We remember. It was a season coming off of one of the harshest losses the Minnesota Vikings had ever suffered in an NFC Championship. Beaten on the road after a decisive win at home in the previous round. Fans who disliked the coach for his lack of playoff success grew. But their was hope by many as the team had a new quarterback who had played very well in getting the team to the NFC Championship.
And then, tragedy struck.
A player would not be available to start the season. It would be a blow to the offense, who had counted on this player for its' success. They would start poorly without him, losing their first two games. Then they would win one they should at home to be 1-2 in the standings. A tough schedule lay ahead.
The 2010 Minnesota Vikings you say?
Or maybe the 2001-02 Vikings. Back then it was Daunte Culpepper, fresh off his successful first year with the team. The much maligned Denny Green had disappointed in the playoffs again. The New York Giants disposed of Minnesota 41-0 at the end. During the following training camp, Korey Stringer died tragically, and the team was scrambling to replace such an important member of the offense.
They started the season by losing 24-13 to Carolina. The Panthers would win only one game the entire year. Next, Minnesota lost 17-10 to Chicago. After a 31-26 win over Tampa Bay, they stood at 1-2. The city was nervous. Things were not clicking like they had in the previous year. And they were right to be nervous. Minnesota would make it to 3-3, and then proceed to lose nine of the last eleven games, to finish at 5-11.
Dennis Green was let go before the end of the year. He had not done enough with the talent he was given. That final year, Minnesota had an exceptionally poor Draft, with Michael Bennnett being the top selection with the 27th pick. Mike Tice replaced Green in the final game, and would go on to a mediocre few years before being let go. Both Green Bay and Chicago had success in those years while Minnesota floundered.
The loss of Sidney Rice just before the season has had an obvious impact on Minnesota. The Vikings are 29th in total offense. Brett Favre, who tore the league up in 2009, has a 60.4 passer rating (that's really low). He has only 597 yards and two touchdowns in his first three games. Despite the number two rusher in the NFL, the offense is just not getting it done.
Brad Childress is a coach walking the plank, so to speak. He has had improved success in regular season each year, but little in the playoffs. Minnesota fans are not happy with just getting there. Childress has been given plenty of talent to obtain that elusive first Super Bowl. Positive drafts have yielded players like Adrian Peterson, Rice, Percy Harvin and much more. Acquisitions, like Favre and Steve Hutchinson, have given the team elite offensive talent. Their are many veterans on the defense who are candidates for All-Pro consideration this year. It is now or never for the coach.
Some are hoping that Childress' trend of improvement every year will also apply to the playoffs. Most fans would concede that the Vikings certainly had the team necessary to win one. The humbling of the Cowboys and the strong effort in New Orleans demonstrated just that. But this year's slow start, or more specifically, the loss to the Dolphins at home, has fans on edge. The Childress haters are convinced we have no chance. The realists see a very tough schedule in the upcoming weeks and more talent on both the Bears and Packers than a true Viking fan could stand. And the optimist correctly assessing available talent, is sure that this is still the strongest team in the NFC North. They remember that this team was a play (or huddle) away from winning the NFC Championship. And they have faith that Brett Favre will begin to return to last year's form.
We did experience 2001. It was not fun. This season's start has been somewhat depressing, given the talent and expectation coming into the opener in New Orleans. If it is to be deja vous all over again, it will probably come at the expense of a head coach. Many would like that. Sacrifice a season to get a new head coach. But what if the next one is Mike Tice? I think we should just start winning again with the same coach.
We will find out soon after the bye week is over.
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.
So close. So much anguish. The loss to the Saints in the NFC Championship ranks with the harshest losses in Minnesota history. There was the "Hail Mary' loss to the Cowboys in 1975 at the Met. Then there was the 1998-99 Championship OT loss to the Falcons at home in the Dome, after the 15-1 season, due to a missed kick. The Super Bowl losses. They all hurt.
