I haven't posted in some time but am glad to be back. Here is another take on the Vikings, while trying not to homer too much.
Quarterback â€“ Brad Johnson has moved the ball efficiently, but not spectacularly. Down-field passing, like we saw against Washington, is not happening as much I believe because of dropped passes (so many of them), so check downs and dump offs are more typical and less risky. Heâ€™s immobile (no mystery here), but is not making many mistakesâ€¦and is also not winning any games on his arm, like Grossman or the Mannings. Heâ€™s managing some good drives (especially opening ones) and some duds. Not very exciting (like we were used to in the past) â€“ just very Johnson-like. Grade C.
Offensive Line â€“ This line is talented but not yet shown its true potential. Lousy holding penalties at inopportune times and missed blocks, like Birks whiff in the Bears game, I believe have been the difference in our losses. Protection has been adequate and run blocking has been inconsistent, sometimes dominant, sometimes confused. The line looks like itâ€™s still in preseason, working the bugs out. Luckily, they are getting more used to each other and getting better. Grade D.
Running Backs/ Full Back â€“ Chester Taylor has been a workhorse. He has been inconsistent with hitting holes (which are scarce), but durable, bruising and getting the tough yards when needed. He has done an overall nice job of protecting the ball and blocking. Moore has been great when called upon to spell Taylor, averaging 6+ yards per carry. He needs to come in more often before Taylor burns out by mid-season. Grade B.
Tight Ends â€“ Wiggins and Kleinsasser have been exceptional blockers and have performed well when called upon for passing plays â€“ which has not been enough. Pure lack of production keeps the grade down here, but the potential (especially in the red zone) is there for great things. Grade B.
Wide Receivers â€“ Johnson canâ€™t be called upon to stretch the field if the wide-outs keep dropping passes. There have been some good clutch and possession catches by Taylor and Williamson, and some equally ill-timed fumbles and dropped passes to offset them. Robinson needs more red-zone touches with his usually Cris Carter-like leaping and catching, but even he is dropping passes. I think shake-ups are needed here, like playing Jason Carter off the practice squad (who was sensational during preseason). This unit is another one that is underperforming its potential. Grade D.
Defensive Line â€“ This unit is playing well, especially at tackle. The run stuffing is spectacular and the havoc inside hasnâ€™t been this disruptive since Al Noga and Henry Thomas. The ends have been good, but Udeze is pressuring, not sizzling, like is expected. Ray Edwards has been off the hook when heâ€™s in there and is making us forget Johnstone. Darion Scott has filled in admirably for the injured James. Sacks have come more from well-timed linebacker blitzing, as opposed to exclusively front-four pressure, but the tide seems to be turning. Grade B+.
Linebackers â€“ The anticipated weakest part of the defense has made a wonderful turnaround. They have been playing their gaps, stuffing the run, pressuring the quarterback, covering, interceptingâ€¦everything that should be expected and more! Makes you wonder if it was poor linebacker coaching all along. EJ came out of college with a pedigree and Harris was a first-round pick and are now finally living up to their hype. Leber has been steady and consistent (when healthy).
Secondary â€“ This was supposed to be the strength of the defense but is really the part that has performed the least. Thatâ€™s not saying theyâ€™ve been bad, just not as exceptional as the LBs and D-line. Winfield is his usual all-pro self, tackling, hitting and covering. He may be the best defensive player (pound for pound) on the team. Smoot has been a disappointment going back to last year. I am still waiting for that shut-down corner he was billed to be, as teams seem to pick on him knowing he is the weak link. Sharper has been steady and may be still finding his groove in the new scheme before being confident enough to take risks and jump routes. Dwight Smith has also been steady, yet unspectacular. Greg Blue has come in and given some quality minutes and Griffin is showing signs of maturation in the nickel.
Childress has instituted a more disciplined and conservative approach to the game and it shows. The schemes are more conservative: West Coast is timing, possession and routes; and the Tampa 2 (should be Vikings 2 [invented by Floyd Peters]) is front-four pressure, blanket coverage and hard hitting. The D is catching on faster than the O, and this is evidenced by the penalties and inconsistency. Tomlin has been excellent with instituting the new D; and I can give Childress a pseudo-mulligan on the O, since its only 5-games in and likely hard to change away from the Green/Tice/Lenihan high-flying vertical passing with essentially the same personnel. Overall, the team seems more consistent and has a fight in them not seen in a long time, which is a credit to good coaching. Grade B.
3 â€“ 2 is not bad, considering the murderous schedule. We kind-of look like those old Tony Dungy Tampa teams - tough D, enemic O. Good thing is that this is a playoff contending team, not yet a Super Bowl contender. Games at Seattle and against New England will be good measuring sticks. If we get blown out in either one, we are a ways off. If we play tough, but lose or split, then playoffs are probably likely. If we come together and pound these teams, wellâ€¦deep playoffs, Super Bowl surprise may not be out of the question.