Okay. I admit it. I did not think this team was going to do great things this year. In fact, in the offseason, I wanted the Vikings to give Webb and Ponder their shots and see what happens. My philosophy was "Let’s get on with the future." With that as a backdrop, I’m struggling to understand why I’m so upset. I never thought that the Vikings would be so close to being 3 – 0. I never thought they’d beat San Diego in San Diego. Tampa was a tough team last year, and Detroit (even in the midst of their recent suckiness) always seemed to play us well. I expected us to lose and, in some cases, to lose big. That said, I’m not going to deny that I’m pissed off. The Vikings played with my emotions. They made me think victory was possible. It’s not the fact that the Vikings lost that makes me upset. It’s the disappointment over the way they lost. If you’ve read my previous "Upon Further Review" write ups, you’ll see that a familiar theme has developed over the first two games. Basically my views of the critical weaknesses of the Vikings have not changed – with one exception. I still think Sullivan, Loadholt, Berrian and Tyrell Johnson are awful. However, I was very harsh on Rudolph’s blocking after watching the first two games and his performance in the pre-season. I’m happy to say that Rudolph looked better this week. Not surprisingly he had some good catches as well. Unfortunately, on the flip side, Herrera and Charles Johnson did not look good this week. Herrera got beaten up by Suh a few times, and Johnson suffered at the edge too. --- This week I’m going to address two issues that folks have been kicking around and make a couple more impassioned observations and pleas to the Vikings organizations. First I’ll start with the beating of the dead horse. Sullivan: Until this past week, I believed that Sullivan was simply a bad center that we had to live with. After this past game, I’m now convinced that we need to go with the backups. I will accept their diminished command of the playbook as an acceptable trade off for the ability to stand up to the physical play of the opposition. Berrian: He continues to stink up the joint. He now has one catch in three games. Again, I think a lot of fans had this one figured out from the start, but the coaches went a different direction. They aren’t looking like geniuses on this one. Loadholt: He’s big. He’s slow. And this game, unlike in past games, he got bullied by the Lions DE. On two plays in the first three series of the game, Loadholt was pushed backwards into McNabb. The rest of the game wasn’t much better. What you gonna do? I don’t have an answer for this one at this stage of the season. However, next season, I expect to see Charlie Johnson playing at right tackle. Now for the new additions and updates: Leslie Frazier: I think he lost me this past game, but here’s what I’ve observed from Frazier that has left me thinking he’s going to have to do much better if he wants to earn back my respect. 1. Bad Personnel Judgment: I’ve said my piece about Berrian and T. Johnson. They should not have made the team this year let alone be on the field. I can forgive the fact that Sullivan and Loadholt stink but are on the field. Perhaps there were limited alternatives. In the case of Berrian and T. Johnson however, there is no excuse. These are bad players, and there were alternatives. 2. Playing the Perception Game: In the so called pre-season QB bake off between Ponder and Webb, I was stunned to see Frazier and Company take the 4th preseason game out of Webb’s hands. Webb had had a bad first pre-season game but had followed it up with two good performances. Week 3 had been particularly good. However, in an apparent attempt to anoint Ponder with as little controversy as possible, Frazier turned Webb into a hand off machine. I don’t remember the stats, but instead of continuing to evaluate and grow Webb, he used Webb’s time on the field to hand off to a running back that had no chance of making the team. At that point I began to wonder what sort of operation Frazier intended to run as coach 3. Three Consecutive Second Half Meltdowns of Historical Proportions: This one speaks for itself unfortunately. 4. The Fourth and One: I lost a lot of respect for Frazier on last Sunday’s fourth and one call. Frazier put his kicker on the field and then allowed Peterson and the fans to change his mind. The ball was measured by officials, so there was plenty of time to make a considered decision. I’ve re-watched the game, and it looks like Frazier looked scared and sick even before the play was run. I don’t fault Frazier for the call. If Charlie Johnson had blocked the guy to the left and Kyle Rudolph missed his block on the right of the line. Both defender got to Gerhart before he got to the line of scrimmage. Regardless of the blocking issues however, I think Frazier’s decision was a weak one. You take the points, AND you don’t waffle about when it’s time to make the call. Frazier lost the game on that decision as it turns out, and he deserved to. --- Kyle Rudolph: I mention Rudolph here only because I savaged him in last week’s review. All in all, Rudolph played better in this game. His routes and pass catching ranged from good to great. And, importantly in my opinion, Rudolph did a better job as a blocker. That isn’t to say that he was good as a blocker. As I just pointed out, he and Charles Johnson were responsible for Gerhart’s failed attempt at a first down on the ill fated fourth and 1 play. However, overall I think Rudolph showed improvement. Tyrell Johnson: It’s possible that the coaches have seen the light. Tyrell Johnson was only in for one series (the 3rd series of the 2nd half). The Lions immediately marched down the field and looked set to score a TD until Robison sacked Stafford for a big loss. The Lions settled for a field goal. Johnson didn’t see the field again after that series. --- So now for the part where I attempt to address two issues that I’ve seen a lot of commentary on since Sunday’s game. These issues basically fall into two categories: 1) Give Peterson the damn ball; and 2) McNabb is a bum. #1: Give Peterson the Damn Ball! It seems that a popular point of view is that the Vikings are under-utilizing their best resources. Last week the press and DN faithful seized upon the fact that Percy Harvin wasn’t on the field enough. This week the big issue dust up is over the fact that Peterson only had 5 carries in the second half. Here’s my view: Peterson was not the answer to what ailed us on Sunday. Our offensive line was getting killed, and