Monday, December 28, 2009


It's another stoic Minnesotan lesson. Do no get excited. Do not get your hopes up. You will be disappointed. There will be suffering.

I'm going to go pretend there's no such thing as football. Comment as you will.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Still on the Ledge

Hope to see you after the Chicago game.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Coming Off The Ledge

As the game got off to a very sloppy start, I thought that any other Viking team of the '00s would lose this game. As it turned out, this Viking game would too.

A team with one elite offensive player (Steve Smith) and one elite defensive player (Julius Peppers) might not be good enough for success over 16 games. What they can do, however, is hang with anyone an any given day. If those two players get hot (and Smith and Peppers were extremely hot against the Vikings), they can make plays offensively and defensively and disrupt anything an opponent might try to do.

This was an ugly, disgusting football game. The Vikings for some reason found no way to block Julius Peppers or scheme around him. The Panthers called very effective passing plays that allowed Matt Moore to find receivers. The Vikes got whipped on the road, at night, for the second time in three weeks. The run game was ineffective. The pass game was ineffective for a host of reasons (dropped passes, inaccurate throws, covered receivers, weak pass protection). The run defense was ineffective, and the pass defense was ineffective. It was an all-around miserable effort. If it weren't the second such game in three weeks, We could dismiss it as fluky. But the Vikes are starting to look like a lousy road team.

All three Viking losses have been on natural grass. So many of this team's talented players are effective with a speed game, and we've seen that game look much less effective on grass. If the Vikings do end up losing the #2 seed and have to go to, say, Philadelphia, they'll be in trouble. But if they get the #2 seed, they'll get to defend Thunderdome, and if they go anywhere, they go to New Orleans to play indoors. So that's something.

The day wasn't shot. The Packers lost and so the Vikings clinched their second straight NFC North division title. We'll get to see the Vikes with a home playoff game. And the Vikes don't have to be hot now; they need to get hot in 3-4 weeks.

Next week the Vikes travel to Chicago, a place where they've struggled even when they are the superior team to the Bears. Are the Vikings so good and the Bears so bad that this time will be different? It has to be.

It was a long week with a Viking game at the end of it, a green light across the water beckoning with hope. And now they don't play again until next Monday night. I feel lousy.

There's more to say, I'm sure, but I'll let you say it. The opposite of skol, Vikings. The opposite of skol.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

National Friday League (week 15)

Viking-Panther Preview
2009 Carolina Panthers
The Panthers are 5-8: offensively, they rank 25th in points scored and 21st in yardage; defensively, they rank 19th in points allowed and 15th in yards allowed.

If you look closer at the stats, they're sort of an interesting bad team: they've got good pass defense but terrible run defense (they give up 4.6 yards per attempt), and offensively they've got a good running game but a terrible passing game. Frankly, I don't think a team with a bad passing game can beat the 2009 Minnesota Vikings. Even if the Panthers have success running, they're still going to be required to sustain drives with some passing conversions, and I don't think Matt Moore is going to get it done. I don't think the Panthers will complete many deep passes (the Viking pass rush can make that difficult), and they aren't good enough throwing the ball to consistently complete short and mid-range passes on third down.

But there is one player to fear: Julius Peppers. Peppers can take over and dominate a single game just as Jared Allen can. The Vikings will need to be effective blocking him in pass protection, not just to win the game but to protect Favre from getting roughed up. I mean, I was feeling comfortable about watching the Vikings handle a 5-8 team, until I realized "Crap, we have to face Julius Peppers." He can be a dominant force, who can change everything about the game.

The Vikings and Poetry
I've written about this poem before, and about Housman and the Vikings before. So I repeat myself.

On the last day of my literature class, I close with poetry that is about art. Mostly we discuss Percy Shelley's "Ozymandias" and Rainer Maria Rilke's "The Archaic Torso of Apollo." I'm trying to bring some meaning to the course: each poet explores meaning in a statue, and I wonder how that can help us to understand how we're taking meaning from the literature we read.

I also assign A.E. Housman's "Terence, this is stupid stuff." In it, one voice addresses the poet, complaining that his poetry is too melancholy, and it should be more fun. The poet responds that if you want to have fun, then you should probably try drinking instead. Poetry, Housman suggests, has a different purpose:

Therefore, since the world has still
Much good, but much less good than ill,

And while the sun and moon endure

Luck's a chance, but trouble's sure,

I'd face it as a wise man would,

And train for ill and not for good.

