Saturday, November 29, 2008

Vikings vs. Bears -- Sorta-hafta-win game

Big showdown with the Bears Sunday night...with a win, the Vikings would be 7-5 with a one-game lead in the division and only Detroit remaining on the divisional schedule. If we assume the Vikings beat Detroit next week (even if the Williams boys are suspended), then they'd be looking at an 8-5 record, 4-2 in the division, and a surprisingly good chance of winning the division, even with a slip down the stretch during that tough December schedule.

If the Vikings lose the game, however, that pretty much ends their division-title chances for the year and puts a serious crimp in their overall playoff plan. At 6-6, the Vikings would be essentially two games behind the 7-5 Bears, who would have swept the Vikings for the season. With at least three other +.500 teams in the NFC that aren't leading their divisions, that would put the Vikings at least in fourth place in competition for two wild-card spots. Not good.

So while I loathe the term "must win" (If the Vikings lose this week, everyone will say that next week's game is a "must win" to keep their faint playoff hopes alive, and so on, and so on, every week until they're actually eliminated from playoff contention. If you can lose a "must win" game and still stay alive, then guess what? It wasn't a "must win"!), this game is pretty close. Fortunately, it's at home, where the Vikings are 4-1 this season, and while the Bears are 3-3 on the road, two of those road wins came against Detroit and St. Louis. All signs would seem to point to a Vikings victory, but you know how that usually goes with this team. Here's hoping for another 14-0 lead in the first two minutes!

* Probably the most cringe-inducing moments in Sunday night's game will come when the Vikings punt to Devin Hester. Interestingly, though, Hester's averaging just a mediocre 6.3 yards per punt return, and has actually been taking off kickoff returns. Nevertheless, expect every announcer and every fan in the Metrodome to expect Chris Kluwe to kick away from Hester, regardless of how effective he actually is.

* The blog recently had a post about unique game scores in the NFL, prompted by that 11-10 Pittsburgh/San Diego game a few weeks ago, and in the process introduced a bunch of neat new toys for finding game scores. Read the post to get all the links, but, for instance, here's the list of all 30-12 games in NFL history, including last week's Vikings/Jaguars game. (That Chicago Bears/Pottsville Maroons game in 1927 was a real barnburner!) Specifically, as it relates to the Bears/Vikings, their earlier 48-41 contest was the first in NFL history with such a score.

My favorite "WTF?" score has to be 5-0, which has occurred three times, including twice in fairly recent times. And then there's this 7-2 gem from 1993, the third of its kind, appropriately between two teams with a combined record of 3-23.

* Another possibility for the Vikings' 2009 QB I hadn't considered: Tim Tebow. Granted, he'll have to declare for the draft and he'd have to slip to the Vikings' pick, but after the Brady Quinn incident in the 2007 draft, anything's possible.

And count me as someone who's not interested. I think Tebow, like Alex Smith in Utah, is a product of Urban Meyer's spread offense and think it unlikely that he'll be even remotely as good in the pros as he is in college. Might be that he could be successful as a part-time QB/part-time WR/slash/Wildcat type of player, but until an NFL player with quarterbacking skills officially declares himself to be that type of player, as opposed to a full-time QB, I don't see it happening.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Your 2009 Minnesota Vikings QB

Yesterday, I proposed that, while neither were who I'd want leading my team, Gus Frerotte really isn't that much better than Tarvaris Jackson. It's almost a certainty that the Vikings will look elsewhere for QB help in the off-season, and there are several intriguing choices out there. True, we've still got five games left in the 2008 regular season, and a lot can happen in that time, but everyone else is speculating about who the Vikings will put under center, so why not me?

Donovan McNabb. The most obvious choice, and the one that's gained a lot more momentum in the wake of his recent falling out with the Eagles -- and I can't really understand why. Yeah, he's had a lousy game and a half, going back to the Cincinnati game. But that's just six quarters! He's still got an 81.1 passer rating and, if you take out his last two games, that number jumps up to 91.3. Even with his recent struggles, he's only thrown interceptions on 2.2% of his career passes, third among active players (behind the very inexperienced David Garrard and Jason Campbell, both of whom will come back down to earth), and if there ever was a team that just needed a QB who didn't turn the ball over and relied on his defense and running game, it was the Vikings.

