Saturday, August 15, 2009

Some Things New, Some Things Old, Some Things Blue

As pre-season games go, the Minnesota Vikings' game against the Indianapolis Colts was only barely worth watching, and certainly not worth the time of day beyond the first quarter. In that first quarter, however, several players provided a glimpse of what Vikings' fans can expect in 2009.

Not surprisingly, the biggest first-quarter plays for the Vikings came courtesy of two veterans, EJ Henderson and Heath Farwell, who both appear ready to begin the regular-season. Henderson was everywhere on the Colts' opening series, registering a sack and forcing the Colts to take a loss on another play. And while Henderson was anchoring the defense, Farwell was doing the same on special teams, fighting off a block to limit the Colts' return of a short Vikings' kickoff.

In addition to the unsurprising but much needed play of Henderson and Farwell, the Vikings can take some relief in the reasonably strong play of center John Sullivan. Starting his first game as Matt Birk's replacement, Sullivan looked confident and comfortable pointing out assignments and showed good athleticism, the type that Birk once displayed, pulling and blocking down field.

Despite one false start and a boost from playing against the Colts' second- and third-team defensive units, Phil Loadholt at least looked competent at right tackle. It is far too soon to tell what the Vikings have in Loadholt, and whether he is an upgrade over Ryan Cook, but early indications are that he will surmount that low bar.

More disconcerting was the play of the quarterbacks for the Vikings. Despite hitting his targets in the opening series, Sage Rosenfels demonstrated why the Vikings had reason to court Brett Favre. Playing against the Colts' second-team defense, Rosenfels did a nice job with his quick-rhythm passing, but clearly lacked velocity on his passes. On the Vikings' second drive, Rosenfels combined this lesser arm strength with an awful decision to throw off of his back foot, leading to a missed pass to an open receiver and what probably would have been a pick for a touchdown against the Colts' starting defensive unit.

While Sage gave reason for mild optimism as well as for some caution, Tarvaris Jackson merely offered reason for concern. Unsettled in the face of pressure, Jackson continues to lack the poise required at the position. Perhaps that will change when he sees time with the first-string offensive line, but, likely, it will not--at least not when that first-string line faces the better defensive lines in the league.

Finally, it is difficult to assess the Vikings' offense. The opening drive looked very fluid with good play selection and a sound finish for a touchdown, but that's always been the case under Childress and Bevell. The second drive looked equally familiar, and far less satisfactory, with the Vikings going short, short, and clumsy, settling for a chip-shot field goal, after a long drive.

There were, of course, the obligatory post-game comments regarding the vanilla nature of the Vikings' pre-season offense. And there were promises that that's just part of pre-season. But the reality is that, when the Vikings face a difficult situation on offense, Childress, to date, has resorted to playing it overly close to the vest. The second drive last night was classic Childress--some nice play-calling until the team hit the red zone and then tight. Whether adding a prepared Percy Harvin and a healthy Bernard Berrian to a solid running back tandem and an increasingly good pass-catching tight end in Visanthe Shiancoe will spell the end of Childress' conservative resolve, in spite of Childress' efforts, thus, remains to be seen.

Up Next: Stadium Issues.

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