Tuesday, September 30, 2008

It's fun to knock down Straw Men

The Straw Man fallacy: distorting an opponent's position, then refuting that distorted position.

Even more fun: speculate on and completely make up an opponent's position, then argue against that.

The example in practice from Mike Florio at Pro Football Talk.  Speculating on why Brad Childress elected to punt (and essentially give up on the game), Florio writes:

"Maybe the truth is that Childress feared backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, who replaced Gus Frerotte after his hand split open and gushed blood like watered-down gravy spilling from a ladle, would convert the long fourth down, and then perhaps would get a few more of them, and then perhaps would lead the team to a touchdown, requiring Childress to then perhaps revisit his decision to bench Jackson.

"A good coach is smart enough to realize that a quarterback who regains lost confidence can only help the team, even if it requires the coach to deal with internal or external voices clamoring for another change."

It's not just that the speculation is stupid (if anything, I think the opposite is true: Childress just saw Gus Frerotte leave with injury, and just saw Jackson take two straight sacks because he held onto the ball too long.  He may have decided he might need Jackson in the future and he didn't want to utterly destroy his confidence in a bad situation.  Or he didn't want Jackson to get hurt in a bad and dire situation, possibly requiring the team to start Booty.  I don't like that argument, but it's more likely speculation).  It's that after making up this speculative reason, Florio bothers to argue against that speculative reason.  That he entirely made up.  And that is very easy to argue against.

The Straw Man, ladies and gentleman.

Criticism of Brad Childress' ability to be head coach of the Vikings is entirely justified.  Criticism of Brad Childress' decision to punt the game away is entirely justified.

But this fallacious argument is just stupid.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

What John Madden Just Said

"John Runyan, he gets on Brian Urlacher and doesn't let Urlacher get off him. He just gets on him and just rides him, rides him, rides him, rides him. Buckhalter sees that going on, and gets in behind Runyan."

Coming off the ledge

The Vikings are built to win games by running the football and playing strong defense.  When you play that way, you're going to be in close games, and you have a thin margin of error.  As such, they can't expect to win a road game when they:

--fumble the ball three times.
--miss a field goal.
--commit seven penalties.
--drop passes.

Once again, the defense played admirably.  They only gave up touchdowns when Viking turnovers gave the Titans a short field.  They prevented first downs on 11 of 17 3rd down plays.

Once again, the offense just didn't have it in them to score more points than the opponent.  But today, the Vikings also made error after error, mistake after mistake, botched play after botched play.  They can't possibly expect to win a road game making that many mistakes.

What are the 1-3 Vikings going to do the rest of the season?  We must certainly temper our most hopeful expectations, but the Vikes are still just one game back of the NFC North leader.  But they look like a fiercely competitive team at home, and an incompetent mistake-prone team on the road.  The schedule does get easier, but for the Vikings to be better than 7-9 this season, they have to win a road game (this is a literal statement).  And they can't make as many big errors as they did today if they expect to win any road games.

Vikings! Vikings! Vikings!

Vikings! Vikings! Vikings!

Game today.

note: comments from the game are in the comments.  Here is where you can leave your complaints and rants.  Or perhaps you've just given up and you're taking this with calm resignation.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

National Friday League, week four

Vikings-Titans Preview

Flip the jerseys around on these teams, and you've still got:

A tough defense built around dominant defensive tackles.
A conservative offense that's willing to grind it out with lots of running.
Multiple running backs, including one that is capable of a giant play on any touch.
Aging QBs that began the season as backups but are now starting for teams with playoff aspirations.
A shaky group of wide receivers.

This game should feature strength against strength: run offense and run defense, but the Vikings are more dynamic in both areas as seen in the rankings below:

rush yards: 4th
rush yards per attempt: 7th
rush yards allowed: 4th
rush yards per attempt alowed: 4th

rush yards: 1st
rush yards per attempt: 1st
rush yards allowed: 1st
rush yards allowed per attempt: 2nd

rush yards: 6th
rush yards per attempt: 15th
rush yards allowed: 10th
rush yards allowed per attempt: 9th

rush yards: 5th
rush yards per attempt: 21st
rush yards allowed: 5th
rush yards allowed per attempt: 15th

It's a tough matchup: on the road, outdoors, against a well-coached team that will keep the game close no matter what. It's not the sort of game we'd expect to see the Vikings win. It's not even the sort of game the Vikings have to win to still win the NFC North. But if they're as good as we hope they are, they can win. Perhaps they even should win.

Is week four too early to anoint anybody or give up on anybody? Of course. Is it annoying when a person asks a question then immediately answers it himself? You tell me. But I still think week four has some interesting things to reveal to us.

Will Buffalo move to 4-0? They play at St. Louis: if the Bills really are a playoff team, this is a game they should win. If they are a middling team, this is a game they will struggle with.

Who is worse: the Bengals or the Browns? Whichever team loses this game is dead, done, finished. And will we see Brady Quinn?

Brett Favre and Kurt Warner: which old man QB will get the win Sunday? I'm starting to believe the Phoenix Cardinals could get to nine wins this season, which means they're a decent team that could lose to anybody.

Are the Green Bay Packers actually good? I don't know yet. They won a close game at home against the Vikes (and regardless of record they usually beat the Vikes there), nearly blew a game to a terrible Lion team, then were dominated in every facet of the game against the Cowboys. You could look at the Packers so far and see a quality team, but they still could turn out to be a middling team. They'll have a good test in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

J.T. O'Sullivan? Really? This could really be happening?

Matt Millen
A completely incompetent leader has been running things since 2001. He's bungled things so badly, people can hardly believe it: how could he be that awful? How could he make so many mistakes? How could me mismanage absolutely everything? But now he's going. Everybody hopes that whoever replaces him does a much, much better job, but then you never know: it sort of depends on who replaces him. Why is this story familiar?

Addendum: see my recent post at the Sven blog for more.

Fantasy Wasteland: Six Teams on Bye
This is a crazy destructive week for some teams; instead of listing the teams on bye, let's list the possible starting players on bye.

Roy Williams, Calvin Johnson, Jon Kitna, Peyton Manning, Joseph Addai, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Anthony Gonzalez, Colts Kicker, Ronnie Brown, Anthony Fasano, Randy Moss, Patriots Kicker, Laurence Maroney, Eli Manning, Brandon Jacobs, Giants Defense, Plaxico Burress, Giants Kicker, Matt Hasselbeck, Julius Jones, Seahawks Kicker, Seahawks Defense.

Matt Forte: Fantasy Running Back
So far this year, Matt Forte ranks 1st in rushing attempts, 1st in touches, 4th in rushing yards, and 2nd in yards from scrimmage. Do you have confidence in Forte as a starting fantasy running back? I don't know if we can rely on him to keep this up, but the Bears seem committed to give him the ball, and he's been churning out yards.

The Viking Run Defense: Fantasy Destroyer
No matter who the running back is, it appears that if that running back is facing the Vikings, you should probably put that running back on the bench. Has there ever been a defense that would force a fantasy owner to put a top-5 pick RB on the bench while healthy? I really think the Vikings are that defense.

Coming soon: PV's Strength Listing*
Why does seemingly every football outlet on the web have "Power Rankings"? I suppose it is interesting enough to try rank all the teams: it's a nice midweek football discussion and pointless controversy starter. But why do they all have to be called Power Rankings? And why plural "rankings"? None of this makes entire sense to me.

In an effort to be creative, we'll be trying to counterbalance the tedious monotony of everybody else's "Power Rankings." We'll be doing something very, very different: "Strength Listing."

*won't really be coming soon.

Topps Basketball Cards
When it comes to sports cards, I'm a Topps loyalist: I love their base sets. And I particularly like something they do with their basketball set. Topps includes cards of retired players in their base set design (some Hall of Famer superstars, some just good players you don't expect to see on a throwback card). It's fun to be opening up a pack and coming across cards of folks like Bill Russell, George Gervin, Sidney Moncrief, and others just mixed in with current players.

