Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Goading Likely to Keep Vikings on Air

As of noon Tuesday, the Minnesota Vikings had an estimated 14,000 tickets still available for their home playoff game on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. That's down from 20,000 on Monday at noon and likely 14,000 higher than it will be by the NFL extended deadline of 3 p.m. Friday for avoiding a television blackout in the Minneapolis market.

There are a host of reasons why the Vikings have so many tickets remaining for their first playoff game under Brad Childress. The first, and most obvious, is the price. Although the Vikings boasted about the range of ticket prices--"from "$30 to $180"--the average ticket price of $120 is well above what even most Vikings' fans consider a reasonable allocation of discretionary funds for three hours of live football.

Then there is the brand of football being played at the Metrodome these days. The Vikings have cajoled a certain segment of the fan base to buy into the belief that "a win is a win." More discerning fans understand, however, that that's simply not the case. A sloppy win over a B-team, an uninspiring win over a winless team, and a robotic, through-the-motions win over any team is not the stuff of viewable football.

The NFL is about entertainment. Some teams understand that and hire their coaches accordingly. Other teams, like the Minnesota Vikings, believe that enough people can be convinced to attend games in which the home team routinely puts up offensive offensive numbers using the same calls week in and week out, despite having the assets to offer so much more.

For the most part, the Vikings' front office has been right this year, if only by the thinnest of margins. This week, they are working feverishly to play on the conviction of some rabid fans that fans owe the team the purchase of a playoff ticket.

The rallying cry from the buy a ticket club is pathetic in its own right. But it's particularly boorish given the condition of the economy and the plight of many of the fans who will make the decision to purchase ducats to Sunday's game.

Consider the fan who boasted of having purchased his four playoff tickets for $120 apiece despite earning $10 per hour at his job. Prior to taxes and other deductions, the fan earns approximately $20,800 per year. Assuming only FICA deductions (i.e., no deductions for medical benefits that likely do not exist, no child-support deductions, no income tax deductions, etc.), the fan takes home just under $19,500 per year.

Assuming the fan has no dependents, eats Ramen Noodles for every meal and skips one meal a day, and, further, that the fan lives in subsidized housing for which all utilities are paid by the landlord, the fan very generously has approximately $13,000 remaining after food and housing come out of the budget.

We know that the fan has his own transportation and that he must have car insurance in the state of Minnesota. We shall assume, however, that he does not have a loan on the vehicle and that he obtains the minimum insurance coverage. Liability-only coverage, gas for one year at 2008 mean prices, and highly rudimentary maintenance of the vehicle leaves the fan with approximately $10,000 in the bank.

Assuming the fan is never sick enough to visit the doctor and incur a hospital bill, buys no new or even used clothes, has no cell phone, cable, or internet fees, has no other expenses, no retirement savings plan, and, of course, no season-ticket package, the fan has $10,000 in discretionary funds at his avail in 2008.

Of that $10,000, the fan has decided to purchase his four, $120 tickets to the Vikings' game against the Eagles on Sunday. That investment is 5% of the fan's discretionary funds for the year.

Diehard fans no doubt can justify spending 5% of their discretionary income on a playoff game, even if that leads to spending an additional 5% of discretionary income on merchandise, food, and beverage at the same game. Other fans, however, simply see greater value in putting aside such a chunk of money for something that offers greater return. And, when it comes to the Vikings, one can hardly blame them.

Despite the last-second victory last weekend over the New York Giants' B-team, the feeling was absolutely inescapable that the Vikings had played the single most boring game in the team's history. There were two big plays on offense--one a run by Adrian Peterson for a touchdown, the other a pass to Bernard Berrian for a touchdown when the defender fell down. The rest of the game featured such highlights as Naufahu Tahi being tackled in the backfield for a loss and Jim Kleinsasser catching a swing pass for two yards. That was Childress being imaginative. That was Childress attempting to inject some life into the offense and into a bored crowd.

For Vikings' fans not to want to pay a king's ransom for tickets to a playoff game is thus quite understandable. And, until all Minnesotans start to receive a dividend check on the $60 million plus profit that the reportedly revenue-poor Wilfs pull in each year as owners of the Vikings, there certainly is no reason to apologize for not pulling out the wallet to further support a team that benefits greatly from fans merely watching the games at home.

Up Next: How to Beat the Eagles.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The System Works

In his third season as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, Brad Childress finally has accomplished what his system engenders--a .500 coaching record. This year's 10-6 regular season finish has put the exclamation point on that system, leading not only to a playoff berth but also to the team's first ever NFC North banner.

The Vikings started the season losing three of four games to teams with a combined record of 43-21 (.672). They followed that with an 8-3 streak against teams with a combined record of 74-102 (.420).

During the team's 1-3 start, the Vikings were outscored by 11 points or just under 3 points per game. That was slightly better than the league average against the same opponents of being outscored by 4 points per game.

In the subsequent 8-3 streak, the Vikings outscored their opponents by 53 points or just under 5 points per game. That, too, was slightly better than the league average of outscoring these same opponents by just over two points per game.

All of which suggests that the Vikings finished right about where their on-field performance suggests that they should have finished--near the middle of the pack, not too far from the top but also not too far from the top-rung of the bottom third of the league.

Last year, such results would have been cause for concern for any team heading into the playoffs. For most 2008 playoff teams, the same cannot be said.

The Vikings, however, face a different predicament than do most 2008 NFL playoff teams. For, in the first round of the playoffs, the Vikings face the Philadelphia Eagles, the team with the fifth greatest positive scoring differential in the league, outscoring their opponents by more than one touchdown per game. That, despite playing teams with a combined record of 100-91-1 (.523).

For a Minnesota team intent on playing within the margins, the Eagles thus offer a stiff challenge--as well as a stern test of Childress' system.

Up Next: Trending.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Ultimate Trap Game

The Minnesota Vikings enter Sunday's regular season, home finale against the NFC East champion New York Giants a staggering seven point favorite. Vikings' fans know well to be wary of such games. For, in big games, particularly in games that the Vikings must win to make it to or advance in the playoffs, the Vikings have a spectacular way of disappointing.

The Giants enter Sunday's road game with little for which to play. Having already secured home-field advantage and a first-round bye in the playoffs, only the ever elusive momentum is of any meaning to the team. Giants' head coach Tom Coughlin already has made clear that that concern, alone, will not suffice to compel him to play all of his starters.

Likely to sit for all or most of Sunday's game against the Vikings are Giants' starting cornerback Aaron Ross, running back Brandon Jacobs, offensive tackle Kareem McKenzie, defensive tackle Barry Cofield, tight end Kevin Boss, and defensive end Justin Tuck. And the Giants are already without suspended wide-receiver Plaxico Burress.

Playing a Giants' team absent several of the players that make the Giants one of the more formidable teams in the NFL certainly is a promising advantage for the Vikings. But the reality of the situation is that the Vikings still face a near must-win situation against a team that has depth at virtually every position, save quarterback.

If Tuck and Cofied sit out, Renaldo Wynn and Jeremy Clark can fill in--that should be good enough to fill holes and allow a linebacking corps led by Antonio Pierce to exert pressure on Tarvaris Jackson. And if Brandon Jacobs is out, the even more brutish Derrick Ward moves up to number one and the equally talented Ahmad Bradshaw becomes the backup--Jacobs has nearly 1100 yards rushing this season, Ward has almost 1000--a nice complement to a Pro Bowl-caliber running back.

Even acknowledging the Giants' depth, however, the Vikings are favored in large part because they are at home, have everything for which to play, have talent at critical positions, and seemingly are aware of the trap before them.

But Vikings' fans have seen this far too many times before. In that game in the desert, the Vikings were all on notice that the game was a trap. Arizona was starting a never-was quarterback and was generally lousy in all phases of the game. The Vikings, conversely, had respectable talent. Only the fact that the Vikings were on the road was cause for alarm among bettors, but, presumably, the Vikings had taken that into account as well. And still, when it mattered most, the Vikings lost.

That should not happen today. But things that ought not to happen always seem to happen to the Vikings.

Up Next: Post-Game or Post-Season?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Eighth Circuit Unlikely to Come to NFL's Immediate Rescue in Suit Against Vikings' Williamses

The NFL added a new wrinkle to its on-going battle with the NFLPA on Monday, filing an appeal with the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals on the very day that Federal District Court Judge Paul Magnuson had set as the deadline for scheduling further proceedings in the case of Pat and Kevin Williams, and three other NFL players, regarding the players' use of a banned substance.

Filing an interlocutory appeal is not an unusual tactic in federal court. There is, however, no certainty that the NFL will obtain the review that it is requesting and a much greater probability that the NFL's legal maneuver will serve only to further irritate Judge Magnuson and cast the NFL in a lesser light in the eyes of the Midwest-laden 8th Circuit judges.

Interlocutory appeals generally are granted only in the rare circumstance that the lower court, though having not yet completed deliberations on the case in issue, has completely misread the contested issue(s). Concerns for the fate of one party absent expeditious review of the claimed erroneous lower court review generally are required for the court of appeal to grant an interlocutory appeal.

The argument for not granting an interlocutory appeal is that it burdens the courts and undermines the process. By granting the interlocutory appeal, the court is essentially allowing a party to make the very case that that party likely plans to make should it lose its case in the lower court. That not only subverts the intended order of appeal but also substantially increases the likelihood of cases being brought to the court of appeals twice. That's not something that an already overburdened federal court judge will look upon lightly.

The NFL's primary argument in this case presumably is that Judge Magnuson erred by not identifying the plenary authority of the NFL to mete out punishment under the NFL-NFLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Under the CBA, the NFL is the sole arbiter on matters pertaining to league drug policy, including issues related to player suspensions and fines.

The Williamses have argued that the NFL has failed to follow its own drug policy, thus calling into question the justness of the policy, as applied.

