Tuesday, October 30, 2007

When Bad is Worse

It's no secret that, despite head coach Brad Childress' implementation of a "kick ass offense," the Minnesota Vikings' offense continues to struggle. Those struggles have come despite a respectable upper-half-of-the-league average of 5.1 yards per down gained and Adrian Peterson's league-leading rushing total of 740 yards.

The problem for Minnesota, of course, has been the inability to coordinate any semblance of a passing game. Tarvaris Jackson was to have been the helmsman for a maturing offense, but has failed so far as a leader, looking more and more like a lost follower. Kelly Holcomb amazingly fared worse, leaving the Vikings to pin their hopes either on Jackson and his injured finger or on previous third-string quarterback, Brooks Bollinger.

How bad have things become in the land of once proud and mighty passers and receivers? Quite bad.

Consider the Vikings' current positions. Among the top 30 statistically ranked quarterbacks in the NFL, none wear Vikings' purple. Brian Griese, Joey Harrington, Chad Pennington, Kurt Warner, Trent Edwards, Cleo Lemon, and Daunte Culpepper all rank higher than any of the Vikings' current trio of QBs.

And while the Vikings' passing problems begin with the quarterback, they extend to the receiving corps. Most realistic Vikings' fans realized that, in Troy Williamson, Bobby Wade, Robert Ferguson, and Sidney Rice, the Vikings did not have a true number one receiver and, arguably, were without a legitimate number two receiver. Not content with the general sentiment, however, the receiving corps--with generous assistance from the team's quarterbacks, has made it a mission to prove the point.

Some frightening numbers stand out for this year's Vikings' wide receivers. Through seven games, the Vikings' wide receivers have accumulated 675 total yards and two touchdowns. The Miami Dolphins' wide receivers, meanwhile, despite catching passes from Cleo Lemon and having plays called by Cam Cameron, have amassed 1,016 yards of offense and three touchdowns.

If losing the comparison to what should be the worst passing offense in the NFL does not make Vikings' fans' hearts crumple, perhaps the bigger picture will. For in the NFL, as Childress forever reminds us, the goal is to win championships. And in a league in which the soon-to-be champions currently go by the name of New England, there are significantly more discouraging numbers for the Vikings.

While the Vikings struggle to keep up with the Dolphins' offense, they lag eons behind the standard-bearers with no visible prospects of closing the gap in the near future. The Patriots top three wide receivers have amassed 1,803 yards of offense and 20 touchdowns in eight games. If you want a window to the future of this offense, that seems like an insurmountable gap.

The even bigger picture, of course, is the decision-making at the top. Despite all the warning signs that suggested the moves were imprudent, the Vikings' entered the 2007 season with three unproven quarterbacks in their rotation and no play-maker at wide-receiver. Those were Childress' calls. So, too, has it been Childress' call to play it tight, leaving for after games laments about how if only one of four mid-range passes had connected, the outcome might have been different.

The Vikings face many of the same offensive issues that all teams in the NFL face. Receivers drop passes, quarterbacks throw errant passes, and plays are missed. But when the game is called not to lose, rather than to win, the errors are magnified because there is so little opportunity for redemption. That makes average-at-best players far worse than they ought to be. And it leaves the Vikings hanging out with the likes of the Dolphins and nowhere near the likes of the Patriots.

Up next: Good and Bad Comparisons.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Micro- and Macro-managing a Team to the Bottom

In the aftermath of the Minnesota Viking's 23-16 home loss to the previously 2-4 Philadelphia Eagles, there were many things to which one could point for affirmation that the Vikings are, at best, treading water, and doing so in the deep end. The persistence of these issues suggest that despite the Vikings' purported commitment to "doing things the right way" (a poor choice of words for any rookie coach or owner even if not nauseatingly cliched to begin with), the Vikings continue to do anything but do things the right way.

On the field Sunday, Vikings' head coach Brad Childress committed yet another peculiar error in judgment in what has become an inexplicable trend. Following an Eagle kickoff that Vikings' rookie Adrian Peterson took out of bounds on the Vikings' one-yard line, Childress threw the challenge flag. On a play for which it would have been difficult to conceive of a camera angle that might have given Childress even pause to consider challenging the play on the field, Childress was convinced that what he hoped was the case would be proven upon review.