Worse yet, the New Orleans Saints went on to win the Super Bowl, validating just how good the 2009 Vikings really were. The 34-3 handling of the Cowboys in the previous playoff game was one of the most lopsided games in Minnesota playoff history. The way the Vikings dismantled the cocky Cowboys was breathtaking. While the Green Bay Packers were allowing over fifty points in their loss the week before, the Vikings surrendered three in an easy win.
So the question(s) is asked for this season: Will the Vikings be able to repeat their 12-4 season? Will this be the year that Minnesota finally wins a Super Bowl? In order to answer those questions we first have to ask ourselves ... do we feel lucky? Or at least be able to answer these questions....
1. Does Brett Favre return or will Tarvaris Jackson take leadership?
The most thought of question. If Favre does return things look very good. His 107.2 passer rating in 2009 was proof that he is far from over the hill. His ankle injury at the hands of a very violent Saints defense is the deciding factor according to reports. But Favre is a question mark until he actually puts on the uniform. Once he does, the answers will come. This offense will explode with Favre back at the helm.
If things are left to T-Jack, all is not lost. He actually had a higher passer rating than Favre, at 113.4. However, it was based on only 21 pass attempts. We Viking faithful are hopeful that Jackson learned from the best last year, and has grown into the skills and mind set needed to succeed in the NFL. If Jackson performs like he did vs. the Cardinals in 2008, then no problem. If he is the QB who faced the Eagles in the playoffs, then the answer will be no.
2. Can Adrian Peterson regain his 'old form' and fumble less?
Peterson averaged 5.6 yards per carry in 2007. He averaged 4.8 ypc in 2008. And last year, he fell to 4.4 per carry. In those three years he has carried the ball 915 times. That is a lot. Each year he has regressed in average. Is this a slowing down of a running back, or the reality that defenses have focused more and more on this prolific back? Is it the offensive line that has slowed down? I cannot say which is the truest answer, but he is still the most impressive back in football, no apology to Chris Johnson needed.
As for the fumbles, things have been bad for two seasons. In his rookie season, AD (Peterson's acronym - for All Day) had 4 fumbles in 257 touches, or about every 64 times he touched the ball. In 2008, AD had 9 fumbles in 384 touches, or a fumble every 43 tries. Last year, AD had 7 fumbles in the 357 times he saw the ball, or one fumble every 51 attempts. An optimist would say "Hey, he is getting better!". But the reality is he is a very violent-type runner. The previous best back in Viking history, Chuck Foreman, also struggled with fumbles. The answer to this question lies within AD.
3. Will E.J.Henderson return to form or Jasper Brinkley step up?
When Henderson went down in the 12th game last year, Vikings faithful cringed. Not only because of the horrific fracture of the femur that E.J. suffered, but also because his replacement was Jasper Brinkley, a relative unknown. Henderson was averaging about seven tackles a game, on pace to lead the team and be considered for All-Pro honors. What would become of the defense?
Jasper Brinkley had 23 tackles in his four starts and change, and was probably more of a liability than an asset. But he was maybe better than expected. Now reports are that he had a terrific off-season, and is having an even better camp in Mankato. If Henderson returns to form all is well. But if not, many feel Brinkley is ready to come forward.
4. What will become of the Vikings secondary?
Cedric Griffin's ACL tear during the NFC Championship was as big a factor in the loss as any of the turnovers. Griffin had developed into the best defensive back, given Antoine Winfield's injury and slow recovery. Now Griffin appears to be unable to play until at least October. What will we do?
Luckily, the Vikings did address this issue in both off-season moves and the draft. 34th overall pick, Chris Cook of Virginia, is a 6'2, 212 lb, specimen that will help the future at cornerback. This is good considering Winfield is in his 12th year. Add to that the signing of Lito Sheppard, an Eagles runaway, who joins former coach Brad Childress. Benny Sapp and Asher Allen also return. At safety, Tyrell Johnson and Madieu Williams come back with another year of experience. Minnesota finished 19th in yards allowed versus the pass. 23rd in tds allowed. This area must be improved.
