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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In real time, sitting in the press box at the Georgia Dome, I didn't like the Vikings' play calls on their four-down series inside the Atlanta 5-yard-line in the fourth quarter on Sunday.
But is it possible I didn't like the play calls simply because they didn't work? And didn't one of them essentially work, in that Percy Harvin found himself in the end zone with the football and at least one referee telling him that he had scored?
The Vikings are 2-9. Their coaches are easy targets right now. But with the benefit of time spent thinking about this, I'm not sure they messed up Sunday, even if Leslie Frazier blamed himself for not kicking the field goal.
First-and-goal from the 3: Christian Ponder rolls right and gets sacked. It's not really a bad play call. Using Ponder's speed on a rollout makes sense. I question having only one receiver in the area that Ponder could have easily thrown to - Devin Aromashodu - but the rollout itself wasn't a bad idea.
Second-and-goal from the 5: Percy Harvin runs up the middle. This may not not seem like an ideal play call, but Harvin runs with remarkable power for someone his size, and the play essentially worked, with the offensive line moving the pile and Harvin gaining three yards.
Third-and-goal from the 2: Harvin smashes up the middle again. And again, you can question why Harvin is running power plays at the goal line, except that, like the previous play, this one pretty much worked. Harvin, according to himself and a lot of people watching the game with benefit of more replays than I saw, seemed to score. So if he essentially broke the plane of the goalline with the ball, can we really second-guess the call?
Fourth-and-goal from the 1: Frazier is kicking himself for not kicking the field goal and cutting the Atlanta lead to 7, but doesn't it make sense to try to score when you're on the 1, and your last two running plays worked as designed? This is another easy second-guess I'm not sure we should make.
Toby Gerhart never had a chance on the play. I'd rather question the design of the actual play, which required pulling offensive lineman, than the idea of going for the touchdown, or handing it to Gerhart. If Gerhart is going to have value, it's going to be in backing up Adrian Peterson and running hard between the tackles. On an obvious running down, though, you might want to rely on simplified blocking schemes.
In hindsight, I don't think the Vikings' coaches should be taking so much heat for this sequence.
I spoke with Harvin after the game, and asked if he's still bothered by migraine headaches.
``That's all behind me,'' he said. ``I haven't had a headache, don't look to have one again. The training staff has been doing great on following all the protocols if anything pops up...but nothing has. We're going to keep with the menu we have and hope for the best.''
The Vikings lost again on Sunday, but what struck me were a few positiives: Harvin's incredible talent and competitiveness, Jared Allen's willingness to long-snap and his hustle while covering punts, and Christian Ponder's poise.
A couple of Viking employees told me that when veterans started expressing frustration on the sideline or in the huddle, it was Ponder who calmed them.
I asked Allen about beating his teammates down the field to force a fair catch, after he served as the long-snapper. ``Don't give me too much credit,'' he said, laughing. ``It's my strategy to beat everyone down there so I don't get blindsided.''
Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today and every day this week with Reusse and Mackey, and probably joining Tom Pelissero tonight on his show between 6-8.
My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
I'm still in the process of figuring out exactly how to use this blog. Today I'm going to start a pretty silly but topical feature I'll call Local Power Rankings.
This will assess the relative merits and strengths of the seven local major revenue sports. I'll plan to do this every Friday, as a way to offer brief commentary on developments on the local sports scene.
My inaugural Local Sports Power Ranking:
1. Minnesota Wild
Spent some time this week with Chuck Fletcher and Mike Yeo. They're pulling a neat trick, getting younger and yet improving on the fly. The young D has been impressive, the goalies have been spectacular, but I think Yeo is the MVP of the team so far. He's developing a gritty, unselfish team that can win even when it's not scoring many goals. This is miracle work, for the Wild to be in first place of the Northwest Division with this team, and these injuries.
I wrote about this topic for the Sunday Star Tribune.
2. Golden Gopher hockey
The Gophers have been more dominant than the Wild...but this should be the best college hockey program in the land, and only postseason success should be deemed real success. I like the fact that this team looks tougher, mentally and physically, than a lot of Don Lucia's recent failures. But I have to wait before doling out too much credit here.
Still, a fantastic start for the Gophs.
3. Gopher basketball
It's a measure of the lousiness of the local sports scene that Tubby's guys can climb this high without playing a meaningful game. These have been nothing more than exhibitions, and I still don't see that he's solved his ballhandling or scoring problems.
Still, this team should be competitive, which puts it ahead of most of the local competition.
Not playing games puts the Wolves right in the middle of the pack, because they at least have the promise of Rick Adelman and Derrick Williams. I still haven't given up hope that the lockout will end in the next two weeks and the season begins by January. Or Christmas.
This franchise is a mess right now, but Terry Ryan has made two reasonable, surgical signings in Carroll and Doumit. Ryan alone gives me hope for this franchise.
6. Gopher football
Tough choice between Gopher football and the Vikings for the bottom slot. I would argue that the Vikings are more disappointing and have earned the bottom. I actually think Jerry Kill will eventually make this program competent.
