Monday, September 20, 2004

So Right and So Wrong

Sometimes you hit the nail on the head and the nail refuses to budge. Such was the case on Monday night. Just as predicted, the Vikings dominated the Eagles on offense, held their own on defense, and were bad on special teams. This should have led to a Vikings' victory. Yet, despite a nearly 2:1 time of possession advantage over the Eagles, the Vikings left Philly 1-1, rather than 2-0.

The Eagles held up their end of the bargain on Monday, scoring 27 points, but the Vikings did not settling for a mere 16 points when the statistics and nearly everything else suggested that the Vikings would have and should have scored closer to 34.

What Went Wrong

The Vikings were done in by the three Bs--bad penalties, bad play, and bad officiating--in that order. The penalties were excruciating for several reasons. First, they inevitably came after Minnesota had driven deep in Philly territory and, on one occassion, after Daunte had strolled into the endzone for a Minnesota touchdown. Second, several of the penalties were committed by inexperienced players who otherwise contributed little to the game. Third, at least two of the more costly penalties--against Randy Moss and Matt Birk--were dubious penalties that cost Minnesota at least 10 points, perhaps more.

Moss' penalty came on a second and 1 play from the Philly 14. Culpepper threw the ball 20 yards out of the endzone, but the official--ever dutiful (except when the home team dropped a pass but nevertheless received credit for a 45-yard TD)--flagged Moss for pass interference even though Moss pushed an obstructing defender, nobody could catch the ball which had sailed far out of bounds, and Moss gained no advantage on the push. This is not pass interference. Why the call? There are several possibilities, but none that justify the call. After the penalty, the Vikings settled for a missed Morton Andersen field-goal attempt (more on this later).

The officials called a second dubious penalty in the second half, this one for holding, against Matt Birk, following Daunte's TD scamper. Replays showed that Birk had control of his man and may have had some jersey, but if that was holding it's time to start fitting NFL players with flags. The standard for holding in the NFL tends to be whether the contact disables an opponent to the point that (1) the offender has clear grasp of the victim and (2) the victim falls to the ground. Neither criteria was met in this case, but the official let the yellow fly anyway, perhaps goaded by one of the Philly fans lurching over the endzone padding. The penalty forced Minnesota to settle for a field goal.

Conservatively, the two blown penalty calls against Minnesota cost the Vikings 10 points. The Vikings lost by 11. But the officials also muffed the TO TD call, when replays clearly showed that TO never had possession of the ball and that the ball even hit the ground at one point. The Vikings could have challenged the play but, come on guys, just get the call right on the field. Several possessions earlier, Tice had to throw the challenge flag to draw the officials' attention to their clear miss of an illegal pass to the QB. Had Tice not thrown the challenge flag--even though such a non-call is not challengeable--the officials would have proceeded without making the proper call. Challenges are intended to serve as a complement to competent officiating, not as a crutch for an overmatched officiating crew. Clearly, this was not a well-officiated game from the Vikings' perspective. And it may have cost the Vikings a victory.

But before we lament the zebras' performance on Monday, a review of the Vikings' own self-inflicted wounds are in order, for had the Vikings not made the mistakes that they did, they still could have beaten Philly without the benefit of a soundly officiated game.

While the officials made some bad calls against the Vikings that cost the Vikings points, the officials also made some good calls that cost the Vikings points. Four of these calls--against Adam Haayer and Jeff Dugan--stalled otherwise promising Minnesota drives and directly contributed to the Vikings' loss.

Haayer, subbing for the injured Mike Rosenthal, looked thoroughly overmatched at right tackle. When Jevon Kearse wasn't beating him like a drum, Haayer was fumbling over his own feet or those of his fellow linemen. But his coup de grace for Haayer, however, were two holding penalties that killed Minnesota drives.

Dugan, starting for the injured Jimmy Kleinsasser, looked even worse. contributing zero receptions, zero rushes, and several missed blocks. To top off his performance, Dugan tossed in two false starts in the same series to kill a promising drive in Philly territory. I had refrained from suggesting that Duggie only made the squad because he and Tice are fellow-Terps, but after tonight's performance....Yeesh. The Vikings may already be searching the waiver wires for a TE.

But penalties were not the only problem for the Vikings, as other factors led to stalled drives. Most notable was the absence of blocking by Minnesota's vaunted offensive line. Daunte was under constant pressure and SOD was virtually silent. This was a lousy showing for all of Minnesota's linemen.