Every camera angle offered by the national network showed Peterson catching the ball in play and stepping out. Childress was not buying what his eyes--with the aid of the Vikings' jumbotron and other monitors in the Vikings' booth--saw. The subsequently upheld call cost the Vikings not only a timeout, but their final challenge, as Childress stared up at the dome ceiling.

Not to be outdone, Vikings' players joined their coach in making questionable decisions. In addition to Peterson's decision, Bobby Wade opted to field an Eagles' punt at the Vikings' one-yard line late in the game instead of letting the punt bounce out of the endzone for a touchback while preserving some time on the game clock. Wade's decision cost the Vikings valuable time on the clock as well as better field position, with the Vikings forced to begin their drive from their own nine-yard line, rather than their own 20-yard line, with about nine fewer seconds on the clock.

Wade compounded his judment error by his post-game remarks. Responding to sideline and lockerroom reporter Greg Coleman's unusually frontal question about his thought process in fielding the punt, Wade confided that he was "trying to make something happen" because he "knew [we] needed two scores."
The problem, of course, is that the Vikings needed only one score to tie the game, raising the question of how closely Childress' purportedly key players are paying attention to the game on the field.

The errors on the field are bad enough for a team trying to win by not losing. But Childress compounded those errors by making an additional error before the team even took the field, relying on his third-best/first-worst quarterback on the roster to not lose the game. With Tarvaris Jackson out with a finger injury, Childress inserted the immobile, poor-throwing , former Eagle, Kelly Holcomb, as the starter over the more-mobile, better-throwing, former Badger, Brooks Bollinger. The results were as predictable as Childress' offense.

As Childress continues to struggle with rudimentary decision-making, the Vikings' organization plods on in its ill-fated commitment to it's first meaningful decision involving the team. Though much earlier in time, the Vikings' organization, led by the quick trigger of football neophyte and Vikings' owner, Zygi Wilf, opted to hire a rookie head coach with limited playcalling experience, largely in the belief that Childress could make a boring brand of football exciting. Unfortunately, Childress proved to be neither the offensive guru nor the quarterback mentor that he still professes to be and the team and fans have suffered as a result.

Though it is quickly becoming too late for Childress, it ought not to be for the Vikings' organization. But, in the search for a new stadium, will the light go on for Zygi anytime soon?

Up next: Good and Bad Comparisons. Plus, teams that are worth their salt.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Patently Poor Decision Makes Evaluation Difficult

At the end of the 2006 NFL season, Minnesota Vikings' head coach Brad Childress benched struggling quarterback Brad Johnson in favor of raw rookie Tarvaris Jackson. The results were predictable, with the Vikings struggling down the stretch, largely as the result of poor quarterback play.

"Be patient," Childress replied to agitated Vikings' fans, "the fruits of the change will be evident soon enough." So confident was Childress in his assessment of the progression of his rookie quarterback that he entered the 2007 season with Jackson as his starter ahead of two backups with limited and mostly uneventful playing careers in the NFL.

When Jackson went down with an injury against the Detroit Lions in overtime this season, Childress summoned backup number one, the guy who purportedly knew "the system" and was prepared to run it, Brooks Bollinger.

After an inauspicious showing in limited playing time against the Lions, including a sack and a fumble, Childress had seen enough. "Calm down," he again told the Vikings' fan base, "the guy who really knows how to run the system will be ready to go next week."

For the next two weeks, Vikings' fans got a glimpse of journeyman Kelly Holcomb, who, for those delusional enough to believe otherwise, quickly demonstrated why he has been nothing more than a backup for most of his overly long NFL career.

"What now, coach?" The fans implored.

"Look, we've got our guy ready to go," Childress replied. "Tarvaris will be ready to go after the bye week. He's the guy we need in there. He's the guy that gives us the best chance to win."

The bye week came and went and, as promised, Jackson returned to the helm as quarterback of the local squad. With his head coach holding his breath from the sideline, Jackson led the Vikings' down the field for an 11-play, 69-yard, touchdown, featuring 27 yards rushing from Adrian Peterson, 21 yards rushing from Chester Taylor, 6 yards rushing from Jackson, and 15 yards passing from Jackson. Childress wiped his brow. He should have waited.

