Friday, December 31, 2010

Minnesota Vikings Flush With Free-Agency Cash and Limited in Concerns About Pending Free Agents

Reports are circulating that the Minnesota Vikings are on the brink of a major rebuilding effort in 2011. Those reports center on the fact that the Vikings have 17 unrestricted free agents on their roster heading into the 2010-2011 off-season. Not surprisingly, in an attempt to sensationalize and agonize an already anguished Vikings' fan base, those reports omit most of the pertinent details, such as a complete list of Vikings' free-agents, the Vikings' ample ability to re-sign any and all free agents, and the numerous alternatives that the Vikings will have to replace any exiting free agents.

Like most NFL teams, the Minnesota Vikings have numerous free-agents heading into this off-season, a consequence both of the uncertainty of the 2011 NFL season and logical layering of free-agent expiration dates on the 53-man roster. Also like most teams, the Vikings have some starters represented among their list of pending free agents.

Unlike some NFL teams, however, the Minnesota Vikings are in perfectly good position either to re-sign or replace pending free agents. And, unlike some NFL teams, the Vikings have only a handful of players for whom an upgrade will be difficult to find in free agency.

The complete list of Vikings' pending, unrestricted free agents is as follows: Brett Favre, Tarvaris Jackson, Naufahu Tahi, Sidney Rice, Greg Lewis, Ryan Cook, Ray Edwards, Brian Robison, Pat Williams, Fred Evans, Lito Sheppard, Eric Frampton, Hussain Abdullah, Ryan Longwell, Chad Greenway, Ben Leber, Erin Henderson.

Of these free agents, the Vikings arguably have legitimate interest in retaining Rice, Williams or Evans, Longwell, Greenway, and Henderson. That's five free agents about whom the Vikings probably have any concern. In that group, only Rice, Williams, and Greenway would command meaningful money. That means that, of the Vikings' seventeen free agents, the Vikings probably need worry about competition for the services of but three. That's hardly a headache for the Vikings, who probably will have close to $40 million available under any new CBA (with a floor requiring that the team spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $26 million).

Given their likely cap space and limited free-agency concerns heading into the 2011 off-season, the Vikings not only are positioned to bring back the core of their team in 2011, but also are well-positioned to pick over what is likely to be the greatest free-agency crops in NFL history. Among the free agents likely to be available this off-season are Chicago Bears' center Olin Kreutz, New England's offensive guard Logan Mankins, Green Bay Packers' kicker Mason Crosby and safety Atari Bigby, Arizona wide-receiver Steve Breaston and guard Alan Faneca, Atlanta running back Jerious Norwood and tight end Tony Gonzalez, Detroit running back Kevin Smith, still just 23 years old, New York Jets' quarterback Kellen Clemens and wide-receiver Santonio Holmes, New York Giants' running back Ahmad Bradshaw and receiver Steve Smith (25), Pittsburgh cornerbacks Ike Taylor and William Gay, Kansas City center Casey Wiegman, and San Diego wide-receiver Vincent Jackson. All of these players will be unrestricted free agents this off-season and all would represent upgrades over their counterparts on the Vikings' current roster.

The sole outstanding issue for the Vikings going into the 2011 season, should it be played, is who will play quarterback? Ringing out a lousy 2010 year, that will be the subject of the next column.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Frazier's Roller-Coaster Ride Continues

It wasn't the best defense in the NFL that Minnesota Vikings' rookie quarterback Joe Webb faced on Tuesday night, but it was considered good enough with its various blitz schemes to make the Philadelphia Eagles 14-point favorites at Lincoln Field. That Webb and the Vikings' defense left the field a ten-point victor, despite having a touchdown called back, thus makes a case not only for Webb as a starting quarterback, but also for the mercurially up-and-down short run of current interim Vikings' head coach Leslie Frazier.

Three weeks ago, less than two weeks after assuming the head coaching duties of the Vikings in the wake of Brad Childress' overdue dismissal, Frazier appeared all but certain to take over the permanent head coaching duties for the Vikings. That certainty was built around Frazier's appealing persona, a road victory over Washington that snapped a nine-game road losing streak for the Vikings, and a home blow-out victory over the Buffalo Bills, despite the loss of quarterback Brett Favre on the opening drive of the game.

Two weeks and two blowout losses later, Frazier looked like the mop-up coach destined either to return to the NFL with some other team as a specialist coach or, as for more of a long-shot, to return to a blown-up, youth-laden Vikings' team.

After last night's surprising road victory over the Eagles, Frazier has won a new lease on the prospect of returning to Minnesota next year to coach a team with its veteran core largely intact. For that stunning change of events, Frazier may well have himself primarily to thank.

The Vikings' victory over the Eagles last night came on the strength of four on-field performances--that of the defense, generally speaking, Percy Harvin, Adrian Peterson, and Webb. As important as, if not more important than the performance of players on the field, however, was the decision-making of Frazier. Where Childress almost certainly would have opted to start anyone other than Webb, even if it meant starting a quarterback who had not played in the league for three years, Frazier went with Webb. Where Childress almost certainly would have continued with his determination not to use Peterson on screen plays, Frazier employed Peterson in that capacity. And where Childress almost certainly would have limited Harvin's role in favor of more passes to check-down specialists Toby Gerhart, Jim Kleinsasser, and Naufahu Tahi, Frazier stuck with the hot player and allowed Webb to find his targets and move out of the pocket in so doing.

On Tuesday night, Vikings' fans were offered a glimpse of a quarterback with the makings of a legitimate NFL starter. They were also offered a glimpse of what the Vikings' talent looks like when used properly and when motivated to play. There has never been a question of Frazier's willingness to move outside the tiny box in which Childress operated, the question, following two brutal blowout losses, was whether Frazier could lead a team laced with veterans and young players when there was nothing for which to play. Frazier answered that question on Tuesday, in spite of a seemingly endless nightmare of scheduling and injury issues. A win against Detroit on Sunday thus might make possible what last week seemed improbable--the annointment of Frazier as the Vikings' permanent head coach.

Up Next: Webb Worth Consideration in 2011. Plus, Vikings' performance makes case for bringing back core of team.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Tampa 2 Has Run Its Course in Minnesota, If Not Also in the NFL

Among the myriad problems leading to the Minnesota Vikings' demise in 2010 was the near futility of Leslie Frazier's Tampa 2 defense. Though noticeable last year, the problems were magnified this season when the Vikings were forced to use a legion of players in the secondary, most of them not properly equipped to play the Tampa 2 defense. The fall of the Vikings' defense might be further fuel for the Vikings' ownership group to reconsider the merit of hiring current interim head coach Leslie Frazier on a permanent basis.

The premise of the Tampa 2 defense is that individuals with speed, strength, and sharp tackling skills can overcome any offensive scheme. That premise has best worked for defenses compromised of solid cornerbacks, adept safeties, and superb middle and outside linebackers. Failing any of these assets, the Tampa 2 is less appealing.

Unfortunately for the Minnesota Vikings, their current roster is missing at least four of the requisite Tampa 2 pieces. Minnesota has a very good middle linebacker and one good, healthy cornerback. What they do not have is either safety or a second cornerback. They also lack a strong-tackling weak-side linebacker and a linebacker who drops in coverage--Henderson is very good going forward and has progressed greatly dropping in coverage, but he is not yet a strong dropping linebacker.

The result for Minnesota has been a run defense that does not always make the plays on the weak side when the run has been redirected to that side and a pass defense that neither covers nor tackles when Winfield is not part of the play.

The rub for the Vikings, of course, is that Tampa 2 might be the lesser of all evils defensively speaking. Playing the Tampa 2 allows the Vikings to employ a simple defense that permits numerous substitutions--great for a team dealing with injuries. A read and react defense, the type favored by many NFL players and for which former Viking Darren Sharper loudly lobbied as he headed for New Orleans, requires players not only to maintain their assignments, tackle, and keep the play in front of them, but also to read the offense and anticipate the play. Given the Vikings' numerous injuries this season and the questionable skills of three of four members of the 2010 Vikings' secondary, a read and react defense likely would look little different from Denny Green's prevent defense, except that it would give up more points more often.

Leslie Frazier's greatest liability thus might also be his greatest excuse. For, while Frazier inherited Darrell Bevell and the remnants of one of the most poorly conceived West Coast offenses of all time, he also inherited the weak safeties and fell victim to defensive injuries that made a transition out of the Tampa 2 nearly impossible--assuming Frazier wanted to go that direction anyway.

The sticky wicket for Frazier, if given the option, will be what to do with the Vikings' defense next season. With the anticipated return of Cedric Griffin and Antoine Winfield and an opportunity to once again check out the free-agent market, the Vikings could not help but find at least one safety more capable than one of their current starters and Henderson probably will continue to evolve, but with the expected loss of Pat Williams and Ray Edwards, the Vikings will find run defense even more difficult.

This might be the ideal time for the Vikings to switch to a 3-4 defense, but that would mean bringing in someone familiar with the 3-4 defense and that, along with recent troubles, might further signal the end to Frazier's run in Minnesota.

Vikings' issues aside, it seems clear that the Tampa 2, with one or two exceptions, has run its course in the NFL. In the current climate, most teams are loathe to spend big dollars on the secondary; the rules greatly favor the offense and money invested in three offensive players is deemed desirable to large money spent on safeties and cornerbacks. Moreover, offensive coordinators long figured out how to attack the Tampa 2--short passes in front of corners to build a lead then deep passes when the corners start cheating up. It never really was a mystery, it was just more difficult to do against the likes of Ronde Barber and John Lynch than against what most teams opt to payroll in the secondary these days.

For the Vikings, a team presumably committed to building around key offensive players and retaining most of the front end of their defense, this all suggests that it is time to reconstruct not only the defense but the defensive philosophy. The question will be who will lead the charge?

Up Next: Childress' Last Claim His Weakest.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Vikings' High School Performance Puts Frazier Behind the Eight Ball

On Monday night, the Minnesota Vikings made a strong case for calling it a franchise. When ESPN's announcers were not shilling for the NFL's and Vikings' stadium drive, the Vikings were making fans wish that that was all that Monday night was about. With bad play on all fronts, Leslie Frazier has moved from a near-certainty to be the Vikings' next head coach to almost a certainty not to be.