I could continue by noting that Daunte has fumbled the ball 70 times in 60 games--an NFL record--but that's piling on. Plus, Daunte played an otherwise great game. Despite having no time to pass on most plays, and despite the repetitive malfunctions of his offensive line, Daunte played with as much apparent focus as he has in any game since he joined the Vikings. The numbers don't bear it out, but this was a stronger performance by Daunte than his 146-rating game against the Cowboys. And if Daunte continues to perform at the level he performed at tonight--and, presumably, inches across one or two goal-line surges--the Vikings offense will be fine in spite of itself.

The same cannot be said of special teams, however. In a previous column, I suggested that Tice's special teams' decisions may be his undoing in Minnesota. Morten Andersen missed a 44-yard field goal attempt with the wind at his back and Aaron Elling--re-signed exclusively to kick long field goals and kick off--was not called on to kick a long field goal, consistently kicked-off short, and had a horrendous kick late in the fourth quarter--one that more resembled an Elway pass to a wide-open receiver than an NFL kickoff--that dashed any hopes Minnesota had of pulling out a victory. If Elling is in uniform tomorrow, he clearly has some of the pictures that Solomon had of Denny and that Jones has of Gardy. There is no other explanation for such nonsense.

Hail Twins

I would be remiss if I did not add my two cents on the Twins' clinching of the Central Division for the third straight season (particularly since I missed the beginning of the Vikings' game to watch the end of the Twins' victory over the Sox).

Prior to the game, our favorite mouth from the South Side, Mark Buehrle, guaranteed that the Twins would not clinch when he was on the mound. First, how pathetic. It has come to this for Buehrle--a promise not to be around for the final humiliation. Second, what did Buehrle mean? Of course he would not be on the mound when the Twins clinched, even if he were the starting pitcher. If the Twins clinched, as they did, the Twins would clinch when the Twins' pitcher was on the mound as the Sox have last at bat at home.

Surely Buehrle understood this and simply meant that the Twins would not win a game that he was pitching. Well, the Twins did win a game that Buehrle was pitching and the Twins' victory was largely attributable to Buehrle's poor performance as four Twins players went deep on little B.

What made the victory over Buehrle even more satisfying was that last week Buehrle had gone out of his way to insult all Twins pitchers not named Santana or Radke. Silva looked pretty good in besting, by far, Chicago's purported ace.

In the end, the Twins got their clinching victory, and Twins' fans--as they have grown increasingly accustomed to--are assured of at least a few more seasons of seeing a Chicago team led by a blowhard with an inflated sense of his own ability, an underappreciation of his opponents' ability, and a fixation on proving himself right rather than playing good baseball. C'est la vie, Chicago, c'est la vie.

Tomorrow: Where's the D? Plus, when the mute button is the best alternative.


Anonymous said...

You thougt Daunte had a great game? That is delusional. He had a very poor game. As Moss told him on the sideline: "C'mon, Daunte, be a leader!" But there was no leadership to be found. Same old Daunte, superstar one week, mediocre the next.

Vikes Geek said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Vikes Geek said...

Check the stats and check the pressure on Daunte the entire game. Throw out the meaningless interception at the end of the game and his rating is over 100. I'll be the first to criticize Daunte when he does not perform well--check out my columns last season. Yes, Daunte once again put the ball on the turf, and I criticized that tendency, but in every other facet of the game he was stellar. And spare me the Moss comment--Moss makes the same comment every week, no matter who the QB.

Anonymous said...

