In Brad Childress' final days we saw the complete disintegration of a football team. Not that the 2010 team was ever considered good, but there were signs of hope.
The opening game of the season Minnesota traveled to New Orleans and held their offense to a mere fourteen points. Unfortunately, they lost 14-9. Week Two, Minnesota lost at home 14-10 to Miami. After a win at home versus the Lions and a following bye, they faced a scheduled four weeks of the Jets, Cowboys, Packers and Patriots, three games of which were on the road. The Vikings only managed to defeat Dallas, and were 2-5 at that point. An overtime win over the Cardinals put Minny at 3-5, not good, but with some glimmers of understanding.
Minnesota would then travel to Chicago where they lost 27-13. They then returned home and were destroyed 31-3 by Green Bay. Childress was gone the next day. Leslie Frazier was promoted and a new era begun. Frazier went 3-3 with a variety of quarterbacks and defensive players. The best game was easily the delayed game with at the Eagles, where Minnesota battered Michael Vick and beat a good Philly team 24-14. The worst was a 40-14 shellacking at TCF Stadium at the hands of the Bears.
In the end Minnesota's dome collapsed. Brett Favre was beaten into submission. Childress was gone. And to make matters even more gloom, the Lions finished ahead of the Vikings while the Bears and Packers met in the NFC Championship. The previous year Green Bay gave up over 50 points in a playoff loss to the Cardinals, while Minnesota routed the Cowboys and held their won in New Orleans. In one year's time we saw the complete collapse of a franchise.
But like kings of old, when a season has died, a new one is born. The 2011 Vikings face a tough schedule again, as all three NFC North teams appear to be among the better in the NFC, if not the NFL. Green Bay has already won their opener, a 42-34 win over the Saints at home. Chicago is the defending division champion, and has added more to the offense (Marion Barber and Roy Williams) through free agency. Detroiters are certain that the combination of tackle Suh with rookie tackle Nick Fairley will propel them toward a playoff visit. Everybody is confident except one fan base: ours.
Vikings fans who have hope this year are called homers. Given the others in the division it is reasoned that Minnesota is doomed for fourth place automatically. The addition of guys like Donovan McNabb and Charlie Johnson has not impressed the critics. The losses of players such as Sidney Rice, Ray Edwards, Brett Favre, Bryant McKinnie, Ben Leber, etc... too much to overcome with a few elderly veteran additions, they say.
But as you might have guessed, that does not include me. And I am not alone. Whether a blind homer, eternal optimist, or genius prognosticator, there are a growing base that sees reasons to get excited for Vikings football in 2011. The signing of Adrian Peterson today a boost to ego. The cutting of McKinnie proof that there are new philosophies afoot. The older of us who have witnessed Minnesota be among the best in the division more often than not.
If we improve on our turnover ratio we will be better. If we really improve on the ratio, I think the playoffs are possible.
It may be another pitcher of purple kool-aid, but hey, what would life be without kool-aid?
San Diego will be a tough test. But like the Monkees of old, I am a believer.
After the Vikings' 20-7 victory over Seattle late last night I stepped into a local establishment and overheard this conversation which I scribed for this blog. Because I did not know these people I have assigned them nicknames.
Amethyst: "Did you see that goal-line stand in the second quarter? Four times they stopped Justin Forsett. And with the second defense against the top offense for the Seahawks. it will be like old times this year."
Purple Angry Fists: "It was Seattle for Christ's sake. It was T-Jack. It means nothing, nada."
Objector: "Are we going to order a round? I want another cocktail."
Amethyst: "Well, you would certainly agree that Donovan McNabb looked great? C'mon, a 106.8 passer rating. A long drive. And most importantly, no interceptions."
Angry Fists: "He got hit hard early in the first series. Three and out. The offensive line is terrible. Charlie Johnson is old, so is Steve Hutchinson. Everyone knows Sullivan is worthless. And don't get me started about Herrera."
Amethyst: "Herrera did not even play. Listen, the Vikings moved the ball. The line looked solid. Getting rid of McKinnie lit a fire under the remaining survivors. Charlie Johnson will be a welcomed addition at the blind side."
Objector: "That was a great movie. I love that woman. She did not deserve to be treated..."
Angry Fists: "The Seahawks are the worst team in football. They are a lock for the Andrew Luck lottery. The Vikings are in for fourth place this year. The Packers and Bears will both be good. The Lions are improving. What did we do? Sign Michael Jenkins? We did not address the defensive secondary and offensive line enough in the draft or free agency to compete. Christian Ponder and Kyle Rudolph? We needed linemen and corners and we get two skills players. Aarrggh."
