So, we’re 0 and 4 now. That pretty much stinks. However, there is something liberating about being 0-4. We just lost to a team that hadn’t won a game all season. Whatever hope we may have secretly harbored that this team would surprise us has faded. If anything, I’m surprised that this team is struggling as much as it is. All that said, it’s time to change directions. Some unproductive veterans need to sit. It’s time to play the younger guys and see what they’ve got.
Now that we’re four weeks into the season, I think it’s safe to say that the team’s weak links remain unchanged. I am increasingly frustrated with the coaching staff and their unwillingness to make much needed personnel adjustments. I think Tyrell Johnson is in the process of being phased out, but he still finds a way on to the field from time to time and still gives up big plays during his brief appearances. Berrian must surely be at the end of his rope now. He’s on pace to catch 8 balls for the season. He had a nice catch in the fourth quarter, but he showed his characteristic lack of effort on a poor pass from McNabb that hit Berrian in the foot as he was coming back to the ball. I’m convinced that just about every other receiver in the NFL would have dived for that ball, but that’s just not Berrian’s style. In fact, I cannot think of a single time in which Berrian has laid out for a ball. As usual, Sullivan was bad and Loadholt was utterly awful. The Star Tribune reported today that at Leslie Frazier’s press conference yesterday he said that he was “considering some personnel changes.” At this time, I think all four of the players I just mentioned should be put on the bench. As I’ll address in a moment, I think we have better alternatives at three of the positions, and in the case of the fourth player, Loadholt, I think he’s left the team no choice but to make a switch regardless of whether or not his replacement is ready.
Having just dumped on the same four guys yet again, let me switch gears and reiterate something I do like about this new team. In doing so, I expect that my steadily declining weekly article “recs” will drop from last week’s four to something like zero and a couple of “flags.” Here is goes anyway; I like Bill Musgrave’s play calling. There. I said it. Let me do a literary pause so that you can cuss and shout and maybe kick the dog and then come back to this post without so much pent up hostility.
Look, I understand that it’s tough not to cast blame on the coaching staff when a team goes 0-4. And candidly, I’m tremendously disappointed in Frazier thus far this season. However, I think Musgrave is solid. He’s working with an offensive line that has two huge holes in it (i.e. Sullivan and Loadholt) and a stop gap left tackle (i.e. Charles Johnson). He also has problems in the receiving corps. Even his quarterback is having challenges with accuracy. And don’t get me started on all of the offensive penalties and the admission by Harvin that players lined up in the wrong spots in the game against the Bucs. Based on what I’ve reviewed of these games, I really do like Musgrave and his offensive system.
One thing I like is the creative use of tight ends in his packages. I’ve seen a number of 3 TE sets, but done in a way that is fairly unpredictable. I’ve also seen Musgrave creatively roll the offensive line one way and then have McNabb roll out the other way. Those plays have worked every time. The Percy Harvin end-arounds have pretty much been winners every time as well. However, execution has been a problem, and I’ll use the Vikings first possession as an example. The second play of the game was a variant of the rolling line play. With the entire line moving left, Harvin broke off and went right. The throw from McNabb wasn’t perfect, but it also seems that Harvin unnecessarily left his feet for the ball. He caught it but fell to the ground and ended up with a negative yard on the play. I can’t fault Musgrave for that. It was a cool play that was intended to get Harvin into space. The next play looked like a busted play. Harvin was in the backfield. McNabb took the snap from the shotgun position, appeared to stop and hold out the ball, but Harvin never made a move for the ball and instead became a pass rush blocker. The play ended up a mess, and it’s clear that someone messed up their assignment. I think it was Harvin.
I think these blown plays are the growing pains of a new offense and a shortened pre-season. I suppose that some might argue that a coach is responsible for the readiness of their team, but my view is that these are professional athletes who are responsible for knowing the playbook and their responsibilities. Regardless, I like what Musgrave is doing, and I would be sorry if he ends up being tarnished by the team’s record to date.
