Monday, December 19, 2011

Despite Vote of Confidence, Frazier Still More Likely Than Not to Be Fired

If there is any take-away from the Minnesota Vikings' 2011 NFL season it is that there is no telling what the team will do next--a reality that ought to be construed in the worst possible light. For a team with an atavistic offensive philosophy, seemingly no defensive philosophy, unless the team's front office is playing the over each week, substantial breakdowns on special teams, poor or non-existant play by last year's top two picks, and losses week after week, this recipe is further evidence that current head coach Leslie Frazier is not a good fit as head coach--at least not of a team that does not have all of the pieces in place.

There were numerous signs of coaching short-comings evidenced in yesterday's games. Chief among those was the Vikings' utter inability to make any sort of adjustment whatsoever to stop Drew Brees. At this point, nothing should be considered too extreme or too far-fetched. That certainly includes throwing out a Tampa-2 defense that depends on having very good corners, smart safeties, and a terrific middle linebacker--none of which the Vikings have.

Yesterday, the Vikings were gashed for nearly 600 yards of offense and five touchdown passes. The pass defense was so woeful that, despite carrying two legitimate goal-line backs, the Saints twice went to the pass on first and goal from the one yard line. Both times, of course, the Saints converted. Only when the outcome was secured five times over did the Saints show an sympathy, handing off to Pierre Thomas in a similar situation, leading, of course, to a similar result.

The Vikings' quip this season, too often aided by those covering the team, is that the team simply is bereft of talent in the secondary. While it certainly is true that the Vikings, owing to poor drafting and poor assessment of talent, are short on good corners and safeties, that should not be read to mean that good coaching cannot at least compensate somewhat for these shortcomings. What the Vikings are currently doing is nothing short of simply acquiescing to the passing game--no fight, no adjustments, no consideration of alternatives, nothing. It is and embarrassment traceable both to execution and design.

Switching out of the Tampa 2 requires switching to something. A read-and-react secondary philosophy is one option. It is difficult to imagine that this could produce a worse result than the present disastrous scheme--a scheme that has been highly unsuccessful during Leslie Frazier's entire run in Minnesota. It is also a scheme that is now favored in the NFL, particularly for teams that do not have an elite middle linebacker.

Switching to the 3-4 defense also would help this team, allowing the Vikings to move Kevin Williams to the middle and drop another player into coverage in the base package. That would require identifying another linebacker. The Vikings have that player, but on offense--fullback Ryan D'Imperio, a former linebacker with decent speed. That would give the Vikings four average linebackers. While reducing the pressure up front, that loss presumably would be marginal given the Vikings' penchant for all or nothing front line play.

Offensively, the Vikings need to join the rest of the league in employing the forward pass. Christian Ponder had his second straight awful game and, if overseen by this current staff, is likely to see many more such days. Ponder's check-down appears to be the primary play and is almost always a short dump off play in the flat. Understanding this, opponents routinely jump the flat and, too often, blow up the play.

The Vikings seem finally to have acknowledged that Ponder will have to learn the pocket game by being allowed to roll out. Unfortunately, the coaching staff has deemed it necessary to force Ponder to roll left. In one particularly embarrassing moment yesterday, the Vikings called a left-side rollout on third and two for the right-handed Ponder. Not surprisingly, the Vikings did not convert. If the game is about putting players in a position to succeed, that play epitomizes the Vikings' coaching decisions this season, more often seeming experimental--without purpose--than thoughtfully designed.

Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave also appear convinced that Joe Webb is a great athlete, yet they continue to jerk him around, putting both Webb and the offense in the worst possible situation when Webb is in the game. That, of course, was again true yesterday with the Vikings' continued and unwarranted use of the Blazer package.

The Vikings' use of the Blazer has no apparent upside but carries with it significant downside--both usually indications of a scheme that ought to be discarded but which the Vikings' coaches continue to trot out on the field, particularly when Ponder is struggling.

