Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.

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Posts about Lions

Monday morning thoughts

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: October 17, 2011 - 11:16 AM

Monday morning second-guessing (let's call it what it is):

-Logically, there is no reason for professional head football coaches to have to jog through the maelstrom of bodies on the field after an emotional game and offer a gratuitous and often insincere handshake. It's a silly custom.

Logically, the practice should be banned.

But I'm glad it exists, because it's brought us some great moments, like Bill Belichick dissing Eric Mangini and now Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz almost starting a brawl.

Here's the deal with Harbaugh and Schwartz: They were both wrong. Harbaugh was wrong to show up Schwartz, which he certainly did. Schwartz was wrong to escalate the situation by chasing Harbaugh down.

But I loved it. This is entertainment. It's also a win-or-bust business. Pro football is not for nice people. There are exceptions to that rule, like Tony Dungy, but they are rare exceptions. I love it when high-profile people bare their teeth and souls. So while I wouldn't want my kids or high school coach or even college coach behaving like this, in pro football, I love it when coaches break their usually cliche-ridden molds.

-I'm at Winter Park today, awaiting news on who starts at quarterback. I've been calling for Ponder since the Vikings fell to 0-3, but now I really don't think the timing matters much.

Start McNabb again, to save Ponder from facing the Packers in his first start? Fine with me. That's one of the reasons McNabb is here, to protect Ponder.

Start Ponder to introduce him to the NFL as quickly as possible, to prepare him for 2012 - or just to evaluate him? Fine with me. Why not?

Start Joe Webb? Fine by me.

When you're 1-5 and bound to lose and have so much of the season left, it really doesn't matter anymore.

-I fear for the Gophers. Their head coach is telling anyone who will listen that they're no good, and the players have every reason to believe him, and now they're facing a Nebraska team that will physically whip them. I fear not only for a 60-0 score, I fear for the players' safety. It's a hard game to play when your heart's not in it.

-To me, the Vikings' loss last night was predictable. They never play well in Chicago. Why would a bad Vikings team play well in Chicago when ever the best Vikings teams have struggled in that town and on that surface?

I am surprised it became a blowout so quickly. I keep thinking about all the quality players the Vikings have, but, then, these are the same players who seemed to quit under Brad Childress just a year ago. Maybe their talent level is overrated.

-Gov. Mark Dayton has been very even-handed, smooth and presidential in his handling of the Vikings' stadium debate. Now he's saying that a 1-5 record makes the stadium iniative less popular.

That's a blatant copout, and the kind of statement that makes us hate politicians. Noone, whether stadium proponent or opponent, should base a decision that will affect the state for good or ill for the next 30-plus years on how Donovan McNabb is playing this season.

The Vikings are a state asset. Different people will value their presence in different ways. I'm a sports guy. I value sports and think there are intangible benefits to having a team in state as well as tangible economic benefits. If you don't value sports, I don't expect you to agree with me.

But the decision should not be based on a win-loss record, whether the Vikings were 6-0 or 1-5. The decision should be based on the value of having an NFL franchise in our state. And if Dayton or anyone else wants to argue that we should let the Vikings leave because they're 1-5, I would argue that Minnesota eventually would decide to lure back an NFL franchise, and that acquiring another franchise will be much more expensive and complicated than building a stadium for the current franchise, which, for all of its faults and big losses, has been remarkably entertaining and competitive for decades.

-Since the start of the 2010 season, the Vikings are 7-15. That's the fourth-worst record

Here are the teams that are similar or worse during that span:

Carolina: 3-19.

Denver: 5-16.

Arizona: 6-15.

Cincinnati: 6-14.

St. Louis: 7-14.

Cleveland: 7-14.

Miami: 7-13.

-My pick: Rangers in six. Other than Cris Carpenter, I don't think the Cardinals' pitching staff can handle the Rangers' lineup.

-Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2 p.m. with Reusse and Mackey, then on tonight, perhaps around 6:40, with Tom Pelissero. I'll also be on with Mike McFeely on KFGO in Fargo at 2:35.

My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.

 

 

Another quality weekend of Minnesota sports

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: October 2, 2011 - 7:20 PM

So the Vikings' season is over. What now?

Wrote my column for the Monday paper on the Vikings' predicament, so I'll leave that subject (and a stunning statistic regarding the Vikings' record) for that edition.

