Friday, October 30, 2009

Time for Some Vikings' Defensive Starters to Step Up

The 2009 season has started pretty well for the Minnesota Vikings. With a 6-1 record, they have an opportunity on Sunday to all but wrap up the NFC North. A win over the Green Bay Packers would give the Vikings a 2.5 game lead over their nearest division rival with the head to head tie-breaker in hand.

Add to the overall record, the play of quarterback Brett Favre, the relatively good play of rookie right tackle Phil Loadholt, the emergence of Adrian Peterson as the screen threat most fans have always thought he actually was and of Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice as legitimate receiving options, and several of last year's season-ending concerns suddenly appear less disconcerting.

But as the NFL goes, nearly every sunny day has its storm clouds. And for the Vikings, those clouds are appearing in areas not long ago considered strong suits.

In 2008, the Vikings allowed 216 passing yards per game to rank 18th in the league in team passing defense. That statistic, it was contended in some quarters, was the consequence of teams passing more and running less against Minnesota's stalwart defensive line--the catalyst behind the team's third consecutive top-ranked rushing defense at 76.9 yards/game.

In 2009, the Vikings have allowed 235 passing yards per game against three competent offenses and four fairly awful offenses. And this year, they cannot claim that other teams are passing on them to avoid their run defense, as they have allowed an average of 95 rushing yards per game--good for tenth in the league. That's not bad, but it's not nearly as dominant as it was the past three seasons.

The point is not, however, that the Vikings' run defense is in decline, but, rather, that the team's pass defense is looking awfully suspect for a contending team--and this despite relatively strong performances by Carl Paymuh and Benny Sapp against the Pittsburgh Steelers in week seven.

Notwithstanding some inexplicably poor routes to the ball and huge cushions committed and allowed by Cedric Griffin, the Vikings' cornerbacks have been solid much of the season. What has not been so good in pass defense, however, has been the play of the safeties and of middle linebacker EJ Henderson.

Through the first seven games, Tyrell Johnson and Madieu Williams have combined for one interception. Forty-two individual players have more interceptions than the Vikings' starting safeties, combined. And one wide-receiver, Randy Moss, has as many. The tackles for Johnson and Williams are not high--58 combined--but they are in line with decent tackle numbers for modestly active safeties. But what those numbers do not tell, and what the lack of interceptions betrays, is the inability of either to jump routes or even provide help on tight plays.

Nowhere was the lack of safety help more evident for the Vikings this season than in last week's game against Pittsburgh. Whether watching receiver Mike Wallace haul one in and split the seam with no safety in sight or lamenting Ben Leber having to cover a receiver across the middle and down the sideline with no safety in sight, the routine was becoming eerily repetitive--nine defenders pursuing, safeties elsewhere.

If the Vikings hope to make a drive for a championship this season, the safeties will have to show up to play. That means not only making the tackles once the receiver finds them behind the corners and linebackers, but also initiating contact, reading plays, and jumping routes on occasion.

While the struggles of the Vikings' starting safeties is not a new phenomenon in Leslie Frazier's system, the lack of pass-defense production by middle linebacker EJ Henderson is. After a solid debut to the season, Henderson lately appears slow to the ball and not his earlier rambunctious self. That's led opposing receivers to tread less fearfully across the middle and recalled images of Sam Cowart attempting in vain to cover opposing tight ends. As with the play of the Vikings' safeties, Henderson's play in the passing game must, too, improve.

The Vikings' pass defense flaws are not fatal, but they do put more pressure on the offense to produce, thereby making Adrian Peterson less of a factor--unless the Vikings decide to make better use of Peterson in that facet of their offense. The flaws also mean that, despite less time-consuming drives by opponents resorting to the passing attack, the Vikings' defense is actually on the field longer owing to the Vikings' own need to pass more often. And that begins to take its toll on the run defense.

This week would be a good week to begin addressing some of these issues by seeing what the safeties have at their wherewithal. Is it a matter of timidity or simply a purposeful design aimed at protecting weaker players? Sunday's game ought to provide insight.