If the 8th Circuit grants the NFL a hearing on its appeal, it is a near certainty that it will be doing so because it agrees with the NFL. That would mean that the Vikings would lose Kevin and Pat Williams for the team's next four games, likely beginning with Sunday's game against the New York Giants for Kevin. Such a result seems highly unlikely, however.

As a general matter, the Federal Circuits have been split on the issue of granting interlocutory appeals. The Eighth Circuit has remained willing to consider such appeals but clearly favors not granting interlocutory appeals other than as a final resort.

Because there is no pressing urgency for the NFL to have its case heard, and because the issue that the NFL is raising on appeal is the very same issue that the NFL and the NFLPA already have before Judge Magnuson, there is little reason for the 8th Circuit to grant the NFL's interlocutory appeal.

The upshot for Vikings' fans is that Kevin Williams likely will be available to play for the remainder of the 2008 NFL season, as will be Pat Williams, should he recover from his injury in time.

Up Next: Dragging to the Line. Plus, more on the Williamses and the NFL CBA.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Pissed Away

For much of Sunday's Minnesota Vikings' game, it appeared that a victory just was not meant to be. After three quarters, the Vikings owned the yardage battle but trailed by a seemingly insurmountable 24-7 score, due, in large part, to numerous offensive turnovers and miscues.

The Vikings' woes were compounded by the fact that virtually everything that has humbled the team this season seemed to be operating in the team's favor this week. Tarvaris Jackson was throwing the ball with zip and into tight and open spaces alike, Visanthe Shiancoe was catching the ball and scoring, and the coaching staff seemed intent on ridding itself of the shackles of a conservative offense.

Then the Vikings drew to within striking distance and the Vikings' steamroller turned into a pumpkin. With the clock seemingly the greatest adversary, the Vikings resorted to long huddles, non-chalant movements to the line and back to the huddle, and even a timeout on a dead ball play--their final timeout.

Jackson and the coaching staff added to the Vikings' late-game misery by returning to conservative play-calling--frequently resorting to dump-off plays in the middle of the field despite the lack of timeouts, a running game clock, and a need for large chunks of yardage--and Jackson returned to the form that had him relegated to the bench after week two of the season, failing miserably on deep ball attempts, throwing off of his back foot, and failing to take command of the game.

It was a pitiful end to a game that the Falcons appeared equally intent on giving to Minnesota.

For the Vikings, the loss is not catastrophic. A win next week, or a Chicago loss either tomorrow night or next Sunday, and the Vikings still make the playoffs, albeit with no shot at homefield advantage beyond the first round.

But if a single loss can paint the tale of a franchise, it was Sunday's Vikings' loss to the Falcons. The Vikings' premier player, Adrian Peterson, fumbled three more times this week, giving him six fumbles in three weeks. After a brilliant start to the game, Jackson was lost when the game was on the line--at least when he stayed in the pocket. And, when it mattered most, when the Vikings had the chance to march down the field against a Falcons' defense that has yielded nearly 300 yards of offense per game this season to rank near the bottom of the NFL, Childress returned to conservative ball.

All of which makes one still wonder whether, when the chips are on the line, Childress and Jackson can do what Childress and Jackson need to do for the Vikings to make the playoffs and have a measure of success there this season. If Jackson can play as he did in the first half, the Vikings can be outstanding. If, however, he resorts to his passing antics late in the game--or, worse yet, is encumbered by the long-reach of Childress' smothering and choking offense in a tight game--the season might already be over.

Up Next: The Williams' Suit. Plus, More post-game.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Biggest Test Yet?

Over the past six quarters of football, Minnesota Vikings' erstwhile back-up quarterback Tarvaris Jackson has thrown five touchdown passes without an interception. Compared to his one touchdown and one pick from the first two games of the 2008 season, those numbers are both strong and promising.

Despite the impressive touchdown to interception ratio, however, there remain questions about just how much Jackson has improved during his time as resident clipboard holder. Around the league, and, more evidently, around the Twin Cities, the sentiment appears to be that Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons will provide the first meaningful barometer of Jackson's progress.

At 9-5 in the competitive NFC South, there certainly is a strong argument to be made that Atlanta will provide a much tougher challenge for Jackson and the Vikings than did either the Detroit Lions or the Arizona Cardinals. With victories over the Saints, Chargers, Panthers, and Buccaneers, the Falcons have accomplished what the Lions certainly have not and what even the Cardinals have strained to do this season, beating competitive teams and winning games both at home and on the road.

Still, there is reason to doubt the Falcons' legitimacy. Of their nine victories this season, only three have been against teams with winning records and all of those victories have been at home.

Offensively, the Falcons showcase three rising stars in wide-receiver Roddy White, running back Michael Turner, and quarterback Matt Ryan. For the better part of the season, Ryan has been better than anything that the Vikings have put on the field at quarterback and has steadily improved his play--something Vikings' fans have been assured is a virtual impossibility for a rookie (or second- or third-year) quarterback in the NFL.

The Vikings have been greatly improved against the pass this season with defensive end Jared Allen offering real pressure on the edge where not even a semblance of pressure existed last year, the Vikings' secondary playing much better in coverage and in tackling after the catch, and the Vikings' interior defensive linemen doing what they have done for each of the past three years--stuffing the run.

Without the injured Pat Williams, the Vikings should have a tougher test against Turner. If Turner is able to run and Ryan does what he has been doing to opposing teams, this game will be a good gauge of where the Vikings stand overall.

Rushing defense aside, the most anticipated issue for the Vikings will be Jackson's ability to read and react to Atlanta's defense. Last week, the Falcons flustered Buccaneer quarterback Brian Griese, recording four sacks and an interception.

Despite the pressure, however, the Falcons yielded 269 yards passing to a modestly mobile backup quarterback in a tight and low-scoring game. For a more agile quarterback such as Jackson, that should be a good sign, as well as a sign that Atlanta's defense is less to be feared this week than is the Falcons' offense.

Atlanta is yielding 343 yards of offense per game, near the league bottom, but only 20 points per game, near the league top. Minnesota is averaging 329 yards of offense per game and 24 points per game (roughly 20 points from the offense).

On offense, the Falcons are averaging 367 yards per game and 24 points per game (roughly 20 points from the offense). Minnesota is yielding 292 yards per game but only 20 points per game.

Statistically speaking, the Vikings and Falcons thus appear to be carbon copies of each other. The difference, however, is that, while the Falcons have accomplished their feats with the same key players on the field, the Vikings will be relying on two players who have not been part of most of the team's regular-season accomplishments. One of those players, Williams' backup, is certain to be a downgrade. The other, Jackson, must be viewed as an upgrade given his ability to move outside the pocket and avoid the Falcons' strong pass rush.

Barring jitters by an Atlanta team desperately in need of a victory to keep its playoff hopes alive, this game looks like it will come down to kickers and home-field advantage. It might not be the stern test that many are anticipating for Jackson, but it will be better than what either Detroit or Arizona offered.

Best Bet: Vikings 22 over Atlanta 20.

Up Next: More on the Vikings' Supplemental Drug Issues. Plus, post-game.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Miles to Go to Redemption

Following Minnesota's victory on Sunday over the Arizona Cardinals, our resident West-side scribe contended that Minnesota Vikings' head coach Brad Childress was due some apologies for his wisdom in drafting Tarvaris Jackson and for his coaching ability. Neither contention could be further from the truth.

Two weeks ago, the Vikings struggled mightily against arguably the worst NFL team in the Super Bowl era before amassing 17 second-half points en route to a four-point victory. On Sunday, the Vikings scored 28 points on offense against a team that has allowed nearly 26 points per game, nearly a league worst.

That the Vikings' stout defense, one of the best in the game with four players duly voted onto this year's Pro Bowl team, held the Cardinals' offense to 14 points is no mean feat. But therein lies the rub for those quick to rush to the sphincter of Vikings' head coach Brad Childress to express as many mea culpas as necessary to reingratiate themselves.

Despite the offensive output on Sunday, the Vikings once again won in Arizona primarily on the strength of their defense. That, as time suggests, is a function of very good players and quality coaching on the defensive side of the ball. It is, by no means, vindication either for Childress' suspect history with Minnesota or Childress' decision to trade up to take quarterback Tarvaris Jackson in the 2006 NFL draft.

The point has been made before that Childress has done little with a team which, upon being hired, he referred to as "loaded with talent" and ready to move beyond the 9-7 mark set by Mike Tice in his final season as head coach of the Vikings. For those who have forgotten and prefer the short version, it is that Childress has taken a 9-7 team with talent, added the best running back and left guard in the league, one of the best defensive ends, a starting running back as a sidekick to the top running back, and a speedy wide receiver and has improved the team to 9-5 in three seasons.

To now suggest, on the basis of a mere game and one-half of play the likes of which has done nothing more than bring the Vikings' offense nearly to the level of the league average, that that play somehow vindicates all, or even most of what Childress has done as a head coach with Minnesota is pure fantasy.

Nor, despite Jackson's solid quarterback rating and ability to avoid the turnover, is there yet reason to praise Childress' acumen either in trading up to take Jackson or in anointing the green quarterback the next coming despite ample evidence to the contrary that Jackson was not ready to start in the NFL. As noted here, that experiment, given the aging nature of the Vikings at key positions, not only was presumptuous, it also wasted what should have been a very good two years for the organization on the field.

For the game Sunday, Jackson was 11-17 for 163 yards. Four times, Jackson found receivers who then scored. That's good. But it's one game and very likely an anomaly given the Vikings' offensive approach and Jackson's own erratic play.

Sunday was not the first time that Jackson has done something impressive on the field. What has hurt Jackson has been his inability to be both consistent and timely. Maybe that will change. But maybe it won't. One game against Arizona's defense and one good stat line are not the stuff of statistical relevance.

