Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Lingering Impressions

Two days after the Minnesota Vikings' 20-10 victory over the previously undefeated Carolina Panthers, two impressions remain of the Vikings. One of the impressions, that of E.J. Henderson leaping over an offensive lineman to break up a play in the backfield, is positive, the other less so.

Intent on showing the Panthers that, under newly installed quarterback, Gus Frerotte, they both willing and able to pass the ball, the Vikings called passing plays on six of their first seven offensive plays. FOX's announcers, apparently unfamiliar with Minnesota's lack of offensive success under head coach Brad Childress, derided the Vikings for "getting away from what the team does best."

What the Vikings have done best, as most any Viking fan can attest, is run the ball to a close defeat. In the first two games of the season, the Vikings proved both their ability to run and their ability to lose winnable games. In week one, against the Green Bay Packers, Adrian Peterson ran for 103 yards and the team lost 24-19. Last week, against the Indianapolis Colts, Adrian Peterson ran for 160 yards and the Vikings lost 18-15. The key, then, is not merely demonstrating an ability to run, but pairing that ability with a demonstrated ability to pass.

Contrary to the contentions of the FOX analysts, the Vikings' offense has been defined not by its ability to run the ball, but by its near refusal and utter inability to pass the ball. By opening the game primarily throwing--including throwing a pass to a back out of the backfield--the Vikings established that they have the potential to enter the modern era of NFL offenses.

The FOX analysts should have saved their criticism of Childress and his offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell, for later in the game, when the Vikings reverted to some of the same old offensive hijinx.

After starting the game with passes on six of the team's first seven offensive plays, the Vikings lurched back to conservative mode, passing just 21 times in the team's remaining nine series, a span of sixty plays. No more conservative were the Vikings than inside the Panthers' ten-yard line in the last two minutes of the game. Leading 20-10, the Vikings ran one play up the middle for two yards before calling on Frerotte to kneel three straight times.

The Panthers subsequently received the ball on their own fourteen-yard line with thirty-four seconds remaining in the game. Given that the Vikings' defense had been holding the Panthers in check for much of the game, the ploy was defensible. But it was also debatable, at the least, and highlighted Childress' play-not-to-lose over play-to-win mindset.

A field-goal meant little for the Vikings except to make the game a two touchdown rather than a touchdown and field-goal differential. It, therefore, made little sense for the Vikings to attempt a field goal and risk having the kick blocked and returned. A touchdown, however, would have been virtually impossible to overcome.

Childress' gamble of running down the clock and giving the ball back to the Panthers paid off. It is difficult to shake the notion, however, that, against a better offensive team, Childress would still make the same call rather than attempt to score a touchdown. That's not necessarily bad. Rather, it is a reflection of the coach's mindset--the type of mindset that permeates an entire offensive system and game plan and makes winning it all far less probable.

Up Next: Inside the Numbers.

6 comments:

mark_w said...

i keep hearing about Henderson's hit but cannot find it on the web - any ideas where i can find this? sounds like it's worth seeing

vikes geek said...

Mark,

I suspect it eventually will find its way onto YouTube. It was quite a spectacle.

VG

vikes geek said...

Mark,

It is up on YouTube. Here is the link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGZhQObjxsI

VG

mark_w said...

Thanks, VG - that *was* quite a spectacle - like he's flying.

It has taken him some time, but Henderson is solid. During that horrible game against the Cardinals (yes, I was there), he made a hit on Emmitt Smith - just crushed him on the goal line. It was memorable because of that flash of potential, but this hit is better by far.

tcalef said...

VG, you're an observant genius but for the first time (ever?) I'm going to disagree with you. Running up the middle, kneeling, and leaving the Panthers with 34 seconds and no timeouts was smart with a two-score lead. If the lead had been just 3, or even 7, I think your criticism is justified. The risk of a fumble, or INT returned for TD (while slight) is too great. And then you've got the Panthers one onside kick and a big play away from potentially tying the game.

Plus it should be noted that the Vikes D then came out and played its most brilliant defense of the season so far.

vikes geek said...

tcalef,

Hold the "first ever." I'm not sure we disagree.

It's not, as I argue, that the call is indefensible (I call it debatable). It's more that it is a reflection of Childress' conservative nature. For that game at that time under those circumstances, it probably was the correct call--though it still begs the question why they ran the ball on first down. The point is that we should expect to see this type of play calling under less than ideal circumstances. I tend to believe that such play calling makes winning it all difficult when employed on a regular basis.

VG