Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Clearing Up Some Misconceptions

Following the Minnesota Vikings' 41-17 defeat of the New York Giants on Sunday, Vikings' owner Zygi Wilf commented that he had full confidence in Vikings' head coach Brad Childress and has "never waivered" in this confidence. While Zygi can be forgiven his exuberance, his remarks ought to be taken with a grain of salt and a dash of reality.

Prior to the 2007 season, reflecting on a sour finish to 2006, Wilf commented that the Vikings were operating under a three-year plan of returning the team to championship-contending status. That was news to many Vikings' fans and, undoubtedly, to the several, key Vikings' veterans who dotted each side of the line of scrimmage, who expected a much earlier return to form.

The purpose of Wilf's statement was two-fold. First and foremost, he was attempting to provide damage control for a fan base on the verge of tuning out--or at least refusing to turn out at the Metrodome on game day. From a PR perspective, Wilf's comments were not well thought out, as the majority of the Vikings' fan base rebelled at the notion of paying more money and investing more time in a team promising only incremental improvements while the rest of the league was operating under a win-now philosophy.

From a bottom-line perspective, however, Wilf had another reason to set forth a three-year plan. That reason was the long contract to which he had recently inked first-time head coach Brad Childress. With his chosen coach inked to a five-year deal at a considerable sum of money, Wilf clearly felt the need to provide to the fan base a timeline for team success while giving his head coach an opportunity to learn on the job.

Entering the 2007 season, Wilf thus clearly sought from Childress nothing more than the thinnest of reasons to retain his head coach beyond 2007. When the Vikings began the season 2-5, Wilf remained silent.

Wilf's silence came to an end, at least behind closed doors, however, after the Vikings' 34-0 loss at Green Bay. Despite what Wilf is now contending--that his support for Childress has never waivered--nothing could be further from the truth as Wilf seriously contemplated replacing Childress mid-season in the wake of the Lambeau debacle.

The cost of making such a move, however, clearly was too great, and the alternatives too slim, for Wilf to act on his impulse in week 11. Then there was the fact that the Oakland Raiders were coming to town and likely would be fodder for whatever the Vikings could put on the field, and Wilf decided to wait it out.

The Vikings' home victory over the Raiders gave Wilf the peace of mind of knowing that his team was better than the worst team in the NFL. The road victory over the Giants, one that Wilf celebrated with the team on the sidelines, merely convinced the Vikings' owner that he could sell Childress to the Vikings' fan base at least for the remainder of this season and possibly through next season.

While the Vikings' victory over the Giants was unexpected both in absolute terms and with respect to the margin of victory, it should not be lost on Vikings' fans that the Vikings defeated a team that is very much like the Vikings in key respects, but for how it appeared on Sunday.

With a team built around establishing the passing game with the running game, the Giants were exposed as at least momentarily one-dimensional on Sunday when they attempted to set up their passing attack without the services of either of their top two running backs, Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward. Jacobs and Ward had combined for over 1,100 yards rushing on the season, despite both missing time to injury. The tandem's replacement against Minnesota, Reuben Droughns, had amasses a less stellar 222 yards on 67 carries.

Droughns' inability to establish the rushing attack against Minnesota forced the Giants increasingly to rely on their quarterback, Eli Manning, to move the offense. For the Giants, that's become akin to the Vikings asking Tarvaris Jackson to set up the Vikings' rushing attack with the pass--it simply isn't in the cards.

When Manning began to press, the Vikings pounced. And when the pouncing worked, the Vikings pounced more, forcing Manning into uncomfortable decision-making territory. For those familiar with Manning's history under such circumstances, the results were predictable.

As Wilf congratulated Childress on the victory over the Giants and used the moment to express his unwavering support for Childress, he clearly either ignored or was blinded to what team it was that the Vikings were facing on Sunday. The Giants, relying on Manning to win the game, were what we thought they were--a team that could still win the game, but a team that was just as likely to implode. That undoubtedly matters little to Wilf, who is just happy to have a "big win" in which to ensconce the coach to which he signed a long-term contract.

Up Next: How Hubris Beats Even the Best of Teams.

22 comments:

Bill From Arlington, VA said...

I don't know, Geek. I've never been a huge fan of having a revolving door of coaches. I still believe any coach, unless proven to be completely abject like some college phenoms like Spurrier and Lou Holtz, should be given three years to prove himself but Chili was definitely pushing that envelope this year with both his personnel moves and his coaching (I wanted to scream when I learned that they actually practiced that lamebrain maneuver of trying to catch a kickoff with one foot inbounds and one out). If Frazier continues with his new schemes we should have a fair chance of running the table.