the running game was in a ditch. There were two running plays that added a lot of yards to the stats. One was a gadget play to Harvin. The other was a 43 yard run by Peterson that could have been a run for a loss but for a bit of luck. Other than that, the Vikings running game was nonexistent. There were 21 running plays in the game and 35 passing plays that I counted. Of the 21 running plays, two were by Harvin and two by Gerhart. Peterson had the rest. I already mentioned that the two big running plays were a bit out of the ordinary. Harvin’s end around was not a traditional running play, and you only get those gains when the element of surprise is on your side. Peterson’s 43 yard play actually occurred on a play when Suh burst through the line and got 5 yards into the backfield before slipping and falling down. For some reason, Suh went to McNabb’s right even though the hand off was to the left. Had Suh gone left, Peterson would have been stopped for a loss of 5 yards. The sad truth is that on our 43 yard running play we simply got lucky. Here’s the ugly truth about our running game on Sunday: Over 60% of our running plays ended up with 2 or fewer yards gained. Nearly a quarter of our running plays ended up with no gain or a loss on the play. A team cannot win games running the ball when they are getting results like that. Peterson had five carries in the 2nd half. The results of those carries were 2 yards, 6 yards, -1 yard, 2 yards and -4 yards. Gerhart had one running play for 0 yard. These results in the second half aren’t an anomaly. In the last series of the 1st half with time running down, Peterson had 1 carry for 0 yards. In the series before that, Peterson had one carry for 1 yard. In the series before that, the Vikings had the big gadget play gain, but their three conventional runs were for 2 yards, 1 yard and 6 yards. In the series before that, Peterson had one carry for 1 yard. Basically what I’m saying is that the team was getting killed in both halves when they were trying to run the ball. Furthermore, if you look at the down and distances in which the Vikings passed in the 2nd half, most of the passing plays were dictated by the down and distance. I will exclude the final Vikings’ drive of the fourth quarter, because the Vikings were running out of time and were essentially forced to pass under those circumstances. That drive aside, the Vikings passed on first and 10 three times in the second half and ran the ball on first and 10 three times (though one play was nullified due to a holding call on Michael Jenkins). That’s a pretty good mixture of passing and running on first down. The commitment to running on first and 10 is all the more noble when you consider that the gains on the non-penalty running plays were 2 yards and -1 yard. The Vikings also passed on a third and one to Harvin on their 9th offensive series. That seems like an obvious running down except when you remember that earlier in the game on 3rd and 1, Peterson had only made the first down by falling forward for a yard (On re-watching that play, it still looks to me like Peterson came up short by a half yard). That said, if you think the Vikings should have given the ball to Peterson in the second half, you can probably look to that 3rd and 1 pass to Harvin as an example of a time when down and distance favored a running play. However, every other passing play in the second half was essentially dictated by the down and distance. Here they are: 2nd & 8; 3rd & 5; 2nd & 10; 3rd & 17; 1st & 20; 3rd & 9; 3rd & 14. In summary, there are two reasons that I don’t agree with the argument that the Vikings made the wrong decision when they decided not to give the ball to Peterson more often in the second half: 1) the running game was in shambles; and 2) down and distance generally didn’t allow for a running play option. #2: McNabb is a bum! I disagree that he’s the problem, and here’s why. I’ve already established that the running game was miserable. Unfortunately, so was the pass protection. The Lions got pressure up the middle and from both sides all game. Add in the fact that the Vikings receiver corps is on the weak side of average (e.g. among other things they lack a proper #1 receiver), and you end up with the trifecta of issues that lead to bad QB days. I’ve seen great quarterbacks look average (and even bad) when they’ve been hit and pressured all game. The Jets did that to Tom Brady in the playoffs. The Bengals did it to Payton Manning in the playoffs. McNabb had very little time to make things happen, and his receivers didn’t have time to get open (as if Berrian could anyway). The pressure was such that it affected McNabb’s accuracy at times and forced him to throw in the direction of players that weren’t open. However, from the very start of the game, McNabb’s supporting cast made things difficult on McNabb. Here are some examples: 1st series: Both Harvin and Peterson dropped passes that ended a promising drive. Harvin’s pass hit his chest on a designed screen in which it looked like he had a lot of yards ahead of him, and Peterson’s pass bounced off of both his hands and chest on a designed short screen in which he had blockers ahead of him. 2nd series: McNabb was knocked down on 3 of 6 passing plays. There was a sack (the 2nd of the game to that point); a hit as McNabb released a pass to Berrian that sailed over Berrian’s head; and McNabb was also hit on a late hit personal foul call. 3rd series: Hutchinson had a holding call that put the Vikings at 2nd and 19, but McNabb played the Vikings out of the hole with a good throw to Jenkins and a great scramble for a first down on 3rd and 9 when the pocket closed up around him. The series ended with a pressure-caused, scramble on a designed rollout for 0 yards followed by McNabb getting knocked to the ground on a blitz with no chance to complete the pass. Basically what I’m trying to show is that from the beginning of the game McNabb was under a sustained attack. QBs wear down and McNabb is no exception. McNabb isn’t perfect, and I’m not trying to manufacture excuses for him. He had some bad throws, but he also had some great ones. As I said before, even great QBs have bad days when they are getting pressured and hit all day long. And let’s not forget that despite having a porous O-line, McNabb hasn’t had an interception since the first play of the San Diego game. In summary, having re-watched the Lions game, McNabb has my sympathy rather than my ridicule. --- That's it for now. Skol Vikings! -->
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