Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Almost, But Not Enough

As usual, after their season opening loss, the Vikings performance left their fans with the ability to choose between optimism and pessimism. They're cool like that-the Minnesota Vikings: something for everyone! Of course, even the most optimistic fans were left with a sour taste in their mouths after Tarvaris Jackson was picked off by Atari Bigby on the Vikings' final drive, effectively ending the game and pushing Brad Childress' record to 0-5 against the Packers.

Even if the Purple had pulled it out, there was a lot to be pessimistic about. Jared Allen, the Vikings biggest off season acquisition, was shut down by Chad Clifton after drawing two early holding penalties. Clifton's performance (and the rest of the Packers' line, which gave Aaron Rodgers enough time to be hesitant and hold onto the ball for too long and still complete 82% of his passes, a stat which dooms him to a career like that of Rob Johnson, Sam Wyche and Stan Humphries) stood in stark contrast to that of the Vikings' line, which, without Bryant McKinnie. gave Tarvaris Jackson the kind of protection that, to put it nicely, allowed Tarvaris to show off his ability to escape sacks. It also meant that Tarvaris was forced to rush throws, throw of his back foot and generally take way too many hits (which reminds me--SLIDE Tarvaris! SLIDE!!). Add that and some ugly throws by Tarvaris (though not anywhere near as many as last year), and you get a 45.7% completion percentage and only 4.7 yards per attempt.

And then there was the big plays. Rodgers' 56 yard pass to Greg Jennings wasn't exactly awesome, but that's what happens when you're forced to play your rookie safety instead of the veteran free agent you signed. On the other hand, Ryan Grant's 57 yard run was inexcusable for a defense that prides itself on stopping the run and which has only allowed one longer run in the last two years, to Stephen Jackson in Week 17 of 2006, a game in which the defense had clearly already packed it in. And for the sake of our collective blood pressure, let's not talk about the long play to Donald Driver that got called back.

The special teams also failed the team, missing Will Blackmon enough times on a punt return that he had no choice but to score and amassing a whopping nine yards on four punt returns and averaging under twenty yards on kick off returns.

The Vikings did manage to create their own big plays on offense, getting a 34 yard run out of Adrian Peterson and a 26 yard pass interference call on Al Harris that put them into position to score. Unlike the Packers, however, they were unable to turn their big plays into touchdowns, settling for only one field goal on the two drives.

Despite all of that, however, the Vikings only lost by five points, at Lambeau, with two important starters sitting out, to a team that went 13-3 last year and returned almost every one of their starters. Adrian Peterson was back to his old Purple Jesus self, a legimate concern after the way he ended last season. Tarvaris Jackson was poised in the second half, leading two long drives and he displayed a good grasp of when to run and when to throw, even under the constant pressure he faced, which allowed him to rack up 65 yards on 9 scrambles (one more time--SLIDE Tarvaris! SLIDE!!). He wasn't afraid to air it deep to Bernard Berrian either, who repeatedly beat Al Harris and drew two pass interference penalties on him (even if the refs only threw the flag on the first). Garrett Mills was a pleasant surprise as well, adding another legitmate option at tight end and leading the team in receiving (maybe he was worth picking a fight with Bill Bilichick). The run defense was as stout as normal--if you drop Grant's 57 yard run, the Packers only gained 3.15 yards per carry and they were unable to pick up a first down when they were trying to run out the clock.

Was it the best way to open the season? Definitely not. This team still has a lot of promise though--they gave the division champions all they could handle at Lambeau. If one or two plays had gone their way, or if they had managed to get touchdowns instead of a field goals, they could have pulled the game out. It could have been worse--last year, it was.

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