Matt Bryant
Terribly sad news: Buccaneer kicker Matt Bryant's infant son died. Peace to Bryant and his family.

Wally Hilgenberg (Pat Reusse, Vikings.com, Daily Norseman).

Gus Frerotte and Kerry Collins (Pioneer Press).

Gus Frerotte (Clark Judge).

Madieu Williams (Access Vikings).

The Vikings' and Titans' defensive lines (The Ragnarok).

Steve Young is getting his number retired (Sports Illustrated). What if I told you I secretly think Young was better than Joe Montana? Same reaction as if I told you I'm listening to Idina Menzel's CD while writing this? I'm crazy? C'mon, she played Maureen in Rent and Elphaba in Wicked: I'll give this a chance.

You have to pass well to win in the NFL (Cold, Hard Football Facts).

Josh Howard and the National Anthem (Dave Zirin).

Have a good weekend everybody. Except Packer and Titan fans.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


We still have our Matt Millen.

What will we do without Matt Millen?

From 2001 to 2007, the Vikings were 12-2 against the Detroit Lions.  What happens if the Vikes have to actually beat another real team in the division?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

All-League Blizzard

NFC North
The Vikes are now a game behind the Packers,who have been less than impressive. The Packers already beat the Vikings at Lambeau, and they got a win against an awful Lion team. But they looked awful defensively against an excellent Dallas team on Sunday: they couldn't stop the run (217 yards and 6.2 per attempt) and gave up big plays against the pass (Tony Romo averaged 15.3 yards per completion). I don't discount the Packers, but the division is very much up for grabs.

The Bears scare me: they're not good enough offensively to advance in (or probably even make) the playoffs, but they're good enough defensively to sweep the Vikings.

NFC East
Tony Romo is a Tecmo quarterback. In a league of precision pass plays, Romo often drops back, roams around a bit, and then slings a pass somewhere deep downfield. He doesn't just drop back and throw a timing pattern from a three or five step drop: he's drops back deep, slides, runs, shuffles, and then finds a receiver. And what's more fun than Marion Barber and Felix Jones? Well, a lot of things are more fun than Marion Barber and Felix Jones. But aren't they really fun running backs to watch? Really, this is a dream Tecmo team: two good running backs, a good tight end, an elite WR, a 3-4ish defense, a DB in Adam Jones that might have the Rod Woodson-Deion Sanders style video game speed, good kick returners. Am I just watching my childhood come to life?

NFC West
Let's just say the 49ers, Seahawks, and Cardinals are each getting two wins against the Rams (though if the Rams do get a win this year, I would bet it's against San Fran). Whichever team is able to go 3-1 against each other needs to find four wins outside the division to get to nine wins. And that team will win the division. The NFC Wild Card teams are going to have a good chance to get to the second round of the playoffs.

NFC South
Since I can't think of anything really interesting to say, let's use this spot for some Peter King style narcissism: since I had a soy milk latte at Caribou Coffee yesterday, all I think about all day long is espresso. Is this bad? Is this a problem?

AFC North
The Steelers have problems. In their Sunday loss to the Eagles, they rushed for just 33 yards on 19 attempts, and Ben Roethlisberger was sacked nine times. But whereas I thought the Bengals would unseat them for a division title, it's the Ravens that may be making a push.

Did you draft any Cleveland Browns in your fantasy league? No? Then smile.

AFC East
Cheers to the Viking fans' brother and sister fans, Buffalo Bills fans. Bronco fans have moved on: we're the last fans of 0-4 Super Bowl teams. But at least you have that AFL title from before there were Super Bowls. Cherish it, friends. And enjoy your 3-0 team with a pretty manageable schedule (not that the Bills are good enough to overlook anybody on that schedule).

AFC South
I did pick the Bengals to win a freakin' division this year, so let me enjoy being right in ignoring the David Garrard hype.

The Titans are the Vikings. They've got a couple of good running backs that make them strong in the ground game. They've got a tough-minded defense built on dominant play from the defensive tackles. They're now turning the team over to a veteran journeyman QB, but neither really has WRs for that QB to throw to. And both teams could still win their divisions.

AFC West
The Denver Broncos are 3-0, and we're all impressed with Jay Cutler leading them to 38 points per game. But let us not forget they're allowing 28 points per game. The offense will come down, and the defense will stay bad: I still look for the Chargers to win the division easily. Then again, they've got some defensive problems of their own, giving up 31.3 per game. Philip Rivers throwing to Chris Chambers, Vincent Jackson, Antonio Gates, and Ladanian Tomlinson suddenly looks like one of the most exciting passing games in the league. Give Norv Turner this: a dink and donk offensive mind he is not.

And consider this for the Chargers and Broncos: they are each likely to go 4-0 against the Raiders and Chiefs. That means to make the playoffs, they probably need to find six other wins. They play each other, so there's two more wins out there (the Broncos already have one of those). And they've each found one other win against a non-division opponent. I'll stick with the Chargers to be the AFC's one-seed.

There are some awful, awful teams in this league.
Look at your favorite team's schedule. If it plays against the Lions, Rams, or Chiefs, smile. If it plays against either team twice, smile bigger. You also might want to smile if you play the Raiders, the Texans, even the Browns.

The Cincinnati Bengals
When I'm wrong, I'm very wrong. They look like a bad football team. But they're also still a scary football team: if I see them on the schedule, I'm not writing it off as a win against a lousy team.

Fantasy Narcissism
This week I traded Brandon Jacobs for Ronnie Brown, so now I've traded my draft-day starting QB, both RBs, and both WRs. And I actually liked the team I drafted. How did this happen? Am I really starting Lee Evans and Bryant Johnson at WR this weekend? Is this for real? Am I really hitching my wagon to the Matt Forte experience? What happened?

Viking links
Gus Frerotte (ESPN, Viking Update).

The Vikings have sucked in the red zone (Star Tribune). They've got the running game to score inside the five (well, shouldn't everybody), but so far the passing game just can't do much from 20, 15, 10 yards out.

Jared Allen (Pioneer Press).

Wally Hilgenberg is dead

The former Viking linebacker is gone (Star Tribune). Peace to his family.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Trailing Clouds of Heaven: Vikings 20, Panthers 10

Vikings-Panthers Box Score

E.J. Henderson
Middle Linebacker E.J. Henderson has fast become one of my favorite Vikings. He's a terror, running all over the field, tackling running backs behind the line of scrimmage, slamming runners down in the open field. Certainly he's helped by Kevin Williams and Pat Williams taking up blockers and leaving him room. But in the open field and in the backfield, E.J. Henderson makes great tackles.

Antoine Winfield
We need to find a name for the sort of play Winfield made: one man recorded a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and a touchdown on a single play. And Winfield has been making these sorts of game-changing plays in his entire tenure with the Vikes. He's been a very fun player to watch.

Gus Frerotte
Let's put it simply: today Gus Frerotte made throws that Tarvaris Jackson could not make. The 48 yard pass to Bernard Berrian is the best example. Frerotte was poised in the pocket, patiently buying time, and he stepped up and delivered a perfect rainbow to a WR that had beaten the coverage. It was a beautiful play, and Tarvaris Jackson has rarely shown us the ability to make it.

In other cases, Frerotte just looked poised making progressions, running plays, and picking at the defense.

And Frerotte makes Bernard Berrian a factor. In the first two games, Bernard Berrian looked like a free agent bust, but today he made a few of the big plays we expect from him. He'll benefit from Frerotte, and the Vikings will benefit from getting productive big plays from a WR. Frerotte appeared to allow the Vikings to open up the offense. Not only were the Vikes doing more three wideout sets, but they were actually sending wide receivers wide more frequently--when Jackson was in, they often had a WR tighter to the formation. They're spreading it out, opening up possibilities for the offense.

