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.

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