Again displaying some signs of improvement or, at least, promise in certain areas of their game, the Minnesota Vikings nevertheless were on the short-end of a lopsided loss on Saturday night in Seattle. And while the Vikings still have another week of pre-season play to work out their numerous remaining issues, it is becoming painfully evident that the Vikings are what they are and not what head coach Brad Childress envisions them to be when he dreams of sugar plums and fairy dust. That is to say, the team could still use another pocket full of posies to cure the rings around their rosies.
Despite the loss, there were several promising aspects to the Vikings' play on Saturday night. Chief among those was the play of free-agent wide-receiver acquisition, Bobby Wade. Wade finished the night with five receptions for eighty-five yards and looks like the possession receiver that the Vikings never identified last season. A true deep threat would make Wade even more valuable, but, apparently, you cannot expect to have all the pieces to a standard receiving corps, so the Vikings will take what they can sell.
Wade's performance was made possible, in large part, by several good throws by quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. Jackson showed good arm strength and an ability to find Wade before the defenders jumped the route or collapsed, making Wade a decent threat across the middle as well as along the lines. While Jackson's focus on Wade could become a liability, it is still refreshing to see a pass completion in this offense.
On defense, three players stood out in a positive fashion--middle linebacker E.J. Henderson, cornerback Antoine Winfield, and cornerback Cedric Griffin. Henderson and Winfield seemd to be in on every defensive play, combining for twelve tackles, several broken-up passing plays and, in the case of Henderson, at least two hurried passes. Despite missing two tackles in the flat, Griffin was able to contain his man for most of the night.
Most of the issues for the Vikings at this point in the season are really no surprise. The right side of the offensive line continues to look awful, Bryant McKinnie continues to underperform on the left side of the line, the wide receiving corps lacks a downfield threat, the defense lacks a pass rush from the starting ends, the linebackers continue to struggle, althought less so than last year, covering the pass, the playcalling, on the whole, remains woefully conservative, placing the team in far too many third and long situations, and punt and kick coverage looks to be a weakness.
In addition to the usual suspects, however, the Vikings added a new issue to their list of concerns last night with kicker Ryan Longwell missing a very makable field goal. If the Vikings hope to win games this year against teams whose offenses they can shut down, converting field-goal attempts will be critical. Longwell was brought to Minnesota not only to convert long attempts but also to convert what should be the automatic field-goal attempts. With that being the case, last night's kicking performance was at least mildly disconcerting.
Also disconcerting was the downfield play of the Vikings' offense. While Jackson looked good in the short-passing game, his deep pass is in need of a substantial overhaul.
There are two primary flaws in Jackson's deep pass that need immediate addressing. The first, evidenced in the second quarter of last night's game, is Jackson's penchant for underthrowing the defense when the defense is playing short. Jackson displayed this flaw in the second quarter last night when he failed to lead the open Wade, forcing Wade to pull up well short of the endzone and allowing the defenders to catch up to the play. The result, rather than an easy touchdown, was a near-interception.
Jackson's other primary passing flaw on deep routes, related to his penchant for underthrowing, is his penchant for throwing the football equivalent of an ephis pitch. When Jackson isn't underthrowing his receivers on deep routes, he tends to overthrow them--not too deep, but, rather, too high.
As he has done on several deep passes already in his brief career, Jackson again did last night, launching a pass far higher in the air than deep down the field on a deep route. The result was a pass far short of the intended receiver and one that allowed the defense nearly to intercept what was essentially an up-for-grabs pass.
Opposed to the dart that Jackson throws when he is underthrowing the receiver, and which needs more arc, the ephis throw needs less arc. And both passes need to be deeper to allow the receiver to use the endzone to guard against the safety breaking up the play from behind.
In addition to his difficulties with the deep pass--a pass that Jackson understandably struggles with given how seldom it is employed in the Vikings' system--Jackson struggled when the Seahawks began pressuring him. Against the standard defense, Jackson looked composed and delivered the ball with zip and on the money, at least in the short game. Against a heavy rush, Jackson looked flustered.
Jackson showed promise of being a good quarterback in the future, but he clearly remains a work-in-progress. From his difficulties passing downfield, to composure issues against the blitz, to taking unnecessary timeouts, Jackson looks like what he should look at this point in a promising career. That's not bad if you have a long-term view of things, but it is frustrating for Vikings' fans who have been asked to have a long-term view for too long now, particularly when the defense seems capable of carrying a merely competent offense.
While the Vikings look to be working on most of the issues currently afflicting the team, two issues look unaddressable absent roster changes. Those two issues, unfortunately, center around three highly touted, recent draft picks, Erasmus James, Kenechi Udeze, and Troy Williamson.
James can be excused, at least for another week, for failing to contribute in a game. Udeze, however, cannot. And after a promising first two weeks of play, rookie Brian Robison came back to Earth on Saturday, registering a single tackle and leaving the Vikings' slim on alternatives to their disappointing starting two ends.
The play of the Vikings' ends was a concern going into the off-season and remains a concern now. And for a team with two recent first-round defensive end acquisitions, that's troubling.
Also troubling is the non-existance of Troy Williamson. It appears that, despite all the rhetoric, Williamson truly is, at best, a run-of-the-mill, short-yardage receiver. Williamson is no longer even a starter and, if not for his first-round selection status, would probably be a no-brainer as a pre-season cut. And it is now probably clear to the Vikings what has long been clear to most of the rest of the world--Nike isn't about correcting eye problems, it's about selling itself. And the company did a whale of a job selling the Vikings on some snake oil.
Up Next: Final Tune-Up.