Naturally, you can't just ignore a few games though. McNabb has thrown five interceptions in his last two contests, and the Eagles are a mediocre 5-5-1. However, in the team's five losses, they've given up 23, 24, 36, 36, and 41 points -- hard for any quarterback to win those games. The 13-13 tie (and Donovan's lack of knowledge of the NFL rulebook) is unfortunate, but hey, sometimes guys just lay eggs. He's got exactly three games in his career with three interceptions, and that was one of them. Meanwhile, he's thrown for zero or one interception in 109 of 127 games played. He's a good player, even if Philly doesn't believe it and, even at 32, has been mostly healthy the last two seasons.

Donovan McNabb represents probably the best short-term fix for the Vikings at the quarterback position, and hopefully would come fairly cheap in terms of compensation (say, a 2nd-round draft pick). But there are other options...

Kyle Orton. Don't laugh. Another possible target for McNabb is Chicago, and if that happens, both Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman will be free agents. Orton's had a very solid 2008, throwing just four interceptions and, yes, I don't like talking about quarterback records when it's obvious the rest of the team is what won the game, but he did take the 2005 Bears -- an all-running, all-defense team -- to a 10-5 record as a rookie, while accumulating some awful numbers. I'm willing to think that means that, even as a rookie, he was able to not make the deadly mistakes to cost his team the game, and he's only improved through the years. And he'd likely be a much cheaper free agent than...

Matt Cassel. With back-to-back 400-yard passing games, Cassel's suddenly on everybody's radar. He'll be a free agent next season and, despite the rumor I've heard that says the Pats might try to trade Tom Brady and keep Cassel (which I also wouldn't be completely against), I think Cassel tests the free-agent waters this off-season, and should have plenty of takers.

I just don't think the Vikings should be one of them. The question I ask is, "It'll be nice to have Cassel, but does he come with Randy Moss and Bill Belicheck?" Even with them, his passer rating is an OK-but-not-spectacular 90.5, and he only has 13 TD passes in 11 games. He's surprisingly mobile (53 carries for 199 yards) but has been sacked a league-high 34 times at an 8.7% clip. And his 400-yard passing games come in contests where he's thrown 51 and 43 passes, Buyer beware. Beware a lot.

And then there's that other guy. You remember him, don't you?

Michael Vick. Someone is going to take a chance on Vick in 2009, but I don't think it should be the Vikings. Putting aside the PR nightmare, consider this: Vick wasn't actually that great of a quarterback with the Falcons and he hasn't played in two years. How good do you think he'll be for his first year or so back in the league? He's simply not a good choice for a team that's trying to content immediately, but I wouldn't be surprised if he surfaces with a rebuilding team in need of a spark like Kansas City or Detroit. In fact, I think he's a perfect fit for the Lions, who can't sink any lower, can they? And they need a draw at the gate to avoid more home blackouts. Imagine Michael Vick and Daunte Culpepper on the same field together. Heck, even I'd pay to see that.

These are, naturally, just a few of the options out there to fill the QB position in 2009 for the Vikings. John David Booty will still be around, waiting for his shot, and who knows what the draft will bring? The Falcons and Ravens have shown that you can succeed with a rookie quarterback right out of the gate, if you have a pretty good team supporting him, so maybe the Vikings will go that way with their first pick, now that they're not as worried about hurting poor Tarvaris Jackson's feelings. And with Brad Childress and Darrell Bevell hopefully out of the picture, the sky could be the limit for the Vikings quarterback in 2009, whoever he is.

Even if it's Kyle Orton.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Slipping off the Gus Bus?

Gus Frerotte isn't going anywhere, at least not for the rest of the season and while the Vikings are in contention for a playoff spot. However, following my initial optimism regarding good ol' Gus, he's been the author of several lackluster passing efforts and is the proud owner of a 75.0 passer rating, with more interceptions (12) than touchdown passes (11) in nine starts. And, after being knocked out of the game three times Sunday, Frerotte was replaced for one handoff by Tarvaris Jackson. What would happen if Frerotte were permanently replaced, either by coaching decision or injury? Would there really be that much more of a dropoff with Jackson or even John David Booty in the lineup?

