Sunday, October 31, 2010

Staying on the Ledge

The day started out with such promise. Last year the T-Wolves won two more games than the Vikings (playoffs included); this year I think they'll win 20 more games than the Vikings, and it's up to you to decide precisely what level of awful that is.

Much of the first half was very fulfilling: the Vikings on the road, controlling the clock, moving the football, avoiding mistakes. They were playing good football. Obviously, it didn't work out; I was happy to have the distraction of trick-or-treating. Let's assign some blame.

Madieu Williams. I think it would be reasonable to claim Williams cost the Vikes 8-14 points today. New England scored their first touchdown after Williams, in perfect position, not only failed to intercept the pass (which would have given the ball back to the Vikings with an early seven point lead), but also failed to knock it down, and somehow allowed the Patriot receiver to catch the ball. Later, it was Williams who should have been in position to make a tackle on Brandon Tate's long touchdown, but instead he got nowhere close to making the tackle. Two big plays for the Patriots were caused directly by Madieu Williams' bad play.

Brad Childress. That early challenge was one of the most perplexing I've seen: a catch in the middle of the field that came nowhere near touching the ground. The decision to go for it on fourth and goal at the end of the half was questionable (I was 50-50 on the decision, and 50-50 on the call). Normally, going for it on 4th and goal from the one is a good idea: there's a high chance the offense is going to punt quickly and you'll get the ball back with good field position. But at the end of the half, that's not the case: either you get zero, three, or seven points, then it's halftime and that's that. Furthermore, the Vikings looked really good with a conservative game plan: they ran the ball a ton in the first half (and successfully), throwing effectively in spots. If your game plan is conservative, ball control, don't make mistakes, don't you want that 10-7 halftime lead? I think so.

I'm fairly well conditioned to stop swearing at the TV during football games, because my kids are usually around. Still, I struggle not to yell "Idiot!" and "Stupid!" Today Brad Childress caused my three year old to lecture me: we shouldn't say that, daddy. Sure, son. You're right: we shouldn't call things stupid, and it's mean to call people idiots.

Run defense. This goes to the whole defense: BenJarvus Green-Ellis averaged 6.6 yards per carry on his way to 112 yards and two touchdowns.

Looking forward
If Brett Favre is out, I'm not distraught about that (I'm distraught about some things, but not that). For one thing, if Favre plays all season and the Vikings don't make the playoffs, the franchise is set back. Tarvaris Jackson needs to show whether he sucks or whether he can be a quality starter (I know, I know: most of us think we know that answer, but he needs to show it finally, for Brad Childress's sake if for nobody else's). If he shows that during 2010 rather than 2011, the franchise can move further that much quicker.

But I'm also not giving up hope yet. In 2007, the Vikes started 3-6 but won five in a row to eke back into playoff contention (they blew a late home game clincher). In 2008, they started 3-4 but finished the regular season 7-2 to win the division. In 2009, they started out the season 10-1. The Brad Childress era Vikings can go on some productive binges, even with lousy QBs: I'm not putting it past the Vikings to finish 7-2 and make the playoffs (I'm also not putting it past them to end up 5-11, which is probably more likely). Tarvaris Jackson might mean a lot more running, a lot more rollouts, a lot more scrambling for first downs, a lot more conservative game-planning.

It's Arizona at home next.

PFT notes Favre is ready to play next week: what looked like it might have been a career-ending broken jaw evidently was a cut requiring stitches. Again: I think this team is capable of finishing 7-2, considering they have five more home games and road games at Chicago, Washington, Philadelphia, and Detroit. If they can win their home games, and get two road wins out of the year...probably too much to ask, I know.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

National Friday League, Week Eight

Viking-Patriot Preview
Here are some things that surprised me when reading up on the Patriots.

--they lead the league in scoring, with 29.5 points per game.
--they have not allowed fewer than 336 yards in any game this year, and average 379 yards allowed per game ( games of 428, 336, 374, 400, 377, 363).
--they are averaging 10.4 yards per completion, with no "wide receiver" currently on the roster averaging better than 11.5 yards per reception.
--They rank 31st in the league in first downs allowed.

I feel about this game like I felt about the Steeler game last year: the Vikings are going against a perennial contender at their place, and I don't think they can do it. The Vikes stayed with the Steelers longer than I thought they would, too, but then the Vikings were better last year. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady know what's up: I don't think this is going to go our way at all.

Other Intriguing Matchups
Dolphins-Bengals. Some years a particular team intrigues me for reasons I don't understand. I don't root for them or care about them, really, but I end up following them for some reason. So once again, the Dolphins.