For the remainder of the game, the Vikings totaled 127 yards of offense, with 50 yards of passing offense on 4 of 16 passing. The results proved one of two things. Either Jackson is not capable of running Childress' system and should not be in the game or Jackson is not capable of running Childress' system but is less incapable than are either Bollinger or Holcomb.

Either conclusion is sobering, if anyone needed any sobering of their expectations about the Vikings, but neither is very satisfying. If the problem is the quarterback, the Vikings have wasted a season of good defense to push a quarterback not ready to play in the NFL. If the problem is the system, the Vikings have wasted two seasons, and possibly more, on a coach seemingly unwilling to or incapable of making the necessary changes.

Up Next: The Price of Performance. Plus, behind the numbers.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Measuring Jackson's Progress

In the aftermath of the Vikings' narrow victory over the Chicago Bears last Sunday, much of the attention rightfully was on the performance of rookie running back Adrian Peterson. But, as fans and reporters began assessing the other attributes of the game, most came away with another similar point of praise--the performance of second-year quarterback Tarvaris Jackson.

While some of the praise was outright ridiculous, with one local radio homer more than suggesting that, but for dropped and misthrown passes, Jackson would have had three or four touchdown passes, most of the praise was far more sensible. The most common remarks were that Jackson played a good game, showed some improvement, and, cover your ears if you're tired of hearing stupid football cliches, managed the game well while giving his team a chance to win. Vikings' color analyst, Pete Bercich, even threw in his favorite cliche that Jackson "decided to live to play another day."

Six weeks and three games into his first full season of quarterbacking the Vikings, and seven games into his NFL career, it is worthwhile to assess where Jackson is in his progression toward becoming a bona fide NFL starter. And, while some figures point to Jackson's growth, at least one suggests that views of such growth ought to await review upon Jackson having faced stiffer competition.

Against Chicago, Jackson completed 9 of 23 passes for 136 yards, one touchdown, zero interceptions, and finished the game with a quarterback rating of 73.8. Of the 136 passing yards, all but 76 were accounted for on a single touchdown pass to Troy Williamson.

Vikings' head coach Brad Childress was quick to point to three figures when asked to assess Jackson's performance. The first was the absence of interceptions from Jackson's stat line. Win the battle of turnovers, Chilly likes to say to those who have never before heard the line, and you usually win the game.

The second figure Chilly referenced was that of dropped passes--three or four, depending on who's counting. Convert those dropped passes into completions, Chilly suggested, and you're looking not only at a well-managed game without quarterback turnovers, but also one with a fairly good looking stat line for the starting quarterback with an above-average quarterback rating.

Finally, Chilly observed, Jackson contributed in a manner in which his predecessor, Kelly Holcomb, was unable to contribute. Namely, Jackson, relying on his pocket awareness and adroitness in the pocket, succumbed to but a solitary sack against the Bears' vaunted defensive line.

Vikings' fans who, through the years have seen both highly mobile quarterbacks and slothfully slow quarterbacks at the helm, are unquestionably well-schooled in identifying which of the two lots of quarterbacks is the preferred. And Jackson clearly falls into the preferred lot when it comes to mobility and pocket awareness. Against Chicago, a team so woefully beat up on defense that the Vikings did not need to rely on the arm of Jackson despite needing 34 points to win, Jackson showed pocket presence and elusiveness that suggested his maturation as a quarterback.

The lingering question, however, is what Jackson will do if and when he is called upon to be more than an afterthought in the offense? Jackson's stat line against Chicago was quite similar to his stat line against an arguably more formidable defense at the moment, the Atlanta Falcons. Against Atlanta, Jackson was 13 of 23 for 163 yards, one touchdown, one interception, and a quarterback rating of 75.1. As in the Chicago game, 60 of Jackson's total passing yards against Atlanta were the result of one touchdown pass. That's not to suggest that Jackson has regressed by putting up lesser slightly lesser statistics against a depleted Bears' defense, but it does raise the question of the extent of Jackson's maturation at this point in his career.

The next six weeks will tell much more about Jackson's progress than did the game against the Bears. While Chicago's defense currently ranks 26th against the run, five of the Vikings' next six opponents are much more stout against the run, with all but Oakland ranking in the upper-half of the league in run defense.

