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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Wrapping up the column for the Monday paper. I wrote about Brad Childress' motivational speech to and relationship with his players.
My quick-hit observations on the Vikings' 30-10 victory over Cincinnati:
-Cincinnati has definite strengths, including a strong defensive front and excellent cornerbacks, but they didn't match up well with the Vikings. With only one big-play receiver, they couldn't take advantage of the Vikings' safeties, and they had trouble handling playing in a loud dome, committing far too many silly penalties.
-Adrian Peterson wasn't spectacular, but one play caught my attention. When he caught a pass over the middle and shifted into fifth gear, beating two defenders to the sideline with a vintage burst of speed, he indicated to me that he's as healthy as he's been in a while. He was productive and didn't fumble. I could see him breaking loose for one of his big games in the next two weeks.
-Brett Favre threw a first-half interception and it looked like he might be on his way to a vintage December swoon. But he regained his composure, played conservatively, and did a nice job running the offense. ``If this had been 13 games ago,'' Brad Childress said, ``you would have said he managed the game.''
True. Remember, what most of us hoped from Favre was that he would ``manage'' the game. He has raised expectations, hasn't he?
-Jared Allen and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier got into it on the sideline late in the game. It's a testament to how much the player/coach dynamic has changed in this organization that nobody got bent out of shape over that exchange after the game. The Vikings didn't downplay it _ they just didn't think it was a big deal. They let Allen get hot, they didn't take him too seriously, and they moved on.
-I took a commanding lead in the KSTP football picks. I'm four games ahead of Patrick Reusse and Brad Lane as we speak, and I have the Eagles in tonight's game. I've won the picks competition at the radio station a record 82 years in a row.
-Antoine Winfield is a great, great player. He dominates against the run and his presence in the secondary might help the safeties when the Vikings play good passing teams.
-The Vikings have to hope they don't face Arizona in the first round of the playoffs. The Cardinals, with physical fronts and an explosive passing attack, are perfectly-suited to exposing the Vikings' flaws. Beating Arizona and New Orleans in successive weeks would be asking a lot of this or any team.
Upcoming: I'm on with Reusse at 6:40 a.m. on am-1500, then on WJON at 7:14 a.m. Planning on writing about the Wild, the Gophers athletic department and the Vikings this week, and I'll be heading to Carolina with Chudd on Saturday.
Wednesday, I'll be on FSN before the Wolves' game, debating with my buddy Jim Petersen.
You can follow me on Twitter at SouhanStrib.
Let's see, the Vikings couldn't run the ball, Adrian Peterson looks startlingly mortal, the offensive ilne is beat up, the defensive line got whipped, the secondary got exposed, the middle linebacker who was playing very well is lost for the season, and Brett Favre threw two awful interceptions and a couple more passes that should have been picked off.
Ah, but it didn't snow.
There are two reasonable ways to look at this game:
1) At 10-1, with the division pretty much clinched, coming off three easy games, the Vikings just weren't ready emotionally to do what it took to beat a good team fired up for a big game at home.
2) The Vikings' flaws can be exposed when they play good teams, especially good teams with dynamic passing games and physical fronts.
The Cardinals are physical and athletic, and Kurt Warner was very sharp Sunday night. I picked the Vikings to win because I expected either Matt Leinart to start or Warner to look woozy. Instead, he went after the Vikings' weaknesses with great success.
The Vikings need to get Antoine Winfield healthy. They also need to reestablish their running game, which, when it's working, strengthens the rest of their team.
Without a good running game, Favre becomes reckless and the defense can be exposed. This defense specializes in playing with a lead, or stuffing run-first teams. The Cardinals threw the ball with ease.
I've been saying for weeks now that Adrian Peterson appears to be playing with some kind of injury or limitation. He just doesn't look dynamic or fast right now. I also said during his first two seasons that we should enjoy him while he's healthy, because his running style does not portend a long career. Defenses are just too big, fast and violent to play running back for long without the ability to make defenders miss. Peterson takes a lot of big hits for a great back.
I've praised Brad Childress a lot the last two years, but I disagree with his insistence on keeping star players in the game after the game is decided. Shortly after he saw E.J. Henderson break his leg, he left Favre and Peterson in the game for the Vikings' last drive. Nothing good can come from that, and plenty of bad can result.
Several players looked quite shaken by Henderson's injury. E.J. has turned himself into a team leader after being a big question mark early in his career, and he was having an exceptional game Sunday.
