So we’re now five weeks into the season, and whichever you slice it, things are looking pretty ugly. On the one hand we’re 1 – 4. On the other hand, we’re at least four teams away from landing Andrew Luck. If we’re going to be bad, really bad, I want to be absolutely awful. The Andrew Luck sweepstakes had given me hope for a better future. With yesterday’s deceptively large blow out win against the Cardinals, we took a tiny step forward as a team and a big step back in the draft standings.
While yesterday’s score of 34-10 was huge, I think the Cardinals proved themselves to be less than a worthy opponent. They had many chances to get back into the game and do some damage, but they continually shot themselves in the foot with poor execution and ill-timed penalties. The first play of the game from scrimmage set the tone. Larry Fitzgerald, quite possibly the best wide receiver on the planet, ran a route into the underbelly of the Vikings pass defense (i.e. just 6 or 7 yards off the line of scrimmage while still under the linebackers’ coverage). In other words, the perfect WR ran the perfect route against the Vikings… and then he dropped the ball. At times, watching the Cardinals was like watching the 2011 Vikings. They killed themselves. And even though they killed themselves again and again and again, it still seemed like they had a shot at turning the game around with 9:50 left in the game. On 2nd and 3 from the Vikings 11 yard line, Kolb connected with Doucet for a touchdown. The score was now 31-17, and the Cardinals looked to be rolling. Unfortunately for them, Jeremy Bridges, their back up right tackle, pulled a Loadholt and was called for an “illegal hands to the face” penalty on Robison. The play came back, and the points were wiped off the board. Then on 2nd and 13, Kolb was sacked by Jared Allen who beat Levi Brown badly and was rewarded for his efforts by being called “The One-Eyed Monster” by the television announcer. (Note: The announcer managed to avoid commenting on Allen’s purple helmet). At 3rd and 22, the Cards tried a screen play that was well sniffed out by the D-line and the defensive secondary (specifically Asher Allen). The Cards went for it on 4th and 22 with a perfect pass to the end zone to a perfectly double teamed Larry Fitzgerald. It was close, but the ball ended up dropping harmlessly to the ground. For all intents and purposes, the game ended there.
So why, if the Vikings managed to clinch the game with 9 minutes remaining in the 4th quarter, am I not jumping for joy? Two reasons: 1) The Vikings did what they tend to do. They came out fast and established a 28 point lead in the first quarter. Then they slowly let the Cards back into the game with poor execution and penalties; and 2) The Cardinals were awful. Kolb wasn’t good. They had terrible drops and penalties. They were on the road. Honestly, they looked like a 1-3 team that plays in the league’s easiest division.
Basically what I’m saying is that the Vikings played like they have all year except this time they were playing a bad team on artificial turf in front of a home crowd and got a big enough lead early on that they were able to pull off a win by a wide margin of victory. However, I honestly see little reason for optimism at this point. The same strengths (e.g. D-line pass rush) were in evidence. The same weaknesses (e.g. Sullivan at center) were there. And overall, the team continued to play undisciplined ball (particularly Shiancoe who had trouble reliably catching passes, making blocks and avoiding penalties).
THINGS I FOUND INTERESTING
“Bernard Berrian Was Inactive”
So what happened here? Just when I thought Frazier couldn’t possible get it right, he finally sits Berrian. And he didn’t just sit him, he inactivated him. To my way of thinking, that’s a little like breaking up with someone and saying, “I think we should start seeing other people for a while. Please feel free to die in the meantime.” Talk about break ups. It’s not as though he kept him padded up and ready to come in if things didn’t go well. Instead, they simply deactivated their “deep threat.” And what happened? Nothing bad that’s for sure. The Vikings scored 34 points and Aromashodu had a couple of big catches for 81 yards. Basically, in one game, Aromashodu equaled Berrian’s 2 catches through 4 games and more than doubled Berrian’s season total of 37 yards. (I just heard that Berrian was deactivated because he missed two meetings on Saturday. All I can say is, "Wow, that man is a fool." I also think he just lost his job to Aromashodu.)
“Instead of Prevent Defense Pagnac Went Dime”
On the first two series of the fourth quarter, instead of going with a balanced defensive set or even a nickel package, the Vikings came out with their dime package (i.e. 6 defensive backs). The Vikings front four remained the same, Greenway played middle linebacker, and Marcus Sherels and Asher Allen played inside with Cook and Griffin playing outside. Abdullah and Sanford played deep at safety. This package stayed in place until the Cardinals got the ball back with 2:04 left in the game. At that time the Vikings switched back to a nickel package in which Erin Henderson played middle linebacker and Greenway took Sherels place on the field. I liked this dime package for two reasons: 1) It gave me a chance to watch Marcus Sherels who I believe it going to be very effective in the secondary for the Vikings; and 2) I noticed that Tyrell Johnson was not on the field which gave me hope that the Vikings staff have finally given up on him as their “passing down preference” at safety over Sanford.
