Saturday, September 09, 2006

Short Is Better Than Long

For Vikings' fans old enough to remember the Daunte Culpepper era, yesterday's Miami loss undoubtedly brought back some fond memories--promising drives early in the game, checking out of running plays into ill-advised pass plays leading to critical turnovers late in the game. Ahhh, the good old days.

No matter your impression of the Vikings' decision to trade Daunte to the Dolphins in the pre-season--a move that yielded Ryan Cook when, had the Vikings merely bided their time, a healthy Daunte probably would have yielded a bona fide starter and a first round pick--there is little doubt that the quarterback currently leading the Vikings is more suited than is Daunte to run a patient offensive game plan the likes of which
Vikings' head coach Brad Childress appears intent on running.

Despite success running and throwing the ball over the middle and in the flat in the first half of Thursday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Daunte had already signaled that that approach did not interest him. In fashion reminiscent of far too many drives with the Vikings in 2005, Daunte reverted to forcing the ball where he could not possibly thread it. That gambit went without repercussion in the first half but swallowed Daunte and the Dolphins in the second half--particularly in the closing minutes of a still winnable game.

By contrast, Johnson has neither the inclination nor, perhaps the arm strength, to attempt what Daunte cannot resist. And for a Vikings' team that is without a burner on the wing, that's just as well.

Lost in any discussion of the difference between Johnson and Culpepper, however, is not so much that Johnson's abilities virtually require that he be a patient quarterback to succeed in the NFL but that the NFL almost exclusively rewards the patient, plodding teams. In fact, in the history of the post-merger NFL, only one pass-first, deep-passing team has won the Super Bowl--the Kurt Warner led St. Louis Rams. And that team was quite willing to win on the ground with Marshall Faulk if only other teams would have let them. But even the opponents of those Rams teams believed that their best option was to attempt to take away the control game--it just didn't work out.

The purported knock on the Vikings' offense in 2006 is that it lacks star power at the skill positions and will have trouble moving the ball. That's the conventional wisdom.

History and logic suggest, however, that methodical offenses--ones which employ all of their components--are the ones that succeed. That's the Dallas, Oakland, Pittsburgh, New England, and Denver model, and it will be the Vikings' model in 2006 for the first time for, perhaps, ever.

Despite a lack of superstars on offense, the Vikings have several fine offensive players this year, including two tight ends that will have several passes thrown their direction in each game--a welcome change from last year owing to a chang in coaching philosophy and the entrenchment of a quarterback willing to abide by a system that makes highlight reel passes nearly anathema.

And that means that, despite lingering issues about the abilities of three offensive linemen, including the purportedly dominating but often beaten or turned around Bryant McKinnie, the lack of a strong running game, and the absence of a deep threat at receiver, the Vikings, with a steadily improving corps of defensive players, shuold be good enough on offense this year to improve upon last year.

And that improvement should begin Monday in Washington.

Up Next: My team's better than your team.

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