GW Mush said...

Brad Childress's little winning streak is clouding the waters that once loked like a no brainer to fire Childress after this season.

It still could happen but I guess Im just not smart enough to figure out what will happen.

No matter what happens, I always end up watching the Vikings on TV. We dont have blackouts in North Dakota unless they screw with our cable package. They better not!

Vikes Geek said...

Bill,

I think you have to consider each coach discretely and assess where it appears the team can go given what that coach is attempting to accomplish and where that coach's trajectory suggests they have a chance of going. Every coach has a range of possible success generally measurable from low end to high end based on on-field talent. Where the range begins and ends on the NFL coaching ability continuum, however, is determined by coaching ability.

Right now, Childress appears to be below average with respect to where his personal range of possible success lies on this continuum, but near the high end of that range. I don't know if he will move his range forward in the future, but, in the meantime, it seems like two wasted years of football.

Coaching stability is one of the greatest determinants of success in the NFL. But there's a high correlation, with the exception of Dick LeBeau's runs, between good coaching and continuity of coaching. In short, most teams weed out bad coaches early and few wait to see if a coach will learn on the job. Maybe Childress will prove to be one of the rare exceptions.

As for the Vikings' defense, it was good to see pressure on the quarterback, but that pressure was made possible by the fact that the Vikings knew that the Giants were going to pass and that Manning was suspect as the primary cog in the offense. A similar tactic against Romo, Favre, Brady, or the real Manning would be disastrous.

VG

Ryan said...

VG,

I'm definitely still not real big on Childress. However, I'm curious to see what amount of development the talent on this team can make in spite of him. (I think a team like the Eagles proves that a talented team can win convincingly in spite of a boorish, stubborn and confused coach.)

Regardless of what people say about the Giants, they were a 7-3 team. Manning does not react well to pressure, but he has plenty of tools at his disposal and he has performed in the past. Taking away the defensive touchdowns, the Vikings offense still managed to score a touchdown more than the Giants did.

I think that these final five games will tell a lot about how this franchise will behave in the next year. For example, if Jackson can continue to show signs of improvement, they will be less inclined to burn a first-round pick on a QB or bring in a veteran that expects starting time. (McNabb and Anderson are almost certainly out of our price range. However, a passable QB like Pennington will be available.)

If Childress manages to ride along as the team sneaks into the playoffs, Wilf will most likely stick with him until the end of his contract. The team will most likely finish no worse than last year (6-10), giving him all the more reason to keep him around.

Not saying I like it, necessarily. But, I'm pretty sure that's the way it is.

Vikes Geek said...

Ryan,

This was the first week this year that the Giants were without Ward and Jacobs. Last year, Manning had Jacobs and Tiki Barber to lean on. Those are nice options when the sledding gets a bit tough.

Wilf's tone certainly has changed in two weeks. And with much riding on his investment in Childress, Wilf likely will look for reasons to retain Childress rather than looking for reasons to dismiss him. I think the comparison to Andy Reid is appropriate and I'm not sure that's a recipe for a championship team.

VG

Vikes Geek said...

Mush,

If any industry can provide the consumer with poor service without fearing the wrath of the consumer it is the cable industry. Cable companies don't even need the Vikings assistance in ruining your Sunday afternoon viewing.

VG

Cabrito said...

Thanks for your insights on Zygi's train of thought, VG. I must admit that I'm curious about how you get your inside information. Do you have Zygi's home and offices bugged? Well, whatever your sources, your suppositions certainly do make sense. I do have one question about your latest comments. You say Zygi was "operating under a 3-year plan of returning the Vikings to championship-contending status." Does that mean this status is expected in the third year, or that it will take 3 years before the rebuilding is complete, thus postponing expectations of success until the fourth year? The latter remains within the realm of possibility, assuming the Vikings can improve significantly in a number of key positions. I humbly suggest, however, that the first interpretation of Zygi's plan (reaching the top tier of teams in the third year) is hardly conceivable. Your opinion?

Finally, a small correction to Ryan's assertion that the Vikings' offense outscored the Giants' offense by one touchdown. That's technically true, but in reality, the second Vikings' TD was set up by the defense, who gave the offense possession on the 8-yard line. Since the Vikings cannot score touchdowns except through long strikes (passes or AP runs) or defensive plays, it's unlikely that that second TD would have been scored had the offense been left to its own devices.

RM said...

Sunday's game really only confirmed what we already knew, the Vikes win when:

1. The other team is putrid
or
2. We get 2-4 defensive TD's
or
3. AP turns in another all world performance.

The Vikings fan in me would like to think we're making progress, the cynic in me thinks that the NFC is so mediocre that it was just our turn to have a good run. One of these years everyone in the NFC is going to finish 8-8. ;)

Joe said...

