Monday, November 29, 2010

Clouds of Heaven

Sure, Washington did its part to lose this game (several dropped passes, one that was deflected and gave the Vikings easy field goal range, an unnecessary block in the back to negate a punt return), but Viking road wins (and on grass, no less!) are hard to come by, and we can appreciate them when they happen. Besides, this was the cleanest and crispest the Vikings have looked all year: no turnovers, few penalties, a team just generally playing smart, quality football.

What kind of coach would Leslie Frazier be with an offseason, a training camp, roster input? Who knows. But in one game we saw a team that was prepared to play, that avoided mistakes, that overcame injury to its best player, and that played hard. Frazier can be given credit for that. And it was good to see the authentic joy he had at the end of the game, and the joy the players seemed to have for him too.

Monday, November 22, 2010

National Thanksgiving League (on a lost season)

That was the last time I was this uninterested in watching the next Viking game. From 2002 on, I only missed Viking games when life (family events, work) pulled me away, even during some pretty lousy, borderline unwatchable seasons and games. I always eagerly anticipated the games, got excited, found enjoyable reasons to watch. But everything that happened in 2001 made it so I could barely stomach it by the end (Spurgeon Wynn!), and I actually found other things to do on Sundays (though I ended up watching more playoff football than I ever had before that year, once I know longer had to think about the Vikings).

Right now, I'm not remotely excited or interested in the next Viking game. I struggle to find reasons to think watching the game will be fun. There's the possibility of Adrian Peterson having an Adrian Peterson game. There's also a chance to see what kind of game coach Leslie Frazier is (it will difficult to assess what kind of coach he'd be if given the chance to coach a team through the entire offseason and season and have some contribution to the roster, but things like clock management, challenges, decisions, etc., maybe).

Les Steckel?
It is an entirely plausible, realistic scenario: the Vikings might not win another game this year. On the field, they are quite obviously playing awful, awful football. And the team is weakest in the areas where you absolutely must be competent in to compete in today's NFL (offensive line and defensive secondary). At the psychological level, players may be losing their motivation, they may be fracturing in their relations with each other, they may hold coaches in disdain, all of which could contribute to a complete flushing of the season (and teams like Buffalo and Detroit are probably better at motivating themselves late in playoffless seasons than the Vikings!). Might they match the record of that legendary of legendary seasons, the Les Steckel year? I really have trouble seeing the Vikes winning another game this year.

It has me wondering what kind of game-changing players are available in the top five of this year's draft. People: I can even see the Vikings ending up with the worst record in the league.

The Bears
There's really little to do now but root for the Bears to win the goddam division.

Brad Childress
The fans turned against Childress quite early in his tenure, and there are some things that are unfair about our appraisal of Childress's performance. Because he came in as an offensive coach and it is unclear exactly who deserves credit for personnel moves, Childress didn't ever get credit for the remarkable defensive turnaround that took place during his tenure, or for the remarkable upgrade in talent the team made all around the roster. And the early criticism of his predictable, conservative offense was unfair, I think: the poor offense was more a result of poor personnel than poor scheme (the skill positions were a pretty bare cupboard when Childress took over--it wasn't a group that you could execute much creativity or downfield passing with).

There's also a part of me that feels for Childress as a human being. As the fans are savaging him and booing him and chanting for him to be fired...well, that can't feel good, even if you are getting paid millions of dollars.

But some of Childress's problems--perplexing in-game decisions, a seeming inability to make positive halftime adjustments (or really any in-game adjustments), reputably terrible people skills, confusing and strange comments and explanations--have caught up with him. Well, that might be a reaching back for explanations after the fact: really a lousy, failing team has caught up with him, and there has to be a large extent to which, in his fifth year, that's on him. The team doesn't look well prepared, doesn't adjust well, and the coaches seem at a loss to find ways to cover for and adjust to the team's personnel weaknesses.

