whatever the Pats colors are).

And of course, each new beginning is some other beginning's end, and so we must bid farewell to Drew Henson. As always, parting is such sweet sorrow.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A Victory Before the Bye

I was in Minnesota (hence the lateness of the posts) and was lucky enough to find tickets to the game on Sunday. Tailgating, seats twenty rows up from the end zone and a dominating effort from the defense made the experience a memorable one. And, in case you were wondering, I was one of the people booing Brad Johnson after his awful first half performance. The man deserved it.

It was that performance which told us what the problem with the offense is. It’s not Childress’ offensive scheme, and his play calling, while a factor is not the big issue. The offense is sputtering because Brad Johnson is a backup quarterback at best. He’s made quite a few stupid decisions, he can’t throw the ball deep, he has problems hitting open receivers (he short hopped/over threw a ton of passes) and he has a tendency to hang his receivers out to dry. He threw about 4 passes on Sunday that put his receivers in the supporting role of a Jacked Up scene. Part of the reason the receivers aren’t catching all the balls they should is they know in the back of their mind, BJ is likely to get them killed. The sooner Tarvaris Jackson is ready to go, the better. And everyone who thought BJ might be the starting QB next year, is an idiot. And that includes me.

Luckily for the offense, Chester Taylor is starting to hit his stride. He had a monster day, ripping off 123 yards on 26 carries, most of it behind the left side of the line. He was making people miss, and had some sweet cutbacks. Hopefully, Childress has noticed that the Vikings’ best games have been when they relied on the running game. He abandoned it against Buffalo, which was likely one of the reasons the offense performed so poorly. BJ is not a good quarterback, and his likelihood of success diminishes when the opposing defense doesn’t have to worry about the run at all.

On the other side of the ball, the Vikings’ defense had its most dominating performance of the season. The entire front seven was an immovable object, holding Kevin Jones to 16 yards on 10 carries, an average of .8 yards per carry. Their only breakdown came when Jon Kitna quick snapped the ball, sneaking 8 yards for a touchdown, and that was such a gutsy call by Kitna, it’s hard to fault the defense. Watching Kitna somehow make his way into the endzone, I had the same reaction Ron Burgandy did confronting Baxter, “And you ate the whole... wheel of cheese? How'd you do that? Heck, I'm not even mad; that's amazing.”

Pat Williams, however, insured that wasn’t the play of the game when he burst through the line in the fourth quarter, tackling Kitna before he could even finish his play fake and forcing a fumble that Ben Leber recovered for a touchdown. I haven't looked at a list of signings, but Pat Williams has to be one of the best free agent signings in the Vikings’ history. The man is a dominant force against both the run and pass and has been since the Bills let him go.

The other ex-Bill, Antoine Winfield, has also done a superb job for the Vikings’, and he joined the rest of the secondary in shutting down the Lions’ passing game. E.J. Henderson’s interception may have been forced by Ray Edwards, but the only reason Edwards had all the time in the world to get to Kitna was because of the coverage. And that wasn’t the only time that the coverage forced the Lions to have to hold their blocks for longer than any line can be reasonably expected to. Tomlin’s scheme is working extremely well. He even has Dwight Smith as his designated “crowd exciter”. As many people have pointed out, Tomlin’s on the fast track to a head coaching job. Hopefully for the Vikings, it isn’t that fast of a track.

So after five games, we have a solid grasp of who the Vikings’ are. They have a good to great defense that can dominate at times, and one that can create turnovers and convert them into points. The offense is led by an aging back up quarterback, who has problems making throws, but it also has a decent rushing game. The special teams are solid, but are prone to the occasional hiccup. Basically, this is a team that will be in most games, and should be able to turn more than a few into wins. They are by no means favorites for a wildcard berth, but with their favorable schedule and a little luck, the Vikings' could definitely sneak into the postseason.

(I’m going to take the rest of the bye week off so that I can finish my law school applications. I’ll be back on Friday with who to root for on Sunday. Hopefully, there isn’t anything big to talk about until then. The “Chili” jokes the Star Tribune writers are breaking out are bad enough. I don’t think I could take it if the Vikings’ have more off the field issues)

Wisconsin Women with a Tough Choice

Picking which Viking was most responsible for Sunday’s victory was not an easy decision. The Wisconsin women and I debated well into the night (What? You thought they didn’t get some say in the matter?) trying to determine who they were going to spend the week with. There were just so many valid choices—Chester Taylor, Pat Williams, E.J. Henderson, Napoleon Harris, Ben Leber, Ray Edwards and arguments could be (and were) made for almost every major defensive player.

Make no mistake about it—that was a dominating performance by the defense, and one that likely saved the Vikings’ season. That conclusion, along with his inability to get into the end zone in three tries from the seven yard line, eliminated Chester Taylor. If he continues to run the ball this well (4.73 yards per carry!), however, he’ll be in the discussion in upcoming weeks.