Poetry, perhaps, is what we can use to prepare for the troubles we're sure to face in this world. Literature, perhaps, teaches us to know that we will suffer, teaches us to cope with our suffering, perhaps even allows us to find meaning in our suffering.

It is at this point I can't help talking about the Minnesota Vikings. We know things usually end badly--they always have before. When the Vikings are successful during the season, many a Viking fan thinks and may say "Alas, they're just going to blow it in the playoffs." We expect failure, and we prepare for failure. I like to think it is the environment that conditions us this way: we suffer the inevitable winter with icy stoicism, and so we are prepared to suffer the inevitable bad end of the Viking season. But we know that a happy ending to this story is chancy business; we're ready for the sure trouble.

Every year I think "This could be the year. This could be the year the Vikings finally win the Super Bowl." So far, I've always been wrong. The odds are against us, of course: 31 of 32 teams won't win the Super Bowl this year. And so I have to remind myself of Housman's lesson: "Luck's a chance, and trouble's sure." If we're wise, we need to prepare for ill. We can't put too much of our emotional well-being into the team, because the odds just aren't good.

Cheering for an 11-2 team that has a great quarterback, great offense, great defense, great special teams, it's hard to bring myself back down. Sometimes I need A.E. Housman to do that for me.

At SI, Joe Posnanski on the Vikes.

Meager fare this week, I know, but as Bob Newhart might say, I shouldn't even be doing this!

Have a good weekend, everybody. Except Panther and Packer fans.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Trailing Clouds of Heaven: Vikings 30, Bengals 10

ESPN Box Score

The Vikes move to 11-2 with a dominant homefield performance. They played great defense (210 yards, 13 first downs, and 10 points allowed). They again sustained long drives with good 3rd down efficiency (8/14).

The Vikes have had some spectacular victories; today it felt like the Vikings put on a workmanlike performance. Against a good opponent that came into the league with a 9-3 record and ranked #1 in points allowed, the Vikings played smothering defense and sustained drives with gutty running and short to mid-range passing. And I like these victories--a lot. They took on one of the AFC's top teams and crushed them 30-10, bettering them in nearly every aspect of the game.

I feel very confident about any home game the Vikings play; they're built to defend this dome.

Adrian Peterson

With 97 rush yards and 40 receiving yards, I think you could argue this was Peterson's best game of the season. He had better numbers against some lesser defenses, but the Bengals came into the game ranked #1 in rush yards allowed and #6 in rush yards per attempt allowed. His game today didn't rely on one or two long runs, but on consistent, powerful running. What I liked about his running today was how often his runs were picking up 3-6 yards. He wasn't getting stuffed: he was churning forward to put the offense in better situations (helped, of course, by some strong blocking).

When Peterson was out, Chester Taylor was making plays too (25 rush yards, 32 receiving yards).

Antoine Winfield
Ode to Joy! To see Winfield back and making solo, open field tackles, dropping ball carriers where they meet, warms this Viking fan's heart. Not only is he a spectacular player that instantly improves the Viking defense, but he is such fun to watch. He had nine solo tackles today, and he was a noticeable impact player throughout the game. He showed some rust on a few plays, but mostly looked dominant.

He is so important to this team. It is teams like Arizona or New Orleans, with good QBs and multiple WR options, that can exploit this Viking defense, and it is teams like Arizona or New Orleans that we'll probably see in the playoffs. Winfield makes everything better (the Vikes allowed 103 yards passing, no pass longer than 15 yards).

Jamarca Sanford
Sanford replaced Tyrell Johnson at safety today, and did an admirable job. I feel Johnson has been a major weakness of this defense: I haven't observed many positive plays, but have noticed many negative plays. It will be great for the Viking secondary if Sanford proves to be an upgrade over Johnson (and at the same time that Antoine Winfield returns and plays at his usual level).

Interesting note: today the Vikes started a rookie linebacker that was a 5th round pick (Jasper Brinkley, pick 150) and a rookie safety that was a 7th round pick (Sanford, pick 231).