The Vikings' brass love to trot out the line that it takes three years for a college quarterback to make the transition to the NFL. For those gushing over Jackson's solitary recent performance, the three-year line now has become prescient. It ought not be.

This year, six quarterbacks received starter designations for the first time in the NFL. One of those quarterbacks had not started a game since high school, yet has thrown three or more touchdowns in four games this season. Two are likely to pass for over 4,000 yards. And all six look like better prospects than Jackson.

Despite his highly lauded performance on Sunday, Jackson still finished Sunday's game with a meager 163 yards passing. As Childress is fond of saying, "it don't matter how you do it, as long as you do it." But it does matter how you do it against the teams that are well rounded, as few and far between as those teams might be this year, because against those teams you don't get it done if you don't do it well.

Of the starting quarterbacks in the NFL this week, Jackson was not even in the top twenty in passing yardage. One suspects that that's a statistic that will carry more weight if and when the Vikings face a defense interested in defending. Until then, it's still unclear what the Vikings have in Jackson.

And there's certainly no reason to offer mea culpas to Childress, either for getting his talent-laden team to 9-5 in a weak NFC or for tabbing Jackson as the heir apparent.

Up Next: Pat Williams' Decisions.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ever the Contrarians Vikings Move to Within One Game of Playoffs

To be sure, the Arizona Cardinals were ripe for an upset. The Cardinals have no running game of which to speak, they frequently cede early leads, and they already had clinched their division with only home-field advantage left to play for. And there was the fact that the Cardinals were the favorites on Sunday.

Without even checking the history books, nearly every Vikings' fan knows when the Vikings are most poised for victory or defeat. The Vikings lose when they should win and win when they should lose. Today, the Vikings won when all signs pointed to a loss, albeit a close loss.

That the Vikings were starting a quarterback who had been demoted to backup without a clear future was only the first sign of foreboding to the uninitiated prior to Sunday's game in the desert. There was also the issue of who the Vikings were facing--the NFL's top-ranked quarterback and equally impressive receiving corps. Add to the mix the fact that the Vikings were on the road and all signs pointed to a closely managed loss.

But things did not go according to script on Sunday. Or they did.

Rather than cede a lead, the Vikings' special teams established an early lead on a long punt return by Bernard Berrian. The run continued with the Vikings and Jackson going to the air. Despite finishing the game with a mere 169 yards passing, Jackson connected for four touchdowns on only 11 completions.

It was good strategy for the Vikings, the kind that this team has lacked in all but the most precious of moments during head coach Brad Childress' tenure with the Vikings. Rather than rely exclusively on the run with Jackson in the game for an injured Gus Frerotte, the Vikings immediately went to the air. And, if it is possible to claim to have stayed with the passing game when the team passed only 17 times, the Vikings did just that, with Jackson identifying not one, not two, but three wide receivers on a team heretofore suspected of having a single wideout.

After building a lead in uncharacteristic passing fashion, Childress turned to Adrian Peterson to rip off chunks of yardage and run down the game clock. It looked competent, it looked competitive, it looked Giant-esque.

The question of many Vikings' fans--one offered in previous seasons after similar impressive victories--is where this game plan and result have been for the better part of three seasons. If the Vikings continue with this philosophy for the final two games of the regular season and into the playoffs, that question will die down. If not, those suspicious of Childress' approach to coaching will only have more ammunition for their critiques.

Up Next: The Williams' Challenge. Plus, playoff bound.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

When 8-5 Feels Like 6-6

On Sunday afternoon, the Minnesota Vikings traveled to Ford Field to take on the 0-12 Detroit Lions. There has been no trick to beating the hapless Lions this season. Show up and Detroit collapses.

That rule of thumb has held for every game this year, including Sunday's Vikings' victory that pushed the Lions to 0-13. To Vikings' head coach Brad Childress, that's all that matters. To paying customers who expect to receive a better return on their high-priced tickets and time spent watching the team, being one of two teams this year to allow the Lions to stay within a touchdown and the only team to do so twice makes this year's Vikings underwhelming, even at 8-5.

For the eternal optimists among the Vikings' faithful, there are several promising signs. At 8-5, the Vikings are in prime position to make the playoffs for the first time in the Childress era. Two more wins or one more win combined with a Chicago loss and the Vikings win the NFC North.

For optimists, the Vikings' edge in the race to make the playoffs only slightly bests the encouraging signs from erstwhile starting quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. After hitting several open receivers on Sunday and guiding the Vikings to two second-half touchdowns, Jackson did what Gus Frerotte was unable to do and did so while using a skill that long-ago abandoned Frerotte, the ability to scramble.

Pessimists will be quick to note, however, that, despite the 8-5 record, the Vikings could still finish with the third best record in the NFC North with losses in the team's remaining three games. With games left against Arizona, Atlanta, and the New York Giants, that's not beyond the realm of possibilities, particularly if U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson upholds the NFL's suspension of Pat and Kevin Williams.

Even losses in two of the team's remaining three games, however, combined with Chicago victories in two of Chicago's remaining three games, likely would leave the Vikings out of the playoffs. With a far easier remaining schedule, the Bears well could run the table, forcing the Vikings to win at least two of three to clinch a playoff spot.

What complicates the Vikings' situation further, the pessimists will contend, is that the Vikings very likely will have to rely on the continuing uneven performance of third-year quarterback Tarvaris Jackson for some or all of the team's remaining games. On Sunday, Jackson hit open receivers. But he also continued to exhibit the weaknesses that made him easy for most teams to defend against and made him a liability as a starting quarterback.

It was no surprise to see the Vikings call on Jackson to hit the deep pass early in the second half of his first real action since week two of the season. Nor was it any real surprise to see Jackson wildly overthrow the intended receiver. That, after all, was one of Jackson's unfathomable weaknesses as a starter. For whatever reason, he simply seems to have no feel for the deep pass. In the rare instance that such a pass connects, it seems fortuitous rather than skilled. And for a team that only uses the deep pass once or twice a game, that's a significant short-coming for a starting quarterback to exhibit.

Nor does Jackson necessarily make up for his deep-ball short-coming by demonstrating poise in the pocket. Jackson was fortunate not to have a horribly thrown pass picked by any one of three defenders in the second half Sunday. A pick and the game would have been over. Only Detroit's penchant for missing on such plays seemed to save the day for the Vikings and Jackson. Similar fortune should not be expected against the Cardinals, Falcons, or Giants.

Finally, pessimists will note, the Vikings did to a far lesser extent on Sunday, what all other Lions' opponents have done this year. They threw less against the Lions, ran for less, and scored less. That recipe works against the Lions because the Lions are so magnificently deficient in each of these areas. Against better competition--the likes of which the Vikings will face the next three weeks and, should they move on, in the playoffs--the Vikings' best prospects thus appear still more hopeful than certain. That is is why some Vikings' fans remain unconvinced that this team is any different from Childress' previous two teams in Minnesota.

Up Next: The Pat and Kevin Williams Saga Continues.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Childress' Rhetoric Won't Fly in Michigan

The Minnesota Vikings travel to Ford Field today to take on the winless Detroit Lions. And, despite what Vikings' head coach Brad Childress would lead any who listen to believe, the Vikings ought to blow the Lions off the field.

Earlier in the week, it appeared that the Vikings might have to make do without either of their starting defensive tackles against a team with a modest rushing attack and a lesser passing game. We now know that both Pat and Kevin Williams will play against the Lions--a reality that should make the Lions' offense non-dimensional.

On the season, the Lions have scored 203 points. That's less than seventeen points per game, better only than Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Oakland and nearly 13 points fewer per game than the league-leading New York Giants.

Worse yet, the Lions have mustered a paltry 78 rushing yards per game, placing them ahead of only the running-back-less Bengals and Arizona Cardinals and giving them a mere 82 yards less per game than the league-leading Giants. Against the Titans, a team ranking ten slots below the Vikings in rushing yards allowed per game, the Lions gained only 23 yards rushing.

Unlike the Cardinals, the Lions have been unable to off-set their lack of a running game with any semblance of a passing attack, ranking near the bottom of the NFL in passing yards per game, ahead of only the usual suspects; the Lions' 182 passing yards per game leaves them just shy of the league-leading Saints' 316 passing yards per game.

On defense, the Vikings allow 73 rushing yards per game, good for second best in the league, and a respectable 219 passing yards per game. In short, the Vikings' defense should be too much for the Lions' woeful offense.

As ineffective and anemic as the Lions' offense has been in 2008, their defense has been far worse. While the Lions' passing yards allowed mirrors that of the Vikings, it merely masks the fact that no team has either the inclination or the need to bother passing against a truly terrible pass defense when they can run right through one of the worst run defenses ever assembled.

The Vikings rank just one spot ahead of the Lions in passing deficiency, averaging only 184 yards per game, but they rank fourth in the league in rushing offense with 143 yards per game. Tennessee, which follows in sixth place in league rushing, chewed up the Lions' defense for 292 rushing yards last week. Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor ought to be able to approach, if not outright obliterate that figure, today.

Detroit has allowed an incredible 33 points game this season with an average margin of defeat of sixteen points. Only once this season have the Lions finished a game within a field goal of their opponent and only two other times have they finished within a touchdown. They truly are a team of historic ineptitude.

Despite the woes and, more particularly, the margins of defeat that the Lions have suffered in 2008, Childress continues to contend that the Lions are "dangerous" and that the Vikings should expect a close game today because "there are very few blowouts in the NFL."

If one defines a blowout as a two touchdown or greater victory--math surely even supported in Childress' conservative world of statistical analysis--then there are, in fact, numerous blowouts in the NFL. Last week alone, there were nine such scores with six games decided by three touchdowns or more.

We know why Childress continues to contend that "most games in the NFL are close." It is because most of the games that he coaches close and he sees everything through the prism of those games. That's his world. That's his box.