Bills-Chiefs. Buffalo has been scoring too many points not to win a game soon. The Chiefs have the shakiest passing game of any team that is probably going to make the playoffs. This game would be fun to watch.

Packers-Jets. Losing to the Packers is like poison, and no matter how average the Packers have looked, I'm always terrified they'll win out and win the Super Bowl. Seeing them lose here would feel good.

Seahawks-Raiders. What does it mean when a bad team scores 59 points? Does it mean that team is really not bad?

Steelers-Saints. Sunday night game featuring a massive number of regular fantasy starters. Also a Sunday night game that will be frequently interrupted by trick-or-treaters. Which is fine: I like trick-or-treaters.

Texans-Colts. The Vikes are 2-4. The Timberwolves will do what they've done for years: stink. You'll have to indulge me to be really, really, really excited to watch the Colts play Monday.

Irrational Viking Fan: On Loyalty
I don't care about Brett Favre's legacy (unless his legacy is the QB that leads the Vikings to a Super Bowl championship). I don't care about Brett Favre's heroics (unless those heroics lead to Viking wins). If Favre stinks this year, I feel no desire to stick by him or defend him. Does that make me disloyal? To Favre, yes. But it's because of loyalty to the Vikings.

Last year, I expressed some confusion over Packer fan hatred of Favre. It's not that I couldn't understand the feeling of betrayal, but Favre led the Packers to a Super Bowl win. What else could those fans want? He brought you the most joyous thing you can have in sports: does it matter so little that you'd turn against the guy that brought you that?

Of course, that was the Irrational Viking Fan talking. I want so badly to see my favorite team win a championship, that I can't imagine ever turning against those that actually allow me to see it. It's why I think the first Viking coach to win a Super Bowl deserves a lifetime contract, that it should only be his choice if/when he wants to leave the team. What else matters? The most important thing to my fandom is for the Vikings to win the Super Bowl, and if they do that, those who lead them to the championship will have my lifelong devotion and love.

Packer fans can turn on Favre because their loyalty isn't to the individual, but to the team (or to the group, or organization, or even the "idea" of the Packers, the concept, principle, what have you). Both loyalty to an individual and loyalty to a team can be problematic. Either type of loyalty can lead you to give up your reason, supporting and defending that which you would not otherwise support or defend. Either type of loyalty can lead you to see other individuals primarily in terms of their usefulness: when they are no longer helpful to the individual/group that has your loyalty, they no longer matter to you. Loyalty is not, in my view, an inherently good virtue, though it can be virtuous (as Kent's loyalty to Lear is virtuous).

So thanks, Brett Favre, for a special 2009 season (even if it ended the way every other special Viking season ended). But if Favre sucks in 2010, if he's inaccurate, or sloppy, or turnover-prone, or injured, or distracted, or fighting with the coach, or finally just too old to play at a high level, or whatever, and he's not capable of leading the Vikings to wins, then I don't care about him, and I'm ready to move on.

Adrian Peterson
Adrian Peterson is currently leading the league with 114 rush yards per game. He's had 170+ yards from scrimmage in three games this season. But two of those magnificent games were in close losses, and we haven't been able to fully bask in his greatness. Even during a disappointing, loss-filled Viking season, let us remember to appreciate how brilliantly Peterson is playing. If we watch sports to find joy, there is joy in watching Adrian Peterson run the football.

The Vikings are a terrible road team
They might finish 7-1 at home and 8-8 overall this season.

NFC North Box
If the Viking season collapses entirely (and it will be a long time before I accept that it has: I like the Vikings' schedule after the Patriot game, and think they could go 8-1 or 7-2 after this week's game, if they keep their heads together), I will be openly rooting for the Bears at some point. Seeing the Packers win games is like poison.

Basketball Box
When Matt Millen shows up on the TV screen, it's obviously hard not to think that the guy that ran the Lions as badly as anybody ever ran any sports franchise is trying to give us insight on football. Tuesday night, I was watching TNT when you do I see telling me about basketball, but Kevin McHale. A Hall of Fame player who knows the game of basketball, sure. But...goodness, why do I need to listen to him? If he knows so much about evaluating talent and assessing the game...what the hell happened?

Fantasy Box
I've been waiting for a year and a half for the emergence of Donald Brown: Fantasy Superstar. I keep believing such a concept exists, and so I keep leaving Brown shelved at the bottom of my roster. And maybe, just maybe, we'll see it this season. This is my fantasy football Great Pumpkin. What's yours?