Up Next: Favre's Success Causing Problems on Offense.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Vikings Feel Pain of Past Opponents

In week three, the Minnesota Vikings defeated the San Francisco 49ers on the strength of a last-second bullet from Brett Favre to little-used wide-receiver, Greg Lewis. Three weeks later, the Vikings benefited from a last-second failure--that of Baltimore placekicker Steven Hauschka--to escape the Metrodome with a two-point victory over the relentless Ravens.

Yesterday, it was the Vikings' turn to feel the sting of losing a game that they should have won, with penalties, unexpected failures, turnovers, and some odd, last-minute playcalling conspiring to derail what was otherwise a superior performance by Minnesota.

With 11 penalties for 78 yards, the correctable mistakes certainly left limited room for errors in other quarters on Sunday. That margin shrank considerably when one of those penalties--on tight end, Jeff Dugan--was logged on a play that otherwise would have resulted in a touchdown for the Vikings.

While the penalties clearly hurt the Vikings, other on-field miscues even more greatly compromised the Vikings' prospects of beating the Steelers. Most notable among these mistakes were a fumble by Favre inside the Steelers' 10-yard-line with the Vikings trailing by three late in the game and a catch-turned-interception off of the hands of the usually sure-handed Chester Taylor. Taylor's unfortunate miscue turned a drive that appeared destined to at least tie the score into a defensive touchdown for Pittsburgh--their second such score in the span of six minutes in the fourth quarter.

Adding to the Vikings' problems were Adrian Peterson's inability to punch the ball over the goal line from the Steelers' one-yard-line in the third quarter--a disappointing trend for the Vikings--and some curious game management on the team's final drive of the game.

The Vikings opened their final drive with a quick hit to Sidney Rice for eleven yards. That catch came with 48 seconds remaining on the clock. With two timeouts to burn and needing two scores to tie, however, the Vikings elected not to take a timeout and, instead, to run the next play. That play, an incomplete pass to Percy Harvin, ran the clock down to 26 seconds. Following a sixteen-yard pass to Rice and a seventeen-yard screen-play to Peterson, five seconds remained on the game clock. Then, and only then, did Vikings' head coach Brad Childress come screaming down the sidelines to demand a time-out. Why not earlier, when the game was still at least arguably in reach? The answer to that question is anyone's guess. But if one is to be adamant about a timeout with five seconds remaining in the game, one surely ought to be adamant about a timeout with forty-six seconds left in the game, particularly when one has two timeouts to give.

This was the Vikings' first meaningful opponent of the season and the team responded accordingly. There were moments of dullness--the entire first quarter, moments of intelligent play--portions of the remaining three quarters, and moments of futility and self-destruction--particularly the latter half of the fourth quarter. In short, the Vikings looked and played like they were in their first meaningful game. In the long run, their uneven response could pay dividends. In the short term, it simply feels like a missed opportunity to solidify a home playoff spot.

Up Next: How Many Rams Does it Take to Screw in a Light Bulb? Answer: Washington.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Stadium Subterfuge

If you wanted full-court press, you now have it. For the past several years, Vikings' ownership groups, the NFL, and those in the local media beholden to the Vikings and/or the NFL have pressed their agenda in pursuit of a publicly funded NFL stadium for the team.

The rationale, we are led to believe, is four-fold: (1) the Vikings are short on cash; (2) the Vikings are short on cash because they play in a stadium that does not offer the team revenue streams that many other NFL teams reportedly enjoy; (3) Minnesotans owe it to the team--and to themselves--to finance a new stadium for the Vikings; and (4) without a new stadium, the Vikings will move to Los Angeles.

The tactic being employed by the Vikings' front office is one of submission. Using their on-air employees to hammer home, between virtually every other word, the Vikings' "need" for a new stadium, the Vikings clearly hope to instill this premise in the minds of all who listen to their games. Even those not paid by the Vikings, but who nevertheless have substantial ties to the team and to the NFL, have lamented the team's purported woes on behalf of the team, such as when Michelle Tafoya blatantly ignored reality in claiming that "the Vikings cannot compete in the Metrodome." Factual misstatements aside, I suspect she intended to say in "Mall of America Stadium."

