Thursday, November 02, 2006

Worried About a 2-5 Team

I’m not going to try and relate this game to the big picture. I’m pretty sure everyone knows what happened on Monday, why it wasn’t as bad as it seemed for the Vikings’ playoff hopes and why the Vikings have to win on Sunday against the 49ers. And they’re going to have to do it without two of their better players—Marcus Robinson will likely be out for the second straight week, and Napoleon Harris, after spending the first seven games showing that the Vikings actually got something for Randy Moss, will also spend the day on the bench due to an injured wrist. It’s the latter injury that will be harder for the Vikings to overcome.

Why you ask? (See that was a literary device—you and I both know why Harris being out is worse.) I’ll give you a hint. It starts with a “pass” and ends in an “overage”. The 49ers and their quarterback (who has a higher completion percentage than Brady) are going to attempt to throw the ball all over the field, mimicking the Patriots strategy. And that worries me a lot, especially with Napoleon Harris out. The Vikings run defense may be the best in the league, but their pass defense is not. They have trouble applying pressure without blitzing (which Harris is good at), and they’ve demonstrated that inferior quarterbacks can pick them apart (see Lohsman, J.P.). Alex Smith is somewhere in the middle of the quarterback pack, with a completion percentage that is better then Brady’s (though inflated somewhat by completing 78.9% against the Raiders) and the talent of a first round pick, but also with the inexperience of a second year signal caller. He’s not going to be able to make all of the throws Brady did, nor is his protection anywhere near as good as the Patriots’. But the 49ers having at least Buffalo like success through the air is something that is likely enough that the Vikings are in trouble if they haven’t made the necessary adjustments this week.

Of course, if the offense doesn’t get its act together, it probably won’t matter how well the defense plays. The list of things that the Vikings need to improve upon is numerous, but they pretty much all stem from Brad Childress’ idea to focus mainly on the air attack. At this point in Brad Johnson’s career, the offense should never, ever, ever revolve around him. He’s old, immobile and he has a weak arm, which becomes really problematic when he feels like he has to make plays. He just can’t do it anymore, and asking him to do so is almost a guarantee that the Vikings will lose. Quite simply, the offense has to revolve around Chester Taylor. If he gets 25 carries, and the Vikings run the ball 30+ times, their offense is more efficient and less reliant on players to do things they are unable to do. Brad Johnson can convert 3rd and 5. That’s not unreasonable to ask him to do. He can hit guys that are wide open deep (sometimes) but he’s not making the kind of throws that a team which passes the ball 75% of the time needs their quarterback to make. Brad Childress knows this. It’s why the Vikings haven’t won a game without running the ball 30+ times. On Monday night, however, he decided to get cute, and came out throwing rather then pitting his offense’s strength against the Patriots’ defensive strength. Naturally, it backfired and the Vikings got killed. Thankfully, he shouldn’t feel that temptation against San Francisco, since they’ve allowed 123.3 yards a game on the ground.

It’s the 49ers inability to stop the run that should lead to their downfall. Alex Smith is talented, but he’s no Tom Brady. Which is why I see this game playing out similarly to the Bills game—the Niners are going to come out throwing, and they’re going to be somewhat successful. They aren’t going to torch the Vikings like the Patriots did, however. Unlike against Buffalo and New England, however, the Vikings are going to pound the ball, allowing them to match the Niners’ offensive output and wear down the defense. With neither team able to put the other away, this game will be decided by whichever team makes a big play on defense or special teams. And the Vikings are a lot better at doing that then the 49ers are. Which is why I think the Vikings are going to get back on track on Sunday, after a big play by the defense or special teams leads to an easy touchdown, going to 5-3 with a 24-17 victory.

1 comment:

cheswick said...

TBird, even though Alex Smith is no Tom Brady, I worry about the secondary. They seem to make a habit out of making crap QBs look like Slingin' Sammy Baugh. If the Vikes can't hammer the Niners, something is rotten in Norseland!
I won't rest easy until it's over.