Viking Fans, Calm Down and Enjoy The Season . . .

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Viking Fans, Calm Down and Enjoy The Season . . .
(Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Enjoy the season. 

Despite a 3-0 start, many Viking fans do not believe that the purple have a realistic chance to make the playoffs.  They characterize the Vikings play against the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions as uninspired.  Many feel that the San Francisco 49ers gave the Vikings last Sunday’s game as a gift and that Minnesota is really at best a mediocre 2-1 team.

When he was at the helm several years ago, Coach Mike Tice in a press conference told Viking fans to calm down and enjoy the season.   Where are you Coach Tice when we need you to calm the troops?

Viking fans would do well to heed the advice of the Tice and calm down and enjoy what unfolds during the year.

Below is a look at some of grumblings that I overheard this week about the Vikings and the merits of the complaints.

The team doesn’t have the killer instinct of a Super Bowl contender . . .

The Vikings opened the 2009 season against the Cleveland Browns and the Detroit Lions.  Last year, the Browns struggled to win 4 games last year and the Lions went the distance without a win.  Both teams hired new head coaches and both decided to start the season with quarterbacks who had little to no NFL experience.  It is difficult to imagine better sacrificial lambs for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.

However, instead of quickly dispatching the Browns and Lions, the Vikings fell behind both teams before waking up in time to put away both teams in the second half.

The doubters poured water over the excitement of the 49ers victory by pointing out that the key play was not Favre to Lewis with 2 seconds left.  No, they say the key play was when 49ers Dre Bly dropped the gift wrapped interception the play before that should have ended the game.

While, the Vikings have not “crushed” any of their first three opponents that does not mean that they don’t have the right killer instinct to make it to Miami. 

Last year’s Super Bowl Champions the Pittsburgh Steelers struggled to put away the Cleveland Browns in week 2 by a score of 10-6.  Yes, those Browns that managed only 4 wins last season.  The next week the Steelers lost to the Philadelphia Eagles 15-6 with their leading rusher Willie Parker getting only 20 yards on 13 carriers.

The 2008 Super Bowl Champions New York Giants started the season with losses to Dallas (45-35) and Green Bay (35-13).  The Giants even stumbled late in the season against the Tarvaris Jackson led Vikings 41-17 during week 11.

Super Bowl contending teams don’t crush every team that they play and they even have occasional bumps in the road.  Super Bowl contenders play more consistently throughout the year and make fewer mistakes than their opponents.

Are the Vikings Super Bowl bound?  Is there any team this year that is a lock to make it to Miami?  No.  The field is wide open to several teams.   We do know however that the Vikings have played more consistently.  The Vikings have made fewer as they are +4 on turnovers.  Minnesota is on the short list of contenders.   

Favre is ready to implode with a flurry of interceptions, he can’t lead the Vikings to the promise land . . .

While Favre is being paid handsomely at $12 million a year, the Vikings are not looking for him to win games for them by passing early and often.   Rather, the Vikings are calling upon Favre to make the right decisions on offense and to understand that he doesn’t have to win by the game by himself.  

Favre has accepted the challenge.  Favre has recognized blitzes and made the right read.   While not every pass has resulted in positive yardage the right play is being executed. 

Favre has not forced the action in the first three games.  He has even allowed himself to be sacked and he has thrown passes away as opposed to trying to thread the needle.   In three games, Favre has five touchdowns against only one interception.

Despite his early success, the Vikings faithful are wondering when Favre is going to abandon the recipe for success and stretch the defenses of opponents such that 300 yard games become commonplace.

No one should expect that Favre is going to pass for 300 yards every time he goes out.  Favre is clearly not the spry young gunslinger he was 10 years ago.  He is now the crafty veteran who is just as likely to beat you with his mind as he is to beat you with his strong arm.

Vikings fans should sit back and enjoy the last (or latest?) encore of Brett’s career.  He may no longer be a fantasy football league stud, but Favre can still play at a high level in the NFL.   Favre has a better quarterback rating than the young gunslingers Ben Roethlisberger, Tony Romo, Phillip Rivers and even league glamour boy Tom Brady. 

What Favre needs to continue to bring to the table for the Vikings is his leadership, enthusiasm and attitude.   One of the small things the coaching staff has impressed upon the players is the willingness to do some “work.” The Vikings staff is looking for players to do “work” beyond their initial assignment and go down field to try and throw another block.