The chattering from commentators this week has been as predictable as the cheerleading from the reliable sources.

I love how people make sweeping declarations from single losses all the time but can be counted on to do nearly everything possible to minimize any positive from most any win.

Going into last Sunday's game the Giants were fairly celebrated as a formidable playoff-quality opponent for anyone in the league. But now, because the Vikings forced them into a bad game, they must have been a mirage because the Vikings of all teams can't possibly be capable of something positive - especially not with this coach and this QB.

People have already made up their minds about this guy and even if he stays next year and somehow put together a winning season (even if he still manages it this year) he will still always and forever be hated by a large swath of Vikingland - it's become our way and we are nothing if not stubborn in our opinions of outsiders. The haters are already scared that some more wins (which they claim to want to see) will delay or stay the execution of the coach, the QB, etc..

Wilf is also already pretty much hated by the same people as well despite demonstrating to date that the Vikings will not want for resources - a significant issue with past owners. We can all agree he has a PR issue to handle along with wins and losses...which is why the Packers rout rightly gave him pause about Childress...but the problem here in MN is that it has been proven that when it comes to the Vikings wins rarely overcome the local and now deeply ingrained negative obsessions with aspects of the Vikings or their personnel (office or team). Too many people in this town have made and continue to make hay piling on the team and guys like Childress for even wins to stop that gravy train. Childress started getting shots and being condescended to before his first practice. It's part of the landscape here and it's been proven to me that that's the way many folks around here prefer it.

I'm not sure what else you can ask of a struggling team than to go on the road against a superior opponent than to protect the ball, force turnovers and not just sneak out with a victory but achieve one in emphatic fashion in the process. Regardless of the circumstances road games are not easily won and the Vikings deserve as much credit for this one as the scorn they rightfully earned for their lack of effort in Green Bay.

The team has many many issues to resolve and this win doesn't address much of the big picture - just as some losses in a comparatively short tenure shouldn't send people out of town on a rail.

I'd have more respect for a lot of the criticism tossed at Wilf, Childress and Jackson if people just admitted up front that they don't like them.

Vikes Geek said...

Joe,

In your next to last paragraph, you seem to lapse into the "predictable" camp of those that you purport to be condemning.

While the Giants were regarded as a formidable NFC playoff team going into this game, there are two caveats to that impression--it is the NFC and the Giants were without either of the running backs on whom they had relied the entire season to get their offense moving. The Vikings certainly took advantage of the situation and deserve credit for that. And they roundly received that credit. But to stick one's head in the sand about the Giants' short-comings is what leads teams like the Vikings to over-estimate where they currently stand in their progression.

VG

Vikes Geek said...

Cabrito,

Wilf publicly stated before the beginning of this season that the Vikings had "a three-year plan of returning the team to championship contending status." The context of the statement made clear that the clock was to begin running from the beginning of the 2007 season. That would make either 2009 or 2010 the target date for such success. The question left unanswered, of course, is what it means to be of "championship contending status?"

No bugs, just an occasionally sound ear.

VG

Travis said...

VG:

I agree with much of your analysis, except for one point.

The Giants paid dearly to get Manning- we was the first player selected overall in the draft! He hasn't quite lived up to those expectations, true (he's about .500 as a starter so far, through his 3 and a half season, yes?), but he WAS selected to be "the guy" to be counted on to get things done. The face of the franchise.

Tarvaris has never been in anyone's plan to be "the face" of the Vikings, but instead he's expected to not screw up the other good things about the team.

Eli has had some horrible games- but he's had some spectacular games as well. For the Giants to count on him when things go bad is a lot different than the Vikings counting on T-Jack, given the comparison of the expectations and experience.

Will Eli ever be an elite QB? Maybe not. But is much more expected out of him (and rightly so) than T-Jack? Absolutely. Your comparison is unfair.

Travis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Travis said...

(previous post deleted to correct author error...)

VG:

I agree with much of your analysis, except for one point.

The Giants paid dearly to get Manning- he was the first player selected overall in the draft! He hasn't quite lived up to those expectations, true (he's about .500 as a starter so far, through his 3 and a half season, yes?), but he WAS selected to be "the guy" to be counted on to get things done. The face of the franchise.

Tarvaris has never been in anyone's plan to be "the face" of the Vikings, but instead he's expected to not screw up the other good things about the team.

Eli has had some horrible games- but he's had some spectacular games as well. For the Giants to count on him when things go bad is a lot different than the Vikings counting on T-Jack, given the comparison of the expectations and experience.

