Souhan: Only one game, but offense already has apparently hit the wall

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 11, 2007 - 1:20 PM

Stretching the field far enough to score would require a stretch of red-zone wizardry this coach has not shown.

There is only one possible explanation for the Vikings' offensive futility under Brad Childress: invisible fencing.

You know those collars you put on your dog, so if the mutt wanders beyond the confines of your yard a small shock sends Spot yelping home?

Apparently, Vikings opponents have surreptitiously placed similar sensors into the uniforms of Vikings "skill" position players. Why else would a pro football team treat the end zone like a minefield?

Watching the Vikings in the first half of their first preseason game, you could lull yourself into being impressed. Tarvaris Jackson completed eight of 11 passes, and didn't come close to throwing an interception. Troy Williamson caught three passes without dropping any.

Bobby Wade, as advertised, turned two short passes into catch-and-run first downs. Rookie Adrian Peterson ran hard and didn't get hurt. And the Vikings' first-team offense produced seven first downs without committing a turnover.

For a team basing its hope on young skill position players and the evolution of Childress' paleolithic offense, this was all good news, as long as you didn't make the silly mistake of looking at the scoreboard.

It told the real story of the night, and offered proof of invisible fencing. The first-team offense, while playing one-third of the game (just more than 20 minutes), scored three points. Extrapolated, the efficient, zero-turnover performance would produce nine points a game.

Friday, the Vikings' lone field goal was their lone offensive highlight. Their only touchdown, in a 13-10 loss to St. Louis, came on Dontarrious Thomas' interception return.

This is how far our standards have fallen for the once-celebrated, historically explosive, perpetually innovative Purple offense: Anything surpassing incompetence can make you feel a little giddy.

"We did some good things," Jackson said earnestly.

"I think the quarterback [Jackson] was solid," Childress said.

Last year, with such veterans as Brad Johnson, Jermaine Wiggins, Travis Taylor and Marcus Robinson manning the passing game, the Vikings set team records for fewest first downs and touchdown passes. We assume they couldn't complete passes in the end zone, but, to be fair to the players, they rarely tried.

Childress and his offense are trying to remedy those failings while force-feeding Jackson and Peterson into the lineup.

Preseason games are generally meaningless, but the Vikings do find themselves in an unprecedented situation this summer: For once they need to win hearts and minds in August to ensure sellouts in September.

If Jackson and Peterson can inspire hope, the Vikings — like the new-look Timberwolves — can sell the promise of their young players even if they fail to make a quantum leap in the standings.

If Jackson looks overmatched and Peterson is anything less than the next Robert Smith, then the records for offensive futility the Vikings set last year could be in danger.

While Jackson avoided the kinds of killing mistakes that can land a young quarterback on the bench, the passive approach of Childress' offense continued to evoke images of Nick Punto taking a called third strike.

We all remember last year's pattern: Run left with Chester Taylor, run left again, holding penalty, run left, short pass to Mewelde Moore, punt.

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