Vikings: It's been a struggle
Posted on Sun, Oct. 15, 2006
[size=13pt]IT'S BEEN A STRUGGLE[/size]
Despite a mostly punchless offense, the defense has kept the team in playoff contention.
A year ago, the Vikings ended their bye week by bringing longtime NFL assistants Jerry Rhome and Foge Fazio out of retirement to help with their offense and defense, respectively.
The way the offense has limped along so far, they might want to place a call to Bill Walsh.
That's a joke, but there is nothing funny about a Vikings offense that has produced only four touchdowns in the first five games (not including a Ryan Longwell TD pass on a fake field goal).
The good news is it might not have to get much better for this team to mount a serious playoff run.
As dysfunctional as coach Brad Childress' version of the West Coast offense has been, the Vikings were good enough to win three of their first five games, thanks to a defense that has limited opponents to an average of 16 points and even scored two touchdowns in last Sunday's 26-17 comeback victory over Detroit.
That's not something the Vikings can count on every week, but this defense should be enough to keep them in every game the rest of the way, no matter how much the offense improves.
As quarterback Brad Johnson said: "For the most part, if we don't kill ourselves, we're going to be a tough team to beat."
THE VIEW FROM 3-2
If you take the preseason view, the Vikings already have made it through the toughest part of their schedule, but that kind of on-the-fly handicapping can be a tricky business.
Beating Washington obviously was a little less daunting with running back Clinton Portis still limited by a shoulder injury, and the Vikings didn't have to deal with all-pro wide receiver Steve Smith in their Week 2 victory over Carolina.
On the flip side, that Nov. 19 game in Miami sure looks a lot more winnable now, whether Daunte Culpepper is at quarterback for the Dolphins or not.
To the glass-half-full crowd, the Vikings are the team that opened the season 2-0 and had the unbeaten Bears on the ropes before giving away the game on a late fumble.
And after the next two games at Seattle (3-1) and a Monday night home date against New England (4-1) on Oct. 30, the schedule gets considerably softer. In fact, except for Chicago (5-0) and surprising St. Louis (4-1), none of the final nine opponents owns a winning record.
The Vikings probably aren't going to catch the Bears, who appear headed for a 12- or 13-win season. But with remaining games against San Francisco, Miami, Arizona and the New York Jets â€” not to mention two against Green Bay and a rematch with the Lions â€” Childress' team should be in the playoff chase all the way to the finish line.
To the half-empty set, the Vikings are the talent-challenged bunch that staged a pitiful road effort at Buffalo and was lucky to beat the winless Lions.
The reality likely lies somewhere in between.
In its first season under new defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin, the Vikings' Tampa 2 defense has been even better than advertised.
Cornerback Fred Smoot and the other defensive backs have been guilty of playing a little soft at times and allowing too many third-down completions.
Tomlin has had to blitz more often than he might like, although rookie Ray Edwards has helped pick up the slack at defensive end since Erasmus James suffered a season-ending knee injury in the second game.
All things considered, this defense, which ranks seventh in the NFL, already qualifies as the Vikings' best in years.
Defensive tackle Kevin Williams is playing back to his all-pro form of 2004 and teaming with Pat Williams to give the Vikings the best interior tandem in the NFL.
The supposedly suspect linebacker corps has been surprisingly solid, with Ben Leber joining E.J. Henderson at the outside spots and Napoleon Harris â€” regarded as a bust just a year ago â€” ably manning the middle.
Until last week, the only thing missing was turnovers, but the Vikings changed that against the Lions with three interceptions, a fumble recovery and two touchdowns.
That's what this defense is designed to do, and it will have to keep taking the ball away â€” and maybe scoring, too â€” because the offense can use all the help it can get.
Where to begin?
Give Johnson a solid defense and an effective running game, and he's proved he can be a winning quarterback.
Give him an inconsistent running game and a receiving corps that seemingly has as many drops as catches, and you get games like the 17-12 stinker at Buffalo two weeks ago.
At 38, Johnson has limitations, but the Vikings can help him by staying out of so many second-and-long and third-and-long situations, which means cutting down on the penalties and some more creative play calling.
Childress' determination to stick with the run is admirable, but the Vikings have had too many series that consisted of two nowhere runs followed by a no-chance dump pass on third and long.
This just in: There's no rule against throwing the ball beyond the chains.
Chester Taylor has run tough and worked hard for his 421 rushing yards, and the high-priced offensive line turned in its best showing of the season in the second half against Detroit, paving the way for his 123-yard day.
Still, would it kill the coaches to give Mewelde Moore a series now and then? He is averaging 6.3 yards a carry, and it might do him and Taylor some good in the long run.
As for wide receiver, the Vikings missed their best chance to add a starter before the season when they failed to trade for Ashley Lelie or Donte' Stallworth, who, to be fair, aren't exactly tearing it up in Atlanta and Philadelphia.
Unless newly signed Bethel Johnson turns out to be more than a kickoff returner, that means they have to keep going to Troy Williamson, drops and all, and loosening up the defense with some deep shots, as they did in the season opener at Washington.
Marcus Robinson and tight end Jermaine Wiggins also should be a regular part of every game plan, especially in third-down and goal-line situations, but fans who miss the high-flying offenses of years past will just have to get over it.
For this season, at least, that's not going to be this team's personality.
"You need to know who you are as a football team," Childress said. "I think you delude yourself if you don't know that, and it can change from week to week, month to month, but you need to understand."
The Vikings are good enough to play everybody tough but lack the firepower to blow anyone out.
Five games into the Childress era, the Vikings have proved they are indeed a tough team to beat... and often to watch.
Don Seeholzer can be reached at [email protected]
BY DON SEEHOLZER
Re: Vikings: It's been a struggle
Very nice interesting read.. Much of that article was the truth.. Hopefully our WR's will step up, and not have so many dropped passes, and fumbles..