I didn't think this would be a good, but even so, I picked it to finish 7-9 before the season started. I was a raving optimist, bhut not as much as Leslie Frazier and the people who thought this should be a playoff team.
Everyone in this organization should be on notice. If this is a rebuilding job, are these coaches and personnel experts the right people to do the rebuilding?
As I said above, I like Terry Ryan's first two moves. Carroll can catch the ball and get on base, which makes him light years better than anyone who played shortstop for the Twins last year. Ryan Doumit can catch, play first base and rightfield, meaning he could be the perfect complement to Joe Mauer in a season in which we have no idea how often Mauer will play and where he'll wind up.
Most of the people disappointed with these moves expected the Twins to spend $100 million on someone like Jose Reyes. Not gonna happen, people. Be realists. Spending ridiculous money on the best free agent on the market (Mauer) is exactly how the Twins wound up in this mess.
Congratulations to Dan Monson on his team's upset of Pitt. Monson's not a bad guy or a bad coach, he was just a terrible fit for Minnesota. Dan: My apologies for taking cheap shots at you. Best of luck at Long Beach State, which is probably just the right kind of program for a good coach who doesn't like the Midwest or unrealistic expectations.
After getting 8 million emails telling me the Penn State child rape scandal is none of the NCAA's business, the NCAA is now investigating the program for lack of institutional control.
Which is exactly what should happen.
I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 p.m. today, and again at 6:15 with Tom Pelissero. Sunday, we have Chuck Fletcher lined up for Sunday Morning Sports Talk (10-noon) as well as Kevin Seifert and possibly another guest.
My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
Green Bay, Wi. _ Antoine Winfield has a broken clavicle, meaning the Vikings' lousy secondary just got worse. Husain Abdullah also has a concussion, so Carson Palmer must be feeling quite good about his decision to return to the NFL in time to face the Vikings.
As for the game itself, the Vikings have never been beaten worse by the Packers than they were tonight. They lost, 45-7, and only Randall Cobb's fumbled punt allowed the Vikings to score.
For the Tuesday paper, I wrote about the Vikings' ineptitude in this game. For the Wednesday paper, I plan to write about what the Vikings should do moving forward. Right now, I'll just offer this instant reaction:
The Packers are the best team in football. The Vikings are very close to being the worst team in football. That's stunning not only when you consider where these teams were in '09, when the Vikings swept the Pack, but where they were last year during the first game at Lambeau, which the Vikings very nearly won.
I didn't write about Aaron Rodgers tonight because I didn't think he played spectacularly well, not by his standards. And yet I got back to the press box and saw his final stats and they were as follows: 23-of-30 for 250 yards, four touchdowns, a 140.3 passer rating and no interceptions.
He completed passes to 10 different receivers and survived a strong pass rush by the Vikings. In fact, the pass rush was the Vikings' only strong point on Monday night.
The Vikings have the most lopsided roster I've ever seen. Adrian Peterson and Jared Allen are MVP-caliber talents. There are a few other good players in their prime. But most of the roster is comprised of too-young, too-old or too-lousy players.
``I can't really put my finger on it,'' coach Leslie Frazier said when asked what the problem was.
Well, the coaching doesn't look too good at the moment. It's not a great team, but even mediocre teams should be able to avoid silly penalties and line up correctly.
This team is a mess. I picked the Vikings to go 7-9 this season and it turns out I was a raving optimist.
I don't think the Vikings' leadership can stomach this, but it's time to look to the future. The present? Nothing to see here.
Through nine games, Rodgers has thrown 28 touchdowns and three interceptions.
Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 on Tuesday and the rest of the week with Reusse & Mackey.
There are certain questions I get asked repeatedly. Let me provide a few answers:
1. I don't write headlines. If you love the headline, I don't get the credit. If you hate the headline, I'll take the blame if you like, but I didn't write it. And while we have a dedicated team of editors who do their best to capture the spirit of a column in the headline, please don't read the headline and fire off an angry email. The opinion expressed in the column might be slightly different, or less vehement, than the headline suggests.
2. I don't write ``articles.'' I write ``columns.'' The difference, and my business does a terrible job of differentiating these things, is that articles are supposed to be based in objectivity and reporting, while a column allows the auithor to express opinions and his or her perspective. It's my job to write opinion pieces, so if you're shocked to see me writing opinion, well, we in my industry haven't done a very good job of explaining to you that that is my role.
The line has blurred over the years, with more beat writers (people assigned to cover specific teams or leagues) writing more opinion pieces, but essentially my job is to do my homework and then tell you what I think. A beat writer's job is to bring you the news.
3. I don't dislike Jerry Kill, and I wouldn't be surprised if, in three years or so, he's fielding a competitive Big Ten team. In fact, I like the guy. I like open, honest, intense people.
I criticized the timing of his contract extension because it looks to me like another amateurish decision by the overseers of Gophers athletics. I'm not calling for him to be fired; I'm saying that he should be forced to prove himself like anyone else in any line of work before he's rewarded.
