Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Final Look

It's hard to do in depth analysis of a game like Sunday's. The five turnovers by the Vikings overshadowed everything else, which actually might be a good thing, because there were a lot of other issues that need to be addressed. At the end of the day, however, the Vikings are still in the playoff hunt (you'll notice that I had yesterday's game as a "Should win", not a "Must win"), if they address the problems from Sunday.

First off, the Vikings' play calling needs some work. There seems to be a general consensus around the Vikings' internet community that, on 3rd and short, the Vikings should hand the ball to the Purple Jesus and let him bowl his way to a first down, rather than counting on their second year QB making his fourth start to complete a pass to one of the young and/or mediocre receivers. This accounted for one of Tarvaris' mistakes, as they ran a play on 3rd and short similar to the one that led to his interception against the Falcons, which led to an interception. This is what is known and a "teachable" moment, and I hope whoever called that play gets taught not to call anything like it again.

Secondly, the offensive line needs to get their act together. Tarvaris was constantly under pressure and sacked twice. All of his interceptions came when he was under pressure, with one being under thrown because his arm was hit, and two others coming when he panicked on a roll out while facing a stiff rush. Defenses are going to take note of the Revolution's problems handling the blitz on Sunday and they are going to keep coming at him. The line has to do a better job of buying him time. He's still getting comfortable in an NFL pocket and the last thing he needs is to have defenders in his face every play while he's trying to figure out how to run an NFL offense.

Brad Childress and Darren Bevel also need to do a better job of incorporating all of their offensive weapons into the game plan. There aren't a whole lot of them, so it really shouldn't be that hard. In this case, it means finding room for Mewelde Moore. I wrote that Moore needed to be utilized more often after last season and the same thing still applies. Mewelde had 50 yards rushing on 6 carries and 36 yards receiving on 4 receptions. While a lot of the rushing yards came at the end of the half against a dime defense, Moore almost single handedly got the Vikings into field goal range, but was thwarted by penalties. And his 20 yard screen play was what enabled Ryan Longwell to have a shot to win the game at the end of regulation. Moore is, quite simply, a play maker, something the Vikings' offense is lacking in. Quite simply, not only should Mewelde Moore never be deactivated for a game, he should get the ball more often because he's good.

Finally, the defense struggled against the pass again. Jon Kitna carved up the Vikings in a manner similar to what we became used to last year, dropped back to pass 34 times despite sitting out almost the entire second half. And even when he was sitting out, the Lions still called 26 pass plays despite the fact that J.T. O'Sullivan was their quarterback. They ran a pass play on 78.6% of their offensive plays, more than Vikings' average of 64%, but in line with opposing teams ratio starting with the Patriots game. And it worked pretty well, with only an amazing Darren Sharper interception and a play where Jon Kitna managed to kick the ball out of his own hand preventing the Lions from scoring in the first quarter. When Kitna didn't screw up, the Lions scored relatively easily. A lot of that had to do with the fact the Lions receivers were abusing the Vikings' secondary in general and Marcus McCauley in particular. I'm not sure how Mike Martz did it, but it seemed he always managed to line up Roy Williams so that McCauley ended up covering him, which is why Williams had 7 catches for 111 yards and a TD. I expect McCauley to be a quality player for the Vikings this year and to eventually turn into a really good cornerback. That doesn't mean, however, that I want him covering a Pro Bowl quality receiver in his fourth game. Leslie Frazier is going to have to figure out a way to ensure that either Antoine Winfield or Cedric Griffin are matching up with opposing teams best receivers from now on. I can live with a quality #3 receiver beating McCauley (and the Lions do have a quality #3, and he beat McCauley as well), but I have a problem with a #1 receiver running all over the Vikings' nickelback who's in single coverage on him.

[I know it sounds like sour grapes, but, Cedric Griffin got abused by the refs on Sunday. That pass interference call on him in the first quarter where he barely touched Roy Williams when the throw was clearly uncatchable was awful, and Calvin Johnson's push off on his touchdown catch made me wonder whether Johnson would have to shoot the defender ala the Last Boy Scout to get called for offensive pass interference, or if the refs would still give him a Michael Jordan style no call.]

Obviously, questionable play calling, poor offensive line play, misuse of Mewelde Moore and problems with the pass coverage were a big factor in the Vikings' 6-10 season last year. They're going to big factors again this year, but, because I am an eternal optimist, I think they can be addressed, or at least addressed enough for the Vikings to pull out a playoff spot. If Childress and his staff are going to fix the problems, however, they better do so now, before the Vikings let any more winnable games go to waste.

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