Monday, September 28, 2009

Trends Continue for Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings defeated the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday in a manner justifying the Vikings' off-season courtship and pre-season signing of former Packers' quarterback, Brett Favre. Inside two minutes to play, and trailing by four without any timeouts, Favre led the Vikings methodically down the field, hitting little-used Greg Lewis on a 32-yard rope for the receiver's first reception of 2009.

Favre's touchdown pass to Lewis rallied the Vikings from what appeared to be a near-certain loss, propelling the club to 3-0 heading into next Monday night's game against Green Bay. The drama was made for FOX and the NFL, but that there was so much drama at the end of the game ought to have had many players, coaches, and fans, alike, shaking their heads in bewilderment.

Entering the game as a mere 1.5 point home favorite over the formerly woebegone 49ers, the Vikings took advantage of the early departure of San Francisco running back, Frank Gore, holding the 49ers to 11 first downs from the line of scrimmage and to 0-11 on third-down conversion attempts.

Normally, no matter the offensive endeavor, that's the kind of stifling defense that produces a lop-sided victory. Not for Minnesota on Sunday, however. And much of that has to do with the Vikings' two greatest issues entering the season. Those issues, concerns about offensive line play and offensive play-calling, at least partially abated in Vikings' week one and two victories.

The concerns were far more glaring against the more capable 49er's, however, and nearly cost the Vikings a victory. Throughout the game, Vikings' center, John Sullivan, struggled to control the pass rush or provide any semblance of blocking on running plays, Bryant McKinnie proved once again slow in his lateral movements, and Phil Loadholt, though generally good throughout the game, drew air in attempting to block his man on a Vikings' field-goal-attempt turned touchdown for the 49ers.

The problems along the offensive line have been a constant for the Vikings for years, pre-dating Brad Childress' arrival in Minnesota. That points to the difficulty in resurrecting a porous offensive line, but also highlights for the Vikings one of the team's short-comings.

Playing in a contract season in 2008, former Vikings' center, Matt Birk, was open about his desire to stay in Minnesota under the right circumstances. The Vikings opted to let the 2008 season play out, however, before making Birk an offer.

Throughout 2008, the tension between Childress and Birk was palpable. Birk frequently made public his frustrations over the Vikings' plodding offensive system, pleading for the head coach to move into the twenty-first century of offensive football. Childress declined the invitation, instead taking more than one opportunity to put his center in place.

By the end of last season, Birk and Childress were strictly on business terms and Birk shopped his wares. Childress was convinced that his bottom-line relationship with Birk would prove sufficient to bring the center back for one or two more seasons in Minnesota. Instead, despite a twelfth-hour slightly higher bid from the Vikings, Birk chose to move to Baltimore where he now is playing well for a strong Raven's offense.

Over-playing their hand with Birk left the Vikings with two rookies, two underwhelming veterans, and stalwart Steve Hutchinson along the offensive line this season. On Sunday, that meant numerous hits on Favre and little room for running between the tackles. Eventually, that has to catch up to the Vikings.

And if that happens later, rather than sooner, it might earlier be outdone in terms of damage to the offense by the Vikings' inexplicable use of the player that even Vikings' coaches term the most explosive offensive weapon in the NFL, Adrian Peterson.

Against the 49ers, Peterson had nineteen carries and two receptions. Chester Taylor and Percy Harvin--essentially the co-alternatives to Peterson--combined for 11 receptions and seven carries. That made twenty-one touches for Peterson, purportedly the most explosive offensive weapon in the NFL, and eighteen touches for two other guys who, though good, are not currently in Peterson's area code.

On numerous occasions on Sunday, Peterson could be seen on the sidelines watching Taylor man the backfield. On numerous occasions on Sunday, the Vikings, thus, opted for a lesser version of Peterson when the game was in the balance.

If the Vikings' ploy is to save Peterson, not only for later in the season, but also for later in his career, it could be argued that the ploy is paying off so far this season. The Vikings are 3-0 and have a healthy Peterson heading into a week four game against the Packers.

If, however, Peterson remains on the sidelines in favor of Taylor and loses touches to Harvin simply because Childress cannot acknowledge, in a season in which he already has acknowledged his mistake in foisting an unproven quarterback on the team, that Peterson is quite capable of turning short screens into long touchdowns and gassing a defense when given some second-half touches, then the Vikings really are back to square one with their intransigent helmsman.

On Sunday, no matter the reason, the Vikings' decision not to make better use of Peterson nearly cost the team a close-to-the-vest victory. Thanks to Favre's heroics, that did not come to pass. But next Monday now becomes the next proving ground for the Childress system and the next measure of whether 2009 will evidence a new Childress system or merely the same old Childress system with better personnel.

Up Next: Say It Isn't So, Jim.


Josh said...

Loadholt wasn't the guy who missed the block, it was Hutchinson. (He said so himself after the game) But Loadholt has been struggling with speed rushers all season (as has McKinney), which accounts for the additional use of Taylor.