What was troubling on Sunday - and what made this a difficult game to write about, as the fourth successive loss - was that the Vikings keep having the same problems every week.

The defense has forced three turnovers in four games. That's not going to cut it.

Donovan McNabb actually made a couple of nice deep throws, targeting Devin Aromashodu and Percy Harvin down the sideline. Maybe the Vikings coaches have found the right combination of routes/receivers to encourage McNabb to take the occasional shot.

What's strangest about the Vikings' 0-4 start is that they are not horrific statistically. McNabb has thrown just two interceptions. Adrian Peterson is having a representative season. Percy Harvin has been dynamic running and catching. Toby Gerhart has done well in limited duty. The Vikings have five receivers with seven or more catches.

But the Vikings neither make enough big plays, or make enough positive plays at important times.

The Chiefs are not a good team. They were 0-3 and missing safety Eric Berry and running back Jamaal Charles. They lacked a competent running game, and quarterback Matt Cassel looks very average when you watch him in person. And yet this collection beat a desperate Vikings team featuring a handful of stars.

I keep coming back to two positions: Quarterback and offensive coordinator. Both were actually a little improved on Sunday, but they still weren't good enough to sustain drives, and it's amazing how many unforced errors this team makes. There were two plays when the running back and quarterback didn't seem to be on the same page.

Also, I think head coach Leslie Frazier should have managed the clock better at the end of the game. If he had called a timeout before the Chiefs punted, that would have saved 45 seconds, and then if the Vikings had gone into hurry-up mode, they could have saved a couple of minutes and had a chance at another drive.

I don't think those decisions cost the Vikings the game, but they cost the Vikings an opportunity.

-The Detroit Lions are 4-0. They remind me of the Tampa Bay Rays - a team that finally found good management and started taking advantage of all of its high draft picks.

The Lions will have to develop more of a running game and become better in pass coverage to become a threat to win a playoff game, but right now they're the best story in the NFL.

-Once I get home from KC, I"ll be covering the Lynx in Game 2, 3 and (if necessary) 4 of the WNBA Finals, including coverage next weekend from Atlanta.

-I highly recommend taking in games at the KC sports complex. Arrowhead and Kauffman Stadium are still state of the art, and the tailgating before a Chiefs game is excellent - friendly people and great barbecue.

-Typical Wolves luck that if they were heading into a season right now, they would be the best story in town. Instead, Rick Adelman and Derrick Williams are locked out indefinitely.

-I'll be on 1500espn with Reusse and Mackey at 2 p.m. every day this week (I believe), and I"ll join my Sunday radio partner, Tom Pelissero, a couple of times this week on his new show, which is 6-8 p.m. weekdays.

My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.

 