Not far behind Vikings' employees and the local supporting cast in calling for a publicly funded stadium for the Vikings are those working for the NFL. Not a week goes by without a NFL broadcasting crew noting how nice new stadium X is compared to the HHH Dome and how deprived the Vikings are for having to operate in the Dome. There is no question but that those points are well-orchestrated and handed down from the NFL Commissioner and the NFL's stadium-drive committee.

If one can get past the NFL's and Vikings' thinly veiled attempts at influencing public opinion, the larger question becomes whether any of these agents of the Vikings and the NFL is making any good faith attempt to influence public opinion on the basis of all of the germane facts. The answer to that question, to date, is "no."

I have written in the past of fallacious claims that the Vikings either are cash-strapped or receiving a paltry return on their investment. In short, the Vikings are flush with cash and equity and the team's returns dwarf those of most any other business on the planet.

Of course, the Vikings' owners would like to make more money and be considerably wealthier than they already are. There's no problem with that, except that the team's owners have posited their goals in the context of need rather than desire--a theme that their employees, certain local media members, and the NFL have fostered and promoted.

To the end of promoting that theme, the Vikings have long insinuated, largely through back-door channels since the Wilfs arrived in Minnesota, that the team might have to consider moving if a stadium deal cannot be resolved prior 2011, when their current stadium lease expires. The prime relocation site, the story-line goes, is the finely named City of Industry, just outside of Los Angeles.

On the surface, the NFL has been more than happy to feed the Vikings-to-Los Angeles story to help the Vikings obtain public funding for a new stadium. Behind closed doors, however, the NFL has been adamant that no current NFL team will be permitted to relocate to the Los Angeles area.

That latter position makes eminent sense for the NFL. For why would the league allow a current team to move to the most lucrative market rather than retain the rights to that market and reap the benefits of selling expansion rights in the area?

League position notwithstanding, the Vikings offer a particularly poor candidate for relocation to the proposed stadium in Industry. The developer of that site, Ed Roski, reportedly has committed to spending mostly his own money to build a new stadium. Estimates of costs are between $800 million and $1 billion, with the City of Industry floating $150 million in bonds for infrastructure surrounding the stadium.

What Roski seeks in return on his investment is not a tenant for his expensive stadium, but a team of his own. Were the Wilfs to sell to Roski, they would be selling the team to a prospective owner who owes a considerable debt on the new stadium--a factor that necessarily would reduce the sale price of the team. More disconcerting for the Wilfs, however, would be the fact that they would be selling the team at a far lesser premium than if they sold the team to a local purchaser without any stadium deal in place and at a much greater discount than if they had a stadium deal in place (even one that they financed entirely). A Vikings' move to Industrial, under the current dynamics, thus makes absolutely no financial sense for the Wilfs.

That fact won't keep the local wags from spouting their rehearsed rhetoric regarding the Vikings' "need," not just for a new stadium, but for one largely funded by the public, but it might dampen the prospects that Vikings' fans will take the bait.

I've said it before and I am certain that I will be compelled to say it again. If the Vikings want a new, publicly financed stadium, they need to work with the public rather than threatening the public and they need to be willing to share in revenues to the extent that the team receives public funding. If that is not appealing to the team's ownership, it remains free to build its own stadium; a route other NFL owners have taken with great success.

Up Next: Time to Run.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Favre Provides New Vikings' Metric

Following Sunday's unnecessarily harrowing victory over the visiting Baltimore Ravens, the Minnesota Vikings stand 6-0 and atop the NFC North, the NFC, and the NFL. And more evident than the suddenly suspect play of the Minnesota defense and the inability of Adrian Peterson to put together both scoring and yardage numbers, has been the ability of quarterback Brett Favre to lead the Vikings to victory.

After two games, those fans still bewilderingly calling for Tarvaris Jackson to start, at least had reason to wonder whether all of the drama and the lack of cohesiveness between Favre and his teammates was worth the signing. In those first two games--both against awful competition--Favre put up some fairly pedestrian numbers, accounting for 265 passing yards and three touchdowns. Not bad, but probably something either Sage Rosenfels or Tarvaris Jackson could have done.