The answer is, "Probably, yes." But it might not be that much.

When I first lauded Frerotte's performances, he looked collected, calm, and accurate in the pocket. But after seeing him throw behind or at receivers' feet for the last few weeks, and that awful interception on a rollout in Sunday's game, I wonder if Frerotte only looked that good compared to Jackson's ridiculously bad numbers. In 2008, Frerotte's completed 58.3% of his passes to Jackson's 51.7%, but Jackson's numbers were only in 60 attempts. For his career, T-Jack's a 57.2% passer and, if Troy Williamson didn't completely suck and Visanthe Shiancoe looked the first two weeks of the season like he's looked the last month, he'd probably push 58%. So that's practically a push -- an ugly push (league average is 61.3%), but a push nonetheless.

Passer rating is similarly close. Gus has a 75.0 this year, right around his 74.4 career average, while T-Jack was 65.7 (68.6 career). But, especially when comparing Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte, the ability to run must be taken into account. Frerotte's TYA this season is 3.83, while Jackson's is 3.74. (Yes, that's different than what's in the linked post; I realized an error I'd made in the spreadsheet and fixed it.) That's virtually no difference; Frerotte's slightly better passing numbers are nullified by his greater preponderance for taking sacks (on 8.9% of dropbacks, as compared to Jackson's 7.7%) and lack of running ability (18 carries for 6 yards, compared to Jackson's 11 for 65).

Oh, and Frerotte's 6-3 as a starter this year, but you should know how I feel about bringing that up.

Am I saying that Frerotte should be benched in favor of Jackson? Absolutely not? But I no longer fear the idea that he could get hurt and the Vikings' fate could be in the hands of Tarvaris Jackson. Because, really, Frerotte hasn't played much better than Jackson for the last month or so (nine interceptions in his last five games), so it really couldn't be much of a drop-off. And, shockingly, Frerotte's pass attempts the last four games have been 18, 28, 20, and 20, after starts of 28, 43, 36, 33, and 40, so the passing game isn't figuring too heavily into the Vikings' game plan, which is as it should be.

(It's sort of like dating an ugly girl, hating it, and then moving on to a slightly more attractive girl, kinda liking it, realizing that ugly girls aren't so bad, and being open to the idea of dating the original ugly girl. She's still ugly, but dating the "mostly ugly" girl hasn't killed you, so maybe this wouldn't be so bad. Of course, this analogy makes Drew Brees roughly equivalent to Marisa Miller, so maybe I should stop here.)

Make no mistake, with Gus Frerotte being 37 years old and getting whacked like he did Sunday at Jacksonville, the time will still come this season that the Vikings will have to rely on Tarvaris Jackson to do something more than just hand off a couple of times to Adrian Peterson. And really, now that I've realized what we've truly got in Gus Frerotte, I'm OK with that. My tolerance for suck goes up every week I watch the Vikings' quarterback play.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Vikings tame Jaguars

The Jacksonville Jaguars are consistently rated as one of the least popular franchises in the NFL, despite their generally winning ways. After the show they put on for their hometown fans yesterday against the Vikings, it's easy to see why.

With a 14-0 lead before two minutes had elapsed in the game, the Vikings practically cruised to a victory over the bumbling Jaguars, 30-12. Between the turnovers (5), penalties (8 for 81 yards), and missed field goals (2), the Jags shot themselves in the foot over and over and the Vikings were good enough to take advantage of an extremely sloppy team.

The Vikings were far from perfect, however. Gus Frerotte seems to be getting worse with age, throwing many inaccurate balls and lobbing up a terrible interception while getting battered around and knocked out of the game three times. After the third one, crazy as it sounds, I was actually optimistic about seeing Tarvaris Jackson come in. That's how bad Frerotte's been lately.

And, while I'm not against the early benching of Adrian Peterson -- if he broke the team rules, he should be punished -- Brad Childress again showed how utterly unwilling he is to run the ball unless absolutely necessary. There were 29 called runs in the game (17 to Peterson, 9 to Chester Taylor, 2 by Bernard Berrian, and 1 QB sneak) and 24 called passes (20 passes, 3 sacks, and 1 QB scramble). More runs than passes, yes, but barely...and the Vikings led the entire game! The "best" decision? With the Vikings enjoying a first-and-goal on the one, Childress called a play-action pass. Frerotte dropped back and was immediately dropped for a 10-yard loss. A field goal followed three plays later. Unbelieveable. Brad Childress, why don't you want to run the ball? Please answer that. Please. I'm begging you.

