Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Destruction of an Offensive Juggernaut

There's a fair amount of criticism, national and local, against the Vikings for trading Daunte Culpepper. Let me take some time to defend the Vikings' move with a few different arguments.

1. Culpepper wanted out.
Daunte now says that the reason he requested a trade or release is because the Vikes never gave him clarity regarding his position with the team. But I think the Vikings' lack of clarity regarding Culpepper was only fair, given Culpepper's lack of clarity regarding the Vikings. After suffering his knee injury, Culpepper basically disappeared. When the Vikings hired a new coach, Culpepper came up to Minnesota but failed to meet with Brad Childress. And even though Culpepper needed to learn an new offense, he refused to come to Minnesota to rehab his injury. Daunte gave the Vikings every reason to believe that he no was no longer committed to the team.

Now, for many players, I would say, "So, you don't want to play for us? Well, tough shit. You're under contract, you're going to stay on our roster, and so if you want to make any money in the future, you might as well do your best to help us win games." But at quarterback? Do you really want a QB who isn't fully committed to your franchise? Who doesn't want to be there? No, QB is a unique position; you need a QB to be a leader for your franchise, and a QB who doesn't even want to play for your franchise can't be that leader.

2. Culpepper doesn't fit the new system.
"Daunte Culpepper" and "West Coast Offense" aren't phrases that really belong together, unless words like "not," "shouldn't," or "isn't" are involved. Culpepper isn't the type of QB who will have success with the new offense.

Now, you might say, "Who the hell is Brad Childress? What's he ever done to demand that the franchise be committed to his way of doing things? Wouldn't it be better off to build the team and the system around Daunte's skills, not trade Daunte because he doesn't fit a new system?" And I would say, "What has Daunte done to demand having the franchise, from 2006 onward, built around him?" He's 29 and he's won 2 playoff games. He shredded his knee in 2005 and may not be able to play until sometime during the middle of 2006. Do you really build the entire franchise around a guy who has shredded his knee, will be 30 before he's really recovered, and hasn't proven he can win much anyway?

And let's not forget that going into 2005, the entire team was built around Daunte. He became the leader; he became the man. That worked out to the tune of 2-5, with 12 INTs the first 5 games. Given the evidence of 2005 (and I recognize there was a lot else going on to contribute to Daunte's struggles), Culpepper is not a QB that you build a team around. He can be a successful QB with the right coaching and the right talent around him, but you don't cater your franchise to a 29 year old QB with a shredded knee and 2 playoff wins to his name.

3. Offensive Juggernauts brought us how many Super Bowls again?
It was fun with Daunte and Randy. Every year we went into the season with Super Bowl expectations. Every year we got to see some incredible offensive production.

And every year brought us brutal disappointment.

Had the Vikings kept Culpepper and Moss, it would have been the same story every year. High expectations. Incredible talent. Incredible offense. And no hardware to show for it.

The team needs to go in a different direction. Year after year, offensive superpowers like the Colts, the Chiefs, and the Vikings get a lot of regular season press, and every year, teams that play good defense and special teams with offense that are good but not great win the Super Bowl. It's been proven over and over and over again: DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS.

The Vikings were never going to win a Super Bowl with an All-Star Offense. Every offseason, the question would be, "Is the defense good enough?" The idea would be that with this incredible offense, all that was needed was a mediocre defense to get to a championship.

But this was never going to happen. You simply don't win a Super Bowl with a mediocre defense. Only 3 teams have won a Super Bowl without a top-8 scoring defense (oddly enough, these teams were the '76, '80, and '83 Raiders). Every other Super Bowl winner has had a top-8 scoring defense. Most also had a top-8 scoring offense too. I don't deny that you need to score points to win games. But you aren't going to win with mediocre defense. Defense is particularly necessary in bad weather, in the playoffs, and on the road. Which leads to...

4. Daunte couldn't win games on the road.
Look at the Vikings' road record under Culpepper. It's absolutely atrocious. It's on the road when your offense is likely to struggle. It's outdoors in December and January, in Chicago and Philadelphia and Green Bay and New York, that your defense needs to step up and win you games.

It's also on the road, against a good defense, in bad weather conditions, when a championship-caliber QB needs to step up and make plays. And in these situations, when going was difficult and the team needed him to make plays, Daunte consistently failed. He's a great QB in good conditions with offensive talent around him against a mediocre defense. But he never demonstrated the ability to rise to the occasion in difficult circumstances. As a fan, I never had confidence that Culpepper could bring the team from behind, could go for a game-winning drive, could play well outdoors (anywhere other than Green Bay--which was nice, of course), could consistently make good plays and avoid mistakes against a good defense.

5. Just because the trade will help Culpepper, and help the Dolphins, doesn't mean it wasn't the right move for the Vikings.
Hey, if the Vikings can get to their first Super Bowl since before I was born, and they happen to face the Dolphins there...well, I'll cross that bridge when I get there. But until then, it doesn't matter how much this trade helps the Dolphins. It doesn't matter if Culpepper flourishes and performs brilliantly in Miami. What matters for the Vikings is not Culpepper, and not the Dolphins; what matters to the Vikings is the Vikings.

It wasn't going to work for Minnesota and Culpepper. Regardless of how good Culpepper can be with Miami, he probably wasn't going to be good for Minnesota again. So the Vikings had to do what was best for the Vikings.

Let's say Man X is dating Woman Y. And Man X realized he's never going to be happy with Woman Y. He can't keep dating Woman Y out of fear that if he dumps her, Woman Y will meet a new man, and make him very happy, and be very happy herself. He needs to break it off with Woman Y and wish her the best; if she is happy with another man, and she's able to make another man very happy, well, that's nothing to Man X. Man X needs to go about the business of finding a different woman who does make him happy.

I hope Daunte and the Dolphins are very happy together. But from this day forward, that has nothing to do with the Vikings.

I don't know what the future holds for the Vikings. When you root for a team that hasn't won a title in its 45 year history (but has been oh so close), you can become one of two types of fan.

1. The bitter, cynical, twisted, morose fan, always suspecting eventual failure and disappointment.

2. The desperately optimistic fan, with nothing to cling to in the past so all the fan can do is hope beyond reason for the future.

I'm the latter.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:06 PM

    Actually your a combination of both, so you should have had a third selection. As far as "YOUR OPINION" of the Vikings and what you think they did for the betterment of the team fly's squarely into the face of reality. At least if history has anything to say about the Vikings and their complete inability to rise above mediocrity! Think about it, this team has had the misfortune of making and being involved in some of the leagues most bizarre and unreasonable trades or acquisitions of players. From passing on Heisman Trophy recipients in the draft to trading one third of the team for one player who was never implemented into the focus of the missing piece of the Super Bowl puzzle. You throw in getting rid of the best and most affluent player this team ever drafted in Randy Moss, and then dumping your franchise, near league MVP QB for a second round pick that was used to reach for a fourth round talent in the draft! Is it any wonder then that this franchise has failed miserably in those 45 years to achieve championship glory? NO, NOT one bit, at least to the practical fan who is a realist and not some star struck kool aid blind optimist that somehow thinks the future looks any brighter than the previous 45 years of dismal failures! I choose option 3, acceptance that the team I root for is cursed and will never achieve anything more than recognition for its failures!