Monday, January 17, 2005

Return to Form

We now know the answer to the question of whether the Vikings' game against the Packers last weekend was an aberration. It was. While losing to the Philadelphia Eagles 27-14 on Sunday, the Vikings turned in yet another dredful performance reminiscent of 2004 performances against the Giants, Bears, Seahawks, and Redskins, to name a few, and worthy of mention in the same breath as their 41-0 loss to the Giants in the 2000 NFC Championship game.

And while the Vikings demonstrated that they are a team that is short in several areas--particularly, but not exclusively, on defense, special teams, and in the area of coaching--their performance on Sunday did their previous duds one better.

On defense, the Vikings committed costly penalties, failed to cover open players, failed to put pressure on a drop-back quarterback, and failed to take advantage of what should have been a one-dimensional team. In a game laden with critical Vikings' defensive failures, one of the more prescient moments came just after an Eagle receiver ran behind three Vikings' players into the wide open reaches of the end zone for an easy touchdown. As the three Vikings' defenders looked at each to determine who would make the post-game confessional for blowing coverage on this particular play--as if such a mea culpa actually carried any consequences on this team--the Fox announcers noted that the Vikings were beaten on the play because they got caught in man zone against the receiver while double-teaming Eagles' running back, Brian Westbrook.

Just so we are clear on this, the announcer was correct. A Vikings' unit that has been routinely burned by the pass devised this game plan for the Eagles. The plan, apparently, was to double-cover the running back, no matter the route. No matter the route! On this particular play, Westbrook barely left the line of scrimmage. But he sure was covered. Of course, even that is a bit deceptive since Westbrook probably would have broken "containment" had his number been called on the play, just as every other Eagle player broke "containment" on Sunday.

But even if the Vikings' defense had made more plays, it may not have mattered given the play of the Vikings' special teams. Not content with its flawed regular-season play, the Vikings' special teams decided to show why Rusty Tillman almost certainly will be on his way out as Vikings' special team's coach, by giving the Eagles short fields on nearly every drive.

The offensive players, apparently concerned that they would be left out of the post-game discussion, did their best to contribute to the entire abysmal affair. Whether Daunte was short-arming passes, Moss was short-arming would-be receptions, or an offensive lineman failed to heed a fake field goal call (extra points for serving on special teams), the offense did little to justify its claim that it is any better than an average NFL offense.

And the cherry on top of this debacle was the coaching. Tice made two great challenges and earned a third had it mattered, but, notwithstanding these calls, the Vikings' coaching staff appeared well over its head in the NFL on Sunday. Blame the player who failed to listen to the fake field goal call on the sideline, but something of this nature seems to happen every week to the Vikings. That' on the coaching staff.

Blame the offense for failing to convert in the red zone, but, as in nearly every game this year, the Vikings' coaching staff persisted in its refusal to take what the defense was giving. The Eagles were vulnerable to the run, particularly Daunte's keepers. Predictably, the Vikings passed. Blame? Coaching staff.

I could go on and on, but one need only read any post-loss column from this season--or last week's column after the win over Green Bay--and change the name of the opponent for more analysis. For what the Vikings did against Philly on Sunday was what they have done virtually all season. They melted down on defense, self-destructed on offense, played poorly on special teams, and showed significant inability to adjust game plans and have players in position to make plays.

Up Next: Who's staying. Who's going.


Anonymous said...

The interesting thing about it is, I never felt the Vikings were out of it until the last quarter. There was always the sense, that if they could just score, they'd only be 1 touchdown behind. To be fair, the Eagles scored 7 points on a freak play that I had to see to believe.

I'm not saying the Eagles weren't better than the Vikings, but the Vikings definitely had their chances to win and this I think, bears out what you said a long time ago about how the Eagles and Falcons are not as good as the equivalent teams in the AFC which I wasn't sure I agree with at the time.

If I've mis-represented your position, please feel free to correct me!

Anonymous said...

I think you hit it on the head. The nauseating thing about the Eagles game is that the Eagles really are not a deeper team than the Vikings. They appear to have a better coach. They appear to have a QB who plays well in big games (sometimes). And they certainly have a better defense. But the Vikings' offense really should be more than a match even for the Eagles' defense. The Vikings moved the ball well on the ground, but gave up the running game. Wiggins appeared open the entire game, but the Vikings opted for the riskier, lower-percentage deep ball and endzone pass. The irony is that the Vikings' defense did what one could expect it to do, but the offense failed.

If I were a betting person, I would bet the house on the AFC in the Super Bowl in a straight up bet. Of course, that is precisely the kind of bet one tends to lose. I don't believe that the Eagles or the Falcons are in the same class as at least the top six AFC teams.


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