Then there's the defense, which gave up way too many third-down conversions, some of them on long yardage. The Jacksonville run game was shut down, as usual, but that was largely due to Jacksonville abandoning the run early, due to their big deficit. For the early parts of the game, David Garrard had all day to throw or, like Jeff Garcia a week before, was able to avoid pressure and either scramble for yards or find a receiver downfield. His final numbers -- 27-45 for 317 yards, 1 TD and 2 interceptions, along with 4 sacks -- aren't that great, taken from a standpoint of averages, but they hide the fact that the Jags pretty much had their way with the Vikings' pass defense all day and was only stymied by turnovers and penalties.

And where to start on punt coverage? I think I just won't.

Really, this was about the least dominating 18-point win you'll ever see in football. Jacksonville outgained the Vikings by nearly 100 yards (321 to 226), added another 211 yards on returns (compared to 55 for the Vikings) and only lost the time of possession battle (30:29 to 29:31) on the Vikings' final kneel-down "drive."

Next week is a big Sunday night game against Chicago, which, even in week 13, can have the effect of virtually ending the Vikings' playoff hopes. A loss against the Bears puts the Vikings at 6-6 and, having been swept by the Bears, would put them effectively two games back of the 7-5 Bears, with a brutal December schedule upcoming. A win puts the Vikings at 7-5, one game up on the Bears and, depending on the Packers, could put them in sole charge of the division.

But that's getting ahead of ourselves. For now, we'll just have to root for the Saints. And, since I need Drew Brees to get my fantasy team five points, I don't think I'll have a problem with that.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I can't make this stuff up

Good lord, would I pay money to see Troy Williamson and Brad Childress go at it.

It would probably boil down to Troy punching Brad in the head a lot, since his hands are made of stone, and Childress doesn't use his brain anyway.

Vikings in tight situation

Pat and Kevin Williams are still suiting up for the Vikings against the Jaguars on Sunday -- for now.

Actually, since suspensions are usually handed out early in the week, it's pretty much guaranteed that the Vikings will have the Williams' services this week for certain. And Jared Allen only received a $25k fine (not a suspension) for his hits on Aaron Rodgers. And the Jaguars, at 4-6, represent one of the "easier" games on the Vikings remaining schedule, so the team should have a pretty good chance of winning and they need to win, to provide a little bit of a boost in the standings before the inevitable suspensions are handed down. To do so, the team will have to contain the Jaguars' #1 offensive weapon.

No, not Fred Taylor, or Maurice Jones-Drew, or David Garrard. I'm talking about tight end Marcedes Lewis, all 22 catches and 306 yards of him.

Why is Lewis so important? Because, since E.J. Henderson was lost for the season, opposing tight ends have torched the Vikings. Here are the stats for teams' primary tight end since Henderson's week four injury:

Billy Miller (NO): 4 catches, 61 yards
Michael Gaines (Det): 2-24
Greg Olsen (Chi): 6-74 (and 3-59 to Desmond Clark)
Owen Daniels (Hou): 11*-133*
Donald Lee (GB): 1-6
Jerramy Stevens (TB): 6*-84*

* Career high

That's a total of 30 catches for 382 yards over six games to opposing teams' primary tight ends. Prorate that out over 16 games and you get 80 catches for 1,019 yards, so, in effect, the Vikings defense is turning opposing tight ends into the equivalent of Tony Gonzalez or Antonio Gates. Ugly. At this rate, maybe David Herron should get more playing time over Napoleon Harris in the middle.

Any chance we can convince Jack Del Rio to suit up for us this weekend? No? Damn.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Average is as average does

In a mediocre division with three .500 teams (and the Lions, who only barely resemble an NFL team), the Vikings are still in the race. They can still make the playoffs, win their division, and then, who knows? Teams have come back from worse starts than 5-5 or gone into the playoffs after so-so regular seasons (think last year's Giants and the 2005 Steelers) and gone all the way, so maybe, just maybe, the Vikings can close out strong and ride a late-season surge deep into the playoffs. It could happen.

