While it is unwise to put too much stock in a pre-season game, particularly the first game after a long layoff, Saturday night's Minnesota Vikings' game against the Tennessee Titans offered a glimpse of both the long- and short-term prospects for the Vikings. The conclusion is that the short-term will be bumpy and predictable. Unfortunately, that also suggests that Adrian Peterson's and the Vikings' future might be better served with Peterson finishing his career elsewhere.
With little time to show their wares, Vikings' starters complied with conventional wisdom against the Titans, showing little. Donovan McNabb looked like a rustier version of the average to above average quarterback that he has been for much of his NFL career, Peterson carried one time for the proverbial cloud of dust, and nobody really stood out in limited minutes and limited exposure.
What did stand out for Minnesota was a mix of discouraging and encouraging. On the discouraging front were the expected suspects. Bill Musgrave's offense, a work-in-progress for who knows how long, showed its limitations whenever it was necessary to gain more than three or four yards; the Vikings' deep-threat, presumably the province of the player that Brett Favre snubbed the past two seasons, was non-existent; the Vikings' defense had one sack and zero turnovers; and the Vikings' secondary was beaten both between the zones of the Tampa 2 and over the top.
Offensively, the Vikings look woeful. Bill Musgrave's system looks like a rip-off of the Brad Childress scheme with only a very heavy dose of Peterson receiving, Percy Harvin in the slot and a double-tight-end set of Kyle Rudolph and Visanthe Shiancoe remotely suggesting the potential for "explosiveness," writ small.
The more reserved and patient of Vikings' fans will note that: (1) it is very early in the pre-season; (2) the starters played sparingly; and (3) Musgrave's system will take some time to implement. All points are, of course, true. But they are readily countered with additional truisms: (1) As early as it is in the pre-season, the regular season is nearly upon us; (2) the starters at key positions are not significantly better, if at all, than the reserves who did nothing--see, particularly, deep receiver and safety; and (3) When in place, Musgrave's system will look very much like it looked last night--conservative and tight, but with no deep threat to keep the defense honest.
More striking in last night's game was that the Vikings did nothing at all against a defense that, at times last year, looked like little more than a paper tiger. The Vikings' three points paled in comparison to the points put up by numerous other offenses this week--27 by Cleveland, 33 by St. Louis, 47 by New England, 24 by Seattle, 24 by Dallas, 23 by Denver, 28 by Miami, 24 by Arizona, 34 by Detroit, 24 by New Orleans, and 25 by Tampa Bay, all of which played their starters roughly the same amount of time as did the Vikings. The Vikings' company? Cincinnati (3), Buffalo (3), San Francisco (3), and Kansas City (0).
Given how many teams already appear to have their offense in sync--many paired with respectable defenses--the Vikings, to say the least, have a very long way to go to be ready for the regular season. Which, of course, raises the inevitable question of why the Vikings bother to retain, rather than trade, Peterson. In the final year of his contract, Peterson also is nearing the expected shelf-life of an NFL running back. And though he has not been abused during his run in Minnesota, he almost certainly will be pummeled in Musgrave's short-yardage scheme. For a first round pick, an offensive lineman, running back, safety, and receiver, it probably would be worth parting with Peterson this year, even if it means that the trading partner is Green Bay and even if it results in Green Bay running away with the title.
Despite the negatives to last night's exhibition, the Vikings did show some signs of promise for the future in the form of Joe Webb, Christian Ponder, and Rudolph. Webb threw a bad pass resulting in an interception, but he also looked good escaping pressure and running, seemingly effortlessly, for 33 yards on five carries. Ponder also mostly appeared poised in avoiding the rush, one time making a Fran Tarkenton-like escape to complete a pass for a first down. But for a phantom call, the play might have led to something for the Vikings. And Rudolph showed the hands that Bernard Berrian claims to have.
For Jared Allen, Antoine Winfield, Jim Kleinsasser, Steve Hutchinson, Adrian Peterson, Donovan McNabb, and Kevin Willliams, today is the present and the future. For the Vikings, however, today appears to represent a future that remains in the future. How distant that future is likely will be told before the 2011 regular season even begins.
Up Next: Prepping McNabb for Backup Duty?