I am really excited about Marcus Sherels. He’s played both sides of special teams well. Against the Chiefs he made a costly error by letting a Chiefs punt drop to the ground. The Vikings got very bad field position on the play at the time when they need to get something going. However in general, and in particular yesterday, Sherels was a huge factor in the Vikings racking up 28 first quarter points. He had punt returns of 23 yards and 22 yards to start the game which gave the Vikings starting field position at their 42 yard line and the Arizona 18 on their first two possessions. On the defensive side of the ball, he’s been very good. He and Jamarca Sanford have been a punt returner wreaking tandem. On Sunday, with Antoine Winfield out with a neck injury, we finally got to see Sherels playing in the defensive secondary for the first time.
On the basis of two series, my assessment is that Sherels most definitely has the skills to play cornerback. However he needs more experience before he’ll truly be ready for the primetime. Sherels role in the secondary began with 12:18 remaining in the game. He played a total of 15 plays including 2 that were nullified due to penalty. Here’s a quick summary of the plays:
1st play: Played zone. Deucet made a catch in which Sherels appeared to be the closest defender. Deucet made a catch and run for 16 yards.
2nd play: Went into a man coverage defense and stuffed his guy at the line and then covered him well on a short route to the sideline.
3rd play: Came on the cornerback blitz untouched through the line but seemed to show a bit of hesitation slightly before getting to the QB.
4th play: Again in man coverage against Early Doucet, this time Sherels played great coverage as Deucet ran a route and then stopped in the middle of the field about 5 to 10 yards deep.
5th play: Playing opposite Doucet, Sherels stumbled as he back pedaled in coverage but then played Doucet very tightly. On the replay, it appears that Sherels put his hands on Doucet beyond the first 5 yards, but no penalty was called on the play perhaps in part because the ball was thrown elsewhere.
6th play: Sherels seemed to be slightly out of position as the Cardinals set up at the line. Asher Allen yelled to Sherels and pointed him to a spot closer to the line near Andre Roberts. Sherels moved over and then played Roberts very tightly. The ball was thrown to Roberts but went over his head, in part I suspect, because Sherels coverage didn’t give Kolb anywhere else to throw the ball to Roberts. Even the announcers said, “excellent coverage” on the play.
7th play: Sherels ended up one-on-one with Larry Fitzgerald and ended up playing him uncharacteristically loosely. It almost looked like a bit of a zone coverage scheme, but I don’t think it was. Fitzgerald ended up taking the route outside and getting an easy completion on the play.
9th play: After a running play on the 8th play, Sherels again had Fitzgerald in one-on-one coverage. Again the coverage seemed a bit loose to me though the play went somewhere else for a TD (that was ultimately called back due to a penalty (mentioned earlier in this point)).
The series lasted three more plays in which Sherels had no impact one way or the other. In the later series, with 7 minutes remaining in the game, and the Vikings had Sherels play a short zone. On the three plays in this series, the action didn’t come to him.
I think Jamarca Sanford’s stock is going to rise this week, and I’m okay with that. I have liked Sanford’s play all season. He’s had a couple of mistakes I’ve seen this season. One was meaningless in terms of outcomes. The other was a missed tackle last week on a play that Griffin blew. Seeing Sanford have two interceptions in the game was great even though they were essentially meaningless interceptions and even though he’d dropped a ball a few plays before his second interception. However, even if his rising stock is for reasons that I’m not altogether in agreement with, this guy is a complete player. All season long he’s either been the first or second guy down the field on special teams. If he’s not making the tackle on his own, he’s there to clean things up when someone else gets there first. And his play at safety has been solid. He’s a beast against the run (Winfield type good) and solid in coverage. Amazingly, Frazier and Pagac continue to put Tyrell Johnson on the field for a series each game. This game Johnson was on the field for a series that ended in a TD that was undone by the Cardinals penalty that was followed up by huge sack by Jared Allen.