Sorry, a one-point win at home over Iowa doesn't justify the extension. It was a nice moment and a sign that Kill hasn't lost his players, which is a positive development. But as I've said before, if beating Iowa at home is such a monumental achievement, why didn't Jeff Horton get the job?
4. I haven't been as hard on Leslie Frazier as many of you would have liked because I had low expectations for this team entering the season. I figured this was a 7-9 team, and I wouldn't be surprised if that's about where this team ends up.
I think Frazier is learning on the job, and that should be expected. To me, the key to his tenure might be how his offensive coordinator, Bill Musgrave, handles the offense now that Christian Ponder is in place. Musgrave is highly respected around the league as a quarterbacks coach. Now he has to prove he can run an offense effectively. Sunday was a start, with Musgrave using Percy Harvin creatively and getting Adrian Peterson involved in the passing game.
5. I haven't been as hard on Ron Gardenhire as many of you would like because I think the average fan is nuts when it comes to evaluating managers. Take the World Series. Both managers made egregious strategical errors, and yet Ron Washington almost guided his team to a title, and Tony La Russa won the title with a team that shouldn't have even been there.
All managers, even the greats, make moves that make us scratch our heads. And no manager can win without pitching depth and talent.
I didn't see Gardenhire performing any differently this season than he did when the Twins were considered baseball's model franchise. He's not the X factor.
6. Don't take my predictions any more seriously than I do. After all, I thought the Twins were going to be good last year.
7. I'm hearing that the NBA lockout will end within three weeks, and that the owners will get pretty much the deal they wanted all along. They always planned to make the players miss a paycheck or two, knowing that would bring them all the leverage they need to finalize a deal.
8. I don't expect the Twins to re-sign Joe Nathan or Michael Cuddyer. The Twins value them both, but once a player hits the open market, someone is going to bid more than the Twins. That's just reality. If the Twins really wanted Cuddyer back, they wouldn't have offered him $16 million over two years, which was bound to insult Cuddyer's agent if not Cuddyer himself.
9. Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 p.m. today, and all weekdays, with Reusse and Mackey. My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
Charlotte, N.C. _ Yes, they ultimately won because the Carolina Panthers committed a silly penalty that erased a chance at a winning touchdown and led to a missed field goal that should have tied it, but the Vikings did show some signs of life on Sunday, in their 24-21 victory.
I give most of the credit to the Vikings' first road victory since December to rookie quarterback Christian Ponder, and he's the subject of my Monday column. It's funny how much better the Vikings' offense looks in the second half since Ponder replaced McNabb. McNabb was at his worst in clutch situations - third downs, third-and-longs, fourth quarters - and that's where Ponder has been at his best.
I'm especially impressed with the way Ponder has handled himself throughout his brief Vikings career. Here's a kid breaking into the NFL without the benefit of offseason workouts or tutoring from his NFL coaches, and he's not only played well immediately, he's handled the demands of being an NFL quarterback extremely well. He's smart, he has a sense of humor and he never seems to be overwhelmed by any situation.
I caught Vikings coach Leslie Frazier on his way to the bus on Sunday night, and he is almost giddy, feeling he's found his franchise quarterback.
-Kudos to Percy Harvin for being one of the toughest players in a league filled with tough guys. I don't know how you play football with bad ribs, and I especially don't know how you make spin moves and fight off tackles with bad ribs, but Harvin did it, and his spin-o-rama in the fourth quarter was the key to the game-winning drive.
-Ryan Longwell has been a tremendous kicker and a tremendous professional his entire career. He's yanked two kicks in two games, though, and his miss on Sunday could have cost the Vikings the game.
-Funny how with a smart, mobile quarterback, the offensive line doesn't look so wretched anymore, even with Anthony Herrera out on Sunday.
-Adrian Peterson might be the best he's ever been. I don't know what it looked like on TV, but from the press box, getting to see the entire field, it's remarkable how quickly he is sensing openings in the defense. On his catch-and-run touchdown in the second quarter, most backs would have burrowed for a few yards; Peterson had the vision and burst to veer to the outside for what turned out to be an easy score. The guy is phenomenal.
-The lockerroom was loud after the game, and Frazier walked among his players, slapping hands and hugging them, and he took extra time when he got to Harvin. NFL coaches have to have their guys play hurt to survive, and Frazier had extra praise for Harvin.
-Tim Tebow stinks.
-Erin Henderson made a few key stops. He's acquitted himself well since joining the starting lineup.
-Jared Allen is having an amazing season. He and Adrian Peterson are two of the best players in all of football, which is why talk of rebuilding must drive the Vikings crazy. It's hard to rebuild when you have superstars on the payroll.
-Everson Griffin is an amazing athlete. He's 273 pounds and yet plays gunner on the punt coverage team, and regularly beats double-teams. I don't see why he can't become an excellent pass rusher.
-Upcoming: I'll be on with Reusse and Mackey on 1500espn every day at 2:05 p.m., and I'll join Tom Pelissero a couple of times this week, as well. My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
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