Thursday, September 09, 2010

A Game Not Even Donovan McNabb's Mother Could Love

The Minnesota Vikings lost a thoroughly uninspiring, time-wasting 14-9 game to the equally unimpressive New Orleans Saints on Thursday night. The loss put the Lions ahead of the Vikings in the standings for the first time in several years and cast a bright light on some areas of concern for the team, as well as shining another light on some areas for optimism.

Dreadfully awful game aside, this game was as much about measuring where the Vikings stand and where they need to improve to contend for the Super Bowl this year as it was about starting the season off on the right foot. The areas of promise included the offensive line, which did reasonably well even after Bryant McKinnie's departure, the cornerbacks, and Ryan Longwell, who kicked deep enough and high enough to remind us all what a waste it would have been to reserve a roster spot for a second kicker who could do neither.

There were also areas of promise going forward this year, including the play of Ryan Cook, however limited his action was, the play of Brett Favre (in spots), who hit consecutive passes in the first half the likes of which only very good quarterbacks see, attempt, and complete, and the aforementioned play of a patchwork cornerbacking corps.

More disconcerting was the play of the safeties, E.J. Henderson's lack of explosiveness, Favre's evident rust, the lack of any number one or number two receiver on the squad, and the pedestrian effort of Adrian Peterson.

The safeties were invisible tonight, except when they were being had along the sidelines or in the corner of the endzone on a play that should have gone for a touchdown. It could be argued that the Vikings' safeties did what they are expected to do in Leslie Frazier's cover-two system, but it looks too much like a continuation of last year's feeble effort and it simply won't suffice to move the Vikings forward. Madieu Williams' abysmal effort to interfere with Jeremy Shockey, who still caught the ball for an important first down, pretty much sums up the effort of the safeties tonight.

While the safeties remained invisible, Henderson was in on several plays. Unfortunately, he was often the last man to the ball and he clearly was restricted by his continuing recovery from his leg injury last season. On the Saints' game-sealing drive, Henderson simply could not push off on his leg as he would have done before his injury and was relegated to moving forward on the ground. The play did not suggest that Henderson is incapable of playing middle linebacker for the Vikings right now, but merely that he is not as effective as he was before the injury. That sense was bolstered by other plays during which Henderson was simply too slow to get to do what Vikings' fans remember him doing several times in the past--springing through the air to tackle a player for a loss.

Favre, too, looked off, though for a different reason. There were too many missed passes and too few key reads for a quarterback of Favre's caliber. It did not help that the Vikings went vanilla on the offense, but, when you have Bernard Berrian masquerading as a receiver and the slow-footed Greg Camerillo disguised as a down-field threat, those things can happen.

What continues to happen but should not be happening is the bottling up of Adrian Peterson. At best, tonight, Peterson was the second best back on the field. Pierre Thomas was better and Reggie Bush might have shown more given his limited opportunities. While Peterson put up some numbers in the first half, Thomas put his up when the Saints needed them. That's what Thomas can do that Peterson did not and, frankly, that the Vikings did not even ask Peterson to do. Perhaps this is the new normal for Peterson--many opportunities to carry the ball with average results. If so, that and a suspect receiving corps could make for a grim start to the season in Minnesota.

Clearly, the Vikings have two issues that they must address in the short term--the lack of a meaningful sideline deep threat and the lack of any running game after Peterson. If this were Miami, we would probably be treated to a healthy dose of Joe Webb in wildcat formation. Alas, it is not. So we probably will see more of what we saw tonight. If Peterson picks it up, fine. If not, not fine.

The options at running back are probably limited. Jahvid Best would have been a nice addition, but the Vikings opted to take Toby Gerhart, instead. Gerhart is out with a knee injury, but his presence so far has been far from inspiring and there's nobody else on the roster that looks fit to change the current scenario.

Taking pressure off the running game would help, but the Vikings need someone who can stretch the field to accomplish that. When the Saints took away the Vikings' only semblance of a deep threat in Visanthe Shiancoe, Minnesota had no answers. That means it's either time to unleash Percy Harvin, get Peterson the ball in the flat, an apparent pipe dream, or to bring someone new to the team. As much as Javon Walker did not impress in preseason, he looked better than Berrian has looked in some time, Vincent Jackson still remains an option and the Vikings likely could get him reinstated for week four if they can swing a deal, and Antonio Bryant is out there, if the Vikings can stand the inconsistency that the Bengals could not.

Up Next: Moneyball (really).


Cabrito said...

As I expected, VG, the focus on the Saints game forced you to abandon your planned "Housh" article, which I hoped would deal with how poorly the Vikings had addressed the weaknesses so apparent to all. Maybe you'll get around to discussing that topic eventually. It was painfully evident last night that they've failed miserably to improve the team in crucial areas, especially safety and the OL.

Speaking of the OL, I haven't been able to find a word on the Purple Page about McKinney's injury. Do you know how bad it is?

vikes geek said...


Housh's signing with Baltimore put to rest that column--one suggesting that the Vikings ought to put petty pride aside and deal for the receiver. There certainly were numerous tangential issues to address in that regard, however, and I will be doing so.

It speaks volumes that the OL was one of the Vikings' lesser concerns last night. They did not always provide good pass protection and opened few noticeably gaping holes, but at least Favre did not get killed--an improvement over the last meeting between the two teams. There are numerous linemen on the street right now and some that could probably help the Vikings. There are also some decent receivers looking for a team. Corner and safety are another matter and when I see that Tyrell Johnson was inactive last night, it raises yet more concerns (namely, why in the World did the Vikings trade Benny Sapp for a third-down receiver?).

I have not heard anything more on McKinnie. The report was a finger injury. For an offensive lineman, that should be somewhat inconsequential given the number of taping and injection options available. Leaving the field on the cart, however, does not correlate well with that initial report. I expect something this afternoon.


Cabrito said...

Thanks, VG. Another thing. Watching Berrian fair catching punts on Thursday night, and even dropping one, rekindled my anger at the Reynaud "trade." I thought you and your other readers (I assume there are some, though few have been contributing to your blog recently) might be interested in the following statistics.

Of 13 players in the NFC who returned 21+ punts last year, Reynaud's average return of 10.3 yards was the fourth best, behind only DeSean Jackson (15.2), Patrick Crayton (12.1), and Danny Amendola (11.6). Reynaud outshone a few guys you've probably heard of, like Nate Burleson (8.5), Devin Hester (7.8), and Reggie Bush (4.8).

In the AFC, there were 14 players who returned 21+ punts. Of those, five had better return averages than Reynaud (a sixth, Jericho Cotchery, tied him at 10.3). So of the total of 27 NFL players who returned a significant number of punts last year, Reynaud was tied for ninth best. And we traded him for a conditional seventh round draft pick.

Tom Coughlin must still be chuckling.