Over the Vikings' last four games, however, the tide has turned noticeably against those questioning the Vikings' acquisition of Favre. In those four games, Favre has amassed 1,082 passing yards and nine touchdown passes. And those numbers likely would be gaudier had there been a need for Favre to stay in the St. Louis game until the end.

Add to the numbers, Favre's persistent ability to step up in the pocket in the face of pressure and his new-found willingness to eat the ball when all options truly are covered, and there is little to dislike about Favre's 2009 performance, except that, at age 40, it is unlikely that there will be too many encores.

With Favre in the lineup this season, the Vikings are undefeated. Without him in the lineup, it is conceivable that the team would be as bad as 2-4, with certain losses to Baltimore, San Francisco, and Green Bay, and possibly even a loss at Detroit, if faced with a similar 10-0 deficit at halftime.

That makes the Vikings a plus 3.5 with Favre or a minus 3.5 with any other quarterback on their roster.

While Favre has begun to thrive, he has done so despite the relative malaise in Adrian Peterson's game. After opening the season at Cleveland with 180 yards rushing and three touchdowns, Peterson has produced just 88 yards per game and four touchdowns over the past five games. Those numbers would be fine for Chester Taylor, but not for Peterson.

Despite his relatively modest performances prior to yesterday's 143-yard showing, Peterson remains number one in the league in rushing and first among running backs in first downs obtained. But the numbers could and ought to be better. And, if they were, the Vikings might be less concerned about the minutes that their defense is on the field and wondering less about how they got into position to have to hold on at the end against Baltimore.

The answer for Peterson appears obvious. He needs more touches and more consistency in those touches.

Against Cleveland, Peterson carried the ball 25 times. Against Detroit, San Francisco, and St. Louis, however, he carried the ball 15, 19, and 15 times, respectively. Yesterday, he carried the ball 22 times and, on the twentieth carry, broke a play for 57 yards. That's the cumulative effect that Peterson has on defenses, an effect that he cannot have if he does not accumulate carries.

But Peterson's numbers take a back seat to the effect that his carry totals portend for the team. In games in which Peterson has rushed 22 or more times, the Vikings have held strong time of possession advantages over their opponents. In two of the three games that Peterson has rushed less than 20 times, the Vikings have had a time of possession disadvantage--an important distinction given the Vikings' current defensive struggles.

Up Next: Zorn on His Way Out in D.C.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Disconcerting Numbers for the Vikings?

In 2008, the Minnesota Vikings finished 5th in the NFL in rushing offense, averaging 184 rushing yards per game. Conversely, the team finished 25th in the league in passing with a paltry 145-yard-per-game average. Those feats led the Vikings to twelfth in the league in points--14th after adjusting for defensive points contributed.

The Vikings' 2008 numbers sufficed to win the NFC North and give the team a first-round playoff game against the Philadelphia Eagles. The resulting loss evidenced a team strong in the rushing game and weak in the passing attack.

Five games into the 2009 NFL season, the Vikings are averaging 31 points per game--good for third in the league. And while that number is far superior to the 24 point average that the Vikings had in 2008, there are reasons for concern.

The Vikings established their 2008 numbers against teams with a combined record of 135 and 137--a nearly .500 winning percentage.

One-third of the way through the 2009 season, the Vikings have amassed their numbers against teams with a combined 7-17 record--a winning percentage of .292. And there is every reason to believe that the Vikings' first five opponents in 2009 will continue at this collective dismal pace.

If the quality of the opposition helps define a team's success, and it most assuredly does in the NFL, some perspective needs to be gained regarding the Vikings' early season offensive success. For the Vikings to reach the level of oppositional ineptitude last year that they have faced so far this year, they would have had to play the Detroit Lions an additional twenty times. That's twenty more games against a team that won zero games last season.

That's where the alarm bells start to go off somewhat. Though the Vikings have added quarterback Brett Favre, they have also added two rookies to their offensive line. Through five games, the problems have been muted by victory. But through those same five games, the Vikings, though third in the league in points scored, are not nearly as strong in underlying offensive categories.

In 2009, the Vikings have dropped to 11th in the league in rushing offense and nineteenth overall in yards gained from scrimmage. Favre's presence has contributed to a gain in passing yards, pushing the team from 25th overall to 20th overall, with a 13-yard-per-game increase.

