Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Three Stars--Maturing before our eyes

Last night's game was a tale of two halves and of two units. In the first half, the Vikings offense played like the young team they are, making silly mistakes. In the second half, aside from the one interception Tarvaris threw, the Vikings offense played a lot more like the playoff team they might be, scoring two touchdowns and racking up 183 yards of offense.

On the other side of the ball, the Vikings defense played like the veteran, playoff caliber unit they are, holding the Bears to 32 yards on 17 carries (an average of 1.9 YPC) and holding Kyle Orton to only 184 yards on 38 passing attempts. Not to mention Darren Sharper's interception, which sealed the game with under two minutes to go. The defense didn't succumb to the pressure of the national lights and they didn't get too "amped up" like the offense. Rather, they dominated an offense they should have dominated, shutting them out in the second half and only allowing one drive longer than 14 yards in the first half (and that 35 yard drive by the Bears ended in a punt).

We also saw a special teams unit shut down the best returner in the game, as Devin Hester was held to a 14 yard average on kick returns and 7 yards on punt returns, and his longest return was only 17 yards. Of course, we got to hear Tirico, Jaws and Kornheiser scream hysterically every time a kickoff or punt came near Hester. It was so annoying (especially on kickoffs--I mean, what are the Vikings supposed to do? Kick it out of bounds?) that it actually negated the best analysis I've heard out of an announcing crew in a long time, when the three of them discussed the Vikings' pass defense. All three agreed that the fact the Vikings are last in passing yards allowed was misleading, with Kornheiser pointing out that it hadn't translated into points allowed and Jaws mentioning that opponents yards per passing attempt was quite low, something we saw on the field, as the Bears averaged a paltry 4.5 yards per pass attempt.

And it was that defense that won the game for the Purple and that will be reflected in Three Stars this week. While Adrian Peterson's two touchdowns and 78 yards rushing were important, it was his fumble that short circuited what should have been a scoring drive. And while Bobby Wade continues to show why he'll be a great third receiver next year (here's hoping the Purple can sign a real #1 to teach Sidney Rice and take the pressure off of Wade), his six catches for 70 yards wasn't the dominating performance that one would like to see out of the leading pass catcher on the team, nor was Robert Ferguson's 71 yard reception enough to make up for coughing up a pass for Brian Urlacher to intercept (though I would probably reconsider if he'd run at full speed the entire way, rather than slowing up so he could be tackled).

But enough about the Vikings offense. Let's talk about the real Three Stars, all of which come from the defense:

Third Star: Darren Sharper
With the game very much in doubt (something one score games will always be to me, thanks to the Vikings pass defense from 2000-2005), the Bears line gave Kyle Orton some time, leading to him chucking a deep pass to an open Bernard Berrian. Thankfully, Kyle Orton has the accuracy of a drunk (probably because he is a drunk). And thankfully, Darren Sharper was there to pick the pass off and put the game away. There's a very good possibility that Darren Sharper was at least as good a signing as Pat Williams in 2005, which says a lot about Sharper has accomplished for the Purple.

Second Star: Pat Williams
1.9 yards on 17 carries. The Bears were not a great rushing team coming into the game, averaging only 3.18 yards per carry, but that doesn't diminish how dominant a rush defense has to be to hold an offense to 1.9 yards a carry. And the credit should go to the big man in the middle. Pat Williams lead all of the Vikings' defensive linemen with four tackles and he once again dominated Pro Bowler Olin Kruetz.

First Star: E.J. Henderson
He might not get invited to the Pro Bowl, but E.J. Henderson has certainly been playing like one. He was all over the field last night, racking up a team high seven tackles, all of them unassisted. He brought down everyone on the Bears, from Greg Olson to Garrett Wolfe to Adrian Peterson. He knocked down Kyle Orton multiple times and knocked down his passes. Quite simply, he played the way that announcers think Brian Urlacher plays. And aside from the Williams, there is no player who can claim as much credit for the Bears 1.9 yards per carry.

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