Kevin Williams and Pat Williams
Another brilliant performance from the defensive tackles, penetrating the line of scrimmage and disrupting plays.

Hope restored
Coming off a bad road loss to the Cardinals (during which you could argue the Vikes played as bad as the Bengals did today), it was great to see the Vikings not only win, but control the game.

Skol. The Vikings are 11-2. I like to think even this guy is smiling today.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

National Friday League (week 14)

Vikings-Bengals Preview
2009 Bengals
2009 Vikings

At 9-3, the Bengals may be the strongest opponent the Vikings have faced this season. Considering that you probably can't name a single Bengal defensive player, their defense is remarkably good (#1 in points allowed, #4 in yards allowed, #7 in net pass yards per attempt allowed, #6 in rush yards per attempt allowed. Now you're saying "Hey, Jackass: what's with this 'you' business? What do you know about what I know about Cincinnati's defense?").

It is at home and on turf that the Viking pass rush has been unstoppable this season. And offensively, the Cincinnati Bengals are noticeably average (#16 in points scored, #18 in yards, #16 in net pass yards per attempt, #23 in rush yards per attempt). The pass rush will be key: we've seen what a good quarterback can do to the Viking secondary when he has time to throw, and Carson Palmer is a good quarterback. If the defensive line hurries throws, bats down passes, and hits Palmer, the Viking defense will have a good day.

The Vikes are 6-0 at home and 8-0 on turf this season.

Here's what I hope: early on, the Bengals decide to test rookie middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley and try to run the ball. The Vikes will prove (again) that it is the dominant interior line of Kevin Williams and Pat Williams that really makes them difficult to run against, and also that Brinkley, however well he plays, will have good help around him from Chad Greenway, Ben Leber, and good run-tackling cornerbacks, and the Bengals will be in a long of 2nd and 3rd and long situations. With the loud Thunderdome crowd and a storming pass rush from Jared Allen, the Bengals could have trouble converting passes on those downs. I also hope that Adrian Peterson is able to break a few early long runs and be active in the receiving game, that Favre gets time to throw and that if the Bengals are able to well-cover one or even two of the Viking WRs, they're not able to cover the third. It's what I hope, but after last week, I don't know what to expect.

Cheer loud, thunderdome crowd.

Jasper Brinkley

Star Tribune,, Pioneer Press

Other NFL Games
Week 14 Schedule

Packers v. Bears. I want to see how Chicago defends Soldier Field against a good opponent in December. The Vikes go to Chicago in a few weeks, a place where they typically struggle even when they are the better team. Of course I want to see the Packers lose, but if the Bears are truly awful, well, that's OK for us too.

Broncos v. Colts. Indianapolis will be destroying my fantasy season by clinching the #1 seed as soon as possible and then resting starters. If this is their last meaningful game before the playoffs, may they go bananas.

Dolphins v. Jaguars. an important game in the chase for a Wild Card spot, between two teams that will be irrelevant by the second round of the playoffs. It's a game we're supposed to want to care about, but I really can't.

Chargers v. Cowboys. I've always liked inter-conference games featuring quality teams.

Eagles v. Giants. That NFC East division race is interesting, but I don't know if the games they play are actually interesting. I hope this one is.

After a Viking loss
This week I mostly avoided any football news. I didn't read any articles, check many stats, keep up with blogs, listen to sports talk radio, or watch much TV sports news. I checked some news sources just in case there was some big, relevant news I should really know about.

After a disappointing Viking loss, I don't like to pay attention to football. I throw all my energy into the other demands and joys of life, and try not to think too much about football.

I don't think there's anything to feel bad about in that: I don't have a moral obligation to read everything on the Vikings, good and bad. I don't get paid to write about sports. I try to follow sports for pleasure, and following a game with winners and losers brings enough non-pleasure. I don't need to read articles that will give me more non-pleasure. The most fun I have is watching the games anyway--I can take or leave most of the commentary during the week.

And I mean, what am I going to find out there? Just the summary of this was enough to remind me that if the Packers win their 13th championship before the Vikings win their first that I'll not only give up following football in despair of futility, but I might go into a philosophical tailspin and stop believing in anything, and someday you'll find an old stranger at the end of a bar by himself, sipping gin and muttering "Everything is permitted" (do yourself a favor: don't talk to him). OK, none of that will probably happen. But it might. And I would probably require a moratorium from football, whether for a few months or many, many months, I don't know. Even thinking about it causes a certain level of despair. I've got issues.

