As a fan of all Minnesota sports I watched for years as the Timberwolves lost and lost only to miss out on franchise players in the draft. The NBA local team would win just enough to miss out on lottery success. While others relished in Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, and the like, we found Paul Grant, Ricky Rubio, and Pooh Richardson. We were bad enough to deserve the number one pick, just never lucky in the lottery. Or the draft (except for Kevin Garnett).
Vikings' fans are not used to early draft picks. Since 1967 the Vikings have had five poor seasons (1984, 1990, 2001, 2002, 2006). The worst of those years was 3-13 with Les Steckel in 1984 that forced Bud Grant out of retirement. In 2001 the Vikings went 5-11. Those are the only two years potentially worse than this one in over forty years. In 1985 we used the lack of success to draft Chris Doleman. In 2002 we drafted Bryant McKinnie with the 7th selection.
More recently, after the 6-10 2006 season, we drafted Adrian Peterson from the 7th spot. Kevin Williams was taken with the 9th selection (you remember the non-pick?) in 2003 after a 6-10 season. Evidently, 6-10 is a good thing to be if you want quality players. Minnesota, now 6-9, stands on the cusp of a losing season. Presently there are six teams at 5-10, at it is quite probable that only one will improve to 6-10 (Arizona plays San Fran). That means the Vikings could finish anywhere from sixth to seventeenth in the draft dependent upon this week's games.
I am sure players and coaches could care less about draft position. I feel confident that they want to beat the Lions to finish the season. Detroit has been playing better of late, and the rookie defensive tackle Suh is already a Pro Bowler. This game is more about 'king of the hill' than it is about the draft. Frazier's contract talks have been sparked since the Eagles' win and a 4-2 finish would solidify his standing with management.
But we fans can look to the future. We must. Considering we face losing seasons about once every ten years, what else are we to do?
The Vikings face numerous free agents with the upcoming bargaining agreement changes, including potentially losing Chad Greenway, Ray Edwards, Ben Leber, Sidney Rice, and many more. On the flip side, the possibility of fourth and fifth year players becoming unrestricted free agents means the market is going to be large as well. The names read like a Who's Who in football. Suddenly, players like DeAngelo Williams, Haloti Ngata, Santonio Holmes, Jonathan Joseph, Eric Wright ... become unrestricted free agents.
So we face the Lions with much on the line in terms of the draft. A loss would benefit Minnesota greatly in the 2011 Draft. A win would simply keep the Lions in their place below us.
... Let's win.
It was a good day for Minnesota. With about six minutes remaining the Vikings scored their final touchdown, Brett Favre's fourth passing TD, to cap a drive that left some Cowboys bitter. Keith Brookings ran up to the Minnesota bench and yelled "classless" to Brad Childress for either leaving starters in up 27-3, for passing frequently to score, or because Brookings was so frustrated by being dominated he regressed to adolescence.
If you examined the statistics, the game was not so one-sided as the score. First Downs were even at sixteen. Time of possession and total plays favored Dallas slightly. Third down conversions were almost identical, with Minnesota converting one more than the Cowboys. But it was what each team did when they had the ball. It was about field position and turnovers. And in those areas it was a definitive edge for the Vikings.
In that game Cedric Griffin had nine solo tackles. Ray Edwards had three sacks (of the team's six) and six hits (of the team's ten) on the quarterback. Sidney Rice caught 6 passes for 141 yards and 3 TDs. It was the most one-sided win in playoff memory in which it was Minnesota being the dominant. Now fast-forward.
The Cowboys arrive with the same 1-3 record that haunts the Vikings. Media has proclaimed this game a 'must-win' for whichever team wants to be in the playoffs. There is not room for both, they say. Gone are a couple of the heroes that led us to our playoff victory of last year. Griffin is out for the year with a recent season-ending knee injury. Rice has been out all season with his delayed surgery of his hip. Edwards is here, but not nearly playing to the level he displayed in that 2009 Divisional Game. Dallas arrives healthier than when they appeared last year. But playing a lot worse.
