Okay, as I Viking fan I bit my tongue after the Cardinals game. I was somewhat assuaged by the big win over the Bengals, but I also expected it, A, being a home game, and B, being against a running, ball control team that matched up perfectly to the Vikes strengths.
Then came the train wreck against the Panthers, where the Viking defense allowed a second string, inexperienced QB to burn them time after time again, failed to get pressure, and allowed Jonathon Stewart over 100 yards rushing despite the fact that the Panthers were missing both of their starting tackles. I still held my tongue. I still held my tongue even though I stared in disbelief as a defense actually pulled it's corners in to stop the run in situation that wasn't a fourth and inches or a goal line stance. Repeated first downs given because Winfield had to dart back across the field to catch up to the receivers. What was Frazier thinking? Any quarterback can make a throw when you have NO ONE covering the receivers and at least 2 seconds to flip out a five yard pass in the general vicinity.
As bad as this game against the Bears was, at least it wasn't as bad as that one against the Panthers. Come on, I've seen the St. Louis Rams play better than that this year. But now I will no longer hold my tongue. I see too many problems, and I see them going unanswered week after week.
Things to notice about this game:
1. Childress started with three consecutive run plays that ended in a three and out. He looked like a control freak the first half, chaining down Favre on audibles, and time and time again waiting until third and long to call pass plays. How can I tell this is Childress's mark? It's the same thing that's been holding them back the last month. Ever since they got into playoff position, Childress has suddenly been playing not to lose. This is partially what hurt Favre against the Cardinals, these third and longs with the terrible offensive line collapsing after 2-3 seconds when even Peyton Manning needs 4-5.
2. The first half of nada was on Childress. The second half was Favre. You can see and feel the difference and it goes right down to personalities. The first half was filled with repeated runs straight down the middle with 8-9 men in box, and it got nothing. Besides, this was a slow paced offense. Childress needs to understand that in the NFL today you can no longer run to open up the pass, you have to pass and spread out the defenses to run. In the second half I was suddenly treated to the beautiful spectacle of the old Vikings offense spreading out the defense, playing hurry up, and saw Favre adjusting things at the line. Suddenly the offensive line was blocking half-way again, and suddenly the Vikes were shooting deep darts down the field and making big plays like they should have the first half. Peterson suddenly had enough relief where he could run for more than 1-3 yards again, with pairs of nine yard runs.
3. The game came down just as much to a third and one where Childress ran Adrian Peterson. With 8-9 men playing the box, and with single outside man coverage, no safety, and playing against back up DB's, Favre wants to fake the hand off to Peterson, get the defense to bite on it in the middle, and flip out to the side and fling a TD pass out. Childress is too controlling to allow that and instead does what he always does, predictably, and that's run Adrian Peterson right up the middle. Peterson lost a yard as blitzing linebackers blasted past Herrera and John Sullivan, and on fourth and two the Vikings settled for a field goal to make it 23-16.
4. Favre had a second half to remember. He could have just as easily had four TD passes, but two of his drives just set Peterson up for some one yard TD runs. This should dispel notions that he can't play in December or in the cold.
5. Speaking of Favre, how is number 4 still walking after the beating he's taken at the hands of this mediocre line, (aside from Steve Hutchinson). The past four games: 12 sacks. Peyton Manning has received 10 sacks in the entire YEAR. Brees has twenty on the entire season. Brett Favre is 40 years old and he has nearly 40 sacks on the season. It's still mind-boggling how tough this guy is; he's almost never had an O-Line half as good as Manning's and yet he's never missed a start. How is he still playing this well? How does this happen? The Vikings have TWO running backs in the back field better than any on the Saints or Colts, and they run the ball a lot. Yet they allow so many sacks.
6. The O-Line. Piss poor is the only way to describe it. I've felt all along the Vikings should have tried to move earlier and get a better center than John Sullivan. He has been consistently burned throughout the season and his inability to block on run plays is hurting the Vikings when they try to run Iso's and Blasts. Bryant McKennie, at the most important spot of the line, is playing worse and worse and worse and it almost hurts to watch as a fan. Lastly, Anthony Herrera is missing blocks and allowing sacks on a quarterly basis. Artis Hicks could play better than that. Come the 2010 draft the Vikes can replace him with the incredible Alabama guard, Mike Johnson. They might have to trade a draft pick to move up high enough in the second round to get him, but it'll be worth it.