Frerotte's not perfect: he can throw a pretty ball, but he can also throw inaccurate passes. What's the ceiling for Gus Frerotte? At best, he could be our Trent Dilfer (how much hope did the 2000 Ravens give to fans of teams with lousy QBs?). With an extremely good defense, with a very good running game, if Frerotte can convert some 3rd downs, hit on some deep passes, the Viking season can definitely turn around.

The Pass Rush
In the first half, I thought Jake Delhomme often had too much time to throw. But starting late in the second half, the pass rush really picked up. In the second half, once the Vikes had the league and needed to stop the Panther pass, the pass rush became ferocious. In the second half, the defensive linemen rushing the passer did all we could have hoped from them.

The run defense is so smothering we take it for granted: for the most part, a team running the ball against the Vikings just isn't going to succeed.

Stopping Steve Smith
I don't have the answer about how, but the Viking defense clearly contained Steve Smith, especially in the second half.

A lucky day: my brother and I got tickets in the ninth row behind the end zone for cheap. It's a thrilling angle to watch a game. I found it particularly great watching the defense, seeing the pass coverage, the intensity of the pass rush, the fast-closing holes on run plays.

This is our team
Today we saw how the Vikings are going to win games. They're going to control the game defensively, stalling the run and rushing the passer, holding teams to few points and forcing some key turnovers. They're going to run the ball a lot on offense, converting some timely passes and some deep passes but mostly controlling the game as a run team. If Adrian Peterson breaks out for some long runs, they might blow opponents out. But 20-10 scores are something we should come to expect. And I'm happy with that, if it continues. I'm really enjoying watching a great defense do its work.

Friday, September 19, 2008

National Friday League, week three

Viking-Panther Preview
NFL.com Preview

Steve Smith

Will any Viking fan ever forget Steve Smith's 2005 game, when he tore up the Vikings with 11 catches for 201 yards? The Vikings went in with the intent of letting Fred Smoot cover Smith one-on-one, and they stuck to that strategy for a long, long time. Oh, guess who's back for the Panthers this weekend. Should I just crush my spirit now?

Gus Frerotte's Sack Rate
Last season, Tarvaris Jackson was sacked half as often as the other Viking QBs; Kelly Holcomb and Brooks Bollinger were each sacked over 12% of the time, while Jackson was only sacked 6.1% of the time. So with the Vikings benching Jackson, I worry that the team is going to take more sacks, which basically end drives for this team.

But Gus Frerotte has a career sack percentage of 6.0, better than Tarvaris Jackson's career percentage of 6.7. Maybe Frerotte will throw the ball quickly and avoid sacks. It will be tough this weekend: the Vikings are still without Bryant McKinnie, and they'll be facing Julius Pepper.

The Viking Defensive Line
Even in defeat, it was a pleasure to watch the Viking defensive line against the Colts. They got strong performances from their stars and from the lesser names. They harrassed Peyton Manning, often forcing him into bad throws, and they crushed the Colt running game.

This defensive line is capable of dominating every week, and they should be particularly strong at home. I'm frightened about this weekend's game, but the defensive line should give us a chance to win.

There Will Be Blackouts
The Vikes are again struggling to sell out the Metrodome (Pioneer Press). It's not hard to understand why: the team has been mediocre for almost a decade, the team often disappoints when there are high expectations, the Metrodome isn't a draw in itself, and in a tight economy, tickets are spendy.

There's a silly sort of moralism that says "true" or "real" fans will continue to fill out a stadium no matter how good or bad a team is doing. You only need to compare sports to other forms of entertainment to understand that's stupid. If a theater often does a bad job putting on a play, would you continue to buy tickets just because you think you should support that theater?

Other Games
It just seems like every game this week has some intrigue to it. Every game I look at, I'm intensely curious about the outcome. It should be a fun weekend of football.

Kurt Warner Lives!
There are enigmas in sports. For me, one of the greatest mysteries is how the man who put up those terrifyingly good numbers for the three year period from 1999 through 2001 could just entirely disappear from relevance so quickly. Just look at Kurt Warner's numbers and all the bold font you see in '99, '00, and '01. If Kurt Warner is back to that sort of business (and with Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, he just might be), well, to me that's a lot of fun.

Zygi Wilf

For the record, I like Zygi Wilf: I think he's sort of like a fan. I've seen him simply gleeful after Viking wins. Seeing him in a gas station after the game last week, I saw him looking terribly upset after a Viking loss. And I put that into perspective. Here I am, a die-hard Viking fan, saddened and frustrated with a Viking loss. And here he is, the freaking owner. He must watch the game something like a fan (since during the game, he has no control over events)--how hard must he take these losses? Evidently hard enough to be getting out of Thunderdome pretty quickly after the game to go to a gas station by himself.

Zygi Wilf: I like you.

Fantasy Narcissism: The Brandon Jacobs Experience (I guess)
Here were my position starters for week two; in parentheses are the starters I thought I had drafted.

QB: Kurt Warner (Matt Hasselbeck)
RB: Adrian Peterson (Marion Barber)
RB: Brandon Jacobs (Brandon Jacobs)
WR: Calvin Johnson (Reggie Wayne)
WR: Anthony Gonzalez (Torry Holt)
TE: Vernon Davis (Dallas Clark)

I wish I could even understand how, in week two, my fantasy team was so transformed. I guess I'm also a typical Viking fan, because I've given up on struggling players just two weeks into the season (I traded away Torry Holt and Matt Hasselbeck this week for...wait for it...Laurence Maroney and Lee Evans).

The Bills
Really, honestly, I don't think they're that good. But this weekend they play the Raiders at home: they'll be 3-0!

Apparently Tarvaris Jackson isn't really talking to Gus Frerotte (Pioneer Press). Montana/Young this is not.

The Vikings discuss covering Steve Smith with Antoine Winfield (Star Tribune). How about Antoine Winfield plus somebody else. The front seven can handle stopping the Panther running game, and there is one--ONE--receiver that can consistently hurt the Vikes.

Back to Thunderdome to buy tickets on the street. Last weekend I got $25 nosebleed seats, and I expect to get the same again. Good veggie burgers at the Dome, too.

Have a good weekend everybody. Except Packer fans.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Mini Tarvaris Blizzard

If Bryant McKinnie doesn't get suspended (in criticisms of Brad Childress's conservative playcalling, few point out that the Vikes are without their starting left tackle--would they take more risks in the passing game if they could rely on their pass protection?), if Madieu Williams doesn't get injured (the Vikings lost two close games in which they gave up some key long passes over the middle; does that happen if they aren't starting a rookie safety?), if Heath Farwell doesn't get injured (he is a special teams captain and a good cover man on kick returns; did his absence play any role in Green Bay's punt return for a touchdown?), is this happening? Regardless of whether or not Tarvaris Jackson is capable of starting at quarterback right now (and I'm now in the "he's not" camp), there are other facts outside of Jackson's control that result in the team being 0-2 right now.

"Vikes Won't Go Anywhere With Jackson at QB" (Ross Tucker).

"Jackson's Failure Shakes Childress" (Kevin Seifert).

"Vikes had Jackson's back, then stabbed him in it" (Cold, Hard Football Facts).

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Starter Gus

Well it is official. Tarvaris is out, Gus is in.

I for one don't expect to see much improvement. Until the play-calling improves and the WRs show they can get seperation I think it will be the same-old results.

Not to mention has anyone really looked at Gus and what he did last year in St. Louis? He was horrible! (and he had Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt to throw to) Gus is a career 54% completion percentage QB you know what that means. Same crappy results.

Ziggy------go find a QB!!!!!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Cycle of Life

When Brad Childress finally benched Brad Johnson in favor of Tarvaris Jackson, the Metrodome crowd cheered. It was more a cheer for a change than a clear celebration of Jackson.

