Monday, December 15, 2008

Domination and Hope

For the first time this year, I actually think the Vikings have a chance to make a run in the playoffs. Yesterday’s win was that good. That was a playoff team, that was undefeated in its own stadium, and the Vikings just ran them off their own field. They couldn’t pass, they couldn’t run and they couldn’t stop Adrian Peterson OR Tarvaris Jackson. And if the Vikings can duplicate that effort in the playoffs, they can beat any team in the NFC.

As usual, everything started with the defense. Coming into the game, the Cardinals were 4th in DVOA when passing, were 8th in adjusted sack rate, Kurt Warner was 2nd among quarterbacks in DYAR and Larry Fitzgerald (2nd in WR DYAR), Anquan Boldin (4th in DYAR) and Steve Breaston (13th in DYAR) were all in the top 15 among wide receivers. The Cardinals have a very, very good passing attack. Kurt Warner was averaging 7.26 yards per passing attempt, but on Sunday, the Vikings held him to 5.1 yards per attempt, despite the fact that the Cardinals called almost 50 pass plays before they brought in Matt Lienart. And it wasn’t just one facet of the pass defense that dominated. The defensive line was all over Warner, sacking him four times and hitting him countless times. Equally important, however, was the coverage and the tackling by the defensive backs and linebackers. The Cardinals were second in the NFL in yards after the catch, but on Sunday, the Vikings were bringing the Cardinals down as soon as they caught the ball (except, of course, for Jermaine Urban's touchdown). It was a team effort too, with Ben Leber, Bennie Sapp, Chad Greenway and Antoine Winfield all having at least 5 tackles. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Cedric Griffin’s ridiculous, one handed interception that killed the Cardinals second drive and set up Tarvaris Jackson’s deep touchdown to Bernard Berrian.

And speaking of Tarvaris Jackson, that was the quarterback the Vikings were hoping to see Tarvaris Jackson become this year. He was accurate, poised and threw a good deep ball. His pass to Berrian was perfect. And I mean perfect—he hit him in stride, fitting the ball in the one spot that it had to be to be caught (Berrian, while single covered, was covered pretty well). I know that the Cardinals don’t have the best pass defense in the league (19th in DVOA against the pass and 28th in opposing passer rating), but we haven’t seen that Tarvaris Jackson before. He’s had no problem being indecisive and inaccurate against bad pass defenses before, but he wasn’t against the Cardinals. He was accurate, completing 65% of his passes, he threw deep, with touchdown passes of 41 and 59 yards, and he was comfortable in the red zone, throwing two other touchdowns, including a great throw to Sidney Rice. He averaged 7.8 yards per pass attempt and he provided the passing attack that the Vikings need to be Super Bowl contenders. And make no mistake about it—the Vikings can win the Super Bowl with this Tarvaris Jackson. I’m not saying they will, or that this is the real Tarvaris Jackson (though we’ll have a much better idea after the Vikings’ play the Falcons and Giants), but if Tarvaris plays like this in the playoffs, the Vikings are a legitimate contender for the Super Bowl. And it’s probably worth mentioning that they could still get a bye if they win out and the Panthers or Giants lose out.

Finally, congratulations are in order for the Purple Jesus, who set the Vikings’ single season rushing record with his first carry of the second half. His 165 yards on Sunday have him well on the way to the rushing title, especially considering that he’s 160 yards up on Michael Turner, with two games to play, and, unlike Turner, he doesn’t have to face the Williams Wall on Sunday. He’s going to win the rushing title, and he’s the main reason that a team that’s featured Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte at quarterback has a good enough offense to win their division, get the third seed in the playoffs (and maybe even a bye). If that’s not enough to win the MVP award, I don’t know what is.