Often when a coach is fired, his exact opposite is hired. In many ways, Brad Childress is the exact opposite of Mike Tice. Where Tice was a player's coach, Childress is a disciplinarian. Where Tice was a motivator, Childress is a tactician. Where Tice knew his limitations and could delegate and learn, Childress seems more authoritarian and confident in his own abilities. Where Tice was talkative and even charismatic toward fans and the media, Childress seems dry and cold. My guess is that Zygi Wilf, experiencing the many problems the team had during his first year of ownership in 2005, was looking for somebody to get things orderly, and found something appealing in Childress as a contrast to Tice. For better or worse, that's who we've had for five years.

But Childress's biggest problem was probably always quarterback. In Childress's tenure, the Vikes failed to fill the quarterback position competently for three years. Because of this, Childress became dependent on an aging legend that could basically do whatever he wanted because the team made it clear how badly it needed/wanted him, and because retirement was always a serious option.

Why Tarvaris Jackson? Joe Webb!
There's nobody running the Vikings that doesn't know the kind of QB Tarvaris Jackson is. Tarvaris Jackson has had game experience and been in the league for five years; I'm not sure it helps the Vikings to give him experience. The season is lost, and if/when the Vikings and/or Favre decide that Favre won't be the starting QB anymore, playing Jackson doesn't really help anybody, does it? Of course, it's debatable whether playing Joe Webb is helpful for Joe Webb (can playing a QB before he's ready be damaging, or is the experience helpful toward getting ready?). But if the Vikings are going to use the season to look toward the future, playing Jackson doesn't really, I think, tell the Vikings much at all about the quarterback position in the future.

Have a good Thanksgiving everybody.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Fire Childress now.

Turn the team over to Joe freaking Webb.

Get a G.M. who is prepared to fully rebuild the defensive secondary and the offensive line: both units badly need it.

Go Bears: may you win the division easily.

Go T-Wolves: may you get a backcourt that can support Beasley and Love.

And now, as the Vikings punt at the end of the third quarter, I take a cue from my dad: when the Vikings suck, there is always yard work. Those Christmas lights aren't going to put themselves up. And the Vikings aren't doing squat.

Later, suckers (and if the Vikings somehow come back from down 21, I'll gladly suck down every word here. Not literally, of course).

Thursday, November 18, 2010

National Friday League, Week 11

Viking-Packer Preview

Thunderdome! Sure the Metrodome is the biggest reason to have hope that the Vikes can beat the Packers Sunday, but there are others. Namely:
  • The Packers are 21st in the league with 1,028 rush yards allowed and 26th in the league with 4.5 rush yards per attempt allowed. The Vikings should be able to run the ball, and while they need to commit to it, it would be good to see them run the ball in creative spots, too (not primarily on 1st and 10 and 3rd and 1).
  • Aaron Rodgers wilts like a tree weighed down with slushy snow whenever he plays in the Metrodome, faces the Vikings, gets in a close game, or realizes he's a tool (OK, not a "reason" exactly, but c'mon! Aaron Rodgers is a tool!).
  • I just decided to start using the bullet point feature, and I probably shouldn't stop after two. So....THUNDERDOME! In 2001, the 5-11 Vikings beat the 12-4 Packers at home (badly). In 2002, the 6-10 Vikings beat the 12-4 Packers at home. The Metrodome isn't nearly to the Packers what Soldier Field is to the Vikings, I know, but it's still Thunderdome! What do games played in '01 and '02 have to do with a game played in '10 featuring new players and coaches? I don't know. What does any Viking game at Soldier Field have to do with any other Viking game at Soldier Field? Not much, maybe, but they always end up the same way.
Once again, I think we know what we'll get. Each team will have some scoring runs. The game will come down to a few fourth quarter possessions. Probably the home team will win (if, anyway, this time around the refs don't take away an actual touchdown. That would help the Vikes win too. You know, it's easier to win when the touchdowns you actually score get counted as touchdowns).

Other Intriguing Games

Bears-Dolphins. How I root in this game (aside from rooting for Ronnie Brown to have a million yards and a thousand touchdowns, but that's a fantasy problem) will reveal to me what I really expect from the Viking season in the depths of my heart. If I feel I'm rooting against the Bears, it means I'm clinging to some tiny hope that the Vikes can catch some breaks, improve their play, and either win the division or a Wild Card. If I find myself rooting for the Bears, it means I've given up on the Vikings and am rooting for a non-Packer team to win the division. I'm afraid I'll be rooting for Chicago.

