Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Chinny, Chin, Chin

In the early stages of their game against the Chicago Bears on Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings had the Bears right where they expected to have them--trailing and on the defensive. Then the Vikings self-destructed. First came the fumbled handoff. Next came former Vikings' coach Mike Tice's favorite call, the desperation heave in a non-desperation moment. Finally, down came the curtain on what just as easily could have been a Vikings' victory rather than a Vikings' loss.

In a game in which the cliche that wins and losses are determined by inches is so often borne out, of no team is that line probably truer than the Minnesota Vikings, circa 2006. Because, while the Vikings' defense appears finally capable of keeping the Vikings in games, the Vikings' offense now seems incapable of taking advantage of that improved defensive play, seemingly content to play along the margins.

For the Vikings, that means wins will result primarily, if not exclusively, from relatively mistake-free ball. Presumably, the Vikings will have opportunities to exploit a team or two that is not NFL worthy this season. But looking down the schedule, the Vikings will be hard-pressed to identify precisely when that moment will arrive. Probably not next weekend in what could be a cold, damp, and windy Rich Stadium. And probably not even on the road against the as yet winless Detroit Lions.

Going into the season, Vikings' fans understood that the Vikings' offense probably would lag behind the defense. But few fans would have hazard the guess that, three weeks into the NFL season, the Vikings' offense would post no offensive touchdowns in two of the team's first three games.

The culprits in this game were the familiar ones for the Vikings. Bad penalties, conservative calls, and poor play at critical moments. Yet again, the offensive line led the list of the Vikings' problems.

Artis Hicks has become the new Mike Rosenthal and Todd Steussie rolled into one--slow blocking on the right side with a flair for the unnecessary, untimely penality. Not to be outdone, Bryant McKinnie is now doing even more frequently what he did far too often last season--getting beat on passing downs and feigning interest on running plays. Throw in the continuing inability of nearly the entire line to block on passing downs and the building blocks to the conservative offense are firmly in place.

Then there is the coaching. In the first two weeks of the regular season, Vikings' head coach Brad Childress seemingly could do no wrong, save for a poor challenge. This week, however, Childress made his first game-losing call. Then he made the decision and the loss worse with his post-game comments.

Facing a fourth and two near mid field, with ample time remaining and timeouts in the bank, the Vikings were poised to continue their final drive with a simple short pass to the receiver, the likes of which the Bears' backs had demonstrated no interest in covering throughout the game. Instead, perhaps harkening back to his bold week-two fake field goal converted into a touchdown, Childress went deep. And all Vikings' fans flashed back to one of the worst elements of the Tice era.

That decision, despite anything that might have gone against the Vikings earlier in the game, was the wrong decision at the time. And it was the wrong decision not only because it did not work, but also because the alternative clearly were better.

After the game, Childress defended the call. "We liked the one on one that they were showing against Troy. I'll take that any time." Except, one would like to think, when the situation strongly argues for any number of alternative plays with infinitely greater likelihood of prolonging the game for the Vikings.

Childress' schizophrenic ping-ponging between ultra conservative and high risk play calling that he has demonstrated in consecutive weeks--once with success, this week without--is odd in at least two respects. Strange is that a coach with a conservative bent and a dedication to seeing the game plan through would switch gears at such a critical time. Even odder, however, is that the coach who made the decision also stocked the roster with players who could deal with the strain of playing in such a conservative offensive scheme, yet that very coach called upon those very players to execute a play that requires at least one flashy player on the executing end. The Vikings clearly have no such player currently on their roster.

In and of itself the Vikings' loss to Chicago is not so much troubling as it is disappointing. The Vikings had a lead, the defense was playing well, and the Vikings seemingly gave the lead away by making mistakes. The comeback attempt was similarly side-tracked.

But, as another tried and true cliche goes, how a team handles defeat is almost always the surest sign of a team's character. And after only one loss--to a team widely regarded as one of the few solid teams in the mediocrity that is the NFL, a surprising culprit has evidenced a willingness to foster divisiveness--the head coach, himself.

During Monday's press conference, Childress was asked whether the defense was down about the performance of the offense. "Not at all. They don't see it like that. We didn't get it done today and they [the defense] did. Some weeks, that role will be reversed."