Jared Allen and Brian Robison
Jared Allen and Brian Robison are looking very, very strong at the defensive end positions. Allen has 8.5 sacks this season after 5 games. He’s on pace for 27 sacks for the season which is 4.5 sacks more than the NFL record. When there’s an obvious passing down situation, Allen appears to be almost unblockable. My one complaint about Allen is that he’s less of the complete defensive end that he used to be with the Chiefs and his first couple of years with the Vikings. Last year in the second half of the season, he totally sold out to the pass rush and while his sack stats improved, he got gashed in the running game time and time again. Allen has improved a lot over last year, but he still sells out from time to time and gets exposed on runs to the spot he has vacated on the line.
Brian Robison has 4.5 sacks on the season after 5 games which would get him to nearly 14.5 for the season if he keeps up this pace. That number is only important to those of you who still think about Ray Edwards from time to time. For purposes of comparison, Ray Edwards had a career high 8.5 sacks in 2009 and has had 1 sack so far this season. Importantly, Ray wasn’t just about the sacks. He was good at stopping the run as well. Robison has been strong against the run as well. If I had to pick, I’d say Robison has Edwards beat hands down in the pass rush department, but I’d still give Edwards the nod by a narrow margin on run defense. Robison has missed a couple of tackles he should have had this season. All in all though, I think it’s safe to say that the Vikings are not missing Edwards and his attitude one bit.
Visanthe Shiancoe had a game that I think he’d like to forget. He dropped two or three balls in the first half and had two bad penalties in the second half including a false start and a holding call. His blocking, which has been pretty good all season long, showed some problems. And unfortunately, except for a blown coverage in the first quarter, Shank has had trouble getting separation on his routes all season long. I continue to wonder if his pre-season hamstring injury is bothering him.
This is an interesting situation to me. I mentioned last week that I strongly felt that Aromashodu should be playing in place of Berrian. I’d say that on balance Aromashodu had a mixed performance yesterday. Even so, now that the switch has been made, I am even more convinced that Aromashodu is a much better asset on the field than Berrian, and the stats would support that assessment.
I also mentioned last week that I thought that Aromashodu could be a deep threat of the sort that Rice showed himself to be capable of during the 2009 season. After seeing Aromashodu hit the after burners on his 60 yard catch in the 3rd quarter, I realized that he was faster than I thought he was. I decided to look at some of his physical attributes and was surprised by his listed stats. First of all, I thought Aromashodu was Rice’s height and a bit heavier. It turns out that Rice is listed at 6’4”. Aromashodu is listed variously as either 6’2” or 6’3” depending where you look. Both Rice and Aromashodu are listed at 201 pounds. But here’s what blows me away. Rice ran a 4.51 at the combine. Aromashodu? Get ready for it. He ran a 4.35. Yes, the man ran a 4.35! Does anyone here think that the Berrian can run a 4.35? Gentlemen, for reasons other than a 4.35 combine speed, I suggested that Aromashodu should be our deep threat guy for this team. Now that I see he’s run an Adrian Peterson type 40, I’m thinking that Berrian may never see the field again.
Aromashodu plays taller than his height, plays bigger than his weight and has made some very good catches despite his limited opportunities. I particularly like the way that he fights for the ball when it’s being contested. To my mind, Aromashodu has already shown flashes of 2009 Rice. Unfortunately, he also showed 2010 Rice’s ability to drop the ball. And this is the disappointing part. Aromashodu was inconsistent yesterday. He had two big and important plays during the game. He blocked well. He also fought well for the tough balls. But he also seemed to be slow breaking out of routes on a couple of occasions. He was tightly covered through most of the game, and he had one horrible drop on a perfect 18 yard pass from McNabb. Aromashodu not only dropped the ball, but he then proceeded to wipe out a photographer on the sideline for two bad moves in one play. Still, I like most of what I’ve seen from Aromashodu, and I want to see more!
Sullivan and Loadholt
Do I have to keep saying this week after week? Yes, I’m anal retentive enough to say, once again, that these guys should not be on the field. They miss assignments like a college freshman in rush week. The source of Sullivan’s problem is that he gets overpowered and gets out of position with surprising frequency. The source of Loadholt’s problem is that the equipment staff keeps giving him the 80 lb cleats. Seriously, the man is too slow for the NFL. Both players are the weak link on offense and are costing the team possessions and games. Until an answer is found for them, the Vikings will not become a winning team. Why are we not giving Berger a try in the same way we put Aromashodu on the field in place of Berrian? Berger played two downs against Kansas City, and they were two of the most satisfying plays I’ve witnessed since Burk took off for Baltimore.