Meanwhile, Brett Favre is questionable as to whether he will further his continual streak of games started (that means he will). The defense has only six sacks in the first four games, which happens to be the same number as they had in the one playoff game. We saw the first glimpse of a clicking offense with new arrival Randy Moss versus the New York Jets. But we also saw another close loss.
Will this be the game that Minnesota comes together? Will the defense continue to play well despite missing their best cover in Griffin? Will the front four batter Tony Romo like they did last year?
One thing is certain, Adrian Peterson will improve on his last performance versus the Cowboys. In that game he was held to 63 yards on 26 carries. There is no doubt you will see better numbers. Favre right now is not playing to the same level as he did last year against the Cowboys when he finished with a passer rating of 134.4. More like half of that. He is looking the worse for wear this year, throwing far more interceptions, and struggling to get the protection necessary to be as successful as 2009.
But now is the time. It is the site of something very good last year. The Cowboys arrive in full memory of what occurred in 2009 and they will want revenge. Minnesota, seemingly out of sync, looks to today to bring back the stellar play of their team at the place where it all crescendoed in last year's near Super Bowl season. What will be today's outcome?
I expect today the offense and the defense will come together and it will be a Purple Day.
In this, the fiftieth year of the Minnesota Vikings franchise, we find a team in need of a cornerback. It could be that he is on the team right now. Antoine Winfield occupies one starting spot. Until he was injured he was definitely one of the best in our half-century history. Now he is still a hard-hitting strong corner, who may or may not have lost a step.
The other corner should be Cedric Griffin's. He has shown skills worthy of a starting position. But he is not available as he recovers from last year's significant injury. Chris Cook, drafted to offer some depth is also hurt. Lito Sheppard was signed to add depth but he is in the later stages of his career. Asher Allen is improving, but has shown signs of his inexperience already in this preseason.
How important is a good corner?
Other positions carry a host of famed players for the Purple on both offense and defense. Minnesota can boast all-time greats such as: Fran Tarkenton, Daunte Culpepper, Chuck Foreman, Adrian Peterson, Robert Smith, Cris Carter, Randy Moss, Anthony Carter, Sammy White, Steve Jordan, Ron Yary, Gary Zimmerman, Randall McDaniel, Mick Tingelhoff, Matt Birk, Carl Eller, Jim Marshall, Chris Doleman, Alan Page, Kevin Williams, John Randle, Matt Blalr, Roy Winston, Scott Studwell, Jeff Siemon, Paul Krause, Joey Browner.
And the best we can do at corner is Bobby Bryant?
It is hard to believe that the best corner in Vikings' history is Bobby Bryant. I watched him play. He was not very big, maybe 170 pounds. He was not very fast. He was injured a fair amount of his career.
But he was.
He played from 1968 to 1980 with the team when the defensive front four was nicknamed the "Purple People Eaters". With an outstanding pass rush Vikings' defensive backs benefited tremendously. Bryant had fifty-one interceptions, second all-time to safety Paul Krause, who had fifty-three. Both were great benefactors of that outstanding pass rush. Bryant was a hard tackler who was very aggressive. In addition to his interceptions, Bryant forced thirteen fumbles and recovered fourteen. In other words, six times a season Bryant helped create a turnover.
The question then is can Minnesota find Bobby Bryant? Is it Cedric Griffin? Will Allen or Cook rise to the occasion? Many of the national media has questioned Minnesota's ability to finish ahead of the Green Bay Packers in 2010. Besides concerns in the offensive line and Brett Favre's durability (despite being probably the most durable player in NFL history), pundits point to defensive back. They see the injuries and the inexperience.
Which is why management must find a Bobby Bryant, Or maybe even better. We would take the skills, aggressiveness, and fortune and add size, speed and durability that number twenty lacked. It might be in a trade, Or off of the waiver wire. Because the pass rush is there. Jared Allen and Ray Edwards are good. The Williams' wall All-Pro worthy. Backups like Fred Evans and others are better than most teams.
He just has to be out there. He can be better than Bobby Bryant.
The week started with the Indianapolis Colts taking on the despised Green Bay Packers at their home in Wisconsin. I am sure the green and gold faithful are relishing in the endless points they scored. But from my view, I saw just what I wanted to see. Let me explain...