Raiders-Steelers. I've moved right past Mad Men's '60s nostalgia and to Oakland-Pittsburgh '70s nostalgia. OK, Mad Men is about a quiet desperation that is hard to be nostalgic for (but in fedoras!), but the Raiders and Steelers really did meet in the playoffs for five straight years in the '70s (72, 73, 74, 75, 76).

Colts-Patriots. Still interesting after all these years.


The 2007 Atlanta Falcons were as big a mess as I can imagine a football team being. Their star quarterback, whom the franchise had been built around for the '00s, was no longer with the team because of a felony. Their big name coach, hired away from college just that season, left the team suddenly and surprisingly. They ranked terribly offensively and defensively. That was a mess.

What did they do? They hired a good coach (Mike Smith). They signed a good free agent (Michael Turner). And they drafted a good quarterback (Matt Ryan, and if I were a Falcon fan I'd be thrilled to get to root for Matt Ryan's team for the next 10+ years). Since then, 11-6, 9-7, 7-2.

Rebuilding a team doesn't have to be a long project. It's important to get a good head coach and a good quarterback.

It's important to draft well so that you can quickly fill starting positions and fill out a quality roster. It takes both smarts and luck, but it can be done quickly.

What do the Vikings do next? They need to get somebody in charge to have a plan. Then they need to look at the roster to find their young core to build around (Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin...) and figure out what aging, expensive, diminishing players they should let go.

Brad Childress v. the Packers
If the Vikings lose this week, Brad Childress will be 3-7 against the Packers, including three home losses.

From '06-'10, the Vikings have been 37-30 against all the non-Packer teams, and the Packers have been 39-28 against all the non-Viking teams (including playoffs). Playing mostly the same schedule, these teams have been very comparable over the course of four and a half years against the rest of the league (a 2 game difference). Yet against each other, Mike McCarthy's team has defeated Brad Childress's team in two out of every three games.

You know who I like? Bears fans.
All of my interactions in life with Bears fans have been enjoyable. The Bears fans I've met have been good-natured, friendly, and good-humored about their team. Everything I know about Bears fans makes me like them.

Good luck, Bears fans. If the Vikings aren't taking the division this year, may you win it by six games over the Packers.

You know who else I like? Mike Mularkey
A lot of Super Bowl winning coaches had head coaching experience with a previous franchise. Some of those coaches had mixed or poor success in their first stints as head coaches. Mularkey has had success as an offensive coordinator, and has experience working with young QBs. And he's a coach that's willing to study and learn offensive ideas with which he's unfamiliar (the converse argument that for all his studying of innovative offenses, his actual offenses haven't been nearly as creative).

I'd like the Vikings to interview Mularkey for the head coaching job this offseason.

Tarvaris Jackson
What happens to Jackson this offseason will be, I think, interesting. If Brad Childress isn't the Vikings' coach (and if he is, heaven help us through the blackouts), does the new coach want to keep Jackson around, if nothing else as an experienced #2 QB (or to compete as a starter in a rebuilding year)? If Jackson leaves, how will other teams view Jackson? Is he one of the better #2 QBs, or would a lot of teams not even want him for that? Or would a team with a really shaky QB situation sign him to compete as a starter?

If you want to talk yourself into something, look at the Vikings' remaining schedule: home, game against a team that just gave up 59, three straight at home, game against the team that just scored 59, then the Lions. A competent football team might be able to finish 6-1 with that schedule. The problem is, the Vikings haven't been a competent football team, and it takes an act of faith to believe they will improve to the level of competence. Is there a logical argument to be had that they could actually improve their on-the-field performance to do so? Have they shown anything to indicate an improvement is possible? Even if they do manage to win all their remaining home games (the Vikes are a good home team: they might), are they really capable of winning two of their remaining three road games? They haven't won a road game all year, and actually lost their last four road games in 2009. The pass rush is noticeably nonexistent on grass. I'm not sure the Vikings can win one road game (at Detroit, maybe), and I'm pretty sure they'll blow at least one home game.

