So, week one is in the bag, as the Vikings roll into the Dog Pound, kick the dog, steal the food dish, and walk out with a 34-20 victory. Let’s grade out the game, shall we?
Pass Offense: B. Solid effort from Brett Favre and the receivers. There are still some timing and audible issues, and Favre only had 110 yards passing, but that’s all he needed to have. A lot of people look at passing yards and would consider it a C or D, but there’s more that goes into it. Did he make throws when he had to? Yes. Two throws in particular kept third quarter drives going that resulted in touchdowns. One was to Visanthe Shiancoe on third and long, the second was to Percy Harvin on second and long. If the first throw fails its fourth down…field goal. Instead of 17-13, it’s 13-13. Second throw fails, it’s now third and long and the playbook is limited. And by limited, I mean a 5 yard screen pass to Chester Taylor. Maybe they make it on third down, maybe not. But on third and short, Favre found Harvin for a short TD pass, and in all truthfulness the game was over at that point. Again, chances are that if the first down isn't made the Vikes kick a field goal, and now it’s 16-13 as opposed to 24-13. The complexion of the game is completely different. Would TJ or Sage have made the same reads and resultant throws? Maybe, maybe not. If the Vikings had full faith and confidence in their ability to make throws like that, would Brett Favre be on the team?
Run Offense: A. Adrian Peterson. That’s all I have to say. Well, okay, the line play was particularly impressive, and Phil Loadholt and John Sullivan acquitted themselves well run blocking, but every time AP gets the ball, I hold my breath in anticipation, because he has a better than even chance to break it. 7 man front, 10 man front, it doesn’t matter. If AP gets to the second level, he’s gone. He’ll bulldoze you, outrun you, out maneuver you, maybe all on one play. The last time I held my breath like that was when I watched Barry Sanders, and I held my breath in fear. Now it’s in anticipation, and I hope we get to watch him for 10 years.
Run Defense: A-. Yeah, Cleveland averaged 4.5 yards per carry, but the Browns rushed for under 100 for the game. Lewis had a few impressive runs, but when the Vikings needed to clamp down the run, they did. I thought they did a particularly good job shutting down Cleveland’s version of the Wildcat, especially on the goal line. Why the Browns ran the Wildcat with Josh Cribbs on the goal line when they could have used a big brusing back like Jamal Lewis is beyond me, but they did. And the Browns got stuffed. And as I looked at the NFL Sunday Ticket rapid rewind last night, Jimmy Kennedy stuck out, and in a good way. He made a couple of nice stops, and seems to be a good solid backup.
Pass Defense: B+. Antoine Winfield just slobberknocks people, doesn’t he? There were a couple of coverage breakdowns, but the days of receivers so open that you’d think they had H1N1 seems to be over. Cedric Griffin has stepped up his game, and seems to have improved in his man coverage skills (minus the nullified TD/PI call involving Braylon Edwards), and I was particularly impressed with both Chad Greenway and Ben Leber covering the short and intermediate routes over the middle. I miss Darren Sharper, but for at least one game, Tyrell Johnson was up to the task, as was Madieu Williams, finally 100% healthy after battling a persistent neck injury last season.
Special Teams: C-. Kick coverage was good, averaging only 20 yards per return. Punt coverage was good, except for the, you know, touchdown by Josh Cribbs. Cleveland had 3 punt returns for 67 yards, and ironically, Cribbs’ TD return was for…wait for it…67 yards. I thought the onside kick was a bold call, and I hope we see more of stuff like that as the season unfolds. Chris Kluwe and Ryan Longwell are two of the more dependable kicking tandems in the NFL, so if the punt coverage can put that one return behind them and focus on the two positive ones and build from that, overall this unit will be dramatically improved.
Coaching: B-. It was definitely a tale of two halves, but I will give Childress and company credit—they remembered who brought them to the dance and allowed Adrian Peterson to get untracked. The first half was a combination of typical Childress conservatism and a small schism in timing (schism, get it?) between Favre and the receivers. Oh, and Adrian Peterson needed to be bled with leeches at halftime. But the two back breaking touchdown drives in the third quarter (11 plays, 55 yards and 13 plays, 82 yards) were a good mix of runs and passes that kept Cleveland off balance and wore out the Browns defense, setting the stage for Peterson’s electrifying 67 yard romp and stomp dagger in the 4th quarter.
Overall: B. Cleveland isn’t a very good team, and the expectation was that the Vikings should beat the Browns handily. The fact that they actually did is mildly surprising, because these are games that historically give the Vikings fits. In outside, road, natural grass games, the Vikes are 9-25 since 2002 (including playoffs); 5-15 under Brad Childress. They usually look horrid outside on grass and play some terrible games against some terrible teams, but not this past Sunday. Let’s hope that trend continues against the woeful Lions, a team the Vikings always have fits with.