Sunday, November 21, 2004

Something Good

In a refreshing break from the recent trend, the Vikings rallied for a victory today. And with that victory came a few things that were good. While it is undoubtedly true that there was more that was troubling about a 22-19 home victory over a bad team struggling to win a game, as promised, the first column after a victory is time for fond reflection (at least as far as such reflection is possible).

The game started off...oops, that's tomorrow's column.

On their first possession of the game, the Vikings mixed the run and pass and marched down the field against the purportedly stalwart Lions' defense to tie the score. And the drives kept coming throughout the half--not to be followed by any points, but that, too, is a topic for tomorrow.

And...

OK. I need to end this madness here. For me even to attempt to fill a column with the good plays, good coaching decisions, and reasons for optimism resonating from the Vikings' game against the Lions would be utter lunancy. I won't pretend it is possible.

Instead, I offer a half-column of that which was good about the Vikings on Sunday and will resist, with all my might, the desire to note the myriad issues yet facing the Vikings in all facets of the game--from issues that receive much attention to issues receiving virtually no attention.

The Good

I'll begin with the deservedly maligned defense. There were some bright spots on this side of the ball today and they merit recognition. The most notable bright spots today were Antoine Winfield and Lance Johnstone. Winfield finished the day with 6 tackles and the game-sealing interception, an interception that Winfield was able to pick-up because he properly read a route and jumped it. What a novel concept. Winfield's tackling left announcers referring to him as "the Vikings' most capable tackler." Yes, that he is, but that's what most other expect and receive from each of their defensive players (but that is for tomorrow as well).

Lance Johnstone, the player whom Tice did not want back this year and the only player on the defensive line capable of a multi-sack game for the past three seasons (oops, more of tomorrow), also had an outstanding day on Sunday, sacking the Lions' hopeless Joey Harrington three times (three more times than did any other Viking). Johnstone continues to put pressure on the quarterback and remains one of the only reasons to watch the Vikings' defensive line, unless you are masochistic or need to time a three-minute egg (about the time it takes Hovan to get off his block).

I would have included E.J. Henderson in the good-defensive-performance category if not for his utterly putrid first-half performance on Sunday. Throughout the first half, Henderson looked like he was playing the game for the first time. He was a virtual non-factor in the half, save for the significant role he played in aiding the Texans.

The second half was a different story, however, as Henderson looked more than capable of at least fielding his middle linebacker role. Henderson ended with 7 tackles and appeared to have a revelation that he has an assignment on each play and that it behooves him to fill that assignment. He did not do so in the first half, but did in the second. Even though that is the minimum asked of him, his meeting that minimum is an upgrade over his performance every other week this season and reason for at least some optimism.

The offense has less reason for optimism this week than does the defense, in part because the expectations for the offense are considerably higher than they are for the defense. Daunte had a few good drives but was not consistent today, contributing mightily to a couple awful drives with poorly thrown passes and a sack that he simply should not have taken.

While Burleson looked good making several catches, he was not spectacular. He and Wiggins were the best options today with Robinson a virtual non-factor, but neither was much above their norm today.

But Moe Williams was spectacular, despite having little opportunity to play. Moe, as he always does (and come on Tice, I mean always!), produced when called upon, whether asked to make a key reception or to score the go-ahead touchdown. Moe Williams got it done. Unfortunately, Moe was relegated to emergency duty yet again, and the Vikings will never know how much more he could have contributed today.

The final good "play" of the day was turned in not by a player but by the coaching staff. No, not the special teams' coach (tomorrow), or the defensive coordinator (tomorrow, the day after, the day after that, etc.), but by the head coach and the offensive coordinator.

Since Mike Rosenthal went on injured reserve for the season, the Vikings have had troubles at the right tackle position. Adam Haayer, the Vikings' answer to a revolving door, was not the answer. That left Nat Dorsey and Adam Goldberg. Though both players are rookies and lack some of the necessary fundamentals at this point in their careers, the competition between the two to replace Rosenthal was not close. Dorsey clearly was better than Goldberg, and Dorsey won the position battle.

When Dorsey left the game with an elbow injury on Sunday, Goldberg was forced into the game. Nobody wanted this, but there was no alternative. Goldberg responded by immediately allowing his player to beat him and to tackle SOD for a safety. SOD had no chance. Sadly, neither did Goldberg.

But what was good about the situation, as it evolved, was that, rather than throwing their hands up in the air and admitting defeat or doing something absurd--as the Vikings always seem to do on special teams and defense (again with tomorrow)--Tice and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan made adjustments. And the adjustments worked!

By keeping seven players in to block, and having a late-release player, the Vikings were able to overcome Goldberg's (and McKinney's) blocking deficiencies to a degree sufficient enough to allow the Vikings to put 15 points on the board in the second half. The change was significant for the fact that the Vikings were able to move the ball effectively despite essentially surrendering the use of an additional wideout. See coach, adaptation to the circumstances on short notice is possible.

If only that were the case on defense and special teams.

Tomorrow: The bad.


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