An Honest Assessment of the Minnesota Vikings After the Monday Night Showdown
Coach Jon Gruden loves Bret Favre more than coach John Madden almost to the point where a restraining order might be necessary. We now know that if given a chance Gruden would welcome the opportunity to coach Favre again.
I can’t ever remember an analyst bringing his favorite film from practice sessions in effort to praise a player. I only hope for Gruden’s sake that if he did not own the film of Favre throwing deep in practice he acquired the film through the proper channels.
OK, besides Gruden's affection for Favre, we know that while the Vikings have enough talent to make it to the Super Bowl they might not be the best team in the NFC.
If you are Viking fan you saw several things on Monday night to make you salivate over the possibilities of watching football in February. However, if you are a NFC playoff contender, or Dennis Green, you aren’t likely ready to crown them.
Favre’s physical gifts have not diminished as he still has zip on the slants and out routes. He can throw the ball downfield with authority and can get the ball into his receiver in a two deep zone.
More importantly, Favre has brought leadership to the team and it is apparent in post game interviews that the youngsters on the team are feeding off of his confidence.
The two questions concerning Favre are whether he is durable enough to last the entire season and can he play well in inclement weather. Neither of these questions has been answered.
The Vikings receivers have made several big plays and are doing a very good job of getting yards after the catch. Rookie Percy Harvin has especially been impressive avoiding and breaking tackles. Sidney Rice appears to be poised for a break-out season.
Bernard Berrian however still does not look healthy. Berrian’s 31 yard touchdown catch against the Packers was due to a mental lapse by the secondary and not his speed.
While Harvin and Rice have looked very good, the Vikings need Berrian to contribute to have a consistent passing attack.
The best running back in the NFL is Adrian Peterson and pairing him with Chester Taylor gives the Vikings the best tandem in the league. Yes, Peterson’s fumble on MNF was disheartening but the organization is unlikely to trade him anytime soon. Taylor has done a good job doing whatever the team needs and Favre has been smart to publicly show his appreciation for Chester’s efforts.
As much talent that Peterson and Taylor have, they still need the offensive line to create some daylight.
The best that can be said about the offensive line is that their play has been inconsistent.
Against the Cleveland Browns, Favre was sacked four times and was hurried several times. The Lions pass rush put Favre to the turf on three occasions and made sure he was not lonely on several occasions. Throw in a couple of holding penalties and Coach Childress was ready for aspirin for his headache.
On Monday Night, the offensive line was Houdini like in making the Packers pass rushers completely disappear. Even more impressive was that the offensive line was not called for holding.
Steve Hutchinson saw limited time in practice this week with pain in his low back. If Hutchinson misses significant time the offensive line will not be able to continue the trend established against Green Bay and the running lanes will be greatly decrease.
Teams have had more success rushing the ball up the middle against the Vikings this year. Currently, the run defense is ranked ninth after leading the league last year. No need however to hit the panic button just yet because the “fall” to the ninth spot means the Vikings are only giving up an additional 12.5 yards a game on the ground.
Teams playing the Vikings going forward will not likely abandon trying to run the ball up the middle. The next three games for the Vikings may reveal if the run defense is slipping as the Vikings face teams committed to running the ball in the Rams, Ravens and Steelers.
Expect the Vikings run defense to step up their play as the unit is still among the very best in the league.
Statistically, the Vikings pass defense has improved from last year as they are currently ranked 12th in the league as opposed to 18th in the league from last year. Again, no need to go completely overboard with champagne as the spike in ranking equates to holding opponents to 5.3 fewer yards a game.
Cedric Griffin has done a good job with extra attention he receives player corner opposite All Pro Antoine Winfield. Griffin has already grabbed two interceptions; he has five over his four-year career.
One glaring need to address in the passing game is figuring out how to defend passes over the middle. Against Green Bay, the Vikings gave up six passing plays over 20 yards. Five of the six big passing plays over 20 yards were on throws over the middle.
Strong safety Tyrell Johnson and free safety Madieu Williams need to make more plays.
The Special Teams play has improved from last year. Coverage squads are doing a better job of staying in their lanes and not over committing early.
Punter Chris Kluwe continues to punt well with two coffin corner kicks against Green Bay. Ryan Longwell is six for seven with his only miss coming from beyond 40 yards.
Harvin and Darius Raynaud have now made Viking opponents worry about their special teams’ coverage.
The Vikings have turned the corner on their special team problems from last year.
Looking Forward to this Weekend
The Vikings should roll over the St. Louis Rams this weekend as the Rams got stomped on by the San Francisco 49ers 35-0 last week and it does not look like their starting quarterback is going to be able to play. Right?
Well, a couple of reasons that the game could be a close hard fought battle:
1. The Vikings are emotionally spent after beating the Packers for their new leader.
2. Rams offensive tackles Alex Barron and Jason Smith are expected to play after missing last week’s game.
3. The Vikings are looking ahead to Baltimore and Pittsburgh instead of focusing in on the Rams.
4. Rams strong safety Craig Dahl and cornerback Ron Bartell return to the lineup to shore up the defense.
5. The Vikings coaching staff will outsmart themselves and allow the Rams to stay in the game.
However, if the Vikings put the Rams away early it will be a sign that they are a serious Super Bowl contenders as they are clearly focused on getting to Miami.
Expect the Vikings to join the Giants and Saints as the elite teams in the NFC.
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