Taylor is still far better than Peterson at pass blocking, and better at chipping a blitzer before dropping into the flat as a receiver. So it's hardly crazy to see him on the field during passing situations. We'll see more of Peterson in these situations as the season goes on, I suspect, but when you also throw in the fact that Peterson wasn't 100% (questionable on the injury list this week, which supposedly means he's 50-50 to even play) the use of Taylor is hardly inexplicable.

Harvin is a wonderful talent who might actually the only player in the division who IS in Peterson's zip code when it comes to ability, and it's good to see the Vikings looking for ways to use him. That kickoff return showed quite clearly just how explosive he is and if he didn't get touches in the offense then the coaches would be in for some criticism.

Peter said...

Greg Lewis is a TE? I assumed he was a WR since Bobby Wade was dropped to make room on the roster.

Sullivan concerns me. I'm wishing Birk had stayed. Before the season, I thought the Vikings were smart to let Birk walk and dumb to draft Percy over Oher, but it looks like I was wrong on both counts.

Josh - I know Hutch took the blame for the blocked fieldgoal, but I believe it was Loadholt's fault. The blocker went over Hutch's knee, but that's the space Loadholt was supposed to be plugging.

Good points on Peterson/Taylor. The game should not have been as close as it was, and it might've been smart to put Peterson on the field more in the 4th quarter.

vikes geek said...


No question Hutch took the blame and maybe could have helped (in addition to blocking his guy), but it was Loadholt's man. Loadholt doesn't deny it and the video makes it fairly clear.

One of the reasons that Taylor is in the game over Peterson on passing downs is that Peterson is not yet as good of a blocker. Agreed. How good of a blocker does the back need not to block on the screen play, however? You might be right that Peterson had lingering effects from his injury, but that, it would seem, actually argues for using Peterson less as a runner and more as a receiver out of the backfield.


vikes geek said...


Add to the exchange of Lewis for WR Wade the fact that Lewis' reception was as fine as any made by a Vikings' receiver since Moss' departure and a case could be made for changing his role on the team.


vikes geek said...


Correction made. Thanks for the note. Can I be faulted for thinking Kleinsasser when Lewis stretched out and kept his feet in bounds?


Cabrito said...

It's good to see the comments coming in again, VG. A while ago, you asked "Is anybody out there?" What was the problem?

vikes geek said...


Good to see you back. I thought it odd that there were no comments through some fairly important times in the Vikings' organization. At least part of the reason was that the site's comment section was only permitting comments from registered and screened users. I'm not sure how that came to pass, but it is now open again to users.


Josh said...

Even if it was Loadholt that missed the block on the FG, I'm not sure how that fits to the meme that the Vikings aren't taking care of their O-line issues. Loadholt was drafted specifically to address issues at RT, which has been the biggest hole for several seasons, and was widely praised as a good pick that was expected to play immediately. It was a mistake by Hutchinson or Loadholt that had a critical result, but I don't see that one as symptomatic of bad personnel decisions by Childress.

I would like to see Peterson on more screens myself. But he's still growing as a receiver, and I can't pass judgment on the Vikings for using Taylor there in a critical spot with what's going on with the o-line and with Peterson nicked up, without knowing more of what the decision-making process was for the team. I think they made reasonable decisions with their personnel and play-calling overall, and it was nice to see them try and get downfield more.

Clearly, Favre needs to work on his timing with a few guys. But his inaccuracy was a problem as well as he just missed guys he should have hit. The drops were occasionally ugly too.

vikes geek said...


The point about Loadholt is that he will make mistakes and the Vikings had to expect that. Though he played well on Sunday, his miscue on the field-goal attempt almost cost the Vikings the game. Knowing that they were entering a season with a rookie at right tackle, the Vikings thus had every reason (and the cash) to re-sign Birk. They tried, but too late and only after Childress had soured the relationship with Birk (some of that, of course, is on Birk, as well). I'm perfectly happy with Loadholt's performance so far and expect him to continue to mature as a tackle. It just would have been easier for him, and for the line as a whole, if that transition could have been softened by having one less rookie on the offensive line.

Loadholt's play notwithstanding, Sullivan is not making anyone forget about Birk. That might come, but, right now, he's being abused. He needs to do a much better job in pass protection if the Vikings hope to have Favre behind center at the end of the season.

I agree that it was a good sign that the Vikings were able to go deep, particularly in the middle of the field. That's a testament to Favre's arm and his ability to gently step up in the pocket and maintain his poise even when the pocket is collapsing. I'm fairly certain that neither Tarvaris nor Sage even would have gotten that winning pass off. The Green Bay game should provide yet another incremental barometer as to how committed the Vikings are this season to forcing opposing defenses out of the box.

It's interesting that Favre's timing with Harvin (and Lewis) has been good while it has been "poor" with Berrian. My impression is that it is not so much the timing between Berrian and Favre that is lacking, but the communication. Twice on Sunday, Berrian cut the opposite direction of the pass. It's tough for the quarterback to get that wrong when he's calling the play (at least one was an audible, perhaps both). Berrian either needs to revisit the playbook and acquaint himself with non-fly routes or pay better heed to audibles--or he's going to lose playing time to someone named Greg Lewis.