I like having my perception verified with evidence
Via PFT, the Wall Street Journal shows that the guys on the FOX pregame show really do spend a lot of time laughing (or pretending to laugh) at each other.

Have a good Halloween weekend, everybody. On Sunday the second half of the Viking game coincides with the best time to take two toddlers trick-or-treating: but that's OK, because I know my priorities (and there's always DVR!).

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Staying on the ledge

That game was like a bed of nails; I've got no desire to rehash it. Terrible. Terrible.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

National Friday League, Week 7

Chad Henne and Mike Sims-Walker edition

Viking-Packer Preview
I watched the Dolphins beat the Packers last Sunday, and I thought the Packer defense looked pretty helpless. They couldn't really rush the passer, weren't good at stopping the run, and were leaving open receivers all over the place. If Chad Henne weren't regularly throwing passes high, the Dolphins might have been torching the Packers (Brandon Marshall was still like a demigod out there). The Packers have suffered some major injuries this season, so it might just be a depleted team (that could be less depleted this week). But that defense looked imminently beatable, even though the Viking o-line has been pretty lousy.

And offensively the Packers still have two problems: they can't run the ball, and they struggle to protect the passer. Aaron Rodgers' most impressive display of skill is the mobility he is required to show in order not to get sacked 10 times a game. Of course, all he has to do is find Donald Driver or Greg Jennings matched up against Lito Sheppard on one out of three downs, and the Vikings are cooked.

None of these things matter, of course. Whether the Vikings or the Packers might actually be better than the other barely matters. These two teams will likely do what these two teams do against each other: they'll play a streaky game featuring offensive scoring streaks by each team, it will come down to one or two late possessions, and, likely, the home team will win.

But here's a new way to talk myself into optimism about the Vikings: Adrian Peterson and Randy Moss. These are two players whom we know--we know--can absolutely take over a game and dominate, giving the Vikings a chance to win in virtually any situation against any opponent. They don't do it often (few do). But just look at the game logs. Adrian Peterson has had 160+ yards rushing seven times. Randy Moss has had 36 multi-touchdown games. The Vikings now have two explosive, super-talented, dominating players that on occasion take over football games. It's going to happen again this year. Whenever there's a time that things look bleak, we should remember that: we have two players who might, at any surprising moment, take over. And I could see either guy doing that this week.

Other Intriguing Matchups
Both teams seem really average, with the potential to be a lot better. That's probably a fair description for this blog, too: really average, with the potential to be a lot better.

I said last week I'm intrigued by the Dolphins, and that's the truth (I finally traded for Ronnie Brown this week, suckers! Tony Gonzalez, straight-up, and now I'm in a situation where I'm required to start Mike Sims-Walker for one week, which is obviously awful, but when you get a chance to trade for a guy with one TD that's averaging 60 rush yards per game, you have to jump on it). But the Steelers are, in my opinion, the best team in the NFL, maybe by a long way. This will be a test to find out of the Dolphins are a contender or an interesting 7-9 team. If Chad Henne weren't Chad Henne, I'd think the Dolphins have enough offensive weapons to move the ball for a few drives against the Steeler defense, and make a tight game of this. But I have not been impressed with Henne's accuracy, which makes me wonder how many opportunity-plays the Dolphins will blow. "Opportunity-plays" is a concept I'm trying out. It's a big play that's there, that a team can get and that can change the game, but that they can also miss out on. In last week's Viking game, E. J. Henderson made two opportunity-plays, an interception a tipped ball (it was there, and a defender just needed to make the play, but it could have just as easily been dropped by somebody), and an interception on a pass that required a savvy, athletic move. In last week's Packer-Dolphin game, Brandon Marshall got very open a lot, which I'd consider an opportunity-play: the receiver is wide open, and if the line protects, the QB sees him and throws an accurate ball, and the receiver doesn't drop it, a big play is made. In that game, Miami's line protected, Marshall was wide open, and Henne usually threw high. Sometimes Marshall made the play anyway, and sometimes he couldn't. This has gotten pretty rambling, just terrible: I realize the whole point of National Friday League is to be rambling, but I teach freshman composition so I'm still embarrassed by it (and I'm not helping matters, really, by explicitly discussing it, but here I go). My point is, there will be a small number of opportunity-plays for the Miami offense, and they'll have to be precise, hitting on a high number of them. I think they'll miss on too many of them.

The Chiefs are another team that will probably be making me say "How good are they, really?" all the way until Week 17. They should beat this Jaguar team, whose pass coverage fluctuates between ungodly awful and ungodly terrible. Plus, Mike Sims-Walker running patterns while a backup QB drops back into the pocket! This is real football, folks!

