The third preseason game between the Vikings and the Cowboys shed light on what to expect this season. Minnesota played well, and if not for a special teams miscue, probably would have defeated a good Dallas team. But that is why they have preseason, and certainly a blocked FG return for a touchdown is no reason to have deflated hopes. These things can be fixed in time.
The offensive line, much aligned in media, responded with their best game. John Sullivan opened up a few big holes, as did Steve Hutchinson. Charlie Johnson played well at left tackle, Anthony Herrera was decent. Phil Loadholt was beaten on a rush once or twice, but held his own for the rest. The second unit faltered some, but Joe Webb appears to like that -- as he can then run free. Adrian Peterson looked brilliant again. Donovan McNabb was precise in attack. Bernard Berrian made some decent catches. All in all, a good day on the offense.
The defense once again missed a few tackles, but not too many. There was definitely openings in zone coverage that allowed Dez Bryant to haul in big gains. The pass rush, so important to the coverage, was not as strong as hoped. Jared Allen did seem to hurry Tony Romo a few times, but obviously this team needs Kevin Williams to penetrate from the inside. Fred Evans and Guion started at tackle and were adequate. Christian Ballard did get a sack in the second half. Chad Greenway looked like a 'franchise-tag' player. The Hendersons were decent, though E.J. was run through on the Cowboys only offensive TD. In the secondary, Cedric Griffin made tackles, but often it was after a decent gain. Chris Cook also gave up a few significant gains. Players fighting for roster spots stepped up, most notably Marcus Sherels and Jordan Parks.
Just about ready for the start. The only problem is, so is everyone else....
The Green Bay Packers, owners of four Super Bowl rings (including last year), are poised and ready. They get back JerMichael Finley and Ryan Grant to an already explosive offense. Aaron Rodgers has looked better every year and the only question marks seem to be the offensive line's struggle in the preseason. They are the favorite to win the division.
The Chicago Bears, last year's winner, will be in the mix. Jay Cutler has his best year in some time, and Matt Forte proved he was not on the decline in 2010. Also running the ball could be Marion Barber and Chester Taylor. The Bears' defense will be strong led by Brain Urlacher and Lance Briggs. While not expected to win the division, many are choosing the Bears as a wild-card entrant.
The Detroit Lions are poised to achieve their first winning season in a long while, and with Matthew Stafford, Jahvid Best and Calvin Johnson, have big play potential that has been lacking. Of course, all the attention is on the defensive tackles: Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. Expectations are higher in Detroit than at anytime since Barry Sanders left. The Lions are the popular "sleeper" pick for 2011.
So where does that leave the Vikings?
Most do not think Minnesota has a shot at the playoffs, but concede they will be improved under the new regime of Leslie Frazier and the savvy quarterback Donovan McNabb. Losing the entire Williams' wall for at least part of the season should have an impact on the defense. The secondary is suspect at best. The best hope is that the Vikings find a pass rush that limits the secondary being exposed.
An 8-8 season would be an accomplishment according to those in the know. The division is fierce, the schedule is tough. But the Dome has been repaired, and a new brighter look comes from the changed roof. The turf is new, and hopefully, safer than previous turf. Anything can happen, right?
I think the Vikings will be better than expected. If the turnover ratio changes, and it should, Minnesota will find itself in games many would not expect. McNabb's veteran leadership, combined with Adrian Peterson's skills, could be enough to make a run for the division title again. After all, Minnesota has won the division (in its' many forms) eighteen times, eight more than the nearest competitor (Green Bay and Chicago). We are quite used to winning.
A final preseason game stands in the way. Important battles to make the roster are the news of the day. The spots for the secondary and wide receiver should be especially tough. Sherels has become a fan favorite, as he is a Gophers alumni. Another former Gopher, defensive lineman Cedric McKinley, played well late in the Dallas game. At receiver, my new favorite, Emmanuel Arceneaux will try land a spot, or at minimum, make the practice squad. After his big catch against the Cowboys, the secret may be out. It is my opinion that he will soon make us forget about Sidney What's-his-Name.
My prediction? The Vikings will be better. Will better be enough? I do not know yet.
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".
By Louis Villaume
Nothing is easier to criticize than an NFL Draft. Comparatively, I find no fault in the Minnesota state tax or even the sane lane. The snow plows that knock my mailbox down every year are welcomed compared to a bad pick. And it is with that thought we examine the 2011 Draft.
Before it even started there was a dismal feel to this draft. The Packers are reigning Super Bowl Champions. The Patriots had compiled a slew of picks in the early rounds. There is the stay of the injunction. Why in the 2nd round the NFL announced the lockout was back on .. talk about a party-killer.
And then it began on a Thursday Night! For the first time in thirty years I was unable to watch Minnesota's first pick of the season. The NFL keeps finding ways to challenge my desire to have a life outside it. Luckily, I was able to give up my Friday Night and most of this rainy Saturday, and I got my fill.
On to the picks.
Green Bay won the 2011 Super Bowl thanks in part to a strong General Manager and wise draft choices. QB Aaron Rodgers proved to be a gold mine and the main impetus for a cheesy champion. The Vikings decided this year to try their luck at a first round choice being a quarterback. In a draft littered with hurlers, Minnesota chose Christian Ponder from Florida State. The talking heads liked the pick for the most part. I could not help but think about Nick Fairley at the 12th selection, and his subsequent joining of the improving Detroit Lions. But I see we do need a franchise play caller, and given last year's collapse, I suppose we are in rebuilding mode.
Our 2nd round pick was a shocker. I was sure we would beef offensive line. True, we had added Chris DeGeare and Phil Loadholt in the last drafts, but the way Brett Favre was battered and given the importance of keeping Adrian Peterson happy and healthy, I was hopeful we would improve on the efforts of Sullivan, McKinnie and friends... But we went tight end. The choice of Kyle Rudolph of Notre Dame sounds intriguing. At 6'6, he could be an Antonio Gates or Tony Gonzalez type of TE that becomes a deadly weapon in the red zone. Kind of like Visanthe Shiancoe. Damage control came in the news that the TEs on roster were all aging and in the final year of their contracts.
The 3rd round went by very slowly. I kept trying to remember just what the reason was for trading it away. I couldn't. Or wouldn't remember. Some things are better forgotten.
The anticipated 4th round on Saturday morning had the Vikings with an early selection. They chose DT Christian Ballard of Iowa. My first reaction was .. "Two Christians?", I immediately regressed to my days as a Timberwolves' fan, and the choosing of Christian Laettner. I hate Christians. But this Christian is a beefy tackle that is needed to replace a section of the Williams wall, along with existing solid DTs like Guion and Kennedy. I can live with that one.
The 5th round of tow selections became just one pick (with a trade) and then four in the 6th round. It was at that time I pulled myself away enough to eat and write. We grabbed Brandon Burton a CB form Utah. Definitely a need position given the fact that Lito Sheppard and Frank Walker ended up being on the field with regularity. With Chris Cook and Griffin hurt most of the season, and Antoine Winfield solid but older, this pick makes sense. Just wonder if it was soon enough to help.
The 6th round will be busy. It is back to the TV for me. Hope it keeps raining so I can justify the next three to four hours.
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.
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