Against the Lions, however, there will be no excuse for losing. And there really won't be any excuse, though we know we would get one anyway (something along the lines of "a win is a win--we'll take 'em any way we can get 'em"), for the Vikings to fail to run up the score on the Lions. It is, after all, the default this year in the NFL.

In spite of Childress' pulling of the reins, the Vikings should roll and roll big.

Up Next: More on the Williams' Legal Issues. Plus, post-game.

Friday, December 05, 2008

NFL's Fumbles Are Williams' Gain

Late today, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson upheld a lower court grant of a temporary restraining order (TRO) that will allow Minnesota Vikings' players Pat and Kevin Williams to continue practicing and playing with the Vikings until the Court has had the opportunity to hear further arguments on the players' claims. The ruling likely means that the Williamses not only will be available for Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions, but also for the remainder of the 2008 season, including any playoff games that the Vikings play.

Evidence raised at the hearing suggests that, prior to requesting that the Court overturn the TRO, the NFL had done considerable damage to its own cause. As previously noted on this site, the most compelling argument for the players in this case is that despite having a policy of strict liability on drug use, the NFL has undermined the policy by providing occasional information on newly banned substances and substances about which the players "should be aware." Though arguably helpful to the players, these actions suggest that the NFL understood that a policy of strict liability was not feasible. This is a point about which Judge Magnuson clearly had some concerns.

The NFL further burdened its cause in this case by concealing from players the league doctor's discovery of a banned substance in StarCaps. Rather than directly informing the players of this discovery, the league opted to send a general warning about StarCaps to each team and to the NFLPA. That might have been excusable, except that the league, in explaining its thought process to Judge Magnuson, claimed that it did not directly inform the players of the discovery regarding StarCaps' ingredients because it did not want to create the impression that the league was deviating from a policy of strict liability.

Of course, the league had already deviated from the policy of strict liability. The additional revelation to the Court only served further to cloud the issue and call into question the professionalism of the league in administering its policy. And it all but required Judge Magnuson to let stand the TRO and proceed with players' claim.

And if issue of whether the players in this case received the benefit of the due process required under the league's collective bargaining agreement were not already clouded, the attorney for the Williamses argued that both Pat and Kevin had called the league's banned substances hotline to specifically inquire whether StarCaps is a banned substance. The Williams' attorney contends that the players' calls went unanswered. Though the claim is suspicious, given that it is being raised several weeks after Vikings' wide-receiver Bernard Berrian made a similar allegation and that the Williamses, heretofore, have not raised this defense--a near-winning defense that one would presume would have been the heart of the players' defense--that the NFL has acknowledged difficulties with its hotline does not bode well for the NFL.

Despite the NFL's miscues, Friday's ruling does not necessarily let the Williamses off the hook. Instead, it merely buys the two players additional time. The irony is that the NFL's request for a change of venue, presumably made to avoid having the case heard in front of a Viking friendly Hennepin County judge, will now, instead, be heard in front of a home-town judge in a federal system known for being at least as protective of workers' rights as would be a Hennepin County judge. Moreover, with the move to the federal court system, delays are far more likely, particularly since the party against whom delays would be a burden, the players, have prevailed in the initial hearing regarding the TRO.

With billions of dollars in annual revenue, it is astonishing that the NFL would mess up what ought to have been a fairly clear drug policy by not paying attention to details. That they have done so, however, has operated to the Williamses and the Vikings' advantage. Even if the Williamses ultimately are fined or suspended for circumventing the league's ban on use of diuretics to meet contractual weight-clause terms, the suspensions likely will not occur this year and certainly will be meted out only after the Court has lectured the league on its policies. That could lead to a lesser suspension and/or lesser fines.

Up Next: Misdirection--What Childress Said, But the Opposite.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

UnClean Hands Versus Assumption of Obligation Versus Lack of Jurisdiction

On Tuesday evening, the NFL Commissioner's Office announced that the NFL will be upholding the four-game suspensions that it had earlier handed down to Minnesota Vikings' defensive tackles Pat and Kevin Williams for use of a diuretic containing a substance banned by the NFL. The suspensions, set to begin with Sunday's game against the hapless Detroit Lions, would leave the Vikings thin at a position otherwise considered one of the team's strengths.

Already, Kevin Williams' agent has announced that Kevin will be filing an appeal in U.S. District Court. Presumably, Pat Williams will file an appeal as well.

Neither the grounds nor the jurisdiction of an outside court to hear an appeal are clear at this point. Because both Vikings' players were suspended under the NFL's collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players' Union, it is arguable that the District Court does not have jurisdiction over the matter and that, should the players have a dispute with the decision, they would have only the NFL to which they could appeal. Given that the players already have exhausted their appeals under the collective bargaining agreement, however, they might well be stuck with the league's determination and be forced to sit out four games.

Should the players gain a hearing in federal court, they likely will be forced to argue against two separate charges--only one of which resulted in their initial penalty, that of using a banned substance. The second charge is that both players used a diuretic in direct contradiction of the collective bargaining agreement which disallows use of a diuretic for the purpose of meeting weight-based incentives.

Because the NFL's policy is one of strict liability, whether the players intended to use banned substances is not germane; all that matters is whether the players used banned substances. The case, thus, will hinge on whether the players used "banned substances," if it any longer hinges on anything at all.

The best argument that the players appear to have at their avail--and one that they presumably already have made at league offices--is that they received information on the specific diuretic that they were taking that contradicts the information that the NFL is now claiming to have sent to the NFLPA and each team in December of 2006. The players ought also to argue that they were not taking diuretics to meet weight-based incentives in their contracts but for some other reason, such as to regulate their weight on a year-round basis to promote overall good health--though it's difficult to imagine that any rational arbiter would conclude that the diuretics were used for any other reason than to meet weight-based incentives in the players' contracts.

The league appears to have a solid case against the Vikings' defensive tackles. The Williamses do not deny taking the diuretic; the league has a strict liability policy; and the Williams' best argument appears to be lack of a proper warning--an argument that flies in the face of strict liability.

Only one door appears to be open to the players for appeal. That door is the one opened by the league by its somewhat curious statement regarding its own policy.

In a press release, the league dismissed the Williams' chief point of appeal--that they did not receive adequate notice of the banned substance--on the ground of strict liability. The league went on to say, however, that, although neither the league nor the NFLPA ever even contemplated that it would be the duty of the league to tell players what products they could not use, leaving that for the players to determine based on the product's ingredients and the list of banned products kept and distributed to the players by the league, the league, nevertheless, sent out two memos regarding products produced and sold by the same company that made the Starcaps diuretic that the Williamses reportedly used.

While it is admirable for the NFL to go above and beyond its commitment under the collective bargaining agreement to keep players informed on products that run afoul of the league's banned substances list, it is also rather foolish from a legal perspective. For, by sending this information, the league arguably has assumed a duty to send a complete and accurate list. And if the Starcaps brand that the Williamses used was not strictly prohibited, the Williamses at least have an opening to argue that it ought to have been to justify the punishment that the league rendered for their use of the product.

The Williams' best argument is, thus, that the league assumed a duty that it failed to meet when it failed to notify them about a substance that the league knew or had reason to know ran afoul of the league's banned substances list.

The league has already established a counter to this charge by suggesting unclean hands on the part of the Williamses for using a diuretic to meet weight-based contract incentives.

It is likely that only a highly sympathetic judge would grant review of the case as the matter involved appears to fall clearly and fully within the purview of the NFL. Even if the court agrees to hear the case, however, the best that the Williamses likely can hope for is a slow process, rather than the expedited process that the NFL is likely to request if it fails to have the case dismissed. And that might mean that the two tackles are unavailable if and when the Vikings make the playoffs rather than in the period in which the Vikings need them to make the playoffs.

In short, Vikings' fans probably ought to warm to the prospect of trying to make the playoffs without the services of either Pat or Kevin Williams. And warm to the notion that the suspensions could buy head coach Brad Childress another year should the team fail to make the playoffs this season.

Up Next: Misdirection.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Contrary to Unpopular Wisdom

Popular belief has it that Adrian Peterson is the best running back in the NFL and ought to be given every opportunity to show it. On Sunday night, Minnesota Vikings' head coach Brad Childress spent the better part of the first half against the equally addled Chicago Bears, attempting to disprove popular wisdom. Fortunately for the Vikings and their fans, while Bears' head coach Lovie Smith opted for the Childress playbook, Childress broke ranks.

After spending one full quarter running the conventional Childress road-to-nowhere offense, the Vikings caught a break early in the second quarter on Sunday when Adrian Peterson ripped off a 59-yard-run to the Bears' 6-yard-line. The Vikings then called a Peterson run to the Vikings' weak side for one yard and followed with two poorly devised and even more poorly executed jump-ball passes to the left corner of the end zone, the first of which should have been and nearly was intercepted.

The obvious playcall so close to the Bears' endzone was to stack the left side of the line with two tight ends and to give Peterson the ball. Predictably, however, the obvious playcall was not even a possibility on third down as the Vikings removed Peterson--the one guy for whom the Bears had no answer. The equally predictable result was a fourth-down field-goal attempt that the Vikings converted to pull within four.

Without belaboring the point, it is evident that Childress has become fixated with proving to anyone watching and/or listening that he has no need for conventional wisdom or even subtle derivations there of. Rather than the no-brainer, what the Childress playbook generally calls for is a common-sense call thrice removed. On this set of downs, that meant using option four when the Bears had failed to show that they could shut down option one.

Not to be outdone--in fact, as an apparent point of one-upmanship pride--Lovie Smith followed Childress' playcalling with some equally inept playcalling of his own.

After rookie running back Matt Forte scorched the Vikings for a 26-yard run around the left end, and Ray Edwards and Benny Sapp chipped in drive-saving penalties, the Bears found themselves at the Vikings' one-yard-line.