I saw the game yesterday. I re-watched it today, and then I watched each and every passing play specifically to view McNabb’s accuracy. And once again, I come to the conclusion that while McNabb could do better, and is occasionally inaccurate, for the most part McNabb is doing well. He gets the Vikings out of a lot of tough spots and seems to have, as the announcers once said, “eyes in the back of his head.” His pocket presence is among the best I have ever seen. I’m not in love with McNabb, but I like him despite really wanting to see Webb and Ponder get their chance. If this season is about winning every game we can, then McNabb should probably be the guy (though I confess to wanting to see Webb). However, as I said last week, I don’t think this season should be about that.
Anyway, here’s my view of McNabb’s 10 for 21 and 169 yard performance. He did just fine. The O-line reminds me of the colander I used in college to drain spaghetti. Sullivan makes more holes than a moth in a closet full of wool sweaters, and Loadholt is like a woolly mammoth with one leg knee deep in a tar pit. Penalties continue to plague this team, and they are penalties of the worst kind. In addition, McNabb’s receivers just don’t get open that often, and the previously reliable Shiancoe rarely gets separation this season. The deck is stacked against McNabb, and yet he’s doing just fine, and in some areas he’s been exceptional. For example, through 5 full games, McNabb has just 2 interceptions. If he keeps this up, he’ll end the season with under 7 picks for the year. Might I remind you that there were some games last year in which it seemed that Favre was hell bent on getting 7 picks in a single game.
Here’s my breakdown of the 22 throws I saw McNabb throw yesterday (including 2 erased by penalties). I obviously missed one in my notes, because I can’t get to the 21 that shows up in the stats line.
Awesome completions: 3
Solid completions: 7
Defensive pass interference penalties: 2
Pass Blocked at the Line: 1 (Dockett unblocked on the play)
Receiver very tightly covered: 4
Receiver dropped pass: 3
Bad misses: 3
Based on my read of yesterday’s game, there were 3 passes out of 22 that were poor throws on McNabb’s part. There were some throws that went incomplete and could on the one hand be viewed to be inaccurate. However, I really do think that McNabb is intentionally putting the ball where only the receiver can get to it on many of those throws. And on one incompletion, I think McNabb underthrew Jenkins intentionally thinking that Jenkins would come back to the ball – which he should have.
It’s frustrating to see fans and the Metrodome crowd to be so down on McNabb. He’s not having a great season, but he’s been a lot better than people are giving him credit for in my opinion. Give him better receiving options and a better O-line (like 75% of the rest of the NFL teams seem to have), and I think his stats go way up. Granted this is a hypothetical and just one man’s opinion, but I really do try to be dispassionate about this stuff. After five games, I still think McNabb is doing just fine.
Rounding out my “I like you list” is still think Herrera, Musgrave and Cook are having good seasons. Others like Hutchinson are doing well too, but they don’t get much criticism so I won’t bother to comment on them.
OTHER STUFF THAT DRIVES ME NUTS:
He is without a doubt the best athlete at running back in the league. There’s no disputing that point. However, for the third week in a row, Peterson missed a hand off. This one was particularly dangerous as it occurred on first down at the Vikings 2 yard line. McNabb had the presence of mind to wheel around and run out of the end zone. However, this mental error is the third straight game in which Peterson has missed a hand off, and in my mind, it is now a trend and an unacceptable one at that. Peterson also continues to miss obvious holes in the line and his pass blocking regressed a bit this game after improving through the first four games of the season. I know for the Vikings faithful that this will sound like heresy, but I have been questioning Peterson football intelligence for some time now. He misses holes, misses blocking assignments and is now missing his handoffs. Perhaps he’s a slow learner in a new system. Harvin has had mistakes as well but nothing with this level of consistency. However, for $13M a season, I expect a complete back not just a great athlete. Eventually Peterson’s athleticism and speed will leave him, and he’ll have to play as a mere mortal with only his NFL experience and game smarts to keep him ahead of young and fresh rookies. So far his on-the-field game smarts leave a lot to be desired.
There was another neutral zone infraction by a defensive tackle yesterday, and there was a delay of game penalty on a 48 yard long field goal attempt. Who knew Longwell could make a 53 yard kick? And of course, there were a couple of holding calls and a false start penalty too. Here’s the surprise though. Our tackles didn’t have any penalties this game. Those holding calls and false starts were on our tight ends - two by Shiancoe and one questionable call on Kleinsasser. Even so, this team gets too many stupid and costly penalties, and it’s tiresome.
We’re now 1 and 4, and I’m afraid that Andrew Luck is slipping from our grasp. As I said before, I think with our current offensive line troubles, we’re going to have a tough time even achieving average this season. That said, come what may, at the end of this year, we’ll still have the team with the coolest helmets in the NFL.