The 2012 surprise Vikings' playoff visit ended with a thud. We watched as Joe Webb showed us that Christian Ponder might not be so bad. Webb completed only 11 of 30 passes, and his lone TD pass came when the game was already 24-3 Packers. Just a week earlier Ponder had thrown for three touchdowns as Minnesota scored 37 points in a victory over their hated rival. The loss was not shocking, but it was definitely a case of "what could have been". Without Ponder, MVP Adrian Peterson was given extreme attention by the Green Bay defense. Minnesota became one-dimensional on offense. On defense, Aaron Rodgers picked apart a rag-tag secondary to the tune of 274 yards.
Minnesota, which had snuck in the playoffs with a season-ending four game win streak, was finished.
The off-season started poorly. CB Antoine Winfield, rightly unhappy about a lack of an offer, left Minnesota for Seattle. Then, WR Percy Harvin, coming off of a solid season, decided he did not like playing for the Purple. He was whisked away to Seattle for a group of draft picks, including a first-rounder in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Minnesota entered the draft with serious holes to fill at CB, QB, WR, and MLB (with the departure of E.J. Henderson). On top of that, there was growing concern that DT Kevin Williams was beginning the end of his great career, and there was no "blue-chip" replacement for his key position in the 4-3 defense. Further, many felt the Vikings should use one of the two first-round draft choices to solidify the quarterback position, as Webb had demonstrated the talent pool was only one player deep.
Enter Rick Spielman.
In the course of a few months, highlighted by the NFL Draft, Spielman seemingly fixed everything. You lose aging but solid Winfield? No problem, we draft Xavier Rhodes. Missing Percy Harvin? How about the SEC all-purpose yardage leader Cordarelle Patterson. Kevin Williams' age is concerning? No worries, let's add Sharrif Floyd. Spielman added a third first-round pick in the draft and took care of three major needs.
But there were still critics.
Some complained that we did not fix the quarterback issue. What if Ponder crumbles? We had a chance to upgrade the most important position and we passed... Also, who was going to play middle linebacker? Minnesota decided not to draft a few solid inside linebackers in the early stages of the draft and now were praying that Brian Urlacher wanted to jump ship and be healthy at the same time. Why not use key picks for these two vital positions?
Further, even before Harvin left for Seattle there was concern about wide receiver. None of the other receivers did much of anything, and the collection of rookies and journeymen produced little. And now without Harvin, Minnesota might be resigned to running the ball and looking for TE Kyle Rudolph too much.
Do not fear, Spielman is here.
Spielman maneuvered through free agency the signing of two former Packers. Greg Jennings was signed to fill the gaping hole at receiver. Desmond Bishop was later added to shore up the linebacker position. Both have question marks surrounding them about age and/or injury, but the talents are hard to ignore. Jennings finished the 2012 season with near 300 yards and four touchdowns in his final four games to silence concerns that his impressive career was waning. Bishop, who missed the 2012 season with serious injury, had admirably replaced Nick Barnett at MLB, and was instrumental in the Green Bay Super Bowl victory over the Steelers in 2011.
And now they were both Vikings. There is a certain feeling of satisfaction when Green Bay players come to Minnesota. Ryan Longwell, Brett Favre, Darren Sharper... the list was already healthy before the 2013 off-season. Now, it feels like some type of action plan. Hone your skills in Wisconsin, and enjoy them in Minnesota.
And for icing on the cake, Spielman snagged veteran quarterback Matt Cassel from Kansas City. Cassel has had some success in the NFL, He had ten win seasons in both New England and Kansas City. He was named to the Pro Bowl in 2010. This appeased the Ponder critics somewhat. For we Ponder faithful, it gave us assurance that Joe Webb would not be backing up Ponder in 2013.
And so the 2013 Training Camp open in Mankato. This will be the 48th year Minnesota has trained at Minnesota State. There is much to follow this summer. Who will win the starting middle linebacker job? Is Patterson capable of making us forget Harvin's exciting kick returns? Will Ponder improve? Which defensive backs will step up to fight Green Bay (and others) three and four receiver sets? How good is this Floyd kid?
And many more...
But one thing I am not questioning. Do we have the right guy behind the desk?
As I read the articles on Percy Harvin's placement on the PUP list and Packer coach McCarthy's retorts to Greg Jennings' observations regarding his former team, I can answer a whole-hearted YES.
Let's begin with the first step. We (as fans) are powerless over the team. No matter how hard I cheer, how much I swear, or whatever I throw, the game is out of my control. In order for their to be a change, we have to accept this fact.
The 3-13 season an abomination. Well, after the 6-10 season of 2010 it is more a downward spiral. All this after coming a couple of plays (or thugs) from being in the 2009-10 Super Bowl. Left staring at the mess that was once among the most feared in the NFL. No more Brett Favre. Half the Williams wall gone. Offensive linemen, wide receivers, linebackers gone. Some remain. But not the same team that should have beat the Saints that fateful game two seasons ago.
I suppose inventory should be taken. it is an important step. What do we have?
