There has been a change in red zone offenses over the last few years. Sure, it is nice to have that power running back that can blast it in from inside the five yard line. Another weapon is the tall receivers with good hands that snatch TDs away from shorter cornerbacks.
Recently there has been a swing toward finding the leaping basketball-playing TE. Guys like the Jaguars' Marcedes Lewis and Oakland's Rob Gronkowski each had ten touchdowns. Better known TEs like the Chargers' Antonio Gates (10) and the Cowboys' Jason Witten (9) also found the red zone often in 2010. Vernon Davis of the 49ers had seven TDs, and his stock is rising. So too is the play of Brandon Pettigrew of the Lions, and many others.
The Vikings have benefited from the efforts of Visanthe Shiancoe. The last three seasons Shiancoe has 145 receptions for 1,692 yards and 20 TDs. And those numbers are tainted by missed time due to injury. Shiancoe had only two TDs last year, a significant drop from the previous two.
So when the Vikings chose 6'6, 259 lb. Kyle Rudolph, a junior from Notre Dame, with the 43rd overall pick fans were curious. Some thought it a wise move right away, after all, Shiancoe is a nine year veteran and 31 years-old. There was still Jeff Dugan and Jim Kleinsasser on the roster, but that was easily rationalized as the difference between receiving and blocking tight ends. Others were upset. Why hadn't we addressed positions of greater need? S Rahim Moore, OL Stefen Wisniewski, and DE Da'Quan Bowers were all available. What were the purple brass thinking?
They were thinking Kyle Rudolph was special. He was a serious talent in two sports in high school: basketball and football. For example, in his senior season Rudolph scored 25 of his team's 52 points in a close loss to the top team in the state. He finished 2nd all-time in scoring at Elder High. He was offered basketball scholarships to attend ACC universities. But he decided to attend Notre Dame and focus on football.
At Notre Dame Rudolph became the first true freshman to ever start for the Irish at TE. He would finish with the fourth most receptions all-time at TE, despite a shortened junior year due to a hamstring injury, and an early exit to the NFL draft. In 2010 he had back-to-back games with eight receptions vs. Michigan and Michigan State.
So now it appears Rudolph has signed with the team. Suddenly, the Vikings look not-so-good at receiver, but really good at tight end. With both Shiancoe and Rudolph in the lineup, the Vikings find themselves with red zone options similar to the aforementioned TEs of 2010. Could it be that the Vikings are leaning toward having both in the lineup? Maybe Donovan McNabb and/or Christian Ponder will utilize the athleticism of the new TE?
It makes sense. Minnesota may be bringing a new look to the 2011 offense. One with an emphasis on TEs.
Hit by the news that the Seattle Seahawks have acquired Tarvaris Jackson and Sidney Rice for many millions of dollars, I cannot help but smile. Rice was very good, and with Brett Favre he was sometimes magical. But there was the hip. Then there was the poorly timed surgery. Jackson always carried the burden of having been a lousy draft pick. He had a few good games, some great, but every mistake just screamed "Why a quarterback in the second round?".
Now Madieu Williams is cut. Possibly Pat Williams, too. Meanwhile, Ray Edwards is off to Atlanta. Others are rumored to be gone soon. What is going on? Have the Vikings gone mad? No. When a team finishes 6-10 changes will have to be made. The Vikings as of a day ago were still five million dollars over the proposed cap. More will have to be done. Restructuring of contracts. Signing of cheaper players. And we are not alone.
I heard on ESPN radio today that 2nd overall pick Von Miller signed for about 1/3 of the value of 2010's number two pick, Ndamukong Suh, who signed with the Detroit Lions. And less guaranteed money. Teams are not going to be paying out as much to unproven rookies. Call it the Jamarcus Russell clause, if you will. In 2007 he held out from joining the Raiders until they caved with a 61 million dollar contract, 32 guaranteed. Russell proceeded to go 7-18 as a starter.
No, teams are tightening their belts. The new CBA focuses less monies on the rookies, and provides better futures for the retired. Kind of like most of today's working class. Forego the vacations and restaurants, save for tomorrow. With the smorgasbord of free agents available, teams can look in many directions for help. And the Vikings are visiting some foreign markets.
