Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Well Past Time to Change Shoe

After yet another telling and stale loss attributable to inept offensive playcalling and execution, Minnesota Vikings' head coach Brad Childress was asked whether now was the time to make changes. His response, predictably, was that the offense was just a play or two away from being a very good offense.

Stop me if you've heard that line before.

Better yet, let me stop myself. Not only have Vikings' fans heard that line numerous times over the past five seasons, they have heard that line numerous times this year. And, as we near the conclusion of year five of the Vikings' three-year pledge to return the team to Super Bowl contention, year one of the sorry plan suddenly looks more promising than does the present.

What's worse than the play on the field, however, is the coaching at the helm. Childress' comment that he intended to stand pat with a lineup filled with players that he believes can "get it done," misapprehends the thrust of the question which is whether Chilly intends to change things from either the personnel side or the coaching side to give the Vikings their best opportunity to win.

It's one thing to lose without talent. It's quite another to take a 9-7 team that, in 2005, arguably played a tougher schedule and had less physical talent at key positions and to turn that team into a losing team. That speaks volumes about the coaching. The Vikings are losing not because they do not have the ability to win, but because they are encumbered with an egomaniacal and myopic coach intent on shoving square pegs into smaller round holes and professing ignorance--behind the security of a five-year contract--as to why the endeavor continues to fail.

Childress is intent on running a version of the West Coast offense never before seen--a version that makes the 49er's version of West Coast offense look more like the old Houston Oilers' four-receiver offense or the Don Coryell offenses in San Diego.

Chilly, of course, has a rejoinder, if not a very satisfactory one. Contrary to his pre-season self-congratulations on putting this team together, Childress now contends that some of his players don't fit the system that he is running. Yet, despite this insistance, Chilly insists on running that system rather than modifying the system to meet the personnel at his avail.

It should be no surprise that Chilly is putting the lion's share of the blame for his team's poor performance in his system on his players, a la Glen Mason. After all, that's been his M.O. since the current losing skid began.

Three weeks ago, Brad Johnson was the culprit. Last week, Childress offered up that rookie offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell called a few plays. The insinuation was that those were the critical plays--the plays that cost the Vikings a victory in spite of the genius of Chilly's calls. Childress refused to elaborate, pretending to stand by his coordinator who is too beholden to Childress to be able to note that Childress retains full control over the final playcalling or that Childress continues to call one of three plays--Chester Taylor off tackle left, Johnson two-yard pass right, or duck to opposing safety.

Yesterday, Chilly outdid himself, suggesting that the defense was as culpable in the loss as was the Vikings' pathetic offensive scheme. "Those guys have a few things to improve on as well," Chilly commented, apparently intent on fomenting a division between the offense and defense that he claims does not currently exist.

Ultimately, Chilly might be right about some things. He might be right that he doesn't have the personnel for his system (whatever that is). He might also be right that the offense will improve, especially if his view of what constitutes improvement is the ability to find the endzone from first and goal at the three. And he might be right that the defense, which continues to play far too soft in the passing game, has sizeable room for improvement.

In the final analysis, however, it is utter folly to suggest that this Vikings' team is failing for the reasons that Chilly cites. The team is failing because it continues to lead the league in fewest points per yard gained, because it continues to be among the league leaders in three and outs, because the offense continues to sputter after the opening drive, and because the offensive playcalling does not work. And it's the head coach's job to make it work.

Mike Tice did it with less. Are we to buy that a self-proclaimed offensive guru is unable to do so with more against even lesser comptettition? If so, then surely the end is nigh.

Up Next: A View From India


Vegan Viking said...

While I support Childress, there is an inherent problem with hiring a first-year coach to take over an already competitive team. A new coach is going to build the team the way he wants, and that's going to take time. A lot of great coaches who eventually had great success struggled in year one. Granted, they usually didn't take over 9-7 teams, but that first year of integrating your new system with, mostly, the players left over from the old regime, is bound to lead to some struggles. A coach needs to adjust to his talent--but really, how much talent is there on offense? They've got a #2 QB throwing to #2 and #3 WRs. I'm just not sure what adjustments could be made to suit the "talents" of the Vikes' mediocre skill position players. So he sticks with his system, understandably, and waits to get players that can actually run that system, and we all suffer watching it as he then inexplicably makes little substitutions of players to run that system.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Pacifist. I may be dense, but I don't see all that much wrong with the play calling. I suppose that you could quarrel with not going for a TD on fourth down from 18 inches, but I suspect that coaches would split 50-50 on that one. You should just recognize that we have limited offensive talent and stop ranting and raving. Maybe your blood pressure will return to normal.

west indian girl said...