Amethyst: "Your pills? The NFL has shown parity in recent years. Teams can go from 6-10 to 10-6 in the blink of an eye. Leslie Frazier is a good motivator. Minnesota is one year removed from the NFC Championship, and most parts are still in place"
Angry Fists: "Are you daft, that was all Brett Favre when we knew how to block. The Packers WON the Super Bowl last year. I cannot handle another year where the cheese heads are better than us. And now the Lions have that Suh guy with Fairley, Stafford, Best.. I am tellin ya, fourth place here we come."
Amethyst: "The Packers have already shown trouble with their line. I heard they have allowed like ten sacks in the first two preseason games. Maybe they won't be so good this year?"
Objector: " I like that Aaron Rodgers, he is cute."
Angry Fists: "What does it matter any way. The Metrodome lease is up. No way the legislators will back a new stadium in this economy. They're going to be terrible for Los Angeles by next year."
Amethyst: "They are working out a deal as we speak. The NFL wants football in the Twin Cities."
Objector: "Why don't they just borrow Target Field? It is so pretty."
Angry Fists: "The Vikings will be terrible this year and then gone. We won't win six games with this crew. Back in the day when we were really good it was because of our offensive line. Remember guys like Ed White, Ron Yary, Mick Tinglehoff, Milt Sundae. And the next generation had Randall McDaniel. What do we have now? Chris DeGeare and Phil Loadholt? Tell me how they are going to help us win? Ryan Cook? And the defensive line. And the secondary. Cedric Griffin has two torn ACLs, we have no-name safeties, Ray Edwards is gone, so is Pat Williams. We will be terrible."
Amethyst: "Guys will step up. They always do. Did you see Marcus Sherels' interception return? Did you watch Everson Griffen and Cedric Griffin? They both looked good. And we are going to have the Henderson brothers playing together at linebacker! Stop raining on the parade before it starts."
Objector: "I like parades."
Amethyst: "Guys like you are a dime a dozen. Complain and complain so that you can say 'I told you so' if we play bad. If we play well, then you jump on the wagon and claim your undying love for the team. True fans support the home team, period. Being a fan means sometimes not listening to logic and going forward with hope."
Angry Fists: "That and a quarter will get you a phone call. We need linemen. Blind fans like you are called homers, you know, see everything through purple glasses. Even though there is no line, you will be happy. We could lose the first four games and you will say it's getting better. I pay hundreds of dollars out of my pocket each game for season tickets and I have the right to complain. I have waited over thirty years for a Super Bowl and we are going in the wrong direction."
Objector: "It is just a game, right?"
Most won't watch. The first preseason game is like a movie trailer. it will give you a quick glimpse of the future, but only enough to entice. Was that Adrian Peterson in there? Will Donovan McNabb throw a touchdown? Who will replace the recent departed Bryant McKinnie? We will not learn tonight.
Tonight is a chance for players to hit someone other than their teammate. A chance to look good for coaches. A first look at new offenses and defenses for many. A chance to turn it up a notch, as it were. And the starters will be on a short string. But we should get a chance to see some rookies. My underdog rookie claim is Emmanuel Arceneaux. I want him to be the next Sidney Rice.
Oh, I will be watching. I have taken all I can of "Jersey Housewives", people who hoard, and crews that look for ghosts in the dark. Tonight is about reclaiming the television. Tonight is a glimpse of sixteen Sundays. As a Vikings fan I have been accustomed to winning, and despite a 6-10 2010 season, I want to win now. Again.
I will hope to see rookies Christian Ponder, Kyle Rudolph, Christian Ballard justify their selection. I do not need much, just a play that says "Wow, he could be...". That's all.
I want to see McNabb protected. Brett Favre looked an awful lot like Archie Manning last year, which in turn made the turnovers, which led to the awful point differential, and hence a poor record. Guys like John Sullivan, Anthony Herrera, and Ryan Cook have to improve. We need to see recent picks Chris DeGeare and Phil Loadholt start to pan out. And most important, someone needs to emerge as a solid left tackle. Right now that looks like former-Colt Charlie Johnson.
I need to see a pass rush. Brian Robison steps in for departed Ray Edwards. There seems to be depth at the defensive line, and it has religiously been our bread and butter for good defense. If the line returns to elite form, the high ranking will follow, and so will the wins. Pat Williams is gone. Kevin will need a substitute. Will Ballard be good enough in his rookie year to play? How good are Fred Evans and Letroy Guion going to be?