The first thing that comes to mind is RB Adrian Peterson. Drafted in 2007, he has been almost saint-like, were it not for a fumbling spell a few years ago, and the recent injury, he might already be canonized. He ran for 296 yards in a single game his rookie year. He has amassed nearly 7,000 yards in five seasons. And 80 rushing touchdowns. All that despite starting only 66 of the 80 games. Playing in 73. If he continues at this pace he will pass Chuck Foreman in the minds of the fans as the greatest VIkings RB ever. For some, he already has.
Percy Harvin is the other offensive skill player that most trust. Taken 22nd in the 2009 draft, Harvin has been electrifying on game days. He won Rookie of the Year honors. He has played in 45 of the 48 potential season games, catching 218 passes for over 2,600 yards. And he has been magnificent in kick returns. And he can run the ball. Only migraine headaches stand in the way of future All-Pro seasons.
Question marks loom over much of the remaining offense. WIll Christian Ponder's game reach a higher level? Will Jerome Simpson contribute at wide receiver? Can Kyle Rudolph replace and exceed the efforts of the departed Shiancoe? And maybe the biggest question, will the offensive line get better? Was the drafting of LT Matt Kalil a sign that the OL can return to its' dominance via the run, and provide enough protection to let Ponder loose?
Yes, lots of questions on offense. Defenisvely, there are maybe even bigger questions.
It appears the defensive line is in order, and with veterans Jared Allen and Kevin Williams returning, one of the better in the league. Names like Brian Robison, Letroy Guion, Christian Ballard, and Fred Evans demonstrate solid depth. Not quite the 1970s Purple People Eaters, but on a 3-13 team maybe a bright spot.
It is the other seven that concern fans. And rightly so. Looking at linebackers, Chad Greenway has been more than good at SLB. Erin Henderson made improvements at WLB last year. This year's MLB is Jasper Brinkley, who has shown flashes, but is not quite the star power as the departed E.J. Henderson. It is as no-name a set of linebackers as I can recall in all my years of fanship.
Worse yet, it the present secondary. The names kepe changing at cornerback, and safety, yet the results have been the same for years now. Antoine Winfield, the run-tackling extrodanairre, is back at one CB spot. Chris Cook occupies the other. The safety spots appear unsettled, with my money on Harrison Smith, the rookie from Notre Dame, eventually inheriting the free safety spot. Mistral Raymond may win the strong safety job. Others defensive backs in the mix include: Chris Carr, Marcus Sherels, JarMarca Sanford, Eric Frampton, Josh Robinson, Brandon Burton, Robert Blanton, Zack Bowman and more.. In early training camp, anyone who has ever played DB is getting looked at somewhere.
So how does a team recover from a three win season when the parts haven't necessarily been replaced?
This season marks the 5th time Minnesota has had to start the season following one with three losses or less. Three of those seasons occurred in early Vikes history. Our opening season (1961) we were 3-11. The next we were 2-11-1. The team improved to 5-8-1 in year three, became a winning team in year four. But when Bud Grant joined in year seven we were coming off a 4-9-1 season. His first year, 1967, we went 3-8-3. We then completely turned our program around. We went to the playoffs the following for years.
How did that change happen? A new coach (Grant) used to winning changed mentality. We traded our star (Tarkenton) and received numerous early picks which we parlayed with our own choices into a playoff team. In 1967 we drafted RB Clinton Jones, WR Gene Washington, DT Alan Page, DB Bobby Bryant, and WR Bob Grim. The next year we added LT Ron Yary, DB Charlie West, and RB Oscar Reed. We would add OG Ed White in 1969. The dynasty had begun.
Later, in 1984, the team fell to 3-13 under Les Steckel.. The next year Minnesota rebounded to 7-9 with Grant returning. Then in 1986 we finsihed 9-7 under new coach Jerry Burns where the Vikings traded for Anthony Carter and Gary Zimmerman. What followed was a three year playoff run. The draft of 1985 had produced this year's Hall of Fame Viking representative: Chris Doleman.
The class of 2012 includes three or four players who could have the same type of impact. And a fancy new kicker to boot. Our past suggest that the GM and front office people will play an important part in our recovery, whether it is the typical 2-3 year wait to return to the playoffs, or if that can be sped up, or worse, slowed down.
So our recovery begins with hope. Minnesota has 25 playoff visits in its' 51 years. We have 17 division championships. Four conference championships. Since thise early years we have been a steady successsful program. Will administration do their part in helping us to return to our roots?
Because it is time for them to step up.
All the teachers are doing it. Or should. We use rubrics to measure performance and create standards for use in evaluation. Once established, everyone should know what is expected of them, and what is needed for grading purpose.
4 - exceeded standards of position
3 - met standards in all areas
2 - met standard partially; stood out in areas
1 - partial standard met at best
Only a few Vikings will be evaluated in Week One.
Antoine Winfield. A Four.
Winfield had a hand in ten tackles, many of them bringing down Mike "Marion Butts" Tolbert. Antoine sacrificed himself throughout the game. He also forced a fumble; and had an interception. Minnesota could not have asked for much more from Winfield.
Adrian Peterson. Three.