pacifist viking and the next poster - i can appreciate your blind loyalty but come on, where have you guys been? after watching every single play of the tice coached teams and every single play from bc's team the differences are glaring. lack of adjustments and less heart by a more talented team across the board. all of these players have the talent to play in this league. we have 2 first round draft wr's and a super bowl winning qb. take off your rose colored glasses and come to grips with the fact childress is gutless and spineless. i only wish wilf would read this last post by vg because i couldnt have summed it up better. childress isnt taking the blame for anything - he's not a stand up guy - he is now creating rifts between the offense and defense. good god, of course the d could improve but to call them out on that when they are week in and week out the best group on the field is nonsense. i wasnt a tice fan but he had heart and he took the blame for losses and more importantly won games he should have with less talent. he would go for it on 4th and goal to show his team he has balls. childress might have some balls and vision if he owns up to the fact his rigid style of coaching and playcalling isnt getting it done. wouldnt you have gone for it at 4th and goal form the 1 just to fire up your team. what did we have to lose...nothing but a lousy 3 points. more importantly we could have gained so much more in a fighting spirit. tice had his players over achieving because he wasnt scared to play outside his game plan. this team is now a reflection of our weak spineless coach. he needs to lose his ego and think of the fans that support the team...you know, the ones that dont get paid millions to go out and play a game.

bird said...

I fall somewhere in between on this topic. While no one can be happy with the offense or the team's results this past month, to expect a public acknowledgement of errors is not realistic in this new regime. As much as they might want to bench Johnson, to do so would indicate that they have given up on this season. I suspect Childress does not want to send that signal to the team. I'm not saying I agree with making no changes, but I suspect that's the rationale. I also find it troubling when midway through the season Childress is saying he isn't sure if the players are bought into the system.

But I would also say to posters who fondly remember the Tice days: "are you out of your mind?" While it might make some feel better to have the coach fall on his sword after every loss, it did not make the Vikings a better team. In fact, the current losing streak is a mere piker compared to Tice efforts. Not that any loss is a good one, but under the Tice command, when we lost, we lost huge. Among the reasons these losses sting is that the defense is keeping us in the games. Even a marginal offensive showing would have won some of these.

No matter what their record was last year (or if you think Tice had much to do with it), I expected the Vikes to be 8-8 this year with a new coach, regardless of talent. Other than Seifert with the 49ers, I don't think many new coaches win a lot in their first year. I have to say, however, that few posts ago, VG made a compelling argument of how and why the Vikes could win 10 or 11 games (obviously things have changed since then, but nevertheless at the time it was a good case).

When the Vikes are eliminated from the playoffs, I'll be curious to see if we see any changes at QB and/or other positions. If there are no changes at that time, I think the criticism about Childress' inflexibility would be validated.

Vegan Viking said...

West Indian Girl, if you think a WR is good just because he was once drafted in the first round (but still can't catch), and that a quarterback is good because he once won a Super Bowl (he's now 38), I'd suggest you're the one with the rose-tinted glasses.

If Childress is gutless and spineless, why do the Vikes seem to go for it on 4th down so often? Did you know that the Vikings' 15 fourth down attempts is second only to the Patriots, who have 16?

The FG did break a tie and give the Vikes a lead, a lead that by all appearances would have stuck. Unless Childress told Chester Taylor to fumble, and told Brad Johnson to throw an interception, it's hard for me to fault his play-calling for the loss.

Remember when Tice went for it on 4th and goal in 2004 against Arizona? Remember losing by 1 point and missing the playoffs? Well I do.

Jamison said...

I did not like Tice as a coach. He was always outcoached in big games. In a way, not his fault because he just wasn't that smart. In his defense, though, one big difference between Tice and Chilly was the owner.

Wilf has opened up his pocket book and given the Vikings a very highly paid offensive line, a great defensive coordinator and some real defensive talent (and yes, some of that is left over from the Tice era).

Chilly is supposed to be some kind of offensive guru and has one of the worst offenses in the league despite what should be the one of the leagues best offensive lines. Brad Johnson seems to have exactly two passing plays. Dump off to the RB before he gets quickly mauled or heave it deep no matter if the receiver is double covered or not. It's pretty easy to play defense if you know that the offense doesn't throw to the WR's and doesn't throw the ball more than six yards down the field.

That isn't working.

Several other teams have corrected the same problem by putting in the younger, more mobile QB. The reason a coach would hesitate to do this is because young QB's tend to make bad decisions and throw more INT's than TD's, but, and this is important, BRAD JOHNSON ALREADY MAKES POOR DECISIONS AND THROWS MORE INT's THAN TD'S.

Sorry folks, didn't mean to yell.

I have been really excited to have the best D we've seen in Minnesota for a least the last decade and a half, but our offense is horrible and Chilly won't even acknowledge or address that. I'm not somebody that calls for the backup QB quickly, but this offense just downright blows and couldn't really be any worse. I think putting in Jackson, despite his downside, gives the team a much better chance win. They've lost, what, six of the last eight? They have a playoff caliber defense. They just need some spark on offense, and Jackson gives them that much more than Johnson.

