Sunday, September 25, 2011

Vikings' Institutional Blinders Threaten Monumental Franchise Blunder

It's troubling enough that the Minnesota Vikings have blown three seventeen point or greater first-half leads in three games this season. It's even more troubling that those leads have turned to losses. But most troubling of all is that the process that has led to the Vikings' come-from-ahead losses this season has been both the same in each game and indicative of a seminal concern, the failure of which to recognize could lead the Vikings to make one of the greatest blunders in franchise history.

As an organization, the Vikings have not escaped the imperfection that is assessing talent and properly aligning personnel. But with another season with a team mixed with quality veterans and youth about to go down the drain, the Vikings find themselves in the crosshairs of a potentially franchise-altering decision--a decision to which the organization appears utterly oblivious.

As in weeks one and two, the Vikings' difficulties in the second half of week three can be directly traced to the team's focus on keeping their own quarterback in the pocket. Pocket quarterbacks thrive when they have solid offensive lines and a deep threat. The Vikings have an improving line that requires fortification by two, sometimes three tight ends. This makes the probability of a deep threat less likely. Add to the equation the fact that the Vikings' sole downfield receiver is Bernard Berrian and there is a nearly zero probability of a deep threat for Minnesota.

Given the Vikings' shortcomings along the offensive line and at wide receiver, the most sensible offensive philosophy to employ is one that makes liberal use of the quarterback outside of the pocket. If the Vikings could depend on Donovan McNabb to roll and avoid injury, and if McNabb could deliver the pass, McNabb would be the most logical answer at quarterback in such a scheme.

But McNabb clearly no longer has the legs to be a consistent roll quarterback and his accuracy this season--particularly in the second half of games--has been nothing less than putrid. Sailing passes miles over receivers' heads, behind sloth-footed tight ends, and to areas of the field where nary a player on either team can be seen makes clear that, as McNabb no longer can be relied upon consistently to roll out of the pocket, neither can he be depended upon to pass in or out of the pocket.

On Sunday, Vikings' backup quarterback Joe Webb, a player who can roll and who now appears to be at least as accurate of a passer as McNabb, played exactly one down. Following this strategy of using Webb, the Vikings appear intent on sticking with McNabb, using Webb as an ineffective gimmick player who doesn't really even factor into the gimmick play, and ensuring that Webb's career in Minnesota amounts to nothing. For, if this is how the Vikings use Webb when his abilities are clearly better used as a rolling, starting quarterback, whatever could the team have in mind for Webb as the backup quarterback to Ponder in 2012?

It makes one wonder. It makes one vomit. And, most sadly, it suggests that the Vikings are in the process of making a colossal personnel decision by sticking with McNabb and relegating Webb to the long-term role of little- and improperly used backup--a waste not only for the future, but also in a season that can still be salvaged.

In short, if the Vikings want to fix their second-half problems, largely created by a failure of the offense to stay on the field, they need to convert to a system that rolls the quarterback out of the pocket on a regular basis. McNabb cannot be that quarterback. Either Webb or Christian Ponder could be that quarterback. Webb is infinitely faster than Ponder and has a stronger and more accurate arm and, therefore, deserves the nod.

It's not so difficult to see, unless, as the Vikings did in hiring then extending former head coach Brad Childress, you opt to put on your institutional blinders because what you would see does not conform to what you expected and therefore wished to see.

Up Next: B Factor.

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