The Vikings are 0-2 after another second-half meltdown, this one worse than the first. Let’s break it down…
1. About Those Effort Comments…
There’s one sure-fire way to make fans even more angry after a loss where you blow a 17-point halftime lead, and that’s to suggest you didn’t try hard all the way to the gun. Percy Harvin dropped perhaps the most controversial comment along these lines, saying, “You can chop it up as whatever you want. We’re just going to say we didn’t play hard all the way to the end of the game.” So when did the Vikings start phoning it in? Straight away at the start of the second half or later on after it became clear their defensive approach of not rushing the passer, playing incredibly soft zone coverage and missing tackles was not going to get the job done? I can’t crawl inside the players’ heads and know what they were feeling during the game, so I can’t say for sure if Percy is stating a fact or just picking an incredibly bad way to express frustration. I do know that if you’re a player and at some point during a game you become too mentally or physically drained to give a full effort anymore, it’s better not to admit that especially if you lose. Obviously Percy learned nothing from Brett Favre.
2. On the Other Hand…
At least one national columnist, Kevin Seifert, isn’t buying that the Vikings lost through lack of effort. “I understand why a player would instinctively reach for that explanation, but strongly disagree that it was behind the Vikings’ second-half collapse,” Seifert wrote. “From my vantage point, at least, this game wasn’t decided on effort. If we can say anything definitive about the 2011 Vikings, it’s that they are constructed with absolutely no margin for error and few alternatives with which to juggle the momentum swings of a typical NFL game.” In other words, their real problem isn’t how hard they try, it’s that they lack enough playmakers to swing things back their way after stuff starts going downhill. So…it just keeps going downhill.
3. Anatomy of a Meltdown, Part 1
To illustrate the last point, let’s look at what I think was the key Vikings offensive sequence from the second half yesterday. After scoring a touchdown on a 27-yard LeGarrette Blount run, the Buccaneers executed a successful onside kick, and were on their way to another TD when Husain Abdullah stepped in front of Kellen Winslow for an interception. This bit of timely defensive playmaking gave the Vikings the ball and a chance to swing the game back their way. Here is how that would-be momentum-grabbing offensive series went down:
1st and 10: Vikings come out with 2 wide receivers and Adrian Peterson in the backfield. Peterson gets in the way of a Bucs blitzer, giving McNabb enough time to throw downfield to Bernard Berrian for a 17-yard gain.
1st and 10: Vikings line up in the I with one receiver left. Kleinsasser motions to left tight end. McNabb hands off to Peterson who is met in the hole by Geno Hayes after a failed Charlie Johnson block. Loss of 3 yards.
2nd and 13: Vikings line up with a three-man bunch to the right, Berrian split left, Peterson in the backfield and McNabb in shotgun. The Bucs rush 4. Tim Crowder hurdles a Charlie Johnson cut block and bears down on McNabb, but the QB has time to throw to Jim Kleinsasser short to the right. Dekoda Watson hits Kleinsasser to knock the ball away. Kleinsasser probably should’ve held on, but it would’ve only been a short gain anyway.
3rd and 13: Vikings go 3-wide with Peterson in the backfield and McNabb in shotgun. Bucs run a zone blitz with Michael Bennett dropping into coverage. Safety Sean Jones comes untouched up the middle and sacks McNabb for a 10-yard loss.
I see two things to criticize here from a playcalling stand-point. 1) After the 17-yard completion to Berrian, why come out with such an obvious running formation, then try to run Peterson up the middle? How about pressing the issue a little? 2) On the 2nd-and-13 play, how about getting some wide receivers on the field? We know Bill Musgrave loves his tight end bunch formation, but when you use all those tight ends it means Percy Harvin isn’t in the game. Throwing to Jim Kleinsasser in that spot doesn’t exactly scream “keeping your foot on the gas.” To me it screams “we have no faith in our pass blocking or quarterback so the game plan here is to avoid a big turnover.”
Long story short, the Vikings were forced to punt, giving the Buccaneers the ball back. The Bucs then ground out a 7-play, 5-minute drive ending in a field goal to cut the Vikings’ lead to 17-10. Had the Vikes continued trying to put pressure on the Bucs’ defense after the completion to Berrian, would they have continued moving down the field, eating clock and possibly even scoring? It’s clear to me that a big part of the Vikings’ problem yesterday and in the San Diego game was an overly risk-averse approach in the second half. That comes down to coaching, and also a lack of belief that the receivers they have can make plays downfield. This lack of faith does not explain why Percy Harvin isn’t seeing more targets, especially in long-yardage situations.
4. Anatomy of a Meltdown, Part 2
And now let’s take a look at how the Vikings defended on Tampa’s game-winning drive. Tampa started that drive on their own 39 after yet another failed Vikings drive and a punt. Freeman was in shotgun for all pass plays.
1st and 10: Vikings rush four. Freeman stands in the pocket forever, finds Preston Parker over the middle for 9. Antoine Winfield makes the tackle.
2nd and 1: Vikings rush four. Freeman hits wide-open Parker on a crossing route for 9 yards and a first. E.J. Henderson makes the tackle.
1st and 10: Vikings rush four. Brian Robison nearly gets a piece of Freeman on a swipe. Freeman hits Kellen Winslow in a large triangle between three Vikings secondary men for a 17-yard gain.
1st and 10: The Bucs are already on the Vikings 29. Tampa mixes things up by running with Ernest Graham. He gets five yards before Husain Abdullah’s tackle.
2nd and 5: Vikings rush four. Freeman dumps it off over the middle to Graham for 8 yards. Bucs’ mixing up throws to receivers, tight ends and backs seems to have the Vikings off-balance. No one in this series has come close to breaking on a receiver in time to get a knock-down.
1st and 10: Bucs at the Vikings’ 16 now. Vikes decide to rush Greenway and E.J. Henderson. Freeman fakes the hand-off to Graham, suckering both linebackers (had Greenway not bit on the fake he would’ve had a free run at Freeman…oh well), and passes over the middle to Winslow. Tyrell Johnson, unfooled by the play-fake, runs in front of Winslow and has a chance at the pick. But he drops it.
2nd and 10: Bucs run right with Graham again. Trueblood gets a nice block on Greenway to push him out of position to make a play. Graham gets 6 yards.
3rd and 4: Here’s where a real team mans up and makes a play. The Vikings bring the rush, but Freeman stands in the pocket and finds Parker who is locked up one-on-one with Winfield short over the middle. The pass is completed despite Winfield being draped over Parker. Freeman and Parker made the play, Winfield did not.
1st and Goal: The Vikings look physically whupped. The rush is getting nowhere near Freeman. The secondary is not making plays when it has a chance to make them. Perhaps sensing that the Vikings are spent, the Bucs hand it off to the big truck Blount who runs right behind his lead-blocker Erik Lorig and pulling guard Jeremy Zuttah. Blount dives into the end zone for the winning touchdown. The Vikings get the ball back with little time left and all their time outs remaining after Leslie Frazier elected not to use them on defense.
The point to be made here is, why not bring more pressure when the Bucs are still in their own territory? Freeman picked part the Vikings so easily, you could sell the footage as an instructional video on how to demolish the Cover-2. By the time the Bucs got down in the red zone, the Vikings were totally frustrated and possibly tired. Tyrell Johnson and Antoine Winfield both had chances to make big plays in coverage but didn’t get it done. When the Bucs elected to run they physically overpowered the left side of the Vikings’ defensive line. You have one team staying aggressive and executing, and one team playing back on their heels and missing their few chances to make something good happen.
To be continued…