The natural call would have been Forte around the left or right end or a play-action pass--two plays that the Vikings had shown an inability to defend. Smith called the proper play on first down, but went to the wrong side and too deep, calling a pass to tight end Greg Olsen in the right corner of the endzone.

The first down miss apparently emboldened Smith to resort to the least viable alternatives. Instead of using a variation of what should have been a successful play, Smith opted to run up the gut against Minnesota. And he did so not once, not twice, but three times, the second play during which Smith inserted previously unused, practice squad fullback Jason Davis for the fullback's only carry of the game and season.

Naturally, the Vikings' stone-walled the Bears, turning Lovie's team over on downs at the one. The Bears never recovered and Lovie was left to explain to an incredulous Chicago media contingent why running three straight times at Pat and Kevin Williams seemed like the best option from the one. In classic Childress fashion, Lovie replied that the Bears "thought they saw something that they could exploit." In common parlance, that translates to "I thought I was smarter than everyone else."

While Lovie and the Bears continued their head-scratching play--typified by their failure to play a safety deep on Bernard Berrian's side when Childress' playbook clearly calls for one of his team's two deep passes of the game to be thrown from the Vikings' one-yard-line, as it did on the very next play--Childress, after possibly taking a few well-placed knocks to the head during halftime, either conceded the long-standing error of his ways or made one last ditch effort to show why his way is better.

Following a Chester Taylor rush for no gain from the Bears' one-yard-line, Childress inserted Peterson into the game calling on 28 to run up the gut. The logic, it appeared, was to prove to all that Peterson simply cannot get it done in goal-line situations. Never mind what wisdom suggested, Childress would show the World that he was right. Only he was wrong and the Vikings benefited courtesy an AP waltz into the endzone.

The victory over the Bears on Sunday was important, even critical, for the Vikings who, with a loss, effectively would have stood two games behind the Bears in the standings with but a slim chance of making the playoffs. But, perhaps equally as important to the team as the victory is the fact that Peterson walked into the endzone from the one-yard-line. For that play showed what all but Childress already knew--that Peterson is a goal line back.

If only Peterson had caught a pass out of the slot in a third down situation.

Up Next: Misdirection.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Missing Quarterback Has Vikings Left Wanting More Than Thankful

There are many things for which the Minnesota Vikings have to be thankful, including that they are not the Detroit Lions, Cincinnati Bengals, Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, Saint Louis Rams, Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns, or Kansas City Chiefs. They also should be thankful that, despite numerous coaching and some front-office blunders, they have made better use of their talent than have teams such as San Diego, Jacksonville, and Philadelphia.

But while there are things within the NFL for which the Vikings should be thankful, there are other things that they can only look upon with envy, including the Tennessee Titans' use of a similar system and arguably lesser talent to compile a far-superior record against comparable overall competition, the Dallas Cowboys' superior record despite having to rely on Brad Johnson at quarterback for one month of the season, Tampa Bay's and Carolina's superior records despite inferior overall teams, Arizona's receiving corps and the quarterback play of someone old enough to fall within Vikings' head coach Brad Childress' untouchables group of players, the New York Jets' rise to the top of the AFC East on the strength of the play of a modest running back and a veteran quarterback that the Vikings probably could have landed in the off-season, but for an agreement between the league, the Vikings, and Green Bay resulting from alleged tampering charges, the Steelers' continued good play under former Vikings' defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin, and the New England Patriots' solid play behind first-year starting quarterback Matt Cassel--a guy who had not started at quarterback since high school.

It thus appears that, while the Vikings have some things for which they should be grateful, they have just as many things for which they can be envious, and the set of things about which they can be envious includes far too many things the Vikings were supposed to be good at this year--running opponents into submission, passing teams out of the eight- and nine-men-in-the-box defensive sets, and improved coaching.

Though coaching remains status quo, the running game has failed to rile opposing defenses as it did at points last year namely because opposing teams still refuse to believe that the Vikings can beat them through the air. And through the first 11 games of the 2008 season, it is clear why this is the case.

In two starts for the team this season, quarterback Tarvaris Jackson failed to eclipse the 200-yard-passing mark. Gus Frerotte has been a significant upgrade in that respect, having eclipsed the 200-yard-passing mark in five of nine starts, but has failed to eclipse the 300-yard mark even once this season and has failed to break the 200-yard mark in four straight games, despite playing against suspect passing defenses in three of those four contests.

Frerotte's struggles are not limited to his yardage totals, however. After taking over for Jackson in week three, Frerotte has thrown 12 interceptions. Of those interceptions, five have come in the Vikings' last four games. The high interception total might be more tolerable were it paired with a superior touchdown value. Unfortunately, that has not been the case as Frerotte has tallied a mere 11 touchdown passes.

The value of having Frerotte in the game over Jackson was to have been that, as the beneficiary of 15 years in the NFL, Frerotte would make intelligent plays, knowing when to throw the ball away. While Frerotte has thrown away his share of balls, too often he has done so into the waiting arms of opposing defenders or far closer to those arms than to the arms of Vikings' receivers, and too often, 26 times, he has taken a sack.

Frerotte has several built-in excuses for his play, of course. Those excuses include the facts that his offensive line, until last week, was allowing far too much pressure, his receiving corps has been playing one up on the depth chart all season, two up in some instances, and the playcalling continues to allow teams to defend against all but one or two passes a game by playing close to the line as the Vikings virtually refuse to acknowledge what fans watching outside the Minnesota region readily recognize as an intermediate passing zone.

Despite the ready excuses, however, Frerotte's recent poor play has as much to do with his own poor decision-making as it does with any other factor or factors facing the quarterback. How bad has it been? Overall, almost as bad as it was under Jackson and, in instances, far worse.

For the season, Frerotte ranks 25th out of NFL starting quarterbacks, behind five rookies. Only Brett Favre (13) has thrown more interceptions than Frerotte's 12, and Favre did so over 11 games and against 20 touchdowns. In overall statistics, Frerotte compares grimly with J.T. O'Sullivan and Marc Bulger.

From holding the ball too long too often to scrambling on non-scrambler's legs, to simply throwing horrible passes too often, Frerotte has not done what one would expect from what Childress routinely terms a savvy veteran. What Frerotte needs to do is make better decisions. For while his play remains marginally above anything that could be expected of Jackson at this point, if his play does not improve beginning this week, there will be little reason for the Vikings to continue playing him over one of their less-experienced quarterbacks. And that will be a bad sign for all involved.

Up next: Bears Gimping In.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Childress Has Glen Mason Smiling

The Minnesota Vikings traveled to Jacksonville, Florida on Sunday in need of a victory to keep pace with their competition in the NFC North. Facing a 4-6 Jacksonville team that had lost three of its previous four games and that had only one home victory on the season, the Vikings were not exactly facing the toughest of tasks. Still, with a 1-4 road record of their own, the Vikings at least suggested a possible cure for the Jaguars' home ills.

Less than one minute into the game, however, the Vikings were the beneficiaries of two turnovers which they converted into immediate touchdowns. With a 14-0 lead and a solid rushing attack, even another horrible performance by quarterback Gus Frerotte could not stop the Vikings from keeping the Jaguars down.

While the victory over the Jaguars in a sometimes sloppy, sometimes boring, sometimes going-through-the-motions performance ensured that the Vikings would remain at least tied for the NFC North division lead heading into next weekend's games, it is difficult to view this game as necessarily portending a turning point in the Vikings' season. The Vikings still had difficulty covering kicks and punts, the coaching staff made at least two decisions that suggested, yet again, that it is collectively uncomfortable making decisions in game situations, the pass defense remained troublesome since the loss of E.J. Henderson, and the quarterback play continued its downward slide, approaching the territory once occupied solely by Tarvaris Jackson.

In sum, the Vikings won, despite exhibiting some of the same tendencies that have undermined the team since the beginning of the season. To take away from the victory any solid conviction that the Vikings have turned the corner, therefore, would be to put far too much weight on the quality of the Vikings' victory on Sunday.

With Sunday's victory, the Vikings are 6-5. Of the six victories, only one, pending the outcome of tonight's Green Bay-New Orleans game, came against a team with a winning record with the Vikings' opponents in those six games going 26-38 for a .406 winning percentage. Of the Vikings' five losses, none, again pending the results of Monday night's game, have come against a team with a losing record with those five opponents going 36-18 for a .667 winning percentage.

More telling than Sunday's result and the Vikings' record against winning and losing teams, however, is the team's overall scoring differential. With 253 points scored and 246 allowed, the Vikings are what they have been coached to be. They are a team that will play mostly close games, winning more against weaker teams and less against better teams. And all of the stats bear this out.

For Vikings' fans at least partially familiar with the Minnesota Gophers' tenure of Glen Mason, what came before and what has come after the Mason era, there certainly is plentiful evidence that things could be far worse than a coach who wins winnable games and loses losable games. But rarely are those who finish in the middle of the pack crowned with glory.

Up Next: Tice. Plus, What's up Gus?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Childress' Low Expectations Equate to Low Returns

When Minnesota Vikings' head coach Brad Childress arrived in Minnesota, he did so fortified with the strong belief that he brought with him an unbeatable brand of the West Coast offense. That brand, Childress noted at the time, was the very brand that had propelled the Philadelphia Eagles to the Super Bowl and was the one that would carry the Vikings to similar fortunes, and beyond.

Three years into the Childress regime, Minnesota Vikings' fans are still waiting.

Luke-warm advocates of Childress--because there are few if any true advocates of the much-maligned coach-turned-wiseman--will point to games against Chicago, Houston, and Green Bay as evidence that the Vikings' offense is beginning to turn the corner. Others will note games such as the most recent loss to Tampa Bay, in which the Vikings were able to muster only 13 points as evidence that, at best, Childress is overseeing an offense capable of good or bad results against any opponent on any given week.

