Thursday, December 27, 2007

Old Habits, Off-Season Shortcomings Rear Head in Vikings' Loss

Following a suspect victory over the Chicago Bears last week, the Minnesota Vikings, while acknowledging their mistakes, congratulated themselves for showing resiliency in the face of adversity and perservering for a victory. Sunday, against a measurably better Washington team, the Vikings showed that all the mettle in the world is no match when faced with competency. And little mettle at all is even worse.

In the aftermath of a second, consecutive disappointing on-field performance, Vikings' head coach Brad Childress lamented his hesitancy to pass the ball down the field against a Washington defense clearly poised to stop the run and begging the Vikings to pass. Unfortunately, Childress' epiphany occurred to him only after the fact rather than when the game was still in reach. The result was a well-earned drubbing at the hands of Washington and what will probably be yet another season without even an appearance in the playoffs.

As Childress' laments suggest, the Vikings' problems on Sunday night were largely the consequence of the Vikings' inability and unwillingness to challenge Washington's secondary. Through one quarter, the Vikings had attempted but one pass of any meaningful distance beyond the line of scrimmage; an implausible way to stretch the defense and a particularly confounding approach to matching a defense that the Vikings understood prior to the game would stuff the defensive line of scrimmage to stop the Vikings' running game.

The results were predictable. The Vikings gained virtually no yardage in the first quarter and surrendered a safety. The second quarter offered more of the same with the Vikings building a tidy 0-22 deficit by half.

As coaches with job security are wont to do, Childress accepted responsibility for the conservative play-calling. As coaches with a sense of limited job security are wont to do, Childress refused to defuse questions about the play of his quarterback as a contributing factor in Sunday's meltdown.

There is no question that Jackson, for the second straight week, played below the level of that required of a starting NFL quarterback. Of course, that's often what happens to rookies, save for the truly exceptional ones. Unfortunately, as with his post-game epiphany regarding the team's offensive game plan, Childress has waited far too long to realize what most rightfully and readily recognized last Spring, namely, that experience at quarterback is a prerequisite to success at the position in the NFL.

What the 2007-2008 season will bring for the Vikings is anyone's guess. The team continues to lament its lack of depth at wide receiver, using the contention as a crutch to explain away everything from lack of offensive line protection for the quarterback to Tarvaris Jackson's spotty, sometimes poor play. The truth of the matter, of course, is that, as goes the quarterback, so goes the offense. And right now, the quarterback play is regressing.

Up Next: Numbers. Plus, free agency.


Travis said...

A frustrating loss on many levels, but the worst aspect of it was the disappointment of seeing Childress revert to being a moron. During the winning streak, it seemed like he was finally figuring it out. But then this mess. Why do you continue to primarily run against 8- or 9-man fronts? More importantly, why do you not GAME PLAN to immediately take advantage of them? The halftime adjustments eventually helped, and almost let the Vikes threaten in the 2nd half. If they had adjusted earlier, who knows. And don't get me started on the non-challenge / 12 men challenge debacle.

Cabrito said...

Thanks for the post, VG. I hope you had a Merry Christmas, but I'm sure it would have been merrier if you had received a decent performance from the Vikes as a pre-Noel gift. Everything that needs to be said has already been said, so I won't pour too much more gasoline on the fire of discontent. One further comment, however, regarding Chili's incomprehensible incompetence. When AP is in the game, the defense stacks the box to stop him, thus yielding opportunities in the passing game. But when passing becomes necessary, Chili takes him out. Why? Because on passing downs, Chili feels "more comfortable" with CT in the game. But opponents don't fear CT as much, so they drop back into pass coverage. The upshot is that the advantages AP might bring to the passing game are completely negated. Great strategy, Chili. Happy New Year to you, VG, and to all my fellow bloggers.

RM said...

First of all, Happy Holidays to everyone. Second, what do you all think will happen this off-season? Even if we do make the playoffs, it's likely to be a one and done experience. Teams have now found out how to shut down our running game. Do we hope that T-Jack matures enough so this won't be a problem next season, or do we pony up to get a QB that can make teams pay for loading up against the run? Or is all of this a moot point since our coaching staff can't or won't adjust in a timely fashion?

Bill From Arlington, VA said...

Well Santa wasn't too good to us now was he? Unfortunately as VG and all of us have pointed out this loss was entirely predictable for many, many reasons.

Let's leave aside for a moment Chili's boneheadedness in insisting on running dive plays with the tailback lined up 8 yds. deep against an oft-times 4 dl- 4lb - SS look. But look at the throws Jackson did make:

A jump pass here, a behind-the-receiver throw there, and a near one-hopper everywhere. The last is especially hurtful because even when the receiver can scoop it off the ground he's not in position to advance the ball with YAC. Poor mechanics every time and not just when the heat was on. To me it looks like Jackson's trying to "aim" the ball with his arm instead of setting his feet and delivering. He's now had one full offseason, preseason and near full season to work on this and the results are still wholly inadequate.

But let's also examine the running "game" more closely. The Vikings have a big but slow offensive line. The way to attack a stacked, slanting defense is with misdirection and cutbacks. Joe Gibbs made his bones with the famous "counter trey" which has everyone on the supposed onside blocking down and then have the offside guard and tackle pull. There's none of that in this offense. Why not try a two back set some time with both AD and CT in? I don't know, ask Chili.

After watching Jackson perform so poorly in the first quarter and in the process completely gas out his defense a head coach with his eyes on the playoffs would have had someone else in the game in the second quarter. Bollinger or Holcomb surely couldn't have done any worse.

Moving on to this week, look for more of the same from Shanahan and his secondary is actually top-notch unlike the Skins banged-up crew. So even though I think the Dallas-Skins game is a tossup I sense it won't matter.

Should make for a bitter dregs at season's end as I sit in a bar full of fellow Vikings fans with a lot of Redskin fans as well watching both games side by side.

I'll save my comments as what should happen in the offseason for next week or miracle of miracles if we should happen to back into the playoffs -- for later.

RM said...

Thanks for the reply, Bill. Santa did indeed leave a lump of coal in Vikings fan's stockings. I'm with you, I don't know why AP and CT can't occasionally be in the same backfield at the same time. I'll be interested to read everyone's take on what should happen for next year. Let's hope we have at least two more weeks of football before that happens. As a Viking fan deep in Redskin country, I'm sure Sunday will be an interesting experience for you. Good luck.

SL__72 said...

Offseason plans:

1. Sign Raaaandy. Alumni of Ran University and single season NFL receiving TD record holder.
2. ...
3. Profit


Cabrito said...

Yet another season comes to a disappointing close for Vikings fans. I expect some post-campaign comments from you eventually, VG, but in the meantime, I thought I'd take this final opportunity to thank you for your excellent blog. Like so many of your readers, I appreciate the chance to read intelligent commentary on the Vikings and their misfortunes, and to post my own humble opinions.

The Vikings' biggest misfortune is not their quarterback, lack of depth at receiver, pathetic pass defense, or indeed any player or component of the team. They certainly need upgrading in a number of spots, but all in all they have a pretty good team. What they don't have, unfortunately, is a competent coach. Chili's shortcomings are legion, and I won't bore you or fellow bloggers by listing them. I'll just say this: I don't think this team will ever get anywhere with Chili at the helm. He'll flounder his way to another non-playoff season in 2008, at which point Zygi may finally have had enough of him, or so we can all fervently hope. Although most of the New Year may not prove especially happy for us long-suffering fans, then, perhaps 2008 will culminate with a joyous event. With that silver lining in mind, I wish a Happy New Year to Vikings fans everywhere.