Last week's performance at Detroit was putrid. This week's performance against a Chicago Bears' team that had been throttled at home one week earlier was putrid to the nth degree. The performance made Les Steckel's team, Denny Green's Spurgeon Wynn season, and Mike Tice's run in Minnesota seem laudable. In short, it was an utter disgrace.

Even those of us who like Frazier and believe that Frazier might have the makings of a good NFL coach have a hard time defending him in the wake of this performance. Yes, Brett Favre was hurt in the game and Joe Webb looked the rookie that he is, but the Vikings did everything poorly on Monday, when they were even making an effort.

Whether Madieu Williams was taking yet another impossibly inept route to the ball/receiver/neither, Ben Leber was dropping an easy pick (yet again), Toby Gerhart was fumbling, Sidney Rice was going through the motions, Ryan Longwell was giving up on a return by Devin Hester, the entire special teams coverage unit was MIA, Bryant McKinnie was taking another night off, John Sullivan was snapping balls over the quarterback's head or at the quarterback's feet, Phil Loadholt was taking another penalty, or Chris Kluwe was punting both short and to Devin Hester, there was no shortage of inexcusable miscues from this group of misfits.

Those who earned at at least some of their salary tonight, included a very small group of players--Antoine Winfield, EJ Henderson, and Percy Harvin. The rest should mail their weekly check back to the team or, better yet, to those who shoveled out the stadium so that the Chicago Bears could clinch in Minnesota instead of in Detroit.

It's very difficult to shake the stink of one putrid loss and virtually impossible to do that with two such losses--particularly when they are back to back. This will be a difficult hole out from which for Frazier to climb.

In Frazier's defense, the Vikings have an awful offensive line, a limited play caller in Darrell Bevell, no safeties, sub-par corners, and no receivers, after Harvin. Those limitations, albeit mostly of his making, were not enough to save Brad Childress' job in Minnesota and now seem unlikely to give Frazier the opportunity that he might deserve.

Up Next: Time to Discard Tampa Two.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Webb and Frazier Trending in Opposite Directions

Last week, the Minnesota Vikings' front office was all but set to offer interim Vikings' head coach Leslie Frazier the permanent head-coaching duties. That was after two Vikings' victories against league bottom-feeders and in the aftermath of former head coach Brad Childress' 31-3 going-away party at Lambeau Field. Vikings' officials had set this week, concurrent with the naming of the Vikings' top 50 players of all time, as a possible announcement date.

Monday night's drubbing at the hands of the New York Giants, a loss replete with all of the failures evident during the Childress regime, has the Vikings' ownership group second-guessing how quickly it needs to make their head-coaching decision. The thought process now appears to be that the team needs to accept any possible cost associated with waiting to make a decision on Frazier (i.e., the possibility of having other suitors bid up the price on Frazier) to make certain that Frazier is their man.

Monday disaster aside, it ought to be noted that Frazier is a breath of fresh air inside and outside of the locker room. He also remains saddled with Childress' offensive system, offensive coordinator, offensive line, and poor decisions regarding Tarvaris Jackson, Ryan Cook, and Matt Birk. Those are significant liabilities that the Vikings overcame, at times, during Childress' tenure and that Frazier appeared to handle well despite the added loss of Favre at the beginning of the Buffalo game. Things clearly unraveled against the Giants, however, raising questions about whether this team needs minor or major adjustments, outside of the evident holes.

No matter who is coach of the Vikings in 2011--or whenever the next season begins--that individual will need at least one bona fide interior offensive lineman, a quarterback, and a few other pieces before the Vikings can be considered favorites to win even their own division.

The money here is on Frazier, both in terms of who the Vikings will and ought to hire as their next head coach. But that says nothing about what the Vikings will or ought to do about other positions on the coaching staff. Fred Pagac might be the answer at defensive coordinator, but Darrell Bevell almost certainly is not the answer at offensive coordinator as his entire professional grounding is in a diseased version of the West Coast Offense.

Paramount among the concerns of the Vikings' ownership group this off-season will be ensuring continued public support for the team and sustaining a modicum of momentum for a publicly funded stadium. If the Vikings want to make a big splash, they need not change head coaches from Frazier to someone like Bill Parcells, a short-term mercenary at best. Rather, the Vikings can make a statement with Frazier at the helm if they also bring in an established offensive coordinator. If the Chargers flame out in round one, that might make Norv Turner available. If the Cowboys decide to go in a different direction, Jason Garrett would be available. And if the Vikings want to make him an assistant head coach, they can make a pitch for Green Bay Packer offensive coordinator Joe Philbin. All would represent an upgrade over the present as, undoubtedly, would numerous others.

Joe Webb Trending Up

With Tarvaris Jackson essentially having played his last game as a Minnesota Viking after being placed on injured reserve, Joe Webb almost certainly will start his first NFL game on Monday night against the Chicago Bears. Webb was not spectacular in his time against the Giants on Monday night, but he was intriguing. While Jackson continued to miss receivers badly and went into a shell when things did not go well, Webb showed a rifle arm, poise, and amazing speed to go along with a bounce-back personae.

It's not Jackson's fault that he was a reach in the draft. Nor is it his fault that his career was molded by a coach incapable of mentoring quarterbacks. At this point in his career, however, Jackson clearly is a lesser quarterback than even Webb. And Webb, the guy that Childress wanted to use strictly as a receiver--making that almost certainly the wrong decision--shows the kind of promise at this point in his career that suggests he might some day be the kind of quarterback that Childress always attempted to convince us Jackson already was.

Up Next: Shameful, Baseless Shaming.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lipstick On A Pig

A false start against Jim Kleinsasser on Monday summed up the Vikings' season. When the most valuable member of the offensive line consistently false starts in an attempt to gain the edge he needs to compensate for his fellow linemen's short-comings the end is never far behind. That end was obtained on Monday night, when the Vikings put forth one of their all-time worst performance en route to a pig-like 21-3 loss. All that was missing was the lipstick.

How bad was the performance? The Vikings trotted out two quarterbacks who each performed to the tune of sub-50 passer ratings. One quarterback's performance, that of rookie Joe Webb, was excusable, particularly given his clear assets. The performance of the other, was unacceptable and was merely one more nail in the coffin of a Minnesota career that never should have begun for Tarvaris Jackson.

For the game, Jackson was 15 of 30 for 118 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception. Sidney Rice had five of those receptions, but for just 60 yards despite being targeted 12 times. Jackson chipped in 8 yards on four carries. Favre could have done that with his left hand and no legs.

The loss means the end to the Vikings' playoff hopes and a season ahead full of considerable questions. Who will play quarterback next season? Can the Vikings rebuild their offense and keep their defensive stars? Who will coach the team? The answers might make Vikings' fans content to suffer through protracted CBA negotiations.

Up Next: Voice of Vikings Embarrasses Self in Shilling for New Stadium.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Reports of Vikings' 2010 Demise Premature

Most fans and pundits have already determined that the Minnesota Vikings are not playoff bound. While the odds of a Vikings' return to the playoffs appear fleeting, they nevertheless remain. An awful lot most go right for that to happen, however.

What must go right for the Vikings to make the playoffs this season, begins with the Vikings. They must win their remaining four games to finish 9-7. After that, the Vikings need the Packers to lose their remaining three games (unless Chicago does that), including a game against Chicago. They also need Tampa Bay to finish no better than 1-2, the New York Giants to finish no better than 1-3, with that one win coming against Green Bay (assuming Green Bay loses out), or have Philadelphia lose its remaining three games. And they need Seattle to lose one more game or beat out St. Louis for the NFC West title, and have either Green Bay or Chicago lose out.

All of that starts tonight, in Detroit, where the Vikings take on the beatable New York Giants. Under soon-to-be new head coach Leslie Frazier, those beatable opponents have translated into victories. If that trend continues tonight, the Vikings not only will be one-fourth of the way to an improbable playoff berth, they also will keep a conference competitor for that spot the same distance away from clinching the spot as they were going into the game. If, on the other hand, the Giants win tonight, the Vikings officially will be eliminated from the playoff race.

Up Next: Jackson's Mobility Something Favre Having Difficulty Overcoming With His Arm.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Always A Reason

When the economy was firing on all of its artificial cylinders, the Minnesota Vikings implored the State of Minnesota and numerous municipalities to fund a new stadium for the team. "Now's the time," we were told. "With the economy humming and everyone flush with tax revenue, what better time could there be?" Our local octogenarian sports writer even opined that "the cost can only go up."

Surely, that was the time to build the Vikings' ownership group a shiny new stadium and let them reap all of the revenue streams accruing therefrom.

When the economy went south, however, that became the new "best time" to build a shiny new stadium for the Vikings' millionaire owners. "Building a new stadium now will help put people to work and boost the local economy," we were told. Our local octogenarian sports writer agreed. "The price will only go up," he argued.

Early Sunday morning, the snow provided yet another reason why now is the time to build the Vikings and the NFL--both of which stand to gain in the billions of dollars, long term, from a new Vikings' stadium (yes, in the billions of dollars). Reaching levels previously reached in Minnesota only five or six times, the snow put too much weight on the Metrodome roof, rupturing seems and collapsing the roof. "That's why we need a new stadium," we now are being told.

There is a lesson, here, of course, and it should be too obvious to require elaboration. Unfortunately, it probably is not, so I will elaborate. That lesson is that, if you want a new stadium, there will always be an angle for suggesting that the stadium is long overdue and ought to be built now. Economy up? Time to build. Economy down? Time to build. Record snow fall? Time to build.

Of course, there is always the flip side to the time to build mantra--the argument that it's not time to build, at least not without a sizable, on-going return to the funding party. A strong economy is an argument to let the owners invest their own capital and to cut taxes. A weak economy is an argument to establish priorities and not spend on discretionary projects. And heavy snow is merely an argument to suck it up and shovel out--not build a new stadium. Of course none of this will you ever hear from the lips or read in the scribblings of our local octogenarian sports writer.