That sounds innocuous enough. But what's lurking behind that comment is Childress' desire to demonstrate that he is a quality offensive coordinator. And in attempting to deflect criticism of his offense, and, thereby, his play calling, Childress unwittingly already has divided the team into two clear camps, offense and defense. Childress also noted that the plays were in place and that, in particular, Johnson "had the option of checking out of the fourth down play" that essentially ended the game for the Vikings. This from a coach who is all about team.

It's one loss and it's a loss that was not unexpected by most. But it's also a game that the Vikings could have and should have won. Maybe that's what strained Childress' comments after the game. But if that's where you go after one tough loss, where next do you go in defeat?

Up Next: Around the league. Plus, number, numbers, numbers.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Vikings have scored an offensive touchdown.

Anonymous said...

The Vikings have scored an offensive touchdown.

tbone said...

The VIkings have actually scored two offensive touchdowns.

The offense is young (esp the Offensive Line) and needs a little bit of time to jell. The thing that is really killing them are the penalties. I beleive the Vikes have had a false start and/or a holding call against them with in the 5 yard line in each of the 3 games they played.

Regarding the last play (on 4th and 2). The Bears had Bump & Run coverage on Troy with no Safety over the top. The Vikes tried to win the game right there and would of if Brad Johnson had adeuquate protection. I don't have a problem with the shot we took.

Vikes Geek said...

T-bone,

You might want to take another look at the 4th and 2 play. Johnson threw the ball far too deep for the receiver, but the receiver had zero separation and would have had to run to St. Paul to get any. Even with more time in the pocket, therefore, there is no reason to believe that the play was open. Just because a corner is playing man without cover--even if, as you contend, there was no safety help--does not mean that the play is open. Sometimes corners cover in man. This time, Chicago's worst corner looked pretty tight against purportedly our best deep threat. You can argue that Brad should have checked out of the play, but the play just didn't make sense even to call at that point in the game. Childress should have taken the short yardage that the Bears were all but conceding and and the first down. Particularly, as here, when time was not an issue.

The old saying applies in this case. It would have been a great call if it had worked. Unfortunately, it did not. And that kicks in the corollary.

VG

Vikes Geek said...

T-bone,

The Vikings' do not exactly have a young offense or a young offensive line. With the exception of Marcus Johnson, in his second season as a starter in the NFL, the Vikings' linemen all have at least five years of NFL experience with Birk having 9, Hutchinson 6, and McKinnie and Hicks 5 each. That's pretty good experience.

Nor are the Vikings exactly spring chickens throughout the rest of the offense with Johnson, Richardson, and Robinson each playing at least ten years, chester Taylor in his fifth season, Travis Taylor in his seventh season, Kleinsasser in his eighth season, and Wiggins in his seventh season. Among the starters, then, only Williamson, in his second season, and Marcus Johnson can be said to be "young" by NFL standards.

You can argue that the Vikings are still getting adjusted to some of their off-season changes, but even that is a bit of a light argument since the Vikings purportedly upgraded where they made changes and the team really only made three changes of note on the offensive line (not counting Birk's return), those being the additions of Hicks, Chester Taylor, and Hutchinson--throw in Richardson, as well, if you like.

VG

tbone said...

VG,

Well by a young offense, I met many new players in a new offensive with first time coaches learning how to work with each other. I think that after the bye week you will really see them start to click.

tbone said...

Regarding the 4th and 2 play, yeah the execution of the play looked horrible; but the pre-snap reads were there. In my opinion it made sense that Troy should of gotten separation on that play. Unfortunately he could not create the separation and Brad Johnson did not have the time to check to another progression.

Vikes Geek said...

T-bone,

I hope your assessment of the offensive line pans out. For the cap space that the Vikings have committed to this line, the results so far have been disappointing across the entire line. And there are nearly as many questions this year, to date, as there were at the end of last season. Is McKinnie really the left tackle that he is purported to be (i.e., a solid tackle with run and pass blocking capabilities)? Is Birk a step slower? Is Marcus Johnson ready to be a starter? Is Artis Hicks starter material? I suspect we'll know more by week seven, but I also suspect that we might realize then things that we wish were otherwise.

VG