Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Missed Opportunity

The Vikings missed a golden opportunity to win a road game over a playoff team on Monday night. Much of the blame for this missed opportunity, as was the case in last week's loss to the Giants, falls squarely on the offense. With several penalties and an almost unbelievable, save for the fact that it happened to the Vikings, fumble. But the critical mistakes in this game, the mistakes that turned the fortunes of the Vikings from the outset, were committed by the coaching staff.

Mistakes Kill

The Vikings began the game in a manner reminiscent of their 41-0 loss to the NY Giants in the NFC Championship game. After winning the coin flip, the Vikings returned the opening kickoff to their own 34-yard line.

But the good opening field position soon became awful field position. On the first snap of the game, Matt Birk snapped the ball short of a Daunte Culpepper's hands as Daunte began moving back just slightly. The result was a fumble, but no ordinary fumble.

The Vikings had the first crack at the loose ball, but Daunte could not corral it. The ball moved back several yards where several Colt players collided attempting to scoop up the ball and run with it. The ball moved several more yards back where another Colt player botched a pick-up attempt. Finally, after two Viking players collided with several Colt players, the Vikings recovered the bounding ball at their own 10-yard line. There, the Vikings continued their opening drive staring down a 2nd and 34.

Vikings' fans know two things about such scenarios. First, if the opponent has their back to the wall after a botched play and is facing second and forever, they will probably pick up the first down. Second, if the Vikings are facing such a scenario they very likely will not pick up the first down and may even make matters worse. That's just how it seems to go for the Vikings these days.

And what happened? The Vikings failed to pick up the first down and Coach Tice made the situation worse. The daily double.

Tice made the Vikings' predicament worse, and sealed his fate on the Vikings' atrocious 2-minute drive at the end of the first half, when, on 3rd and 23, Tice called a timeout with 1 second remaining on the play clock.

Apparently, though we do not yet have confirmation, Tice believed that the Vikings were not going to get the play off in time. Although the Vikings snapped the ball with 1 second on the play clock, Tice could not have known that this would happen when he signaled for a time out. And Tice might rely on just such a justification for explaining the use of the Vikings' first time out.

But no matter the explanation, it cannot be satisfactory. Facing 3rd and 23, the Vikings clearly were resigned to moving the ball out of their end for a better punting position (which must have helped Bennett given the 28-yard beauty he subsequently unleashed). If the Vikings had been called for delay of game they would have faced a 3rd and 28 from their own 6. This would have been tough, but, given that the Vikings had already conceded any attempt to gain a first down on the drive it would have been preferable to facing a 3rd and 23 from their 11 with one less time out. The point is that Tice unnecessarily burned a time out, a time out that he certainly could have used at the end of the first half.

The Vikings burned a second timeout just a few minutes later when they had too many men on the field. It was the third time in the drive that the Vikings had trouble getting extra players off of the field, but the first time that the Vikings were caught. Using a time out to avoid a five yard penalty might be justifiable in this situation, but the Vikings had already burned one time out and were now left with only one time out to use at the end of the half.

But the second time out raises a more significant issue than whether the time out was necessary, and the issue is one of preparation. And that falls on the coaching staff.

The Vikings had an extra day to prepare for the Colts this week. The Vikings surely knew that the Colts run a no-huddle offense that limits the amount of substitutions the opposing defense can make, as the Colts have run the offense for years. Yet, despite the additional preparation time and knowledge of the Colts' system, the Vikings consistently appeared befuddled about who was to be on the field and whether a player should be coming or going. This was particularly true in the Colts' first three series. And that's on the coaching staff.

Had Tice had his team properly prepared--not just prepared--the Vikings' defense would have been adjusted to the no-huddle offense before the game even began. Instead, the defense took at least one full quarter to make this adjustment. That delay caused the Vikings to burn a second time out and left them with just one time out to use on their half-ending two-minute drive.

The Vikings almost overcame Tice's time out gaffes on the last drive of the half. Almost. And the Vikings almost reached the Colts' endzone on the final drive of the half with only one time out. But they did not.

They did not because the offense took too long to get to the line of scrimmage to run plays. They did not because the offense took too long to get to the line of scrimmage to spike the ball. They did not because, even with one time out, Tice inexplicably waivered on whether to use his final time out of the half with 11 seconds remaining.

