Sunday, January 16, 2005

Opportunity Knocks

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.

Defense

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.

Offense

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.

Special Teams

Pray for more of a Chris Walsh influence.

Up next: Post Game.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

"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."

Are you serious? I mean I haven't been keeping up with the average fan's perception of the Vikings but I can hardly credit the average Vikings' fan as thinking the Vikings are "cured" of what ails them.

Also, besides Offense, Defense and Special Teams, what is there in football?

Vikes Geek said...

That depends on how you define the "average fan." Is it the fan sentiment as expressed through the local radio shows? Is it the voice of the fan as expressed through the local newspapers? Through both of these mediums, fans expressed--directly or indirectly--a renewed hope that the Vikings could progress in the playoffs beyond this week. You can quibble with my hyperbole if you like, but there is no question that many Vikings' fans gave the Vikings a chance to win this week when they would not have prior to last week's performance.

I will assume that your comment on offense/defense/special teams is simply the result of a hasty read, as your realization is both the crux and the point of the column.

VG

Anonymous said...

Vikings 14
Eagles 27 F

The Vikings looked lifeless and dull the whole game.

Countless mental and coaching mistakes plagued the Vikings, including Claiborne not getting both feet inbounds (after being out of bounds) before recovering a fumble, the joke of a fake field goal, Culpepper not seeing the open receiver downfield, dropping interceptions, and so on. On the other hand, the Eagles made few mistakes all day.

Mike Tice is just not getting the job done. Ideally, the following will happen.

Red McCombs will sell the Vikings to a Minnesota investor.

Ink a deal to build a new football stadium in the Twin Cities with retractable roof.

The Vikings will put in a new head coach. How about Dick Jauron? Scott Linehan will be signed to a new contract as OC. I don't know whether Ted Cottrell should be re-signed. It isn't all his fault and the defense really needs continuity.

Keep Moss. No matter what, keep Moss.

Trade Dante Culpepper. With his huge stats, the Vikes can get a lot for him. Reasons to trade him: he has peaked and he still makes numerous many mistakes on the field. For example: poor throws and poor throwing choices, tends to force the ball, fumbles, he will never lead the Vikings to a comeback victory, and most importantly he chokes in big games.

For a replacement QB look to an experienced, strong-armed quarterback like Kurt Warner or Gus Frerotte. Get a veteran backup QB (or Shaun Hill) and draft a rookie QB in the low rounds for the future.

Thank David Dixon for his many years of superior service and encourage him to retire in style.

Keep McKinnie, Birk, and Dorsey. Get new guards.

Let Hovan go.

Trade Chavous and Claiborne. Get draft picks.

Re-evaluate the linebacking corps. They might have to be completely revamped, although Newman is decent.

Keep the secondary intact, minus Chavous and his poor leadership.

Draft a top-ranked linebacker.

Put Kleinsasser back in his natural position, tight end. He will help the Vikings more by terrorizing secondaries than he ever will by blocking.

In training camp, practice the tip drill really, really hard, and not infrequently.

Keep Morten Andersen and Jose Cortez. Replace the punter. He's too erratic.

Sign a long-armed 7-footer who can jump as a kick-blocking specialist.

The basic idea is to fix what's broken, upgrade the quarterback, and keep the defensive line and secondary mostly intact so that they can continue to gain experience and get better.

Most importantly, the Vikings need better leadership, especially at head coach and quarterback.

Anonymous said...

>Keep Moss. No matter what, keep Moss.<

Moss? Was he there today? Nah, don't keep Sideshow Bob. Let him shake his ass somewhere else by trading it out of town.

The only downside is who would deal with that moron? I think the only one is the moron who drafted him. Send the Sideshow to Arizona for any of their wideouts and a draft choice. He would fit right in down there.

Anonymous said...

"upgrade the quarterback"

ummm, who wants to explain to me how replacing a QB who had one of the greatest seasons ever for a QB w/ Kurt "over the hill" Warner or Gus "Head Slam" Ferrotte would be an upgrade? I can hear trading Moss IF you get enough for him, but that's a big big big IF. The defense needs to be upgraded and the offense needs to be tweaked-my assesment of the season goes like this-the Vikes defense was horrible, the Offense was off all year due to injuries and general poor execution/mental mistakes and thus, despite Daunte's dominance, was unable to make up for the travesty that was the defense.

Anonymous said...

Culpepper is a choker. In big games he plays like garbage.

Today he was 24 of 46, 316 yards, 1 TD, 2 Int. That is not good.

Culpepper was wild and ineffective all day. Moss can't catch the ball when it isn't even close to him.

Culpepper had receivers open all day long. He just couldn't put the ball in their hands. Why? Because he choked. Just like he always does in big games.

(In the Green Bay game, there was no pressure on the Vikings because no one expected them to win.)

Anonymous said...

How bout the first two green bay games where there was a lot of pressure on the Vikes to win and Daunte came up huge (avg 300 yds a game, 3.5 TDs a game, no picks)...I hate to bring this into it the equation, but honestly, there can't be any other reason to want to replace Daunte w/ Warner or Ferrotte than some form of underlying racism.
Daunte is a top 5 QB in the NFL-he played poorly today, but do you think the constant pressure from the Eagles had something to do w/ it? How bout the fact that the Vikes managed to get the dropsies? I mean seriously-Daunte isn't the problem right now and replacing him w/ a washed up white QB isn't going to make the Vikes LBs any better or make the line do a better job of protecting the QB (it would actually make it worse, seeing as how only McNabb and Vick are as mobile as Daunte)

Anonymous said...

I don't care what color of skin the QB has. I care about him not choking in big games.

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