But even the passing success of this year's team must be viewed in light of the opponents' .292 winning percentage.

All of which brings the question back to one upon which the Vikings' 2009 fortunes likely will turn--will the Vikings be able sufficiently to rectify their running-game issues to defeat stronger competition? The answer might well reveal itself today when the Vikings face the Baltimore Ravens--but even that might prove a bit of a canard.

The Ravens enter today's game with the league's fifth-rated offense and twelfth-rated defense in points scored. Against the run, the Ravens are number one in yards allowed. Against the pass, however, the Ravens are 20th.

The Ravens' numbers, too, are skewed by their less-than-stellar competition--teams with a combined winning percentage of .416. Given that their defensive weakness appears to be against the pass, and there is every reason to believe that the Vikings will attempt to exploit the Ravens' pass defense and settle for yet another week of sub-par rushing.

And that might leave until next week, when the Vikings face the Steelers, or until week sixteen against the New York Giants, a determination of where the Vikings stand this season.

Up Next: Post game.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Rams Provide Measuring Stick of Sorts

Five weeks into the 2009 NFL regular season, the Minnesota Vikings stand 5-0 and seemingly capable of defeating all comers. The standing question is whether the Viking's success, to date, is more a reflection of the team's woeful opposition or the Vikings' ability. The ultimate question, however, is whether it even matters.

Although it is comforting to see a Minnesota team dispatch a pitiful underdog such as the St. Louis Rams, it is not a result that other teams have failed to achieve. Through five games, the Rams have been outscored 146-34. Their closest loss was a 9-7 set-back against nearly equally inept Washington. Their other losses were by 28, 19, and 35 points; two of those losses were by shutout.

In short, the Rams are no measuring stick against which the Vikings accurately can gauge their strength at this point in the season. But the Rams might offer a gauge as to where the Vikings stand in comparison to other Rams' opponents. Yesterday's game might thereby suggest reasons for concern.

Prior to yesterday, the Rams had failed to eclipse 200 yards passing in any game this season and had come perilously close to failing to breach the 100-yard passing mark in two of their games. Yesterday, the Vikings ceded 209 passing yards that, at times, seemed like far more, with the Rams too often moving the ball freely down the middle of the field. But for three turnovers in the red zone, the score might have more accurately reflected the Rams' ability to move the ball against the Vikings.

Presumably, against better competition, the Vikings will need to exhibit a more determined defensive resolve than they displayed against the Rams. Where Kyle Boller threw into triple-coverage in the endzone, Eli Manning, Donovan McNabb, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, and others are far more likely to put the ball neatly in the hands of the open receiver. And if the Vikings have not yet figured out how to get their run game going, that's going to mean a lot of difficult catch-up for the Purple.

Whether any of that will matter prior to the playoffs is anyone's guess. Of the Vikings' first five opponents, all are in the bottom half of the league in points allowed and only San Francisco is outside the bottom third of the league in that category. Similarly, of those first five Minnesota opponents, only one is solidly in the top half of the league in offense, and two are in the bottom three in the NFL in points scored per game.

Of the Vikings' remaining ten opponents (two games remain against the Bears), only four rank in the top ten of the league in team offense, only three rank in the top ten of the league in team defense, and only one, the New York Giants, ranks in both top ten lists. The next most credible opponent, on paper, is next week's home opponent, the Baltimore Ravens, who rank fifth in offense and twelfth on defense, but who are coming off of a tight home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

That's how the NFL stacks up this season, at least for the Vikings, who, despite feasting offensively against mostly weak defenses this season, have fared no better against mostly woeful offensive teams than the league has fared against the league as a whole. All of which means that the Vikings might not have a true measuring stick for how good they are until their final regular-season game of 2009.

Up Next: What's Up Chuck?

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Victory Sullied by Finish

Through nearly 53 minutes of Monday night's game against the Green Bay Packers, the Minnesota Vikings clearly were the better team on the field. Jared Allen did what any self-respecting defensive end does these days by ripping off 4.5 sacks against a pitiful Packers' offensive line, Brett Favre picked apart a short-handed Packer secondary, and Antoine Winfield made the most of his blitz- and route-jumping opportunities. On both sides of the ball, the Vikings were humming. And that, with little contribution from Adrian Peterson.