The Colts put seventeen points on the board in fifteen minutes and twenty-one seconds. That is a pace to break sixty, which would have been just enough to eventually win the game. The first Colt score was on a two play, sixty-seven yard drive that took twenty-two seconds. Then a ten play, fifty-five yard drive for a field goal. Finally a six play, seventy-eight yard drive for another td. Sure, it was Peyton Manning, Joseph Addai, and Reggie Wayne. They are very good. But it also was that same defense that surrendered 51 points in their Cardinals wild-card loss in OT last year. Green Bay's defense is suspect.
And both Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson fumbled the ball. Always good to see. We ignore the fact that Green Bay also moved up and down the field. My glasses must have fogged up.
Meanwhile, the Vikings played Brett Favre into the 3rd quarter with a chance to make friends with new receivers as well as old. First impressions are that Greg Camarillo will be the most dependable receiver on the Vikings squad. He is smart, proven by his ability to find spots in zones quickly and then holding onto the ball. Percy Harvin made some plays and took big hits. He appeared just fine. Visanthe Shiancoe was his usual reliable self. Adrian Peterson also contributed, a sign that he may get more catches than ever before. All good.
The four turnovers by the Favre-led Vikings were caused by two things. One, Bernard Berrian handed the first interception (returned for a td) right to Seattle, coughing up a bobbled ball that hit him in the numbers on a slant. Two, and more important, the offensive line and running backs did not protect Favre well at times. With starting center John Sullivan out, Anthony Herrera moved to center and rookie Chris DeGeare was given a surprise start. It was a work in progress. On one specific fumble, DeGeare tripped over feet (maybe his own?) and fell on his back untouched. Sure Favre let go of the ball a few times, but this is preseason after all.
A Vikings fan (and for sure cheese heads) could view this negatively. Favre is struggling, he is old, he turns over the ball too much. The offensive line is hurting, and suspect for 2010-11. Or, with the prescriptive purple shades, could simply point out it was #4 getting the bugs out, he being in camp for a only a week with new receivers to boot. The line was missing a key ingredient, and this was good for DeGeare's learning curve,
Add positive impressions made by Toby Gerhart (7-30) and the running back/returner Darius Reynaud (3 kick returns, 38.3 average) and one could walk away excited. Antoine Winfield made some big tackles, the rookie cornerback Chris Cook did not get burned (he did get dinged), and Ray Edwards had one of three sacks by the front line. Even Javon Walker made a big play, catching a Sage Rosenfels pass for a late td.
Sure it was only Seattle, and they looked destined for an early draft pick. But when we put on the purple eyewear, it does not matter who the opponent is, or what went wrong. All that matters is that the offense will be Favre-led and the defense as strong as 2009. And we notice things like the Packers defense getting torched for an opening quarter at home.
As plain as the glasses on my face.
The news is bleak. Sidney Rice will have hip surgery and is expected to be out eight games. Percy Harvin, dealing with intensive migraines, could be unavailable for some to all of the upcoming season. What ever will the Vikings do? The top receiver in camp is Bernard Berrian, and after that maybe Greg Lewis. Things have soured to the point that the Vikings called in Javon Walker, who did not even play last year. Should we Vikings' fans despair?
Our future may be answered by looking at the ten greatest receivers in our Vikings' history...
10. Hassan Jones. Hassan played 100 games for Minnesota from 1986-1992. He caught 222 passes for 3,733 yards and 24 tds. Jones only saw the NFC Conference Championship once, in 1987 (the strike shortened-season). Jones was on a 1991 team that featured four top ten Vikings' WRs. That team went 8-8.
9. Paul Flatley. Flatey played from 1963 to 1967. Flatley caught 202 passes for 3,222 yards and 17 tds. He was named Rookie Of the year in 1963. He played in the Pro Bowl in 1966. But those were fledgling years for Minnesota and Paul never saw a championship game.
8. Gene Washington. Gene was on the team from 1967 to 1972. Gene played in 81 games, catching 172 passes for 3,087 yards and 23 tds. In 1967 Washington averaged an amazing 29.5 yards per catch as a rookie. He did play in the 1969-70 first Super Bowl loss, averaging over 21 yards a catch. In his final season with Minnesota he was teamed up with another top WR, John Gilliam. That team went 7-7 and was the only non-winning team in a very good stretch.
