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.
(brief silent moment for Al Davis)
Turning around a troubled football team involves a commitment. While Minnesota has demonstrated talent in most games this year, poor second half performances have turned a 4-1 season into a 1-4 season. With both Detroit and Green Bay at 5-0, this week's game vs. the Bears is crucial in that Chicago stands in the way of movement toward any hope of a North division title and/or a playoff bid. And the Bears are the defending North champion no less.
This Sunday Night's game at New Soldier Field will be the 101st meeting between the two clubs, with the Vikings holding a 52-46-2 edge, though the Bears are 26-21-2 at home, having won the last three straight. 2007 was the last time Minnesota won in Chicago.
Adrian Peterson ran for 224 yards in 2007 as a rookie, and will probably be asked to duplicate that performance, or come close. Minnesota defeated the Cardinals last week thanks to Peterson's 29 carries for 122 yards and three touchdowns. Chicago surrendered over 180 yards vs. the Lions last week, including an long TD run by Jahvid Best. These two facts propel OC Bill Musgrave to consider a large dose of Adrian Peterson.
The commitment to the run will allow Donovan McNabb better opportunities to pass, and he needs them. The Bears' defense is shot, with DE Julius Peppers probably out and two starting safeties benched. Chris Conte and Major Wright replace a ineffective duo that includes dangerous Brandon Merriweather. Still, they are the Bears and will present difficulties for McNabb should he be in passing situations.
Minnesota won the first game of their franchise vs. the Bears in 1961. From 1969 to 1983 the Vikings won 22 of 29 games. But shortly after the Bears have won the 1986 Super Bowl. Chicago recently returned to the Super Bowl only to lose to the Colts' and defensive coach Leslie Frazier in 2007.
The ties obviously do not end there with Frazier, as he was the starting cornerback on the 1985 Chicago team that won the Super Bowl. It was in that game that Frazier's career ended and he ultimately started his coaching career.
So in this the 101st meeting there will be much history to recall. The most recent history has been mostly in favor of Chicago, with 2007 being the last year Minnesota swept the Bears. But despite the poor start, Minnesota looks ready to sweep the Bears this year and here is why....
The 2011 Bears are struggling at offensive line, with Jay Cutler being battered all season. They have given up the third most sacks in the league (18). Minnesota has the 2nd most sacks as a team, with league leading Jared Allen at 8.5, and fellow DE Brian Robison 9th with 4.5 sacks. In their last game Chicago had nine false starts. Sure, that was in a very loud Ford Field, but nine is a big number at an airport.
The strength of the Bears offense has been the play of Matt Forte. He is an elusive back, good running and receiving the ball. But stopping the run has been Minnesota's bread and butter for years on defense, and even with Antoine Winfield doubtful to play, will keep Forte in check. That leaves Cutler forced to throw with a line that has let him down often against a defensive front that has had recent success.
So, as bad as 2011 has been to the Vikings, it appears this Sunday Night all Minnesota needs to do to win is hand the ball to number twenty-eight and block. If they do, we can say..
"We just won, baby".
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.
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.
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