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?
Hope eternal, or hope anew, the Vikings hit the bye week at 7-1, having won a big rivalry game at Lambeau to take control of the North Division. As we are given two weeks to rest for the upcoming second half of the season, we pause and reflect as to why we are who we are.
The first difference, and biggest, is Brett Favre. He has brought leadership and skill to the QB position. His numbers are solid. In the NFL he is 5th in pass completions (174), 5th in attempts (256) and 4th in percentage (68). His yardage total of 1,925 is 8th best, his yards per attempt at 7.52 is 10th overall. Favre is tied for first in TD passes with 16, and he has only been intercepted three times, while sacked eighteen. His passer rating (106) is 4th in the league.
Newest addition Percy Harvin has had a great impact with kick returns and receiving. Harvin has modest numbers in the offense with 8 rushes for 39 yards, and 28 receptions for 369 yards and three TDs. However, as a kick returner he rivals the best in the game. Harvin has outperformed Josh Cribbs of the Cleveland Browns, considered by many to be the best in the NFL. Harvin has three less returns (31-28), for the same 860 yards, and has two TDs to Cribbs' one. Harvin is in the top three in the NFL in attempts, yards, average, and TDs. He is on pace for 2,536 total yards and ten TDs. Not bad for a skipped over first rounder.
The emergence of Sidney Rice, along with the red-zone efforts of Visanthe Shiancoe has boosted the passing game in 2009. Rice has 37 catches for 585 yards (6th in NFL). Shiancoe has 22 catches for 203 yards and 6 TDs (2nd). Rice seemingly hauls in everything thrown his way, unlike his predecessor Troy Williamson. Shiancoe appears to be faster and stronger than anyone expected to cover him. Rice is on pace to break 1,000 yards while Shiancoe is headed for double-digit scores.
The running game is Adrian Peterson, and he has not disappointed. He is regularly running by, around or over opposing tacklers, a human highlight reel on a game-by-game basis. Peterson is on pace to rush for 1,568 yards and 18 TDs. He averages 4.81 yards per attempt. Critics point to a reduction in numbers from 2008, but we in the know see the same guy. Maybe better. AP has 19 receptions for 189 yards this season, and is on pace for near 2,000 total yards.
The Vikings offense is 2nd in scoring to the Saints, albeit nine points behind. We are 10th in the league in yardage, 12th is rushing, 12th in passing. A balanced attack that scores better than it moves the ball.
Defensively, the Vikings are first in the league in sacks. That, combined with their overall 7th rating in rush yardage allowed (94.8 ypg) makes them strong. Only one team has allowed fewer rushing TDs. We are 23rd in the league in pass yards allowed, averaging 237.9 per game. The Achilles heel of the team is exactly that. Most realize that this will have to be addressed in order to go deep in the playoffs.
Finally, Brad Childress and the coaching staff have had a decent year. If you polled all Vikings' diehards, you might find more disagree, but no one can argue with 7-1 record and a sweep of the Packers. That is Bud Grant like. How much Childress contributes to drafts, free agents, and roster selection is unknown to me, but I would assume he has input. No one will argue with our last few drafts. No one will complain now about the arrival of Brett Favre. Sorry diehards, but that contract extension is looking as likely as a cold February in the Twin Cities.
Yes, we are a good football team this year. The pessimists have less and less ammunition each game. The critics, well they will never stop until the day we win the biggest, most unattainable prize. So far, in this season, we seem to have another solid chance. Hope eternal, for me.
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