One receiver who has not made a media splash to date is Emmanuel Arceneaux. You know, the two year Canadian Football League veteran from British Columbia? Formerly of Alcorn State? You say you have never heard of him? Well he caught 130 passes in two seasons for 12 touchdowns and nearly 2,000 yards. In three playoff games he had 17 catches for 269 yards and a TD. The 6'2, 210 pound receiver may not be a household name, but he is a bargain. And then there is former Colts and Bears receiver Devin Aromashodu. He ran a 4.35 in the combine five years ago. In his five seasons he has caught a total of 41 passes. These are the kind of deals bargain shoppers get.
The tightening of the belt is putting your monies in areas of importance, and then getting by in lesser areas. Missing out on paying Sidney Rice 44 million dollars is not a terrible thing. Wide receivers are not like your gas and electric bills. They are more like cable television. Sure it is great to have a good one, but you cannot afford 210 channels when you struggle to buy food. Want proof that it is a luxury? Look at the last few Super Bowl winners. The Packers and Colts are two teams that have quality at receiver, but also fill ins. We already have Percy Harvin. Signing Sidney Rice was a luxury we could not afford.
The Vikings must focus their monies on essentials. Check those SB winners again. Notice how each contained a great quarterback, a good offensive line, and definitely a strong pass rush. That is where the budget must give a little.
Times are tough everywhere. While we all scrimp and save we can understand the letting go of players who are not essential, and maybe a few who are. Vikings fans just hope that the guys making the budget decisions are thinking about the future. With Green Bay and Detroit ready to compete in 2011, saving is only one of our present worries.
I used to like the Pro Bowl. The images of Hawaii, the relaxed look at the players, the sideline interviews, and the chance to see the league's best perform against each other were enough reasons to warrant viewing of the end of the season highlight game. When the game was played in Honolulu at teh end of the NFL season, it was the perfect showcase for the NFL. It was an end of the year celebration. It was never really about who won the game, but rather, which players could dominate it. Four times Minnesota Vikings won that honor, the MVP of the Pro Bowl. Fran Tarkenton was the first in 1965, and Adrian Peterson the last only a few years ago.
Today's Pro Bowl, cast between conference championships and the Super Bowl, is more a showcase of how little the players think of the game. Sure, ten of the twenty-eight missing players will be excused because they are in Super Bowl XLV, but isn't that who we wanted to see? For whatever reason Aaron Rodgers was left off of the roster, but six other Packers will be absent. But fear not, there was six Cowboys selected. Add five Giants and five Eagles and the NFC roster takes on an East feel, despite their ineptness in 2010.
The missing list includes a who's who of the NFL. Offense? Try missing Rodgers, Andre Johnson, Greg Jennings, DeSean Jackson, Antonio Gates, Tom Brady, Maurice Jones-Drew and a few of the league's best linemen. On the defense, Dwight Freeney, Nnamdi Asomugha, Lance Briggs, Ed Reed, Asante Samuel, Ndamukong Suh, and Brian Urlacher, to name a few. I will even miss watching Clay Matthews, the dominant long-haired pass rusher of Green Bay. The long hair really bugs me, but can he play!
While I would not place the Pro Bowl in the same light as the All-Star games in the NBA and NHL (absolutely no defense), I think MLB has a better game. No, not the call-it-a-draw game, but the chance to see the game's best play hard. In baseball, one can play hard and not risk injury. Such is not the case in the other sports. The NFL simplifies defenses so as to avoid injuries. The result is a lot more scoring. While it is similar to the other sports, football's intensity seems to hide the softness of the All-Star venue better than hockey or basketball. I know when I am watching a 14-12 hockey game something is missing.
So today we sit back and watch the Pro Bowl if we has absolutely nothing else to do. I am debating taking the ice out of the gutters or viewing the game.
And it is a tough decision...
I am a Randy Moss lover. Not because I want my kids to grow up to be him. Not because I like the way he offers rides to traffic cops. And certainly not because of what he brings to team chemistry.
I like him for his talent.
Randy Moss is maybe the greatest wide receiver to ever don a Minnesota Vikings uniform. He also may be the biggest cancer. The Vikings gave up a third-round pick and are a reported six million dollars in the hole to acquire the cantankerous Moss. Now, with Brad Childress' decision to jettison Moss we fans are left wondering why. Why give up a third-round pick and spend all that money for three games of Moss? Why let go the player that opens up defenses and provides Brett Favre a deep threat?