Up Next: Motown?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Vikings' Stadium Push Policy Ought to Focus on State Blight

Since Red McCombs purchased the Minnesota Vikings in 1998, the team has spent considerable time and money in an attempt to gain public funding for a new stadium. Four years ago, just one year after purchasing the team from McCombs, current Vikings' owner Zygi Wilf orchestrated a deal for a new stadium in Anoka County, before backing out of the arrangement. Rejecting a deal that, in hindsight, was nearly too good to be true, the Wilfs opted to continue their push for a downtown Minneapolis stadium--a stadium that would take advantage of the Wilfs' recent land purchases in the area.

During the entire new stadium push process, the Vikings have used local radio, television, and newspapers, and the NFL-induced, weekly assistance of FOX, CBS, and ESPN (and, presumably, NFL Network) play-by-play and color analysts to pitch their agenda. The focus from outside has been two-fold: (1) that the Vikings sit near the bottom of the league in stadium-generated revenue (never mind what the actually means) and (2) that a new stadium like team "X" has would be really cool.

Internally, the Vikings continue to lob the fireball that the team might just have to move to LA. They have recently suggested, while maintaining that they are not suggesting, that LA is looking for two teams, not just one. Apparently, that is meant to make Minnesota fans twice as nervous as were LA merely looking for one team.

Standing in the way of the rhetoric, however, are the details: (1) LA is not looking even for one team, rather it is the NFL that wants a team in LA; (2) the NFL is not interested and will not permit a move of a current team to LA, thereby foregoing the largesse that would be the franchise fee for any team in LA; (3) there is no stadium suitable for the NFL in LA, with the Coliseum long-ago discarded as a viable option; (4) the NFL does not want to lose a team in Minneapolis, the 12th largest NFL market with arguably one of the most loyal fan bases; and (5) even if the NFL were to permit the Vikings to move to LA, not even the NFL's or Vikings' concocted stories about LA would benefit the Wilfs; nobody is inviting the Wilfs to move to LA, rather, they are offering to buy the team from the Wilfs and, to be fiscally viable, that almost certainly would mean that the Wilfs would have to sell at a loss.

All of which means that the Wilfs, as they clearly understand, have only two meaningful options. One is to fold-up shop, thereby foregoing the annual $50-60 million that they clear just for being part of the NFL brotherhood. The second is to get a stadium deal done in Minnesota and/or renew their lease at the built-for-football Metrodome.

For Minnesotans, a new stadium could mean additional revenues, if the deal is properly structured. Assuming such a deal associated with anyone who has brought you a $6.2 billion deficit and believes that a salary freeze when others are losing their jobs is a meaningful "spending cut" might not be as far-fetched as it seems, as many of the same players who brought the now profitable Metrodome to the Minneapolis skyscape probably will also have a hand in any new stadium deal for the Vikings.

Of course the Vikings will make much more money on a new stadium than they do in the Metrodome--hand over fist, in fact, with reasonable estimates north of $100 million per season. That makes the entire dance offered by the Vikings both stomach-churning and foolish. Had the Wilfs and the NFL simply invested their own money in a new stadium when the Wilfs purchased the team, they would have, by now, far exceeded in revenue the investment that they are seeking from Minnesotans. That's stupid math both by the NFL and the Vikings. But the Vikings are erring even in the source of their angst and in their focus for gaining legislative support for their new shrine.

While the Vikings essentially point to the fans--those fans who shell out over $150/person, on average, for the privilege of attending just one Vikings' game and who buy Vikings' merchandise even away from the field--where they ought to be focusing their attention is across the river, at another Minnesota institution, the University of Minnesota.

Even with the clear potential for revenue gains (again, assuming a well-struck deal that returns stadium revenues to the State), Minnesota legislators and the Governor are stuck with considerable public debt. And, though relatively small compared to the State's projected budget deficit, the University of Minnesota Athletic Department's annual budget deficit serves as both the poster child and rallying point for those opposed to public funding of sports venues and ventures, in general.

In 2010, the University of Minnesota Athletic Department ran its now customary $3 million budget deficit. That deficit must, of course, be balanced. To meet this dictate, the Athletic Department must borrow from the University's central fund. And the University obtains most of its money--either directly or indirectly--from the State of Minnesota and the tax payer.

Since Clem Haskins' $1.5 million bailout--an amount paid upfront to Haskins but still being paid on borrowed money by the University of Minnesota--the University of Minnesota Athletics Department has spent $6 million, also in borrowed money, to buy out the contracts of Glen Mason, Dan Monson, and Tim Brewster. It has also spent in excess of $300,000 on coaching searches, with approximately half of that amount going to search firms that identified Brewster as a viable head coach and that did nothing to identify Bill Kill as a coaching candidate. All of this money spent, and, still, the Athletic Department is running a $3 million annual deficit.

If the Vikings truly wanted to ingratiate themselves to Minnesota politicians, rather than promising "not to move to LA," they would dig into their pockets and buy out the University of Minnesota Athletic Director before he makes another costly, state-funded mistake, pay to lure a true AD to Minnesota, and endow several scholarships to help the U avoid future budget deficits. It would cost the Vikings quite little to gain a tremendous windfall. And it almost assuredly would allow Minnesota politicians to reassess where the Vikings fit into Minnesota's financial landscape and to do so sooner rather than later.

Up Next: That Roof Thing. Plus, a wasted year for Peterson.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Vikings Ready to Make Frazier Permanent Head Coach

The Minnesota Vikings are preparing to move on Leslie Frazier as their new head coach. The initial thought process at Winter Park was to give Frazier until the end of the season to prove his merit as head coach. That made sense, given some of the Vikings' defensive difficulties this season and the lingering question of whether any issues that existed on defense were the consequence of inadequate personnel or coaching. While the jury is still out on that question, the jury appears in on Frazier's acumen as a manager of talent. That, and other league dynamics, have shifted the Vikings' focus forward for making a decision on Frazier.

The one question remaining for the Vikings' ownership group regarding Frazier's merit as head coach is whether Frazier can deliver victories over the haves of the league rather than merely over the league's have-nots. Beating Washington on the road and running Buffalo at home showed that Frazier can do what a team loaded with talent ought to do. The test now is whether he can put his talent up against another team with good talent and emerge victorious. Fortunately for Frazier, that test will come first at home, rather than on the road. That test was to have been test three of four--the fourth being beating a talented team on the road, or at least playing competitively against such a team on the road. Other factors have made that fourth prong, and possibly the third prong, less salient in the eyes of Vikings' ownership.

On Monday, the Denver Broncos relieved their head coach of his coaching duties, approximately a year and one-half too late. The opening in Denver means more opportunities for Frazier. And given his rapport with players, media, fans, and coaching staff, and his humility in the face of immediate success--despite unexpected obstacles such as the loss of the starting quarterback--Frazier's stock has only risen since he took the reigns as Vikings' head coach. That fact has not been lost on the Vikings' ownership group.

While it is possible that the Vikings will announce Frazier's signing as early as this week, it is also possible that they will wait until after this week's game to determine whether Frazier can extend his run against better competition. The downside to the latter ploy is that the team allows Frazier more time to prove himself and consider that there are other openings in the off-season. That would increase Frazier's asking price and the Vikings would prefer, of course, to pay less rather than more for the same product. It would also at least create the possibility that the Vikings would be searching for a new head coach this off-season, having let get away the coach that they preferred.

Up Next: Even With PIcks and Against Buffalo, Jackson Improved.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

What I Like About You

It did not take long for interim Minnesota Vikings' head coach Leslie Frazier to ingratiate himself with Vikings' fans. In the days preceding the Vikings' 17-13 road victory over Washington, Frazier immediately established himself as a more personable public face of the team than former head coach Brad Childress ever seemed capable of managing, despite much effort and expense by the Vikings' front office. Frazier not only spoke openly about his plans for the Washington game--careful not to venture into the Mike Tice territory of giving away the team's game plan--he also did so unscripted. That, in and of itself, was a refreshing change from the Childress era.

Frazier also elected to be interviewed by KFAN drive-time host, Dan Barreiro, rather than reprising Childress' interview schedule with the 9 to noon station host, Paul Allen. The move, almost certainly encouraged by the Vikings' front office, nevertheless was Frazier's to approve. By moving out of the softball, love fest that is the Paul Allen world, Frazier opted, instead, to weather the typically more blunt questions from Barreiro--the type of questions that often flustered Tice and the answers to which, in part, probably facilitated Tice's departure.

Not only did Frazier accept the challenge of moving from the warm cocoon to the real world of sports interviews, he did so with aplomb, answering questions directly so as not to agitate the host and being thoughtful enough in his responses not leave the type of negative impression which Childress all too often left with fans and talk show hosts alike.

Frazier took his image to Washington where he led the Vikings to the team's first road victory since November of 2009 and its first opening drive touchdown this year. And even with Adrian Peterson sidelined from the second quarter on with a sprained ankle, Frazier managed a victory where a Childress-led team almost certainly would have fallen to ignominious defeat.

More striking of Frazier than either his initial public impression or his in-game performance was his response to the victory. Never has an individual looked more genuinely happy than did Frazier on Sunday. And never have members of a team seemed more genuinely pleased for their head coach than did the Vikings' players. Frazier beamed from ear to ear, his players cheered, and the Vikings' left an opponent's field finally victorious. It was reminiscent of the closing scene from Rudy, only Frazier is no Rudy and his run is far from over.

As his in-game coaching of E.J. Henderson, caught by FOX cameras during Sunday's game, suggests, Frazier is no wilting lily. But neither, as his players will attest, is he clinically obsessive compulsive about his design. In short, while he is not a 180 degree change from Childress, Frazier appears to be a 90 degree shift in the right direction. And that might be just what the Vikings need to ensure that at least some of their many soon-to-be free agents have a desire to return next season, whenever that might be, and that the State legislature and Governor see greater value in gifting the team public money for a stadium, even if the team has no other place to play.