With just over 7 minutes remaining in the game, the Vikings took what should have been an insurmountable 30-14 lead following a safety of Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The subsequent free kick gave the Vikings the ball at their own 40-yard line. Two first downs and the Vikings would be near field goal range with the opportunity to turn a two-possession game into a three-possession game and foreclose any prospect of a Packer comeback.

Rather than winning the game on offense, however, Vikings' head coach Brad Childress opted to force the Packers' offense to make a comeback. And they nearly did.

After giving the ball to Peterson for a one-yard loss, Childress pulled Peterson for Taylor. On the next play, the Vikings went short to Dugan for one yard. They followed that with a hand-off to Taylor for five yards.

Evoking memories of Denny Green's run in Minnesota, the Packers shredded the Vikings' defense on the ensuing drive en route to touchdown. A missed two-point conversion attempt left the score 30-20 in favor of Minnesota.

On the Vikings' subsequent drive, Childress went back to the drawing board. Peterson was back in the game, but the Vikings still were playing it safe. Following a run up the middle for no gain and a run around the end for no gain, however, Childress audibled. And he did so the one time that he should not have.

With just over three minutes left in the game, Childress called a fly route down the right sideline. It was the type of safe deep route that has become synonymous with the Childress era in Minnesota--deep, requiring a miraculous catch by the receiver, and virtually impossible to intercept.

The problem with the call was not necessarily that Childress opted to "take a shot," however half-hearted it might have been. Rather, the primary problem was the timing. On the previous series, the Vikings played it as close to the vest as is possible without taking a knee. Ditto the first two plays of this series. A deep shot thus introduced an element of surprise--even shock--to the Packer defense prepared for a Childress offensive hold, but the timing was illogical.

As a general rule of thumb, deep routes with a low probability of completion are disfavored on third-down plays with three minutes remaining in the game and a ten-point separation. Even a run up the gut made more sense as the Packers had just used their final timeout.

By going deep, the Vikings stopped the clock, saving the Packers valuable time on the game clock. And the Vikings were forced to punt. It was the worst of all possible scenarios, other than a pick or fumble returned for a touchdown.

The deep play notwithstanding, what remains confounding about Childress' system is why he retains such a reluctance simply to put away opponents? This reluctance was on full display over the last two Vikings' drives, but particularly on the first drive of the sequence when, with the controlled passing game with which Favre had been eating up the Packers' defense the entire game, the Vikings could have readily moved into field-goal range and sealed the game.

The deep route was a tacit acknowledgment of the over-conservativeness of the previous five play calls, but even the deep route was highly conservative. Less conservative, but with a much higher probability of success, would have been a screen, post, or slant, particularly with the Packers stuffing the box.

The Vikings won the game on Monday, but coaching decisions at the end of the game made what should have been a blow-out far too tight. That did not matter for the Vikings' last night, but, as has become a common refrain in Minnesota, it very well could in the future if Childress continues to play not to lose rather than playing to win.

Up Next: Establishing the Run.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Full Disclosure Required on Vikings' Stadium Drive

No matter where one stands on the Viking's stadium issue, there certainly ought to be nothing more deplorable nor more reviled than the Vikings' continuing attempts to insinuate that the team will move away from Minnesota if not ceded a brand new stadium by the good people of Minnesota and, mostly, those Minnesotans who live in Hennepin Counnty. Never at a loss for a local toady to pitch their scheme, the Vikings once again have turned to our eldest provincial scribe to paint the picture that the end is near.

Before delving into the latest stadium-story plant, and the numerous comments following that story that almost certainly come from team sources, it is provident to consider some financial facts about the Vikings, many of which have been discussed on this site in the past.

Despite insinuations of near-poverty, the Minnesota Vikings are flush with cash. While the team continues to point to its dearth of revenue generated by the Metrodome, the fact of the matter is that the Vikings do quite well even without any money from ticket sales or any other Metrodome revenue streams. Add to that the Vikings' recent deal, presumably authorized by the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, to sell naming rights to the dome and the fact that the Vikings do, indeed, sell out home games, and the Vikings have several additional and substantial revenue streams on top of the largess that they receive for the league's numerous and burgeoning television deals and other shared receipts.

