My five lingering questions after one last look at Sunday’s meltdown loss:
1. Did Freg Pagac lose faith in his secondary?
Contrary to my initial impression, the Vikings did actually blitz a fair amount in the second half. But the blitzing came to an abrupt end after one specific play: Preston Parker’s 51-yard reception to set up the Buccaneers’ third quarter field goal (which could’ve been a third quarter touchdown, except that the Bucs were called for an illegal shift). Pagac brought the heat on that play, but Josh Freeman stood in and delivered to Parker who ran through an Antoine Winfield tackle, then another attempted tackle by an out-of-position Husain Abdullah, finally being stopped by Asher Allen at the Vikings’ 21. The fact that Pagac almost completely abandoned the blitz for the two Bucs series after that, instead dropping his linebackers into coverage, indicates to me that Pagac lost all trust in his defensive backs’ ability to make tackles, and felt he needed to keep his linebackers back to prevent anymore short catches being broken for big gains. Unfortunately, this approach meant no pressure whatsoever on Freeman who proceeded to pick apart the Vikings.
2. What about that run defense?
The Bucs employed a pretty simple formula in getting their offense on-track in the second half: They ran the ball with LeGarrette Blount, then went play-action. The run game with Blount succeeded because the Bucs’ linemen and fullback started blowing the Vikings out of the hole. I think the Vikings’ defensive weak-spots got totally exposed by the Buccaneers here. I’m talking specifically about their nose tackle and weak-side linebacker. Sorry but I don’t think Remi Ayodele or Erin Henderson got the job done at all against Tampa. The Vikings got so worried about Blount that they began over-compensating, and became totally vulnerable to play-action and roll-outs. The return of Kevin Williams may help this issue a little, but sadly there’s no answer for the holes in their roster at the nose and linebacker positions. It also didn’t help matters that Jamarca Sanford started being pulled in the second half in favor of Tyrell Johnson. Sanford came up and made a couple big sticks against the run in the first half, but his presence was totally lacking in the second half.
3. When will Donovan McNabb get the blame he deserves?
Bill Musgrave is taking a lot of the heat for the Vikings’ second half offensive struggles, especially after people started throwing out the numbers on how often Percy Harvin is removed from the game. I’m not going to defend Musgrave who I think made some poor choices at times during the second half, but I’m also not going to put the primary blame on his head. The fact is that Musgrave is not getting a lot of help right now from his quarterback. The brutal reality is, until McNabb starts throwing the ball with better accuracy, this offense is not going to work the way it’s intended. Right now McNabb can’t complete a deep pass to save his life, and even a lot of his short completions are not being put in the right place. Too often Viking receivers are being forced to jump for balls, meaning they’re not able to turn and run up the field after the catch. Don’t get me wrong, McNabb has done some good things so far: He’s looked better than I expected rolling out and throwing, and he’s even shown he can still scramble, break contain and get up the field for first downs. But the deep ball? It’s not in his arsenal right now. Maybe Bernard Berrian and Devin Aromashodu are just bad receivers, but to be honest, I don’t think we’ve seen the ball go their way enough to make a final determination. Let McNabb put a ball where they can catch it and run just once. If they flat-out drop one that’s in their hands, then I’ll lay the blame at their feet.
4. How out-of-shape is McNabb?
5. Why aren’t we talking about the offensive line right now?
Because they did a good job. Not a great job, but a good job. Hopefully we’ll continue not talking about the offensive line all season, because that will mean they’re still doing a good job. Let’s face it though, the Bucs’ D-line did not present a huge challenge. The only times the Vikings really had trouble was when the Bucs brought extra people. This Sunday against Detroit will probably be a different story.