Vikes Geek said...

Thanks to all for the discussion. It shows that Vikings' fans still care and that support isn't about blindly accepting the status quo, working or not.

I agree with a bit of what everyone has posted, but Jamison ehoes my sentiments as close as anyone.

It's hard to take a Tice-led offense, add talent, add a defensive coordinator that knows the pitfalls of prevent D and poor run defense, and do worse than Tice--particularly when the opposition is worse than it was in 2005. For someone who has nearly dislocated his shoulder and elbow patting himself on the back for his understanding of how to run an NFL offense, Childress has been a bust as an offensive coordinator.

How could Childress do better than he has? One option would be to use Tice's offense until he gets the players who can run his offense effectively--if such players actually exist.

Alternatively, and more realistically, Chilly could put his purported offensive genius to work to figure out how to maximize the talent that he has.

Instead, Chilly opts to stay with an approach which, under the best of circumstances, seems geared for a close match. Under the worst, it fails against the likes of San Francisco and Green Bay.

What clear mistakes does Chilly continue to make? Plenty. He persists to rely on Troy Williamson in critical situations, uses untested fullbacks rather than proven fullbacks, virtually eliminates from the offensive game plan the Vikings' leading receiver from last season, calls short-yardage plays over first-down plays on makeable third downs, and calls such a predictable game that the most unassuming member of the Vikings' starting defensive unit calls him out--in consecutive weeks!

Leading the league in fourth down attempts says a lot of things. But given Childress' track record through ten games, the Vikings' fourth-down attempts do not support the notion that Chilly is a gutsy playcaller. Rather, they tend to support the notion that Chily is a desparate playcaller too often playing from behind and too stubborn to take the requisite risk (if passing on first or second down is actually a risk in the NFL sense of the word). We could discuss poor challenges, poor clock management, eschewing a field goal late in a game when a field goal is necessary to tie in favor of running out the clock, attempting a TD bomb on fourth and short with the game in the balance and time on the clock, and the like, but I already have done that. So have others. But Chilly insists that he gets it and the others don't. That might be true, depending on what Chilly's definition of "it" is.

Can Childress succeed in the NFL? Who knows? So far, however, the returns have been highly unsatisfactory. And one only need to look across the river to see how a modest, less thought of rookie head coach can make much more out of far less in much less time.

NFL seasons are short. That's why the time-frame required for head coaches to succeed also is short. And that's why a coach who asks patience of a fan base regarding his largely veteran club quickly is losing credibility as even a competent offensive coach--perhaps also as a head coach.

As for Jackson starting this season? More on that momentarily.


west indian girl said...

i like your spunk pacifist viking - you are correct in your post but i was trying to underscore the fact that these players all technically have the "talent" to play in theis league... or else they wouldnt be right? im no fan of our qb's arm strength nor our wide outs. bj's lack of arm strength is probably the biggest flaw in the offense because he cant stretch the field. yeah our wide outs dont seem like they can catch worth shit but still - brad is the major flaw and childress wont pull the plug on him. stubborn for no good reason. look at his int to td ratio. is he really the only option?

you can bring up 4th down stats but dont you agree going for it on 4th from the 1 would have fired up a team in need of some passion so much more so than going for it on 4th from the 45? childress' 4th down calls dont seem to make sense - why not there...yeah yeah it was the "play it safe by the book old school conservative way to go" but given the stats you bring up about his penchant for going for it on 4th down then WHY NOT THERE?! that play in particular just blew me away and exemplifies the gutless reference. im a fan of a more "reckless" play caller. tice went for it on 4th down near the goal more than a few times and sometimes it didnt pan out- especially in the arizona game you bring up (we screwed that game up in so many other ways though) but if you go for it on 4th you have to be prepared to live with turning it over on downs.

Vegan Viking said...

For a while I thought the Viking play-calling was uncreative. I thought, with such little talent at skill positions, why run basic plays that depend on player performance to succeed? Why not try some creative plays in which the play gets the success rather than the players? I still think this to an extent, but I also think that the low-quality QB (no arm strength and no mobility) really limits offensive creativity. Indeed, I have been frustrated with a lack of creativity on offense, but I've been more frustrated with Childress's unwillingness to even consider a quarterback change.

The QB position isn't sacred. Teams all around the league have been benching immobile or turnover-prone QBs for younger QBs. It's not like we have Favre at QB right now--what sort of long-term loyalty do the Vikes have to BJ? None. He absolutely can and should be benched.

Cheering for a sports team, though, is like living under a monarch. We don't get a say in how decisions are made, even though we clearly have opinions and are affected (at least emotionally) by those decisions. So all we can do is blog our frustration!

Anonymous said...

Brad Childress is not qualified to coach in the NFL.Why would any team hire a coach to turn a winning team into losers? There must be a high school somewhere in need of a coach.