The point, of course, is that against stronger run defenses, even a team blessed with perhaps the best running-back tandem in the NFL this year probably will need to lean on its quarterback more than the Vikings leaned on Jackson in a relatively easy outing in Chicago. Against the likes of Dallas and San Diego, and, to a lesser extent, Philadelphia, Green Bay, and the New York Giants, 9 of 23 probably won't get the job done.

Since Jackson first stepped onto the Vikings' Eden Prairie practice field to take part in mini-camp in 2006, it has been evident that he possesses both quickness and a strong arm. Against Chicago, Jackson flashed both his quickness and his arm strength, as well as a measure of poise in the pocket. What he has yet to demonstrate, however, is touch. And, though it would seem to be the easiest of all the necessary quarterback tools for a quarterback to assimilate, it seems to be the toughest in coming for Jackson.

Up Next: How Much is Too Much for a Proven Player? Plus, it's not the top, but it's much better than the bottom.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Gulliver Pounds Lilliputians

It wasn't against the best Bears' defense or against a vaunted offense, but, on a day when the Vikings' defense faltered, it was enough. And, in the aftermath of successive games in which the Vikings' coaching staff inexplicably left rookie running back Adrian Peterson on the sidelines in crunch time, Peterson made sure that staff did not make the same mistake thrice.

With touchdown runs of 67, 73, and 35 yards, and an eye-popping yards-per-carry just north of 11 yards, Peterson demonstrated why he, rather than Chester Taylor, is the guy around whom the Vikings need to tailor their offense. In previous losses to Kansas City and Green Bay, Vikings' head coach Brad Childress found himself attempting to explain why he had kept Peterson on the sidelines with the game hanging in the balance and the Vikings on offense.

After the loss to Kanas City, Chilly contended that Peterson was not as able to pick up the blitz as was Taylor. That explanation was unacceptable. After the loss to Green Bay, a game in which Peterson again was forced to watch his team's final drive from the sidelines, Chilly contended that Peterson had been kept out of the game, not so much because of blocking concerns, but because he needed a break having been on kick return all day. That explanation was even more unacceptable.

On Sunday in Chicago, Childress demonstrated his ability to change, however limited, keeping his rookie running back in a starring role through the end of the game. Despite rushing for over 200 yards, and threatening to best the rushing mark of 275 yards that Sweetness set against the Purple in one of the Vikings' more horrific defensive efforts in team history, Peterson not only entered the game to return the kickoff following the Bears' improbable game-tying touchdown inside of two minutes, he also stayed in the game for the game-winning drive.

Not surprisingly, Peterson, who looked like Gulliver surrounded by Lilliputians for much of the game, but particularly as he ran up the middle for a 53-yard kick return inside of two minutes left in the game, made Chilly's change of perspective pay dividends. Though he contributed a 4-yard loss in his only carry from the line of scrimmage in the ensuing, four-play drive capped by a game-winning, 55-yard field goal, his mere presence showed that Chilly has now conceded his value to the team in such situations.

If Chilly continues to call Peterson's number and challenges the numerous suspect defenses of the NFC to stop the running back, the Vikings could well ride the back of their rookie to a respectable season, regardless of whether quarterback Tarvaris Jackson figures out how to put air under the ball. And that might be enough to permit Vikings' fans to overlook some of the team's other short-comings and even help alleviate those short-comings.

Up Next: Defensive Issues. Plus, some signs of coaching improvement.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Stop the Madness

If you've never before had root-canal surgery without anaesthesia and want to experience the pain without paying the price, you're in luck. Every Thursday throughout the 2007 NFL season, Vikings' play-by-play announcer, Paul Allen, hosts a weekly radio show, with Vikings' head coach Brad Childress as the weekly featured guest. After a brief listen, you will be left with the inescapable conclusion that it cannot get any worse than what you have already heard. You will be wrong--very wrong.

It is difficult to decide with whom to place one's sympathy, the listener, Allen, or Childress. Childress is a sympathetic figure for having to deal with inane question after inane question, with nary a follow-up in sight, and weak attempts by the show's host to cajole information from the head coach that the head coach has made abundantly clear he does not intend to divulge.

But Chilly is also an unsympathetic figure for feeding the appetite of the host, thus allowing the show painfully to crawl forward, and for refusing to give anything more than tightly couched responses to virtually every question that the host poses.