While we will not know until tomorrow what was going through Tice's head as he refused to call a time out until too much time had run off the game clock to assure the Vikings a shot at the endzone with a play in hand should that not succeed, the only explanation is that Tice did not want to leave time on the clock. And, of course, that explanation is absurd.

The Vikings knew that they would need to use their time out on the drive. When they used it did not particularly matter, as long as they used it to save time. Instead, Tice let precious seconds run off the clock as he held his hands over his hand and restrained himself, his assistants, the players, and viewers at home from signaling a time out early enough to allow the Vikings at least one shot at the end zone on first and goal.

The result was a field goal. What was ceded was an opportunity for four more points. And while we cannot determine what would have happened had the Vikings scored a touchdown on that drive, it is difficult to look at that two-minute sequence, set-up by two burned time outs earlier in the game, without lamenting a significant opportunity lost in what was a close finish. And it is difficult to view that two-minute sequence without wondering why it is that when Mike Tice's teams face difficult challenges they tend to melt like they did in the first half. Yes, the Vikings made a game of it in the second half, after deciding to attack the worst defense in the NFL, but coaching mistakes before the game and in the first half of the game made a comeback necessary and may have made a tight loss out of less tight victory. We will never know, but it would have been nice to have had the opportunity to find out.

Up Next: More rewind.

12 comments:

bird said...

do you think Tice's ongoing clock management problems have to do with him never having been a head coach at any level before? not that it's an excuse....still, if he can't learn how to handle the clock management aspect of the game after 3 years, he should hire an assistant who can

also, Rusty Tillman--better or worse than Zauner? I always thougth Zauner was terrible, but i guess that goes in the category of "be careful what you wish for"

Anonymous said...

Tice learned clock management under Denny Green, that should be all that needs to be said.

Yeah, blame Tice, blame Matt Birk, blame Mt. McKinnie, blame the hapless defense. But when do we blame the supposed MVP quarterback? MVPs do not clinch up in big games. Anyone can light up Dallas or Tennessee. It's more obvious all the time that the real MVPs of this team are Randy Moss and Jim Kleinsasser. Although it hardly matters. This team is going nowhere. Most likely, they will see the playoffs only if they buy a ticket. And if they do sneak in somehow, it will be just long enough to pick up their souvenir program. This a talented team full of underachievers. Going nowhere fast.

Anonymous said...

This loss was not Daunte's fault. Daunte continues to make plays out of nothing. I blame a scaredy-cat game plan on offense that is so afraid that they will not be any good without Moss that they go into a conservative shell. There are plenty of playmakers left on the field with Moss on the sideline, but Linehan was too afraid to use any of them, and when he did a penalty would screw it up.

Pass protection schemes were grossly inadequate as it should have been apparent that McKinnie needed help with Freeney after the first sack. Freeny was on the snap count the entire night and it was never altered (althoug one time he did jump offisides). Having Moe in there to help protect on passing downs may have saved a couple of those sacks.

Is Bennett done? He seems to have lost the plot out there. This really seems like SOD's team now.

Jamison said...

The fact that anyone would seriously blame Culpepper for this loss is baffling to me. He completed a high percentage of his passes, threw for one td and no int's, and ran to pick up important yardage including a huge fourth and one play.

It's like a logrithm has been written for them that says: If game='loss' Then response ='Blame Culpepper'. This makes it so much easier, becuase you don't even have to watch the game in order to "know" what went wrong.

I know that there will be a lot of talk about, "Here we go again" regarding the Vikings collapse, but I've been saying that the story isn't, "Vikes can't play well once they reach the seventh game", but rather that the Vikes reached the part of the schedule where they are playing legit playoff teams and they unfortunately have to play them without Moss for now.

I really don't understand Tice and his game management skills. Your average Madden player knows how to manage the clock better than Tice does.

Anonymous said...

The average madden player knows how to manage a TEAM better than Tice does. Hell I know better and I've never played a game of Madden in my life.

Vikesgeek, can you talk about the stupidity of Tice in playing Randy Moss two weeks in a row, two weeks when he could be resting, and making things worse? It's nice to know that regardless of what a person thinks about his endorsement of BC04 (and whether that was a McCombs order or not) we can all unite in saying that Tice is monumentally stupid and those who apparently think Daunte is not very good are close behind. You know what? Manning barely won. How much better does competition get in regards to quarterbacks?

