The NFL doesn't have a true offseason, what with the draft and OTAs and minicamps filling the time between the Super Bowl and the start of training camp. Even in the month-long quiet period, when most players and coaches and personnel types are reacquainting themselves with their families and friends and pets, the Vikings usually seem to make news.
They did so again on Monday, signing former Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop to a one-year contract. Thus Bishop becomes the latest in a long line of former Packers – Greg Jennings, Brett Favre, Darren Sharper, Ryan Longwell, et al – to cross the St. Croix River and catch on with Green Bay's rival to the west.
The signing is pretty low-risk for the Purple. Bishop, who will turn 29 in a month, spent all of last season on the Packers' IR with a torn hamstring, so when Green Bay decided to release him last week, he didn't have much leverage in contract negotiations. The Vikings, meanwhile, were prepared to go into training camp with Erin Henderson at middle linebacker and an assortment of rookies and undrafted free agent-types battling it out for the weakside spot.
Don't assume, however, that Bishop's presence means Henderson will automatically move back to his starting spot on the weakside. Reports from OTAs and minicamp were that Henderson was impressing in the middle, and Bishop has experience playing outside and inside in the Packers' 3-4 defense. The plan going forward appears to be to let both veterans get reps at both linebacker spots before the coaching staff settles on who will line up next to Chad Greenway and who'll play on the outside.
Given that Bishop racked up 8.0 sacks in his last two seasons with the Packers, don't be surprised if he finds himself on the weakside with a chance to rush the passer, leaving Henderson – who's more familiar with Alan Williams' defense – in the middle to call the signals.
Either way, sit back and enjoy hearing Packers fans whine about the defection of another one of their former favorite sons. That's always fun, no matter the time of year.
Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData, a contributor to the Vikings Yearbook, and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.
Time to break out a new feature here at VikesCentric – we'll call it the Friday 3-and-out. Sure, that name has a negative connotation for the offense, but let's look at the glass as half-full and think about the 3-and-outs forced by the Vikings defense this year. Three quick plays and the opponents are back on the bench. In the same spirit, the Friday 3-and-out will offer three quick-hitting opinions about the state of the Purple, then get you on your way to your weekend preparations for the big game.
1. Jasper Brinkley has been the Vikings MSP. That's Most Surprising Player, for if not for Brinkley's seemingly out-of-nowhere performance this year, 3-1 could easily be 1-3, if not worse. Brinkley's previous moment in the sun came in his rookie season, when he stepped into the starting lineup in place of the injured E.J. Henderson late in the magical 2009 Favreapalooza and didn't embarrass himself too much. He returned to the anonymous world of special teams in 2010, then sat out all of last year with a hip injury. But he's filled the Vikings' middle linebacker spot admirably this year, even taking over nickel duties when that other Henderson kid sat out with a concussion the last two weeks. He's never been the most athletic guy on the field, but he's been able to get deep enough to disrupt the passing game in the Cover-2 (something Erin Henderson failed to do on that TD pass to Reggie Wayne in Week 2) and posted a career-high 10 tackles last week in the win at Detroit. That's about as much as the Vikings could have hoped for out of a fifth-round draft choice in his fourth year as a pro.
2. The Vikings didn't necessarily catch a break with Jake Locker sitting out Sunday. Yeah, he's the Titans' starting quarterback, but that's mainly because the Titans know they're not going anywhere this year so they might as well build for the future and see what they've got in Locker. Instead, the Vikings will face Matt Hasselbeck, a savvy veteran who will be a test for a young secondary that hasn't faced a quarterback more experienced than Alex Smith yet this year. One of Locker's strengths is his ability to keep defenses on their toes by running the ball, but it's not like the Titans were going to game-plan much in the way of a ground game against the Vikings' stout rush defense. Their best hope to win is to protect the quarterback, let him sit in the pocket and try to pick apart Chris Cook and Josh Robinson on the outside. That's not Locker's strength, but Hasselbeck just might be up to the task.
3. The dome will play a big role on Sunday. Not necessarily the crowd noise – Hasselbeck's presence in the Titans' backfield probably mitigates that to some extent. But have you checked out the weekend forecast? We could climb all the way back into the mid-50s by gametime, but then again, given Minnesota's notorious weather swings, we could be trudging through snow by then. Regardless, this will be the first time this season that fans will be thankful for that glorious Teflon roof. Stay toasty, my friends.
Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData, a contributor to the 2012 Vikings Yearbook, and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.
In NFL circles, the third preseason game is cleverly referred to as the "dress rehearsal" for the regular season. Teams use the third game to hone their timing for Week 1 by playing their starting units longer than in any of the other exhibition contests before resting the regulars in the fourth game in an effort to preserve their health. Suffice it to say Friday night's dress rehearsal didn't exactly go as planned for your Minnesota Vikings.
Last Wednesday, when I was on KFAN with Paul Allen, he was already looking 12 days down the road past the bye week to Monday night's game against the Packers in Green Bay. I couldn't really blame him since he's the "voice of the Vikings" and the team had the week off. Why not look down the road a bit? After all, there was nothing very worthwhile to look back on from the first half.
The Vikings keep finding more creative ways to lose games, and in the wake of the ever-stupefying defeats, naturally fans are looking for somebody to blame. Leslie Frazier, Bill Musgrave, Tyrell Johnson, Ragnar … hell, there are probably some people still mad at Bob Schnelker.
But the No. 1 target of the fans' disdain is quarterback Donovan McNabb. The scorn is justified. McNabb has been everything we saw last year in his dismal stint with the Redskins – inconsistent, indecisive, and all too inaccurate. So naturally, Vikings fans and even some in the media have begun calling for Frazier to bench McNabb in favor of rookie Christian Ponder.
