It’s a good thing Brett Favre decided not to skip the preseason, because judging by last night’s performance, the guy needs all the work he can get.
Over the half + one series he was in, Favre showed good zip on his throws, but also demonstrated some poor decision-making and was inaccurate on some throws where guys were open. And you can’t blame most of it on the offensive line, because outside of a couple early hiccups, the pass protection was actually pretty solid.
Of course it didn’t help Favre that his favorite receiver, Sidney Rice, was not on the field. Over the course of 2009, Rice became the Vikings’ most dangerous deep threat; Favre became very comfortable tossing it up to Sidney and letting him go get it. It became glaringly apparent last night that there is no one on the Vikings’ roster who offers an obvious alternative to Rice as a down-the-field option.
Favre seemed to be consciously auditioning other receivers for the Rice role. He tried Bernard Berrian, but Bernard juggled a perfectly thrown slant pass to Earl Thomas for an interception, and then later when he had a chance on a well-thrown deep ball, he tripped (and Favre was seen shaking his head in semi-disgust). On another occasion, Favre tried tossing one up to Javon Walker on the sideline, a very Sidney Rice-type play, but Javon failed to corral it. On his last pass of the evening, Favre tried leading Greg Camarillo down the field, but overthrew him by several yards (the pass was picked off).
Right now, the Vikings have no one they can rely on to stretch the defense – and that is a problem.
It wasn’t all bad for the offense though. On the good side, Percy Harvin got on the field for the first time this preseason, and immediately reminded us why we love him so much as a player, catching the first pass of the game for 34 yards. We may not have a true deep option, but we still have Percy to make those tough catches over-the-middle and occasionally break a tackle and get loose.
Actually, we have two guys to make those tough catches over-the-middle, because Greg Camarillo showed he can do it too. Favre seemed to develop immediate chemistry with the newly-acquired Camarillo, who is known for his toughness and good hands, and should make a reliable third down target. Unfortunately, as Camarillo showed on Favre’s final pass, he is not a guy who is going to streak down the field and make big plays.
Speaking of big plays…Adrian Peterson got his most extensive work of the preseason, and flashed some of his home run ability. His best play of the evening came on a beautiful screen pass from Favre, which Peterson shucked and jived into a 31 yard gain. Peterson followed this up the next series by scoring from 24 yards out to cash in a long Darius Reynaud kick-off return.
And what did these two great AD plays have in common? They both came when he got some space to operate. The story was different when that space wasn’t there. AD was bottled up a lot, a scene we became agonizingly familiar with last season. The most disheartening stretch happened with the Vikings deep in the red zone: Starting with a first down on the 6, the Vikes handed it to Peterson four straight times, and he failed to cross the goal line.
If anything, this demonstrated that the Vikings’ offensive line is still not going to push anyone around in the running game. If the Vikes want to run the ball successfully, they’ll have to do it by getting crafty, not by trying to out-physical the opponent.
One interesting note on the line: The Vikings came out with Anthony Herrera at center and Chris DeGeare at right guard, a combination they also tried for a time two weeks ago against San Francisco. This set-up resulted in Brett Favre getting sacked and fumbling, and also getting his hand stepped on, and not a lot of running room for AD. Things went much better after Jon Cooper was inserted at center and Herrera was moved back to his usual position. Perhaps it’s time for the Vikes to can the Herrera-at-center experiment and go with Cooper, at least until John Sullivan gets back into playing shape.
And now on to the defense. As has been the case most of the preseason, the secondary was the main focus of everyone’s attention. Like the offense, the defensive backfield put in a mixed performance.
First the good: Antoine Winfield is back to being Antoine Winfield. He ruined a couple of Seahawks run plays – their dumb fault for trying to run to his side – and his coverage was mostly tight. We no longer need to be concerned about Antoine returning to form, because he has returned to form.
On the other side of the field, rookie Chris Cook took a huge leap toward locking down the starting job by making a couple of good open field tackles. It would’ve been nice to see more of his coverage skills, but for whatever reason, Matt Hasselbeck elected not to throw his direction much.
And now the not-so-good: We still don’t have a clue who is going to play safety. Tyrell Johnson, Jamarca Sanford and Husain Abdullah all got their reps, and instead of clearing up, the whole situation only got murkier. Abdullah did make somewhat of a good impression by nearly picking off a pass in the end zone, but on another occasion, he badly blew a help assignment and left Antoine Winfield hanging in the breeze.
Abdullah’s relatively early insertion into the game would tend to indicate that Brad Childress is not enamored of either Sanford or Johnson, the two guys who’ve been battling it out all preseason. Chilly will just have to play whoever he thinks looks better in practice during a given week…or maybe consult a Magic 8 Ball.
The remainder of the defensive rotation looks pretty much set. There might be a tough decision or two along the defensive line, where so many guys have played well this preseason. It seems Letroy Guion has played his way into a roster spot, which means Mike Montgomery is probably history.
And while we’re on the subject of back-ups…for the second time this preseason, including the Rams game where it wasn’t even close, Sage Rosenfels looked markedly better than Tarvaris Jackson. Now, I realize Sage is coming in later in games, meaning he is facing guys a little farther down the ladder, but frankly, the gap between his play and T-Jack’s is so striking that I don’t think it can only be chalked up to level of defensive competition.
Here’s all I know: When T-Jack enters the game, the offense does nothing. When Sage enters the game, suddenly we march down the field like the Montana-era 49ers. Again, I realize Sage is facing back-ups, but T-Jack is facing back-ups too, and doesn’t look nearly as proficient. Sage goes to work like a calm, competent veteran against scrubs…and T-Jack goes to work like a scrub.
I realize it’s already written in stone that T-Jack will be the back-up and Sage will, if he doesn’t get traded, be the #3…I just don’t understand why this is written in stone. If you were to make this decision based entirely on this preseason, it seems a no-brainer that Sage would be the #2 and Tarvaris would be on the block. The only legitimate reason for Sage being on the block is that the Vikings realize T-Jack has no value and Sage has at least a little.
What does it say about Brad Childress that we’re apparently about to trade away the guy who looks like a competent back-up just to keep the guy who looks as clueless as the day he came into the league? To me it says, Brad Childress doesn’t know how to admit a mistake.
Maybe last night changed his mind, and Sage will end up being the #2. We’ll see.