Interesting game, because both teams look good, but both teams might be really good.

3-2 NFC West rivals. The Cardinals have been outscored by 50 this season.

I think you should smile if you have fantasy starters going in this game.

Irrational Viking Fan
At this point, Brett Favre has done no more--and possibly less--for the Vikings historically than Randall Cunningham did (it's true: try to dispute it), except in this: he tainted a beloved icon of Packer fans, which is itself something.

NFC North Box
The Bears really might get to 10 wins this year. The Bears also could lose to absolutely any team on their schedule. Even Buffalo. I'm terrified to play them because Julius Peppers has had some monster games against the Childress-era Vikings (it seems in my hazy memory that the Vikes have been content to let a tackle block him one-on-one, which has been like being content to let a bear wander around your living room).

Every scandal is an opportunity for new expressions of meaning
I think "I just got done with practice" should be the new code for "I would like you to have sex with me." I'm told by those that matter that this is a terrible idea.

Again: in praise of DVR
When I was a teenager, I suddenly realized I watch a sickly amount of basketball when, sometime in March, I watched a trailing team foul intentionally for what felt like the thousandth time that season. And last Sunday, I realized I watch a sickly amount of football when I watched a receiver get tackled a yard short on third down, wondered how many receivers I’ve seen get tackled a yard short on third down in the past two months, and realized it was too many.

I have two small children that get a lot of my time. I also have a job that demands a lot of my time, including evenings and weekends to grade papers. How am I watching all this football?

The answer is obvious: DVR. When my kids need or want my attention, I can pause the game whenever I like. When my insane dog needs to go out, I pause. During night games, I generally record/pause the game and then go about doing necessary tasks for an hour or more--usually grading papers--and when I'm done I turn on the game, zipping through and catching up before the game ends. I've paused games to get ready for the next day, to wash dishes, to get laundry, to do any number of necessary tasks. DVR allows me to function as a dad, teacher, and housekeeper while still getting to watch football seemingly constantly.

Announcers during blowouts say the darndest things.
As Monday night's Jaguar-Titan game devolved not only into a blowout, but a boring blowout featuring backup quarterbacks, I started reading The New Yorker (because I like to try fulfill the stereotype of an urbane liberal) while the game was on in the background. I heard Ron Jaworski say this: "You get that first score, then you're in a situation where you're only a couple scores behind." Beautiful. Just beautiful.

Announcers talking quarterbacks say the darndest things.
Let me continue talking about Chad Henne way too much in this blog entry. During the Dolphin-Packer game, Dan Fouts defended Henne based on his inexperience, suggesting he hadn't had that much time and that he's learning and maturing. At one point, Henne threw a ball away. Fouts said what announcers seem to think is a wise thing to say whenever a young QB throws the ball away: that it was a smart move not to try force a pass, that earlier in his career, maybe even earlier this season, Henne might have forced it rather than throw it away. Did Fouts mean earlier this Henne's previous game, when he threw three interceptions? Was it just over the bye week that Henne learned to throw it away? And is throwing the ball away one time, while being chased around by pass rushers, really something special showing the wise maturity of a QB?

Do we really have to hear announcers heap praise on a young QB for knowing not to chuck the ball into coverage? Any time a young QB throws the ball away we hear about it from the announcers like we just watched a baby learn to eat with a spoon for the first time. Throwing the ball away rather than taking a sack or throwing the ball into coverage does not, in fact, make a quarterback a genius: it's not exactly Darwin's insight here. But by all means, praise the QB that you just sat down with in a production meeting and had a friendly, personable discussion with, that you now find yourself wanting to be friendly toward: your job doesn't require objective analysis or anything. Throwing the ball into the sidelines is probably the greatest skill a young QB can have: nothing else really matters, actually. Reading defenses, throwing accurate passes to open receivers, none of that compares to being able to hit an assistant coach's clipboard as you're being chased by defensive ends.

Why did Chris Johnson get carries late?
Leading by 20 points with a few minutes left, the Titans left Chris Johnson in the game to get some late carries. I'll never really understand this: why? When the game is not in doubt and you just need to run out clock, why not use your backup running back, rather than the superstar running back on whom most of your hopes depend? Is it really worthwhile to let your star player get tackled a few extra times, when those carries are no longer necessary to win the game? My theory is that NFL coaches devote so much mental energy to preparation for a single game and have a certain degree of, not anxiety exactly, but let's say edgy intensity, that it takes quite a giant lead with quite little time left before they are actually convinced themselves that the game is in hand.