Up Next: Vikings' Being Dishonest and Disingenuous About Their Lack of Interest in a Retractable Roof on a New Stadium.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Why Childress' Ouster Had to Happen

For many Minnesota Vikings' fans, former head coach Brad Childress' ouster occurred approximately four years and ten games too late. Even those dyed-in-the-wool Minnesotans, famous for deferring to the wisdom of decision makers until the decision makers prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that their decisions are faulty, must now acknowledge that Childress was a poor fit in Minnesota.

Ironically, Childress' downfall in Minnesota was the same ill that ultimately betrayed and led to the dismissal of his predecessor, Mike Tice. That commonality was the stubbornness portrayed by both in the face of blaring evidence of the appropriateness of acting differently.

Tice immortalized his stubbornness in two episodes that Vikings' fans still widely listen to today, more with a sense of bewilderment and enjoyment than with the angst with which they listened to the episodes at their inception. The first was Tice's insistence on forcing the ball to wide-receiver Randy Moss, no matter the circumstances. Tice's infamous "Randy Ratio" immediately put Tice in a dubious coaching class of his own. He added to that infamy by declaring that the Vikings would need to play "tough guy football" against the Chicago Bears because, of course, Chicago was a "tough guy town." It never entered Tice's mind that the Vikings could play to their strengths and still beat a team composed of different materials than is the City of Chicago.

Childress curiously picked up right where Tice left off, though he had a bit more of an offensive design than did Tice, and far more resources. Presumably, from Childress' perspective, Tice's issue in MInnesota was not that he had been stubborn, but that he had been stubborn and clueless. As it happens, Tice was both--but Childress was both and more so.

While Tice could make an acceptable offensive line out of duct tape, chewing gum, and a wisp of hair, Childress could not cobble together anything that would be acceptable of an offensive line even at the collegiate level. That issue persisted throughout Childress' tenure in Minnesota, despite the Vikings' use of high second-round picks on Phil Loadholt and Ryan Cook, drafting of John Sullivan and Chris DeGeare, signing of Steven Hutchinson, and retention of Bryant McKinnie and blocking tight end Jim Kleinsasser.

Despite Childress' inability to resolve offensive line problems that led to his quarterbacks routinely being murdered, one of the league's best running backs failing to reach his potential, and the subsequent passing and scoring problems, Childress compounded his woes by refusing to make alterations, other than to play musical chairs at center. Rarely did he bring in reinforcements in the form of a two tight-end set, never did he use a lineman in the backfield on goal line situations, and almost always did he run to the weak side of the line in critical situations. Increasingly, it was evident that Childress' head was made of firmer stuff than was even the brick wall into which he routinely ran his offensive philosophy.

Stubbornness notwithstanding, Childress' offense was not what he had advertised, his ability to mentor and mold quarterbacks was a canard, and his strength as a team leader had unraveled. During Sunday's non-performance, rookie bust Chris Cook told veteran defensive end Ray Edwards where to go in repeated fashion, the offensive coordinator again had problems getting plays into the game and refused to go no-huddle, leading to a confrontation with the quarterback following a pick, and too many Vikings' players simply offered minimal effort.

Childress' loss should be to the benefit of both the team and Childress. The team will have a new voice and an opportunity to weed out poor performers both on the field and on the sidelines and Childress will be able to enjoy a hefty severance check and, hopefully, regain his clearly deteriorating health.

The lasting memory of Childress, awful final season aside, likely will be something that has nothing to do with what Childress ever did in Minnesota. Rather, it is a statement made by a colleague who also is now gone from the local scene. Upon his arrival in Minnesota, former University of Minnesota football coach (term used loosely), Tim Brewster assured Vikings' fans that they were "going to love Childress." A telling comment on so many fronts.

Up Next: Frazier's Mandate.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Childress Out As Vikings' Head Coach

Minnesota Vikings' head coach continued a trend among Minnesota coaches of accepting a lucrative, long-term extension only to be fired the following season. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier will take over on an interim basis. More at noon.

Vikings Stink Up the Joint in Lopsided Loss

The Minnesota Vikings effectively put a cap on a forgettable season, bowing to the Green Bay Packers, at home, 31-3. The Vikings could have scored more, the Packers could have scored less (or many more), but, from the end of the first half forward, there was little doubt which team was better prepared to play.

The Vikings' loss epitomized their entire season, if in most dramatic form. The offensive line was beyond putrid--whatever that would be; the secondary was horrific; the defensive line made two plays the entire day; and the linebackers chipped in one or two more. Add that to another underwhelming game plan that featured too much Naufahu Tahi and Toby Gerhart, too little Adrian Peterson, and consistently overthrown passes to short-armed receivers and the Vikings got their due on Sunday.

The obvious question in the wake of this time-wasting performance is whether it hastens head coach Brad Childress' departure. Previous arguments in favor of making an in-season change of what appears to be a fait accompli, if not now then at the end of this disastrous season, have centered on the belief that Childress' replacement would be assistant coach and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. If that means more of this woeful defense, translated into similar ineptitude on offense, that might not seem so magical.

What Frazier would provide the Vikings at this point is a seemingly more affable, but firm, head coach who speaks well in public. What is not known about Frazier is whether he has been a magician working with mirrors beyond the linebackers all season or not all that gifted at putting together a defense--and, hence, a team. Despite several Pro Bowl caliber players on the defensive line and at linebacker, and with a great corner in Antoine Winfield, Frazier has led a Vikings' defense that appears willing to sit back in a cover two that covers zero. On Sunday, the Packers exposed this ploy, throwing in front of, between, and behind every member of the secondary not named Winfield. It truly was a pathetic performance of epic proportions. And yet, despite this burn propensity, Frazier continued to hold to his don't press and don't blitz philosophy. Is this simply Childress in a different guise? Or, is Frazier stuck with a bad bowl of fruit? Whichever the case, it offers a less-than-certain future for this team, to say the least.

If and when the Vikings move on the head coach, they need also to spend some of their money on ensuring that the team has a legitimate offensive line coach and offensive coordinator. The latter goes without saying, but the former has had far too much of a free pass. There should be no possible way for Green Bay, which has no running game to speak of, to outperform a Vikings' offense that has Percy Harvin, Sidney Rice, Adrian Peterson, and Visanthe Shiancoe, even with Favre throwing high. It's simply not possible, unless the team is being guided in a fashion that makes it possible.

Up Next: Who the Vikings Should Hire. Plus, Vikings likely to split time between Jackson and Webb once they are officially eliminated.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Familiar Story Unfolding at Metrodome

It's nearly halftime and the Minnesota Vikings are trailing the Green Bay Packers 10-3, that, despite nearly comparable statistics for the two teams.

The greatest difference through nearly two quarters has been the Vikings' inability to hold onto the football, Minnesota head coach Brad Childress' persistence in giving nearly as many early-game touches to Toby Gerhart and Naufahu Tahi as he has given Adrian Peterson, and continuing futility in the red zone.

In the first half, alone, three Vikings dropped balls. Each drop cost the Vikings' points. The parade of drops began with Greg Lewis' drop of a pass near the goal line. That drop negated what otherwise probably would have been a first down and forced the Vikings to kick a field goal. Minus four points for the Vikings.

The next drop came courtesy Toby Gerhart, who, presumably because he is a rookie who has fumbled in the past and has not been particularly noteworthy, was in position to receive a critical third-down pass. Gerhart caught the pass but failed to wrap it at the end of the run. The result was a turnover at the Green Bay 35-yard-line. Minus at least three points on the play and seven overall.

The final drop (so far) came courtesy Hussain Abdullah. With Aaron Rodgers dropping back in the pocket and clearly eyeing his intended receiver, Abdullah stayed his ground. Rodgers' pass was slightly to the inside of the nearest receiver, Abdullah, who turned and found the ball in his arms. Abdullah dropped the gift, however, and the Packers scored a touchdown on the subsequent play. Minus seven points on the play and fourteen overall.

Clearly, execution is abysmal for this Vikings' team. But, at some point, the coaching staff must assume responsibility for the play on the field. If not, there really is not point in having coaches.

Up Next: It Gets Worse.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Minnesota a Higher Employed Michigan as Vikings Fall to Par With Lions

One of Minnesota's longest-living sportswriters long has quipped that, but for professional sports in the Twin Cities, Minneapolis would be little more than a cold Omaha. That sportswriter's entire universe is, of course, sports, so it is easy to understand how his perception of a city could be determined entirely by whether the market caters to each of the top four professional sports franchises in the United States and equally easy to understand his perception that the reason that businesses locate in Minneapolis is because of the sports teams.

A more valid comparison than the far less populated, less Fortune 500 situated Omaha, however, might be comparing the State of Minnesota to that of Michigan, at least in our sportswriter's sports only World. Only, in this comparison, one need not assume that either market is or will be without its current slate of professional sports teams, however loosely one wishes to use that phrase.

After a shellacking at the hands of the Chicago Bears on Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings have nudged the entire State of Minnesota into the realm of discussions once reserved exclusively for the Detroit Lions. And the discussion is, to say the least, not a good one.

Through nine games this season, the Minnesota Vikings stand a mere game ahead of the last-place Lions in the NFC North. A strong case can be made, however, that that statistic will correct by the end of the season, flipping Minnesota and Detroit.

On the season, the Detroit Lions have scored 215 points, the Vikings 169. The Lions' point total is good for tenth in the NFL; the Vikings' point total is twenty-sixth in the league. And though the Lions have surrendered the eleventh most points this season at 202, Minnesota is only a touchdown off that figure.

At the end of the season, overall margin of victory/loss offers a good proxy on a team's relative standing within the NFL. At present, the Lions are at +13, the Vikings are a -26. Only 11 teams have a worse margin than Vikings. Is there any doubt that, with younger players at core positions and a coach who finally seems competent, the Lions soon will be overtaking the Vikings?

Tomorrow's forecast in Pontiac, Michigan is 54. In Minneapolis, it might reach 40.

