This won’t be an overly long post, I just want to voice some of my thoughts about the opening game of the NFL season last night. Contrary to what it may seem, I really do love the NFL and the regular season, even if it seems like I am more consumed by the offseason and the draft at times.
I watched most of this game, though I missed a chunk of the third quarter. Predictably I was not particularly impressed with the Vikings, who were not at full strength without Sidney Rice and they were missing Cedric Griffin and Chris Cook at corner. The Saints went after that weakness early by attacking whoever the Vikings trotted out at corner on the outside or in the slot, and even Antoine Winfield struggled in coverage. He really seems to have lost a step to me, and he gave up some catches last night that I don’t think he would have given up a couple of years ago. Remember he was the one who got burned on what I think was a hitch and go by Devin Aromashodu for the winning touchdown in overtime against the Chicago Bears late last season.
However, my biggest qualm about this game was not the Saints offense only putting up 14 points, it was about the Vikings unwillingness to adjust. This is something that has bothered me about the Vikings since Brad Childress took over, but never has it been more obvious than it was last night. I understand that they were not at full strength, but that is not an excuse for not adjusting to what the Saints were doing throughout the course of the game. I was willing to give them some lee-way in the secondary because honestly their secondary is a serious weakness at this point. Madieu Williams is solid when healthy, plus Winfield and Griffin at corner is a solid tandem, but I am not a big fan of Chris Cook and clearly Tyrell Johnson has not panned out or he would be starting over Husain Abdullah at strong safety. I was quite surprised that he didn’t win the starting spot, though I don’t know much about him as a prospect.
Anyways, I really do not understand why the Vikings can’t make adjustments. Here are a couple of situations that I am talking about: First, when Bryant McKinnine left the game and they moved Phil Loadholt, a Right Tackle with very slow feet, over to Left Tackle, they just left him there one on one with Will Smith, one of the better pass rushers in the NFL. A player who is good enough to give Bryant McKinnie, who apparently is a Pro-Bowler, a run for his money. Then Will Smith proceeded to beat the pants off of Loadholt whenever I would look over at him. He got a holding penalty promptly after being put in the game, and shortly after that he opened his hips too early to take away the speed rush and got beat badly by a nice move to the inside by Smith.
My point here is simply this: Why didn’t the Vikings give Loadholt, a player they had to know would have trouble shifting from the right side to the left, any help once he moved to that position? They just left him one on one with him. The Saints were much more concerned with Jared Allen, and were happy to chip him with a tight end or a running back to keep him away from Brees in the first half, so it’s not surprising that Brees had all day to throw and picked the Vikings apart. But when the Vikings were faced with a similar problem with Loadholt trying to block a dangerous pass rusher they elected to leave him one on one instead of adjusting to the injury and making sure they kept Favre upright long enough to scan the field without having to scramble and panic like he did when he threw his interception.
This really frustrated me. Yes it was late in the game, and yes it was an unforeseen circumstance, but if Loadholt really did take snaps at left tackle during their week of practice like he said he did in an interview after the game then the Vikings had to have known that he wouldn’t be able to handle Will Smith one on one. He couldn’t handle speed rushers at left tackle when he was at Oklahoma, so it shouldn’t have been any different against the Saints right? I just can’t understand why they wouldn’t have doubled him with Kleinsasser or chipped with Visanthe Shiancoe before he went out on a route. It makes absolutely no sense.
And the same blog that referenced Loadholt taking some snaps at left tackle in practice mentioned that the Vikings made some nice adjustments on the defensive side of the ball in the second half. It is true that the Vikings didn’t get gashed through the air, but really is it any better to get beat up on the ground versus the air? The Vikings have one of the most vaunted run defenses in the entire league, yet at the end of the game all they had to do was stop their running game, force a 3rd and long and tackle them before they got to the marker if they threw it and they couldn’t do it. The Saints ran right at the strength of the Vikings defense and Pierre Thomas just darted up the middle for good yardage play after play, and ended up with 71 yards rushing despite having, if I remember correctly, two carries for only one yard in the first half. That would mean he had 17 carries for 70 yards (a 4.12 yards per carry average) in the second half, including the winning touchdown. But even his final stats wouldn’t have mattered if they had adjusted to what the Saints were doing on the last drive of the game when they clinched the game. I don’t remember the plays specifically, but I believe they ran a counter a couple of times for a nice chunk of yardage, and then Thomas got a 10 yard gain on 2nd and 6 to seal it. Before that, despite the “adjustments” the Vikings had made in coverage, they gave up two first downs on passes to Heath Evans and Devery Henderson. The pass to Henderson occurred on a crucial 3rd and 7 that was set up by the only good play the Vikings had against the run on the drive, a two yard loss on a tackle by Chad Greenway. The other four rushing attempts the Saints had on the drive, excluding Brees’ kneel-downs at the end of the game, produced 24 rushing yards combined.
So I guess what I am trying to say is, I definitely thought the Saints deserved to win this game. I wanted to pick the Vikings to win before it, I really did, but I just don’t have any faith in their coaching staff to make crucial adjustments when they need to. In the first half they got completely gashed by the pass and struggled to pressure Brees, then in the 4th quarter when they needed to step up versus the run to force a 3rd and long they gave up more than four yards per carry on average. So I suppose I would disagree with anyone who thought the Vikings made good adjustments in this game. I thought the Vikings did a poor job of relying on Adrian Peterson in the second half when in the second quarter he helped the Vikings orchestrate a drive that lasted over nine minutes by touching the ball eight times and producing 55 total yards on those touches. I thought they did a solid job of protecting Brett Favre, but it is inexcusable to leave a natural right tackle one on one with a quality pass rushing defensive end when your left tackle gets hurt. And on top of that, if you really do have one of the best run defenses in the NFL, then you should be able to stop a team that before last year couldn’t run the ball to save their lives when you really need the ball back late in the 4th quarter.
We will have to see if this wakes the Vikings up. Usually it takes one of these awful games to get them to perk up and play well for an extended period of time. But ultimately my opinion of the Vikings is that they are overrated as playoff contenders and Superbowl contenders. They aren’t overrated because of Favre, Adrian Peterson, Kevin Williams, Jared Allen or Sidney Rice either. They are overrated because people seem to be under the impression that Brad Childress and his coaching staff are capable of making quality adjustments, and I don’t believe they can.