Sunday, October 01, 2006

Ugh-ly

Before Sunday afternoon's game against the Buffalo Bills, the Minnesota Vikings believed that they were on the cusp of a break-through. After three consecutive weeks playing some of the league's top defensive teams, the Vikings thought that they were catching at least a bit of a break against the good, but not uber good Bills' defense.

Either the Vikings misassessed the Bills' defense or they grossly overestimated the ability of their own offense. And, unless my eyes are deceiving me, it is the latter to which the Vikings primarily can point for their loss on Sunday.

The Problems

Throughout the off-season, the Vikings attempted to persuade their fans that their receiving corps had the possession receiver it needed in Travis Taylor, a red-zone threat in Marcus Robinson, and a deep threat in Troy Williamson. So far, only Robinson even remotely resembles the bill of fare promised fans in a receiving corps that looks less and less capable each week.

The problems for the receivers begin with an inability to catch the ball. Against Buffalo, Troy Williamson contributed two drops on well thrown balls to two receptions, Robinson contributed several catches and a touchdown but also one glaring drop that could have meant the difference between an ugly win and an uglier loss, and Taylor seemed more bystander than contributor, with the exception of his ill-timed pass interference penalty, catching four passes for a pedestrian 28 yards.

If the Vikings hope to have a legitimate offense sometime this season, they will need to have much more of a contribution from the receiving corps. That starts with having a possession receiver who can get open in crunch time, a red zone threat who holds onto the critical pass at the critical time, and a deep threat who actually is a deep threat.

Most alarming for the Vikings' receiving corps, though not the least bit surprising, is the poor play of last year's number seven pick in the draft, Troy Williamson. Williamson not only continues to drop passes that NFL receivers routinely catch, he also seems utterly incapable of gaining separation from the defender. As was the case last week against Chicago, the Buffalo Bills found Williamson eminently coverable by man defense.

Williamsons' persistent dropsies and inability to stretch the field have created a predicament for the Vikings who put all of the eggs in the Williamson basket once Koren Robinson properly was dismissed from the squad. At present, there is but one option on the market. And that option is only palatable from the perspective of the Vikings' absolute need for a deep threat. That option is current Oakland Raider Jerry Porter, currently residing on the inactive list.

Porter's tendency to spout off about coaching moves, his seeming me-first attitude, and his complete obliviousness as to how to resolve his differences with the Raiders make trading for Porter a questionable proposition for the Vikings. At this point, however, it's a toss up whether a trade for Porter is any more dubious than would be sticking with Williamson as the deep threat.

If only the Vikings' offensive problems could be laid entirely at the the feet of the sub-par receiving corps. Unfortunately, the Vikings' offense has at least three other significant issues with which the coaching staff must soon deal. All three were on display on Sunday.

A contributing factor to the poor showing of the Vikings' receiving corps the past two weeks has been the less than stellar play of Vikings' quarterback Brad Johnson. On Sunday, Johnson threw for 267 yards, but he had to throw the ball 44 times to reach that mark. And of those 44 passes, two were picked--and both picks were entirely on Johnson. Presumably, that's not the kind of play that Vikings' head coach Brad Childress had in mind when he dubbed Johnson his "protect the ball and make smart plays" quarterback.

Johnson can be forgiven some of his poor play, however, given his lackluster receiving corps and his apparently well-overpaid offensive line. Against Buffalo, the Vikings tallied a meager 63 yards rushing despite the Vikings' offensive linemen having a sizeable advantage over the smaller Buffalo defensive linemen. No matter for Buffalo, however, as the Bills simply pushed their way through the Vikings' linemen on both sides of the line.

Adding to the poor play of specific individuals and units was the continuing and alarming escalation of penalties owing to nothing other than sheer stupidity. Rashad Baker nearly stole the show with two difficult to fathom plays for which the Vikings were penalized--one for interfering with the kick returner's right to field the ball on a fair catch play, the other for running into the punter. The latter play was truly remarkable as Baker had no opportunity to block the punt given his maneuver, but a near certainty of sliding into the punter, which he did. Nice work.

But Rashad's brilliant play was outdone by the Vikings' defensive line, specifically Kenechi Udeze and Kevin Williams. Udeze was flagged for two offsides calls, the latter on a critical play late in the game that gave Buffalo a first down and helped prolong a clock-draining drive. Not to be outdone, Williams again demonstrated geographic comprehension issues, lining up in the neutral zone two more times this week.

We could discuss the possibility that the Vikings' nearly non-existent running game is attributable to the team's reliance on three yards and a cloud of dust Chester Taylor, but that would shift far too much blame to players who have been called upon to do what few backs could do--run through non-existent holes. If and when the Vikings' offensive line begins to earn its keep will an assessment of the running backs be worthwhile.