Up Next: Who Pays What and Building a Stadium.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Vikings Look Disinterested, Inept in Loss to Bears

If the Minnesota Vikings' game against the Chicago Bears on Sunday was a referendum on Brad Childress' tenure with the team, the vote is decidedly against perpetuation of the Childress regime. At 3-6 and effectively four games behind two division opponents, a change at the top likely will mean little for the Vikings this year. But a head-coaching switch to current defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, whose defense was at its worst today, would at least give the Vikings an opportunity to gauge Frazier's ability to lead a team in desperate need of new guidance without putting the Vikings' ownership on the hook for another coach's salary in what could be a coming year without football.

What went wrong for the Vikings on Sunday? It would be far easier to note what went right. Despite losing by only two touchdowns, the Vikings were the beneficiaries of several Chicago miscues; absent these miscues, the score could have been far worse. That, in short, is what went right for Minnesota.

The Vikings' failures included an inability to start the game with any sense of urgency, an inability to establish a cognizable, let alone successful, offensive philosophy, an inability to put meaningful pressure on a quarterback against whom all other opponents have exerted their will, an inability to play special teams, and an inability to function, generally speaking.

This was an ugly, plodding game, the type of game to which the Childress-led Vikings have become susceptible. What all of this is a recipe for is unclear, at least on the positive side, and it all suggests that last year was more a confluence of serendipity and overachievement than anything that the the Vikings' coaching staff culled from the players on the team.

Up Next: The Truth Hurts.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Three Reasons That Minnesota Vikings' Head Coach Brad Childress Ought to be on the Hot Seat That Have Nothing to Do With Randy Moss

Over the past week, much ado has been made by the local Minnesota media about the continuing rift between Minnesota Vikings' head coach Brad Childress and the Vikings' fan base. Much of that media attention has been on the straw man created by certain members of the media that fan angst is directed toward Childress' dismissal of Randy Moss from the team. The bizarre conclusion, either directly stated or insinuated, is that Moss' dismissal has driven fans to respond both in an uninformed and irrational manner in calling for Childress' head.

With the notable exception of the fans that follow the team's play-by-play man to a local haunt every Friday, most Vikings' fans are far more rational than members of the media give them credit for being and, in many instances, far more rational than many of the media members propounding the straw man theory of fan dislike for Childress.

Only the most addled Viking fans would refuse to acknowledge that Moss' behavior in Minnesota was boorish. Most Vikings' fans probably even agree that Moss' petulance in team meetings, after games, and in games this year offered Childress legitimate grounds for dismissing the wide-receiver. As such, for most Vikings' fans, Moss' departure is a snapshot of Childress' greater issues rather than cause, in and of itself, for concern over Childress' ability to lead the Vikings. Those issues, when considered both individually and collectively, have created the overall anti-Childress sentiment, with Moss' dismissal merely offering the tipping point for venting frustration with the head coach.

Though Childress certainly has made some strides in his time as Vikings' head coach, there are numerous reasons to continue to question whether he merits the position he currently holds, none of which have anything expressly to do with Moss' dismissal or even with Vikings' player dislike of Childress. The following are three such issues.

Among the numerous problems that Childress continues to face is his persistently poor public image. What, for some unknown reason, receives virtually no attention in the regular media, is the fact that the Vikings' organization has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to have specialists work with Childress on presenting himself in public. That's almost too rich to believe. But that it is true makes it all the more remarkable that nobody has run with the story of a psychology major who cannot "psychologize"--as Childress might say, particularly as the angle meshes with the fact that the Wilf's hired Childress with very limited vetting. Childress' inability to make great strides in presentation of self in his five years with the team, despite the efforts of the team to assist him in this regard, ought to be cause for concern for anyone viewing any of Childress' other coaching liabilities.

One of those liabilities is Childress' continuing difficulty dealing with veterans, particularly those at skill positions. Last year, Childress attempted to pull quarterback Brett Favre from a game and replace him with the far more subservient, and infinitely less-skilled Tarvaris Jackson. That attempted move led to a heated sideline dispute out of which Favre emerged victorious, to a point.

But the real boiling point hit the subsequent week against the Chicago Bears when, frustrated by the chain-and-shackle conservative offense for which Childress has become a league punching bag, Favre erupted. The result was a torrent of points that almost allowed the Vikings to overcome a large deficit in spite of Childress' game plan. Other run-ins with the highly respected Brad Johnson, Matt Birk, and Gus Frerotte, and other players such as Marcus Robinson, Sage Rosenfels, Percy Harvin, Chris Kluwe, and Ryan Longwell, suggest an on-going control issue for Childress far beyond what normally could be expected of a head coach in the NFL. Clearly, Childress' control issues border on psychosis.

When Childress is not having difficulty with presentation of self and dealing with skill players, he seems irretractably unable to make the best use of the talent on his team. Much is made of the progression that Childress has made as head coach of the Vikings, moving the team from 6-10 to 8-8 to 10-6 to 12-4 last season. That's almost Brewster-like in its revisionism, however, in that it fails to note two extremely relevant qualifications to this progression. The first is that Childress inherited a 9-7 team. By that standard, he did not improve the team until year three of his run in Minnesota, and, then, only marginally so. Presumably, this is far less than even the Vikings' blindered ownership group anticipated when bringing in Childress to replace Mike Tice to coach a team for which, as Childress stated upon "picking the Vikings," was a team for which "the cupboard is not bare." The 10-6 record should have been expected in year one, the 12-4 in year two if things were progressing as expected--either that, or even Tice is superior to Childress, a possibility that cannot yet be discounted.

More damning in the face of Childress' purported success with the Vikings, however, is that, since Childress arrived in Minnesota, the team has upgraded talent virtually across the field and greatly improved its commitment to coaching salaries. Since Childress' first season with the Vikings, the team has added Adrian Peterson, Brett Favre, Steve Hutchinson, Percy Harvin, Sidney Rice, Bernard Berrian, Chad Greenway, Ben Leber, Cedric Griffin, Jared Allen, Ray Edwards, Phil Loadholt, and Visanthe Shiancoe. Somehow, Childress has managed to parlay that talent into a mediocre increase in victories and one playoff victory. That's inexcusable.

What's potentially even more indictable respecting Childress' failure to make more than modest progress with a team loaded with talent, however, is what his reported counterpart on defense, Leslie Frazier, has done. While Childress' offense did improve by 80 points in production from year one to year two of his regime--neatly coinciding with Peterson's arrival--it plateaued the next year before bumping up 90 points upon Favre's arrival. This year, it is on pace to regress to 2007 levels or worse.

Despite being dealt a secondary which, save for Antoine Winfield, should be far worse than anything that Denny Green ever put on the field, Frazier, conversely, has managed to maintain a defense that has retained a top five position in yards allowed and a top-third position in points allowed. That's even more impressive given significant injuries to EJ Henderson, Antoine Winfield, Cedric Griffin, and Chris Cook, and the aging of Pat Williams, all of which have limited the Vikings' ability to blitz and, thus, to put pressure on the quarterback.

These are but three of the primary reasons why, Moss' departure aside, Vikings' fans have very rational reasons for questioning whether Childress is the right fit for this team and why they have fodder to consider that Frazier might be the better option. And while this certainly takes more time to lay out than the straw man argument put forth by some in the local media to explain the "irrational reason" why Vikings' fans would like to see a change at head coach, it is the grist upon which the Vikings' owners most assuredly will grit their teeth when deciding Childress' fate either later this season or at the end of the year.

Up Next: Da Bears. Plus, the real stadium solution.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Vikings' Victory Likely to Put Even More Pressure on Childress

On Sunday at the Metrodome, the Minnesota Vikings put on a head-scratching display befitting their embattled head coach. For roughly fifty minutes, the Vikings played conservative on both sides of the ball, awful on special teams, and with seemingly no determination or grit. For the final 10 minutes of the game, the team did what the team did at the tail end of last season, thoroughly dominating the regardless-of-record hapless Cardinals en route to a 27-24 overtime victory.

During his post-game press conference, Minnesota Vikings' head coach Brad Childress all but announced that Zygi Wilf and the rest of the Vikings' ownership group viewed yesterday's game as a measuring stick--a win would buy Childress time, a loss would result in his dismissal. Asked what Zygi said to the team following the Vikings surprising comeback, Childress said "he just said 'great heart,' and I think he meant that for everyone." Clearly, Childress' lingering doubt was over the extent of Zygi's support for him.

The predicament is not entirely surprising. Even when the Vikings were winning, improving on Childress' first miserable year as coach after adding talented player after talented player, year after year, the Vikings' organization was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on professional image builders to improve Childress presentation of self in public. With that image badly sullied in the wake of yet another of Childress' personal battles with a key player, Childress' decision to make an expensive decision on the owners' dime without first consulting the owners, and Childress' peculiar handling of Moss, all those hundreds of thousands of dollars and years of window dressing were about to unravel.

The first fifty minutes of the game on Sunday played out like virtually every Childress-led game in the pre-Brett Favre era with plodding offense, predictable running plays, lapses on defense, porous special teams play, and questionable coaching. From the constant runs up the middle, to Chad Greenway's failure to haul in an easy interception, to Percy Harvin's fumble and the Cardinals' return of a kickoff for a touchdown, to yet another unfulfilled Childress challenge, everything, including an eleven-point home deficit to a weak Arizona team suggested that Childress was taking his final steps along the Vikings' sidelines.

In the last ten minutes of a near-defeat, however, the Vikings reverted to the form that nearly brought the franchise a Super Bowl in 2009-2010. We saw a glimpse of what the Vikings could do on offense earlier, even without a stellar deep threat, when, earlier in the game, Bernard Berrian decided to make his annual appearance on the field, Childress deigned to call a screen to Peterson, and Percy Harvin did what he wanted to do. But the results were nearly non-existent until the final quarter.

In the fourth quarter, Favre took control of the offense, running the no-huddle, two-minute drill to perfection on successive drives. The result was a worn out Cardinal defense that could not stop Adrian Peterson, Visanthe Shiancoe, Favre, Harvin, Berrian, or any of the Vikings not named Jeff Dugan.