I just ain't betting on it.

The Vikings season is, for all intents and purposes, over. I know, that's a strong statement to make with six games still remaining on the docket, but really, does anyone believe any more that this team is going anywhere? You can't take an entire half off, like they did yesterday against Tampa Bay, and still think you're a good team. You aren't.

And by "team," I don't mean the players, whom we still think (perhaps erroneously) are good and be dismissive about the coaching or play-calling. The Vikings are 5-5. They are average. The entire team, players, coaching, ownership, everything figures into that 5-5 record. Maybe the team really is just a couple of pseudo-quick fixes (head coach and quarterback) from being dominant, but those changes aren't coming this season. Like it or not, Brad Childress is a part of this team and will be at least until the end of the season, a season that started out looking so promising but now is on track for, at best, an 8-8 or 9-7 finish.

And even that might not be so easy. What looked like a creampuff late schedule at the start of the year now looks like a nightmare. Sure, we still get Detroit (though after that lackluster 12-10 win at home and the fact that Daunte Culpepper looks halfway competent and will sure as heck be motivated to beat his former team, who knows?), and Chicago looked bad yesterday, but they're still not a pushover. Then we have Jacksonville on the road, who, at 4-6, have still outscored their opponents, Atlanta (6-4), Arizona (7-3), and the Giants (9-1) to close out the season. Two wins out of six in that group is a distinct possibility. Three would be decent. Four (which would result in a 9-7 record and possibly win the division) looks nearly impossible.

This isn't a team that's going nowhere. It's a team that's going somewhere, but it just doesn't know where. It has just enough talent to tantalize you but then lays a big enough egg (again, second half against Tampa Bay) to break your heart. You know they can play better, but it's like they're saying, "No thanks, we'd rather be mediocre."

And right now, that's what they are. The Vikings are 5-5, and they'll probably be lucky to get to 8-8. Which still might win the division, save Brad Childress's job, and allow us to get stomped out of the first round of the playoffs, maybe against Tampa Bay again. They should just take the whole game off this time, and save us the trouble of caring.

Edit: Oh yeah, forgot about Pat Williams' and Kevin Williams' looming suspensions. Eight wins might be optimistic.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Another gift win?

From the Star-Tribune:

"Adrian Peterson
should have been penalized 15 yards for removing his helmet on the field after scoring the winning touchdown against the Packers on Sunday."

Yeah, I thought the same thing. And I was just praying (in a metaphorical sense) that the officials wouldn't notice and make the call. If they had, then Packers kicker Mason Crosby might only have had a 37-yard field goal instead of a 52-yarder to win the game at the end of regulation.

So that brings the Vikings' win total up to 2 and the officials' up to 3. Hooray?

* With Charles Gordon's gruesome ankle injury finishing his season, Benny Sapp will move into the nickel role in the secondary and Aundrae Allison should take over most of Gordon's punt-return duties. I don't know much about Sapp, but I've been stumping for Allison as a return man for over a year now. He averaged 28.7 yards on 20 kick returns as a rookie (with one touchdown) and, in limited action this year, has managed 7.1 yards per punt return.

Best of all, he's about fourth on the wide-receiver depth chart, making him more expendable than Chester Taylor, who has inexplicably returned eight kicks this year. Which still brings up the question of why we signed Maurice Hicks in the offseason. Maybe Allison is the new Mewelde Moore -- great return guy who the team absolutely refuses to use. (Although if his recent stint as a starter in Pittsburgh is any indication -- 4.1 yards a carry -- then maybe he was more than a return man all along. Gosh, who knew?)

* Speaking of former Vikings, Chris Hovan is still playing, believe it or not, and he'll face off against his former team this Sunday in Tampa. After John Randle and before Kevin Williams, Hovan was the force in the center of the defensive line for the Vikings and was a crazy, tattoo-wearing disruptive force for several years. His production dropped off significantly after Williams' arrival and the team jettisoned him after the 2004 season, when he latched on with the Bucs.

