Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lagging But Winning

In week one of the 2009 NFL regular season, the Minnesota Vikings allowed the Cleveland Browns to gain a half-time lead prior to dispatching them in a second-half romp. The Vikings followed that design in week two at Detroit, allowing the Lions to build a 10-0 lead before imposing their will on them.

After two weeks, it appears reasonably clear what opponents can expect of the Browns and the Lions. Both teams will show moments of clarity, with some capable players on both offense and defense, but neither team will contend for a playoff spot this year.

Following losses to Minnesota and at Denver, the Browns rank 29th in the NFL in points allowed, having surrendered 30.5 points per game. Detroit is worse, ranking 32nd with 36 points allowed per game.

Though the sample is small, as all full-game samples are in the relatively short NFL regular season, through 1/8th of the season, some generalizations already can be formed regarding this year's Minnesota Vikings' offense. At the top of the list of generalizations is the claim that, while more productive than last year's offense, this year's installment of Chilly ball is, so far, largely a function of the opponents that the Vikings have played rather than a function of vast improvements in the offense.

Last week, the Vikings relied on Adrian Peterson in goal-line situations and, subsequently, had a good red zone success rate. The Vikings' reliance on Peterson against Cleveland compelled the Lions to key on Peterson in week two goal-line situations. That created the perfect--and arguably only--occasion that the Vikings should ever give the ball to fullback Naufahu Tahi. With Detroit pre-occupied with stopping Peterson, nobody bothered with Tahi who managed to roll just long enough to find his way into the endzone.

The Vikings' use of Peterson in week one to help set-up week two play-calling is, thus, commendable and a sign of Childress' and Bevell's maturation as a play-calling duo. But there remains significant work to be done.

Against Detroit, Vikings' quarterback Brett Favre was 23 of 27 for 155 yards--a nearly impossible line. The numbers work out to just under 7 yards per pass completed. By way of comparison, Drew Brees has averaged 13.12 yards per completed pass, Shaun Hill 9.5, and JaMarcus Russell 16.68. Vikings' fans expected a short passing game, but, so far, the numbers are absurd.

There are several components contributing to the Vikings' short-pass passing attack. One is that the offensive line continues to sieve. After two games, the Vikings already have surrendered seven sacks. McKinney continues to get beat inside and out, Loadholt, at times, looked like the rookie that he is, and Sullivan is still getting comfortable with his position. While it is reasonable to expect Loadholt and Sullivan to continue to improve, the same cannot be said of McKinney, whose play might necessitate a double-tight end-cover on his side.

Adding to the continuing offensive line challenges has been the lack of the materialization of a go-to receiver for the Vikings other than rookie Percy Harvin. In the present system, Harvin looks the role of the veteran, while all other Viking receivers seem content on muddling up the field four or five yards off the ball. It's a sight not worthy of beholding and makes one long for the days of Bobby Wade.

Add to these issues the Vikings' unwillingness to operate out of the shotgun and the Vikings' offense has issues that the better offenses in the league--and even some of the lesser offenses--do not face.

For now, the Vikings can revel in two victories over two bottom-feeder opponents. Next Sunday, however, the team faces what appears to be a far more worthy opponent in the San Francisco 49ers. That game ought to give Vikings' fans at least a little bit more insight into the Vikings' plans for their 2009 offense. Perhaps weeks one and two were merely a set-up for week three and beyond. Perhaps, however, they were part of a longer-standing close-to-the-vest trend.

Up Next: Clarifying Butter.

1 comment:

Peter said...

I think the Vikings are playing their games in such a way as to have future opponents see what Minnesota wants them to see in the film. The passes to Kleinsasser ought to help him be an effective pass blocker. The midfield punt with Jackson as a decoy upback could force opponents into fake punt defense formations on special teams. It's my hope that the Vikings will be able to pull off a special play when they get in trouble partially because of the groundwork they're laying in the form of game film.