The Commercial Life
Miller Lite ads have often featured gender policing; these ads promote a proper and acceptable way for a man to act, and ridicule some of the unacceptable ways for a man to act. This year's crop features a man doing something in some way different or eccentric, then getting mocked and lectured for it by an attractive female bartender. The lesson is obvious: conform to the norm and act like a "real" man, or you will be humiliated and rejected...and Miller Lite is for "real men."

NFC North Box
Both the Packers and Bears finish the year with pretty brutal schedules. For the Packers, I only see one gimme (49ers at home), and every remaining Bears game is losable. But we're also talking about the #1 and #2 scoring defenses in the whole friggin' league, so I'm not assuming they'll tumble either.

Basketball Box
Kevin Love's 31 point, 31 rebound game in a rare T-Wolves win is kind of a big deal. This Michael Beasley/Kevin Love core looks like it can be something, but the Wolves will have to actually put a quality backcourt together to get near the playoffs.

Blessings on everybody. Even Packer fans, just not from noon to three on Sunday.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

On the Ledge

In this game between the Vikings and Bears at Soldier Field, what, exactly, was surprising?

That the Vikings committed a lot of turnovers?

That the Vikings allowed a lot of return yardage?

That the Vikings allowed Bear pass catchers to get wide open?

The Vikes have been a horrible road team through the Tice and Childress eras. They play notably poorly on grass. And they play particularly awful at Soldier Field.

You've seen this game before.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

National Friday League, Week 10

The next two weeks
The Vikings' next two games are at Chicago and home against Green Bay. If they manage to win both of those games, they'll be one game out of first place in the division, with a 3-1 division record and a win against each other NFC North team. And if the Vikings lose either of these games (especially the Packer game), they might be sunk. If they lose both of these games, they are sunk.

Tough Guy Town Week

From 2001 to 2009, the Vikings won a game at Chicago just one time, and it took a transcendent performance from Adrian Peterson for that one win (and that barely eked out). Want to guess how this game goes? The Vikings move the ball but commit awful, devastating turnovers. The Bears score at least one return touchdown. The Bear QB manages to find wide open WRs most of the day. The game is inexplicably close at the end, and some sort of turnover costs the Vikings the game.

That wouldn't be an awful guess. The Vikings often play above themselves at Lambeau, but they almost always play well below themselves at Soldier Field. And now the Bears have Julius freaking' Peppers, a man who has had some memorably dominant games against the Vikings. Will Brad Childress insist on keeping one blocker on Peppers most of the game? If he hasn't learned from the past, almost certainly.

If you're trying to talk yourself into hope, here we go:

The Bears rank 27th in the NFL with 18.5 points per game.

Jay Cutler has taken more sacks for more lost yardage than any QB in the league; he has been sacked on an incredible 11.7% of his dropbacks.

The Bears are 5-3, with just one win by more than seven points (and the Vikings are 3-5 with one win by more than three points, but this is the section for hope, not despair). Four of their wins are against teams with a combined four wins (and two of the those teams also provided the Vikings two of their wins--oh wait, hope! Hope!).

Adrian Peterson is, in fact, a transcendent player, and if the Vikings manage to avoid turnovers and contain the Bears' special teams, A Peterson takeover of the game might actually not get wasted.

It's games like this that remind me I've aged as a Viking fan. I remember the day of this Monday night game: I wore a Viking shirt and confident smiled as I told people how well the Vikes would do that night. I remember the week before this (don't actually click that link) game: I believe my exact words were "I'm pretty confident I'll be watching the Vikings in the Super Bowl" (the response: "What, do you have some old tapes of Fran Tarkenton you're going to pull out?"). And I remember my feeling before this game, giggling with anticipation at the idea of the Bears giving a rookie QB his first start. So young and naive. It was somewhere around here, here, and here that I realized I should never, ever, ever expect the Vikings to win at Soldier Field. They might, of course...but don't ever expect it or count on it. After they won in 2007, before I could forget that lesson, I got it again here and here. The Vikings suck at Soldier Field. It's that easy.

The Bears
Obviously, I'm rooting for the Vikings this weekend. And obviously, I will root for the Vikings when the teams meet later this season. And obviously, I'm rooting for the Vikings to beat the Bears in the NFC North.