And that makes Allen a sympathetic figure, as he is forced to ask questions that Chilly will answer. That frequently leads Allen to ask such questions as "Does it make you feel good when your football team performs well on the field?" Allowing Allen his penchant for using extraneous words, is this really a question that can lead to anything anyone cares to hear?

At best, it's a rhetorical question, but Allen makes the question worse by rephrasing it, as if it were not clear to begin with and as if there were a deeper question at the core. Alas, there is not, as the re-phrasing typically follows something along the lines of "What I mean is, do you get some extra satisfaction from seeing your football team--guys that you put into position to make football plays--make those plays and help your team to a victory?"

That makes Allen an unsympathetic figure and leaves only the listener for whom to have any sympathy. For the unwitting listener, some sympathy is in order. But for the fan that has listened to this in the past and still come back for more of the same, there can and should be none. And Vikings' fans who tune into this mush will have to content themselves merely with knowing that it is done for the week.

In spite of the routine pablum of the coach's show, there are, from time to time, some nice tidbits to be gleaned by listening to Chilly's consistent themes. Thursday night, Allen, pushing the envelope a bit for a guy who usually seems most comfortable sharing a pair of pants with the head coach, almost accused the coach of making a mistake by not getting Sidney Rice, Adrian Peterson, and Chester Taylor on the field together for numerous plays throughout the game.

Though Allen immediately back-pedaled, acknowledging his deep, dark secret that Chilly "knows more about this stuff than I will ever know" (sound of lips smooching butt cheeks in the background), he nevertheless remained bold enough not to withdraw the question. And Chilly's response was as telling as anything that Chilly has ever publicly said while head coach of the Vikings.

"There are times when we can get all three of those guys on the field, yes," Chilly replied. "But, you know, you only have one ball, so you can't get it to all of them."

There was a pause as Allen processed the response, thinking he could not possibly have heard what he just heard. He could not possibly have heard the Vikings' head coach suggest that it was pointless to put Rice, Peterson, and Taylor on the field together when there was only one ball, could he have?

"But, coach," a stunned Allen replied, pulling his upper lip away from Chilly's sphincter, "um, you could use two of them as decoys, right?" Again, Allen offered that the coach knew "way more about this stuff" than did he, but, again, he refused to withdraw the question.

"Sure, you could," Chilly replied, still not realizing his gaffe. "But there's a lot that goes into that."

Not clear what Chilly meant, Allen moved on.

For fans waiting to see if the light will go on for Chilly, the wait might be long. The Vikings clearly have some offensive talent at this point that the coaching staff simply refuses fully to utilize. While the implication once was that those players were not ready, the suggestion from the head coach now appears far more ominous--it is the coaching staff that is not ready to use the players. With such laggardly use of talent, fans can expect the coaching staff to catch up to the talent about the time that the talent decides to leave.

Up Next: Blues for the Vikings?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Leagues Behind the Standard

When the Vikings lost their third game in four tries this season and their thirteenth game in twenty games under head coach Brad Childress, there was less surprise than there was dismay at how the team managed its way to the loss. That dismay is amplified when the performance of the Vikings' coaching staff, specifically that of the head coach, is contrasted with that of the standard in the NFL, New England head coach Bill Belichick.

In 1991, Belichick entered the ranks of NFL head coaches much the same way that Childress entered the ranks last season, finishing his first season with a 6-10 record. Belichick followed that up with a slight improvement the next two seasons, guiding the Browns to 7-9 records in each season before making the leap to 11-5 in 1994. Following a dismal 1995 season, Belichick was let go by the Browns.

Five years after receiving his pink slip from the Browns, Belichick re-emerged as a head coach in the NFL. In his first season at the helm of the Patriots, he guided the Patriots to a 5-11 record. He has not won fewer than nine games in any one season since then.

For Vikings' fans convinced that Childress is anywhere near the coach that Belichick once was and on his way to the coach that Belichick now is, the most sobering question is whether it is worth the wait for a similar coach to establish himself in the NFL. For Belichick, the gap between entering the ranks of NFL head coaches and becoming a consistent winner was ten years. In a league that truly rewards teams that attempt to win today and punishes teams that work with building blocks year after year, that decade gap looks even larger today.

