Monday, September 8, 2008

A disappointing debut

The Vikings were hoping their revamped defense would spark lots of big, game-changing plays in 2008. They were right.

Unfortunately, the big plays that came while the defense was on the field all came from the opposing offense Monday night.

Discounting a punt-return touchdown, the defense gave up a tolerable 17 points on the night. But the Packers' two touchdowns came after big plays by the offense: a 56-yard Greg Jennings catch in the second quarter and a 57-yard Ryan Grant run in the fourth quarter that put Green Bay up by 12 and virtually sealed the win for the Packers. Toss in the 76-yard punt return by Will Blackmon and you have three big plays that doomed the Vikings. The defense allowed over 300 yards, forced zero turnovers, and sacked Aaron Rodgers zero times.

Oh, and the offense didn't play particularly well, either.

Adrian Peterson was his usual brilliant self, rushing for 103 yards on 19 carries for a 5.4 average. And Tarvaris Jackson deserves some credit for making the score as close as it was, with a pair of nice-looking touchdown drives in the fourth quarter. But where Rodgers hit his players in the chest with his passes most of the time, Jackson was typically firing at players' knees or above them or out of bounds or, as I told a friend, "He hit his receivers right to the left of the numbers." The final offensive play may have been an incorrect route run by Visanthe Shiancoe, leading to the interception that ended it -- and an offense that relies on a Jackson-Shiancoe connection has more than a few problems anyway -- but, in the end, Jackson did little to convince me that he's any different from the quarterback who suited up for the team last year: scattershot, unreliable, and unable to make the difficult play when called upon.

But it would be unfair to blame Jackson solely for the night's loss. Had Bernard Berrian been able to stay on his feet on a pass play early in the third quarter, he would have gone for 6 (points) instead of 24 (yards). Aaron Rodgers was rarely challenged by the defense, only being hit (by my rough count) a half-dozen or so times while completing 18 of 22 passes, usually to wide-open receivers. And, as frustratingly usual, that "Lambeau magic" manifested itself on a first-quarter fumble by Brandon Jackson that bounced away from four Vikings and was scooped up by Greg Jennings, who took it for a first down.

While the Vikings were certainly not the most disciplined they could be, their nine penalties only totaled 42 yards. Meanwhile, the Packers were flagged a dozen times for 118 yards, giving the Vikings chance after chance to take control of the game, which they never managed to do. It was frustrating to watch the team be handed one opportunity after another, only to squander them with field-goal attempts and a few late (and ultimately meaningless) touchdowns. I don't know what was more uninspiring: the play-calling or the execution of those plays. Maybe this team missed Bryant McKinnie more than they thought they would.

As bad as they looked last night, maybe we can catch the Indianapolis Colts with their proverbial pants down next week in the Metrodome. When all is said and done, a five-point loss on the road in one of the tougher stadiums in the league for a visitor isn't half bad (and it's a hell of a lot better than the result the last time the Vikings visited Lambeau). But the nature of that loss and the way the defense was routinely carved up by a quarterback making his first start in the NFL, has to be some kind of concern. Personally, I think Aaron Rodgers will do just fine in the NFL, but next week's opponent, Peyton Manning, is probably a little better. It's only one game, and I'm not going to throw in the towel just yet, but it's going to take a much better effort, in all phases of the game, to make this team look better next week.

1 comment:

Cdub said...

I completely agree with all of your arguments. I really don't see any improved or changed aspect from last season. It is only one game, and we knew it would be a tough one on the road, but the biggest concern was that we were simply out coached. The play calling was something I could draw up sitting on the toilet after a dinner at P.F. Chang's. Chilly obviously thought Jared Allen = blitz package, because I didn't see him send a single LB or DB on any pass plays. I thought I even saw Allen drop back into coverage on one play. This is disappointing, it's not the loss that hurts, it was the constant opportunities to take control of the game and break ahead with a lead. The only consistent thing about the vikings this game was NOT taking advantage of opportunities handed to us by the Packers or the officials. This is no excuse, but the officials didn't deserve their paychecks tonight either.