What It Means

The Vikings are saddled with one of the lesser offenses in the NFL, an offense that, against Buffalo, had only one drive of more than ten plays, with ten "drives" of six plays or less, five three and outs including four straight three and outs, and no sense of urgency between the opening scoring drive and the mad dash at the end of the game. Even with a poorly performing wide-receiver corps, a mostly ineffective offensive line, a non-existent running game, and a quarterback who suddenly cannot protect the ball, however, the Vikings should have beaten Buffalo. But they did not. And if the Vikings continue to lead the league in penalties and persist in failing to take advantage of scoring opportunities, a season that looked headed in the right direction could go south quickly.

Up Next: Around the league. Plus, numbers.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

man, that was a bad loss. surprising the vikings could have stole the game with all the penalties, 2 interceptions, missed opportunities (ie sharper with the fumble begging him to recover)poor offensive play, dropped large gain passes. they need to clean up there game playing just a little more error free they could be 4-0. but they don't seem any better than recent vikes teams. i was hoping more coaching would help but apparently not yet.

Hugin & Munin said...

VG,

The summary dismissal of Koren Robinson now looks both foolish and inconsistent.

Maybe I'm missing something, but the Vikes seem to have held Koren to a higher standard than other players. There are starters out there today who carry the stain of the Love Boat scandal (one of whom we gave a fat extension to), and then there is Dwight Smith. I have a bit more sympathy for Robinson because apparently he DID manage to deal with his alchoholism once - and had a stellar season to show for it.

But all my analyses of this situation are tainted by the fact that the receiving corps is terrible. Travis Taylor had promise, but doesn't have what it takes at this level. Marcus Robinson is a good #2 receiver thrust into the the #1 role. And Williamson is a bust - I'll call it. He is Qadry Ismail in disguise. All speed, no hands. Koren seemed to be developing into a decent #1 WR, and given the facts I am aware of, the Vikes seem idiotic to have let him go.

Which brings me to my next point: the offense has absolutely no playmakers. Chester Taylor appears to be a decent runner when he's not being hit in the backfield by overloaded defensive lines. The total absence of a passing attack allows defenses to load up on the run, exposing a really weak O-Line.

So, I am not going to throw Childress under the bus - the carpenter has no tools. His style reminds me of the winning formula in the 80's of establishing a dominant run and then take your shots through the air downfield. He's calling those plays but the execution is not there.

This team can win if they make zero mistakes. The Bills game shows they are far from that.

Vikes Geek said...

H & M,

The Vikings didn't have a higher standard for Robinson than they did for members of the Love Boat or for Smith, they simply believed, first and foremost, that the NFL wasn't going to let him play out the year and that it was better to cut the loss early rather than late. Smith and the cruisers face no NFL sanctions for their actions that would lead to a suspension and thus pose no roster issues for the team. Moreover, Robinson was already on suspension and committed a felony offense. I believe the cruisers and Smith pled down to a misdemeanor. That might not sound like much of a difference outside of the legal ramifications but at least the organization can draw some kind of arbitrary line somewhere. If the Vikings really wanted to clean house, they had every opportunity to do so with McKinnie playing poorly this year and, despite the championing of his play, last year as well, Smoot being a bust, Moore relegated to backup and Culpepper, Williams, Johnstone, and others already gone. The problem that you face is that you still need to draw an arbitrary line somewhere because, like it or not, far too many NFL players break the law and act like jackasses. Did you ever suspect that Moe Williams would be one of the pinnacle figures in something like the love boat cruise? He seemed a bit too classy for that. I guess not.

Talking about the receiving corps makes me want to talk about off-the-field problems instead. Nobody seems capable of holding onto the ball except for Kleinsasser, who can't stay on his feet once he catches the ball and can only make it five yards down the field for a pass to begin with. Robinson, Taylor, Williamson, and Wiggins have each dropped eminently-catchable, potentially game-turning passes in the past two weeks, and not even the players themselves seem to upset. How many passes did Cris Carter drop? In his career?

For a second- and third-round pick the Vikings probably can upgrade their receiving corps immensely. See tomorrow's column.

VG

Hugin & Munin said...

Agree re: need to draw the line and felony/misdemeanor is as good as any. I just didn't hear that point being made from the folks who ought to be making it. Then again, it is completely reasonable to keep that discussion in-house.

And it appears I spoke too soon re: KRob. Going to be interesting to see how he sorts this out, and I hope (for his sake) he makes the right decisions from here on out.