Seeing the Vikes play a dud game on Sunday night is brutal. Did you spend the day watching other football, getting excited? Did you have a full day's worth of anticipation for this game? How empty were you feeling in the fourth quarter?
A disappointed salute to the Cardinals: they beat the Vikes in every conceivable way tonight.
The Pass Rush and the Safeties
The pass rush from the defensive line has been masking some serious deficiencies in the secondary. If an opposing offense is able to neutralize the pass rush from the front four, a good quarterback can smoke this secondary.
It might be comforting to shout "But Antoine Winfield! Antoine Winfield!," but that really isn't helpful. For one thing, we don't know when he'll be back or how effective he'll be when he does come back. And just as important, Winfield isn't going to be coming back to play safety. Right now Madieu Williams and Tyrell Johnson are struggling to cover and to tackle.
If the front four can't get to the QB, then the Vikes may try blitz. That, too, can be shredded, since the safeties aren't that good and the nickel backs will struggle against good WRs, too.
Against a quality opponent, the Vikings must get a pass rush from the defensive line if they are going to be successful on defense.
The Cardinals were able to block the Viking front four tonight, and Kurt Warner, Anquan Boldin, and Larry Fitzgerald were able to run wild around the Viking secondary.
He looked rough today: throwing inaccurate passes flying past receivers, hitting defenders in the hands, looking uncomfortable in the pocket.
The panic of course is that any late-season struggles are signs of Favre's declining, exhausted body giving out. I'm not going to overreact to one bad game--that's just the concern. And I'm actually not worried about the interceptions terribly: that's regression toward the mean that still leaves Favre's INT rate incredibly low.
I thought the shovel pass in the red zone on 3rd and 4 was lousy. With a good QB and several good receivers, just let your QB drop back and try find an open guy.
I'm an advocate of abandoning the run when it isn't working and especially when you get down. I can't recall many games when Adrian Peterson was getting completely stuffed most of the game, and then later became effective. When the run isn't there, run calls are wasted downs. If you still want Peterson to make plays throw him the ball.
It's hard to see Henderson go down. I hope the best for him personally.
The Vikes have been remarkably healthy most of the season, but losing their middle linebacker is going to hurt (just a guess: the Vikes are forced to play a lot of nickel anyway, so Ben Leber and Chad Greenway probably become the two nickel linebackers going forward. I don't know what they'll do in base 4-3 sets). They suffered other injuries tonight, but none appear as serious as Henderson's.
What the Vikings aren't
The Vikings are not competing with the New Orleans Saints for NFC juggernaut status. Though the Saints dodged the flying monkey poop today, they are the NFC's juggernaut. The Vikings aren't: they are a very good team, and they should still get the #2 seed, but they aren't a matching juggernaut. That doesn't mean the Vikings cannot beat the Saints in the playoffs, should we meet them; there are some features of the matchup that I think favor the Vikes. They're still a 10-2 Super Bowl contender.
Some good things
The Packers have a tough matchup with the Ravens tomorrow night; not that it could fully assuage tonight's disappointment, but seeing one purple-jerseyed team win in week 13 would still make us smile.
Percy Harvin is good. He frequently picks up first downs out of the slot, and his garbage-time touchdown weirdly encouraged me (it might have just been seeing a lively throw from Favre to remind me tonight was an aberration). When you have a player so great at catching a ball around the sticks on 3rd down, who can sneak into the backfield and rush the ball, and who can also go deep downfield and make plays, how does a defense stop him? Generally, they don't.
That, and Romeo Crennel's talking beer cans. That is hilarious.
Addendum: New Level of Anxiety
I just looked at the schedule: 8-4 Arizona's last four games are away against the 49ers and Lions, home for the Rams and Packers. They've got a shot at winning out, and if they do, the Vikes need to win three of their last four to keep the #2 seed. We've got a two game lead over the Cards for that first-round bye, but the Vikes' remaining schedule (Bengals, at Panthers and Bears, Giants) is tougher. So, if you were looking for anxiety, it's there now (the Cowboys and Eagles are each 8-4 too). The Vikes need to get that first-round bye.
I feel lousy when the Vikes lose, and so the day after a Viking loss, I generally eat very healthy and get all sorts of work accomplished. So look out, Monday, PV is coming to get you!
If you're looking for encouragement, here are some December box scores of recent Super Bowl teams.
2006: Jaguars 44, Colts 17
2007: Washington 22, Giants 10
2008: Vikings 35, Cardinals 14
2008: Patriots 47, Cardinals 7
2008: Titans 31, Steelers 14
These things happen.