About his experiences in Minnesota, Hovan says, "It was tough my last year in Minnesota, I'm not going to lie. I was deactivated, I didn't get along with the head coach [Mike Tice]."

Hm. So Hovan didn't like Tice, Randy Moss didn't like Tice. Gee, maybe it wasn't Hovan and Moss we should have gotten rid of after the 2004 season. I'm just sayin'...

* And one more former Viking returned to the NFL this last weekend to the tune of 5-for-10 passing for 104 yards and one interception. Good to see you back, Daunte. Can't wait to play you in four weeks.

* If you've ever read Matthew Berry's columns on or had the pleasure (?) of seeing him on TV, you know that he's about as good at his job as you or I -- namely that he's a reasonably experienced fantasy football player who doesn't offer anything useful beyond the basics of the game (hey, draft running backs early!) and offers up lackluster advice (hey, Adrian Peterson is good) while making the occasional far-fetched prediction and hoping it'll come true so he'll look like a genius.

In fact, Berry made about 50 such predictions at the start of the season, and I've taken it to myself to check out every one at the end of the year and see how he did. He admits that "The idea is not that I nail every prediction," and that his claims might at least steer you toward players who won't necessarily match his predicted numbers but who at least will be worth looking at. So I'll take all that into account (as well as things like Tom Brady's injury -- heck, I thought he'd throw for about 40 TDs this year, too) when I evaluate him at the end of the year.

Even so, there are some major clunkers in the list:

3. Michael Turner will finish with fewer than 1,000 yards rushing and seven touchdowns.

Turner has 890 yards and 7 TDs through nine games.

16. James Jones will have 800 yards and seven touchdowns.

Jones currently has 43 yards and one TD.

21. Reggie Williams will catch double-digit touchdowns again.

He has one TD.

40. Marc Bulger and Torry Holt will return to fantasy prominence. Specifically, Bulger will throw 3,500 yards and at least 24 touchdowns. Holt will get 10 scores.

Bulger: 1,373 yards, 6 TDs. Holt: 2 TDs.

44. Ben Obomanu will reach 800 yards and six touchdowns.

Obomanu (a Seattle wide receiver, in case you didn't know) has 180 yards and 2 TDs, so maybe with a strong second half he can...wait, those are his 2007 numbers. He has zero catches in 2008.

I have to give him credit for #10 (Brady Quinn will start for the Browns by Week 9) and #46 (Chris Johnson will be the leading rusher for the Tennessee Titans), but by and large, it looks like a bloodbath. Hey, how about that Troy Smith in Baltimore (#5)?

And you didn't draft Quinn anyway, did you?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The question I never thought I'd ask

...while Brad Childress was the head coach of the Vikings, but...

Is Adrian Peterson getting too many carries?

Hard to believe, isn't it? Just a few weeks ago, we were all concerned that Coach Chilly wasn't using his star running back enough, but following his 30-carry day against the Packers, AP's carry total in each game this season looks like this:

19, 29, 17, 18, 21, 25, 22, 25, 30

Nice to see that Chilly's decided to give him more carries as the season goes on, but this kind of pace can't be good long-term. Peterson has accumulated 206 carries through nine games. That's an average of just under 23 carries a game and puts him on pace for 366 carries on the season. Only a few backs (Larry Johnson, 417 in 2006, Shaun Alexander, 370 in 2005, Curtis Martin, 371 in 2004) have shouldered that kind of workload in the last five years and most would probably pick Peterson as the most fragile of the group.

On the bright side, Peterson is also very young, just 23 years old, and even if he does have a heavy-carry season, he's young enough to bounce back and still enjoy a productive career. And, after practically ignoring him for the season's first few games, the coaching staff has made heavier use of Chester Taylor the last few games, giving him 10, 7, and 10 carries to spell Peterson. Finally, two other backs -- Michael Turner and Clinton Portis -- have also topped the 200-carry mark so far this season, so maybe Peterson's high carry total is just a symptom of the Vikings playing well the last few weeks and controlling the clock and he'll actually finish with something in the low 300s. In any case, he seems a near-lock to join Chester Taylor as the only 300-carry back in Vikings history.