When the Blazer package is in the game, opponents know that either Webb is going to run the ball or try to get it to Percy Harvin. Of course, Ponder could accomplish either, making the Blazer unnecessary. Thus, bringing in Webb to run the Blazer merely puts the defense on notice that one of two plays is coming and offers no upside. If the Vikings want to get Webb in the game, the purported upside of the Blazer, they ought to find him a position that does not exist only in the Blazer package.

In addition to the clear and continuous coaching gaffes pertaining to defensive scheme, offensive philosophy, and use of personnel, there is the exasperating issue of non-use of personnel. At the beginning of the season, Musgrave touted his two-headed tight end attack, employing Visanthe Shianco and second-round pick Kyle Rudolph. Not only do the Vikings not have a two-headed tight-end attack, they do not have even a one-headed attack. The reason for this is anyone's guess. Shianco and Rudolph have proven their abilities as receivers--a seeming asset for a team with offensive line challenges. That would suggest greater use of the tight ends. This year, the Vikings are on pace to pass to the tight end less than any time since prior to Shianco's arrival. That flies in the face not only of the Vikings' needs but also of the direction in which the better managed teams in the league have moved. Whether Musgrave's or Frazier's decision, the decision ultimately ought to be Frazier's.

Frazier's assets as a head coach appear to be his pleasant personality and the occasional ability to jettison a cancer. Those can be useful traits in the NFL. But significantly more important is an ability to manipulate the talent on the team and oversee the minions. Frazier appears to do neither of these things remotely well. Combined with what is likely to be the Vikings' worst season ever in virtually every respect and there is little reason to believe that merely bringing in better talent will do more than make the Vikings an average team in the league under Frazier, as the Vikings have both personnel and scheme issues in all phases of the game.

Firing Frazier is not the proper first step toward rectifying the Vikings' current situation, however. That proper first step is for the owner to recognize that he does not have a firm enough understanding of the NFL to make personnel decisions and to hire someone who does. Rick Spielman has made some good moves--bringing in Jared Allen and drafting Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson--but those were obvious good moves. Spielman has been far less successful when the move has been less obvious, with the only significant addition in this category being Toby Gerhart, who has emerged from the garbage heap to become a decent power back.

Should the Vikings part with Frazier--a near necessity after yesterday's demolition--the sense is that they would lean toward hiring a coach in whom they also would invest GM responsibilities. That's almost always a mistake in the NFL. For an ownership group seemingly forever intent on learning the hard way and fighting precedent, that is, therefore, also almost a certainty.

Up Next: In a Season of No Rhyme or Reason, What Should Vikings' Fans Expect?


Childress of A Lesser God said...

I read last week that in previous games some of the DBs were refusing to play the coverages that were called in the huddle due to lack of confidence in the scheme.

Now Schiancoe is claiming that some of his teammates quit during the Saints game.

Assuming there is even "some" truth in those things, can there be any greater indictment on the coaches? Or the players for that matter?

Horrible drafting, poor coaching, questionable schemes, marginal talent, bad attitudes, ancient stadium, etc...

Where do you start with this mess?

bmc13 said...

I'm not here to trash your posting, I always read them with an open mind and find myself agreeing for the most part with your commentary. My questions are numerous...for starters, everyone wanted Frazier to be the next HC, now many are calling for his head. All well and good but who would come in here and have a one season turnaround with sustainable results??? Some wanted McDaniels as OC, look at his marginal results with the Rams. I don't theink the Pack will let their OC go for anything, so now where do we turn? I heard on NFL radio that Bill parcells thought our current DC Pagac was pretty good...not a bad endorsement. If your players don't follow the plan, you could be the next coming of Monte Kiffin and all would call for your head. Do we blow up the D and try to fit players into a new scheme and basically stifle their carrers? if we replace all of them, then who should we get? Blow it all up and start anew? Bring in a name coach or try a unknown again....yuk.
As to drafting, you know full well, that its always a crap shoot when you draft a player, how many blue-chip players have been busts for many teams??? Should we protect the QB with a LT, get help for the secondary with a shutdown corner or get a WR to help the QB, who in my opinion should be Ponder. Webb is a gifted player but what successful sustainable future do running QBs have in the league??? A QB who can run if needed is far different that a QB who runs at the drop of a helmet, and that seems to be more of Ponder than Webb right now. Or do you trade the top pick for more picks add through FA and pray that you know what you're doing.
I could blather on for much longer but I await your commentary.
Thanks again and Merry Christmas.

vikes geek said...