That Childress' close-to-the-vest offense is capable of wildly swinging moods should come as no surprise, as everything that the Vikings do on offense is predicated on keeping things close. That means that if everything goes according to plan, the Vikings' offense can look good. Not great, but good.

But when things start to fall apart, as things have done on several occasions in 2008, things look bad. Sometimes very bad.

Quasi-apologists will point to the Vikings' lack of depth at wide receiver and limitations at quarterback--arguments that teams such as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who also have limitations along the offensive line and in the backfield, have made of themselves--as reasons for the Vikings' offensive mood swings.

While there is little doubt that the Vikings are without a number one receiver, using Bernard Berrian in that role when he is more suited to the number two role, are without a number two receiver when Berrian lines up as the number one receiver, using Bobby Wade as the number two when he is more suited to the number three or four role, and lack consistently good play at quarterback, these issues fall squarely on ownership and coaching.

For his part, Vikings' owner Zygi Wilf passed on an opportunity to pick up Randy Moss after making comments to the local media that he "never would have signed off on the trade of Moss" had he had had full control of the Vikings when the Moss trade was inked.

And for his part, Childress moved a capable number three receiver in Hank Baskett for a player no longer on the team, went with his "gut" in starting Tarvaris Jackson for nearly two seasons when Jackson was nowhere near ready to play in the NFL, made an amateurish move attempting to sneak a more capable rookie quarterback, Tyler Thigpen, onto the practice squad to preserve a roster spot for a player in whom he had virtually no confidence, Brooks Bollinger, and eschewed the opportunity to sign a capable Jeff Garcia.

But of all the errors that Childress has made in his time in Minnesota, none has been more glaring and more persistent than his refusal or inability to adjust to the realities of the modern NFL. For a coach who harps on offense and considers himself a great offensive mind, there is little evidence in the record to suggest that Childress understands what it takes to put a consistently capable offense on the field. For Vikings' fans who see numerous adjustments that could be made to effect the offense positively, consternation is only increasing.

As evidence of the Vikings' primary offensive shortcoming, the failure to move opposing teams' defenses off of the line of scrimmage, one need look only at one of Childress' oft-cited statistics, explosive plays--plays gaining 20 yards or more. The play of the Vikings' and Arizona Cardinals' offenses against one of the better defenses in the NFL, the Carolina Panthers', highlights the discrepancy between the Vikings' modest and the Cardinals' robust offense.

Excluding plays on which there was a sack, penalty, or turnover, the Vikings ran 49 offensive plays against the Panthers. Of those 49 plays, 22 gained less than five yards, 24 gained five yards or more but less than 20 yards, and 3 gained 20 yards or more. The numbers are consistent with a Vikings' game plan that routinely attempts two to three deep plays a game and occasionally picks up a long run from Adrian Peterson.

Against the same defense, running an identical 49 plays, the Cardinals had 13 plays of less than five yards (two for touchdowns), 30 plays over 5 yards but under 20 yards, and six plays of 20 yards or greater.

At first blush, the numbers might appear close. But as a percentage of the whole, they suggest a wildly divergent offensive approach. The numbers reveal that Arizona picked up 5 or more yards on 61% of the team's plays as opposed to 49% for Minnesota and that Arizona had explosive plays on 12% of its plays compared to 6% for Minnesota. Equally, if not more telling is that 45% of Minnesota's plays went for less than five yards while only 26% of Arizona's did so.

While it is undeniable that Arizona has far superior receivers and a superior quarterback, it is also true that Minnesota has far better offensive linemen, warts and all, superior running backs, and superior tight ends. That the distance between Minnesota and Arizona, against identical and solid defensive opposition is so wide, is not the function of who is playing as much as it is a function of the offensive system.

Minnesota's offense produces less because Childress expects it to produce less. The team takes as few offensive risks as any in the NFL, preferring not only low-risk plays to the higher risk ones but also the extremely low-risk plays to the merely low-risk ones. That, and Childress' general risk-averse, status-quo nature are sound recipes for a .500 season.

Up Next: Tice versus Childress.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Nothing Out of the Ordinary

In the aftermath of yet another Vikings' loss in Tampa Bay, Minnesota Vikings' head coach Brad Childress was asked why it was that, on critical drives in the fourth quarter, the Vikings' most valuable offensive weapon, Adrian Peterson, was on the sidelines rather than in the game.

"I don't even know that he was," Childress almost assuredly lied. "I don't know how many offensive plays we ran in the entire fourth quarter--four, maybe five," the coach guessed. "My guess is that whatever we did was nothing out of the ordinary."

For the record, the Vikings ran eight offensive plays in the fourth quarter with Peterson on the field for two and carrying the ball on one. On the final two drives, with the game on the line, Peterson stood on the sidelines next to running back's coach Eric Bieniemy appearing quite animated and perturbed about not being in the game.

What Peterson apparently did not realize was that it was the fourth quarter and the game was on the line. Where else ought he have expected to be? A player that made Green Bay's defense look hopeless over seventy yards of a game-winning drive one week earlier surely was no match for a Buccaneers' defense that had allowed him to gallop for seventy yards in the first half of Sunday's game.

Some might argue that Peterson and his 4.5-yards-per-rush was a better option at running back at any time in the fourth quarter than was Chester Taylor, the man in the backfield for all eight feeble offensive plays in the fourth quarter. But that would require overlooking the fact that the Vikings were in passing mode for much of the fourth quarter and that Taylor had 2 receptions for 15 yards to Peterson's 1 for -3 yards on Sunday. Clearly, on the basis of this sample alone, Taylor was the more logical choice.

Others, willing to concede Taylor's superiority to Peterson in the backfield with the game on the line, might note that Peterson could have been used as a second running back rather than as a lone back. But, as coach Childress has informed us on several occasions, "A.P. doesn't like another guy back there with him." That would be that, of course, as a head coach certainly is not allowed to substitute his judgment for that of a player's. But there is the added issue that using two running backs would have meant using only one receiver as the Vikings were in a two-tight end set for most of the fourth quarter.

Some might also argue that, rather than line Peterson up in the backfield beside Taylor, the Vikings could have made use of Peterson as a slot receiver. This, of course, is the most infantile of all claims. On Sunday, such a move would have meant pushing to the bench Bobby Wade and his two receptions--double Peterson's receptions on Sunday. The "chart" said to use Wade. Common sense suggested forcing Tampa Bay to defend against Peterson.

On Sunday, Childress once again consulted his chart. That left Peterson on the sidelines when the Vikings' offense most needed him.

But that's nothing out of the ordinary.

Up Next: More Ordinary Results.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Vikings Dodge Several Bullets

Several years ago, following an edict from the NFL that the Minnesota Vikings winnow their ownership group to include a majority owner, several well-healed names lined up to purchase the team. Among those interested were Red McCombs, author Tom Clancy, and Timberwolves' owner Glen Taylor. As most Vikings' fans are well aware, McCombs won the bidding, taking control of the Vikings and turning the team into a legitimate Super Bowl contender in spite of his penny-pinching ways.

Realizing that he was not going to win legislative support for a publicly financed football stadium, however, McCombs cut the Vikings' budget to the bone--a move that included jettisoning wide-receiver Randy Moss to the Oakland Raiders for linebacker Napolean Harris and what turned out to be purported wide-receiver Troy Williamson. After slashing the payroll and eschewing heating, allowing the Vikings' Norsemen ship to fall into disrepair, and foregoing necessary repairs on the Vikings' headquarters at Winter Park in Eden Prairie, McCombs put the team on the block.

With visions of a new stadium dancing in their heads, prospective purchasers again queued for what seemed like a guaranteed doubling of their investment dollar in a span of but four or five years. In addition to adding several hundred million dollars to the market value of the team, a new stadium offered even greater revenue streams by virtue of parking and naming rights, suite rentals, increased ticket prices, better concession deals, seat licensing, and the unencumberance of the Mike Lynn Metrodome deal.

The giddy prospective purchasers initially included Reggie Fowler, Glen Taylor, and Denny Hecker. Despite fan interest in having a local purchaser, the list of prospective purchasers quickly whittled to one--the little known Fowler. When it became clear that Fowler did not have anywhere near the resources to purchase the team, let alone an Arena Football team, Zygi Wilf and family, with prodding from the NFL, stepped into the mix, absorbing Fowler as a minority, minority owner.

In both instances of change of ownership, Vikings fans overwhelmingly favored the local Taylor as the new owner. Second among fan preferences in the former transfer of team ownership was Clancy. Second among fan preferences in the latter transfer was Hecker.

With Taylor's misguided vision for the aimless Timberwolves on full display for the few who any longer care to take notice, Vikings' fans undoubtedly now are grateful that Taylor backed out of both opportunities to purchase the Vikings (imagine Matt Millen permanently entrenched as Vikings' general manager, despite trading away Adrian Peterson for JaMarcus Russell), citing the low prospect of a return on the team as a primary reason in both instances (Editor's note: McCombs walked away with a $400 million profit and Wilf has already seen an upward adjustment of $200 million in the value of his purchase, without a stadium deal).

If Taylor's penchant for assessing the value of the Vikings going forward and his stewardship of the Wolves are any indication of how well he would have run the Vikings--and they most certainly are--Vikings' fans dodged bullets twice in having Taylor withdraw his bids for the team.

Taylor's decision not to pursue ownership of the Vikings on both occasions were but two strokes of good fortune for Vikings' fans, no matter fan disposition toward McCombs and the Wilfs. Following his near-successful bid to purchase the Vikings, Clancy revealed dire financial straits only partially tied to his pending divorce. And now, with Hecker on the verge of declaring bankruptcy, it appears that Vikings' fans have yet another dodged-bullet for which they should be grateful.

Since taking over the Vikings, Zygi Wilf has made numerous preposterous and cliched statements about the team, seemingly without really knowing much about the team or understanding much about the history of the franchise in Minnesota. Some of the verbiage is par for the course with any new owner of any franchise, and in any professional sports league, some clearly beyond the pale.