I hope to see the team play inspired. In the words of Tupac, "Keep Your Head Up". Too much negativity last year. It is hard not to be down when the Packers and Bears are playing in the NFC Championship and the Lions win out to finish ahead of you. The talent is there. Much of it was in the 2009 NFC Championship. A rise to the top may not be as hard to accomplish as most think. I want the 2011 Vikings to play with more heart than in 2010.
No, I am ready for the 2011 season to begin. The final countdown begins....
Right after "Marley and Me".
Dear fellow Vikings' fans,
It's hot outside. Too hot. I live out in the rural area, where my wife and I assumed a house with a GE heat pump that looks older than me. And we are on off-peak, which means whenever you really need the AC, you cannot have it. Still, recent events cause me too make a stand in saving money. I will not give in. I suffer through this in order to fight injustice, or the rising cost of energy.
Many of you have watched the recent free agent events and made up your minds that more must be done to save the 2011 season. We have to get another quality wide receiver. We have to add an offensive lineman. We have to strengthen our defensive line. Who will play cornerback?
But I am more confident in this year's Vikings already.
First, one of the greatest injustices done to my purple was the giveaway/takeaway ratio. Last year Minnesota ranked dead last in the NFC with a -11. Vikings' passers threw 26 interceptions and ball handlers provided 11 fumbles to the opposition. That type of injustice must end. Brett Favre had a career percentage intercepted (pct. int.) of 3.3, yet last year he was 5.3. Favre would end with a passer rating of 69.9, well below his career average of 86.0
So we have added Donovan McNabb to tutor Christian Ponder and probably lead the 2011 Vikings. McNabb has a career pct. int. of 2.2%. Last year, his worst, he was 3.2% for the Redskins. As bad as McNabb's season was last year, he still had a passer rating significantly higher than Number Four (77.1). McNabb is less likely to be intercepted than Brett Favre.
I am cognizant of the need to improve in other areas. One reason I have so much hope is the work of Coach Dunbar with the Vikings' defensive line. I have been in Dunbar's audience at football clinic;. his presence commands respect. Since he joined the Vikings in 2006 good things have happened. Dunbar, a teammate in college of Henry Thomas and coach in college of Kevin Williams, immediately impacted the Vikings, Minnesota was first against the run in 2006, 07, and 08, becoming only the 2nd team in NFL history to accomplish the feat. Ever since his arrival Minnesota has been known for shutting down the run. In 2010, a down year, the Vikings finished 9th, up from 2nd in 2009.
Moreover, the Vikings have managed a decent pass rush while applying run pressure. In 2009, Minnesota led the NFL in sacks. Jared Allen has had three 14+ sack seasons, one of only a few to ever accomplish the feat. In 2010 Minnesota fell to 15th, though it is difficult for losing teams to acquire sacks. In a land known for great defensive lineman (Page, Eller, Randle, Marshall, Doleman, Millard, Thomas, and so on..), Dunbar has continued to provide. Kevin Williams and Jared Allen are considered among the best in the game.
So fellow fans, there are a few key steps a team must take to enter the playoffs. We must reduce our turnovers. We must provide ample blocking. We must increase our takeaways. And we must apply pressure with the front line.
Donovan McNabb and Christian Ponder will do their best to control the ball. Dunbar and his crew will continue to impress with the front four. Gone are Ray Edwards and Pat Williams. Kevin Williams will have to sit out four games for a delayed suspension. It will be time for newer players to step up. Brian Robison, a 6th year veteran, will be asked to start at DE. Recently signed Fred Evans, Letroy Guion, and rookie Christian Ballard will man the middle until at least one Williams comes back. DE Everson Griffin, the 4th round pick of 2009, and NT Remi Ayodele, a Saints castaway, will also provide efforts.
Given the last five year history, I have no doubt the d-line will provide. The rest is up to the offense. If they can control the ball and score a bit, it could be a much quicker recovery than the pundits would expect. Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson can help ease the transition to an explosive offense that holds onto the ball.
And despite the summer heat index, I remain cool in thought. Justice can be served by Minnesota in 2011 if they learn to hold onto the ball. And with the Packers hordes gloating (as they should) since the last Super Bowl; it can come none too soon. Maybe by saving money (enduring the heat), I can afford to attend a game or two.
Yours in hope for 2011,
From an off-peak home.
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.
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