Fantasy Box
J'Rod gave me the idea to follow my fantasy players on Twitter. It's a good idea, because it is one more way to keep Mike Sims-Walker in my life.

Frank Deford might just not have much to say anymore
In 2010, Frank Deford has the very fresh take on NPR that technology and ticket prices make some fans prefer watching games on television rather than in person, and includes such insightful observations as

"But even more important, younger fans have been raised on TV and other electronic entertainment — these are people who play video games for fun by themselves and who don't communicate so much face-to-face, but text on cell phones."

He so nailed young people!

To be fair, evidently Deford was once one of the best, and trying to be creative talking/writing about sports over the course of decades is probably difficult. But even more important, older sportswriters are trained to see new technology as destructive and damaging--these are people who treat younger people with a mixture of confusion and contempt, and who don't so much write well, but write a lot.

Enjoy your weekend, everybody. Except Packer and Bear fans.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Trailing Clouds of Heaven: Vikings 24, Cowboys 21

No doubt Cowboy fans feel like Dallas should have won this game, and they blew it through their own errors.1 And you know what: they're right. Any head-to-head competition features partly, the winner taking it, and partly, the loser giving it away.2 This game featured a lot of Dallas giving the game away.3

But the Vikings also took that win. Dallas came in with a strategy to negate and neutralize the Viking pass rush: they threw a lot of quick, short passes and a lot of screens. The Vikings, for the most part, did an excellent job tackling. Dallas pass catchers were in position to make plays by running after the catch, but Viking defenders regularly brought them down before they could.

E.J. Henderson
Kudos to Henderson, whose two interceptions helped very much to lead to 10 Viking points today. The first was on a fluky tip, but Henderson was aware and agile enough to come down with the ball (it's not like we haven't seen Viking defenders miss that ball before). The second interception, the one that led to the Vikings go-ahead field goal, was a thing of beauty. Henderson went forward like he was rushing, but then dropped back into coverage. Tony Romo saw the gap behind Henderson and threw the ball to what should have been an open receiver, not expecting Henderson to be there, but Henderson had dropped quickly and made a wonderful play on the ball. This was one of Henderson's finest moments as a Viking, I think.

Percy Harvin
Start the second half out down seven. Or, get a giant kick return, and essentially start the second half of the game tied with a team and crowd energized. When Percy Harvin opened the second half with a kick return for a touchdown, he changed the game concretely and abstractly. Instead of a flat team trying to catch up, the Vikings were an electric team playing dead-even.

This was the most satisfying Viking game in nine months. The Bears and Packers both lost three point games today. Problems? Sure. The offensive line can't do much boasting about its performance today, and the weaknesses in the secondary certainly aren't promising to get better. But I'm taking every Viking W for what it is now, a moment of unmitigated joy. I'll save tomorrow's worries for tomorrow: today, the Vikings win, and we have joyous clouds of heaven.

1. I can imagine this is how they feel, because it's how Viking fans have felt at least twice this year.
2. And partly hazard.
3. it wouldn't surprise me if Cowboy fans are also upset about the officiating, though on that point I would not agree: I saw very few unearned penalties for either team today.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

National Friday League, Week 6

My wife and I have been playing this game where we invent unreal choices, and see what we would choose. I call the game "The Vikings, but..."

Essentially, you ask questions like this:

"The Vikings win the Super Bowl, but Seinfeld was never a TV show. Do you take it?"

"The Vikings don't ever win the Super Bowl, but you are given X dollars: how high does X need to be before you take the money?"

It's a fun game for long car rides and waiting in line. You start to really think about your priorities, and with any luck, you start to really hate yourself.

Vikings-Cowboys Preview
2010 Cowboys
When the Vikings created bad blood with the Cowboys in last year's 34-3 playoff win, and we knew the Cowboys would be playing the Vikes in 2010 regular season, I envisioned Tarvaris Jackson as our quarterback and the pissed off Cowboys throttling the hell out of our mediocre team. I did not picture Brett Favre still here, Randy Moss added, but both teams 1-3 and fighting to save their season.

Defensively, the Vikings can beat the Cowboys the same way they did in that playoff game: the Minnesota defensive line beats the Dallas offensive line on virtually ever play, and the pass rush prevents Tony Romo from getting anything accomplished. And that will have to be: if Romo does get time, the Vikes might be cooked by the likes of Miles Austin, Roy Williams, and Jason Witten, all receivers capable of big downfield plays, especially against a secondary that to me has looked very, very vulnerable. Maybe, just maybe, it's time for Jared Allen to actually be noticed in the 2010 season.

