Sunday, August 24, 2008

Defense as expected...

...offense, not so much.

Last night's 12-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers was a mixed bag of both good and bad. The defense held the first-unit Steelers to just six points on two field goals through two+ quarters. Kevin Williams and Ray Edwards each had a sack and starting running back Willie Parker was held to just 18 yards on 10 carries, while backup Rashard Mendenhall lost a fumble and Ben Roethlisberger managed just 65 yards on 17 pass attempts. Even the backups played surprisingly well against a seemingly rejuvenated Byron Leftwich, before bending just enough to allow the game-winning drive and field goal.

Then there was the offense. Which, led by Gus Frerotte, looked decent in the passing game (one horrible interception notwithstanding), with Aundrae Allison looking very good -- though Bernard Berrian being a nonfactor for the second straight game is troubling. Overall, though, if this team performs that well with the backup quarterback in the game against (for most of the game) one of the league's better defenses, it might be enough to win the division, and then some.

That is, if the running game can get on track. Again, I know it's preseason, but at some point, you have to look at least like you're remotely playing at full speed, and the running game thus far hasn't done that. The two-headed monster of Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor has yet to manifest itself, and while it's true that they're playing against some pretty good first-team defenses (Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Seattle all ranked in the top half of the league in rushing defense in 2007), you'd hope that there might be an occasional burst or flash of greatness, even if the overall numbers aren't very good.

Last night's nationally televised game was the first one I saw in full this preseason, and the running game was bottled up completely by the Steeler defense. In total, the Vikings carried 22 times for 32 yards, an abysmal 1.45 yards per carry, and here are the yards per carry averages for the Vikings top four running backs this preseason:

Peterson: 2.55
Taylor: 2.5
Hicks: 2.75
Young: 2.29

I don't know if it's the offensive line coming back down to earth -- because last year's 5.3 yards per carry is almost unsustainable -- or if the backs are not as good as we thought they were, but if the Vikings don't come out with a strong rushing performance against Dallas in the final preseason game -- whether it's by backups or starters -- I think it should officially be labeled a cause for concern.

Then again, it's tough to establish any flow to your rushing game when you're being penalized on every other play. The Vikings' first drive, which saw them backed up deep in their own territory by an inexcusable three false-start penalties, set the tone for the evening. I can recall at least one more such penalty by the Vikings during the game, and maybe there was another. Both teams were undisciplined, with the Vikings "beating" the Steelers with 10 penalties to 8. (The Steelers would have had 9 if the Vikings hadn't refused an illegal substitution call on an unsuccessful fourth-down try.) A friend I was watching the game with hinted that there was going to be some yelling in both teams' meetings on Monday. I countered by saying that the Vikings didn't need to show their offensive linemen any game film; they just needed to drill them on how to count.

Again, considering the team had a backup quarterback and was facing probably one of the better teams in the league, the overall effort wasn't too awful. But there are still some serious issues to be addressed, and they involve some of what the Vikings thought would be their strong points entering 2008: the offensive line and the running game. They've got one more week to get things straightened out because right now the most effective and reliable facet of our offense appears to be the play of Tarvaris Jackson. And that's a little frightening.

1 comment:

TMac said...

Here we go Steelers, here we go. Hopefully we'll be watching a rematch in February :)