The Minnesota Vikings entered half-time on Monday night at the New Orleans Superdome with 140 yards of offense to the Saints' 222 yards of offense, 34 offensive plays to the Saints' 42, 11:03 in time of possession to the Saints' 18:57, and a ten-point lead.
That lead, the result of a blocked field-goal-attempt returned for a touchdown, the one creative Vikings' offensive play of the season that led to a five-yard wobbler from Chester Taylor to Visanthe Shiancoe following a fumble return to the Saints' five-yard line, and two Ryan Longwell field goals, was just enough to propel the Vikings to a last-minute 30-27 victory of the Saints.
In addition to earning an apparent reprieve from what could have been an early season dismissal, Vikings' head coach Brad Childress was the beneficiary of some other good fortune on Monday night. The question now is whether he will make use of the revelations to which he bore witness.
What Ought to Have Been Learned
Among the lessons that Childress should take away from Monday night's victory is that it is acceptable to run an unexpected play, particularly in the red zone. Calling upon Taylor to pass to the heretofore rightfully maligned Shiancoe was a solid call at a time when everyone expected a conservative call--like the sweep around the end that the Vikings sold to set up Taylor's pass. That's a smart call, especially since it came on the heels of two loathfully predictable calls.
The Vikings also should have learned the value of experience on special teams. With special teamers Heath Farwell and Vinny Ciurciu out with injuries, the Vikings have struggled to stop opposing return teams from exploiting the gaffes made by the young players filling their own coverage teams. It's time for Childress to role the dice and put some starters on special teams' coverage units. That's not an ideal solution given the injury risks facing those on coverage teams, but these are not ideal times for the Vikings' coverage teams. And unusual times call for unusual measures.
Childress also should have learned that the team's passing woes have not been primarily the product of the players, but, rather, of the system. While the Vikings, like many teams across the league, employ less than all-star caliber wide-receivers, there is quite a bit to be said for calling plays that give receivers room to gain separation and that require opponents to guess whether the route is an in or a go. On Monday night, the Vikings called three deep seam routes and capitalized on two. Imagine what running that play just a couple more times a game might do.
And imagine, if you will, what incorporating Adrian Peterson into the game plan for something other than a run up the middle might do. Happy to take advantage of those poor souls that struggle with Adrian Peterson as the top pick in their fantasy football drafts, knowing that Peterson is capable of so much but asked to do so little, I nevertheless would prefer to see the Vikings utilize their running back for what he is worth. The Vikings ran zero screens for Peterson on Monday and failed, yet again, to use Peterson in the slot, despite even lining Taylor up in the slot on at least one occasion. And, yet again, on critical third-down plays, Peterson seemed to be kept at bay on the sideline.
The Monday victory was a nice one for the Vikings to get in a situation ripe for a Vikings' loss. With that said, the formula for victory looked very much like it has for each of the past two seasons under Childress--rely on the defense to score and toss in just enough offense to eke out a victory. If Childress elects to build on the lessons of Monday night, Vikings could still be good this year and Childress could still have a job in Minnesota in 2009. If not, the only difference between this year and last year will be the change looming at the top when the season tolls.
Up Next: Tough for Some, Worse for Others.