And yes, I know that it was at about this time last year that I finally caved in and expressed my man-love for Adrian Peterson and admitted that his strong performances were more than a fluke or just rookie luck. In the next game, the Packers wiped out the Vikings 34-0 and Peterson got hurt, so, even though he leads the league with 1,015 rushing yards and his 4.9 yards per carry is third only to Portis and Brandon Jacobs, I'm cautious about projecting his stats too far ahead.

Still, with the playoffs still potentially on the table and AP facing a potential 400+ carries if his team makes the playoffs, Coach Childress should look for any opportunity he can to give his best player a rest. Hey, at least we still have the Lions on the schedule. That game should be a blowout, right? Right?

Sunday, November 9, 2008


It only took him six tries, but Brad Childress finally earned his first win over the Packers. And you know what? They didn't win because of the officials, or because the other team made a bonehead play or anything like that. The Vikings actually won a game with their offense and their defense and their coaching.

Their special teams? Well....that's still a work in progress. Or maybe just an unmitigated disaster.

On the bright side, it was nice that the Vikings weren't the only team with awful special teams plays. The Packers' Derek Blackmon retreating to field a punt inside his own 10 helped the Vikings get their first safety of the game. And when Mason Crosby lined up for a 52-yard field goal in the final minute to win the game, I just had a feeling it wasn't going to go. Doesn't mean I didn't jump up and cheer as it sailed wide right, mind you.

And who replaced Brad Childress's playbook with a book full of running plays? 40 called runs? 30 carries for Adrian Peterson (and 10 for Chester Taylor)? What have the aliens done with our coach? And can they keep him?

Gus Frerotte is still Gus Frerotte, which means he'll throw great TDs and frustrating interceptions, both in batches. I'm not sure if any other quarterback has ever had a game with five touchdowns and four interceptions, but it wouldn't surprise me to see Gus do that again some time this year. The Packers have a very good pass defense, so it wasn't surprising to see Gus struggle, throwing for 120 of his 151 yards to running backs and never hooking up with Bernard Berrian.

Jared Allen suddenly looks like he's worth the money, doesn't he? Another sack gives him eight on the season and he picked up his second safety of the year (after being credited for Dan Orlovsky's fun run a few weeks ago). And hey, how about Napoleon "the human missle" Harris? I say we send him flying over the middle on a blitz every single play. It would be better than watching him trying to cover a tight end.

No hardcore analysis in this post. I'm just basking in the glow of a long-awaited win over the Packers. Let's hope we don't have to wait three years for another one.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

ESPN = One big blog

Following the ESPN mandate of "Don't report bad things about Brett Favre" and their eventual "caving in" on the subject when Favre himself finally came forth, I made a decision. I wiped ESPN and ESPN2 (the only ones I get) from my channel list on my TV. Tony Kornheiser has become insufferable on PTI (and MNF, but I'll get to that in a second) and OpinionCenter -- I mean, CowboysCenter -- I mean, FavreCenterButOnlyWhenWeWantTo -- I mean, SportsCenter -- has only been vaguely watchable for some time. I can get my NFL coverage from the web or other networks on Sunday morning, so, really, what's left to watch? What am I missing?

The answer: not much. And I'm OK with it, after two weeks and counting.

And really, that's the only thing that will work. I'm not hooked up to a Nielsen box or anything, and I don't expect everyone else to shut out ESPN from their lives, but as long as people keep watching to see how Terrell Owens feels about Brad Johnson as his quarterback or what Woody Paige or Skip Bayless (two of the biggest wastes of air time on the whole network -- and if you don't believe me, read this) think about, well, anything, they'll keep shoving it down our throats.

So I don't watch it any more. I don't need half-educated opinions spouted at me from someone who claims to be an "expert." I can get just as good commentary from the web (especially some of the spectacular blogs I frequent). I have allowed myself, though, to watch actual sporting events, such as Monday Night Football and some college games. But all the noise and clutter and "to win in the NFL all you have to do is run the ball and stop the run" -- yeah, I don't need that.

In effect, ESPN has become a blog. It's full of people offering up their opinions on whatever the heck they feel like, only occasionally supported by facts and research, which is about the same level of quality "journalism" you get on the web. Let's face it: There's a lot of crap out there on the Internet. When you give people an essentially unfiltered platform to say whatever they want, they will, and a lot of it won't be very good. Unfortunately, ESPN has essentially given that same platform to many of its "personalities" (as long as they don't talk bad about Brett Favre) and the quality of their programming has likewise suffered for it.

