Monday, December 17, 2007

Searching For That Mother

In what can most generously be described as one of the uglier NFL football games of the 2007 season, the Minnesota Vikings prevailed over the hapless Chicago Bears on Monday night by a deceptive score of 20-13. In which direction that score is more desceptive, however, depends upon your point of view.

On one hand, the Bears' defense did a respectable job forcing the Vikings to go with plan B--anything involving quarterback Tarvaris Jackson--far more often than Vikings' head coach Brad Childress appeared comfortable with so doing. The result was, by Vikings' standards, a second straight week of sub-standard rushing as the Vikings' running backs tallied a well-below average 109 yards rushing on 25 carries, and three picks for the hurried, harried, and harrassed Jackson.

Jackson's errant passes, sometimes off his back foot, often in a crowd, offered a glimpse of what Vikings' fans might be witness to in the short term should the Vikings, any time soon, be compelled to rely on Jackson to lead a comeback--something Jackson has yet to do in the NFL.

Unlike the past two weeks, when Jackson had ample time to sit in the pocket and no pressure to resurrect a flagging offense, against Chicago the opposite was true. Trailing for much of the game and mostly stymied by the Bears' run defense, the Vikings turned to Jackson to move the offense. In some respects, the gambit worked, as Jackson passed for 249 yards. In other respects, it failed to reveal the progress that Jackson hinted at the past two weeks as two of Jackson's three picks were squarely the result of ill-advised passes.

While the Bears' defense and Jackson conspired to make the Vikings' offense look its plodding worst for most stretches of the game, the Vikings' offense shone as a veritable blueprint for offensive success in the NFL in contrast to the woeful, nearly non-existent entity to which some unabashedly refer as the Bears' offense. Whatever that entity actually is, it surely is one of the uglier sights the modern NFL era has witnessed.

With third-string quarterback Kyle Orton starting for soon-to-be-releasedfirst- and second-string quarterbacks Rex Grossman and Brian Griese, and no running game of which to speak, the Bears' offense truly was something for which only the mothers of those associated with that offense could muster any positive sentiment.

Putrid hardly describes the Bears' offense on Monday. On the night, the Bears had a measly 11 first downs, were 1 of 14 on third-down attempts, averaged 1.9 yards per rushing attempt, and, in a statistic that would make even Childress blush, averaged 8 yards per completed pass against the 32nd-ranked passing defense in the NFL. Orton's unbelievable heave down the field with the game still in the balance and no need to panic merely highlighted the Bears' offensive dysfunction, with Vikings' safety Darren Sharper mercifully putting the woeful show of ineptitude out of its misery with the Vikings' sole pick of the game.

If ever a team should hang its head in victory, this victory comes close for the Vikings. It's nice to win a tight game. It's nice to show some fortitude in the face of unexpected adversity--even if it is the backup quarterback that is showing the lion's share of that fortitude. And it's nice to win a game that was a near must-win. But it really could not have been any less pleasing of a game to watch had it been scripted as such.

Up Next: Stubborn or Realistic? Plus, whither Williamson?

13 comments:

Peter said...

That certainly was an ugly victory. I found myself getting a little frustrated with the play calling, even though I understand that the game was close enough to continue playing conservative football on offense. Still, I have to wonder about a few things.

Why did they run Peterson to the right so much? Why not more to the left?
Why didn't they get him the ball in open space?
Why didn't they put Taylor and Peterson on the field at the same time?
Why no screens?
When are they going to start using Shiancoe? (He's costing Minnesota an eyebrow-raising amount, and Kleinsausser and Richardson are getting more receptions!) Sheesh.

Anyway, a scrappy, ugly win with a lot on the line in front of a large audience and against a surprisingly good defense makes me cautiously optimistic. I just hope that's Jackson's last terrible game. If he stops throwing picks I think they'll do alright.

zebano said...

4th and 1 with under 4 minutes to play;
The top ranked rushing offense in the NFL has ball near midfield... In comes the punting unit?

I thought Chilly was trying to instill a culture of winning. That being the case, why not send Peterson or Taylor up the gut for a yard and end the game? Instead we punt, give the Bears a long field and settle back into a prevent defense against which even Kyle Orton can move the ball up to midfield before throwing an ill-advised bomb.