Some jackass decided that it would work well to put the busiest time of the academic year during the most personally demanding month of the year, plus it would be cold, and there would still be football. It's caffeine and carb season, and an admittedly uninspired National Friday League post. Next week will probably be worse.

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

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Coming Off the Ledge: Cardinals 30, Vikings 17 (updated below)

ESPN Box Score

Seeing the Vikes play a dud game on Sunday night is brutal. Did you spend the day watching other football, getting excited? Did you have a full day's worth of anticipation for this game? How empty were you feeling in the fourth quarter?

A disappointed salute to the Cardinals: they beat the Vikes in every conceivable way tonight.

The Pass Rush and the Safeties

The pass rush from the defensive line has been masking some serious deficiencies in the secondary. If an opposing offense is able to neutralize the pass rush from the front four, a good quarterback can smoke this secondary.

It might be comforting to shout "But Antoine Winfield! Antoine Winfield!," but that really isn't helpful. For one thing, we don't know when he'll be back or how effective he'll be when he does come back. And just as important, Winfield isn't going to be coming back to play safety. Right now Madieu Williams and Tyrell Johnson are struggling to cover and to tackle.

If the front four can't get to the QB, then the Vikes may try blitz. That, too, can be shredded, since the safeties aren't that good and the nickel backs will struggle against good WRs, too.

Against a quality opponent, the Vikings must get a pass rush from the defensive line if they are going to be successful on defense.

The Cardinals were able to block the Viking front four tonight, and Kurt Warner, Anquan Boldin, and Larry Fitzgerald were able to run wild around the Viking secondary.

He looked rough today: throwing inaccurate passes flying past receivers, hitting defenders in the hands, looking uncomfortable in the pocket.

The panic of course is that any late-season struggles are signs of Favre's declining, exhausted body giving out. I'm not going to overreact to one bad game--that's just the concern. And I'm actually not worried about the interceptions terribly: that's regression toward the mean that still leaves Favre's INT rate incredibly low.

I thought the shovel pass in the red zone on 3rd and 4 was lousy. With a good QB and several good receivers, just let your QB drop back and try find an open guy.

I'm an advocate of abandoning the run when it isn't working and especially when you get down. I can't recall many games when Adrian Peterson was getting completely stuffed most of the game, and then later became effective. When the run isn't there, run calls are wasted downs. If you still want Peterson to make plays throw him the ball.

E.J. Henderson
It's hard to see Henderson go down. I hope the best for him personally.

The Vikes have been remarkably healthy most of the season, but losing their middle linebacker is going to hurt (just a guess: the Vikes are forced to play a lot of nickel anyway, so Ben Leber and Chad Greenway probably become the two nickel linebackers going forward. I don't know what they'll do in base 4-3 sets). They suffered other injuries tonight, but none appear as serious as Henderson's.

What the Vikings aren't
The Vikings are not competing with the New Orleans Saints for NFC juggernaut status. Though the Saints dodged the flying monkey poop today, they are the NFC's juggernaut. The Vikings aren't: they are a very good team, and they should still get the #2 seed, but they aren't a matching juggernaut. That doesn't mean the Vikings cannot beat the Saints in the playoffs, should we meet them; there are some features of the matchup that I think favor the Vikes. They're still a 10-2 Super Bowl contender.

Some good things
The Packers have a tough matchup with the Ravens tomorrow night; not that it could fully assuage tonight's disappointment, but seeing one purple-jerseyed team win in week 13 would still make us smile.

Percy Harvin is good. He frequently picks up first downs out of the slot, and his garbage-time touchdown weirdly encouraged me (it might have just been seeing a lively throw from Favre to remind me tonight was an aberration). When you have a player so great at catching a ball around the sticks on 3rd down, who can sneak into the backfield and rush the ball, and who can also go deep downfield and make plays, how does a defense stop him? Generally, they don't.

That, and Romeo Crennel's talking beer cans. That is hilarious.