Peterson, coming off of the 100 million dollar signing, ran for 98 yards on only 16 carries. While he was bottled up early by Chargers' linebacker Taeo Spikes, he created holes later in the game. If Minnesota would have had the ball for more than the 22:43 they did, Adrian would have better numbers. But he looked real good at times.
Brian Robison and Jared Allen, DEs. Three.
The Vikings' ends created pressure at times. They were also asked to drop into coverage as Minnesota relied heavily on the blitz to create pressure, which they did in the first half, but not the second. Allen had an important interception; but combined with Robison to have only a single sack. Allen finished with six tackles, Robison three. They were decent.
E.J. Henderson, Erin Henderson, and Chad Greenway, LBs. Two.
The linebackers made tackles. E.J. Henderson had nine with a sack, Greenway eight. But the trio was asked to blitz frequently and only got to Rivers a few times in the game. In addition, the LBs are often responsible for running backs out of the backfield. Mike Tolbert and Ryan Matthews were held to 80 rushing yards on 24 carries. But they combined for 131 yards on 12 receptions. The backers might be a victim of the defensive scheme, but the grade stands.
Letroy Guion, Donovan McNabb, Bill Musgrave, and Bernard Berrian. One.
Each made costly mistakes.
Guion's two offside calls late in the game sealed the loss, though the lack of passing game made that future probably moot. Still, how does a defensive tackle jump twice while staring at the football? My 7th graders will jump less.
McNabb threw for a total of 39 yards. His early mistake throwing low to Percy Harvin resulted in his first ever Vikings' pass being intercepted and cost Minnesota 7 points. McNabb made a couple of nice runs, and was the victim of a drop or two, but overall, Brett Favre was better last year.
The Vikings' offense was pathetic in the second half. Bill Musgrave, brought in from Atlanta, did little to change that. The insertion of Joe Webb cost the Vikings one of the few series they had the ball in the second half. Percy Harvin was looked at too often early, but not enough late. Minnesota did amass 159 rushing yards, but even Tarvaris Jackson threw for more yards in week one. Realizing Harvin returned the opening kick for a TD, the Vikings managed only 10 points on offense.
Berrian was supposed to be the go-to-guy in 2011. He was thrown to twice, and once he dropped a relatively easy pass. Sure, Phil Loadholt did not do enough to protect McNabb on the play, and Berrian had his man easily beaten; but the short ball still was catchable. Go-to-guys make that catch.
A very frustrating loss to start the season, considering it was 17-7 Vikings at half time. But there were signs that things might be better. I liked the improved play of the secondary, and the special teams coverage was decent. Minnesota won the turnover battle 2:1.
The Chargers ended up with 407 yards, but the receivers were shutout for the first third of the game. Despite the strong beginning, San Diego finished with 31 first downs. Tolbert was unstoppable in the red zone. And unfortunately, Minnesota had 9 penalties for 78 yards. Many hurt.
Minnesota had better do some homework before the next test.
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.
Life is brutal. Whenever anyone gets ahead, thinks they have life 'by the tail', fate comes along and slaps you across the face. Kismet. Swwaaappp. Every time, it seems.
Vikings' Land was confident. The Saints were using up every bit of good luck a team can have to survive a loss in Washington D.C., and Minnesota was waiting for the Sunday Night game against the Cardinals. The place where Tarvaris Jackson lit up Arizona last year. Where time and time again, the Cards have struggled in 2009. It was looking too good. But then winter came. The Arizonans closed the domed roof due to chilly temperatures (60s), and lit up Minnesota to the tune of a 30-17 victory. Worse yet, the Vikings had numerous injuries in the game, including losing stellar MLB E.J. Henderson. Rookie Phil Loadholt and fellow tackle Aaron McKinnie were also out with injuries, along with others. The blooming season of 10-1 experienced a change in the weather, to the extreme.
First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter.
Now we stare at a team with a hurting offensive line, the most important part of Brett Favre's health, if not his success. When Hicks, Cooper, and whomever are in, we know our limitations. We are suddenly missing an All-Pro level MLB. Our secondary is suspect. For the first time all season, we feel the defensive line did little. Adrian Peterson held to near nothing in rushing yards. When the athletes on this team do not perform, we realize that our play calling is non-lethal. Favre in December? Childress? Suddenly, it is raining and sleeting doubt. Blizzards of worry loom, ready to pounce on the Twin Cities.
In the garden, growth has it's seasons.
OK, Henderson is gone. Maybe for 2010, too? But many others are still ready. Yes, we are short some linemen, but guys like Sullivan and Herrera are having good seasons. McKinnie, too. Antoine Winfield is coming back soon. Ben Leber and Chad Greenway will both continue to play well, and help whomever replaces E.J. And I guess Childress and Bevell aren't actually the ones making the plays. It will be fine.
Yes! There will be growth in the spring!
Or how about before the playoffs start? Seriously, we face the inevitable falls of injuries and losses that are a part of every season. We realize that as long as our nucleus is solid, we are still the same team. It will be fine. Really.
Just listen to Chance. It's simple.
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