The most annoying part about this? the announcers were all saying you have to play the percentages and punt the ball. Last I checked 4 & 1 is a good (>50%) chance to succeed. Plus it tells your players, we're playing to win, as opposed to playing to not embarrass the coach.


All in all, a very ugly game in which we were fortunate to be playing against an inept offense.

DC said...

I wanted Chilly to go for it as well on that fourth-and-one.

On the other hand, the Bears defence knows the Vikings are going to run and would have had nine guys at the line of scrimmage, Peterson had been stopped for no gain a number of times and Jackson and the running backs were botching handoffs all night.

So you punt it, pin the Bears deep and force them to march 80 or 90 yards for a tying score. Come on – did you really think Kyle Orton was going to be able to pull that off?

Chilly didn't show any balls but I can certainly understand the call. I don't know many NFL coaches that would have gone for it there.

http://grants-tomb.blogspot.com

DC said...

I wanted Chilly to go for it as well on that fourth-and-one.

On the other hand, the Bears defence knows the Vikings are going to run and would have had nine guys at the line of scrimmage, Peterson had been stopped for no gain a number of times and Jackson and the running backs were botching handoffs all night.

So you punt it, pin the Bears deep and force them to march 80 or 90 yards for a tying score. Come on – did you really think Kyle Orton was going to be able to pull that off?

Chilly didn't show any balls but I can certainly understand the call. I don't know many NFL coaches that would have gone for it there.

http://grants-tomb.blogspot.com

Nat said...

I thought punting was the right move. The Bears couldn't move the ball all day long, why not let your defense finish the game.

Cabrito said...

Just a few comments about the game. First, I'm really getting tired of this strategy of other teams putting 8 in the box to stop Peterson. Tom Brady and Payton Manning would positively salivate if given the opportunity to throw into 3-man coverages all the time. So would Brett "I'm not going to retire until I've broken all the records and my hair has turned completely gray" Favre. Oh, how the Vikes dearly need a really dangerous deep receiver. Or a coaching staff that can figure out ways to capitalize on "AP fixation."

Second, most of the game analysis so far has focused on the offenses and defenses of the two teams. There hasn't been much talk about the special teams. Chicago's special teams were outstanding on Monday night -- as usual, they were dangerous returning kicks, and their kick coverage was devastating. Two free Super Bowl tickets to the blogger who comes up with the best adjective describing the Vikings' special teams. (Wade? Allison? Groan. Coverage? Even non-Hesters went wild.)

Third, here's the really interesting thing. Despite a turnover edge of 4-0 (I'm ignoring Sharper's interception), the Vikes still won. Amazingly, they are without doubt a better team than the Bears, and the Bears went to the Super Bowl last year! Go figure.

There may be promise for next year, if we can fill a few obvious needs.

Bill From Arlington, VA said...

About the only thing good I can say about this game is that they won. And giving Chili some credit, that's not something I recall the team doing in the Denny or Tice era when consistently shooting themselves in both feet with turnovers (of course, playin against a h.s. jv opposition offense doesn't hurt either).

But from here on out we better get used to teams puttin 8 in the box and shooting gaps and slanting daring the Vikings to beat them with the passing game. The NFL is nothing if not mimetic.

Now for some optimism, the wounded Bear defense is still better than a lot especially with Nathan Vasher back in the lineup. Neither the Redskins or Denver are anywhere near that good.

Now for the bad news. Winfield and Rice are probably definitely out for this week's game and most likely Denver as well. Time for some people to step up. Troy Williamson can you hear me?

One loss won't kill us but it will be tight because if we, the Skins and Saints all finish 9-7, the latter two get in and we don't. I think it's unlikely the Skins will beat Dallas at home but who knows and if Philly doesn't beat NO in NO this Sunday they're probably going to finish 9-7 even though they have Chicago in Chicago for the last game.

bgman said...

The Bears offense is just plain bad -- no passing or running game, and lots of dead ball penalties by the o-line.

But, despite lots of injuries, they still have a very aggressive and opportunistic defense. So it was a good challenge for the Vikes offense.