I think Childress will eventually bench Tarvaris Jackson this season, whether for Gus Frerotte or John David Booty depends on circumstances. And I predict we'll see either Frerotte or Booty during a road game first. Childress won't want fans to cheer the benching of Jackson, neither to put Jackson through that nor to give fans the chance to indict Childress' earlier choice.

I admit it: I've given up hope in Jackson. I wanted him to succeed, and I thought it possible he could take strides this season. But he so regularly throws passes that are wildly inaccurate. If he just made questionable decisions (which he does), or if he just looked uncomfortable in the pocket (which he does), I'd think those are areas he could improve. But can he stop throwing passes that are far off-target? I don't see that changing: I see it as a flaw in his quarterbacking abilities. If he struggles Sunday and his struggles are preventing the Vikings from scoring touchdowns, I hope to see Gus Frerotte come onto the field.

"Vikings run QB option" (Star Tribune)
"Childress discusses Jackson" (Access Vikings)
"Tarvaris Talk" (Access Vikings)
"Viking coach Brad Childress not as firm in commitment to Jackson" (Pioneer Press)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Turning Around the 2008 Vikings

Nothing in the Vikings' loss to the Colts Sunday can be pinned on the defense. Not only did the Vikes shut out the Colts for the entire first half, but they often stopped drives so early they provided the offense with excellent field position. As Mike Morris said on KFAN after the game, the Viking defense basically gave up two long pass plays. But if you're playing a team that can pass as well as the Colts can, and you're consistently stopping drives and allowing the offense to start drives near midfield, you have to expect the offense to give you more than a 15 point lead. You have to do something so that two long pass plays doesn't cost you the game.

The secondary played admirably, the pass rush was ferocious, and the run defense was smothering. Everything in the loss goes on the Viking offense.

Furthermore, nothing can be pinned on the running game. Adrian Peterson was dominant, and it took one half for Indianapolis to realize they didn't need to account for the passing game at all, and they could focus all their attention on stopping Peterson. Peterson can play great, but unless he's running for long touchdowns, he'll still need the Vikings to sustain and finish some drives with the pass.

No, the Colts' loss is entirely on the Viking passing game.

Can the Vikings put together a competent passing game during the 2008 season? I don't know if the pieces are there to do so. But it's obvious the passing game they have is a failure. I have a few suggestions for ways to possibly improve the passing game immediately.

1. Substitute Gus Frerotte for Tarvaris Jackson
We can make excuses for Jackson: his receivers aren't helping him, his coaches aren't helping him, there are successful pro QBs that weren't even playing in their third seasons, whatever. But what we're seeing is obvious:

--Jackson regularly throws passes so inaccurate his receivers have no chance to catch them.
--Jackson seems unable to pass from the pocket.
--Jackson's limitations severely limit what the Vikings are able to try do offensively.

I don't think Gus Frerotte, right now, is a good quarterback. I don't even think Gus Frerotte, right now, is an average quarterback. But we're not even looking for average! If Frerotte can be a replacement level game manager, able to occasionally threaten defenses with a deep pass, able to occasionally help finish drives with successful passing in the red zone, he can help this team win.

Jackson has done nothing to show he can be a successful passer in this league. We have to admit this, and move on.

2. Substitute Garrett Mills for Visanthe Shiancoe
At this point, when Visanthe Shiancoe drops passes in the end zone, we should be more angry at the Viking coaches than at Shiancoe. We know that Shiancoe drops passes regularly, so why do the coaches still call pass plays to him in key situations?

We don't entirely know what Mills can do, but we know what Shiancoe can't do, namely, catch the ball regularly. He's a negative presence on the Viking offense, and needs to be less used.

3. Call more pass plays on first down and more run plays on third down
Adrian Peterson is truly stunning: the defense knows what is coming, but Peterson still churns out positive yardage.

But what if there was more variety in playcalling? What if the Vikings passed on first down enough that defenses had to account for it? The passing game has more potential for successful plays on 1st and 10 than on 3rd down. And what if the Vikes ran the ball in situations like 3rd and 5? What might Adrian Peterson do if he gets the ball when the defense isn't counting on him getting the ball? And how might the passing game on 3rd down improve if defenses knew they had to account for runs to Peterson, too?

The Vikes have been awful on 3rd down; variety in playcalling may change that.

I don't know if the Viking passing game can be turned around right now. But it's obvious that they need to try something different if it is going to be turned around, and these are my three basic suggestions.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Coming off the Ledge: Colts 18, Vikings 15

I'm spent, but here is your post to rant on. Suggested topics:

--the total ineptitude of the Viking passing game (total ineptitude is not hyperbole, is it? The passing game is awful)
--the questionable offensive playcalling
--the inability of a team dominating the game to score a touchdown
--the great effort of the Viking defense in defeat
--how brilliant Adrian Peterson is, and how long it will be before there is a passing game to compliment him

I'll add one anecdote. As my friend Brad and I were leaving Thunderdome, we stopped at a gas station. Who should walk in to get pop and a snack? The angriest billionaire I've ever seen: Zygi Wilf. I just stood there afraid to say anything for a few minutes: the man looked worn out and just absolutely furious.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Victory! (2)

I just heard Kirk Herbstreit say "At the end of the day, what I think it comes down to is..."

Are people on TV just trying to fill the air time with words? What does "at the end of the day" even mean anymore? And why say it at all, if you're next phrase means exactly the same thing as "at the end of the day"?

National Friday League, week 2

See below for my extended preview of the game.

Second Favorites
There are some who argue that one shouldn't have a second favorite football team. I say, why not? There are no rules for being a fan, no matter what Bill Simmons tries to tell you. We're watching a game for pleasure, and so we should watch and root in whatever ways give us pleasure.

It's no secret on this blog of my admiration for Peyton Manning--he's my favorite non-Viking, and the Colts are currently my favorite non-Viking team.

But here's how it works for me: there is not even a tiny part of me that wants the Colts to beat the Vikings this weekend. At no point in my thoughts on the game have I imagined taking any satisfaction in a Colts win at the expense of the Vikings. I may root for Manning 15 other times this year, but on Sunday I'm hoping he stinks, that the Vikes sack him 10 times and intercept him 5 times and set him back at a 49-0 halftime deficit. My love of the Vikings swallows up anything else in sports.

Special Teams
When a team gives up a punt return for a touchdown, you know the special teams were bad. But I found the Vikes' kick and punt return games on Monday disappointing. A Viking offense that is predicated on running well and features an inconsistent passing game will have trouble going 80 yards downfield regularly. If the Vikings can start some drives at their own 40 or better, I'm optimistic about their chances of winning. Luckily, the Colts often struggle on special teams--it could be a good week.

Tony Dungy (Star Tribune, Pioneer Press).

Tarvaris Jackson (Sid Hartman).

Tarvaris Jackson answers questions (Access Vikings).

The Vikes are still having trouble selling tickets (Pioneer Press).

Artis Hicks may be hurt (Viking Update).

From Grant's Tomb: "as we head into game 34 of the Chilly era, the Vikings have needed to throw the ball, not a little better, but a lot better in just about every one of the previous 33 games."

The Packer fan at 'fuh-"baw amuses me: people who yell "Take that you fucking Swedes!" when the Packers beat the Vikings are funny in some weird way.

Other games
There are a lot of intriguing games in week two. Perhaps the two best teams in the NFC, Dallas and Philadelphia, play each other Monday Night. That makes it an interesting game to watch, but there are a lot of big NFC East games throughout the season for these teams to beat up on each other. It should be a fun game, but I'm not drawing any significant conclusions from the outcome. I will draw some conclusions from the Denver-San Diego matchup: if the Broncos win, they'll look an impressive 2-0 (a blowout road win followed by a home win against the division favorite) and the Chargers will look a disappointing 0-2. But if the Chargers win, then "they are who we thought they were." I swear, I don't think Buffalo is that good, but I expect them to beat an overrated Jacksonville team this weekend.