Addendum: New Level of Anxiety
I just looked at the schedule: 8-4 Arizona's last four games are away against the 49ers and Lions, home for the Rams and Packers. They've got a shot at winning out, and if they do, the Vikes need to win three of their last four to keep the #2 seed. We've got a two game lead over the Cards for that first-round bye, but the Vikes' remaining schedule (Bengals, at Panthers and Bears, Giants) is tougher. So, if you were looking for anxiety, it's there now (the Cowboys and Eagles are each 8-4 too). The Vikes need to get that first-round bye.

Addendum 2
I feel lousy when the Vikes lose, and so the day after a Viking loss, I generally eat very healthy and get all sorts of work accomplished. So look out, Monday, PV is coming to get you!

Update 3
If you're looking for encouragement, here are some December box scores of recent Super Bowl teams.

These things happen.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

National Friday League (week 13)

Sense of Urgency: from short term to long term
I don't feel the sense of desperation week to week that I'm accustomed to feeling with the Vikings. If you look at the NFC standings, the reason is simple.

The Vikings are currently chasing New Orleans for the #1 playoff seed in the NFC. Of course it would be preferable for the Vikes to get homefield advantage throughout the playoffs: Thunderdome is wonderful. But the Saints play in a dome, too: if the Vikes meet the Saints in New Orleans for the NFC title, I think the Vikes can win there (they beat the Saints there last season, when neither team was as good).

The Vikings have a two game lead over the Cowboys for the #2 seed and first-round bye, but the Cowboys also already have two NFC losses, and frankly I don't think they're done losing games. I'd consider it a disasterous collapse if the Vikings didn't end up with a first-round bye.

I'm not concerned about the Vikings winning the division (they have a three game lead over the Packers, plus the head-to-head tie breaker), and I'm certainly not worried about the Vikings making the playoffs. In all likelihood, they're going to have the #2 seed in the NFC. It's not like the last two seasons, when in the second half of the season every game was necessary for the Vikings' chances to even make the playoffs. The playoffs are a given, and it would appear the only real question is which dome team clinches the #1 seed.

So I haven't been watching games with desperate passion. Maybe that's because in the last two weeks they opened up fairly early leads in blowing out the Seahawks and Bears. Maybe the next time the Vikes are in a close game I'll get that empty-queasy stomach feeling (that is like an addiction: I hate that feeling, yet I crave it when I don't have it). But right now, I'm watching week to week with a sense of calm and peace.

But that must be qualified. I have much less anxiety during each game, but my football anxiety for the season is at an all-time high. I am absolutely anxious, nervous, hell, terrified for the playoffs. I fear the Vikings choking a home game in the division round (my nightmare of nightmares is a playoff loss to the Packers). I dread seeing them lose to the Saints. In every part of my football-watching being this season, I've had a sense of agonized fear.

I don't watch each game with anxiety. But I follow the team with the highest level of sports anxiety I've ever had. I love watching the Vikings, but I sense less pleasure coming during the playoffs. I'm going to watch each game with nervous tension coursing through my body, and my experience of joy if they win playoff games will feel a lot more like relief.

We're Viking fans. If you're a youngish fan, you remember the ending of '98, '00, and '03. If you're an older Viking fan, you remember four Super Bowls, and you remember '75. I've heard it and read it from numerous Viking fans--we're worried. It is when the team is the most successful that we most fear they are going to squeeze the life out of our hearts, because we've seen that movie too many times. The collective neurosis in the state of Minnesota during January will look something like this:

(image from HBO)

Vikings-Cardinals Preview
Minnesota Vikings
#2 in points scored, #5 in yards
#8 in points allowed, #8 in yards allowed

Arizona Cardinals

#10 in points scored, #10 in yards
#13 in points allowed, #24 in yards allowed

Maybe I'm overly influenced by last year's 35-14 win at Arizona, when Adrian Peterson rushed for 165 yards, Tarvaris freaking Jackson lit up the Cards with four touchdown passes, and the Viking defense held the Kurt Warner-led Cardinal offense to seven points. Maybe I look at the Cardinals' defensive numbers and see a mediocre defense that the Vikes can carve up. Maybe I know Matt Leinart started last week and may start again. Maybe I haven't seen the Vikings lose a game in several weeks, and know they're 4-1 on the road. Maybe I see the Cardinals are 2-3 at home and that weather won't be a factor, and know the Vikings aren't exactly going into the bowels of hell (why does hell have bowels? Does heaven have bowels?). Maybe I see that the Viking defense is finally peaking (their 29 point, 37 first down run of the past three weeks has pushed their rankings in points and yards to 8th) and that the Viking offense seems to be gaining 400 yards a game at will (they're averaging 390 a game). Maybe I'm letting all these things make me overconfident about this game. But maybe I'm just a fan with no control over things so it matters nothing at all (outside of my own sanity and propensity for disappointment) whether I'm overconfident.