Before Viking games, one of the important things I check is the opponent's rank against the run (by yards per attempt). This week the number bodes well: Dallas ranks 26th, allowing 4.5 yards per attempt.

I think the game favors the Vikings, but I usually do and you see what happens.

1-3 sucks, and we're in a hole, but if you're looking for some hope...
The Vikings' current NFC North record: 1-0.
The Vikings' current NFC record: 1-1.

The games that are really going to determine whether the Vikings make the playoffs haven't happened yet.

Other Intriguing Matchups
Week Six Schedule

The Dolphins are one of the league's secretly enjoyable teams: a couple good running backs (Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams), a couple good wide receivers (Brandon Marshall and Davone Bess), a surprisingly exciting defense, and terrible special teams. Their games become interesting to watch. I will enjoy rooting for them to beat the Packers Sunday.

Interesting game. I've got nothing to say.

Jamaal Charles is wicked good fun.

Steve Falcos-Eagles
I've decided to call Atlanta the Steve Falcos, for the sheer hell of it.

Alright, I'm interested in the outcome, but I don't really want to watch it.

The Colts are on TV all the bloody time, which I like.

Because look out for the Titans, says Chase Stuart.

"When you're a Jet you're a Jet..."
I don't understand why the New York Jets don't adopt the song from West Side Story as their theme song.

NFC North Box
I was tooling around looking for evidence that the Bears are a secretly awful team. I found that evidence at Football Outsiders, where the Bears rank #24 in DVOA. I thought I'd find something similar confirmed at Advanced NFL Stats, but didn't: they rank #8 in Brian Burke's Efficiency Rankings. Interesting. Both systems find the Bear defense to be good (#6 at Football Outsiders, #4 at Advanced NFL Stats). So I don't think the Bears are secretly awful, because a good unit on one side of the ball might just be enough to get the Bears to 9+ wins.

Ancient Records
Interesting look at why Norm Van Brocklin still holds the single-game passing yardage record at Interesting too that Tom Fears held the single-game reception record for over 50 years. I think those Rams knew how to throw the ball.

Fantasy Box
I get emotionally attached to players on my team, and it's sort of a problem. There are only two ways that I would trade Mike Wallace: either straight-up for Randy Moss or straight-up for Adrian Peterson. So basically, Mike Wallace isn't leaving my team. I'm too confident that when Ben Roethlisberger returns this week, Wallace is going to start making 40+ yard catches with regularity, and I want the chance to just go ape-shit every time it happens. The guy is about to go crazy on the league, so get ready for that fun.

Have a good weekend, everybody. Except Packer, Bear, and Cowboy fans.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A brief note on this Favre messiness

I don't pay much attention to the off-the-field sins of professional athletes; that's not why I follow sports. As such, I've rarely written about such matters on this blog (a major exception was the Michael Vick dog-fighting story, which I took an interest in for obvious personal reasons). If I don't write about the Favre allegations, it's not because I'm in denial or defensive mode: it's that I don't care enough to say much or come up with a very original take. I'd rather talk about the game of football. This shouldn't bother you, either: if you want to follow the story, there are plenty of places where you can, but I don't think that's why you read this blog either.

I will say this though: I don't think disparaging Jenn Sterger is either fair or helpful. Whatever acts Brett Favre committed are, after all, on him; scorn directed at Sterger over this matter is, in my view, undeserved. If you are directing angry and hateful words at Sterger, I think it reflects poorly on you, not her.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Coming off the ledge

This sure looked to me like a game that was pissed away by the Viking quarterback. It's not that Favre didn't make some good plays. But aside from the obvious turnovers, there were several open receivers on plays that could have changed the game, and Favre missed them. At this point, are we still allowed to blame lack of time practicing together? Or at this point, do we simply call them inaccurate passes? Favre has been erratic at best. Receivers were often in position to make plays, but too frequently Favre failed to get them the ball where they could.

The Viking run defense was historically good from '06-'09, and that sort of run has to end sometime. I'm afraid it already has. And while the Viking defense appeared effective for much of the game at preventing touchdowns, I'm not sure how much that is on the defense. Frankly, the Jets frequently looked on the verge of breaking some long pass plays, and it wasn't quite good defensive play that was preventing it. I thought the referees really let defensive backs play physical pass coverage on both sides of the ball, and that it helped the Vikings more in this game.