But after the Vikes lost week one, I'm really having trouble spending much time thinking about other games. It's not that it is a must-win game (when I projected the season, I had the Vikes losing their first two games but still winning the NFC North--they can still get to 10+ wins with an 0-2 start), but if they lose, there's going to be intense pressure and a thin margin of error. And come on, we all want to feel the joy of a Viking win again--it's been almost nine months! Some children conceived in the euphoria of that win are now out squinting their eyes and soiling their diapers.

I don't have a ticket for the Vikings-Colts game, but Sunday morning I'm heading over to the Metrodome with plans to buy a ticket from somebody on the street. Whenever I've gone to games, there are always plenty of people trying to sell tickets (sometimes at nice prices), so I'm not too worried about getting in.

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

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Vikings-Colts Preview

Why Viking superstars Adrian Peterson and Kevin Williams can dominate this game

The Colt Defense
So what do we make of this Colts' team? I'm not sure what defense is actually making the journey to Thunderdome this weekend.

The 2006 Colts had an awful, awful run defense: they were last in the league with 2,768 yards allowed and an absolutely stunning 5.3 yards per attempt allowed. Then they somehow put it together to win four playoff games, including the Super Bowl. Then the 2007 Colts ranked #1 in points allowed and sixth in yards per attempt allowed at 3.8. The change was largely attributed to Bob Sanders, who played just four regular season games in 2006 but 15 in 2007--Sanders was the '07 Defensive Player of the Year.

Then last week the Colts allowed 183 yards rushing, 123 from rookie Matt Forte. The play you will remember is Forte's 50 yard touchdown run, but the Bears were also 10/16 on 3rd down: the Colts had trouble getting stops against the Bears. That's right, the Kyle Orton Bears.

Is there any way to know what quality of defense we should expect to see from the Colts this weekend? We might see the sort of defense that would allow Adrian Peterson to rush for 200+ yards, but we might see Bob Sanders and friends stymie the Viking offense (I don't know if I've ever written out the word "stymie," and I really wanted to see how it felt).

It should come as no surprise who will be the Vikings' key offensive player:

Adrian Peterson
I think the Viking offensive line will be successful against the Colts' front seven: they will be able to open up lanes for Peterson to run. And we should look forward to seeing Peterson churn out five yard, seven yard, eight yard runs. But Peterson in the open field can do so much more. If he can make one or two Colt defenders miss, he can be gone for a touchdown. And if Peterson is able to rip off two or three very long runs, not only will he be directly scoring for the Vikings, but he'll force the Colts to try and stick a finger in the dyke (I don't know about this image of the finger in the dyke). And then maybe the Vikings can open up and gain yards and first downs passing, too (if Kyle Orton and the Bears can do it...right? right?).

The Colt Offense
Over the past decade, the Indianapolis Colts have had an historically good offense. The Colts have ranked #5 or better in both points scored and offensive yards gained an incredible eight of the past nine seasons.

We should be encouraged that the Bears went on the road last week and held the Colts to 13 points (well, maybe not "encouraged," since we do have to play those Bears twice). Peyton Manning missed all of preseason, center Jeff Saturday and tight end Dallas Clark have been injured, and the Colts just might be vulnerable right now. At least, that's what we'll have to tell ourselves, because this offense can be downright terrifying.

The Vikings should be able to curtail Joseph Addai (I'm not sure I've ever used "curtail" in this context: I'm trying all sorts of words): the Vikings have the defensive players to disrupt running plays and stop the Colts' stretch play behind the line of scrimmage. I foresee a lot of big plays from Kevin Williams in particular: he's a dominant interior lineman that the Colts will struggle to contain.

But can the Viking secondary cover Marvin Harrison? No. Can the Viking secondary cover Reggie Wayne? No. Can anybody stop Peyton Manning if he gets into rhythm? I don't think so.

And that's why it is absolutely crucial that the Vikings can generate a pass rush. If the Vikings don't put consistent pressure on Peyton Manning Sunday, he will throw for 400 yards. There are reasons to be hopeful the Vikings can, indeed, generate that essential pass rush. They're back at home, where they'll have the turf and the home crowd for support. Despite a poor game Monday, Jared Allen has the ability to put a strong outside rush on. The Peyton Manning of years past could dissect and destroy a blitz, but the Peyton Manning of week one could not: if they front four isn't rushing him, the Vikes can afford to bring more. And finally, the way to really disrupt Manning and the Colt offense isn't really from a blitz, and it's not even from an outside pass rush, which Manning can step away from. The wy to really disrupt this offense is from an interior pass rush. And the Vikings can bring that. They've got two dominant forces in Pat Williams and Kevin Williams, who are both effective not only at smothering the run, but at getting penetration into the pocket and disrupting a pass play. And so we come to the key defensive player:

Kevin Williams
If Williams is on his game, he can have a gigantic one-man impact in stopping the Colts' offense. They run that stretch-play (which they turned into a toss week one), and Williams can get a quick burst through the line to force Addai away from where he wants to go. And against a Colt offensive line that looked shaky stopping Bear rushers up the middle, he can also use his quick burst to force Manning to make quicker, rushed throws. He can knock down passes, he can force incompletions, and he can knock down the quarterback. I expect and hope for a dominant game from #93. And it will be hard for the Colts to adjust to his presence: they can't lose focus on Pat Williams or E.J. Henderson making plays, either.

If the Vikings win this game (and I believe they can), it will be in large part because Kevin Williams was able to control the game from a defensive tackle position.

Viking mini-blizzard.

The Viking pass game needs to improve for a shot at a championship (Cold, Hard Football Facts).

What of Brad Childress' decision to go for two? (Advanced NFL Stats).

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Blizzard: in which Viking losses cause far too much agonizing thought

It's been eight months since experiencing a real Viking loss, and Viking losses tend to send me into long moments of deep reflection. So you'll have to bear with me for a pretentious, narcissistic, melodramatic blog post. Or, you know, you don't have to at all.

"...the old blood which he had not been permitted to choose for himself, which had been bequeathed him willy nilly and which had run for so long (and who knew where, battening on what of outrage and savagery and lust) before it came to him."

Today in a lit class, we read two stories (Alice Walker's "Everyday Use" and William Faulkner's "Barn Burning") which at varying levels explore the relationship of family to the dichotomy of fate and choice. We don't get to choose our families or our biologies--as much as we want to believe in free will, we must recognize a framework that is outside our control. Within that framework we have (as Dr. Melfi puts it on The Sopranos) "a range of choices."

But there's also the "willy nilly" part--so much of who we are and what we do is just a matter of chance. And to provide illustrations, I turned to sports. When we watch a football game, we like to make meaning of it: Team A beat Team B because Team A was better the better team, because Team A outplayed Team B, whatever the reason, there has to be sensible order to why Team A beat Team B. But of course Team A might have won the game because an odd shaped ball bounced around and happened to land in one spot instead of another. Hazard plays a role.

And still further illustration: I am a Viking fan. I define myself as a Viking fan, and rooting for the Vikings is a big part of my life. And yet, I had to confess to my class, if I had been born a few hundred miles east, I would likely be a Packer fan. Whatever else I can claim, I am a Viking fan due to forces of mere hazard, mere chance.

Sure, different teams' fanbases have distinguishing characteristics. But we have to admit that the essential difference between a Viking fan and a Packer fan is geography and the color of the clothes we wear.

Anthony Gonzalez
We learned last year that Colts' WR Anthony Gonzalez had recently read Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamozov. We also know that Anthony Gonzalez will be in the Twin Cities this weekend. Anthony, Dostoevsky is my favorite novelist. Perhaps when you're here, you'd like to get together to chat a little Brothers K? Say, Sunday around noon? And hey, let's get some variety in this little book club: bring over some of your friends. Marvin, Reggie, Peyton, Joseph, Dwight, Bob--they're all welcome. It would be a nice little afternoon.