To make it to overtime, however, the Vikings needed not only a return to 2009-2010 playoff form by the offense but also a return to similar form by the defense. Held sackless for three straight games and outsacked on the season by the Detroit Lions' first-round draft pick in 2010, the Vikings' defense finally did what it has needed to do all season. With the game on the line, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier finally took off the gloves and blitzed, rushing linebackers, corners, and safeties. The result was six sacks and the ball, in overtime, with a chance to win. And where he did not have the opportunity against the New Orleans Saints in last year's NFC Championship game, Vikings' placekicker Ryan Longwell did have the opportunity to win the game yesterday--and, not surprisingly, he converted.

The Vikings' victory yesterday kept the team in the hunt for a playoff spot this year and bought Childress at least one more week to show that he can change fan perception of him. To accomplish the latter, Childress has to buy into the Vikings' offensive talent. That means more no-huddle offense, relinquishment of control of the game plan to the quarterback, more screen plays to Peterson, more passes over the middle to Shiancoe and Harvin, and, when he returns, more plays to Sidney Rice than the Vikings even attempted last year. It also means pressing Frazier to experiment on defense as he was forced to experiment with the blitz on Sunday.

The ultimate irony of yesterday's performance is not that the Vikings won the game by abandoning the control that Childress so often has difficulty relinquishing, but that Childress' most likely successor, should Childress not make it to the end of the current season, is a coach who finally, himself, figured out the 2009 season, Frazier. While Childress bought himself more time to show he can do what he ought to be able to do with a team this loaded with talent, Frazier might have ratcheted up the pressure on the ownership group to make a move even more than Childress quelled any such pressure.

Up Next: Not the Cowboys. Plus, Frazier and Childress Icing Approaching.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Childress Offers Yet Another Justification for Letting Him Go

The press conference took approximately 20 minutes. Minnesota Vikings' head coach Brad Childress took about thirty seconds of that time to offer his "prepared" statements. Those statements, and the answers and non-answers to questions following therefrom offered further evidence that Childress simply is not meant to be the face or the mind behind an NFL football team.

Childress began his press conference by informing everyone of what they already knew, that the Vikings had waived wide-receiver Randy Moss. He then proceeded to throw everyone in the organization under the bus, before finally, absolutely begrudgingly acknowledging that coaching has something to do with the Vikings' current predicament.

"We need to catch the ball, throw the ball, and make plays on the ball better than we have," Childress said in response to a question regarding his decision to release Moss. Nowhere in that initial answer was there even a hint of Childress taking responsibility for the team's situation. That allowance came only at the tail-end of a response late in the testy press conference, during which Childress sounded like he had read the writing on the wall.

When questioned about his release of Moss, an explanation which seemed to be the entire purpose for the press conference, Childress offered that he was "not going to go there." He repeated this early and often. His only qualification to that poorly conceived response was that "it just didn't work--it just wasn't a good fit from a programmic [sic] perspective." Childress did allow that the decision to pick up Moss was on him, though the tab would be on the Wilfs. None of this makes the organization look good, none of it helps anyone.

After refusing to answer questions pertaining to the purpose of his press conference, Childress noted that he followed "process" in releasing Moss. When pressed, he stated that everyone in the organizational chain of command was in the loop prior to a decision being made and all but stated that he discussed the move with the Vikings' owners prior to making the decision. That, of course, debunks the Wilfs' claims of shock and dismay--and purported sense of helplessness--over the decision and should be recalled when our local octogenarian claims that "the Wilfs never supported the move and wanted to keep Moss."

More disturbing than Childress' refusal to answer straight-forward questions regarding his release of Moss was Childress continuing insistence on mischaracterizing information for which mischaracterizing serves no purpose. Like his childish misinformation regarding any number of previous acts, Childress claimed that, one hour prior to informing his players that Moss was no longer with the team, he did not know that he planned to release Moss. He also claimed that Moss' stay in New England was planned well in advance and that Moss' subsequent failure to return with the Vikings had nothing to do with his decision to release Moss.

Star-Tribune reporter, Judd Zulgad, became the first local reporter in recent memory to properly take a local sports coach or entity to task for a bold-faced lie, pressing Childress on clear misinformation. Childress' failure to provide an honest answer is simply a microcosm of Childress' inability to relinquish control of anything under any circumstances. It is a mind-set reflective of an individual who is not equipped to coach in the NFL. Mike Tice was stubborn, Childress is psychotically so, and it reflects poorly on the Vikings' organization and bodes poorly for the team which must continue to try to win in spite of Childress.

Up Next: Metal Pipe to Head Versus Childish Comment.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Zygi Selling Swampland

On Monday, Minnesota Vikings' owner Zygi Wilf let "slip" that he was not informed of head coach Brad Childress' decision to release wide-receiver Randy Moss and that he was not pleased with the decision. Certainly, this news will serve as future grist for our local octogenarian apologist for local team ownership groups--particularly those ownership groups attempting to procure public funding for a new stadium. At best, however, the story is half-baked.

If Zygi is so upset over Childress' determination to cut Moss, he still as the opportunity to step in and make certain that Moss remains with the team. That is because, despite Zygi's protestations, as of noon on Tuesday, Moss had not yet been waived by the Vikings.

If Moss is waived by the team, Vikings' fans should be clear that Zygi's protest is nothing but window dressing. Zygi is letting Childress make the call on Moss and, in return, requiring that Childress stand up and take the fallout. Zygi wants none of it in his attempt to put a good face on the ownership group.

Anyone who believes that Zygi has been caught by surprise and is incapable of putting the brakes on Moss' waiver should expect a call from Zygi's realtor in the near future--or from mine.

Up Next: Eminently Winnable Games No Gauge on Childress.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Power Struggle PIts Vikings' Head Coach Against Ownership and Front Office

While there are defensible reasons for Minnesota Vikings' head coach Brad Childress' preference to release wide receiver Randy Moss, apparently Childress did not set forth, defend, or carry out to a resolution those reasons with the Vikings' front office or ownership group, prior to making his announcement of Moss' waiver at 2 p.m. on Monday. As of 5 p.m. on Monday, there was no notice of Moss' waiver filed with the NFL. That meant either that the Vikings had not yet sent notice to the NFL or that the team was not going to release Moss. Either possibility remains in play.

The drama at Winter Park has reached epic proportions, even for a team that has dealt with the Red McCombs' era and Randy Moss in recent years. At this point, it appears virtually even odds that the Vikings will have a new head coach as early as tomorrow, with current defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier the most likely replacement.

Childress' dismissal, impossible one week ago, despite national attempts to fan the Childress flame, now seem more likely than at any time since the Vikings' ownership group came close to dismissing the head coach in 2007. With recent in-game gaffes, poor results despite one of the most highly paid and most talented teams in the league, and the ownership group's on-going efforts not only to secure public funding for a new stadium but also generous public funding for a "state-of-the-art" facility, the Wilfs will be hard-pressed to look the other way this time, favoring a head coach who fans have generally disliked over a mercurial, bizarre wide-receiver who puts fans in the seats, jerseys on fans' backs, money in the teams' coffers, and who has galvanized the fan base, regardless of what that might say about the fan base.

Up Next: Why Not Him, Why Not Now?

Childress Signals Own Troubles in Waiving Moss

Randy Moss held up his arms prior to halftime last week, as his then head coach Brad Childress opted to sit on the ball rather than attempting to score. This week, Moss failed to catch a ball for a touchdown after being interfered with by a New England defender and having the ball float in front of him. Last night, Moss called out his coach.

Today, Moss is among the wealthy unemployed--a presumably temporary status.

The Vikings' waiving of Moss just three weeks after trading a third-round draft pick for the mercurial wide-receiver, signals not only the Vikings' bizarrely schizophrenic nature this year, but also Childress' on-going struggle to earn the respect of his players. Dating to the Christmas Eve release of unhappy wide-receiver Marcus Robinson and following with his well-documented disputes with quarterbacks Brad Johnson, Gus Frerotte, Sage Rosenfels, and Brett Favre, Childress continues to be the one person at the center of each dispute who remains with the team.

Clearly, these disputes are borne out of a belief on the part of the Vikings' players that Childress is both a control freak, as many NFL coaches are, but also one that insists on his way even when his way is not working. How it is not working for Childress has been documented here and elsewhere since day one of his tenure in Minnesota, with the occasional corner being turned, only to have it reestablished the following week.

Last year, Childress changed form in bringing Favre into the fold. Now, Childress is considering benching Favre for the hopeless but compliant Tarvaris Jackson and Moss is gone.

Moving Moss could be an important team unification move were the source of the problem Moss. Moss, no doubt, is a handful, but Childress is the petulant child who owns the ball and who, despite his lack of ability, threatens to take the ball and go home if he is not allowed to play quarterback.

This has all the makings of Childress' final move.

Up Next: More on Moss.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Childress Foils Vikings' Second-Quarter Drive

Fourth-and-goal from the one-yard-line. Road game. Play card, the card that Minnesota Vikings' head coach Brad Childress so often cites, says take the points, kick the field goal.

Childress has other ideas.

After a time-out, the Vikings line up against the Patriots' eleven-man front. Apparently the Patriots know Childress as well as do most Vikings' fans. That is to say that Patriots' head coach Bill Belichick understands that on fourth-and-one on the goalline, Childress will be as conservative as possible, and as dunderheaded as possible.

Belichick was right. Facing that that eleven-man front, Childress handed off to Adrian Peterson on a play designed to follow the fullback, Naufahu Tahi, to the right side of the Vikings' line. Yes, to the right. Not to the beefier, stronger, left-side of the line.

Predictably, Peterson lost two yards on the play and the Vikings entered halftime without three points that it otherwise would have had. The play further demonstrated that even Peterson cannot overcome his coach's continuing and increasing decision-making gaffes.

Up Next: Second Half.

Childress Doing His Best to Undermine Vikings' Early Efforts in New England

Two plays, two awful calls, and a handful of successful predictability have led to an early 7-0 Vikings' lead at New England, but Minnesota Vikings' head coach Brad Childress is doing his level best to undermine that effort.

