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.


  1. Anonymous9:19 PM

    Coach always gets blamed. Not all his fault, but he did some of this to himself.
    Sold out to get and keep Favre and gave him too much control. The team knew this and it was not popular.
    Poor game time decisions. (Challenges, 2:00 drills, etc.)
    Apparently not a popular guy with the players the past two years. Coincidence, that FAvre got special treatment?
    I hope Frazier proves himself. If not, look for a big name caoch for Zigy.
    Let AP run. God, it would be nice to see a enw formation and a toss to the outside once in awhile!
    Unlike PV, I still watch. Looking to see who still wants to be here in the future. Watch to see who is good enough to be here in the future.
    3-7 sucks, but maybe we are not that good.
    Draft could be interesting with SOOOOOO many needs.

  2. Oh, I'll watch: I just don't have the excited anticipation that I usually have had. And if things go really bad, I might stop watching to go do one of life's activities that are worth something.

    I think Childress's challenge against New England should be legendary: a play in the middle of the field where there was no question at all that the ball never hit the ground. As my brother J-Rod said, there are challenges in Madden where you accidentally push the button that were better than that.

    And I'll again emphasize the connection between the QB struggles of Childress's first three years and the double standard/ preferential treatment Childress allowed Favre for his last two. Failure to fill the position in a conventional way basically left Childress reliant on Favre showing up in mid-August despite missing a lot of the work the other players were willing to put in. If Childress lost credibility with the players over that (it's possible/probable he lost it before that), his QB problems directly contributed.

  3. Anonymous1:32 AM

    There's no question that, ultimately, what killed Childress was his inability to develop a QB through normal means. As you said PV, because he couldn't do that, he became reliant on a diva of a QB who makes all the rules for himself. As a result of that, everyone else on the team believed they could set the rules as well, and the wheels were in motion for Childress to completely lose this team. Which he did. Peterson, Rice, Berrian...they walked all over him this season. Remember Moss' shrug right before halftime against Green Bay, when Minnesota ran the clock out rather than try to get in field goal range? We all probably agreed with Moss, but it was disrespectful to show up the coach like that, and that was the type of culture that had been created.

    And I think it can all be traced back to Favre. Childress should have set a hard and fast deadline for Favre to show up by, and if he doesn't then we're moving on. Instead he allowed him to miss two training camps and all minicamps. He even picked him up at the airport, letting everyone know full well who was in charge, and it wasn't the head coach. Players notice stuff like this.

    When examining what went right last year as opposed to what went wrong last year, nobody seems to remember the ridiculously easy schedule the Vikings opened up with last season. They played Cleveland, Detroit, San Fransisco and St. Louis in 4 of their first 5 games. This easy schedule allowed Favre to treat the first couple weeks like preseason; remember how little he was throwing at first? This season, there was no warm up. The Vikings came out of the gate with the Super Bowl champion, then a tough Miami team, then a couple weeks later a good Jets team. Favre had to be on his game early, and he wasn't. People forget he wasn't on his game early last year either, but warm ups against hapless Cleveland and Detroit allowed him to ease into it. With no such "regular season pre-season," he got off to a bad start and never recovered.

    The biggest thing I want to see out of Frazier in these last six games in clock management. It will be impossible to tell what type of overall head coach he can be in 6 games to end the season, but we'll find out right away how he handles the clock, timeouts, challenges and 4th down/extra point decisions. This is what I'll be judging him on. I fully expect the team to play well for him, as he is respected and I think the defensive players will play hard to try and get him the full-time job. But I'm not going to judge him on wins and losses; I'm going to judge him on whether there are any clock management mistakes, and other fiascos that were all too prevalent during Childress' time. If there's a 12 men in the huddle penalty at the end of the game as Minnesota is in winning field goal territory, he should be automatically disqualified from being the full-time head coach.

  4. Anonymous9:34 AM

    I disagree with the point that the offensive scheme was not poor. Childress refused to buuild an offense around the talent he had but instead made players adapt to his scheme regardless if that was playing to their strength. Too often he was trying to fit a square peg through a round hole.

    An example of where he failed his Adrian Peterson. With his lousy zone blocking scheme he turned AD into a home run hitter like Barry Sanders. Unlike Barry, AD has size and strength and should be ripping off more positive runs. Instead the zone blocking scheme which negates the size of our OL produces runs wih zero or negative yardage.

    If Adrian had a coach like Shanahan or Schottenheimer its scary to think what type of yardage he could have put up.

  5. Anonymous10:46 AM

    AP is screwed under Childress. How many yards could he have rushed for in Pittsburgh?
    Tribune today, FAvre almost got Sherman fired, and almost McCarthy but the GM stood by the coach.
    He got Mangini fired in N.Y. Now Chilly.
    His treatment by the Vikings is a big part of this years problems.
    Even adults do not like a double standard and become resentful.

  6. Anon 9:34: I'm not sure what offensive scheme should be built around Brad Johnson, Jermaine Wiggins, Marcus Robinson, Travis Taylor, and Troy Williamson. And the next year, their top WR was Bobby Wade. That's my point: in Childress's early years, it was poor talent, not poor scheme. The Vikings simply didn't have the players that anybody SHOULD build an offense around, at least not in the passing game.

    Criticism of how Peterson has been used is fair, I think.

  7. Plinthy the Middling9:27 AM

    Anon at Nine Nineteen wrote:
    Draft could be interesting with SOOOOOO many needs.

    And yet SOOOOOOOO few draft choices.