Monday, September 17, 2007

Vikings Short on Alternatives in 2007

In losing to the Detroit Lions in overtime Sunday, it became evident to even the most ardent pollyannas among those self-identifying as Vikings' fans that the Vikings' 2006 question marks remain the Vikings' 2007 question marks. After two games, there are signs that quarterback Tarvaris Jackson is not yet ready to play for a team such as the Vikings, few indications that the Vikings' receiving corps actually exists, and far too many indications that the right side of the Vikings' offensive line should be jettisoned.

Add to these problems the re-emergence of last year's difficulties stopping the pass, and it adds up not only to a loss in week two but also a difficult road ahead for a team that could well start the season 1-8. After next week's game at Kansas City, the Vikings return home to face what has become a very competitive Green Bay team, before playing five straight games in which they undoubtedly will be the dog. After their five-game gauntlet, the Vikings have what right now appears to be a four-game soft-spell in their schedule, before they finish the season with two of their final three games against likely contenders. That suggests a final record somewhere between 5-11 and 7-9.

What's more disconcerting than their probable sub-.500 win-loss record this season, however, is how the Vikings fared in their first game this season against an NFL offense. Unlike Atlanta, which proved this week that it truly has one of the more inept offenses in recent NFL history, the Detroit Lions have one of the more explosive offenses in the league.

On Sunday, the Lions racked up 415 yards of offense, with 359 yards coming through the air. That might sound respectable given the Lions' array of offensive options and offensive coordinator Mike Martz's philosophy of going to the air early and often, but the final numbers only tell part of the story.

Prior to leaving the game early in the second quarter with an injury, Lions' starting quarterback Jon Kitna had amassed 167 yards passing with one touchdown pass and another deep drive thwarted by a spectacular interception by Vikings' safety Darren Sharper. If not for an injury that forced him to leave the game in favor of J.T. O'Sullivan with 11 minutes remaining in the second quarter, the Lions' passing numbers likely would have been significantly higher and the score probably not as tight.

With that said, the game was close because Kitna went down with an injury and the Vikings' defense made some big plays when O'Sullivan entered the game. The problem, however, is that the Vikings' offense did not join in the party. Instead, Jackson threw four interceptions and finished with a dismal quarterback rating befitting his play.

To be fair to Jackson--no matter that he might wish to take all the blame upon himself--the Vikings' offensive line was mostly awful against the Lions. Ryan Cook's play again raised the question of why the Vikings traded up in the draft to acquire him and Bryant McKinnie again failed to use his girth to do what those with big girths and purported mobility are supposed to be able to do when playing along the offensive line in the NFL.

Just as the stats in Sundays game do not, in an of themselves, offer reason for alarm about the Vikings' near-term prospects, however, neither should the play of two or three players. Alas, the Vikings have painted themselves into a corner at the positions where they are realizing their greatest problems. Because, whether out of conviction, pride, ego, hubris, or some combination thereof, the Vikings opted not to bring in a veteran quarterback in 2007 and found no alternatives to what they currently throw on the field to serve as the right side of the offensive line.

In the short run, these off-season failures will continue to hurt the Vikings. The question remains, however, whether the long-run offers any promise of a reversal.

In a previous column, I noted the free-agent largesse that the Vikings could realize as a result of their significant cap space in 2008. Unfortunately, the one position for which the current coaching staff is unlikely to be looking for a viable starter for 2008 is quarterback. The problem with that, of course, is that that would leave the Vikings with the same quarterback situation that they have this year. Even if you think 2008 will be Jackson's year, that's a precarious situation in which to leave one's team. And if you don't think 2008 will be Jackson's year, then it's obviously even a worse predicament for the team.

One local scribe who generally is wont to view the Vikings through rose-colored glasses but who has suddenly soured on them, suggested after today's game that another poor performance by Jackson might cause Childress to consider benching the rookie quarterback. That would be an appealing alternative to sticking with a struggling rookie, much like benching Hicks, Bryant, and Cook would be appealing options, if only someone on the team were any better than the current incumbent.

Up Next: Inside the numbers. Plus, around the NFC.

4 comments:

John said...

Watching the game with Jimbo yesterday, we were pretty disgusted. After having a little time to review it I’m less pessimistic.

The Vikes look like they lost to a pretty good team on the road yesterday by the width of a field goal. That Lions offense looks like it’s the real deal and the defense looks at least respectable. That rose-colored view is buoyed by the Raiders performance yesterday, too.

In fact, the whole NFC North looks like it might have been undervalued a bit this year. GB has knocked off two NFC East teams, one convincingly. Chicago is Chicago. The Lions look like the 2001 Rams (minus Marshall Faulk) and the Vikings, um, well, they play there too.

Looking for optimism, The NFC is just so open this year, I still have no idea who the really good teams are. Jackson looks like he’s learning. We have young (and hopefully imporving) players at WR and OLB. And the mistakes this team is making seem fixable, with the possible exception of the O-line, which was truly terrible yesterday.

One thing I wouldn’t mind getting your opinion on was the play calling yesterday. Why a mid-field screen pass on 3rd and 1 on the opposing team’s 20 on that first interception? And why not have a back in the backfield? Why are we running fake double reverses in the opponents end on 2nd and six? Aren’t these exactly the kind of situations that the ‘West Coast Offense’ is geared towards? Why all the cutesy crap?

mark_w said...

VG, I can't believe you are calling out this kick-ass offense when the defense failed to come up with its 2 TD/game allotment...oh, that's right, we shouldn't be relying on the defense to score.

I don't have the benefit (or punishment) of being able to see the games where I live, but "watching" on the internet and seeing the interception total increase faster than the points is discouraging. Reminds me of the Culpepper days without the fumbles. At least Culpepper could throw an accurate deep ball.

Based on personnel alone, I don't see how this team would end up with a better record than last year. The only real differences are a less experienced QB and Adrian Peterson. I am glad they got Peterson, but he alone can't overcome all the deficiencies (as yesterday's game demonstrates).

Vikes Geek said...

John,

I don't disagree that many of the Vikings' problems are ones that can be addressed. The concern is whether the person addressing the problems knows the remedies. I also believe, however, that the Vikings' problems are deeper than merely the offensive line issues--fairly considerable in their own right. Interceptions aside, Jackson's passing leaves a great deal to be desired. Without touch, a strong arm means little.

I'm not so concerned about the play-calling against Detroit. But maybe I'm just accustomed to seeing the same things and have become immune to certain things. I'm not sure why you run a gimmick play when standard plays are befuddling a bad defense such as the Lions', but neither am I sure why an offense that relies on YAC more often than not seems to run come-back and post-routes rather than quick slants in the seam. Maybe it's on Jackson. Of course, if it is on Jackson, then it is on Childress.


VG

Vikes Geek said...

Mark,

I conceded the season to one of such games as yesterday when the Vikings annointed Jackson the starter and failed to sign a true veteran to take over if and when things went bad and when Zygi announced the team's three-year plan.

The team is now worse than it was in Tice's last season, despite adding Hutchinson, Peterson, Jackson, Taylor, a bunch of new receivers, and a whole new defense, and getting Birk back from injury. The team appears destined, for the second straight season, to finish at or near 6-10 and below Tice's final mark.

The question that begs to be answered is how a team with one conceivable offensive line starter, McKinnie, no running backs, no number one receiver, and a purportedly washed-up quarterback, could pull out a 9-7 season without the benefit of defensive play and under the tutelage of arguably one of the worst head coaches the Vikings have had in Mike Tice, yet fall short of average in consecutive seasons under a purported offensive guru?

VG