The Vikings enter today's playoff game against the Philadelphia Eagles as a prohibitive underdog. Though the early line of the Eagles -9 has shrunk somewhat since last week, it still remains better than a one-touchdown spread. Despite this perceived disparity favoring the Eagles, however, the Vikings have more than a theoretical chance of winning today's game.
How the Vikings Can Win
Whether the Vikings are able to defeat Philly today hinges on the same three elements that have huanted the Vikings the past three seasons. Broadly writ, these three elements are special teams, offense, and defense. This, of course, says virtually nothing and absolutely everything that you need to know about the Vikings, circa 2004-2005.
While sounding more like a lead-in to any one of the national pregame shows during which "analysts" throw out every possible cliche in an attempt to ensure that they have something onto which they can latch after the game has ended, when applied to the Vikings, the seeming cliche--that how the team plays on offense, defense, and special teams will determine the outcome of the game--is quite apt. And the Vikings have reached this point, the point at which such a statement can be made about their team in earnest, because they have had critical failures in each of these three areas throughout the season.
After last week's victory over Green Bay, most Vikings' fans were at least content to enjoy another week of the season with visions of revenge against the T.O.-less Eagles dancing in their heads. Those visions have been fueled by the Vikings' purported discovery of a defense within their ranks. Few fans concerned themselves with the missed opportunities on offense or any special teams gaffes. And why should they? The Vikings had won handily. And they had done so largely as the result of four picks.
But that was last week. Against an inferior defense. Against a quarterback who begged the Vikings to pick him. This week promises different pressures on the Vikings' defense--namely, a shifty back who can catch and run after the catch. And that is something that the Vikings, and most teams, have difficulty defending.
Last season, Donovan McNabb registered a fairly meager 79 passer rating in a league averaging close to 90. McNabb often looked flustered and, when pressured by the blitz, became his own worst enemy. This season, McNabb has looked like an MVP candidate, finding open receivers, making the right audible call, and even turning in some clutch runs. As a result, McNabb's passer rating has soared to 104.
Of course, there are significant differences between this year's and last year's Eagles' team. This year McNabb had Terrell Owens as a primary receiver. Last year, he did not. This year, opposing teams could not play man on the Eagles' receiver. Last year they could. This year, opposing teams could not load up the box to defend against the Eagles' running game. Last year, they could. This year, opposing teams could not keep a spy on McNabb. Last year, they could.
But all of a sudden, this year looks more like last year. With Owens' season-ending injury in week 15, the Eagles suddenly find themselves without a deep threat. They suddenly find themselves under more blitz pressure. And they suddenly find themselves in a position of having to prove that their offense is more than a one-receiver show.
Does that mean that McNabb will be unable to go deep against the Vikings' secondary? Absolutely not. After all, this is a secondary that gave up the deep ball to Vinny Testaverde, Chad Hutchinson, Joey Harrington, and Patrick Ramsey. This is a secondary that allowed each of the above named quarterbacks to achieve career marks in what is certain to be the final season in the NFL for most, if not all. And this is a secondary that will start Willie Offord at safety today in place of the injured Corey Chavous.
The issue, however, is not whether McNabb will be able to go deep today, but how often he will be able to go deep and how accurate his throws will be when he finds a streaking receiver running freely between three overwhelmed, befuddled Vikings' covermen. Without a blitz presence, the under/over without Owens is two times. The under/over with Owens would have been five times. If the Vikings put modest pressure on McNabb, they may even lower today's under/over to one time. And that would provide a boost to an offense that is certain to need the support.
On offense the game plan should be simple. Set up the run and the pass with screen plays. Once the screen play is in play, stretch the defense with some slant and post passes. Then incorporate the run. Then incorporate the play action roll-out in which Daunte has the option of dumping off or galloping for 25 yards.
In the red zone, keep it simple. Give Daunte the ball, pull right, and have Daunte barrel into the end zone. The next trip down, try the same ploy. If it works, go with it. If the Eagles stack the line, lob it to Moss at the back of the endzone. Simple.
Pray for more of a Chris Walsh influence.
Up next: Post Game.