However, if the Bears do win this weekend, I will be rooting for them the rest of the year. I mean openly, on a game-to-game basis, watching the Bears and pulling for them to win. Just to keep the Packers from taking the division. It will get weird.

Other Intriguing Games/Fantasy Box

Titans-Dolphins. Chad Sexington lives!

Jets-Browns. Because the Browns are world-beaters that might do anything on any given day. Would you be surprised by any Browns outcome in any game for the rest of this season?

Bengals-Colts. Last week I started Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Donald Brown, and the Colt Kicker: the only way I wasn't getting big fantasy points from the Colts was if they gave rushing TDs to another player. Which they did.

Patriots-Steelers. Where's Wallace!?!?! Where's Wallace!?!?!? While Wallace has been a fantasy obsession of mine for 2010, I have no expectation of this continuing in 2011. Wallace as a very cheap fantasy pick that I was convinced would be a top WR--exciting. Wallace as a mid-range fantasy pick coming off a breakout year but reliant on big plays because he doesn't actually get many touches--not exciting.

Basketball Box
Michael Beasley comes alive with 42 points.

Blessings to everybody. Even Bear fans. Just no football-joy from noon to three Sunday.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Clouds of Heaven: Vikings 27, Cardinals 24 (OT)

Box Score (ESPN)

What fun! A wild game featuring plays that could have made for four total return touchdowns, but two of those plays (a magnificent chase-down-strip by Greg Camarillo, a dropped interception in wide open field by Chad Greenway). A game the Vikings might have won something like 19-10 if not for terrible coverage against a kick return and a fumble on a kick return (not that I discount those things: special teams is part of the game). A dramatic fourth quarter comeback. Great performances from all sorts of individual Vikings. Let's assign individual credit.

Greg Camarillo
four catches for 66 yards, seven punt returns for 86 yards, and a forced fumble that absolutely saved the Vikings seven points. Is anything more fun than seeing a player chase down a runner all the way down the field and stripping him right at the end, saving a touchdown? A special day for Camarillo.

Bernard Berrian/Percy Harvin
Both players kept regularly making chain-moving plays. Both players had the slant working. Both players ran with the ball well after the catch.

Jared Allen/Ray Edwards
The pass rush finally came on late in the game, and Allen and Edwards combined for 4.5 sacks. The Dome got loud at late, and the pass rush came on.

Brett Favre
It's not just a career high 446 passing yards. It's that the Vikings kept needing scoring drives in the fourth quarter for any chance to win, and Favre kept giving the Vikings scoring drives to give them a chance to win. The Vikes were down by 14 late in the fourth but won the game. Favre made some mistakes earlier in the game, but he was a brilliant quarterback at the end. A player like Tarvaris Jackson can't bring the Vikings back from 14 down late; I don't think Tarvaris Jackson will ever be able to do that. But sometimes to win a game, you need a QB to do that.

Adrian Peterson
144 yards from scrimmage plus two touchdowns, Peterson made the big catch-and-run on a screen leading the Vikings' game-tying drive, and in overtime he made the big run leading the Vikings' game-winning drive. I love seeing the Vikings throw to Peterson: giving the ball to your best player in space seems like an obviously good idea. Peterson is the team's MVP so far.

With the exception of one bad touchdown drive allowed at the end of the first half, what did the defense do wrong today? Sure, account for the opponent, but that was what I want to see from the Minnesota D.

Fire Childress Now!?!
I was way calmer during a close Viking game than I should have been: I figured either the Vikings get a great comeback win, or they fire Childress, and either way, there's something to smile about.

And going into the game, I thought even if the Vikings win today, they should still fire Childress. Obviously things are crashing all around, and after today's win, let's give Frazier a chance to save it when the team can (probably) afford two more losses, rather than waiting until the next loss when they'll only be able to afford one (and even now, they might only be able to afford one).

But it's hard to fire a coach mid-season after a dramatic, emotional comeback win. It might be necessary anyway, but it's hard. Maybe, just maybe, the Vikings can use this game to turn it around.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

National Friday League, Week 9

Other demands on my time will prevent a good National Friday League post this week (shut up, PV: you've never written a "good" National Friday League post). Just a few quick points, then off to my business. This is essentially my bye week.