Even without consideration of what likely would have been disastrous ownership changes, however, the Vikings and their fans have had, in Zygi and his cohorts, the benefit of an ownership group that has at least attempted to put a good face on the organization, rejuvenating the team's facilities and spending nearly to the salary cap ceiling in year four of their ownership of the team. To be certain, Wilf miscalculated the market's enthusiasm for yet another publicly financed stadium in a bear market and woefully over-valued his own acumen in making the most important personnel decisions that his team initially faced. But, for Vikings' fans, there is at least solace in the knowledge that things quite easily could have been much, much worse.

Up Next: Tampa Bay, Tampa Bay.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Offering a Professional Offensive Scheme Pays Dividends for Vikings and Childress

After a 1-3 start to the 2008 NFL season, the Minnesota Vikings looked rudderless, armed with only two constants, a strong defense and an impotent offense. Worse yet, the team seemed to be mirroring, in play and in results, the performance of previous Brad Childress-coached Vikings' teams, holding on defense, genuflecting on offense, and losing in streaks.

With victories in 4 of their last five games, however, the Vikings have moved to 5-4, tied atop the NFC North with the Chicago Bears. Pessimists will look at the current winning streak and point to a similar streak last season after a similarly woeful start. The difference between this year and last year, however, is the difference between night and day.

In 2007, after beginning the season1-3 then 3-6, the Vikings temporary righted their record, winning five successive games to forge ahead to an 8-6 record. The 2007 winning streak was built on the back of solid, sometimes absurd defense, mostly suspect opposition, and the running of Adrian Peterson. Ultimately, it collapsed under the weight of its own expectations.

This year, the Vikings have rebounded from another miserable start on the strength not only of the team's defense, but also on the strength of offensive players other than Peterson. Nowhere was this more evident than in the first half of Sunday's 28-27 victory over the Green Bay Packers. In a game in which the defense stifled the Packers' offense, the Vikings countered the Packers in the first half by incorporating Bobby Wade, Visanthe Shiancoe, Jim Kleinsasser, Chester Taylor, and Gus Frerotte into the offense.

While the Vikings reverted to a conservative, predictable offense for portions of the second half, their first-half use of players paid dividends in the game-winning drive. That drive, a drive that road the success of Peterson roughing up the Packers' secondary, was made possible by the Vikings' first-half display of a professional offense. Without that display, the Packers would have committed to stopping Peterson and Frerotte might have thrown the fourth interception of what clearly was his worst day at the helm of the Vikings' offense.

Instead, the Packers respected the pass and hoped to match up against the run. The Vikings did their best to keep the Packers honest on the final drive, using Peterson in a manner that Childress repeatedly has contended the back is not suited to be used, as a receiver across the middle. The Vikings' plan worked, the Packers' failed.

The Vikings' victory on Sunday showed two things. It demonstrated that, despite the loss of a key defensive player, an offensive line that continues to play without a right tackle, and a special teams unit that cannot play an entire game, the team has sufficient talent to play with some of the better teams in the league. It also demonstrated that the Vikings can play some offense and that they can do so by incorporating all of their offensive players in a fashion that highlights the team's most talented offensive player.

The revelations might not only suffice to make the Vikings competitive in a weak NFC North, but might also make them competitive in the NFL in a season in which there are no dominant teams. That might not only make this a good season for the Vikings, but also a good one for a heretofore justifiably beleaguered head coach who is adding some on-field performance to his off-field effort to ingratiate himself to the fan base.

Up Next: Some Numbers. Plus, More on the Minnesota Amendment.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Passage of Amendment Paves Way for Public Financing of Vikings' Stadium

On Tuesday, Minnesota voters passed a ballot initiative amending the Minnesota Constitution to include a provision whereby three-eighths of a cent will be imposed on in-state transactions subject to the Minnesota sales tax. The amendment was sold as a model for ensuring Minnesotans clean drinking water, sustainable wildlife, and a legacy of hunting and fishing for generations to come. And it offered a provision that allowed a portion of the revenue generated from the tax to be invested in Minnesota's "cultural heritage."

While far too little attention was paid to the ramifications of using a state constitution to secure tax revenue--the consequences of which residents of California now are having to come to terms with after several years of using their constitution in similar, though far broader measure--virtually no attention, if any, has been given to the language of the Amendment and what that language portends for a possible Vikings' stadium funded by taxpayer dollars.

As a word of caution, if you are among the growing numbers of sports fans who look to the numerous privately funded sports stadiums around the United States and abroad as a model for building new stadiums, stop reading here lest you risk having your head explode. Others should giddily read on.

As noted, the new Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution allows use of a portion of the revenue raised under the Amendment to fund things associated with Minnesota's "cultural heritage." Nowhere in the Amendment is "cultural heritage" defined, however, leaving for state legislators the authority to define the term.

Under the Amendment, Minnesota legislators will be permitted to fund a corn dog stand on Nicollet Mall, an ice-sculpture contest in Baudette, a lutefisk plant in Sleepy Eye, or a wild rice quilting club in Detroit Lakes, if they so choose. And if the revenue generated from the newest Minnesota Amendment can be used to fund those enterprises, it surely can be used to fund the construction of a new football stadium for the Minnesota Vikings with the simple logic, used by other professional sports teams to keep team names and paraphernalia in state when a team has bolted for greener pastures, that the local teams has become part of the cultural fabric of the state.

The Vikings' most recent stadium proposal calls for the construction of a $1 billion stadium, with $750 million in public contributions. The tax generated under the new Minnesota Amendment is expected to be nearly $300 million per year. Of that amount, 19.75% will be available to spend on "arts and cultural heritage" projects--approximately $60 million per year. That's more than enough to fund even the Vikings' grandiose stadium plan. A fact that, along with the dearth of other public revenue streams for such an undertaking, makes the revenue generated from the new Amendment a highly likely source for stadium funding.

If you're a "build a stadium without reserve" fan, this Amendment looks like the one solid lead for gaining public funding for a new Vikings' stadium in the next few years. If you prefer legislative formalities for debating public expenditures on such ventures, well, you were warned to stop reading long ago.

Up Next: Must Win Time for Vikings.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

No Gotcha Media Here

It's confirmed. Now, it appears, the "truth" can be told.

After a narrow victory over the hapless Detroit Lions and a loss to the Chicago Bears, there was no confirmation. Two weeks later, following the team's bye week and the expected lull in interest that surrounds a team that has not played a game in what only seems like an eternity, Minnesota Vikings' fans have their answer--an unnamed member of the Wilf family has assured our ever-probing local scribe that Childress is the man.

How revealing.

The secondary source of this information, our local scribe, found it necessary to run with this "story" at a time when criticism of Vikings' head coach Brad Childress is likely to be at its highest ebb, when there is no sense to replacing the head coach having stuck it out this far into the season and past the bye week, and when the most plausible mid-season replacement, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, just endured his most dubious outing as a defensive coordinator.

The crux of our scribe's pabulum is that the Wilfs, all along, have considered Childress their guy--the guy who can and will return the Vikings to the championship level that the team last experienced in the late 1970s. If that were true, one would think that our scribe would have run with this story before or immediately after the 12-10 victory over the Lions. Or after the loss at Chicago. Running the story at either moment would have shown that, in spite of the vitriol in the air, the Wilfs stood by their man.

Our scribe chose not to run the story when it would have mattered. Instead, our scribe elected not only to wait until a dead period to report this news, but also to report the news at a time when it already is evident that the Vikings likely will ride out the season with Childress.

Worse yet, while news of the Wilfs' purported infatuation with Childress should be cause for public disclosure--even by the Wilfs--our scribe feels compelled, as he has so many times in the past given similar dubious contentions, to retain the privilege of his source. Sources are kept confidential when the information is damning and the source does not want to be the one to whom the disclosure is attributed. Not to reveal the source of information that is supportive of the status quo and that also purportedly is consistent throughout an organization simply is absurd--unless no such source actually exists.

We know the modus operandi for our scribe. Love the incumbent until they have gone. Then love the new incumbent. This is merely more of the same. And while it might cause some angst among those who believe that the Vikings are headed nowhere significant under Childress, there is solace, at least, in understanding that there is little, if any, reason to read much into what our local scribe has reported.

From the beginning of the 2008 season, Zygi Wilf has viewed the year as a referendum on Childress, not only from the perspective of Childress as coach but also as someone who can engage a fan base. At present, Childress the coach is sub-par, and that's leagues ahead of where he stands as someone able to engage fans. If Childress does not turn it around in both categories by the end of the season, not even our Pollyanna scribe will be able to ignore the obvious or report otherwise. Of course, by then, he'll probably already be shining the new pair of shoes in town.

Up Next: Houston Calling.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Underscoring the Ridiculousness of the Squib Kick Ploy

Following a tight victory over the New Orleans Saints, Minnesota Vikings' head coach Brad Childress vented early and often over punter Chris Kluwe's failure to punt the ball out of bounds, thereby giving Saints' return man Reggie Bush numerous opportunities to scorch an already tenuous Vikings' cover team. On each occasion, Bush obliged, returning two punts for touchdowns and one to midfield, stopped short of the end zone only by Bush's unsure footing.

In his criticism of Kluwe's failure to heed his instructions to punt out of bounds, Childress made clear how adamant he had been in his instructions and that such a failure on the part of his punter would be catastrophic against the Bears and Devin Hester.

Entering the game against Chicago last Sunday, it therefore would have come as no great surprise to any Vikings' fan should they have been informed that Childress had made clear to his kickers that Hester was not to be kicked to. And, as the first half progressed, it became clear that not kicking to Hester was a significant part of the Vikings' game plan.

