A very very very frustrating loss Sunday to the Chargers. Did I say very very very? I meant very very very very very very very…
1. The Defense Played Well
Let’s get the good out of the way before we dive into all the bad. I loved the way the defense played in the first half. I loved the aggressiveness of Fred Pagac’s scheme, the multiple looks he threw at Philip Rivers, the way a lot of the guys got after it. I thought Brian Robison, E.J. Henderson, Chad Greenway, Jared Allen and especially Antoine Winfield were all brilliant in the first half when the Vikings held the supposedly high-powered Chargers offense to just seven points. I never thought in a million years the Vikings would get away with blitzing that much but they proved me wrong. They sent two extra men after Rivers on the very first pass play of the game and basically never let up after that. Will Pagac keep this up even after Kevin Williams returns from injury? I don’t know. Yesterday he clearly believed he couldn’t get enough pressure on Rivers with just his front four. He had enough faith in his secondary guys to leave them out in single coverage way more than was probably sane, and they rewarded that faith by mostly holding up. Had it not been for a few bonehead penalties and some missed tackles in the second half, it would’ve been an even better day for the defense.
2. Offensive Failure Put Too Much Pressure On The Defense
I have a feeling I’m going to be saying this a lot this year: The Vikings’ offensive ineptitude put the defense in too many bad spots. It started right off in the first quarter when Donovan McNabb got picked near the goal line, setting up the Chargers who capitalized when Rivers found a wide-open Mike Tolbert in the end zone. The Vikings did manage one good long grinding drive at the end of the first quarter into the second quarter when they ate up 7:34 of clock on 14 plays and finished it off with a field goal, but otherwise most of their possessions were short and fruitless. In the second half especially, the offense became plodding, predictable and totally ineffective, forcing the defense to be on the field way too much.
3. Blazer Package?
We’ve been wondering if the Vikes would try to use Joe Webb in some kind of Wildcat package, and in the second half Sunday we got our answer. Unfortunately the Vikings whipped out their so-called “Blazer Package,” so-named in honor of Joe Webb’s college team the UAB Blazers, at maybe the worst possible moment in the game. In the third quarter, coming off a brilliant interception by Jared Allen, the Vikings – still leading 17-14 at that point – had a chance to turn the momentum back their way. Two runs from Adrian Peterson got them a first down and should’ve set them up to…what? Maybe attempt a play action pass or run a tight end up the seam or do something with Percy Harvin? Any of those would’ve been better than what Bill Musgrave opted for. He put in Joe Webb, motioned everybody out of the backfield and ran what was supposed to be a sneaky QB draw. The Chargers, not fooled even a little, tackled Webb for a two-yard loss. This was followed-up by some zany thing where they overloaded the line to the left, putting Phil Loadholt alongside Charlie Johnson and Kyle Rudolph essentially at right tackle, and attempted to run Percy Harvin up the middle. This got them all of 2 yards. Now faced with a 3rd and 10, they went back to Donovan McNabb who ended up throwing one at the feet of Adrian Peterson on an atrociously badly-executed screen. So much for capitalizing on a miscue.
4. Charlie Johnson is Terrible
I don’t know what the Vikings are going to do about their offensive line situation. I’m pretty sure the Ravens have no interest in giving back Bryant McKinnie so I guess they’re stuck with Charlie Johnson at left tackle. Johnson was flat-out awful against the Chargers. Donovan McNabb was forced to scramble way too much because of speed rushers blowing by Charlie. Of course you can help a guy out with tight ends and such but you don’t want to do that all the time – at some point you have to expect your left tackle to one-on-one block someone. Just wait till we play the Bears and Julius Peppers. Oh that will be fun.
5. Where Was the Discipline?
A big part of the second half meltdown was a total lack of discipline leading to murderous penalties. Phil Loadholt got called for a false start that was actually a break because the play that never happened would’ve been a tipped-ball interception. On the next Chargers possession, Cedric Griffn turned a Ryan Mathews first down run into an even bigger play by throwing him down out of bounds and getting called for unnecessary roughness. Then Cedric had the nerve to pound his chest at the Chargers’ bench – because nothing says “I’m a big man” like killing your team with a dumb 4th quarter penalty. Speaking of dumb 4th quarter penalties…no. This one deserves its own segment.