And so that leaves us with the defensive standouts. E.J. Henderson and Ben Leber both managed to house turnovers, Napoleon Harris continued his fine play by picking off a tipped Jon Kitna pass and Ray Edwards had a sack and forced Kitna to rush the pass that Henderson picked off. In the end, though, Pat Williams’ play topped them all. He was the one who destroyed Kitna in the midst of his play fake (that’s how quickly he got through the line), forcing him to fumble in the end zone. And he is the centerpiece of the Viking’s rush defense, which held the Lions to 16 yards. 16 yards!!! Kevin Jones didn’t even average a yard a carry! I don’t care how bad the Lions’ line was, that kind of dominance is astonishing. And that’s why he’s going to spend the bye week (heeding Childress’ call to behave, of course) with the Wisconsin women.

Big Pat Dominates

Friday, October 06, 2006

Grading the Vikings: Coaches

Here’s the final installment of my grades for the Vikings after a quarter of the season and my prediction for this week’s game against the Lions:

The Coaching Staff Overall: B

Brad Childress:B-

Mike Tomlin: B+

Everyone else: B

More than anything, the coaching staff has instilled in me the belief that the Vikings are actually being run by competent people. Childress has brought off the field accountability to the organization, as he demonstrated by suspending Dwight Smith for the opener, and by benching Smoot at the beginning of the game against da Bears. Tomlin has made a good defense even better, which is even more impressive considering that he’s lost two key players, in Erasmus James and Chad Greenway, to season ending injuries. Even Paul Ferraro, the special teams coach, has done a superb job, playing a huge role in the Vikings’ victory over the Panthers, designing a successful fake field goal, and the coverage teams have been much better than last year.

Things haven’t been anywhere near as impressive on the offensive side of the ball. The Vikings’ have had problems moving the ball, can’t seem to score touchdowns in the red zone, and are one of the most penalized teams in the NFL. Whether that is because the team still adjusting to the system, Childress doesn’t have the personnel to run his system or because of deficiencies in the system is unclear at this point. Play calling has been an issue as well, especially at the end of the last two games. Again, not all of the problems are necessarily Childress’ fault, as Brad Johnson could have just made poor decisions while carrying out a good play. Most likely, the offenses problems stem from all three issues. The answer probably won’t be clear for another few weeks.

You have to stop sucking, you hear me offense?!?!

Then again, it could just have been because the Vikings’ have faced four tough defenses so far this year, meaning that the Lions should be the solution to their problems. They’ve given up more than 30 points the last three games and are in free fall mode. In other words, they are the same old Lions, and as usual, should be a cure for what ails the Vikings. I think they will be, and that Childress will have as much success against Detroit as his predecessor. The Vikings will go into the bye with a win, starting their march to the playoffs after defeating the Lions 24-10.

Grading the Vikings: Defense

Today I’m going to wrap up the grades with a look at the defense and then the coaching staff. My preview of the game will wait for the scheduling announcement this afternoon.

Defense Overall: B+

Defensive Line: B+

Linebackers: B-

Secondary: B+

The defense has been the Vikings’ best unit so far, keeping the offense in games. The defense is only allowing 289.5 yards a game, good for tenth in the league, and more importantly, are only allowing 16.2 points, tied for ninth with Buffalo. This is the kind of defense that can win a team ball games, and they have done their best to do so. Really, the only thing that it hasn’t done is create many turnovers, a crucial skill when the offense is so punchless.

The defensive line, led by Big Pat Williams has been a dominant force against the run this year. They’ve held opponents rushing games to only 89 yards per game, and 3.4 yards per carry. That’s huge, and one of the reasons that the defense has been so successful. They haven’t been as successful against the pass, however, which is problematic in the Cover 2 defense. Erasmus James’ injury, along with average play at best from Kenechi Udeze and Darrion Scott, has forced Mike Tomlin to call a lot of blitzes, thinning the coverage. The effect of this was obvious against the Bills, where it seemed like receivers were wide open on every play. The line has to get more pressure if the defense is going to continue to be successful. Without it, quarterbacks will be able to pick apart the zone, and interceptions are going to continue to be hard to come by.

Can't... Quite... Reach

If Tomlin is going to blitz, Napoleon Harris is probably his best choice to do so. He’s stepped up this year after moving to the middle, and is second on the team in tackles, including two huge tackles in the backfield against Carolina. The outside linebackers haven’t done as well, partly due to injury problems to Ben Leber and Chad Greenway, and partly because Dontarrius Thomas and E.J. Henderson aren’t that good. Thomas is awful, especially in coverage. Leber, on the other hand, has been a quality pickup, especially considering Greenway’s injury.

The secondary has also had injury problems, losing presumed starter Tank Williams before the season even started, but Dwight Smith has proven to be more than capable, both as a safety and as a p-i-m-p. Darren Sharper has played equally well, but has yet to intercept a pass (including an awful drop against da Bears that would have been a touchdown). And, of course, Antoine Winfield has been the best defender on the field, leading the team in tackles, playing great coverage and picking off Rex Grossman for a touchdown. Other members of the secondary have not done as well (I’m looking at you Fred Smoot), but despite that, the Vikings are holding opponents to only 200 yards passing a game, and continue to dominate on third down (usually third and long), only allowing their opponents to convert 30.4% of the time.