Wrapping up the weekend in sports

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: September 25, 2011 - 6:35 PM
BLOG…
Congratulations to the Lynx for winning the Western Conference Finals. This sets up a big basketball week for me despite the lockout – I’ll be covering the Lynx in the WNBA finals, and Rick Adelman’s introductory press conference.
It’s nice to be able to say this about Glen Taylor’s operation without a hint of sarcasm: This is a great time to be a basketball fan in Minneapolis, even with a lockout.
On to the Vikings’ latest collapse. My column in the Monday paper will deal with the Vikings’ quarterback situation. Right now I’ll deal with the decision to try for a first down on fourth-and-1 from the Detroit 17 with 12 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Vikings led, 20-17, at that point. They hadn’t scored in the second half. The field goal unit ran onto the field, then was waved off. Donovan McNabb handed the ball to Toby Gerhart, who was lined up as a fullback ahead of Adrian Peterson, and Gerhart was stopped.
There are a number of problems with this sequence. Wouldn’t you rather give the ball to the NFL’s best running back? Yes. Of course.
But the first second-guess is the best second-guess in this case. The Vikings should have kicked the field goal. (And, by the way, I believe in first-guessing. So you can go back and see on my Twitter timeline that I said, before the play, that I’d kick the field goal.)
Even with Peterson carrying the ball, here’s the problem with going for it on fourth-and-1 from the 17: Even if you make the first down, you aren’t guaranteed an eventual touchdown. Odds are, you’d just wind up kicking a field goal, anyway. And you could turn the ball over, or take a sack, or get penalized, and wind up farther back than you started.
Kick the field goal, and the Lions have to score a touchdown to beat you. The Lions didn’t score a touchdown the rest of the way, winning the game with two field goals in regulation and one in overtime.
But if you’re going to go for it on fourth down, wouldn’t you want Jimmy Kleinsasser leading Adrian Peterson? Don’t you want your best player making the deciding play?
Lost in the loss is the outstanding play of the Vikings’ defensive ends, Jared Allen and Brian Robison. They dominated the line of scrimmage.
Both came into the season facing questions. Allen started slowly last year. Robison is considered undersized, and I wondered whether he’d hold up over the course of a game. Both have been excellent and relentless.
That’s the troublesome part of the Vikings’ struggles: They have a lot of admirable veterans who are seeing their last good year(s) wasted because the Vikings can’t get decent play out of the quarterback position.
I don’t doubt the effort or will of many of the Vikings’ veterans - Adrian Peterson, Antoine Winfield, Allen, Chad Greenway, E.J. Henderson, Steve Hutchinson. But the NFL is not about willpower; it’s about coaching, design, and offensive skill players. Discovered this stat as I was researching my Monday column: As offenses explode all around the NFL, the Vikings and McNabb have produced just one pass play longer than 24 yards. It was a screen pass that Toby Gerhart carried 42 yards.
That’s pathetic.               
Gophers football coach Jerry Kill is having more health problems.
I mean this seriously: He should take off the rest of the season. He needs to get control of his health. He also needs to understand that nobody ever wants to see him writhing on the sideline again.
His health issues aside, the Gophers have lost to New Mexico State and North Dakota State at home. Kill and his staff deserve blame, especially for their handling of the quarterback position. I’ll also blame Tim Brewster. He was supposed to be a great recruiter, yet the Gophers do not have better athletes than New Mexico State and North Dakota State. And their best athlete, MarQueis Gray, is playing out of position.
Max Shortell hasn’t won the starting quarterback job, but Gray has lost it. Start Shortell, start developing him, and put Gray at a position where he can help this team – slot receiver. You’d be improving two positions at once.
 
 
 

Make it stop, please

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: September 18, 2011 - 6:01 PM

It's silly to pretend that a city or state's sporting teams are all somehow linked by anything other than geography. The Twins don't affect the Vikings who don't affect the Gophers who don't affect the Wolves, and so on.

But this is getting a little creepy.

The Wolves are on one of the most remarkable five-year runs of ineptitude in NBA history. The Twins are headed toward 100 losses. Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and, I believe, TC Bear are all done for the season. The Wild has fired two coaches since it last made the playoffs. Gopher football lost last week to New Mexico State, which just lost at home to UTEP.

Sunday, the Vikings blew a 17-0 halftime lead to lose, 24-20. They've now been outscored in second halves this season, 41-3.

Since Brett Favre threw that fateful interception, the Vikings are 6-12, including 3-5 under Leslie Frazier.

In an easier division, starting 0-2 might not be such a big problem, but the Vikings probably have the fourth-best team in the NFC North.

I'm not sure I've ever seen two poorer performances from a quarterback who didn't throw an interception than I've seen from Donovan McNabb the last two weeks. He's the anti-Tarvaris: He isn't making killing mistakes, he's just a little off, whether in timing or accuracy.

He threw for 228 yards and no interceptions on Sunday, but made so few positive plays in the second half that the Vikings lost again.

It's hard to lose when you run for 186 yards, throw for 228 yards and commit zero turnovers. But an inability to pick up the occasional first down under pressure is almost the same as committing turnovers.

--------------------------------

Maybe I should be more sensitive, but I have a hard time believing that Joe Mauer couldn't play another game this season.

Let me ask you one question: If Derek Jeter had the same illness as Mauer today, do you think he'd take off the rest of the season?

Me, either.

--------------------------------

I said this on Twitter earlier, and I believe it: The Wolves' hiring of Rick Adelman makes them the biggest winner of any sports team in town this week.

How often, over the last few years, could the Wolves have said that?

Given the state of disrepair of all the other teams in town, I could see Adelman making the Wolves one of the most popular draws in Minnesota. I believe he can immediately improve the Wolves from 17 wins to 30-some wins, and this town will embrace a young, fun, up-tempo team in the heart of our downtown.

