The Minnesota Vikings begin their post-bye week season this Sunday when the travel to the Shaun Alexander-less Seattle Seahawks to play in a stadium recently given the Department of Homeland Security's equivalent of a clean bill of health. Despite the 'Hawks' reliance on Alexander to keep the offense humming last year and Alexander's expected de-activation on Sunday, Seattle remains the favorite to put the Vikings a full three games behind the NFC North division-leading Chicago Bears.
The Seahawks are averaging 22 points on 306 yards of offense this season--right where they should be. What's most impressive about the numbers, however, is that the Seahawks have reached their totals largely without the assistance of running back Shaun Alexander and tight end Jerramy Stevens, and despite the absurdly high-priced addition of mediocre-at-best, non-producing, already replaced wide-receiver Nate Burleson.
Defense has proven to be the Hawks' achilles heal, however, with Seattle allowing 22 points per game on 315 yards of offense per game. The 22 points allowed is one less than the EPA/game yield, but still only good enough to be the median NFL defense in yards allowed and in the bottom third of the league in points allowed per game.
The Vikings, meanwhile, have allowed an average of 16 points per game and 275 yards of offense per game. The 16 points is approximately two points below the Viking defense's EPA/game and ranks the Vikings fourth in the NFL on defense.
While the defense is proving as intractable as any in the league, the Vikings' offense is proving as futile as any in the league. In five games, the Vikings' defense and special teams have scored as many touchdowns as has the offense, with both tallying four TDs. For the defense, that's a nice per game ratio, not so for the offense.
Counting the points that the defense has put on the board, the Vikings are averaging 18 points per game this season on 325 yards of offense per game. That's approximately five points below the Vikings' offense's EP/game total. Even more disconcerting, however, is that reducing the Vikings' average points per game by the number of points contributed by the defense would leave the Vikings with a scoring average between 12 and 13 points per game, better than only the horrendous Oakland Raiders at 10 points per game.
No matter what one thinks of Vikings' quarterback Brad Johnson, he is not so incapable as to be producing a touchdown and two field goals per game. That's particularly true when the Vikings are averaging 325 yards of offense per game--twelfth best in the NFL. We've seen it early in the game and we've seen it late in the game. When Childress takes the handcuffs off, the Vikings' offense is capable of producing points. Most of the time, however, it appears that the cuffs are on and on tight.
One Brain, Two Halves
Childress undoubtedly is of two minds heading to Seattle. The left side of his brain--the creative though mostly dormant side--argues for an aggressive offense against a Seahawks' defense that has shown vulnerability this season, particularly given that Seattle has also shown an ability to put up numbers at home this season. Coming off of a bye week with plenty of time to wrench the rusty cuffs off of his quarterback, to take the shackles off of his receivers, and to creek open the playbook beyond page one, Childress would appear to be primed to give the offense a go this week.
The right side of Childress' brain, however, has proven stubborn this season. Unwilling to take his chances in a "wide-open" game (read "game in the 20's" in the Childress football lexicon), Childress has refused to attack vulnerable defenses in Buffalo and Detroit and preferred to play Denny-ball against Chicago's stout run defense rather than attack the short-yardage seems that the Bears' defense routinely allows.
In a perfect world, Childress already will have learned his lesson about playing too close to the vest against beatable opposition. Alas, this world is not a perfect one--particularly in Vikingland. And that means that, rather than learning the virtues of non-risk, risk-taking, Childress probably took from the Detroit game the lesson that the Vikings can continue to win by playing tight, conservative, sometimes inexplicably called offense.
That won't do against Seattle on the road.
The Vikings' defense has asserted its will so far, holding opposing offenses to its YPG and PPG range. The Seahawks, meanwhile, have been all over the map on both offense and defense, looking suspect on the road and good enough to win at home. If the Vikings go the brass route this weekend, Minnesota wins by a touchdown. Despite a post-Detroit mea culpa and pledges to the contrary, however, Childress appears just stubborn enough to believe that the Vikings' offense doesn't really need fixing yet. That will cost the Vikings a winnable game. Seattle 20 over Minnesota 16.
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