In case you didn't notice, the buzz word for the Cowboys right now is "red hot." I hear it on TV so often that I wonder if the candy is paying for product placements. I mean, look at this.
Anyway, I'm wearing a different Vikings shirt every day this week, hoping to be rewarded for my faith. Sunday is going to be a nerve-wracking day.
The Viking future
I've written about my sense of desperation, as this certainly feels like the Vikings' last best chance to win a Super Bowl, for a lot of reasons (40 year old QB, the Packers' youth, the possibility of relocation during this decade).
But there's another perspective here, too. Next year the Vikings will still have two Hall of Fame quality defensive linemen in their primes (Jared Allen and Kevin Williams). They are extremely loaded and extremely young at the offensive skill positions (current ages: Percy Harvin 21, Sidney Rice 23, Adrian Peterson 24). They'll have some defensive weaknesses to fix (safety, possibly linebacker), and they'll need to improve the run blocking. But if the Vikes can put a decent QB under center after Favre goes, that QB should have success with guys like Peterson, Harvin, Rice, Bernard Berrian, and Visanthe Shiancoe as targets. Right now I don't see any reason to think the Vikes can't compete to win 10+ games next season.
I expect the Vikings to be competitive again. But it doesn't change the reality: this is their last best chance to win a Super Bowl. They have an elite quarterback playing spectacular football. They have talent on defense, offense, and special teams. To get to the Super Bowl, they need to win two straight games on turf. This is it, and hence the desperation. If' the Vikes don't get a championship this year, I'll lose faith that they ever will.
The league-wide completion percentage in 2009 was over 60%, with the top five QBs completing between 66.6% and 70.6% of their passes. In this league, there will be completions. And teams, at the level of personnel choices and at the level of defensive focus, need to do two things to succeed.
First, develop a pass rush. Rushing the passer can lead to sacks, throwaways, hurried short completions, and general discomfort. To play effective defense, you need to rush the passer.
Second, and perhaps just as important, you need to tackle receivers at the point they catch the ball. Your opponents will complete passes, but if you prevent them from gaining extra yardage after the catch, you have a chance to stymie drives. It drives me crazy when a team I'm rooting against completes passes short of the first down marker on third down, but the receiver gains the necessary yardage by running with the ball.
I think Arizona's defensive collapse against the Packers demonstrates the need for open field tackling of receivers. The Packers repeatedly made big plays when receivers were able to run a long time after catching passes, due to good moves on their own part, but also due to bad tackling, bad angles, and generally poor coverage that left them open with room to run. If the Cardinals just could have tackled, Green Bay would have struggled to catch up. They would have been forced to sustain drives with more completions, and their drives would have taken more time off the clock. By giving up a lot of yards after the catch, the Cardinals allowed the Packers to score quickly, and Green Bay got back into the game because of it.
The Vikings need rush Tony Romo on Sunday. They also need to tackle well. The Cowboys have a lot of pass catchers that are effective running with it: if the Vikes stop them cold where they catch it, they can stop some Dallas drives. Dallas also has running backs capable of making defenders miss, or running over them. They also have a good punt returner.
If the Vikes tackle well, I think they win the game. If they lose, I think it will be because against either the run, the pass, or on special teams (or all three), the Vikings fail to tackle runners when they have the chance.
In my view, the top six QBs in the NFC all made the playoffs (you could argue Eli Manning over Donovan McNabb), though not in the AFC (Manning, Rivers, and Brady yes, but Schaub and Roethlisberger missed the playoffs with 9-7 teams, though I suppose Carson Palmer rounds out the AFC's top six this season). There's something correlational in that: good teams tend to make their QBs look good. But it also highlights the importance of good passing for NFL success.
Some Viking players have taken to calling Minnesota and the Metrodome "the hood. Whatever it takes (Star Tribune, Pioneer Press).
The Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press have two nearly identical stories on the need for Bryant McKinnie and Phil Loadholt to stop DeMarcus Ware and the Dallas pass rush (same focus, some of the same quotes). The articles are both fine, but it might make one wonder whether we need two major newspapers covering local sports about as much as you need to buy the hardcover and paperback editions of a book (and now you say, "And it makes me wonder whether we really need yet another Viking blogger, jackass." And I say "Well, I try to bring something different to the table with my incessant neuroticism." And you say "You mean incessant whining." And I say "I think of it more as fear and despair than whining, but OK").