The Vikings could have won this game. You might even convince me that it was the Vikings that blew the game themselves (I really didn't think it was the Jets defense looking great until the middle of the 3rd quarter, but rather the Vikings just not being able to get first downs). But right now, the Vikings are shaky and sloppy, so it's harder to make the argument they should have won this game. Actually, the argument is there. Favre should have hit a wide open Percy Harvin on a relatively short throw late in the game. But he didn't.

There's excitement, yes: they made a game of it, and Moss, Harvin, and Peterson are an incredible trio of skill position players that can make dazzling big plays. Seeing #84 run go patterns in a Viking uniform again is thrilling, no doubt. It was the Vikings' third close defeat of the season. However, the team also showed a lot of weaknesses in that game, and there's really no joy to take out of a loss like that.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Washington 16, Green Bay 13 (OT)

When the Vikings win, we can simply say "Skol." I think we need a word for when the Packers lose. Your suggestions are welcome.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Weird Misogyny in Sports Commentary

If you are talking about a man, and your point is that he’s irrational yet appealing, does it really provide much insight to say “he’s like an irrational yet appealing woman!”

I wouldn’t think so. Of course, some people think otherwise.

I decided on a brief note with commentary implicit, but now I feel like expanding just a bit.

A male athlete behaves erratically. In order to provide perspective on the situation, a sportswriter appeals to a negative stereotype of women behaving erratically. What is the compulsion to do so? Why is it necessary to go to a stereotype of the "crazy hot chick" in order to explain a situation involving a crazy/erratic male athlete? For one thing, I think it provides pretty banal commentary. But it also seems to fit into a pattern of creepy sexism.

I'll add that claiming a crazy but talented man is like a crazy but hot woman illustrates a very basic insight of feminism: men are valued for their actions/abilities, women are valued for their sexual attractiveness.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

National Friday League, Week 5

Randy #$%&*ing Moss
Randy Moss isn't just an elite WR. He isn't just one of the greatest players of all-time. And he isn't just the player who has made so many "That's one of the greatest catches I've ever seen" plays that we started to forget that those were, indeed, some of the greatest catches we've ever seen.

Randy Moss is, for many fans (especially fans of a certain age, who sort of came of age with him), the most exciting Viking player of all-time. It's hard to even articulate what it was like seeing Moss burn CBs on go routes, to see Moss outleap everybody, to see Moss make one-handed catches, skirting the sideline catches, to make falling down with defenders right on him catches. There was ballet in what Moss could do. There was, I'll say it, art. Randy Moss played the game with a creative beauty that most Viking fans appreciated with wonderment. When he left the Vikings, it was like he wasn't the same person: he was some other guy named Randy Moss that we felt like we recognized but couldn't quite place. But Go back and look at some old pictures. Watch some old highlights. Flip through the football cards. Those aren't just the good-old-days: that is now.

I'm going to admit something now: I've been finding myself regretting that Brett Favre came back. I have not been optimistic about the Vikings getting to the Super Bowl this year, and I've been feeling like I'd have more fun watching whatever the Vikings would be next (lots of defense and running) than I'd have being disappointed by one last "all in" Favre season. But no "all in" Favre season, probably no Randy Moss returning to wear a purple #84. No more chance to see Moss dazzling the field in that beautiful Viking jersey.

And when Randy Moss comes back to Thunderdome wearing the purple #84, and everybody in the stadium is watching him in warmups, it will be worth it. When he gets introduced for the first time, and the roar of the crowd is heard from your house, it will be worth it. When Moss scores his first touchdown as a Viking in over five years, and Minnesota fans lose our shit, and our collective orgasm will compete with Oprah's favorite things for idiotic displays of irrational joy, it will be worth it.

There's a giddiness in the air. This means something different than when Favre came. Not only because in a matter of, what, 20 hours, something we barely could conceive of came to completion. But because he's Randy Moss! He's our guy! He's the guy that has already scored 100 touchdowns* for the Vikings! He's the one who on three occasions walked into Lambeau Field and burned the mother-#$&*er to the ground!

What must it have been like for the French, when Napoleon returned from Elba and just marched on up to Paris? Could they believe it was happening? Did they stare at each other with wide eyes whispering "Him again?"

*90 regular season TD receptions, one regular season punt return TD, and nine playoff TD receptions.

Vikings--Jets Preview
The Jets look really good. I haven't ever felt good about a Viking road game (and if you've watched the team for the past ten years, you shouldn't either). I just don't know. Actually, I'm worried.

But the defense, which now includes Cedric Griffin and Chris Cook, can play with anybody.

