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.

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