Oh, I know, you probably want to play in the football game. But just remember something that Ivan says in Brothers K: "everything is permitted." Dropping the ball? Permitted. Jumping offsides? Permitted. Fumbling the ball? Permitted. Running the wrong way? Permitted. Running and sacking your own quarterback? Permitted. What's permitted? Everything.

Learning Patience
Some days I have moments of despair. I'll be walking around, enjoying myself, and suddenly it creeps in: It's never really going to happen, is it? The Vikings are never really going to win a Super Bowl.

Sometimes there's a spark for these moments (like, say, a week one loss when your team's QB plays badly, and you start to wonder how many years before there will be a quarterback worthy to compliment Adrian Peterson). Sometimes it's nothing. But it happens.

And I'm impatient. Every year I believe and hope the Vikes could win the Super Bowl this year, and I don't give that belief and hope up until they're eliminated from playoff contention. When I look back at the 00s, it becomes evident that I've been rooting for a mediocre team that hasn't won 10 games or a division title since 2000--it has never felt that way, because I've always been foolishly optimistic that this is the year.

Patience is a hard-won virtue, but it can be earned. I've lost a lot of weight in the past several months. I've always had the will to get healthier, but never the patience: a change to a healthy lifestyle takes days of waiting before feeling the results. But then for some reason, something clicked: I accepted that a change would require a long-term commitment, and now I'm 50 pounds lighter than I was before. I found the will to wait.

And now I'm trying to learn patience with the Vikings. I've lived most of the last decade with a weird sense of urgency for the Vikings. I want to see the Vikings win a Super Bowl now: I don't want to wait another stupid year. A sense of urgency is a good thing for a football team, but a terrible thing for a fan. To accept that the Vikings may or may not win a Super Bowl before I die, to live with the patient knowledge that such a transcendent joy is in the far distance and at any rate is not within my control, is difficult. It means accepting and enjoying those other parts of our lives that do bring us fulfillment (you know, maybe things like family, work, art, religion), even if the Vikings seem as if they can only bring us disappointment.

When will Flipper Anderson's record be broken?
Flipper Anderson has the single-game record for receiving yards in a game with 336. And when you look at the short list of receivers with 300 yards in a single game, your first thought might be "What?" and your second thought might be "Who are those guys?"

Even in a pass-happy league, this is one of those records that nobody ever seems to challenge: circumstances have to break just right for any receiver to even come close to that number.

The defensive line has to play better (Pioneer Press).

Tarvaris Jackson has to be more consistent (Star Tribune).

Either the Colts or the Vikings will get some form of redemption this weekend (Shutdown Corner).

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Moving On

I can recall four games when the Vikings beat the Packers at Lambeau Field: 1998 (though I didn't watch this game: I was was at play rehearsal for O Pioneers!), 2003, the 2004 playoff game, and 2005. It's always special when the Vikings win at Lambeau, and we can always hope they will (because sometimes they do), but we shouldn't ever expect it to happen. It is rare. Even a good Viking team is likely to struggle at Lambeau: if the Vikings can get a season split with the Packers, they should be OK.

The Vikes played a good opponent on the road to within a touchdown and lost. So now we move on. This Sunday is the home opener against an Indianapolis team that just suffered a bad home loss to the Bears. The Colts are still scary, but it appears that now is the right time to face the Peyton Manning passing attack, and if Matt Forte can run well against the Colts' defense, Adrian Peterson should be dynamite.

Patience. The Vikings fully revealed their weaknesses on Monday Night, but this can still be a special season.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Coming off the Ledge

A long week: six days until the Colts come to Thunderdome.

Brad Childress: that's 0-5. The Packers come to Thunderdome later this season--for the love of all that is purple, please win a game against the Packers.

Adrian Peterson is all things to all people. But the Vikings are 0-1.

Does anybody have any confidence in the Viking passing game?

A long week: six days until the Colts come to Thunderdome.

Vikings! AAAHHHH!

I was going to wear a particular pair of pants today, but then I remembered that last year I wore that pair of pants and my car hit an ice chunk in the middle of the road and needed repairs. Bad luck, so I wore different pants.

Today at Subway, my vegan sub did not come with a Scrabble game piece. But I also got a pop, and I won a 6" sub with that game piece. So, good luck?

My stomach is in knots. Over the football game, not the class I'll be teaching soon (I get to miss the first half of the game--so, bad luck?).

Some actual footballish notes, rather than notes on my personal edginess.

I teach at a Wisconsin school with a lot of Minnesota students, and I saw quite a few Adrian Peterson jerseys today.

The Vikings haven't beaten the Packers in the Brad Childress era.

The Packers won three straight Viking-Packer games from 2003-2004. Then the Vikings won three straight games from the 2004 playoffs through 2005. Now the Packers have won four straight games from 2006-2007.

I fear two things tonight: a dud game from Adrian Peterson (his slow finish last season has haunted me, and I hope to remove that taste from my mouth soon. Look, nerves lead me to mix metaphors), and Artis Hicks and Ryan Cook playing offensive tackle (I'm afraid Tarvaris is going to get chased around too much).

I'm very excited to see Jared Allen debut. A PASS RUSHER ON THE VIKINGS!!! AAAHHHH!

Enjoy the game, fellow Viking fans.

Riding the Purple Rocket to the Moon

Before yesterday, I thought there were three AFC teams that would be able to stay within two touchdowns of the Vikings in this season's Super Bowl: the Patriots and the Colts because of their passing games, and the Steelers because of their defense. Today I know that only the Steelers would make the Super Bowl look competitive for a quarter and a half, and they probably won't even get there.

The starship cruise to Super Bowl 43 starts today against the Packers. I won't make any predictions about the outcome of the game: after all, I don't know who will win. But I will say this: Jared Allen will have seven sacks, Darren Sharper will have four interceptions, Tarvaris Jackson will throw four touchdown passes to Bernard Berrian, and Adrian Peterson will break his own single-game rushing record while knocking in seven rushing touchdowns. I don't know what that will mean for the score of the game: I'm a Viking fan, but I don't like to make wild predictions.

Viking-Packer Blizzard

The Day's Flavor
This morning I hugged my wife and said "Today is going to be a good day: the Viking season starts" (she was less than enthused, but that was probably the morning sickness). I got my first stomach knots listening to Sean Jensen on Minnesota Public Radio. When I dropped my son off for daycare, I talked to another little boy and his mother who were wearing Packer shirts. Today on campus I've seen several Viking jerseys, and throughout the day I expect to see a lot of Packer and Viking shirts (I stick with the subtle Viking lapel pin).

It's Viking-Packer day.

From the Archives
As the season opens, you may be interested in my essay "The Cynical Optimism of Viking Fans," where I explore what it means to me to root for this team.

Links and Comments
Antoine Winfield will play slot corner in a lot of situations (Star Tribune). Favre and Driver often killed the Vikes with passing over the middle, so hopefully Aaron Rodgers is less adept at such things and Winfield can make an impact.

Tarvaris Jackson (Pioneer Press).

Viking Update has a good look at the key matchups in Monday Night's game.

Previews of the game at Vikings War Cry, Luft's Locker Room, Viking Nation, and Sports Illustrated,

Football Outsiders' week one Audibles.

Cold, Hard Football Facts' Monday Morning Hangover. I have Monday Morning exhaustion: after a day of little exercise, a lot of stimulation and even more caffeine, I don't sleep well Sunday nights during the football season.

And below
"On the Couch" features my thoughts on the non-Viking football stuff.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

On the Couch, Week One

"On the Couch" is my chance to talk about the non-Viking games and stories each week.

Scores at NFL.com

On the plus: we get to play the Lions twice

If you didn't watch the game, it's hard to explain just how bad the Lions played defensively in their 34-21 loss to the Falcons. They let a rookie QB in his first game complete 9/13 passes for 161 yards--his first pass was a 62 yard TD pass. They gave up 318 yards rushing: Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood looked incredible. And it's not just the numbers: the Lions couldn't tackle. Shaun Rogers may have been more important to that defense that we ever thought.

