Thursday, July 26, 2007

Positivity: 2008 Vikes Preview

As my cohort has already mentioned, late July-early August is a time of hope and optimism for just about every NFL team. Of course, there are different levels of optimism. It ranges from “there’s no way we could be worse than last year” (Oakland) to “hey, we could be .500 this year” (Houston) to “there isn’t any possible scenario where we don’t win the Super Bowl” (New England). Everyone has some level of excitement. Everyone, that is, except the Minnesota Vikings, apparently. Most fans and experts seem to be predicting an offensively challenged, fourth-place in the NFC North, top 5 draft pick in ’08 type of season for my beloved Purple. Well that’s why I’m here; to bring everyone in Vikingland a little bit of positivity.

Let’s start with the offense (please keep your groans to a dull roar). “A team…that still possesses a talented core of skill players is in the hands of an untested second-year man. ‘This is why we drafted him when we did…’” ( Sound familiar? It should, except that it isn’t Tavaris Jackson’s scouting report from any recent prognostication, but rather a preview of the 2000 version of the Minnesota Vikings in Daunte Culpepper’s first year as the starter (when the Vikes went to the NFC title game). Jackson, the second year quarterback out of Alabama State, admittedly looked overmatched in his limited playing time at the end of last season. But he has the tools to become a quality signal caller. You could compare him to a young (more animal-friendly) version of Michael Vick: he has amazing speed and agility, an absolute cannon of an arm, and he wears the number 7. Plus he has that reckless abandon of a kid who doesn’t know any better (a formula that worked nicely for Culpepper in his first couple years). Now, believe it or not, there actually was some optimism surrounding the Vikes at this time last year. Part of the reason for it was the addition of All-Pro Steve Hutchinson to an already solid offensive line. While Hutch played admirably, the line in general was a major disappointment. However, given a year to gel and learn how to play with one another, that very same line should be one of the two or three best in the entire league (especially that left side with the aforementioned Hutch, Bryant McKinnie, and Matt Birk). And what happens when you have a top tier offensive line? You have a monster running game. This formula should hold true for the Purple as they will now employ the two-headed monster of Chester Taylor (over 1200 yards last year) and Adrian Peterson (7th overall pick) in the backfield. Peterson’s presence is especially important as he will provide that homerun threat that was missing last year, as well as prevent Taylor from breaking down at the end of the year again. Continuing the domino effect, this big time running game will cause opposing defenses to stack eight in the box and leave some wide open passing lanes for T Jack and the receiving corps. Much has been made of the lack of recognizable names/talent in the current group of Viking receivers. What people fail to either realize or mention is that in Childress’ West Coast style offense, the passing game relies on precise, short route running and gaining yards after the catch. You don’t need the likes of Torry Holt and Terrell Owens at receiver for it to be effective (though obviously it wouldn’t hurt). The play-action pass (which should be a staple of the 2008 Vikings) will set up wide open spaces for burners like Bobby Wade and the Nike-corrected Troy Williamson to run wild. I just hope the cameras can keep up with them.

Defensively, the team looks very good (when’s the last time a Viking team had a rock solid D and a questionable O?). Last year the Purple D gave up only 61 rushing yards per game. They were also outstanding in creating the big play with 21 interceptions and 5 defensive touchdowns. With the Williams brothers (Pat and Kevin—not actually related) manning the middle of the line again this year, you can expect the opposition to have very little success running the ball. One of the more pleasant surprises last year was how well the linebackers played. This was thought to be a major question mark/weakness heading into last season. And while Napoleon Harris is gone, the team basically gets to add another top 15 draft pick in Chad Greenway (injured virtually all of last season). Adding his speed and talent to the outside and moving EJ Henderson to his natural position of middle linebacker should give the team another year of quality LB play. Another strength on this side of the ball is our suddenly deep defensive backfield. Most fans know about the vastly underrated Antoine Winfield and veteran safeties Darren Sharper and Dwight Smith. Add to that group up and coming second year corner Cedric Griffin, newly acquired safety Mike Doss, the return of injured corners Tank Williams and Dovonte Edwards, and rookie Marcus McCauley, and you have loads of talent back there. Since teams will not be able to run the ball effectively, they will see a lot of work, and should be up to the challenge. The major question mark defensively is the defensive ends. Last year they were pretty much inept when it came to pressuring the QB (Darrion Scott led the team with a measly 5 ½ sacks). Obviously, there’s room for improvement here. However, they still have Kenechi Udeze, who has talent, but has underperformed thus far, and they added the sleeper of the draft in Brian Robison out of Texas to bring some energy to this group. Plus, with new D coordinator Leslie Frazier’s plan for creative and continuous blitz packages, they may only need to be average to be successful.

Finally, there always seems to be one team that comes out of nowhere and pushes for/makes the playoffs. With our schedule, why not us? We open the season at home with the chaos that is the Atlanta Falcons (and their likely opening day starter, Joey Harrington). We get to play the much-hyped, but overrated Detroit Lions twice (whom, as Fuzz already mentioned, we are 16-4 against in the last 10 years). We also get the aging Chiefs and tumultuous Giants on the road, plus the talent-challenged Raiders and Redskins at home, and we usually at least split with Green Bay (and their interception-prone, decrepit quarterback Brett Favre). Add in a game against a Chicago team mailing it in at Metrodome near the end of the year, a much hyped, but possibly overrated and beatable San Francisco team, and one upset along the way from someone underestimating us (looking at that Dallas-Philly-SD stretch) and you could have a 10 win team (copyright Jon Kitna).

So come late November when network pregame shows are doing puff pieces on us, you’re in line to purchase your playoff tickets, and everyone is jumping on the Vikings bandwagon, just remember who’s driving it and please, tip generously.

1 comment:

P-Dub said...

Just a hair on the optimistic side for each and every single player's potential performance this year. At least your prediction will be safe in the rare case that they do succeed...about as safe as Brad Childress calling the plays. Despite our less than talent-rich defense, I don't see Chad "the stumbling caucasion" Greenway deserving any playing time. Our Offense may have some success running the ball, but that will still only make us a mediocre team this year. 8-8, 9-7 at best is where my bandwagon parks. A good optimistic blog nonetheless, at least it was grammatically correct (despite all the parenthesis).