Most players understand that, in the wake of a bad defeat in a lost season, saying that "players quit" stands a chance of getting a coach fired. I'm not saying Shianco's comments were calculated, but given that he went from being one of the top receiving tight ends in the game to being a non-factor in a contract year, there is that possibility.


vikes geek said...


I hear you. I think my posts have been fairly consistent and fairly accurate. I neither condemned nor endorsed the Frazier hire. I did, however, question whether someone who was unable to manage the defensive secondary--his playing position--would be able to manage an entire team. I also thought that this mix of veteran talent and youth probably needed something other than a forgiving coach.

I even more strongly questioned Musgrave's appointment as offensive coordinator--a position from which he once was fired only two games into the season by the man who hand-picked him from his own staff. Musgrave is a career QB coach who has not even excelled at that. While he has done some nice things this year, he almost as quickly has jettisoned his good ideas for heaping helpings of awful schemes, ploys, and plays.

Defensively, somebody must be responsible. The linebackers are woeful this year, particularly in coverage, the secondary is non-existant, and the team has gone nine straight without a pick--an NFL record.

Marry these problems with the oft-seen long returns out of the endzone and the team clearly is a mess.

Frazier's staunchest supporters argue that the problem is one of talent. The Vikings' deficiencies at some positions explain some of this mess, but not most of it. Rather than attempting to resolve the team's problems, the Vikings seem to run the same schemes every week with no vision for change that would enable the current roster to do better than the worst-case-scenario.

The Vikings will finish with either the worst or second worst record in team history. That despite having Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, EJ Henderson, Chad Greenway, Kyle Rudolph, Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, Steve Hutchinson, Jim Kleinsasser, Shianco, Joe Webb, Chris Kluwe, and Ryan Longwell. Those are some pretty good players.

Clearly, however, having those players has not translated the same way as it has for other teams with similar talent level. Why? In no small part, the problem is that the schemes do not match the personnel. Henderson cannot cover in the Tampa 2, Rudolph and Shianco cannot catch on the bench, Webb cannot thrive as a two-down-a-game Blazer player, Harvin cannot excel where it matters most if he is not in the game when it matters most, Hutchinson is a matador on the left side at this point of his career, particularly when surrounded by lesser talent. Put him at right guard and that might change.


vikes geek said...

Part II

While I agree that the draft is the proverbial "inexact science," I do not consider it a crap shoot. When you draft in the top half of the draft, you must get a long-term starter. The Vikings do well when given one of the top five players in the draft (Harvin, Peterson), but seem befuddled beyond that.

What team, other than the Vikings, trades out of the first round to take a cornerback with more red flags than all other players in the draft combined? What team, other than the Vikings, trades high draft picks to move up to take players nobody else had on their radar? What other team routinely fails to produce results after the first round of the draft, despite imploring the fan base to recall how "precious" late round selections are in a seven-round draft? What other team has so little to show for its draft day efforts?

As I noted in a previous post, after this season, the Vikings could well have two entire draft classes in the past three years from which they have not a single player left on their roster. That's not bad luck, it is simply not doing homework or not knowing how to do the homework, despite trying.

I suspect that you were being earnest in your suspicions of those who lobbied for McDaniels as OC (you will note, from my posts, that I was not and never have been a McDaniels supporter). Others in the Minneapolis market, most notably those covering the team and some working the flagship station, have used the same analogy to defend Frazier and his staff. Their line, slightly different from yours in that they always raise the same defense in the face of poor coaching by the team they get paid to cover, is that "if not Frazier/Musgrave/Pagac, then who?"

The answer is two-fold. First, it is not the fans' job to identify the talent. That's the job of the GM (a position that the Vikings share among two or three people) or owner/president (regarding the GM). Clearly, the Vikings' "GM" has not done a good job hiring/extending over the past decade.