7. Jake Reed. Jake played from 1991 to 2001. He totaled 134 games, with 413 catches, 6,433 yards and 33 tds. Reed played on two teams that went to the NFC Championship (1998, 2000), but both lost. In those years he teamed with Cris Carter and Randy Moss to form a dangerous trio. Reed never went to a Super Bowl.
6. Sammy White. White played from 1976 to 1985. In 128 games, White caught 393 passes for 6,400 yards and 50 tds. He was a three time All-Pro (1976-1978). He was named Offensive Rookie Of the Year in 1976, the year of the Vikings' last Super Bowl visit. In that year he averaged over 18.0 yards a catch and scored 10 times.
5. Anthony Carter. AC played from 1985 to 1993, totaling 133 games. He caught 478 passes for 7,636 yards and 52 tds. He went to the Pro Bowl three times (1987-89). In his nine years Carter saw the NFC Championship game once, that of the 1987 season, with Hassan Jones. Carter never saw a Super Bowl.
4. John Gilliam. Gilliam only played from 1972 to 1975. In those four years John played in 56 games, he caught 165 passes for 3,297 yards and 27 tds. He was named to the Pro Bowl in each season. Gilliam would be the only elite Vikings' receiver to make it to two Super Bowls (1973-1974). In his first year 1972, John averaged over 22 yards a reception.
3. Ahmad Rashad. Rashad was a Viking from 1976 to 1982. He played in 98 games, caught 400 passes for 5,489 yards and 34 tds. He was named to four Pro Bowls (1978-1981) and was even named Pro Bowl MVP in 1979. In 1976 Rashad went to the Vikings' last Super Bowl and then was a member of the 1977 team that lost an NFC Championship.
2. Cris Carter. Carter played from 1990 to 2001. Carter played in 188 games. He caught 1,004 passes for 12,383 yards and 110 tds, all team records by far. Carter went to eight Pro Bowls (1993-2000). In 1995 he caught 122 passes for 1,371 yards and 17 tds. Again that team went 8-8. Carter never played in the Super Bowl.
1. Randy Moss. It is hard to believe anyone could outdo Cris Carter in our history, but Moss did. he played in 109 games, caught 574 passes for 9,142 yards and 90 tds. Moss was named Rookie Of the Year in 1998. He went to five Pro Bowls in his seven years. Moss was Pro Bowl MVP in 2000. He was named All-Pro three times (1998, 2000, 2003). Moss made it to two NFC Championships, but Minnesota lost both. Moss' only Super Bowls would be for New England.
What does this tell us? Most of the Vikings' successful teams had a deep threat. In 1969 it was Gene Washington. The 1973-1974 seasons it was John Gilliam, and in 1976 rookie Sammy White. But the most talented years with receivers yielded little accomplishments in the post-season. The 1998-2001 seasons with Randy Moss, Cris Carter and Jake Reed were explosive offensively, but did not provide even a Super Bowl appearance. The stats can be skewed by the fact that losing teams need to pass more, but the numbers suggest a load of talent at receiver is not required for success.
It is hard to compare the success of the 1970s to modern day football. The game has changed, it is far easier to pass the football with the rule changes inhibiting the defensive secondary. But the reality is that the Vikings have not needed elite receivers to be the best team in the NFC. They have typically been a strong defensive team with an ability to run. Chuck Foreman was a member of three NFC Champions. The Purple People Eaters were there.
In 2010, Minnesota is suddenly lacking the production of Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice. Together they teamed for 124 catches for 2,102 yards and 14 tds. Names like Greg Lewis, Taye Biddle, and Freddie Brown are being tossed around as possible new contributors. But one name does remain from 2009: Bernard Berrian. In his two seasons with Minnesota he has had 103 catches for 1,582 yards and 11 tds. His first season he averaged 20 yards a reception. That type of deep threat is just what past Vikings teams have needed to succeed. And Adrian Peterson, Visanthe Shiancoe, the Williams wall, Jared Allen and Ray Edwards are all returning.
Maybe it is the sign of something bigger?
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