I went to see the Gear Daddies at the Fine Line on Friday, and, as someone who doesn't spend a whole lot of weekend nights downtown, I was stunned at how many people were on the street around midnight. (Or later.)

That's the Wolves' demographic. I've gotten the feeling the last couple of years that there are tens of thousands of people who will pack Target Center if the Wolves can just give them a little hope. And I think Adelman represents hope.

-----------------------------------

My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib. I'll be on 1500espn at 2 p.m. weekdays, plus on at 6:15ish on Monday and Friday (Twins schedule permitting) with Tom Pelissero, my Sunday Morning Sports Talk partner, who will be hosting a nightly show from 6-8 p.m. on the station.

 

A Winter Park Wednesday

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: September 7, 2011 - 2:46 PM

Donovan McNabb conducted his first game-week press conference as a Vikings quarterback, and he was thoughtful and insightful. Must be the podium. He was a lot like Favre, except that he listened to the question and kept his answers shorter than 35 minutes. And he didn't ask himself rhetorical questions the way Favre did.

The Vikings appeared pretty close to completely healthy as we were allowed to watch the beginning of practice on Wednesday.

Here's my take on this team: I like the people, I'm not sure I like the mix.

I think Leslie Frazier has a good chance to become a very good coach. I think McNabb has a chance to have a bounce-back season. The Vikings still have elite players in Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, Antoine Winfield, Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Chad Greenway. They have highly-useful veterans like Visanthe Shiancoe, Jim Kleinsasser, Steve Hutchinson, Michael Jenkins and E.J. Henderson.

But they lack the kind of youth movement that could give those veterans one last run at a championship. Kyle Rudolph may be the only young player who could be outstanding this season. The Vikings lack roster depth, are installing a new offense with a new quarterback without the benefit of offseason workouts, play in the same division as the best team in football and need to maintain close to perfect health to have a chance to post a winning record.

So, my pick for this teams is 7-9. They went 6-10 last year, and I think Frazier's steady hand will give them a chance to win one or two more games than they did during the crazy 2010 season.

Their best hope is that they can win the games they're supposed to win, that the Bears take a predictable fall and that the Lions aren't nearly as ready to win as most people think they are. To get to 9-7, McNabb will have to be sharp enough to lead the Vikings to wins in a lot of close games.

I would love to predict that the Vikings will go 10-6 and make the playoffs. After watching the Twins stumble around all season, I'd love to cover a playoff team. But I think this team's weaknesses in the secondary and on the offensive line will be exposed by quality opponents.

---------------------------------------------------------------------

I hear a lot of fans whining about the Twins calling up youngsters and putting them in the starting lineup. That's the way this works, folks. Take it from me: I covered the Twins as a beat writer from 1993-97. Watching the kids come up and play in September was the highlight of those seasons.

I'm most interested in Joe Benson. He's a multi-talented guy who can run, hit, hit for power, throw, and cover ground in the outfield. He seems to have charsma. He loves Springsteen (!). He plays with the energy of a football player - he was a standout running back in high school. And unlike a lot of the kids who have been called up this season, he seems to be after more than a big-league paycheck.

With the futures of Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel uncertain, Benson could be a key player for this team next year.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

I highly recommend reading our hockey writer, Michael Russo, these days, even if you don't care about hockey. His piece on Derek Boogaard's death, and his quick-reacting coverage of the airline tragedy in Russia are just the latest examples of his outstanding work.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

I'll be traveling to Green Bay for the season opener against the Saints tomorrow, then coming back and heading to San Diego for the Vikings' opener. I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 weekdays from now on, and I'll be calling in from Green Bay tomorrow at that time.

Quick stat from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's Bob McGinn: Saints coach Sean Payton's career record is 53-33. Packers coach Mike McCarthy's is 53-34. And they've won the last two Super Bowls.

Tom Pelissero and I will run the Gardenhire Show and Sunday Morning Sports Talk from San Diego on Sunday morning, from 9:30-11. We'll do our first NFL picks, along with my buddy Tom Linnemann, and we'll have ESPN.com NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert on to preview the games.

I'll also be calling 1500espn at 6:20 p.m. tomorrow from Green Bay.

My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.

Enjoy the beginning of football season. I know I will.

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