The Vikes get to play against that defense twice this year: I expect Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor to have 300-500 rushing yards in those two games.

On the minus: we have to play the Bears twice
I'm not remotely worried about the Bear offense against the Viking defense: Kyle Orton isn't good enough to exploit the Viking pass defense, and though Matt Forte looked good tonight, the Viking run defense is dominating.

But that defense is tough, dominating Indianapolis in a 29-13 win. Every completion, every positive run, every first down, looks and feels like an accomplishment against the Bear defense. That team is talented: they were a 13-3 NFC champion in 2006, and they swept the 13-3 Packers in 2007. They Vikes swept the Bears last season, but both games were very close. Both Viking-Bear matchups should again be close this year, but they could go either way.

Now is the Sunday night of our discontent
Are you looking over your fantasy team's numbers, frantically conceiving trades that could transform your team?

As some fellow Hazelweirders can attest, so have I. But there's no reason to panic if your fantasy team sucked this week. The typical statements apply: it's too early, it could just be one bad week.

But you also might have had a bad week because your good players played well, but didn't happen to score TDs this week. For example, I had Brandon Jacobs with 124 yards from scrimmage and Calvin Johnson with 107 yards receiving. Neither scored a TD, and so neither had a big impact on my weekly fantasy numbers (I'm counting on 200 yards and 5 TDs for Adrian Peterson Monday Night). But each played well, suggesting to me that they are good players who are going to play well. They'll get their touchdowns eventually.

The year of the rookie running back
Doesn't it seem like half the teams in the league are using a rookie RB prominently? Matt Forte in Chicago, Chris Johnson in Tennessee, Jonathan Stewart in Carolina, Rashard Mendenhall in Pittsburgh, Felix Jones in Dallas, Ray Rice in Baltimore, Steve Slaton in Houston, Kevin Smith in Detroit, even Jamaal Charles in Kansas City, Tim Hightower in Arizona, and we haven't even seen Darren McFadden yet.

NFC Rising?
The defending Super Bowl champ resides in the NFC, and today some NFC teams expected to be mediocre went on the road to beat some AFC teams expected to be good, like Chicago beating Indianapolis and Carolina beating San Diego. Dallas beat Cleveland, but Buffalo creamed Seattle (as I expected: for some reason, when I thought of this game I couldn't shake the memory of the Steelers shutting out the Seahawks last season).

Viking fans: how Brett Favre will continue to ruin your Sundays
I don't know whether it was a decision by the local affiliate or the national network, but I'm guessing Brett Favre was the reason a division matchup between teams that combined for five wins last year was televised instead of a division matchup between teams that combined for 21 wins last year. In hindsight, the Jaguars-Titans game was a bummer for anybody who enjoys offensive football, but the Jets-Dolphins game drove me to primarily watch the Lions-Falcons game. And I'm guessing we're going to be treated to a lot more New York Jet games over the course of the autumn.

Michael Silver at Yahoo! says Tom Brady may be out for the year. Football is a violent game, injuries are common, and star players have missed seasons in their prime before. I can't help but think of Joe Montana. He led the 49ers to championships in '88 and '89, he was MVP in '89 and '90, and he was out with injury for all of 1991 (and by the time he came back, it was Steve Young's team). It's bad for Brady, bad for the Patriots, and bad for the NFL to lose one of its stars. But it happens and we move on. Now, if Brady does miss the season, who else thinks it is inevitable that Bill Simmons will suggest the 2008 champion deserves an asterisk?

Donovan McNabb (and the entire Eagle team) looked dominant in their 38-3 win over the Rams. But...it reminded me of McNabb's incredibly dominant game against the Lions last season. Today and that day, McNabb killed the opponent by completing a lot of long passes. But last season McNabb was a little shaky game-to-game, often completing a low percentage of his passes for low yards per attempt and yards per completion as the Eagles struggled to score points.

So we'll wait and find out whether McNabb is now fully recovered from his injuries and ready to light the league on fire, or whether he'll be inconsistent but have the occasion dominant game featuring lots of deep completions.

So if a player had a religious experience, and converted to a new religion, and legally changed his name because of his authentic religious experience, would he then have a "financial obligation" to the makers of jerseys with his old name on them?

Or if a player got married, and in a non-traditional (but becoming more common) move changed his last name in some way, he would have "financial obligations"?

Or what of the special teams player for whom few commercial jerseys are produced?

Almost here...

SI's Adam Duerson previews Vikings-Packers.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Vikes have never won the NFC North

But Pat Williams is pretty confident this is the year (USA Today).

The Vikes last won a division title in 2000, which was also the last time they won more than nine games.

But each year, I sincerely believe this is the year. Not just to win the division, but to win the Super Bowl. And why not? My optimism isn't hurting anything: it has zero impact on the team's performance, and a positive impact on my emotional experience with the team (if I started the season as a pessimist, would I really have more enjoyment during each game? Would my emotional state after each win and loss be that different?). And so another Viking season begins, with me hoping and believing that this could be the year they redeem the history of the franchise with a Super Bowl win.

Friday, September 05, 2008

National Friday League, Week One

The lousy and often incorrect newspaper writers of the Twin Cities (I Dislike Your Favorite Team).

DVOA projections have the Vikings as the 5th best team in the league (Football Outsiders).

Tarvaris Jackson: knee brace (Viking Update).

Ocho Cinco! (SI)

Dr. Z has altered his Super Bowl pick to Patriots over Eagles, but he's still got the Vikes at #4 in his Power Rankings.

Intriguing Games on the Sunday Schedule
Of course all the games are intriguing: there's good reason to be interested in them all, and I don't think there's a single game I'd be disappointed to watch this weekend. But here are some games that I think will be extremely competitive.

Jacksonville at Tennessee
Jacksonville is a good football team, but I think they're overrated because David Garrard is not as good as he was last season. Jeff Fisher has always made Tennessee a solid team, but this squad has little in the passing game: even if you like Vince Young (and I do), whom is he throwing to? And since both teams have multiple running backs they can use, this game looks to be a tough defensive battle featuring 80 rushing attempts.

Seattle at Buffalo
I don't really think Buffalo is that good, and I think Seattle will win their division. But I don't like the Seahawks to win this game at all. This road matchup with the Bills is a big reason my fantasy team has benched Matt Hasselbeck in favor of Kurt Warner.

"In Conclusion, Libya is a Land of Contrasts."
The Sunday Night game features the Colts against the Bears. The Colts have had the best passing game of the last decade (don't argue), and the Bears this season might have the worst passing game of my football-watching days. When one team has the ball, Peyton Manning will be zinging sharp, accurate passes downfield to guys like Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne; when the other team has the ball, Kyle Orton is going to be lobbing five yard passes to players you may or may not have heard of. When you root for a team that desperately struggles in the passing game and for whom any completion for a first down feels like an accomplishment (and I've done it--last season), watching a team like the Colts just highlights what your team is missing, reminding you of what a pro passing game is supposed to be.

The Bengals
I've been adding media links to my post on the Bengals being a sleeper playoff team. Let me add this: the Bengals are too good to have virtually nobody picking them to make the playoffs. It's a flawed team, but with a lot of offensive talent. They may not be that good, but they're not awful enough to have such little respect.

A relaxing weekend, and a tense weekend
It's a weekend without a Viking game, meaning we can relax and enjoy football. But always approaching is the Viking-Packer matchup, so the tension will just keep mounting.

As for me, I've got big plans. You know, "actually a pretty nice little Saturday, we're going to go to Home Depot. Yeah, buy some wallpaper, maybe get some flooring, stuff like that. Maybe Bed, Bath, & Beyond, I don't know, I don't know if we'll have enough time."

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Thoughts during Giants-Zorns

Box Score

Since he joined the Giants, I've thought Plaxico Burress is one of the most fun players to watch in the league. But I think part of it has to do with Eli Manning's inaccuracy. It makes it look like Burress isn't really running routes: he's just getting downfield (often deep downfield), trying to get open, then fighting off a cornerback to make some crazy stretching catch.