Celebrating in the House

If the defense continues to play as well as they have, they will finish amongst the best in the league, an amazing turn around, considering how god awful they were just two years ago. However, they can, and likely must, do more. The defensive line isn’t getting the pressure needed, and the secondary isn’t creating turnovers. The offense is nowhere near good enough to lead this team to the playoffs, so if the Vikings are going to make it, the defense is going to have to carry them there.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Grading the Vikings: Special Teams

It’s time for the second installment of “Grade the Vikings”. This time, we’ll be looking at the special teams.

Special Teams Overall: B

Field Goal: A

Punts: B-

Kickoffs: B

Kick Returns: C

Punt Returns: C

The Vikings’ special teams have been good this year, but, the lack of big returns and some miscues, prevent them from getting an A overall. The field goal unit has been superb so far this year, led by Ryan Longwell. Longwell has converted 10/12 field goals, and also threw for a touchdown on a fake. The two kicks he missed were both over 50 yards, but he has been perfect aside from that. When you consider he’s scored the majority of the teams’ points, and has two game winning field goals, he might just be the MVP of the season.

And Longwell rolls out...Touchdown Vikings!

Unlike Longwell, Chris Kluwe has not been performing as well as he should be. He currently ranks last in the NFL in punting average, and 29th in net yards. He also has a nine yard punt (I’m not going to go there). His off season surgery must have had an effect, since he was sixth in both categories last year. He has, however, been very good at landing his punts inside the twenty, which he has done eight times, with only two touchbacks, tying him for the third most in the league. Once he improves his length, however, the Vikings’ will be in even better shape, as their coverage squad has only allowed 5.8 yards a return, seventh best in the league. They also came up with a huge fumble recovery against Carolina that led to the Vikings’ sole touchdown.

The kick off coverage team has also done a good job so far, allowing 21 yards per return, good for 17th in the league. They've also prevented the big play, as the longest return they’ve given up was 39 yards. Longwell isn’t doing them any favors kicking off, either, only managing to cause two touchbacks with his kicks.

The Vikings’ return units have not done as well as the rest of the special team units, ranking in the middle of the pack on punt and kickoff returns. Neither Mewelde Moore nor Troy Williamson is very skilled at returns, and the blocking hasn’t necessarily been there. That being said, they’ve held onto the ball, which was something of a worry during the preseason.

Troy Williamson--not a kick returner

Overall, the Vikings’ special teams have done a good, but not great job, as expected. The field goal unit has been great, as have the coverage teams, but Kluwe has not performed that well, and Williamson and Moore are only returning kicks because the Vikings’ haven’t signed Jason Clark off of their practice squad yet. If the unit improves, it would be a huge bonus, but so far, it has been performing pretty much as expected.

Grading the Vikings: Offense

This is going to be a long post as it is, so I’m going to skip writing a long introduction and start handing out grades for the first quarter of the season. Since I’m doing this at work, I’ll be doing it one unit at a time. Here’s the offense:

Offense Overall: C-

Quarterback: C

Running Backs: C

Wide Receivers: C-

Offensive Line: D+

The offense has been mediocre at best, and the grades reflect that. The Vikings’ are averaging 226 passing yards and 96.5 rushing yards per game, good for 11th and 22nd in the league, respectively. Where they are really lacking, however, is in their point production, averaging only one touchdown a game. Combined with the numerous penalties, and you have an offense that is a serious disappointment.

The passing game has been average at best, but has relied too much on short passes. Brad Johnson and his receivers can’t convert a third down longer than five yards if their life depended on it, partly due to the Brad’s weak arm, and partly due to the receivers’ problems with getting open and catching the ball. Compounding the problem, BJ has made some stunningly bad decisions, throwing three picks, forcing a deep ball on 4th and 2 and throwing the ball over the middle with 14 seconds left and no time outs, to name a few.

Savvy veteran Johnson making a bad decision

On the ground, Chester Taylor has not emerged as a feature back, only averaging 3.6 yards per carry. He has yet to make a defender miss, but when there is a hole, he hits it hard and can bulldoze his way for good yardage. Mewelde Moore has looked great when he gets carries, but his fragility will likely prevent him from taking Taylor’s spot as the starter.

It's hard to gain yards when the entire defense is in your backfield

The line has not blocked well, either for the run or pass. When you consider how much talent is on the left side of the line, you’d assume that the Vikings would be dominating people. Run blocking is not McKinnie’s strength, however, and it seems like the weak side ends have beaten Marques Johnson on almost every play. The line also has been penalized at an astonishing rate, killing drives and forcing the Vikings to settle for field goals. There is way too much talent here to explain their shortcomings, which is why they’ve earned the lowest offensive grade.

The offense has been the major weak spot so far this year and most of the blame for the Vikings' two losses can be directed towards their inability to score touchdowns, especially in the red zone, where they have only managed to punch it in twice in nine opportunities. Make no mistake about it, if the Vikings are going to challenge for a playoff spot, the offense must cut down on its mistakes, both mentally and physically and start scoring more than sixteen points a game.