I understand the argument – I really do. McNabb has been just shy of terrible, three other rookie quarterbacks (Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert and Andy Dalton) are already starting even though Ponder was dubbed the most "NFL-ready" of the No. 1 draft picks, and the backup quarterback is always the most popular guy on the roster.
So I understand the calls for Ponder. I just don't agree with them.
To be clear, this is not a defense of McNabb. He's been the main reason for the three straight second-half collapses – the offense has done next to nothing after halftime all year, leaving the defense tired and exposed. He can't throw downfield (though his receivers and offensive line are a huge part of that dynamic), and when he had a chance to hit Bernard Berrian (!) with a potential game-winning TD on Sunday, McNabb's throw fluttered harmlessly out of bounds.
But this decision should have nothing to do with McNabb. Remember, when the Vikings traded for the veteran quarterback, they told us he was brought here to protect Ponder. The Vikings brain trust didn't want to rush the rookie. They didn't want to force-feed their No. 1 draft pick to NFL defenses before he was ready, and the offseason labor stoppage cost him valuable time to master Musgrave's offense.
Thus, it really doesn't matter if McNabb throws for 39 yards in a game, or can't hit an open man in the end zone, or throws ball after ball at his receivers' feet. Because this decision isn't about McNabb – or at least it shouldn't be.
The only factor that matters is whether Vikings coaches believe that Ponder is ready to start. If there's any chance that playing Ponder right now will risk long-term damage to his development – or endanger his health, given the Vikings' pass-protection issues of late – there's no reason to throw him to the wolves right now.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this team is not Super Bowl-bound. I'll admit that when the season started, I thought the Vikings were about an 8-8 team – maybe they'd catch a few breaks, win a couple tossup games and pull out a Wild Card berth. Well, they've now had three of those tossup games, and they've lost them all.
Sure, it's frustrating to watch an over-the-hill McNabb waste three straight impressive performances by the Vikings defense with second-half performances that would make Spurgeon Wynn cringe.
But even if you think Ponder gives them the best chance to win right now, there's no sense in calling on the rookie quarterback to save the season, because there's nothing to save.
The Vikings traded for Donovan McNabb to serve as a bridge to the Christian Ponder Era. No need to cross that bridge until you have a better idea of what's on the other side.
Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData, contributor to the Maple Street Press Vikings 2011 Annual (on newsstands now!), and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press.
Let's ignore for just a minute or two the myriad problems that plagued the Vikings in their second straight second-half collapse. For the sake of argument, let's assume the Bucs and Vikes traded touchdowns and field goals throughout the game, but that the score was an identical 20-17 in favor of the Vikings when the Buccaneers took the ball at their own 39-yard line with 4:12 remaning in the game. Assume, further, that the same sequence of plays resulted in the Bucs facing 3rd-and-4 at the Vikings' 10-yard line with 1:17 remaining.
Okay, now the assumptions are over.
FACT: The Vikings had all three of their time outs remaining.
FACT: The absolute best-case scenario (avoiding the possibility of a forced turnover, which you can't rationally be counting on happening) for the Vikings is that they prevent the first down and force the Bucs to kick a field goal that would tie the game with roughly one minute left in the game.
FACT: The clock continues to run after each play is run, except in the case of an incomplete pass or an offensive player running out of bounds with the ball.
FACT: Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman completed a six-yard pass to set up 1st-and-goal at the four-yard line.
FACT:The worst-case, and very real, scenario at this point is that the Bucs run two or three more plays, with the Vikings opting not to use any of their time outs, then score a touchdown to take the lead with very little time left on the clock.
What happened, of course, was not exactly the worst-case, but close to it. LaGarrette Blount gashed the Vikings defense (on first down, instead of running some clock on second and/or third-down) for a four-yard touchdown run, leaving just over 30 seconds on the clock for the Vikings to attempt a far-fetched touchdown-scoring drive.
QUESTION: Why didn't the Vikings use a time out after the aforementioned third-down completion that gave the Bucs first-and-goal at the four? And continue to use them after each subsequent play? What were they saving them for? Is there any rational explanation for not stopping the clock with 1:17 remaining?
As mentioned, the best thing that could have happened in this situation is the Vikings holding the Bucs out of the end zone and forcing a game-tying field goal. Even if they were forced to burn all three of their time outs, they'd still get the ball with somewhere in the neighborhood of 50-55 seconds on the clock (I'm assuming an average NFL play takes six-to-seven seconds, although an incompletion can take half that) and a chance to drive for the game-winning field goal.
Worst case, they burn the three time outs but the Bucs waste some time off the clock and then convert for a touchdown on fourth-down, leaving the Vikes with a daunting task of having to drive for a touchdown, but at least giving them a snowball's chance with 50-plus seconds on the clock.
By the time Tampa was inside the 10-yard line, the outcome was painfully obvious; a game-tying field goal (at best) or a game-losing touchdown (at worst). In either case, it was imperative that the Vikings have as much time left on the clock as possible. Instead, the Vikings inexplicably and inexcusably decided to do... nothing.
Note: For the record, head coach Leslie Frasier was asked about this very situation (twice) in his post-game press conference. Each time, he said he thought the defense could stop the Bucs and force a field goal or get a turnover. A noble philosophy, but in this case, unfortunately, the wrong one.
Christian Peterson is the Operations Manager at LeagueSafe.com and is a contributor to Vikings.com, the 2011 Maple Street Press Vikings Annual, and the Fantasy Football Weekly radio show on Saturday Mornings on KFAN 100.3.
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