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".
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.
I used to like the Pro Bowl. The images of Hawaii, the relaxed look at the players, the sideline interviews, and the chance to see the league's best perform against each other were enough reasons to warrant viewing of the end of the season highlight game. When the game was played in Honolulu at teh end of the NFL season, it was the perfect showcase for the NFL. It was an end of the year celebration. It was never really about who won the game, but rather, which players could dominate it. Four times Minnesota Vikings won that honor, the MVP of the Pro Bowl. Fran Tarkenton was the first in 1965, and Adrian Peterson the last only a few years ago.
Today's Pro Bowl, cast between conference championships and the Super Bowl, is more a showcase of how little the players think of the game. Sure, ten of the twenty-eight missing players will be excused because they are in Super Bowl XLV, but isn't that who we wanted to see? For whatever reason Aaron Rodgers was left off of the roster, but six other Packers will be absent. But fear not, there was six Cowboys selected. Add five Giants and five Eagles and the NFC roster takes on an East feel, despite their ineptness in 2010.
The missing list includes a who's who of the NFL. Offense? Try missing Rodgers, Andre Johnson, Greg Jennings, DeSean Jackson, Antonio Gates, Tom Brady, Maurice Jones-Drew and a few of the league's best linemen. On the defense, Dwight Freeney, Nnamdi Asomugha, Lance Briggs, Ed Reed, Asante Samuel, Ndamukong Suh, and Brian Urlacher, to name a few. I will even miss watching Clay Matthews, the dominant long-haired pass rusher of Green Bay. The long hair really bugs me, but can he play!
While I would not place the Pro Bowl in the same light as the All-Star games in the NBA and NHL (absolutely no defense), I think MLB has a better game. No, not the call-it-a-draw game, but the chance to see the game's best play hard. In baseball, one can play hard and not risk injury. Such is not the case in the other sports. The NFL simplifies defenses so as to avoid injuries. The result is a lot more scoring. While it is similar to the other sports, football's intensity seems to hide the softness of the All-Star venue better than hockey or basketball. I know when I am watching a 14-12 hockey game something is missing.
So today we sit back and watch the Pro Bowl if we has absolutely nothing else to do. I am debating taking the ice out of the gutters or viewing the game.
And it is a tough decision...
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