Sunday, November 25, 2007

Returning the Favor

Two weeks ago, in the wake of a 34-0 drubbing at the hands of the Green Bay Packers, the Minnesota Vikings appeared destined for their second head-coaching change in as many seasons. After the team's 41-17 evisceration of the New York Giants, however, things look decidedly different.

The Vikings achieved their victory over the Giants, a seven-point favorite at the Meadowlands on Sunday, despite being outgained on offense by the Giants 309 to 251 yards.

On the day, the Vikings' offense outscored the Giants' offense 20-17. But the tale of the game was the play of the two quarterbacks. While Giants' quarterback Eli Manning looked as hopelessly lost as any quarterback has ever looked in the NFL, throwing four picks, three of which were returned for touchdowns, Tarvaris Jackson looked decidedly better than his counterpart.

Though Jackson finished the day a meager 10 of 12 for 129 yards passing--60 of which came on the second play of the game--he did show an ability finally to hit the deep pass. And, though he again held the ball too long in the pocket with Giants' defenders honing in on him, he also finally made use of his scrambling abilities, picking up large chunks of yardage on two separate plays to pick up first downs when the game was still in the balance.

The result of the quarterbacking play in Sunday's game was that, while Jackson did not cost the Vikings the game, doing what he ought to have done in most circumstances, Manning did the opposite, ensuring his team no chance of victory in spite of playing against the 32nd-ranked pass defense in the NFL.

Sunday's game might have marked nothing more than another baby step in Jackson's progression as an NFL quarterback, but it certainly is preferable to going in reverse. And with his team having unquestionably the softest remaining schedule in the NFL, it might suffice to propel the Vikings into the playoffs in 2007.

Up Next: Improved Defense or Awful Giants' Offense?

6 comments:

Bill From Arlington, VA said...

I agree. Jackson looks a little bit better each week. Still needs to work on awareness of the rush in the pocket and don't try those heaves when he's heading for the turf. One of the more important drives in the game occurred in the 3rd qtr where we burned 9 minutes off of the clock. Yes, Eli had a bad day but I'd like to see the film as I believe Frazier may have thrown in some wrinkles too that had him confused. McCauley looked good. Griffin --- well, he's taken a big step backward this year. Friggin' Denver game that game away against Da Bears.

Ryan said...

VG,

Haha, it really did look as if the Vikings were out to punish someone for that beating they took in Green Bay. The Giants served as the source of their redemption. Eli Manning played a terrible game, for sure. But I believe that the team stepped up and played a very solid game of football against a quality football team.

I was really encouraged by the improvement that Jackson showed today. He finally was able to make the decision to scramble when nobody was open, a skill he hasn't really shown up until now. He also did a good job managing the game effectively, while looking poised in the pocket and winning the time of possession battle against the Giants. He still needs to improve on "feeling the pressure", as he occasionally stands in the pocket much too long. I think that this is a skill he will develop with more experience.

I realize that his stats were somewhat pedestrian (129 yards, 1 TD). However, consider that he only threw the ball twelve times and completed ten passes. Taking away the sixty-yard pass to Rice leaves him 9-11 for 69 yards. An average of seven yards a completion is not terrible, considering that the game often will not be riding on his shoulders. With the strength of our running game, I sincerely doubt that Jackson will ever be expected to throw more than twenty times a game. If he can continue to demonstrate an ability to find open receivers in the middle of the field, teams will not be able to stack the line to stop our run game. (An exciting prospect, considering the talent we posses at RB.)

Sidney Rice is showing flashes of talent. I am very excited for how great he could become, especially considering how young he is. However, the rest of our receivers will need to perform well consistently to help Jackson continue to develop. The weakness of our receiver corp. has been one of our most glaring personnel issues this season. So, it was really great to see them step up today.

Defensively, I was impressed with the amount of pressure and deception Frazier called for. Personally, I have been a big fan of the job that he has done this season. I really feel that the breakdown of our pass defense is due to personnel issues, rather than his coaching ability. We will definitely need to bring in a talented playmaker at defensive back this offseason.

But, I can't knock their performance today. Dwight Smith looked good, as did Sharper. Griffin, Gordon and McCauley all played an adequate game. (Griffin was robbed of an interception on a terrible call by the officiating staff.) E.J. Henderson continues to be a force in the middle of the field. (I really believe that it's an absolute crime that he probably will not make the pro bowl this year.) Greenway continued to demonstrate play-making ability and the defensive line managed to give Manning fits all day long.

I think that we will learn a lot about this team over the final five weeks. At this point, the one thing that concerns me the most is the team's inconsistency. It's mostly because of this that I am still not softening my stance on Childress. I believe that this inconsistency is a result of poor coaching.