Suddenly, the stretch drive looks more interesting. The Packers can close the gap to two games by winning on Monday night, and the Vikings have Cincinnati (one of the best teams in the league), Carolina (unpredictable), Chicago (ok, the Bears stink, but it's a grass field in late December, and Favre no longer likes playing in the cold) and the Giants (who were left for dead before beating the Cowboys on Sunday, and may have a lot to play for.)
Maybe the Vikings react well to this loss, whip the Bengals, and erase all of these questions. But this felt like watching one of Denny's lesser teams, when they'd build a good record against mediocre quarterbacks then get shredded by a good one.
As Favre said after the game, good teams start peaking now. He was praising Arizona, and perhaps questioning whether his team will rise to that challenge.
Upcoming: I'm on with Reusse on am-1500 at 6:40, then WJON at 7:14. I'm taking vacation from the paper this week but working on a project that will run in the Sunday paper. (Buy the paper instead of tipping the Barista for pouring you a coffee. Seriously. That's worth a tip?)
I won't be on FSN for my weekly debate with Jim Petersen this week, but will resume next week.
You can follow me on Twitter at SouhanStrib. If you become my 1,000 Twitter follower, I promise to reward you with a free copy of the autobiography that Sid wrote himself.
I'm all set up at University of Phoenix Stadium, and I have to admit, I expected more.
The place feels like a big convention center. Which is pretty much what it was designed to be. The place looked like an over-inflated blimp from the outside and lacks any shred of character inside. The ceiling is opaque, giving it a Metrodome-like look, only much more high-tech and expensive.
The game should be interesting, though. The Vikings are the better team, but two storylines could determine the outcome of the game, and perhaps of the Vikings' season:
1. Will Adrian Peterson hold onto the ball and reestablish himself as the Vikings' best player, putting aside any possibility of losing some playing time to Chester Taylor?
2. Can the Vikings, who have to be eyeing a likely NFC title game at New Orleans, cover good receivers?
Tyrell Johnson and Madieu Williams appear to be playing better of late, but they haven't exactly been tested. As we've seen with the Patriots, a bad secondary can make an entire team look helpless against a good passing attack.
-Congratulations to the Gopher hockey team for managing another split with state power Minnesota State-Mankato.
-Kevin Love is now among the Top 10 MVPs in the NBA.
-Had Brad Childress on the radio show this morning, and he was very lighthearded and blunt. I teased him about the speeding tickets, and he said something like, ``Not to make light of driving 100 miles an hour, but at least we're not talking about the Love Boat.''
Hard to argue with that one.
-Also had on St. Thomas coach Glenn Caruso, who has done an amazing job with that program. He mentioned learning from hardships early in his life, and when I asked him to elaborate, he said that he was diagnosed with leukemia when he was young, and a doctor told his father not to expect Glenn to live to see his fifth birthday.
Glenn survived that and other medical challenges to become one of the most engaging and positive coaches I've been around.
My thanks to Childress and Caruso for great interviews.
-You can follow me on Twitter at SouhanStrib. I can't always tweet from Vikings games at the Metrodome because of a terrible wireless system, but I should be in good shape tonight. If I stop tweeting, that probably means I'm on deadline.
Thanks, and enjoy the game.
I spoke with Twins closer Joe Nathan this week about a variety of topics for a project I'm working on, and I found it interesting that he broached the subject of his blown save in the playoffs.
Nathan lives in Tennessee in the offseason and works out with other players at the University of Tennessee. While he's always worked out religiously before games, he said his problems at the end of last season have helped him increase the intensity of his offseason workouts.
He also had surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow. That procedure, along with his workouts, have him sounding quite optimistic.
``I'm using the playoffs as my motivating tool,'' Nathan said. ``I always say that there are positives that come away from negatives. I know I still have a lot of work to do and I need to get back into shape and get into better shape, so when we get back in those situations I'll be better than ever.
``And, yes, I do say `When' we get back in those situations, because we will get back there. And that makes me push even harder.''
Nathan said he didn't have to have surgery, but thought it would be best for his career. ``I could have went without surgery and probably pitched next season, but what they said was if I don't get this done, eventually the bone spurs start to tear the tendons and the cartilage and cause problems,'' Nathan said. ``This is the time to do it. I have time to recover, and I won't be blowing it out in the middle of the season.
``As far as performing last year, the bone spurs had nothing to do with it. I just faced the wrong hitter at the wrong time. I had a tough outing. We'll come back and be better for it.''