On three of the Vikings' first four kickoffs on Sunday, place-kicker Ryan Longwell squib-kicked the ball just barely into Chicago territory. The Bears returned the three kicks an average of twenty yards and started drives on their own 46, 48, and 41, respectively. The three drives resulted in 17 points for the Bears.

Clearly, the Vikings' kickoff strategy backfired. That might be forgivable if the strategy were the best option for dealing with Hester's explosiveness. Alas, it was not. And it wasn't even the second best option.

The best option for the Vikings was simply to kick the ball as deep as possible. Longwell averages kickoff placement inside the five-yard-line. Hester averages kickoff returns of 22.1 yards. Assuming a kickoff to the five and an average return of 22.1 yards, Hester would be expected to return the ball to the 27-yard-line. Even measured by Hester's season-long kickoff return of 51 yards, the Vikings would be giving the Bears the ball near their own 45-yard-line--not far from where they gave the Bears the ball as a result of the squib-kick ploy.

That this was a good option was demonstrated by the Vikings relative success covering Hesters' return of Longwell's third kickoff, a deep kickoff to the six that Hester returned 16 yards to the 22. Despite that success, the Vikings opted for a third squib kick as the seconds to halftime ticked off of the clock, leaving the Bears just enough time to go the short distance necessary to attempt a successful field goal.

The second best option for the Vikings to avoid a long kickoff return would have been to kick the ball out of bounds at or inside the Bears' 40-yard-line. The penalty would have given the Bears the ball at their own 40-yard-line. That's not great, but it would have been an improvement over the ploy that the Vikings adopted.

There is no question but that the Vikings have problems covering kick returns. But squib kicking was not a viable solution to the coverage problem, even given the threat of Devin Hester. That seems to have been lost on Childress, however, who clearly was still seething from Kluwe's mis-punts against New Orleans and Bush's subsequent return success.

Where does the blame for this ploy rest? Some have suggested that Childress is merely accepting blame that rightly should accrue to special teams coordinator Paul Ferraro. Given his response to Kluwe's failures in New Orleans--and his contention that he personally instructed Kluwe to kick the ball out of bounds against the Saints--is there any doubt that Childress made the call to squib kick? And is there any need to discuss further the failure to employ either of two more viable options than that upon which Childress and Ferraro ultimately settled?

Up Next: More Numbers.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Fulcrum for a One-Punt Loss

At the half-way point of the 2008 season, it is now officially too late in the season to continue to claim that it is "still early." It is also too late in the season for NFL teams, with the possible exception of St. Louis, for any team to call for its fan base to let things play out and see where they go. At the midway point of the season, as in most other seasons, we have a pretty good snapshot of where things are and where they are going.

With a 3-4 record heading into the bye week, the Minnesota Vikings are about where they have been every season under head coach Brad Childress. They are not great. They are not awful. In other words, they are right about where about seventy percent of NFL teams currently are.

It was not supposed to be like this, of course. The cupboard was supposed to have been stocked when Childress arrived in Minnesota and was to have been fortified many times over in the years since that time. On offense, the Vikings lost Daunte Culpepper. On defense, the team lost virtually nobody that could play the game. Added to the mix were bona fide players such as Adrian Peterson, Chester Taylor, Steve Hutchinson, Bernard Berrian, and Jared Allen.

Despite the additions and the retention of talented veterans, the Vikings continue to tread water, in some areas even reverting to forms last seen in the low-budget Mike Tice era. In particular, the offensive line looks a mess, the linebacking corps without E.J. Henderson is porous, the secondary suddenly is sieve-like, the punting game is disastrous, and kick coverage is worse.

There are some positives, of course, to go along with all of the foibles. Those positives include an improved and more consistent running game than that offered in the Michael Bennett-Onterrio Smith days, a slightly improved pass rush, and improved play at the cornerback position, particularly in nickel and dime packages.

Yet, with the improvements, the errors not only persist, they seem to be mounting. And, at some point, someone ought to stand up and accept accountability. Who that ought to be can be gleaned from a long list of possible culprits. Take your pick--and feel free to mix and match.

Coaching. Harry Truman once said that when it came to the ramifications of policy implementation, the buck stopped with him. To date, we have yet to hear Childress utter anything even remotely resembling these words, save for the few instances in which he has uttered words near these only to insert the caveat that he "cannot play the game for the players."

We could run through the season and point to numerous coaching miscues that good coaches tend not to make, but let's reserve comment merely for yesterday's loss for the moment. Whether it was the decision to use Vinny Ciurciu at linebacker at any point in the game, the decision to use squib kicks on kickoffs that put the Bears in better field position than where they normally would begin play following the average Devin Hester kickoff return (and in a better position than if the Vikings had merely kicked the ball out of bounds!), the decision not to attack a Bears' secondary missing its two starting cornerbacks and its nickel back, or the decision not to employ a hurry-up offense when down by seventeen (the Bears went with a no-huddle offense on their opening drive en route to an easy touchdown), Childress and his staff had their worst game of the season and their worst game in Childress' tenure. It was a game that, from a coaching perspective, should signal the end of Paul Ferraro's tenure as special team's coach in Minnesota and ought to give pause to any thoughts that Zygi might have had about tabbing defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier as even an interim coach.

Childress already has laid the excuse framework for yesterday's loss, pointing to Chris Kluwe's drop of a punt snap and the unfortunate bounce of a ball into return man Charles Gordon's arm, with both plays resulting in Chicago touchdowns, as key plays. What he likely will not say, however, is what he says whenever the Vikings eke out an ugly win--you make your breaks and you earn your results. We know no win is a bad win. But is any loss a bad loss? And, more to the point, does coaching effect outcome or is coaching just a necessary process that affects games only at the margins? We await a reply.

Linebackers. Without E.J. Henderson, the Vikings' linebacking corps is a mess. Ciurciu is hopeless virtually anywhere on the field, but particularly at linebacker. Why he was in the game on Sunday remains a mystery. Suffice it to say that even the recently cut (Kansas City) Napolean Harris is a substantial upgrade over Ciurciu--a point that should have been abundantly evident to Frazier well before the Bears scored their second offensive touchdown.

Quarterback. As bad as the linebackers were on Sunday, quarterback Gus Frerotte was far worse. We undoubtedly will hear about how Frerotte was constantly under pressure and how receivers did not always run the right routes--two issues that seem to have cropped up every week for nearly three years now--but the truth of the matter is that Frerotte was brutal on Sunday. Even easy scoring tosses were thrown wide, but the worst of his passes clearly were the four picks.

None of Frerotte's four picks were the consequence of pressure on the quarterback. They all simply were bad passes. For a veteran quarterback to have four brutal picks in one game, against backup corners, is tough to understand.

Offensive line. No surprise that the offensive line continues to struggle as the Vikings continue to rely on the likes of Ryan Cook and Bryant McKinnie to block far superior football players. The Vikings have few options on the ends, but re-inserting Artis Hicks for McKinnie would be a good start.

If you want to take away something positive from yesterday's loss, there were some things that fit the bill. Visanthe Shiancoe continued to hold onto the ball and even made a difficult catch of a poorly thrown pass. Adrian Peterson finally broke a run. And Ryan Longwell looked solid. Outside of that, everything was pretty much as it has been under Childress, but worse.

Up Next: Some Numbers.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Will Can Meet Will for Childress?

Of all the players in the NFL with which Minnesota Vikings' head coach Brad Childress is smitten, none has more garnered his favor than Philadelphia Eagles' running back Brian Westbrook. Nary a press conference or interview passes without Childress gushing about Westbrook's flexibility and accomplishments. Nor without Childress commenting that Vikings' running back Adrian Peterson is no Brian Westbrook.

There is no argument here. Peterson certainly is no Westbrook. But that's not because he cannot be. Rather, it is because Childress insists that he is not and refuses to use him in the manner that the Eagles use their versatile, if oft-injured back.

In 2003, his second season in the NFL, Westbrook caught 37 passes for 332 yards and ran the ball 117 times for 613 yards. In 2007, he improved those numbers to 90 receptions for 771 yards and 278 rushing attempts for 1333 yards.

In his rookie season with Minnesota, Peterson caught 19 passes for 268 yards and had 238 rushing attempts for 1,341 yards, despite missing two games to injury and returning early from his injury leave. This season, Peterson has caught 11 passes for 56 yards and rushed 129 times for 561 yards.

The numbers suggest that, despite Childress' curious statements to the contrary, Peterson not only is very much like a young Brian Westbrook with respect to his ability to serve not only as a running back but as a receiver, but also that Peterson might even be more like Westbrook than is even Westbrook.

What appears to be limiting Peterson's success is not, as Childress continues to offer unprompted, that Peterson simply does not have the skill set necessary to catch the ball, but Childress' unwillingness to break from the mold that is his ultra-conservative brand of the West Coast Offense. Unlike the West Coast brand of offense run in Philadelphia and previously in San Francisco, two offenses that rely heavily on the running back in both the rushing and passing game, Childress simply cannot imagine such a scheme working with the likes of pedestrian backs such as Peterson and Chester Taylor.

For the Vikings to succeed beyond the mere humdrum that has become their .500 pace, Childress must accept what is so clear to even the most casual of observers. Namely, he must accept that he has talent on offense that, despite the warts of the offensive line, can change games dramatically. If only given the proper opportunity.

Childress seems to have some sense of what is happening on the field. Unfortunately, he continues to sabotage his own efforts by refusing to capitulate when it comes to making better use of Peterson.

In the field of clinical psychology, stubbornness is correlated with passive-aggressive personality types. Anyone who heard Childress' latest press conference no doubt would have little trouble associating either attribute with the Vikings' head coach. Fortunately for Childress, the symptoms are treatable. Unfortunately for Vikings' fans, the trait-holder must acknowledge the characteristics and then endeavor to address them. It's not at all clear that Childress is desirous or capable of either. And that probably means more of the same for the Vikings' offense.

Up Next: Bears With Us.