Will Eli ever be an elite QB? Maybe not. But is much more expected out of him (and rightly so) than T-Jack? Absolutely. Your comparison is unfair.

Vikes Geek said...

Travis,

I might be misundertanding your point or you might be misreading mine. I'm not sure which it is, though I suspect we essentially agree.

Much more is expected of Manning, and should be, than is or should be expected of Jackson at this point in the players' respective careers. That, however, speaks only to expectations. When Manning has been called upon to be the sole focus of the offense--something that has happened only rarely during his tenure with the Giants--the results largely have been unfavorable. Sunday was but one example. I'm being very kind to Manning. Giants' fans have been far more critical.

VG

Cabrito said...

VG: I'm puzzled by your response to my query about Zygi's 3-year plan. You claim that the "context" implies Zygi was dating the start of the 3-year "contention" period from 2007. I find that strange. Childress began his tenure in 2006, so surely the third year of the so-called plan should be 2008. What, does Childress get 2006 as a Mulligan? Sorry, that doesn't make sense to me. Produce by the end of the 2008 season or get lost, that's my opinion. And yes, perhaps Vikings' fans do tend to be hypercritical, as Joe maintains, but I seriously doubt they're any worse in this regard than fans in many other cities. After the San Diego game I linked to a few Chargers' sites to see what the fans thought. Guess what -- they want Norv Turner fired, etc., etc. Well, I guess negativity is the inevitable result of frustration over never winning the big one. Perhaps the fans of winning franchises (Cowboys, Steelers, Packers, Patriots, etc.) are a little more patient and charitable.

Vikes Geek said...

Cabrito,

Don't blame the messenger. Zygi made his comments on July 26th of this year.

VG

Joe said...

My overall point is that it already seems to matter little what this group will ever be able to accomplish, if anything. A large swath of people simply don't like them and I doubt wins will change that at this point or in the future. I'm not suggesting the win in NY should change that - it's merely one game - but it has seemed to generate more worry that these guys will linger than any possible positive observations one could perhaps take from the game.

I also wonder how much we would be focused on the evident shortcomings of the Giants had they managed to win instead of the Vikings. They are clearly a 2nd tier NFC team this season and were before the Vikings game but they were getting air kisses from nearly everyone before last Sunday and mostly deservedly so. The Vikings managed a nice win by most any measure and while it shouldn't be overstated neither should it be minimized.

I'm not overestimating the Vikings "progression." They have a long way to go to even being regarded as competitive on a weekly basis and the most recent win was certainly surprising. I understand that. What I am pointing out is that to me there is and long has been an incessant and self-serving insistence among many folks that the organization and its personnel be held in some odd form of contempt.

I doubt we'll be cured of this before or if the team ever manages to win it all, which seems as far away as ever. If Childress and co. have to go so be it but unless his replacement wins out of the gate I expect to see the same refrain again. And again.

Cabrito said...

Sorry, VG, I meant no disrespect to the messenger. My indignation was directed at Zygi, not you. It seems to me that casually misrepresenting a 4-year plan as a 3-year plan is an act of blatant disrespect to the fans.

SirFrancis said...

The question is, what do the players think of Childress? We know how most of the fans feel, but it seems like the team plays hard for him. Except for the Packer game, they've been in every game right to the final gun.

GW Mush said...

NFL football fans are the same everywhere because human nature doesnt change from city to city.
Ive heard fans gripe about the head coach ever since the Bud Grant era. Sometimes the whining is justified, usually it isnt and it is just the fans taking our their frustrations because their ego's dont like to lose football games.

I have liked & supported every head coach the Vikings have ever had except for Les steckel, and I really havent warmed up the Brad Childress.

I really dont care if they keep or fire Childress as long as we begin to see some consistant progress. Im trying to have some patience but I succumb to the same frustrations that most fans have and think that i quick fix solution is better than this ongoing pain, hehe

Bill From Arlington, VA said...

As I've said before, what troubles me about Chili is his stubborness and inflexibility in insisting that it's his "system" that will win and you can just plug in whatever parts and it will go. I've said all season that the Vikings don't have the receivers you need to run a true West Coast offense, i.e. physical guys who can get separation on the slants and such off the ball. As a result they've had trouble putting together drives that result in six pts versus three. Since Chili decided to loosen things up a bit with some long balls they've looked better.

On Sunday I think we'll get a good understanding if Frazier's new blitzing packages and disguises therewith will work consistently as Kitna's a pretty smart and tough qb.

To me, the defense's continued ability to put pressure on the passer and create some turnovers will be more of a factor in the Vikings making a run for the playoffs than what happens on offense.