However, maybe the team can begin to turn things around in spite of Childress. Or, maybe he can begin to come into his own as a coach. Our young talent will continue to develop, regardless. I am not going to get my hopes up, but perhaps there is some light at the end of this tunnel.

GW Mush said...

Tavaris actually looked like a QB today. Im not sure that Cedric Griffin is going to make it as a viable, consistent cornerback. Ziggy sure looked happy, I think in his mind, this game made up for all the bad this season.
Im looking forward to watching Adrian Peterson next Sunday. Players like him dont come around very often so Im going to savor & cherish the time we have with him.
Heck, I miss Barry Sanders, Walter Payton, and all their greatness, now we have AD!

RM said...

Tarvaris was OK. If he's able to hit a deep pass or two and scramble for first downs, our offense should improve. I'd love to see the young man make it. It's not his fault he's been put in a position he's not ready for. That said, we scored 3 TD's on interceptions, and a fourth gave the ball to the offense on the 8 yard line.

Side note: I really hope that our newfound status as marginal playoff contenders doesn't cause Childress to rush AP back into the lineup. I guess I'd prefer to see him sit the rest of the year. He does have a partially torn ligament, after all.

bgman said...

Yeah, it's not T-Jack's fault that he was handed the starting job based on the fact that Childress wanted to prove he could find and groom an unheralded QB to fit his system.

And he does throw a pretty ball with good velocity at times. But reading defenses, having a feel for the pressure, understanding game situations, and just knowing where the receivers should be and where to put the ball when everything is breaking down are the nuances that take experience to grasp -- and many QBs never adequately grasp them.

Given that he's 5-2 in starts this year and has basically started a little more than half a season, I can't say he won't eventually be a good NFL QB. But to get to that point, the Vikings will go through their share of losses, many of which will come in games that should win.

They will win games with Jackson when their D scores, or their running game dominates, or they play bottom feeders at home. The real question is what happens when they need two TDs in the 4th quarter, or they need a TD with less than 2 minutes, or have to go 40 yards for a FG with 30 seconds left and no time outs, or just need to pick up a crucial 3rd-and-10?

There are a lot of situations where you need your QB to make plays to win the game, not just manage the offense. As long as the Vikings have a lead or have the luxury to punt if they can't extend a drive, they will be alright with Jackson. But don't get any hopes up for making a playoff run, even with a favorable schedule, until Jackson proves he can make the plays to win games.

And if he doesn't prove he can win games, the Vikings will need to bring in someone to push Jackson for the starting job, and let him have a couple of years as the No. 2 QB to get a better feel for the game and how to win in the NFL.

And by the way, when I say they need to bring in someone to push Jackson for the starting job, I don't mean pull someone of another team's scrap heap before the 4th preseason game like they've done the past two years. This needs to be done the day free agency signing period begins.

Cabrito said...

I too was very happy to see the Vikings clobber the Giants, and it will be interesting to see if they can make a genuine playoff run. Some might say that they're unlikely to do much in the playoffs anyway, but if they win out (thus going 7-0 to end the season) they may have what it takes to win a game against Tampa Bay, Seattle, or Arizona.

But before we all get too carried away, let's be realistic about the authenticity of their offense. Yes, they managed to score 5 touchdowns on Sunday, but only 2 were offensive touchdowns. The first came on a long pass and the second resulted from fairly decent field position, namely the opponents' 8 yard line (thanks to the defense). Unfortunately, the Vikings demonstrated once again their relative inability to do what good teams have to be able to do, namely march the ball patiently down the field in short or middle-range increments and come up with major scores. The Patriots can do it, the Packers can do it, the Colts can do it, the Cowboys can do it. The Vikings can't. Well, not usually -- I should note one small exception here. To me, the most impressive part of their offensive performance against the Giants was that 9-minute drive in the third quarter that resulted in a field goal. For once, they showed some efficiency in converting third downs and sustaining a lengthy drive. Considering that this is what Childress's KAO is purportedy designed for, it's pretty disappointing that it hardly ever succeeds.

The Vikes have won 5 games. Let's ignore the sloppy performance against a miserable Oakland team. The Giants game was won by the defense, as was the Atlanta game (with a bit of help from AP's 60-yard screen pass). Both the Chargers game and the Bears game were won by AP's long runs. Very rarely have the Vikings demonstrated the offensive consistency necessary to be genuine contenders.

If the defense doesn't contribute big time and AP doesn't go nuts, the Vikings are unlikely to prevail against a good football team. Obviously, they need to develop a more dangerous passing attack that can supplement their running game and permit them to sustain long drives, but I'll be surprised if they can manage that this season or, under Childress, ever.