I like to think that, as ESPN continues, people my age or younger, who actually understand the Internet and that the wide percentage of sports journalism is actually do-able by more people than the professionals would like us to believe, will eventually move into positions of power at the network and present more capable, more rational coverage that actually uses facts instead of opinions to push their stories. Heck, I could even live with feel-good, human interest stuff, like on E60. Because, you know, that actually resembles journalism. I can't go to a pro athlete and ask him about the car accident he was in when he was a kid and how it changed his life. When two guys are arguing about whether Kerry Collins will lead the Titans to the Super Bowl, using whatever flimsy arguments they feel like at the time, that's something you or I or any of those "uneducated masses" on the Internet could do.

And why should I watch on TV something I can get just as easily from the Internet or, even better, do up myself? Since I can't play football myself, I'll watch football on the station. And sometimes the actual anaysis (like what Ron Jaworski used to do in breaking down plays -- does he still do that ever?) is really good. But I don't need four weeks of how the Cowboys will be affected by Tony Romo's thumb injury, especially when every analyst -- every damn one I heard -- said Brad Johnson, who was 40 years old and hadn't been good in three years -- would do just fine. Guess what? He's 40 years old and hasn't been good in three years. He wasn't fine. Can't wait to hear all the talk this weekend about how Daunte Culpepper (who hasn't been good in four years) will be just what the Lions need. (He won't.)

And see? I can tell you that without you paying the cable company. Unless you go through them for your Internet, that is.

Monday, November 3, 2008

One undeniable truth

There's only one thing I can conclude fully and completely after watching Sunday's games:

Say what you will about the Vikings' current quarterbacks, but man, am I glad my team doesn't have Brad Johnson and Brooks Bollinger manning the position any more.

Poking fun at Dallas aside (and I'll get more into that later this week), the Vikings' win over Houston was about as smooth a victory as the team looks to have all year. For the most part, I wasn't worried about the team's chances throughout, as the superior team beat (and beat up) the inferior team at home, like it's supposed to.

Bernard Berrian had a sink-or-swim performance, hauling in two long passes, one that went for a touchdown and another that set up a touchdown, but his bobble in the first quarter bounced right into the hands of Texan Jacque Reeves, who took it back for six. That was the only turnover of the day for the Vikings' offense, which started strong and got some key runs from Adrian Peterson late to help seal the 28-21 victory. Gus Frerotte shook off the early interception to have a good, efficient day for the Vikings, throwing just 18 times and completing 11 for 182 yards (a 10+ yard average) and three touchdowns, while handing off 32 times (25 to Peterson and 7 to Chester Taylor). Wow, who knew that would work? Other than everyone, that is.

As for the defense...well, it's not to say that turnovers are all about luck (and if you don't believe that, read this post), but you can't expect your defense to give up 350+ passing yards to two quarterbacks and come up with multiple red zone interceptions every game. The absence of E.J. Henderson was acutely felt, as the nearly anonymous tight end Owen Daniels caught 11 passes for 133 yards yesterday, most of them in the area where Henderson would have been defending. Considering the injuries at linebacker and how little teams run against them anyway, maybe the Vikings should consider going into a nickel defense automatically on 2nd or 3rd and more than 5, leaving Ben Leber and Chad Greenway on the field and subbing in a fifth DB for Napoleon Harris, who was apparently cut for a reason. Of course, that would take ingenuity and creative coaching, which pretty much guarantees it'll never happen. On the bright side, if you have a tight end facing the Vikings the next few weeks in your fantasy league, that's an easy start.

It was good to see Madieu Williams finally make his debut with the team, and he had one of the red-zone interceptions that halted a sure scoring drive for the Texans. Sidney Rice also returned at full strength, with his sole catch an 8-yard touchdown that put the team ahead for good in the second quarter. Next up: The team gets a chance to avenge its opening-day loss to the now-reeling Green Bay Packers in the Metrodome. Let's hope that Aaron Rodgers has the same jitters Brett Favre did under the big white roof.