On Minnesota's second drive, Vikings' running back Adrian Peterson clearly crossed the endline for a touchdown. Childress, however, declined to throw the challenge flag and the Vikings lined up for a second-down play from the one-foot line.

The second-down play led to a Peterson touchdown that should not have been. New England Patriots' head coach Bill Belichick threw the challenge flag and the review official blew the review. Just as clearly as Peterson had crossed the endline on first down, he did not pierce the line on second down. Justice was served, on the whole, though that did not remove the taint of Childress having failed to challenge a clear error on first down--a failure on Childress' part that, had the officials made the proper call on second down, might have thwarted yet another Vikings' touchdown that should have been.

Childress followed-up on his poor decision on drive two, with a horrendous challenge on the Patriots' subsequent drive. With Madieu Williams missing an easy pick and allowing the Patriots' receiver to haul in an otherwise awful pass from Tom Brady, Childress deliberated, then threw the challenge. The challenge was so ridiculous that even the normally focused play-by-play analyst, Troy Aikman, wondered whether he had missed something. There was, of course, but one thing that could be challenged, and that was whether there was a catch. That the catch was so apparent, made Aikman think otherwise, however.

Unfortunately, Childress' challenge was on the reception, and the officials took little time rejecting the challenge.

Childress also has opted to make his offense nearly one-dimensional on the first two drives, giving the ball almost exclusively to Adrian Peterson. Fortunately for Minnesota, Peterson remains in overdrive mode and has destroyed the Patriots' 3-4 defense through two drives.

Up Next: Patriots Answer, Will Vikings?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Vikings Lose Game In First Quarter

The Minnesota Vikings nearly pulled out a win at Lambeau Field on Sunday night, despite trailing by 11 late in the game. The game ostensibly was sealed by a face-masking penalty against Vikings' right tackle Phil Loadholt that pushed the Vikings from the Packers' 15-yard-line back to the 40. Despite quarterback Brett Favre's near Herculean efforts, the Vikings fell just short of victory, however, not because of Loadholt's penalty, but because the offense, once again this year, failed to show for the opening of the game.

There were 13 games played in the NFL on Sunday. Of those, six involved winning teams that scored 30 or more points. Half of these winning teams scored on their first drive of the game.

More telling than first drive statistics was how winning teams performed on their first two drives of the game on Sunday. Of the teams that scored 30 or more points and won on Sunday, only Tennessee, starting a quarterback who had not played in a decade, failed to score on either its first or second drive. Of all winning teams on Sunday, only three failed to score on either the team's first or second drive.

What the numbers suggest is that winning correlates positively with success on the opening two drives of the game, with success measured by scoring drives. Given that the Vikings should have at least known that they would be involved in a relatively high-scoring game, they, thus, should have placed a far higher premium on their first and second drive than they apparently did. That they did not falls squarely on the shoulders of the coaches calling the same plays on opening drives, game after game after game.

On the Vikings' first drive, the team gained four yards on three plays in 1:54. On the second drive, the offense was equally inept, moving the ball five yards on three plays in 48 seconds. That's as abysmal as an offense can get, absent sacks and turnovers.

Most alarming about yesterday's Vikings' performance on the opening two drives was that this has become a trend for Minnesota. Through six games this season, Minnesota has yet to score any points on either its first or second drive of the game. That statistic is magnified by the fact that Minnesota has lost four games this year by an average of just over five points per game. A different outcome in quarter one might have been the difference between a win and a loss.

The four-point loss to Green Bay on Sunday leaves Minnesota standing at 2-4, with no road victories and one home loss on the season. After next week's game at New England, Minnesota should be favored to win at least seven of its final nine games. That means that the Vikings remain in an enviable position, even with a loss at New England. But being favored only means something if it translates into an actual victory. And if the Vikings do not come better prepared offensively for their remaining games than they have for their first six games, being favored will be little consolation to a team looking in on what should be a very beatable NFC field.

Up Next: He Said What?

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Minnesota Viking quarterback Brett Favre completed a deep pass to wide receiver Randy Moss. On the play, Moss clearly placed his hands on the back of the defending (term used loosely) cornerback and was flagged for pass interference. Moss need not have bothered with the hands as he had the defender beat. Whether he can accomplish this feat again, however, will have little to do with him and everything to do with those calling the plays on the Vikings' sidelines.

On the subsequent play, with just over thirty seconds remaining in the half, Adrian Peterson ran through the Packers' defense as though the defense was what it is, that is, porous.

Vikings' head coach Brad Childress, knowing that the Packers will receive the ball to begin the second half and presumably cognizant of the ease with which his players were dicing up the Packers' defense, opted, in Denny Green-like fashion, to sit on the ball. Rather than a near certain field-goal attempt or a better than even-odds touchdown possibility, Childress elected to go to the locker room up three but having put at least a short-term dagger into the Vikings' momentum. That's what Childress can do for an offense.

Childress' decision prompted Moss to raise his arms in incredulity and had Brett Favre shaking his head. The pure idiocy of the call had even Cris Collinsworth siding with Moss over the head coach.

Up Next: Moon Jumps Over Cow.

Vikings Open Up Offense and Defense

After two awful offensive drives, the Minnesota Vikings decided to play some offense against the Green Bay Packers and promptly executed on three well-conceived scoring drives. Relying on Percy Harvin's speed, Visanthe Shiancoe's hands, and Brett Favre's return to passing accuracy, the Vikings moved with ease down the field, scoring three touchdowns. Unfortunately for the Vikings, the officials overturned the third touchdown on a call that can best be regarded as a misunderstanding of the rules.

Also unfortunate for the Vikings is the continuing poor play of Minnesota's safeties and the lack of pressure on the quarterback by the Vikings' front four--two issues no doubt related. For the season, that front four has a mere 3.5 sacks--next to last in the NFL. They've added one sack so far tonight, but that's in two quarters of play against the league's most porous offensive line.

Another poor call by the officials, this one against Frank Walker, keeps the chains moving for the Packers. If Rodgers is able to throw the ball anywhere near his receivers, one of two results appears likely tonight--either the receiver is going to catch the ball or the officials will catch it for them, at least long enough to keep ratings up.

Vikings Open With Putrid Playcalling

The Minnesota Vikings opened their sixth game of the 2010 NFL season with eye-watering predictability that led to an even more predictable three-and-out performance. How predictable was the playcalling? On second and nine, Adrian Peterson was forced to leave the game with a helmet malfunction. His backup, the heretofore exceedingly unimpressive Toby Gerhart, replaced Peterson.

Losing a starting running back to equipment malfunction one play into the game and being forced to resort to a low-level, college-type substitute normally would result in an offensive play call to anyone other than the non-entity that is that substitute. Either the Vikings failed to apprehend that notion or they attempted to catch the Packers playing insurmountable odds. Guess who lost?

Rather than change the play call, the Vikings handed the ball to Gerhart. The result was not totally miserable--a four-yard pick-up. But it revealed the extent to which the Vikings are wedded to script, no matter the odds and no matter the alternatives. Gerhart up the middle produced third down. A poorly developed screen to Percy Harvin on the subsequent play, again, certainly the scripted play, led to fourth down and a Vikings' punt.

The Packers began the game the way the Vikings should always begin their game--by mixing plays and employing the screen play on second down, rather than on the more predictable third down. Here, too, the Vikings' far too predictable tendencies were on display. While the Vikings attempted a screen to Harvin on third down--the most predictable Viking to be the focal point of a screen play on the most likely down for a team to run a screen--the Packers used the screen on second down and ran the play to their tight end--their tight end!

The Vikings subsequently intercepted Aaron Rodgers, but, predictably, turned the ball over on three downs and a punt.

There's certainly more to come in this game, but if this is any indication of how the rest of the game and season are going to play out--much like all but the tail end of last season has played out during the entirety of the Childress regime in Minnesota--the Vikings' front office is going to have to work even harder to find support for a new stadium.

Up Next: Chunks of Yardage Versus Nothing.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Childress Matures, Vikings Win

The Minnesota Vikings defeated the Dallas Cowboys yesterday in a throwback game of sorts for Brad Childress that also marked a possible turning point for the fifth-year head coach. In the past, fixated on attempting to prove he is wiser than than wisdom, itself, Childress has eschewed makable field goals for improbable fourth-down conversion attempts, punted from an opponent's thirty-yard-line, rather than go for a short first down, run when the context screamed pass, and passed when the context screamed run. On Sunday, Childress seemed to correct these maladies and the Vikings won a game they needed to win.

The game started with good omens from the perspective of judging the head coach's acuity of mind, with Childress placing fullbacks Naufahu Tahi and Toby Gerhart and wide-receiver Hank Baskett on the inactive list while keeping John Sullivan active as a replacement for Jon Cooper, should Cooper have gotten hurt. The moves reflected a quicker than normal learning curve for Childress, who almost certainly weighed Tahi's blocking gaffes last week, Gerhart's and Baskett's irrelevance, and the Vikings' seemingly incessant need for two centers each game in assessing his inactives. Though two years late on Tahi, Childress is showing his new-found willingness and ability to play catch-up with these moves.

The decisions paid dividends for the Vikings if only in that they meant zero carries for either Gerhart or Tahi. The thought process of making wiser decisions appeared to carry over into the game.

Late in the fourth quarter, with the score tied at 21, the Vikings picked Romo at the Cowboy's thirty-yard-line. Late last year, or even earlier this year, the script would have read pass, pass, pass, with at least a fifty percent prospect of an interception. On this drive, with the game clearly on the line and the Vikings unlikely to get another meaningful opportunity to score in regulation should they fail on the drive, Childress used a combination of short passes and runs off tackle to get the offense well within Ryan Longwell's field-goal range. More impressive, however, was that the Vikings ran to the left and even outside the tackle, rather than to the weaker right side of the line, where Childress heretofore has preferred to run in crunch time in an apparent attempt at counterintuitive genius.

Also impressive is that the Vikings kept giving Adrian Peterson the ball when it became evident that the Cowboys could not keep Peterson from driving back the defensive line. Though Peterson's yardage was meager, it was sufficient to ensure that the Vikings would be in a position to put points on the board.