7. Antoine Winfield? I get sick of broadcasters gushing over Minnesota's fantastic pair of "physical" corners. When I hear the word physical used to describe a DB it makes me cringe because it basically means they don't go after the ball. Physical is code for, "lack ball awareness". I don't mind a DB who's strength is hitting guys so hard as they're bringing in the pass that they drop it, but they also have to be able to cover. Neither Winfield nor Griffin can cover. Winfield's injured and not running at full speed. He's getting burned time and time again. In the past two games, Antoine Winfield has given up 4 touchdowns and three hundred yards receiving.
8. The secondary in general. Something has to be done for it. I've known all year long it wasn't very good. Joe Flacco, Aaron Rodgers, and every decent quarterback they've faced has proved that. The only way it functions is to get a sack, and frankly it doesn't get those enough to save itself: it currently ranks fourth in the NFL in sacks, and a quarter of them came against a dysfunctional Green Bay line. This is not a fair weather fan suddenly throwing them under the bus. I was worried back then it would bite the team in the butt later on and it has. They can't handle teams with good protection schemes and quick, three step drop passing attacks. It's almost amusing to watch Madieu Williams stand cluelessly on the field while another pass whizzes by him. The guy has no sacks, no forced fumbles, and no interceptions. He's also never in position to make a play on the ball. It's like he has no awareness for playing the field, watching the QB, anticipating where the pass is going to be. Whoever let Darren Sharper go needs to be fired immediately, this would be an entirely different secondary with him playing. Sharper, with 9 ints at NOLA, has nearly as many ints as the entire Vikings defense has, (12).
Adjustments have to be made. It's not time to start panicking, giving up on the season, or firing coaches, but adjustments needs to be made and fast. Benching Williams at FS would be a good start. Shifting Winfield to free safety would be the second part. It wouldn't be a hard adjustment, Winfield plays like a safety and has the characteristics of one; not especially fast, hits hard, I think he would play better being able to play over the top of receivers and make plays. Put Asher Allen, who has played very well when put on the stage, in for Winfield at corner. This won't solve the problem of Tyrell Johnson, Jasper Brinkley or Ben Leber, but it's a start.
9. Jasper Brinkley. Burned on the exact same play two weeks in a row. You would figure guys who made it to the NFL would be able to learn from mistakes. Last week against the Panthers he charged the running back, leaving the receiver he was supposed to be covering wide open in the corner of the end zone. This week the exact same thing happened with him charging after the running back in the back field and leaving the tight end Desmond Clark wide open for an easy touchdown.
10. Coach Childress. I've always thought the guy was way too conservative. The kind of football he likes his team to play is boring, and frankly, his defense isn't good enough to be successful with such a style. It was in check for most of the year, with Favre clicking on all cylinders. But since that excellent first game against the Bears he hasn't loosened up again, though I'll give him his due, this is partially due to the god-awful pass protection the OL has been giving Favre. He's been forcing runs into stacked boxes, leaving lots of third and longs and he hasn't been bringing the team ready to play. As many have noted, when one player is making mistakes, that's his failing. When the entire special teams and defense are making mistakes, it's a coaching failure. Devoted Vikings fans everywhere think Childress' play-calling sucks, and now it's turning into the same sort of control battles he had with Brad Johnson and Gus Frerotte, except Brett Favre is no average QB but a Hall of Famer and one of the best, and most unorthodox QB's to ever play the game. All these conservative check down passes on third and long, those are Childress' poor pass play-calling. I don't think he should be fired though, he's a good personnel mover and has managed to put together a good team the last two seasons. But I do think Wyglif needs to talk to him and give over primary offensive play-calling to Brett Favre, the same courtesy that Peyton Manning and Drew Brees have. Brad Childress should not be allowed to be a control freak about who's running the offense. As a Head Coach it's his job to get the personnel and prepare them, he doesn't have to also control every facet of how they play the game. Favre has had huge success this year when he's changing the play at the line of scrimmage, I've seen it repeatedly. Let loose and open the offense up more. A perfect example of this was when Favre wanted to keep the offense spread out and get off another quick play on the two yard line. Childress waved it off and put in a goal set and gave the defense time to regroup. Chester Taylor then lost four yards and Favre did it his way the next play and tossed a six yard TD to Shiancoe.