I have heard that Randy was not working hard in practice since coming back to Minnesota. I have heard he was late for events. When I heard him on television tell the viewing audience what a great coach Bill Belichick was, I understood he was stabbing his head coach in the back. On the radio I heard Paul Allen give his inside info that players (some) were unhappy at his lack of effort on the play where he was interfered with near the Patriots' end zone. It all makes sense.
But then, we knew this already. It is Randy Moss.
If I drink booze for thirty years and complain of cirrhosis you have no pity. If I smoke for forty years and then develop lung cancer, you receive little compassion. If I spoil my child all of his/her life and then they become brats, all I get is a knowing nod of disapproval.
Are we missing something here?
Brad Childress used his authority to let Moss go. I can understand why he would want to do that. Just like film, we fans are not privy to all that goes on. When we debate which players are contributing and which are not all we have is TV angles and commentary from guys like Cris Collinsworth, Dan Dierdorff, and friends. We do not see the film. When we examine the Moss situation we (as fans) have to realize most of what goes on in the Vikings' organization is behind doors. This makes us uneducated, or "rubes", as KFAN likes to proclaim.
But we are angry rubes.
We will hear in the 11:00 conference today from Childress exactly why he did what he did. I saw last night that owner Ziggy Wilf is trying to intervene, or at least attempt to open lines of communication. It all seems so discouraging as a loyal Minnesota fan. Sad that we are losing our top receiver. Sad that we are out a third-round pick. Even a little sad that the organization may be out six million dollars. Depressed that we are 2-5 and losing personnel.
I can feel the Roberto Duran in me starting to rise like a black bile. Sugar Ray Leonard (the 2010 season) has hit me too many times. I just want to call out .. no mas.
Early in the game the Packers moved the ball at will. Cornerback Chris Cook looked like he had on the wrong spikes, falling down, making poor cuts, and getting taken to the cleaners by James Jones. The defensive line had their now normal lack of any pass rush. E.J. Henderson disappeared. And yet Minnesota was in the game.
On offense, the Vikings ignored the fact that they had Randy Moss, choosing to throw underneath coverage to Visanthe Shiancoe and Percy Harvin. For a while it looked like the two offenses traded dinking and dunking to move the ball. Only Green Bay was doing it better. Adrian Peterson was his usual dominant self, and at game's end most Vikings' fans were unhappy that he 'only' had 23 carries on the game. AP was the best player on the field.
Late in the game mistakes cost Minnesota big. An interception returned for a TD by the Packers made it a 28-17 game. But even as the situation crumbled, I confess I was not worried. Minnesota showed it could move the ball. The talent on offense strong enough to at least give hope in an eleven point deficit in the second half. And I was right.
Back came Minnesota.
Never mind that earlier Minnesota chose not to ask for a replay on the Quarless TD. Replay did show that the ball was bobbled as he landed on the back of the end zone line. It appeared he did not fully land in bounds as his elongated backside covered both in and out of bounds. But with the quick extra-point try the coaching staff of Minnesota (Brad Childress) was left to an instant decision to challenge. And we did not. This was a 3rd down attempt that would have ended in a field goal try. Instead, it was a questionable score that meant the Vikings' final drive was from behind instead of tied.
Late in the game, as the Vikings drove for that winning TD, they made two crucial mistakes. The first was on Visanthe Shiancoe, who flipped a ball high in the air after a key first down put the Vikings inside the 15-yard line with a minute left. He was given a delay of game penalty and Minnesota was pushed back five yards. On the ensuing play, offensive tackle Phil Loadholt put his hands to the facemask of an onrushing Clay Matthews (that long-haired player you love to hate) and was awarded a fifteen yard personal foul. It was clearly a foul. I thought the referee's let holding calls go throughout the game, but they have this thing about hands to the face. The first and thirty result was too much to overcome. Percy Harvin had a foot out and the last play and the Packers coaching staff challenged for the umpteenth time in the game and won. Finally, there was a desperation throw toward Randy Moss, who looked to have three or four guys covering him.
The Vikings lose a close one.
We can blame mistakes, penalties, and turnovers. Those are a part of the game. But losing via instant replay (or lack thereof) is a new disease. One that affects non-cognizant coaches. I have defended Childress in the past because I saw it more as a player/personnel issue. But not challenging a questionable TD in a division rivalry has me concerned. Losing via the instant replay leaves me cold.
P.S. I still think we will win this thing. Our rivals are not that good.
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