Aromashodu: This guy can catch! He made a couple of really nice catches in tight coverage in the pre-season, and his end zone catch last Sunday was a thing of beauty. This guy is huge, and he fights for the ball. I mentioned last week that I think he has the build and disposition to be a deep threat along the lines of what Sydney Rice was in 2009. Rice wasn’t a burner, but he was fast enough. And if the ball was put up high enough, Rice was likely going to be the guy to come down with it. I think, admittedly partly based on faith, that Aromashodu could play that role for the Vikings. And guess what, he should be playing just so that we can find out if he can be that guy. Berrian is done. Eric Thompson posted an article on the front page of the Daily Norseman that showed Berrian has been thrown to 16 times over 4 games and has 2 catches to show for it. Before last week, he’d been on the field for about 75% of all plays and this past Sunday looked to be about the same. At some point, it doesn’t matter who’s at fault and why the production has been so poor. The fact is that Berrian isn’t producing, while Aromashodu has just shown that when given the chance he can score touchdowns. (As an aside, Berrian hasn’t scored a touchdown since 2009).
Berger: Sullivan sat out for two plays after being hurt early in the 2nd quarter. As a result, Vikings fans had the opportunity to see Berger at center. Alas, it only lasted for 2 plays. On the first play, Berger stood up the Chiefs DT in a one on one, and when I say “stood up,” I mean stone cold STOOD HIM UP! The guy got no push up the middle at all. On the play, McNabb had one of the best passing pockets of the game and was able to go through his progressions until he found and hit Rudolph down the sideline for a very big gain. The second play was a running play up the middle. Berger made strong contact, began to push his guy back, received assistance from Hutchinson which resulted in the center of the Kansas City D-line moving back three yards off of the line of scrimmage. Peterson ran up behind the Berger and Hutch blocks for a five yard gain.
After these two plays, Sullivan then returned to the line. On the basis of just these two plays, I have to say in the clearest possible way that Berger should be playing in place of Sullivan. Sullivan has struggled all season (and last season too). It’s time to move on. Even if Berger can only run 50 plays versus whatever is in the playbook, I don’t care. Nothing good comes from giving up the battle in the middle of the line, and Sullivan just doesn’t win the battles in the trenches very often.
My Favorite Least Favorite Topic:
Tyrell Johnson: I know this is beating a dead horse at this point, but as long as Frazier and Pagac are going to put this guy in, I’m going to comment on him. When I saw Johnson get on the field in the 2nd quarter with 7:47 on the clock, I turned to my buddy and said, “Looks like we’re giving up on this series.” Given my vantage point in the stands, I decided to simply watch Johnson while he was on the field. The very first play was a 45 yard pass in which Johnson had an opportunity to absolutely crush the receiver at the point he made the catch. Instead, he took an angle that was aimed a yard or two deeper than where the receiver would be. As a result, Johnson not only completely missed the receiver, he managed to take out Cedric Griffen on the play as well. Honestly, I don’t think the television view really did justice to just how badly Johnson misplayed the angle on this pass. And on the next play, he did the same thing. He misjudged the speed of the running back who was swinging wide down the line. Johnson ended up missing him. The play went for 9 yards. The next play the ball went to the opposite side of the field from Johnson. He had no impact on the play. Then someone on the sideline came to their senses, and Johnson was replaced by Sanford. Johnson did not return to the game. I think this is the second consecutive game in which Johnson has only played in one series. In both cases however, he gave up very big plays.
Make a Change at Quarterback:
McNabb had a few bad misses this game but also had a bunch of really good throws as well. The throw to Aromashodu for a TD was absolute perfection. Generally speaking I’ve been impressed with McNabb’s pocket presence. I have defended him through the first three games and remain convinced that the team is better with him than without him. However, as a result of our 0-4 record, I’m ready to make a change at QB. Let’s face it. We aren’t going to the playoffs this year. The 4 game lead by the Packers and the Lions is pretty much insurmountable for a Vikings team with the problems this team has. In my opinion, it’s time to let McNabb move to a teaching role on the sideline. McNabb does nothing for our 2012 prospects, and in my view, that’s what this team should start thinking about. I was disappointed to hear that Frazier said that McNabb is going to continue to start and that Ponder won’t see the field. I think this is where Frazier’s interests and my interests diverge. I think Frazier will do anything he can to notch as many wins as he can even if that number ends up being zero. Instead, I’d like to see the team switch modes and treat the next 12 games as an extended pre-season. I want to see Webb and Ponder at QB.
Grab Bag of Stuff:
12 Game Pre-Season: I’m going to pick up on that last thought about treating the next 12 games as a pre-season audition for younger players and backups. We have players on this team who shouldn’t be starters this year let alone next year, and we have other players that are coming to the end of the tours of duty. Giving those veterans more experience serves no useful purpose. We should see what the backups have. Specifically, I want to see Webb and Ponder (in place of McNabb), Berger and Fusco (in place of Sullivan), Love (in place of Loadholt), and I’d like to see those changes now.