The drive was also impressive because the Vikings at least took a shot in the end zone. That shot came on a third-down pass to Randy Moss. The pass was precisely where it ought to have been--high enough to elude the defender and in Moss' outstretched hands. Moss failed on this attempt, but the play nevertheless bodes well not only for the Vikings' offense, but also as an indicia of where Childress' vision currently rests.

The Vikings' victory over Dallas on Sunday was no thing of beauty on the stat sheets, with the Vikings managing a meager 188 yards of offense to the Cowboys' 314. But the Vikings were proficient with their few opportunities, and that's as impressive when a team is attempting to re-align itself as would be a strong offensive showing. And, in the sewage that is the NFC, that should buy the Vikings time to see if they can move to another gear in time for the playoffs.

Up Next: Making Better Use of Talent

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tortured Vikings' Fans Suffer Again

Throughout the team's fifty-year history, the Minnesota Vikings have won their division 18 times, qualified for the playoffs 26 times, reached the NFC Championship game nine times, and played in four Super Bowls. For fans of most professional sports teams, that would represent an astoundingly successful fifty-year run. For the star-crossed Vikings, however, it's been a history of laments.

The Vikings have been favored in all four Super Bowls in which they have appeared, but have failed to win even one, falling in all but one by insurmountable margins by the scoring standards of the day. In five losing Conference Championship games, the Vikings have lost three times as the favorite and twice as the underdog. Against Washington in 1987, Minnesota fell to defeat when Darren Nelson was unable to corral a tough, but catchable pass in the endzone at the end of the game. Against the Atlanta Falcons in 1998, the Vikings depressed fans with perhaps the most improbable loss in team history, with the offense failing where it had not failed during the season, the defense, absent its most important player, falling apart more than most Denny Green-led defenses, and placekicker Gary Andersen, who had not missed a field-goal attempt all season, failing when it mattered most.

The Vikings' championship futility, in front of an ever-loyal fan base, appeared to reach its depths in that home game against Atlanta. Then the Vikings lost in Twins'-like fashion at New York in the infamous 41-0 game.

History has provided many other lamentable and tortuous events for Vikings' fans, but, when the final script is written, it may well be that none prove as cruel as the present. This season might already be the the most disheartening season for Vikings' fans, not because the team has started the season 1-3--given the difficult schedule, Brett Favre's absence for the first two pre-season games, Sidney Rice's injury, the problems with the offensive line, and the absence of Chris Cook and Cedric Griffin, a rough start always seemed plausible, nor because the Vikings have missed several opportunities to be better than they are this year--either by failing to their backup running back issue, failing to fix the offensive line problems, or failing, in game, to move the ball.

What is potentially most disheartening for Vikings' fans this season, and what could stand the test of time as one of the more disheartening eras in team history, are the signs of what might have been. What might have been this year. What might have been before this year.

History is a difficult prism through which to asses the present, because the falling of one different domino generally leads to the falling of another different domino. While one can wonder what the Vikings might have done if Red McCombs had not dumped Randy Moss to avoid what assuredly was a pauper's price given Moss' post-trade production and how the team might look had the Vikings retained Matt Birk and drafted Logan Mankins or Aaron Rodgers in 2005, rather than Troy Williamson or Erasmus James, or how this year's squad would look had the Vikings been able to lure LaDanian Tomlinson to Minnesota, there is not certainly that, with those moves, all other pieces that currently are in place would have been available. With all or even any of these moves, the Vikings probably would be better than they currently are. Probably, but not certainly.

Such considerations are sobering, but not crippling. As evidenced by last season's late push, the Vikings are nothing if not resilient over time. That's been particularly true under the ownership of Zygi Wilf. When the Vikings needed a defensive end, the team made the deal that landed Jared Allen. When the team needed a quarterback (and finally admitted as much), the Vikings signed Brett Favre. And when the team was bereft of top-end talent at wide-receiver, the team traded for Randy Moss. Problems remained along the offensive line and in the third-down backfield, to be certain, but the team's overall condition appeared sound and far superior to that of any of its NFC competition.

Then word broke of Favre's sexual endeavors. Favre neither denied the allegations nor sought an injunction against the publisher of the rumors--two ominous signs in the face of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's history of suspending players for off-field transgressions, illegal or not. Favre's reported tearful apology to his teammates prior to the game against the New York Jets on Monday night seemed to carry over onto the field, where Favre had a Todd Collins-like experience through nearly three full quarters. That was neither discouraging nor disheartening. What followed ought to be crushing to Vikings' fans, and what that is has nothing to do with the outcome of the game.

In attempt to get back into a game in which, by all rights, they should already have been out of, Favre began slinging the ball as he has done so often in the past. On one touchdown pass, he spotted Percy Harvin cutting across the middle of the feed between defenders. The pass had to lead perfectly. It did. Touchdown, Vikings.

That play was nice. Vintage Favre. The prior touchdown was even better, however, and potentially cause for tears from the eyes of all Vikings' fans.

Covered well for most of the night by Jets' cornerback Antonio Cromartie, Randy Moss was even with Cromartie at the goal line when both players vied for leverage. Moss won the battle. Favre provided the payoff, floating a teardrop into Moss' awaiting hands. It was as nice of a play as one can ask of a quarterback and receiver--perfect positioning, perfect delivery in a minuscule opening.

Then, the already preoccupied Favre began clutching his tendonitis-swollen elbow. Instantly, it became clear that what might have been--a Favre to Moss season, bolstered by Adrian Peterson runs, Percy Harvin quick hits, and Visanthe Shiancoe catches up the middle--quickly could become a season of none of that, a season that reverts to the offenses of 2007 and 2008. In one game, the Vikings thus offered both the promise of what might or could have been and the prospect of what might never be. At some point, it has to be too much for Vikings' fans.

It's different for fans of teams like the Chicago Cubs and the Detroit Lions. Those fans embrace the loser label. That's what their teams are and what those team nearly always have been. And, most important, they are and have been losers because they have made no effort to be anything but that.

The Vikings, meanwhile, have nearly always tried to be winners. The fans expect such an effort and even the translation to winning. As a consequence, unlike Cubs', Lions' fans, and similarly situated fans, Vikings' fans tend to be all in. They root for the team knowing that their level of support will lead to disappointment if expectations are unfulfilled. Usually, Vikings' fans are betrayed only at the point that signs are favorable. On Monday, with signs having only recently turned more favorable for the team, Vikings' fans suffered yet again. If Favre cannot revive the elbow or if Goodell is compelled to suspend Favre, Vikings' fans might be left to suffer yet another loss in the face of high promise.

Up Next: How I Met My Mother.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Are Vikings Preparing to Turn to Tarvaris Jackson?

At the beginning of last week, the Vikings' primary concern was whether they would find a wide receiver somewhere within the organization or on another team's roster sufficient to pull the team's offense from the clear downfield malaise into which it had fallen. With the identification of and trade for New England Patriots' disgruntled receiver Randy Moss, the Vikings appeared to have cleared their most substantial hurdle toward returning to the top of a weak NFC.

With the New York Jets' game on the horizon, however, yet another crisis threatens to derail the Vikings' season. This problem, no doubt facilitated by entities beholden to and engaged with the New York Jets football team, centers on the Vikings' most critical 2010 component, their starting quarterback.

Though the now persistent and loud rumors began circulating at least two years ago when Brett Favre was a member of the New York Jets, new evidence, regarding Favre's sexual exploits, are now available just about anywhere on the internet, on television, and, where still available, in print media--and, no doubt, a book already is near completion. Last Spring, the rumors were mere rumors. Now, the rumors come replete with voice messages from Favre to a former Jets' sideline reporter. And, of course, they come with pictures.

If true, the rumors of Favre's peccadilloes, or at least his attempted peccadilloes, could be shrugged off as yet one more human acting like a human and doing so in a sophomoric manner. Unfortunately, the NFL and possibly the law have different views of this type of behavior. Assuming the sexting photos are appropriately linked to Favre and that the applicable New York and Federal laws do not frown upon unwanted cell phone sexting, Favre almost certainly will still have to dodge the NFL.

Already, there are some alarming signs that Favre is preparing the Vikings' fan base for what could be a collision with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Standing at the press conference podium on Thursday, Favre made every effort to emphasis the treatment that he was receiving for his elbow, noting, specifically, how it was "no big thing" as he rubbed it and grimaced for effect.

The concern is not that Favre's elbow is causing him any greater discomfort than it had at any point last season. Rather, the concern is that Favre is relying on the current discomfort as pretext should Goodell decide to punish him for his reported transgression. The question then becomes what is worse, a Vikings' team led by Tarvaris Jackson or a Vikings' team led by a quarterback clearly distracted by what could become a substantial civil suit and by marital discord? Neither is appealing for a Vikings' team that has been battling to exorcise the traditional demons associated with teams attempting to return to the top of their Conference a year removed from such a showing.

The NFL clearly has a vested interest in permitting this situation to play out long enough for any penalty to arise only after the season, when, now, it seems almost certain, Favre retires. But that does not necessarily alleviate the issue for Favre, who's plight finds unfortunate parallels with that of Tiger Woods, at least to the point of begging the question.

Like a golfer, an NFL quarterback relies on focus and concentration to perform at the highest level. The question for Favre, possible NFL suspension aside, is whether he can set aside the marital discord almost certainly following from his overtures to what amounts to a twenty-year-old version of his seemingly doting wife. So far this season, the answer appears to be no.

At the end of last week, Vikings' head coach Brad Childress looked and sounded every bit the head coach emerging from the denial associated with an unexpected change of fortunes. Giddy earlier in the week over having secured Moss' services, Childress appeared morose when speaking about Favre's situation, stating that "it's only a distraction if you let it be one." That's coach speak for "it's a major distraction." Childress' further expression of "mild concern" regarding Favre's elbow suggests that he, like Favre, is already scrambling to set the table for everyone's worst nightmare--turning over the reigns of a championship contending team to Jackson. Even Childress must now be second-guessing that trade with the Giants.

Up Next: New Yorkers Show Minnesotans How to Conduct Business.