Sunday, September 14, 2008

How to fix the Vikings

The solution can be largely summed up in three words:

Fire. Brad. Childress.

Today's game had to be the worst example of offensive play-calling I've seen in years. Before or after nearly every play in the second half (and many in the first), my friend or I were asking "Why are they doing this?" To wit:

* Adrian Peterson was clearly out of gas by the third quarter. After racking up 118 yards in the first half, he managed just 42 yards in the second half on 15 carries. "They really need to put Chester Taylor in there for a series or two," we said. Taylor had one carry in the second half and caught one pass (for a loss of two). Meanwhile, the winded Peterson managed a paltry 2.8 yards per carry and, when the team needed him the most, he was unable to keep the chains moving and keep the ball out of Peyton Manning's hands.

* Taylor's one carry in the second half was a mystifying 3rd-and-5 call at the midway point of the fourth quarter, with the ball on the Colts' 31. Yes, Ryan Longwell was five-for-five on field goals and another one there probably ices the game (making it 18-7), but in what world is a 47-yard field goal, even in a dome, automatic? There's nothing "safe" about that call, and after five missed opportunities to score a touchdown, shouldn't you be trying to actually get it in the end zone and run more time off the clock by holding on to the ball?

* And speaking of third-down plays, the calls on third down were horrible throughout. What on earth are you doing going for long passes on third and short? Three or four times, Tarvaris Jackson heaved the ball deep instead of looking for the short receiver. Some of this blame needs to go on Jackson and his receivers, to be certain, though the coaching staff should know by now how spotty Jackson's long-range accuracy is and be calling short, safe, move-the-sticks kinds of plays on third down. A few of those times, it looked like he did have a short man at or beyond the first-down mark, wide open, but he instead flung it deep and never connected.

(And besides, isn't the oft-stated goal of most teams playing against Peyton Manning to keep him off the field. You don't need to go deep! Keep the ball and take your yardage in small chunks.)

* Finally, there still don't seem to be any passing plays in the playbook that don't require Jackson to a) throw it two yards downfield; or b) throw it 30 yards downfield. Where are the intermediate routes? Where are the 5 to 15-yard plays that are the bread-and-butter of a supposed West Coast offense? When Jackson had a couple of those plays at the end of the first half, he connected and moved the team down the field quickly to set up Longwell's third field goal. Apart from those two plays, Jackson had 85 yards on 22 passes, less than four yards per attempt. Why weren't there more passing plays like that?

All this doesn't mean the players are blameless, though.

* Last week on MNF, it was mentioned that Tarvaris Jackson has a passer rating of 24 -- not 124 -- when he rolls out of the pocket. That's utterly inexcusable for a mobile quarterback. His accuracy is bad enough as it is. I'm willing, however, to give him a slight pass, considering the awful play calling by Childress and his staff, and it's not as if the team has any better options at the position, but if the team doesn't have a win by October, it'll be time to see what Gus Frerotte or even John David Booty can do.

And is there any quarterback poorer at sensing the backside rush than Jackson? At this point, if a defender has any kind of remotely clear shot at his back or his passing arm, it's an automatic sack and fumble.

* After getting burned by Greg Jennings last week, Tyrell Johnson was again in the picture -- but only barely -- on Anthony Gonzalez catch-and-pitch to Reggie Wayne that set up the Colts' first touchdown. Madeiu Williams, please come back, quickly.

* It's only two games, sure, but Bernard Berrian looks like the free-agent bust of the year. I tihnk I saw him on the field, but it doesn't look like it matters if he was or not, as he had no catches.

All of that adds up to a dissapointing, frustrating, 0-2 start, and both of the games were completely winnable. Losing two games to good teams by a total of eight points isn't the end of the world, and the Vikings' schedule looks to be a little easier moving forward, but if this team doesn't show some kind of innovation or intelligence, especially on the offensive side of the ball, the blame should fall on Childress for his inability to assess game-time information and coach his players to handle those situations properly.