Vikes Geek said...

I will address Tice a bit more in today's/tomorrow's column with a bit different emphasis. With respect to playing the injured Moss, suffice it to say that anyone who has had a hip flexor, groin, quad, or hamstring injury knows how difficult they are to overcome and how imperative it is to rest the injury. No matter the reason for starting Moss, it is difficult to defend. Just putting on equipment with a pulled hammy is painful, Moss was asked to actually move--and with the possibility of getting hit. Not a wise use of your highest paid player. The local media continues to trot out the line that "different players are treated differently." That reasoning doesn't fit the circumstances that Moss' injury presents unless what is meant is that, when dealing with an injury to another player the team will use common sense but will abandon common sense when dealing with Moss' injury.

VG

Anonymous said...

Great point of view.

In the end, it's Tice's fault. He's the head coach. It's his job to prepare his players. Week after week, the Vikings are not prepared.

Top-rated NFL passer Daunte Culpepper throwing only 9 passes in the first half against the 32nd ranked defense is an inexcusable blunder by the coaching staff.

Chronic false start penalties. Coaching staff.

Having a running attack that is at or near the top of the NFL, and not using more play action, inexcusable. Coaching staff.

Best punt return of season with punt return team not in game tells us a lot about the special teams.

Mike Tice is the worst coach in the league.

Fire Tice. Hire Wannstedt, or Les Steckel, or anybody.

Anonymous said...

Maybe. But, then you may be disappointed in today's column which places considerable blame elsewhere. A central question for the Vikings is whether the Vikings are bad because they lack coaching or because they lack quality players. No doubt it's a combination of the two, but what is the composition of that combination?

For those who feel I let Tice off the hook too much by indicting Red, stay tuned. I promise another view of the Vikings' coach that may be illuminating.

Anonymous said...

BTW,

Great comment on the punt return. The Vikings mostly had their defensive team on the field with Burleson deep. Most of the punt return team was on the sidelines (does that mean that Cottrell would make a better special teams' coach?).

It would be nice to find a coach who is innovative, sound, and not a retread. I don't think Wanny and Les fit the bill, however. I'll reserve full judgment until the end of the season. If Tice turns it around, he gets another shot unless there is somebody really worth the change.

Anonymous said...

Daunte can just keep going 16-for-19 and keep his Teflon reputation for awhile longer, I guess.

Eventually, though, people will figure out that 16-for-19 and one TD is meaningless if the Vikes lose the game. Three or four five-touchdown games are meaningless if the Vikes don't make the playoffs.

When facing a quality team, the guy seizes up. They can fix the defense, they can fire Tice, they can address any other problem you can think of, and it won't matter one bit if the guy at the controls of the offense can't produce touchdowns against the good teams.

The idea that Daunte is an MVP candidate is an absolute joke. Tom Brady, Ben Rothlisberger, Donovan McNabb (well, up until last week), those guys are MVPs candidates. Daunte is decent, but he has yet to prove he belongs in that class. He is lost without Moss and I doubt that will change. I expect Favre will outplay him this weekend. The Vikes will slip to 5-4 and their playoff chances will go on life support and their Super Bowl prospects, already laughable, will be history. Might as well start playing for the draft choice that Red won't want to pay for.

Anonymous said...

And one more thing. The Vikings should have fired Dennis Green and hired Tony Dungy as head coach 10 years ago.

Vikes Geek said...

There would have been no need to fire Denny to hire Tony Dungy if the Vikings had simply hired Dungy instead of hiring Denny. But I am not convinced that we would have any more championships in Vikingland had Dungy been the head coach. As good of a coach--and person--as Dungy appears to be, there is something ominous about a coach who has coached as long as Dungy and has yet to put two halves of a team together. In Tampa Bay, Dungy's teams were all defense. We thought it was because Dungy was a defensive guru. Yet, in Indy, his teams consistently have been atrocious on defense and you wonder where the offense would be without Peyton Manning. I like Dungy, but my guess is that you would be no happier with Dungy than you apparently have been with Denny and Tice. Denny and Tice provided generally good offenses, sometimes very good. But neither put a good defense on the field. It's not clear that Dungy's track record suggests any better results.