In short, the Vikings needn't have the public's sympathy. And a very strong case can be made that, at least in terms of finances, the Vikings needn't have the public's dime to build a new stadium.

That brings us to the Vikings' current ploy to obtain a publicly funded stadium. In an attempt to repackage the previous refrain that the team is in dire straights, the Vikings are letting slip that they have not reached nor do they intend to make any marketing deals involving the dome that extend beyond 2011, the year that the Vikings' current dome lease expires.

The insinuation is two-fold. One is that the team is cash-strapped. The other is that the team is considering a move.

Team representatives now and far down the road will insist that those insinuations are not being made and that the team is only disclosing its current environment. They will contend, if pressed if and when a new stadium is constructed, that their comments were simply factual in nature and that no insinuations were intended. That, of course, would be nonsense.

The Vikings desire is to create a sense of a team so mired in financial troubles created by its dome lease that they are left with no recourse but to bail on the State if they do not receive a shiny, publicly funded, new stadium. The Vikings will deny this, too, of course, but it is as plain as could be. Whether the team is leaking a report about some idiot in Los Angeles claiming to be building an NFL stadium, highlighting Buffalo's games in Toronto, coordinating a highly visible visit to the State by NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, dropping some cues on willing local media members, or ordering the minions on their game-day radiocasts to beat the drum of the value to fans and the State of a new stadium, the Vikings have long been at the publicly funded stadium drive as a necessity for the charity-driven, willing-to-spend, yet near-broke organization.

What is true of the situation, and what Vikings' fans ought to know, is that the Vikings are a very wealthy organization by any measure. What the team is requesting of the public in Minnesota is not necessary assistance, but discretionary assistance. The Vikings' sole legitimate claim, then, is to argue that they provide a service that is sufficiently valued in Minnesota to warrant public subsidy.

To be certain, numerous entities around the State receive public subsidies for services that reach far smaller numbers of participants. It is disingenuous--even dishonest--however, to insinuate a need for public funding when what the Vikings really are requesting is a subsidy entirely blind of need. What the team wants is a subsidy for existing.

This is a matter for the public to weigh in on. And it is one that ought to take into consideration numerous factors, not the least of those being whether the Vikings have a viable alternative to playing in Minnesota, what the State can gain from building a new stadium, what new taxes or bonding will be required to fund a new stadium, who will pay any new taxes or for any bonding, and what it means to have a team in Minnesota?

These are questions that ought to be addressed well before anyone considers obligations of parties to funding a new stadium and returns from revenue streams for parties making those contributions.

A common cry from those who blindly rally to the Vikings' call for a new stadium is that the taxes are minuscule and only a concern in the abstract. Here are some numbers that paint a different picture, however. Those electing to eat and drink in downtown Minneapolis face the following taxes: Minnesota sales tax (6.875%), Minnesota liquor tax (2.5%), Minneapolis general sales tax (.5%), downtown Minneapolis food and alcohol tax (3%), Hennepin County tax (.15%), Minneapolis live venue tax (3%). That's exclusive of the numerous other taxes applicable to Minneapolis, Hennepin County, downtown Minneapolis, and the Metrodome. These taxes are the direct result of a need to create revenue for publicly funded items, such as the Metrodome and Twins Stadium. And, as one fine pundit once put it, no tax is too out-dated to put to bed. All of which means that, if the State legislature opts to fund a new stadium for the Vikings, it will do so at a cost to a public already feeling the cost of previous outlays.

If, in the end, the Vikings obtain public funding for a new stadium, it, thus, ought not be on the strength of subterfuge, but on the strength of a meaningful public debate that operates with full access for all to relevant information. Unfortunately for Vikings' fans and non-fans, alike, the present debate--virtually entirely one-sided--has been based on leaks of misinformation and not-so-subtle insinuations and the media's rush to spit out both as fact while blissfully ignoring any facts in contravention there to.

Up Next: Best Game of the Season?