5. Is the offensive line getting better or worse?
In the loss to the Saints, it was apparent that the O-line could not handle the rush of the Saints. Although Bryant McKinnie was awarded All-Pro honors, most knowledgeable fans did not see it that way. There were frequent mistakes by McKinnie, Sullivan, Herrera, and Loadholt. Even Steve Hutchinson struggled once in a while. In that NFC Championship the line was overmatched. On top of all that, the Vikings lost their most experienced back-up, Artis Hicks, to free agency.
Minnesota did draft an offensive lineman (too late for my taste) in Chris DeGeare, a 6'4, 325 lb., from Wake Forest with the 161st pick. The starting five returns as well. In Mankato, reports are that 2nd year OT Patrick Brown from Central Florida, and 3rd year player Chris Clark from Southern Mississippi are looking good. But neither would address the biggest concern: Herrera. This line did lead the offense to an overall 5th ranking in yardage and 2nd in scoring, albeit most due to the uncanny play of Favre and the running of Peterson. To go farther in the playoffs this unit will have to get better.
The 2010 season awaits. The questions are there. We await answers. The first game, a Thursday Night affair to kickoff the season begins in New Orleans, the source of many of these unanswered thoughts.
We can sure get spoiled fast. For example, my family just purchased our first HD TV, with the HP 1080, and whatever else makes it sound groovy. We had held out, what with the economy and costs of growing children. But shopping in a local Target we found a deal to good to pass up, and even though it was last year's model, made the move to HD. Love it!
Minnesotans just experienced the best season/career by a starting quarterback in their forty-nine years. Brett Favre's 107.2 passer rating in the 2009 season easily bests the second highest Vikings career rating, that of Randall Cunningham's 94.2 (excluding Todd Bouman's 98.6 in his three 2001 starts). For comparison, Fran Tarkenton was a lifetime 80.1, Tommy Kramer 72.9, Warren Moon 82.8, Brad Johnson 82.5, and Daunte Culpepper 91.5. There is no doubt that Favre was the missing piece for a Super Bowl-type team. We now have one.
Favre's recent disclosure of the needed surgery to play in 2010 has cast some doubt on his return. Those that witnessed the brutalization of Favre at the hand of the dirty Saints pass-rushers have to wonder why he would want more of the same? Sure, he is a tough old hombre, but I wouldn't wish that kind of beating on Aaron Rodgers or Jay Cutler (OK, maybe Cutler). With his long list of NFL successes, Favre could retire an NFL Hall-of-Famer and still be able to walk to the podium. Why return?
Meanwhile, the NFL draft came and went, and Minnesota passed on a couple of quarterback prospects that has media and friends concerned about Minnesota's future. Notre Dame grad Jimmy Clausen, the first-round talent who was absent in the "Green Room", was available the first two days of the draft, yet we avoided him. Later, Tony Pike of Cincinnati, sat atop the 'best available' list of draft choices, and once again the Vikings went elsewhere. Critics cried "foul", citing Favre's ego as the reason Minnesota avoided addressing the future at quarterback. Never mind that both of these QBs dropped in value faster than the riders of Valley Fair's Power Tower, the Vikings had blown it due to the coddling of their superstar. Yea, right.
What they all fail to realize is that as good as Favre was, the reason for the Vikings' success is many, not singular. The addition of Percy Harvin; the improvement of Sidney Rice; the drafting of Phil Loadholt; Adrian Peterson; the emergence of Ray Edwards; the Williams' wall. Too many factors to decide that Favre was the only reason. The fact that Minnesota won the division in 2008 with Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte at the helm should at least suggest the overall talent of the Vikings is presently superior to the Packers, Bears, and obviously the Lions.
I am not afraid of life without Favre. True, like my HD-TV, it is certainly better. I would much prefer it. But these forty plus years have taught me to be patient (a skill all true Vikings' fans have had to own). For every Tarkenton, there will be a Tommy Kramer. For every Cunningham, a Jeff George. For every Culpepper ... you get the picture. The best playoff record of any Vikings' QB is only 6-5 (Tarkenton). Brett Favre's is presently 1-1, which is no better than Joe Kapp (2-2).
