A Penny for Your Thoughts
Following the Vikings’ third loss in three weeks, Vikings’ head coach Mike Tice repeated the statements that Vikings’ fans have heard too often. “We made some good plays but failed to make the big plays on defense when given the opportunity.” Tice was specifically critical of dropped interception opportunities by Brian Russell—keeping Russell on pace to drop at least one interception opportunity every game this season—and Brian Williams, who was taking a break from poor coverage, missed tackles, and bad angles when he achieved his failure.
And if that sounds like a broken record, expect more. Expect tomorrow to hear Tice say that after reviewing the game film: (1) the offensive line graded out extremely high—the highest of the year for some linemen; (2) the defensive line, particularly Chris Hovan, had a strong presence; (3) Daunte played a great game; and (4) Burleson showed that the Vikings do have a go-to receiver with Moss out of the lineup.
Tice will say these things tomorrow because he is working through his natural progression and because they will divert our attention from things that had a negative impact on the game and things that are more readily quantifiable from the home office.
After a loss, Tice displays dismay and anger. Initially, this dismay and anger is focused on the players. Then it moves to the fans, as Tice selects fan comments—real or fictitious—that deflect focus from the source of the team’s most recent downfall (see dismay and anger focused on players). Tice entered phase two of his post-game rewind by noting that he is “tired of the fans’ criticism of Daunte” (said as if to suggest that the primary post-game criticism centered on Daunte’s performance) and that fans who ask if the Vikings scored too soon are “idiots.”
Of course, what Tice was attempting to do is shift the focus from the poor performance at Lambeau to criticism that could be deflected. Most fans will acknowledge that, on balance, Daunte had a fairly good game. Sure it would be nice if Daunte operated with a sense of urgency in the first half and if Daunte were able to get the players to the line in under thirty seconds when time was of the essence, but those were the tidiest of the Vikings’ shortcomings on Sunday.
And most fans would agree that, while it would be nice to have no time on the clock after scoring the tying touchdown, it was not something over which the Vikings had much control. They tried to run time off of the clock, they just happened to have scored. That’s preferable to what the Gophers did against Iowa, when Mason had so cowered to Iowa’s mediocre-at-best pass defense that he refused to throw a pass on 3rd and 12 so that he could “give his kicker a chance to kick the winning field goal”—from 51 freakin’ yards! How absurd!
I get Tice’s angst in the face of such questions, because those are not the questions that, even if answered, will help understand the meaningful shortcomings in Sunday’s loss to Green Bay. But Tice gets that most fans will dwell on those issues if he leads them in that directions.
But some of us will ask more poignant questions. We will ask, for example, why the Vikings continue to play poorly in the first half?
On Sunday, the Vikings were outscored 24-10 in the first half. In the second half, the Vikings outscored the Packers 21-10. Is it poor game planning? Are the Vikings too predictable on offense and defense coming out of the gate? Why is it that teams always seem to be prepared for what the Vikings show them on offense and defense but the Vikings do not appear similarly prepared for the opponents’ game plan? Do the Vikings rely too much on pre-game scripting? Is the coaching staff too slow or too stubborn to make changes? These seem like relevant questions.
And we would also ask which came first, the commitment to this group of defenders or the commitment to a below-salary-cap-floor team salary? This commitment left the Vikings not only thin on defense but also bare at critical positions, including all three linebacker positions. Did Tice tell us that the defense looked better because he was trying to sell his own players on their potential or because he actually believed his defense was good?
We might also ask why, despite assurances that the Vikings’ coaching staff points out team tendencies and proper coverage schemes and tackling techniques, the Vikings continue to overplay the screen, fail to recognize an opponent’s basic tendencies, and fail to take proper routes to the ball?
There are only a few possible answers to these questions and none are particularly appealing.
One possibility is that the Vikings are simply top heavy in dull players. If this is the case, everyone looks bad as the coaches and front office worked to bring the players to Minnesota and the players, well, they play for the Vikings.
Another possibility is that the coaching staff is in over its head. Tice came to the job with no head coaching experience and has used several assistants in numerous areas. The Vikings’ defense has been near the bottom of the league for several years running and the special teams are atrocious (think the Vikings wish they had used a second round draft pick on Nate Kaeding rather than Donterrious Thomas now?). The only position that has demonstrated even a shred of consistency has been the offense, and even that has taken entire games off and routinely sleepwalks through the first half.
No matter the answer, we would feel obliged to ask the coach one last question. Is it possible to address your teams’ evident shortcomings prior to the game, rather than at halftime, for the remainder of the season?
And we would pose that as a non-rhetorical question.
Up Next: More Rewind, the next state of Tice, and Moe.