My colleague Patrick Reusse and I have differed on Nathan. Patrick wants him traded; I think we've all been too spoiled by Eddie Guardado and Nathan this decade, and have forgotten what it's like to watch a team that doesn't have a closer capable of piling up 40 saves every year.
With Nathan, the Twins have contended virtually every season. Without him, I doubt they would be receiving so much praise as a model franchise. Closers are like money; they seem important only when you don't have them.
Series of Random Thoughts (SORT)
-I love the way Chuck Fletcher has made subtle, under-the-radar moves that have helped the Wild. I don't know if this team is talented enough to make the playoffs, but I think the Fletcher/Todd Richards combination is very promising, now that the players are starting to adapt to Richards' system.
-Does it seem strange to anyone else that the Wolves have just two victories, and nobody's really complaining? As a colleague just noted, David Kahn has done as good a job managing low expectations as he has managing cap space.
-I wouldn't expect the Twins to sign any long-term free agent deals this winter. They have a lot of money due their own players in 2011; I would look for them to offer one-year deals to Carl Pavano and Joe Crede, and hope those veterans can at least bolster the roster until the youngsters take charge. If Crede gave them a good half-season, that might be enough time for Danny Valencia to prepare himself to play in the big leagues. And there is the possibility that Crede would actually give the Twins a good full season.
Upcoming: Sunday Sports Talk (10-noon on KSTP am-1500) will feature Vikings coach Brad Childress (can't guarantee it, but it looks like a good chance, and we'll probably start the show with him) and St. Thomas football coach Glenn Caruso, among others. St. Thomas plays Linfield, Oregon, on Saturday in the third round of the DIII playoffs, and I featured St. Thomas center Josh Ostrue in today's paper. Nice, personable, kid who flattens a lot of linebackers.
I'm traveling to Arizona for the Vikings game, and will blog again on Sunday from the stadium.
Congratulations to my KSTP colleague Matt Thomas, who is leaving for a station in Houston. He is a genuinely nice guy.
My pick: Vikings 30, Cardinals 20. As they did during their winning streak in 1998, the Vikings are facing a lot of teams at the right time.
I wrote about Favre (duh) for the Monday paper, wrote that I'm stunned by the precision of his passes and decisions.
It's remarkable that a guy known for arm strength most of his career suddenly is playing better than ever by relying on his brains and intuition, not velocity.
We are in a golden age of quarterbacks. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady might be the two best of all time, and Favre is now complementing his statistical greatness with a display of efficiency that none of us could have expected.
He's great to cover, too. He gives one of the best press conferences in the business, constantly dropping revelations into his sentences the way some people use commas.
We got into the lockerroom quickly after this game, quickly enough to see Brad Childress walking around congratulating each individual player, quickly enough to sense that this is a pretty happy group _ and not all winning NFL teams are happy groups.
Guard Steve Hutchinson told me this team has unusually good chemistry, and I believe him. Favre also admitted that after he arrived, he and Childress both had to overcome the feeling around the team that Childress had given Favre a pass on training camp, that he had bent his own rules for Favre.
Of course, now that they're 9-1, nobody really cares anymore.
Favre acted like he didn't know about Childress' contract extension, and I told him, ``We thought you had to approve it.'' He waved his hand, put on a fake bashful smile and said, `You guys.''
There aren't many all-time greats who are as interesting to cover as Favre. He finds a way to narrate his own career.
As someone who always roots for a good story, I hope Favre keeps playing this way. He's thrown 21 touchdowns and three interceptions, and set a team and personal record by completing 88 percdent of his passes on Sunday.
Sorry to put it this way, but this is a lot more fun than covering Gus Frerotte.
Upcoming: I'll be on with Reusse on am-1500 at 6:40 a.m. Monday, then on WJON at 7:14. You can follow me on twitter at SouhanStrib.
Some people seem confused by my stance on Childress' contract extension. I think I made it clear _ I didn't see any need to get it done during the season, but once it was done, I acknowledged that he's done a fine job with this team, that I'm happy for him because I think highly of him, and I adopted a slightly new view of the deal _ that the worst thing that could happen is the Wilfs have to buy him out before his contract is up. And that's just not that big a deal in a business this big.
One other note on the game: During Childress' first two years on the job, the Vikings typically looked impressive on their first drive, then fizzled. Sunday, the Seahawks' stunts and games up front confused the Vikings and thwarted their offense for the first quarter. As I tweeted (gawd I hate that word), once the Vikings figured out the Seahawks' approach, they were going to start scoring.
Give partial credit to Favre, of course, but this coaching staff has become much better at in-game adjustments.
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