11. Adrian Peterson. It's not all his fault. He just made the second to last mistake of the game and easily the worst. I like his effort. Despite no blocking, and Childress's constant demands that he run north and south when he's perhaps best playing the tosses, sweeps, and counters, he's put up a good season and had a good game. But there was simply no excuse for that. It's simply unfathomable to me and everyone else who watched the game why he didn't just step out of bounds when he had the first. Why do you dive into three defenders, with only one hand on the ball, and go for those extra six inches. Whatever his excuses were, he just doesn't carry the ball securely. He needs to start pulling it in tighter with both hands and higher up too, especially when he's going down. Here's something to think about. Childress is a conservative coach, you don't like risk. Well Peterson is losing a fumble every 51 carries. Brett Favre is throwing an interception every 71.5 pass attempts. It sorta turns the NFL rules of football up on their head when throwing it is less risky than running it. I never imagined at the start of this season that Brett Favre of all people would be the safer choice than Adrian Peterson.
So, having said all of that, I have a few begging requests. One is being spoken by hundreds of thousands of fans: Childress, please quit battling Favre over the audibles, loosen up and give him more authority over running the offense, that's part of why you brought him in, or so we all thought. Two, I hope to see some adjustments made.
The Giants are awful at this point. They've completely given up and I don't think they even have it in them to play hard for some self-respect. Don't let them be the first team to beat you at home this season.
Brett Favre will, next week, become the first quarterback over 40 to pass for 4000 yards, and the first 40 year old quarterback to throw for 30 touchdowns. He'll be the oldest quarterback to ever start a playoff game soon after, and I hope he doesn't retire after this season, playing as well as he has.
He could play another 2-3 seasons at this rate, I was worried his arm wouldn't be back, but it is and my oh my it's lost not of the zip it had twelve years ago. He's been more accurate and more careful with the ball this year than he's been in any other season of his career. Regardless of whether the Vikings win or lose a Super Bowl, it won't make this incredible season a failure for Brett Favre, nor would it have been a bad move for the Vikings. He has had a QB rating of over a hundred in 9 out of 15 games despite completely missing the off-season and coming in to a team off the streets basically, and one that had a young, untested receiver corps. I'm feeling like this would have been a 7-8 team at best with T-Jack.
The sour, classless Green Bay fans who like to rag on Favre every time he doesn't pull together a miraculous performance and victory need to bug off. I'm tired of the people who like to find whatever they can to rag on Favre, as that little snot did on ESPN today, who suddenly turned him into a team killing cancer in his analysis.
It's been unfortunate he's had such a string of late string slowdowns, not just in him, but in his teams also. In 2007 he got injured against the Cowboys in the first half, (a first half he was struggling in anyway), and it was still bothering him for the next few weeks, noticeably. Then in 2008 he tore his biceps muscle much to the glee of all the Green Bay losers who have nothing better to do than cheer against the quarterback who brought them out of three decades of mediocrity and led them to five NFC Championships and two Super Bowls in a 16 year period, never missing a single start during that time and set every meaningful record there is for a QB.
Favre had a lot of setbacks at the prime of his career, Holmgren leaving, and two rebuilding periods. Far as I'm concerned this season he pretty much just picked up where he left off a decade ago and he's turned the Vikings receiver core into a young, star group.
There is still a shot at the Super Bowl. Neither the team nor it's fans should give up hope now. Keep a positive attitude week after week and see where we end up. And if we lose in the playoffs, we lose. The only good thing about missing a Super Bowl is that it'll leave Favre unable to say goodbye to Pro Football for another season and he'll have to come back to take one more shot at winning another one.
In the 2010 NFL Draft I'd say the Vikings need to get Sean Weatherspoon to replace Ben Leber, the king of missed tackles and opportunities, in the first round. Do whatever it takes to move up high enough to snatch him, whatever trades are necessary. Same in the second round with getting Mike Johnson to replace the struggling Anthony Herrera. Get Brandon Sharpe in the 3rd to replace Ray Edwards who will be leaving to free agency. Sharpe is very underrated and has played well for Texas Tech, and gotten more sacks in the Big 12 than Ndamakung Suh has. I once would have said replace Chester Taylor with Ben Tate, but now I'm not so sure the Vikings shouldn't do whatever it takes to keep Taylor, the guy is so incredibly reliable. Personally I'd like to see him get more carries and mix things up a more with Peterson.
Never too early to be thinking ahead about needs, and the Vikings have a lot of glaring talent deficiencies to be covered up, due partially, I think, to the fact they just aren’t stealing good talent away from the lower draft picks, they aren't finding the hidden stars like Marques Colston, Tom Brady, etc, in the draft. Hopefully next year will be an even more amazing season, and I hope to see Favre come back and my dream is that they'll get Terrell Owens from Buffalo by trading Berrian and a 2011 first round draft pick. TO on one side of the field, and Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice on the other, with Brett Favre and Adrian Peterson behind the line. Nightmares for a defensive coordinator.