The play of the game for Favre against the 49ers was not his throw to Lewis for the go ahead touchdown (or the near interception to Bly).  The play of the game was when Favre did some “work” by running down the field more than 30 yards from the line of scrimmage to throw a block for Bernard Berrian on All – Pro Linebacker Patrick Willis. 

The Vikings needed a leader this season on the offensive side of the ball.  Plays like the block for Berrian are infectious.  Everyone needs to do work regardless of what he has accomplished in the past.  The tone has been set by Favre.

Understanding that there is no need to force the action, skills that are still among the best and now you add the intangible of leadership . . . Favre might just be what the Vikings need to take them to the next level.

Special Teams continues to be their Achilles Heel . . .

The Vikings have already given up two touchdowns on special teams this year.  The ghost of Reggie Bush embarrassing the Vikings last year has begun to haunt the Viking fans.

The first touchdown surrendered by the Vikings was a 67 yard punt return to Cleveland’s Joshua Cribbs.  The second touchdown occurred in the closing minutes of the first half of last week’s game when Nate Clements of the 49ers scooped up a blocked field goal and returned it 59 yards.  

The play with Clements should not have happened.  However, kudos to San Francisco in that they understood that Rookie Offensive Tackle Phil Loadholt might be vulnerable.  Don’t worry; I am going to Loadholt in a minute.

While, the Special Teams have given up two big plays - the reality is that the play of special teams of the Vikings has improved.  Coverage teams are doing a better job of staying put in their lanes.

First, Cribbs is not your average punt returner.  Cribbs is considered by many to be one of the best return specialists in the AFC.   Cribbs represented the AFC in the pro bowl as a return specialist in 2008.

Second, the Vikings now have real threats to score on special teams.  Percy Harvin returned a kickoff 101 yards against the 49ers.  Harvin has a legitimate chance to make the Pro Bowl as a kick returner.  Darius Reynaud has also done very well returning punts and it is only a matter of time before he takes one the distance.

Third and most importantly, the Vikings have won the battle of field position as the special teams units on kicks/punts returned have gained more yardage than their opponents. 

The Browns averaged 23 yards on their kick returns and 22 yards on their punt returns; the Vikings averaged 33 yards and 27 yards.

The Lions averaged 16 yards on their kick returns and 7 yards on their punt returns; the Vikings averaged 3o yards and 13 yards.

The 49ers averaged 23 yards on their kick returns and only 6 yards on their punt returns; the Vikings averaged 45 yards and 11 yards. 

That’s right, Harvin is giving the Vikings at least 30 yards of field position when he touches the ball on kick-offs. 

The Special Teams play is still a work in progress but clearly things have improved from last year for the special teams unit.

The Offensive Line is not good enough . . .

Despite having the best running back in the game in Adrian Peterson, the Vikings running game has struggled the past two weeks.  The offensive line simply has not consistently created enough running lanes. Favre’s consecutive game starting streak is in jeopardy as he has been pummeled by defensive linemen the past three weeks. 

Center John Sullivan is getting battered as a piñata.  Why did we get rid of Matt Birk? Loadholt has already picked up bad habits from Left Tackle Bryant McKinnie in being too upright and slow on passing plays. 

Loadholt and Sullivan have also collected holding penalties at inopportune times.   Adding insult to injury, Loadholt picked up a holding penalty on play his man still managed to put Favre into the turf.

When you want to get to Favre in a hurry, you blitz over Loadholt and Sullivan. Offensive coordinator Darrel Bevel has tried to slow the rush of the defense by sprinkling in center screens and screens on the right side of the ball.  Unfortunately, the inexperience of Sullivan and Loadholt can’t be completely disguised. 

It is undeniable that the weakest links among all of the Viking starters are Loadholt and Sullivan.   I see these two players as the Vikings Achilles Heel.  Fortunately, it is a long season and the Viking faithful must hope that the play of Loadholt and Sullivan will improve by the end of the year.  

If the Vikings don’t make it to Miami it will be because the offensive line was taken to the proverbial woodshed for a good old-fashioned spanking.  Week 6 against Baltimore followed by Week 7 against Pittsburgh will be tough midterm exams for Loadholt and Sullivan.

The ride for the Vikings won’t always be smooth as there will likely losses along the way.  Does Favre have enough magic left? Will the Special Teams continue to improve upon what they have started this season?  Can Sullivan and Loadholt mature over the year such that they are no longer seen as the weakest link?

The Vikings clearly have enough talent to contend for Miami and make this year a memorable season for all of the right reasons.   

Viking fans . . . “Enjoy the Season.”

 

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