Hinting at how far behind Belichick Childress currently stands as a head coach are four key decisions from week four's games, two from the Vikings' game and two from the Patriots' game. While Childress withheld from play his best offensive player when he most needed that player on the field--the second time in two weeks that Childress has opted to keep Adrian Peterson on the sideline in crunch time--and refused to take shots into the endzone until the game was virtually out of reach, Belichick was making intelligent decisions at critical junctures.

Absent the services of injured running back Laurence Maroney, Belichick did what he seems to do best; he found a player to fill the void. Tabbing backup running back Sammy Morris, Belichick road his sub for 21 carries and 2 pass receptions for a total of 132 yards and a touchdown. At no time did Belichick express any trepidation about wearing out his sub by having him in the backfield for the majority of the game, despite Morris' previous high of 12 carries.

More telling of the difference between Childress and Belichick, however, was the red zone offense that Belichick employed that resulted in the Patriots' second touchdown of the game. Employing what was essentially a nine-man offensive line that featured three tight-ends and the starting fullback, Belichick lined up his backup fullback in the tailback spot. The ploy gave quarterback Tom Brady all day to find a tight end and a monstrous wall to run a monstrous tailback behind. The result, predictably, was a touchdown.

Ultimately, Belichick is not such a genius for doing things that seem incredible. Rather, he is intelligent for doing things that make sense under the circumstances when his counterparts, too wedded to the script and too afraid of failing when not following the herd, refuse to do so.

Childress has shown no inclination to stray from the herd, even refusing to stay at the front of the pack. That mindset, as much as problems on the offensive line, questionable decisions to trade up in the draft to take unproven talent, trades for players that have not worked, and a bottom-line losing record, not only marks Childress as leagues behind the standard for head coaches in the NFL, it also marks him for early extinction, absent an immediate epiphany.

Up Next: Inside the Numbers.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Tale of Two Halves

On Sunday afternoon, the Minnesota Vikings took on the Green Bay Packers in the Metrodome. Though the Vikings lost the game, fans actually saw some things that offered a glimmer of hope--if only the coaching staff saw the same things. Instead, when it mattered most, those calling the offensive plays curled up.

Few would blame the coaching staff for much of what went wrong with the offense in the first half of Sunday's game. After finally seeing enough offensive line futility, the Vikings went with six blockers on several plays, leaving two receivers and a back as playmakers. Even with the lesser numbers going out on plays, the Vikings had fairly good success when using the six-man line, suggesting that the line, rather than the receivers, have been more to blame for the Vikings' recent offensive woes.

Another culprit on the offense has been the continuing poor play at quarterback. Whether it's rust or simply inability, Kelly Holcomb did little on Sunday to change the impression of him as a viable third-string quarterback. Again overthrowing a wide-open receiver on a well-conceived pass play and another time leading Troy Williamson out of bounds on another nicely designed play, Holcomb simply cost the Vikings points in the first half--an unfortunate result given the spectacular running performance by rookie Adrian Peterson.

The second half of Sunday's game was a bit of a different story. Though the Vikings' offense had more difficulty moving the ball, and some of that difficulty was attributable to some truly awful passes by Holcomb and atrocious line play by Ryan Cook and Bryant McKinnie, it was the system that once again faltered with the Vikings' offense looking as it has looked in the second half of nearly every game since Brad Childress became head coach--idled.

Despite opportunities and a need to press to the endzone, Childress and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell took just one shot into the endzone against a suspect Packers' secondary that was starting a rookie, playing an overwhelmed Charles Woodson, and was often without the injured Al Harris. It was a secondary that was ripe for the picking. But the Vikings' playcallers opted to play it safe--which meant playing to win close or lose outright. Continuing a trend, the Vikings got the latter.

After a relatively easy touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Sidney Rice, who appeared to have a reach advantage of two feet over the tallest member of the Packers' secondary, Childress opted for a ground-it-out attack during the Vikings' remaining time with the ball. And, to make matters worse, he opted to do so with his most significant offensive threat once again standing helplessly on the sideline, playing Chester Taylor and sitting Peterson--a move no less stubborn than any former head coach Mike Tice ever made.

The Vikings' defense nearly held the Packers' offense to its season average of 22 points. Against a suspect Packer defense that should have been enough for a team with a running back who racked up over 100 rushing yards in the first half of the game and with two receivers who were playing well beyond the level of the defenders who were covering them. Poor execution in the first half and poor execution coupled with absurd playcalling in crunch time, however, doomed such prospects.

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