Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Frustration of 0-2

If someone told you that the Vikings would hold the Colts to 18 points, hold Joseph Addai to 20 rushing yards and pick off Peyton Manning twice, you'd assume the Vikings won, right? Especially if they told you that Adrian Peterson went off for 160 yards on 29 carries. Of course, if they told you that Tarvaris Jackson only completed 50% of his passes while throwing for a paltry 130 yards and no touchdowns and that the Vikings were unable to score a single touchdown despite getting into field goal range six times, well, you'd probably guess, correctly, that the Vikings lost, and that it was painful. Man was it ever painful.

It wasn't even the final drive that Manning engineered that was the painful part. He's Peyton Manning--of course he's going to drive his team into field goal range with three seconds left on the clock. What was painful was the fact that the Vikings blew opportunity after opportunity to make that final drive meaningless. It is utterly inexcusable for a team to attempt six field goals against a team that could not stop the run and turned over the ball two times. The Vikings crossed midfield nine times on Sunday. They were in the red zone twice. And yet, they weren’t able to get into the end zone.

It was clear on Sunday that something was wrong with the offense. And after looking at the game log, it becomes clear—Brad Childress’ play calling is awful, and Tarvaris Jackson has trouble running the plays that Childress calls. Of those nine drives, six of them ended with short pass attempts that were either incomplete or didn’t pick up the first down. The other three ended with a run attempt on 3rd and 5 that didn’t pick up the first down, a sack (on what I assume was meant to be a short pass play) and a field goal as time expired at the half (which, sadly, one can’t blame Childress for).

Of Tarvaris’ 14 completions, 12 were described as “short passes” in the play by play. Of his 14 incomplete passes, 8 were described as “short passes”. It’s no surprise that Tarvaris averaged a pathetic 4.4 yards per pass attempt (more than a yard lower than Adrian Peterson’s 5.5 yards per carry) when you consider that he only threw two deep passes the entire game. Play calling like that is what turns touchdowns into field goals and victories into defeats. And it’s averages like that begs the question as to why the Colts didn’t start the game with Bob Sanders in the box.

Of course, none of that might have mattered if Visanthe Shiancoe could catch. Of course, he can’t, something that everyone except Brad Childress has figured out and something that he once again displayed in a crucial situation, dropping a touchdown pass on third down, forcing the Vikings to kick a field goal, and costing them four points in a game they lost by three.

And now, at 0-2, the Vikings face long odds to make the playoffs. According to the Pro Football Prospectus, of all the teams to start 0-2 in a 17 week season, only 11.4% have made the playoffs. In the last five years, however, there have been three teams to make the turn around from 0-2 to the playoffs—the 2003 Eagles, the 2006 Chiefs and the 2007 Giants. Of those teams, only the Eagles won their division (though the Giants, obviously, won the Super Bowl). So while making the playoffs from after an 0-2 start is a tough task, it’s not impossible. As the saying goes, it ain’t over, till it’s over.