Much is made of how many different offenses Jason Campbell has had thrust upon him, but still: I don't think I've ever seen him perform like a star quarterback. He just looks like a career backup without much field presence or playmaking ability.

Here's a thought for you: if you switched Jason Campbell in his fourth year with Tarvaris Jackson in his third year, would you feel any better about the Vikings' prospects? I would not. I think Jackson has more potential than Campbell.

I really like the Jerry Seinfeld-Bill Gates commercial, but then I don't know if Jerry Seinfeld ever does anything that I don't love.

Speaking of Seinfeld, every time the announcers said Rock Cartwright's name I started saying "Cartwriiight! Cartwriiight!" like the manager in "The Chinese Restaurant" episode.

Brandon Jacobs is a fun running back. Twice he left LaRon Landry floundering around on the turf: once by plowing over him, once by faking him out. He didn't get a touchdown tonight, but he showed much of why I think he's going to be a good fantasy performer this year.

And speaking of fantasy, I almost forgot how frustrating it can be to have a team's running back on your team, have his team lined up for 1st and goal at the one, and then have that team run a bootleg which the quarterback runs in for a touchdown. Then I remembered.

The Washington Zorns look hapless. Clinton Portis is what he is, but Jason Campbell is out there throwing the ball five yards down the field to short wide receivers whose best ability is going deep. Their Pro Bowl tight end was left as a non-factor. They don't look like they have any reasonable scheme at all. And then the announcers tell us the passing game and the running games belong to two different offensive schemes, and then you realize why they look so hapless.

Justin Tuck. Justin Tuck.


Let us not forget, if Daunte Culpepper never plays in the NFL again, he did give us some good times. He had a couple of 30+ TD seasons, and the highlight for me was his game in the Vikings' playoff victory at Lambeau Field after the 2004 season: 19/29, 284 yards, 4 TDs passing, 6 attempts for 54 yards rushing.


I just heard Stephen A. Smith say "Bottom line is that at the end of the day..."

I cackled and then danced around the room screaming with joy.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Vikings: what we know and what we don't

So here we are: the Viking season just days away. Let’s take some time to discuss the players that will make or break the Vikings’ season. The Vikings have some obvious givens. The running game, featuring Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor running behind the likes of Steve Hutchinson, is going to produce. The defensive front seven, already great at stopping the run and forcing turnovers, should be near dominant with the addition of Jared Allen. We know these things. But it’s what we don’t know that will determine whether the Vikings can hit the 10 win mark in a season for the first time since 2000.

Tarvaris Jackson
Everything that can be said has been said: it’s obvious. He has to play well. He has to limit mistakes and make plays. He can’t get hurt.

Bernard Berrian
If Berrian can even match his numbers from 2007 with Chicago (71 catches for 951 yards), he’ll make the Viking receiving corps much, much better than it was last season. If he struggles, the Vikings will continue to field one of the bottom five receiving corps in the league, and Tarvaris Jackson’s development will mean even less. And perhaps another key player is Sidney Rice; if he can take strides over a promising rookie year (he did make some big plays), then the Vikings will have a solid group of receivers.

The right side of the offensive line
We know the Vikings can run. And we that Matt Birk, Steve Hutchinson, and Bryant McKinnie can play. But can the right side of the line consistently pass protect? Anthony Herrera and Ryan Cook will need to; any quarterback can look pretty good with good protection, and an already shaky quarterback will look absolutely awful with bad protection. And for the first four games, we might have to add the left tackle as an area of concern.

The secondary
For the past few seasons, the Viking secondary has not been as awful as reported. They gave up a lot of yards for two key reasons. First, the run defense was so good that teams passed against the Vikings a lot. And second, the Vikings really failed to develop a pass rush, which makes any defensive backs vulnerable. Still, the secondary has typically gotten shredded whenever the Vikes face a good quarterback. We’ll particularly be looking for improved performances from Cedric Griffin and Marcus McCauley.

We know we’ll be watching Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor run the ball well. We know we’ll be watching Pat Williams and Kevin Williams crush the run. We know we’ll be watching Jared Allen rush the passer. We know E.J. Henderson, Chad Greenway, and Ben Leber are going to make plays. That’s a given, and that’s why the Vikings should be, at the very least, competitive in 2008. But it’s those things we don’t know that will determine whether we’ll be watching a team win seven or eight games, or whether this team could win 10 or 11 games.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Football Week Blizzard

Chad Ocho Cinco
I fully support Chad Ocho Cinco's name change. It's fun. I like things that are fun. I can't wait until it's official and broadcasters have to say it. I'll be ecstatic when his name shows up in Yahoo! fantasy leagues as Chad Ocho Cinco. Way to go, Mr. Ocho Cinco: you're now one of my favorite players.

Head-to-Head Fantasy Football
I've often railed against keeping a fantasy football league's standings according to head-t0-head matchups--it's not a fair way to do it. The Hazelweird League uses "Cross Country" standings. Each week, you are playing against everybody. In a 10-team league, if you have the highest score that week, you go 9-0. If you have the second-highest score that week, you go 8-1, and right down the line.

It's a fair way to do the standings, but is is also much more fun. the Hazelweird League has ten teams with eight starting positions per team. That means in a given week there are eighty players (including team defenses) that you are following and that can have an impact on your fantasy success that week. If we went head-to-head, there would only be 16 players affecting each manager each week, so there would be many games that several individuals wouldn't care about. With eighty players, each NFL game (during a week without byes) has an average of five fantasy starters that can affect your standings. Every single NFL game I watch this year has the potential to affect my fantasy football finish for that week.

Adam Jones
If the artist formerly known as Pacman wants to move on, change his identity, and continue his career as a football player, I'm happy to move on too. I don't think we should hold his sins of the past against him forever; he lost a year of football, and now I just want to see him as a very good defensive back and punt returner.

Links and Stupidity
Pat Reusse takes us on an historical tour of Viking season openers.

This is really stupid, but sometimes I forget Jim Kleinsasser is still on the Vikings (Star Tribune). I don't think he's crossed my mind once since 2007 ended.

The Viking defense (Pioneer Press).

Paul Charchian writes a Viking fantasy preview at Vikings.com.

Tyrell Johnson (Viking Update).

Clark Judge picks the Vikes to win the NFC North.

Fanhouse predicts the Vikes to win the NFC North. One writer predicts the Vikes will go to the Super Bowl and lose. I don't think I could take the emotional hit of a Viking team getting to an NFC Championship Game, winning an NFC Championship Game, waiting for two weeks to play one game to redeem the franchise, and then losing. I think it would crush me. Every time I see predictions of the Vikings losing the Super Bowl I think of this. Really, I do have a life. Really. My entire emotional well-being does not rest on the Vikings. No readers of this blog will believe that, and few people who know me well believe it, but it's true--I do have a fulfilling life apart from the Vikings.

Read through Peter King's MMQB , and you'll see some of why I think King is turning into a weak version of Dr. Z: he's becoming the crotchety, hornery old football writer. King still goes for the friendly tone, but recently I've seen some stubbornness, pride, and meanness coming out more frequently. But while Dr. Z has an authentic and often witty crotchetiness, King just comes off as very conventional.

Should the Cardinals have chosen Warner over Leinart? Duh! (Cold Hard Football Facts). You may wonder why I've bothered to spend time on this blog writing about the Arizona Cardinals' starting QB decision. I don't even have an answer.

Chris Simms: Free! (New York Times)

Just a reminder as the football season begins: I'm on a 2008 blackout of Tom Powers and Jim Souhan. They are each bad writers full of horrible jokes and no insight. They write about the Vikes frequently, but I won't be reading them, so I won't be writing about their terrible columns.

What a fun and jittery time of the year. School is starting and football is starting.