Here I am now; entertain me.
As disappointing as the Vikings have been, they have certainly given us a lot to talk about these past few months. It's one crazy story after another, but at least it is stories. At this point, I try to tone down the emotional investment, wave my hands in the air, and try to just watch the show. This show is more farce than tragedy, so at least there will be some laughs.

Vikings-Cardinals Preview
I think what you need to know about the Arizona Cardinals is the scores of their road games:

I know I'm waiting to be entertained, but the only thing that will entertain me if the Vikings lose this game is seeing Leslie Frazier coach for the rest of the year.

Hmm...why might Brad Childress not care about eating a 3rd round draft pick?
Might Childress have a feeling he might not be around to benefit from the use of that 3rd round draft pick?

A stranger in a parking lot complimented my fedora this week. The Vikings and the Timberwolves may suck beyond repair. I may be trapped under a pile of papers and exams that need to be graded. I may have the annual autumn cold that clings for weeks. But nobody is taking that moment from me, baby!

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

Monday, November 01, 2010

"As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport."

I can see Football-Zeus and all the rest hanging around at Football-Olympus. Football-Zeus says "So, let's brainstorm. I want to come up with historic ways to jerk Viking fans around. Anything, anything, give me your ideas. We've got plenty of time to work all the good ones in."

How else to explain this?

And when that happens, what else is there to do but laugh and watch it happen? We're being taken for a ride: best hang on, but best try enjoy it.

When you put everything into a "Now or never" year, and the answer is "never," there's really nothing else to do but break it all up and start over. Rebuilding periods are fine as long as it is building toward something. And shitty teams end up with early draft picks and the chance to draft QBs like Matt Ryan or Sam Bradford that you can build around.

There was a period when the Vikings seemed to be building: in '07 and '08, they had a defense that showed flashes of dominance and a RB that showed flashes of being the greatest ever. The problem? They didn't have a QB to build around. This led to various stop-gap measures until the team could fall into a 39/40 year old Hall of Famer for a one-year ride. But it didn't work out, and the team was left in the same lousy QB situation, so that they (and we) got convinced that bringing back that QB at 40/41 was a real chance, instead of recognizing that the franchise butchered the QB position and so devoted a potential Super Bowl contender's window to a one-year shot with an old QB, and that one-year shot failed.

Bust it up. Fire Childress now. Start hoarding draft picks. Try not to waste Adrian Peterson's entire prime. Try to build a team. I actually really, really, really enjoyed the 2007 season. I'm not enjoying this at all.

Doesn't 2010 feel a lot like 2005? We go into the season with really high expectations, start out disastrously on and off the field, go 2-5, and everything is an abominable mess and you don't even know where to start piecing it together. I sort of see the rest of the year playing out the same way that year did: schedule eases up, team wins some games to make it interesting, ultimately comes up short of the playoffs...but this time, the current coach was hired by the current owner, and he might make it through it.

Lingering Questions
Do the people who bought #84 jerseys in the last month get their money back?

If you did a poll among Viking fans asking "Childress or Moss: which one goes?" does Moss get 3% of the vote?

These are rhetorical questions, obviously.

This is not at all surprising. And I get sunk costs (I think): if you think a player is detrimental to the team and that you'd be better off without him, you need to get rid of him, regardless of any past costs you've sunk into him. However, the Vikings acquired Moss knowing he has a reputation as an erratic asshole. That they, in a fit of desperation, still acquired him, toying with the emotional memory of Viking fans, then realized a month later they made a mistake, doesn't excuse them on an "Oh well, sunk costs and all" basis. They still made a move that didn't work out, that turned out to be a waste (and perhaps worse). They still look like a team without a plan for development beyond "win now" that is failing to win now.

Another Update
You know how a politician often gets labeled a particular way, whether or not that label is accurate or fair? And then when the politician does or says something that seems to confirm that perceived label, it can be damaging? I see that happening here. There are coaches that could do what Childress has done. However, given that this action, whether or not it is accurate or fair, feeds into an already existing perception of Childress. In other words, he has confirmed the label.