Hey Vikes Geek,

I've recently become familiar with blogging thanks to Twins Geek. It's been a pleasure reading his material all year, but I rarely post. Since Vikes games are only once per week perhaps I'll attempt to reply to after each game. My take. Daunte had one heck of a game, Eagle defenders were all over him the entire game. Truly, I felt that the Vikes lost the game for two reasons. First and foremost, Viking coaches were outcoached by the Eagles coaches. Linehan never adjusted to the pressure the Eagles were bringing throughout the game. Losing Rosenthal was a blow, but Rosy wasn't getting the job done against Kearse either. The best way to neutralize a really great corner rusher like that is to run right at him, bootleg around him, dump a few balls in the flat behind him, and run a few screens to that side of the field. Viking coaches only succeeded in one of theses areas throughout the first three quarters, dumping the ball to the flat. Furthermore, the vikes abandoned the run way too soon. As an aside, don't you just get sick and tired of the fact that 70,000 people in the stands and millions watching on tv can see a defensive end off-sides as often as Kearse was and the side judge is blind??? Remember a Monday night game several years ago involving the Vikings and Chiefs and one very fast linebacker by the name of Thomas? Last night's situation was almost as laughable! The second reason the Vikes lost the game was simply because the Eagle defense was hungrier, better prepared, and put into better position. Eagle blitzes were making it to Daunte. Viking blitzes were being picked up. Also, Eagle linebackers were making tackles in the 5-15 yard range beyond scrimmage. Rarely was a Viking linebacker anywhere to be found before there scatback was 15-20 yards downfield after taking a dump pass. Where were the defensive adjustments by Viking coaches??? Where were the young/fast linebackers??? Finally, and I guess this goes back to my first point. Why didn't the Vikes throw a deep route the entire game??? Yes, the Eagles were pressuring, but it would've been worth it at least twice to keep max protection in and throw a bomb. Even if they are incomplete or picked off they perhaps soften the tough Eagle D in that 5-15 range beyond scrimmage. Thanks for letting me post!

Vike in Iowa

Anonymous said...

One comment on the Eagles defense: Offenses can move the ball on them. However, the biggest item is that the Eagles prevent people from scoring TDs on them. This has been their hallmark for the last 3 years. It truly is a bend but don't break defense. They average only giving up 16 pts/game over the last 3 years. This year: Giants 17, Vikes 16. The Eagles did to the Vikes what they have done to the entire NFL the last 3 years, keep them out of the end zone. The Eagle defenders don't care how many yards they give up, only that you don't get a TD.

I would be concerned about the OL and DL, both have been shown to be not as good as touted (esp the DL). If Daunte has to keep running around, he's going to get hit more, have a greater chance to fumble, and get hurt. Without any pressure from the DL, the Vikings are going to get carved up in the secondary.

Anonymous said...

Blame the coaches, blame the officials, blame the defense, but give Daunte a free pass and pretend he had a good game?

There was plenty of blame to go around, but if you're going to give praise for good games, you can't ignore the bad ones. If the offense executes and avoids mistakes, last night's outcome is different, regardless of the coaching, officiating or defense. And the offense starts with the man behind the center. This one starts and ends with #11.

Anonymous said...

Vike in Iowa,

Great points. The Vikings did run a few screen plays. The problem was that Haayer was beat on every single down. That makes it tough to drop back and run the screen to the right. It is one thing to use the screen to slow the blitz. There, the idea is to make the defense reconsider whether it wants to blitz or keep someone home to defend against another screen. But when one of your front four has a cakewalk to the QB on every play, the blitz is unnecessary, and the screen will be irrelevant (and probably fail). With Haayer's difficult to imagine futility--given Tice's hype of Haayer--Dixon was only all that much more exposed. I am not a big Rosenthal fan, but his pass blocking is much superior to that of Haayer and Rosie at least helps mask Dixon's decline.

As for Kearse's constant offsides, yes I saw it, but I may have seen it differently than you did. On virtually every play, Kearse was lined up offsides. Maybe when I was not looking the NFL changed the rule to permit one defensive player to line up offsides, but I doubt it. The league needs to review this and address it.

On the long ball, I agree, to a point. Tice is always too conservative on the road. Yet, in this game, the Vikings devoured the Eagles until it mattered. Another poster suggested that the Eagles have a bend-don't-break defense. It is my experience that that type of defense ultimately breaks--check the Bears in 2001 for a perfect example. I don't think a deep ball was necessary in this game because the yards were their short all night. The problem for the Vikings is that they had stupid penalties, a couple bad breaks, and some costly turnovers in Eagles' territory. Unfortunately, Tice appears to have taken away the lesson that the Vikings need to go deep more often. If it is there, take it. If not, settle for what is there. That's a game plan that works. The Vikings just need to realize it, as players and as coaches.

Anonymous said...

When was the last time Daunte completed a long ball? He certainly has the arm strength, but does he have the accuracy? Don't you think mixing in a bomb hasn't occurred to the coaching staff? Don't you think Moss has been begging and salivating for a deep jump ball? It would have been difficult against the Eagles, seeing as how Daunte was running for his life all night. But this is hardly a one-game blip, it is a trend. The accurate long ball would have come in handy a few times last season, say against San Diego or Arizona. Is it in Daunte's arsenal? If it is, why hasn't he used it more?

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