6. Letroy Guion, Get the F*** Out
It probably didn’t matter too much since the Vikings probably wouldn’t have done anything even if they had gotten the ball back, but Letroy Guion should still be ashamed of himself for the utter lack of focus he showed while the team was trying to stuff the Chargers at the end of the 4th quarter and maybe give the offense one last crack at it. Maybe Philip Rivers has a great hard-count but that doesn’t explain how Guion got called for two offsides penalties in five plays. Keep in mind that Guion was lined up over the ball. I guess watching the ball is too difficult? Fred Evans must’ve felt sorry for Guion because he decided to get called for encroachment after Guion was yanked from the game. Clearly the Vikings’ defensive tackles need to work on concentration.
7. Percy Harvin
Percy Harvin had a great day and a bad day. The great part was his kickoff return TD to start the game. The bad part was everything else. Bill Musgrave stayed true to his plan of lining Percy up all over the place and trying to get him involved, targeting him 5 times in the passing game and giving him the ball 4 times in the running game, but sadly the plan yielded only 22 total yards. Back to square one on the Percy Plan. Here’s a suggestion for Mr. Twitch: Occasionally how about just line Percy up in the slot and throw him the ball? How about run a tight end up the seam now and again? How about a play-action pass to a deep receiver? Oh that’s right, the offensive line sucks so the quarterback has no time. That’s a problem.
8. Bill Musgrave is Darrell Bevell, Part 1
The above statement is somewhat unfair in that Musgrave is clearly more creative than Bevell. But it’s totally fair in that, despite Musgrave’s attempts at adding new wrinkles to the offense, the whole thing ended up looking suspiciously like a Bevell-Childress production: a lot of running Adrian Peterson on 1st down and overall not pushing the ball down the field. I can already hear some of you telling me it’s a work-in-progress. And in Musgrave’s defense: On the rare occasions when he did attempt to change things up by passing on 1st down, it didn’t really go so well. Perhaps it’s wrong of me to place so much blame on Musgrave considering the team’s personnel issues at offensive line and receiver. Then again, this is the same guy who once got forced to resign after 4 games because of terrible playcalling. So far the Vikings offense looks like a work not just in progress but in the process of becoming a complete disaster.
9. Chris Cook
I am surprisingly satisfied with Chris Cook’s performance. There was a really bad illegal contact penalty mixed in there but otherwise he did a decent job considering the circumstances. Then again, the Chargers didn’t put all that much pressure on the Vikings’ corners all things considered. I think the blitzing sort of got them out of their game plan and forced them to go with a lot more underneath stuff than they otherwise would’ve used. Mike Tolbert ended up with 9 catches which was 2 more than the top three Chargers receivers, Vincent Jackson, Malcom Floyd and Bryan Walters, combined. To me that spells “being patient and taking what the defense gave.” Anyway, I have no reason to hammer Cook this morning and I’m glad. I hope that continues.
10. Second Half Woes
It all boils down to this: The Vikings played a terrific first half defensively and an adequate first half offensively, catching some breaks along the way as well, but in the second half were dismal on offense, only okay on defense after the Chargers adjusted by going to the underneath passing to counteract the blitz, and overall completely undisciplined and penalty-ridden. And the offensive coordinator didn’t help things with his goofy playcalling. The Vikings need to get stouter on the offensive line, and need to find somebody who can stretch the defense vertically, whether that be Bernard Berrian or Devin Aromashodu or whomever. Sorry Bill Musgrave but the Blazer package, the Percy Plan and running Adrian Peterson into the ground are not going to cut it. Use that big brain Mr. Twitch and figure out how to pass the ball.
Bonus: I neglected to mention Michael Jenkins who was by far the Vikings’ most effective receiver yesterday, catching 3 balls for 26 yards and a TD. The rest of the Vikings’ receivers, backs and tight ends combined for 13 yards. Eek.