Sunday, September 28, 2008

Contrast in Conservative Styles Highlights Vikings' Shortcomings

Sunday's match-up between the Minnesota Vikings and the Tennessee Titans offered the best glimpse yet of the inherent problems with the Minnesota Vikings under head coach Brad Childress. Facing a near mirror-image team--a team employing a veteran quarterback as a substitute for a struggling young quarterback, a team favoring the run over the pass, and a team with a stout defense--the Vikings were rolled.

Vikings' apologists, to the extent that there are any remaining, will note that the Vikings had several opportunities to score but that the team routinely shot itself in the foot. While it is true that turnovers and dropped passes hurt the Vikings on Sunday, those plays are magnified by the lethargy and lack of ingenuity that is the Vikings' offense on most downs.

While the Vikings opened the game with 37-year-old Gus Frerotte under center, the Titans countered with 36-year-old Kerry Collins. Both quarterbacks are relatively immobile outside of the pocket with Frerotte, as would any quarterback, having greater mobility in the pocket. That should have given an edge to the Vikings. And it did. The Vikings, however, elected not to take full advantage.

For the game, Collins was 18-35 for 199 yards passing and a 5.7 yard average. Frerotte was 25-43 for 266 yards and a 6.2 yard average. That's a near wash between the two pocket passers.

What brought Collins closer to Frerotte, and Frerotte closer to Collins in final statistics for the game was Collins' use of the speedy Chris Johnson on several screens and out of the slot and the Vikings' near-refusal to use the more veteran Peterson in a more expanded fashion.

Despite his rookie status, Johnson has done for Tennessee equal what Peterson is now allowed to do for the Vikings. For the game Peterson had 18 carries for 80 yards and two touchdowns along with four receptions for 21 yards. Johnson had 17 carries for 61 yards and two touchdowns along with 3 receptions for 14 yards. The numbers are nearly identical despite the Titans' reliance on Len Dale White in goal line situations and Peterson's status as a second-year player. Either Johnson simply is a much quicker study than Peterson or the Vikings are woefully underutilizing their primary offensive threat.

The results suggest a close game, and, subtracting turnovers, the Vikings did play close to one of the better teams in the AFC. But, more than explanatory of Sunday's loss, the Vikings' turnovers are a further indictment of the offensive system favored by Childress. Of the three fumbles, two were the result of predictable plays that allowed the defense to cheat up and opened up the play to a hard hit. Tahi's fumble was in the flat on a short dump play that Childress has so often run that it is second in the coach's playbook only to the play that led to Peterson's fumble, the up-the-gut-for-nothing call.

Turnovers ravage offenses in the NFL, but turnovers are made more possible by predictable playcalling.

The formula for Minnesota has passed the point of becoming stale and neared the point where it is driving fans away from the team. It's one thing to invest three plus hours of a day in a team that is trying to win. It is quite another to invest that time in a team that fears losing. Sunday's performance, from the silly timeout before a challenge call to the punt near the end of the game with no timeouts remaining merely crystallized that the Vikings are in the latter category. That's neither a recipe for championship play nor one likely to maintain a fan base.

Up Next: How West Coast Offenses Succeed. Plus, Birk not making a case for himself.

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