The Bears decided to commit to stopping the run, and make Tavaris and the passing game win it. And Tavaris reverted back to his play earlier in the season with risky forced passes and trying to make plays that weren't there. He seemed to right himself a little as the game went on.

So the key for the Vikings is for Tavaris to keep making the plays that are there, and not force the action when the play isn't there.

And they do need a receiver to step up their game. Sidney Rice will soon be that kind of receiver, but it looks like he'll be bothered with a bad ankle down the stretch. Bobby Wade is a decent possession slot receiver, but not a big play threat. And I haven't seen enough out of Robert Ferguson on a consistent basis to see him as more than a situational player. And Andre Ellison is a raw speedster.

Whatever happened to Troy Williamson? While I don't see him being a 70-catch type of WR, I thought he'd be a guy that you take 2-3 shots deep downfield with every game just to make the D-backs play just a little bit deeper and stretch the defense.

I didn't see the drops from him like last year, and he did connect with Tavaris for a deep TD in the 1st Bears game, but he hasn't seen the field much since then. I know there was the funeral situation, and he did have a concussion, but that was a several weeks ago.

Is he another Melwelde Moore -- a guy Childress has just given up on, and only hasn't released for emergency depth? Is he still in the doghouse for taking the week off to organize his grandmother's funeral, even though Childress has publicly forgiven him or at least appeared to move on? Was his concussion really that severe? Or has he really just fallen to fifth on the depth chart based on his practice production?

The Vikings have invested heavily in him through the draft, financially, special 1x1 coaching, and sending him to a vision specialist. You'd think they'd try to get a little more out of that investment, especially considering their other options, and have him prove himself or fail on the field.

Joe said...

The punt was the right call. The Bears had shown no ability to move the ball and making Orton go 90 yards or whatever it was going to be was worth the trade off and was the smarter decision. Had they not converted the Bears would have been maybe one big play from threatening to score on a single play.

Converting would have been a display of strength but the Bears had played pretty stoutly against our run game all night. Had they been about 10-15 yards deeper into Bears territory a 4th down conversion would have been more sensible. Making Orton go the length of the field was the right call though I'd concede it wasn't as exciting as a successful conversion might have been.

Thankfully the coaches don't think with their emotional rube hats on all the time.

J. Lichty said...

Two free Super Bowl tickets to the blogger who comes up with the best adjective describing the Vikings' special teams.

organized cluelessness;

low-gear;

special as in short school bus special;

farwellian;

obscene;

Schoeny said...

VG,
I've enjoyed your columns and the posted comments. Some thoughts:
* The QB play must improve, and the commitment to TJax next year may be premature. After the season ends, Minnesota should get a starting quality journeyman QB or veteran star through free agency or a trade. Pick up another rookie QB in the later draft rounds. Maybe Bollinger does have a place; his enthusiasm and effort are there.
* The Redskins match up well against us. These are two teams with similar run-first philosophies and each team has the excellent 1-2 punch at the halfback position.
* With Rice out, Wade banged up, and Ferguson obviously lacking speed, both Allison and Williamson MUST step up against the Redskins - particularly Williamson. He should make this his breakout game.
* The Redskins are expecting the Vikings to run and we must not disappoint them. No playbook or handoff errors by our rookie prodigy, please.
* The Redskins hold the all-time edge in the series. Joe Gibbs had never lost to the Vikings before last year. All the commentators in DC are confident of a Redskins triumph. We won't survive a sloppy effort against the Redskins.
* The Vikings' battered and suspension-plagued defense must find a way to step up.
* The playoffs await them if the Vikings can make their efforts stick. Should be a great game!

Cabrito said...

I have a question for you, VG, or for any of your bloggers who may have more technical knowledge than I do. Why has the Vikings' offensive line been unable to open a single decent hole to run through, either up the middle or off-tackle, for two entire games now? The only significant runs AP and Chester have made have been around the ends (Taylor's 84 yard scamper, and a few runs by AP against Chicago). Surely an extra safety in the box can't make that much of a difference. Are the Viking front five just getting outmuscled?

Bill From Arlington, VA said...

Cabrito, the primary reason isn't just "8 in the box" it's totally selling out by shooting gaps and slanting. Not enough counter-play runs in my opinion.

The Skins will definitely do this but their linebackers are nowhere near as good as the Bears.