I’d also like to see more of Marcus Sherels and Brandon Burton on a rotational basis with Winfield and Griffin respectively – though I could see Griffin being a player who could use more time on the field after missing 2010. Still, I’d like to see Sherels and Burton get on the field from time to time. I think Sherels subbing in for Winfield on obvious passing downs might actually improve the pass defense. Sherels coverage in the pre-season was spectacular for the most part. I recall three slant plays in which he covered his man so tightly that he was able to knock away the pass. However, regardless of whether or not he improves the pass defense, I’d like to see him getting experience and see how his size issues translate on the field.
Lastly, I would also like to see Mistral Raymond a bit. I would cut Tyrell Johnson and let Mistral Raymond get his spot on the field. For those who say we need to keep Johnson as a back up, I vehemently disagree. The last two games he has essentially played the role of a back up, and he was carved up when on the field. I also don’t think Johnson brings much to the special teams squad, but I know some other people disagree with that statement. I don’t know if Mistral Raymond would see much time on the field. I suspect he wouldn’t, but he’d get more reps in practice if Johnson were let go. I want to continue seeing Abdullah and Sanford develop. For the most part, I’ve liked Sanford even with his very occasional errors and misses (e.g. the missed tackle on the TD in which Griffin was beat again). Abdullah has been better than either Johnson or Madieu Williams, but there’s opportunity to grow and improve. Anyway, I don’t expect a chorus of agreement on this point, but I think at 0-4 it’s time to look to the future and truly think and play like a team that is rebuilding.
One Play the Chiefs Ran Repeatedly that the Vikings Never Figured Out: One play that consistently killed the Vikings on Sunday was when the Chiefs sent a running back or wide receiver out on a pass route that began on the right side of the field five yards past the line of scrimmage and then went across the width of the field. The first time the play was run there was no one within 5 yards of the receiver. Luckily for the Vikings Cassel missed the throw. Later in the game, the Vikings would not be so lucky, and they got burned by this play at critical times. I think this play illustrates a deficiency in the zone scheme that the Vikings run. San Diego was the first to expose this weakness, and it hasn’t let up since then.
Scariest Moment of the Game: Chad Greenway got blindsided on a play so badly that when he stood up to run back to the huddle he had to sit back down. It wasn’t a graceful sit down. It was the sort of woozy, “where’s the ground and how do I get to it without hurting myself in the process?” that typifies a concussion. Sitting in the stands, it was tough to watch. He was eventually able to get to his back and was motionless with one knee bent and one hand and forearm up in the air. It made me wonder if he lost consciousness for a moment, because that extended hand in the air is what Tavaris Jackson did when he was knocked out against the Lions some years ago. I’ve seen it other times too (e.g. Emmitt Smith being hit by a linebacker and losing consciousness and the ball before hitting the ground). I don’t know that Chad lost consciousness after lying down. I do know he was suffering from a concussion. I was appalled to see him back on the field a couple of plays later. I have lost additional respect for Frazier, the trainers and the NFL as a result. What happened to all the talk about taking away people’s helmets? If Greenway passed the sideline concussion test, then that test is a joke. I saw the play when I got home and watched the game. Greenway got hit in the side of his helmet by the helmet of a blocker lunging at him at full speed. The announcer said something to the effect of Chad being back on the field after getting the wind knocked out of him. I think anyone who has had the wind knocked out of them knows that when it happens you are fighting for breath and writhing in agony. Chad was motionless for at least a minute and lay on the ground for longer than that. Yes, he eventually ran off the field, but as the trainers should know, when a brain suffers a concussion it is in a very vulnerable state. He should never have been allowed back on the field. I’m sickened by a staff that would hold so little regard for their players’ well being. It’s one thing to suggest that football is a dangerous sport. It is quite another thing to put an obviously injured player out on the field – an injury that could have both short-term and long-term consequences including fatal ones.
I did not expect this team to do well this year. The problems on the O-line were well known in the off season. That said, I'm pretty amazed that this team sits at 0 and 4. Frazier seems to think that things are close to being turned around, but I'm far from confident in his assessment. As I've said, I'd like us to start playing for 2012 and use the time productively in assessing our younger talent and getting them some experience on the field. And if worse comes to worst, let's go get ourselves an Andrew Luck in the draft. On that happy thought, I'll close this post out.