Second, particularly under the Wilfs, the Vikings have made such questionable hiring decisions that even fans have enough knowledge of credentials to wonder as to the hires. Childress? Bevell? Musgrave? Frazier? What had any of these coaches accomplished before being made head coach or offensive coordinator for the Vikings? Only Bevell came without significant red flags, and the suspicion with him was that he was getting a break because of his ties to Childress, more so than because of what he had done on his own.

Lots of issues, BMC, and they go all the way to the top of the food chain in this organization.

Is this team salvageable? I think so. There is still some very good talent on the team. But the team will do little different next year if the current philosophies about drafting, managing, coaching, and scheming continue. The Vikings need the owner to remove himself from the football side of the equation, hire a GM that knows football, hire a head coach who can optimize talent, change schemes, and bring in a wide receiver, two corners, linebacker, and offensive lineman on each side of the ball. This can all happen in one year, but not if the Vikings do not first acknowledge their issues.

Finally, and, again, to your point on McDaniels, it is not sufficient to rid the team of its current ills; the cures must also represent an upgrade. It was necessary to move on from Mike Tice, but Childress never was the answer. It was necessary to remove Childress, but Frazier was not the answer. Good teams identify their weaknesses and make proper upgrades. The Vikings are stuck in a mode of identifying weaknesses (easy with this team) but giving very little consideration to their next move. That has left them where they are. If they do not figure out the latter, they are doomed to repeat the former and will not change things around in the near term.


HBandM said...


Thank you for your excellent analysis as always.

I do think Frazier should get one more year as HC to at least try to consolidate his tenure. The team seems to have pressured itself to win quickly from both a new stadium standpoint and because the team’s DNA is focused on winning (I think the Vikings are the 5th most winning team in NFL history).

You tend to demand nothing short of perfection in your posts, but I do recall several of your posts over the past few years indicating that Frazier was a significant upgrade over Childress… I also agree that a GM is badly needed in both the short and long-term.

The flashes this year of what could have been do give me some optimism moving forward – believe it or not, I think the blown leads in most of the first 6 games of the year do show that the team and coaching staff were on to something, and close games against Detroit, Denver, and Green Bay (at home) make me think they weren’t completely phoning it in towards the end of the season. In either case, I think the defense needs significant upgrades and the offense needs to be more consistent.

If they can adjust in the offseason with both scheme and (healthy) personnel, there may be a first-round wild-card loss to the Falcons (or equivalent) in our cards next year.

As a parting note, I think this picture sums up the 2011 inconsistency perfectly:

vikes geek said...


I know I suggested that Frazier was an upgrade over Childress, but that's with two very large caveats. The first is that Childress set a low bar. The second is that Frazier's presence was the primary upgrade, coaching is another matter. They might be equals in that realm, for vastly different reasons.

I hope I am wrong down the line regarding Frazier, because I like him and I like that he seems accountable. I don't like his apparent lack of vision in dealing with ongoing problems, however, and I don't like the sense that I have at the beginning of every game that the other team will win, no matter the fourth-quarter circumstances.

We do know this--if Frazier were an a-hole, he would be gone already. That should give him some solace, at least.


vikes geek said...


That is a classic photo--says a mouthful.

I don't think I expect perfection, it just seems like I do because what I espouse is vastly superior play to what we have come to expect lately. If this lasts much longer, we will again see the expectation bar lowered so that people reminiscing about the competence displayed this year will be deemed task masters. I'm fine with a high bar. But more important to me is that the obvious mistakes not be repeated over and over again. Eliminate those and we can enjoy splitting hairs.


Cyd said...

Love the blog. If I may ask, what is your background that you are so experienced in the Vikings' many shortcomings?

vikes geek said...


I was fortunate enough to be born with functioning eyes.


Cyd said...


Touche! Did not mean to pry, however, you write very well and you seem to know quite a bit of the intricacies of the game and the team. If you care to elaborate on your background, I'd love to hear it. If not, understood and no worries.