I love my new HD, it is better than before. But it is only TV after all, it cannot do the dishes. LAF will be tough, we will have to find a replacement or probably return to T-Jack. Or find someone at least as good as Todd Bouman. I hear the 2011 draft might have the answer.
What are they smoking down there near Lake Michigan? Trading away picks for quarterbacks who like to throw interceptions; drafting more quarterbacks; limiting growth to five overall picks. Times are tough in Illinois.
By the time they draft their first selection, most fans had tuned out of the NFL Draft. Pick 75 was a free safety, Major Wright, from Florida. The Bears best pick may have been at 141, where they added Joshua Moore, a cornerback from Kansas State. Then, with pick 181, they added another QB despite glaring needs all over the place. Dan LeFevour was one of the many QBs to drop off the charts, expected to go about three rounds earlier. The Central Michigan thrower is respected, but c'mon, he is a MAC quarterback.
Grade: Incomplete (I cannot fail students who try .. I think they tried).
I almost thought they would go a whole draft without taking a wide receiver, but with pick 255 they chose Tim Toone from Weber State. Watch him be better than all their first round picks of years' past.
The Lions had six picks, having traded up to get Jahvid Best with the 30th pick (with the Vikings). Of course, Ndamukong Suh, 2nd overall, is the focus of the draft, and he should be very good. But Best is small, and has a history of concussions already. The much needed corner was drafted at 66th, a slow one from Iowa, Amari Spievey. OT Jason Fox taken at 128th, fits a need. Detroit had two of the three first round picks for the North. They should improve the most, but, that is a misnomer.
Grade: B. Feels like an A compared to last 10-15 years with Matt Millen and friends.
Green Bay Packers.
After witnessing the Vikes batter Aaron Rodgers senseless for a couple of seasons, and Chad Clifton hobbling around like a one-legged sloth, we knew linemen would be chosen. But how many?
The Packers are close to the Vikings, and definitely a choice for wild-card early predictions, if not ready to usurp Minnesota. Green Bay had three selections at 23rd, 56th, and 71st. They added Bryan Bulaga, an OT from Iowa; Mike Neal, a DT from Purdue; and Morgan Bennett, a free safety from Georgia Tech. Of the three, Neal was the biggest stretch,as many 'experts' felt there were better DTs on the board. And back-to-back Big Ten athletes? Don't they watch the Bowl games? As expected, the Pack added a 2nd OL with the 169th pick in Marshall Newhouse, a OT or OG, from TCU. He could be a nice find. Late, Green Bay found James Starks, a 6'2, 220 RB from Buffalo, with the 193rd pick. He may make the squad as GB running backs are not that good.
Grade: B-. I expected more from a smart organization, I hold them to a higher standard than Detroit or Chicago, whom both are horrid at this draft thing.
It was the draft to protect Brett Favre's return. Minnesota got him some protection in Toby Gerhart and Chris DeGeare. And we addressed some of the defensive concerns, but not all. Lifers were wondering why no Jimmy Clausen or late Tony Pike selections?
I love the efforts Favre gave us last year, and think he will return. With Chester Taylor gone, Minnesota had to find a replacement, and Gerhart from Stanford comes with high hopes. Experts wondered if Ben Tate of Auburn would not have been a wiser choice, but Gerhart could be a great extra blocker in passing situations, at least as good as AP; hopefully as good as Taylor. CB Chris Cook of Virgina, 34th pick, helps a sore spot as the team wonders what Cedric Griffin can bring after the late injury of 2009-10. Lito Sheppard, a Childress reunion player, will help. Experts love the choice of Everson Griffen, DE of USC, with the 100th pick. A potential steal as he dropped from early round possibilities. Pick 167 was local phenomenon Nate Triplett who played as Delano. He is a beast who could rival Farwell on special teams. Pick 199 is Joe Webb, a running quarterback from Alabama-Birmingham, who may move to WR or that funky Wild-Cat spot.
Grade: B+. I wanted Vikes to address OG earlier, and QB later. But there is a reason I am not in the draft room. Assuming my home team knows more than I do, I give them the best grade. Because I can.
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