In 2007, the Indianapolis Colts were hosting the New England Patriots in a crucial divisional matchup. In the middle of the game, millions of fans heard what sounded like a recording of crowd noise skipping and repeating. The sound then stopped, and the RCA Dome was notably quieter afterwards. Fans and media everywhere were shocked that the Tony Dungy-led Colts had apparently resorted to cheating.
During a subsequent ESPN.com chat, then-ESPN analyst Jeremy Green admitted the Vikings used fake crowd noise when his father, Dennis Green, was the coach there. Both the Colts and the Vikings, who play in domed stadiums, admittedly play loud music to distract the opponent, and are famous for unfailingly-loud crowds—but both teams staunchly deny they artificially enhance their fans' cheers.
CBS ultimately took the fall for the Colts incident, saying their audio stream may have fed back or looped. The NFL has since scrubbed all recordings of the event from the Internet. Green later said it was just his opinion—though informed by half his lifetime spent going to Vikings games while his father ran the team. As Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk said at the time:
"Please. The initial comments from Jeremy Green sure don't read like opinion, and Green's relationship with the head coach at the time puts him in a great situation to know the facts. The mere fact that Green would try to backpedal in such lame fashion tells us all we need to know."
Then again, Jeremy Green is now a convicted felon, so his word isn’t unimpeachable.
The Lions offensive line had kept Matthew Stafford clean through the first two weeks, allowing zero sacks by either the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Kansas City Chiefs. The Bucs and Chiefs have combined for nine sacks across the other four games they’ve played, yet neither bagged Stafford once. Through two weeks, the Lions had the No. 1 Pro Football Focus-graded pass-blocking line in football.
Yet on Sunday the line was in completely disarray: Jeff Backus had one of the worst games of his career, and earned the worst PFF grade (–7.6) they’ve ever assigned him. Backus was flagged for four penalties, including consecutive false starts on a critical fourth-quarter drive. He also got the blame for two sacks and three QB pressures.
Gosder Cherilus was benched after allowing a sack and a pressure in just the first six snaps. Replacement Corey Hilliard didn’t fare much better: he allowed a sack, two hits and a pressure. Rob Sims also allowed a sack and three pressures; his –4.9 PFF grade was his second-worst ever (besides the 2008 season opener, when he played through a torn pectoral muscle). Oddly, the two whipping boys of the Lions line—Dom Raiola and Stephen Peterman—had the day's best grades at –1.1 and +1.1, respectively. Raiola’s pass blocking grade by itself was positive (+0.3).
What happened here? Is Jared Allen that much better than Tamba Hali? Is Kevin Williams that much better than Gerald McCoy? Or might it have something to do with the “crowd” being so loud that Matthew Stafford had to press both hands over his earholes to hear the radio embedded in his helmet?
There's no proof the Vikings have ever artificially boosted their crowd noise, but the ruckus at Mall of America field was so disruptive, it's hard to believe the allegations are baseless.
Make no mistake: crowd noise is, will and should be a factor in NFL games. During the Kansas City game, when we Lions fans cheered loud enough to draw a timeout or a false start, it was a great feeling knowing we had given our team an advantage. Seahawks fans strongly believe they are “The 12th Man.”
That’s why the Lions veteran line, coached by an experienced coordinator like Scott Linehan, should have been better prepared to deal with the notorious Mall of America noise. The Lions didn’t use max protection against Minnesota’s pass rush, preferring to throw it over the Vikings heads.
Unfortunately, Lions receivers didn’t get open consistently enough to make that approach effective. Nate Burleson, who usually thrives in space underneath, was nearly invisible. It wasn't until Matthew Stafford leaned on Brandon Pettigrew and Titus Young in the second half that the Lions started moving the chains.
Trusting the offensive line to slow Jared Allen and company long enough for Stafford to make the Vikings pay was a gamble. Noise or no noise, the line clearly didn’t respond the way Lions coaches had hoped. After the game, head coach Jim Schwartz said, “We need to be more effective at [right tackle]. I will just leave it at that.” On Backus, Schwartz’s opinion was similar: “He gets a lot of attention because he's a left tackle. Just in general terms, Jeff can play better and he will play better.”
Ultimately, pointing fingers at Minnesota’s illegal advantage—real or perceived—is folly. Good teams overcome disadvantages like that; they persevere and perform. No matter what you think of the Vikings’ tactics, Jeff Backus and the offensive line were good enough to pass what might be their toughest test all year: Jared Allen and the Vikings defensive line in one of the toughest road environments in football.
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