And...ADRIAN PETERSON AND RANDY MOSS ARE ON THE SAME TEAM. Think about the kinds of coverage Moss draws. Think about the way Peterson has been playing. Isn't it distinctly possible that they start wiping the floor with defenses quite soon? Or am I talking myself into things (just like I've talked myself into not stressing about this killer stretch of games coming up, because the late season schedule relaxes tremendously and the Vikes could struggle in the first half of the season but still make the playoffs)?

Excited and terrified.

Other Intriguing Matchups
Week Five Schedule

Jaguars-Bills. How big was Jacksonville’s win over Indianapolis last week? Now they look good to start the year 3-2.

Broncos-Ravens. Every week, I wonder, do the Broncos suck, or are they sort of a playoff contender? Every week I find myself moderately pulling for them. I have no idea why.

Chiefs-Colts. Funny game. The Chiefs win by running the ball with Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles, by getting big special teams plays from players like Dexter McCluster, from playing great defense, and throwing in the occasional razzle dazzle, but never relying on the passing game. The Colts are practically the opposite: trouble on defense, can barely run, never razzle dazzle, but have the best passing game in the league (in my opinion, the Colts from '03-present have the greatest passing attack of all-time). The game is on TV, so I'm happy.

Packers-Washington. Do it again, Donovan.

Rams-Lions. The Rams have a chance to go 3-2! And the Lions keep playing decent opponents to close games. It's not that I'd want to watch this game, but I can't help but be intrigued by the results.

Bears-Panthers. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are my starting fantasy RBs this week. I would blame bye week troubles for starting two teammates, but if it weren't for the bye I'd be starting Justin, I think I'll go ahead and blame myself.

Giants-Texans. The Giants are another of the early 2010 season's perplexing teams that I'm so curious about I keep watching them.

Titians-Cowboys. Still don't know if the Titians are good. Still don't know if the Cowboys are good. Know I'm going to call the Titans the Titians for the sheer hell of it.

Irrational Viking Fan
On a storybook level, last year sure seemed like it should have been the year: the former hated rival finding magic and leading the Vikes to...alas, leading the Vikes to a place we've seen them crash before.

But now? It's homecoming.

NFC North Box
The Packers are designed to blow out weak opponents. They have a really strong front seven. They have a really diverse, efficient passing attack. Against a weak opponent, that is enough to dominate. But the Packers have weaknesses that quality opponents can exploit. They struggle to run the ball and often struggle in pass protection. They’ve got all sorts of weak spots in the secondary (good quarterbacks can dice them up). They are vulnerable.

I can’t help but wonder when/if the Bears are going to go to Chester Taylor more. Matt Forte has looked like a dynamic receiving threat, but Chester Taylor has run the ball better (3.5 yards per attempt v. 2.7 yards per attempt so far this year). Forte can do things in space, but the Chicago offensive line isn’t opening up big holes, and Taylor is a tougher, grinding inside runner. He can produce more rushing yards than Forte on that team, I think.

Fantasy Box: a narcissistic tour through my dreaded byes
I'm in a crazy league with some relatives that features 2 QBs, 3 RBs, 3 WRs, and 2 TEs in the starting lineup, but also only has six bench positions. Now that bye weeks have started, every week just looks like a wreckage zone: I'm always picking up three new starters off the waiver wire.

But that's nothing compared to my next three weeks in the Hazelweird League: Week 5 features enough players out that I'm starting Mike Sims-Walker and Dwayne Bowe (tough competitors in the "fantasy guy that's kind of a name but does nothing" contest), week 6 features DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart's bye (Chester Taylor--I shit you not--might be my starter), and week 7 features Indy's bye, meaning the Peyton Manning-Reggie Wayne combo that is the core of my competent team is out. If I make it through these next three weeks of abject horror with first place even in my sightlines, I'll have to feel pretty good.

Fantasy Box isn't meant to be a totally boring sideshow: I encourage you to share your stories of the direst straits bye weeks have ever left you in. If you can top "I picked up Dwayne Bowe because otherwise I'd be starting Bernard Berrian (whom I instead cut)" then may the Spirit of Fantasy Football be with you, because the points probably won't be.

Basketball Box
Fellow Minnesota sports fans that read this blog, I'm sure a lot of you are excited about the Twins in the playoffs. I don't care about the Twins really at all, but I imagine it's a lot of fun, during a Viking season, to also have other local sports be exciting.

But wait. There's a chance--just a slight chance, mind you, but a chance--that within a few months I won't be able to stop talking about Michael Beasley.

It's just a wait. And Monday Night: it all comes back. We dance.