Monday, September 20, 2010

Berrian and Favre Rain on Peterson's Return to Form

Adrian Peterson rushed for145 yards, his first 100-yard-plus regular-season rushing performance in over half a year of games, the Minnesota Vikings had possession of the ball for nearly a quarter more than did the Miami Dolphins, and the Vikings ran nearly 30 more plays than did the Dolphins. Logically, then, the Vikings' lost their 2010 home opener to the Dolphins by a score of 14-10.

From a macro perspective, the Vikings lost because they could not convert drives into the red zone into points and because they turned over the ball too many times. From a micro perspective, they lost because Brett Favre played poorly, Bernard Berrian played like a disinterested slug, and the Vikings' coaching staff could not figure out how to punch the ball in from a yard and a half out.

Favre's early struggles were somewhat predictable, if not in degree at least in kind. Too often on Sunday, he had balls batted back in his face, made a poor read (i.e., threw to Berrian), or failed to hit his man. The result was a dreadful 44 quarterback rating the likes of which Vikings' fans routinely knew when head coach Brad Childress was manhandling his play callers. No matter the cause, however, clearly Favre must play better going forward if the Vikings are to have any prospect of making the playoffs.

Making Favre's prospects more difficult is the continuing putrid play of purported wide receiver Bernard Berrian. Yesterday, the Vikings' "field stretcher" was targeted five times and made two catches for 24 yards, excrutiatingly modest numbers for the team's top-paid pass catcher. What Berrian did not do yesterday, however, is measurably more disturbing than what he was able to do.

During a drive that seemed destined to lead to a score, Favre threw to Berrian in single coverage. The pass was one of Favre's patented bullets thrown short of the play, requiring the receiver to turn and do a slight comeback. Berrian did just that for a nice gain.

On the very next play, seeing that Berrian was again in single-man coverage, Favre again went to him. The pass again required a slight comeback on Berrian's part--the kind that Sidney Rice and Favre routinely hooked up on last season for easy scores in front of overwhelmed cornerbacks. Only, on this play, one play after making the very same play, Berrian kept running with no endgame in sight. Had the corner not gotten out of the way to intercept a pass that should have been caught for a touchdown, Berrian would still be trying to find his way out of the corners undergarments, so intent was he on ensconcing himself in the corner.

Dan Dierdorf, as Dierdorf is wont to do, ripped Favre for "throwing into coverage." As is so often the case, Dierdorf misunderstood the play (as well as the nature of football, in general, a game in which players, more often than not, are covered by at least one player). Contrary to Dierdorf's view of the play, this one was on Berrian, who demonstrated both a short attention span and an outrageous non-chalance given his position. It was yet another reason to wonder why a player who has failed to eclipse six receptions in any regular-season game as a Viking and who has not topped 100 yards receiving since 2008, remains in the Vikings' starting lineup or even on the roster. Surely someone walking the street can best Berrian's 2010 totals of 3 receptions and 27 yards.

Not to be outdone by the play of Favre and Berrian, the Vikings' offensive coaching staff all but decided to mail it in on Sunday. But for Peterson's return to his early career form--thanks in large part, no doubt, to his massive new gloves--the Vikings would have been the single most miserable offense in the NFL on Sunday, making even the woeful Buffalo Bills look sound. Of particular concern was the playcalling in the red zone, and, even more specifically, the failure to score from the one-yard-line late in the game.

On the fateful fourth-and-goal play, the Vikings opted to bring in three tight ends to pair with two running backs, ensuring that no Dolphin would cut the edge and make the play from behind. That's a nice move, if the ball is at the five. From the one, however, it is completely pointless, as the Dolphins' defense quickly demonstrated.

With no possibility of making a play in the backfield off of the edge, the Dolphins focused their defensive attention on the middle of the Vikings' line, Brad Childress' favorite point of attack in goal-line situations. Childress, of course, bit and the Vikings were stuffed behind the line of scrimmage from pressure up the middle over their overmatched center and guards.

After a day of errant passes from Favre, it was evident, and probably prudent, for the Vikings not to rely on Favre to get the go-ahead score. But that doesn't explain the Vikings' decision to perpetuate a challenge of our weaker against their stronger players along the line or the decision to use a package suited for the five-yard-line on the one-yard-line.

A better tactic, and one we almost assuredly will never see Childress use, would have been to put Jim Kleinsasser and Kevin Williams in the backfield and Peterson at quarterback (Joe Webb would be better, but, given that the Vikings had him listed as the emergency quarterback, that was not an option). That, at least, would have provided fair ground for the Vikings to challenge the Dolphins to give their best shot. As it was, the Dolphins' best shot wasn't even necessary.

At 0-2, the Vikings are in a position that was not entirely unforeseeable even before the team lost Sidney Rice and Chris Cook. But the team's dismal showing in the clutch on offense in two straight games now raises the prospect of a far more desperate situation in the weeks ahead. If the Vikings do not soon begin dotting their "i's" and crossing their "t's," and if they do not resolve their abundantly desperate situation at wide receiver, they could find themselves too far behind after week seven to even think about wild-card possibilities. And if the Wilf's think that the stadium is an uphill battle in a down economy, they might want to consider those prospects given a team with a losing season and without a starter at quarterback if and when games resume in 2011.

Up Next: They're Not Worthy.


Cabrito said...

Well said, VG. The individual flaws in the Vikings' play, play-calling, etc., are surely pertinent.

But looking at the situation from a more global perspective, it's pretty clear what is ailing the team. While other teams like Chicago and Detroit, and Green Bay as well, have quietly gone about the business of shoring up their weak spots, the Vikings completely failed to do so in the off-season. No wonder we're well back in the pack now. The cause of our woes, obviously, is the stubborn guy with the silly moustache and chrome dome. Of course he couldn't envisage the injuries to Rice and Cook, but why did he trade Sapp, and why does he show no strong interest in grabbing Vincent Jackson? Why can't he see that Berrian is a bust? With Gerhart fragile and Albert Young apparently not good enough to play, what will the team do if Peterson ever goes down? Why didn't he address some of the weaknesses on the offensive line? Why did he trade the 9th best punt returner in the league last season? And on and on. The season will soon be over for the Vikings, and all of us fans know who is responsible.

vikes geek said...


Agreed on all counts. In defense of the front office, however, the free-agent restrictions on last year's four Conference finalists and restrictions on free agents crippled the team's efforts to sign meaningful free agents.

I'll have more on the things that the Vikings could have controlled--the absurd trade of Reynaud and the retention of Berrian--in the next column.