John Randle (

According to Football Outsiders, the Vikings are #1 in "variance," meaning their performance week to week has been the most consistent in the league. This embiggens me greatly. As you can see above, I live in terror that the Vikings are going to choke away a playoff game. While they still might, FO's advanced metric suggests that the Vikings have not been an up-and-down team, so maybe they're less likely to have a non-cromulent game in the playoffs. The Vikes are talented, and if they are also consistent, then they should do what they do in the playoffs (on a side note, while I find it irritating that some of the FO writers are openly antagonistic about the Vikings because they find media coverage of Brett Favre annoying, I still obviously check the site out for the statistics, and they do still occasionally offer some insights on the Vikes without also complaining about media coverage of Favre. Occasionally).

The Vikings are good on 3rd down (Star Tribune).

Brett Favre is good against the blitz (Pioneer Press).

A lot of Viking-Cardinal information (

Adrian Peterson
Adrian Peterson has been struggling a bit. Jason at Defensive Indifference points out that he's averaged fewer than four yards per carry in four of his past five games, and largely blames the offensive line. Others have suggested that defenses are still focusing on stopping Peterson, partly accounting for Favre's spectacular play and partly accounting for Peterson's struggles--see, for example, this Pioneer Press article on the Bear game.

If it's true that teams are still focusing on Peterson, great! That means the Vikings are destroying opponents with the pass, and frankly I don't care how the Vikings destroy opponents. If they continue to load up on Peterson, then either Percy Harvin, or Sidney Rice, or Bernard Berrian, or Visanthe Shiancoe will get open frequently. And if they start focusing more attention on the pass, I think they'll fail (because it's hard to cover Percy Harvin, and Sidney Rice, and Bernard Berrian, and Visanthe Shiancoe on every play), and even so, then Peterson has a better chance to destroy opponents.

But I don't really think that's an explanation. As Jason points out, "selling out to stop Peterson" is what teams have "been doing that for the last three years." And after all, are teams not selling out to stop Steven Jackson? Are they not selling out to stop Chris Johnson?

I think the answer is simple: Adrian Peterson in his first three seasons is a boom and bust running back. He breaks off a lot of long, beautiful runs, but he also gets stuffed near the line of scrimmage quite regularly. He might develop into a more consistent runner, breaking off four, five, six yard runs regularly, but that's not who he is right now. Recently a lot of his carries have been "bust," but soon a lot of his carries might be "boom." It's the nature of a boom or bust runner: sometimes he'll be struggling, and sometimes he'll go crazy. He's second in the league in 20+ yard runs in 2009. He was first in 2008. He was tied for third in 2007.

A boom and bust running back can be frustrating. Luckily, the Vikings now have a great passing game that can sustain drives even when required to convert on third and long. I'd like to see more play-to-play consistency from Peterson (and hope he develops it), but I think the Vikings can win this year during Peterson's booms and busts.

Other Games of Note
Week 13 Games

Colts-Titans. I'd like to see the Colts lose a couple games, and the Chargers keep winning, so that in Week 17 Peyton Manning et al. still have a reason to help my fantasy teams (I just want them to score 49 points in defeat). It would be fun to see the Titans win out too. I guess. Sort of. What do I care?

Ravens-Packers. Take it to them, Baltimore.

Eagles-Falcons. playoff ramifications galore.

Cowboys-Giants. a division game with playoff ramifications--and either of these teams is always capable of a total dud.

All grading papers and no football make PV a dull boy. It makes me so dull that I lazily paraphrase famous movie lines.

Have a good weekend everybody. Except Cardinal, Packer, and Saint fans.