Everything Falling Into Place

We Vikings fans should by now be called, as a matter of course, Long Suffering Vikings Fans.

It’s been more than three decades since the Vikings have appeared in a Super Bowl. Their best squad of the 70s, the 1975 team, had a Super Bowl berth stolen from them by the Hail Mary pass.

In 1987, the Vikings were a correctly run route away from probably making it back to the Big Dance.

In 1998, we assembled one of the best teams in the history of the league, set a season scoring record, lost only one regular season game, yet still couldn’t close the deal to make it back to the Super Bowl.

These days, we simply ask for a playoff appearance or two.

And so it is with resignation that we watched the Vikings blow a chance to secure their place in the post season this year by generously handing the Atlanta Falcons a win last week and watching the inevitable as the Packers collapsed to the Bears.

All the pieces are falling into place for yet another Vikings December collapse.

Now we have the far more difficult task of beating a New York Giants team that is infinitely better than the Falcons or hoping beyond hope for a Texans’ victory over the Bears.

You can see why we are Ye Of Little Faith these days.

But though I’m not holding out much hope for the post season this year, I will nevertheless focus on the positive.

First and foremost, the most positive development is the seemingly drastic turnaround of Tarvaris Jackson‘s game. After last week, his play has improved so much, in fact, that I had no reservations whatsoever of buying a TJax uniform for my nephew for Christmas.

He was thrilled.

As am I at Jackson’s turnaround. He’s making great decisions; his ability to run with the ball adds another dangerous dimension to the offense that opponents will have to defend. When defenses play man against us, there’s always the threat of Tarvaris ripping off a 15 yard gain (though I’d be perfectly happy if he’d learn how to slide at the end of them).

He’s made some fantastic throws. About the only throw he still has a problem with is the long ball. It baffles me that he apparently has absolutely no touch on a ball that I think is one of the easiest to throw.

Still, he moved the team up and down the field against a good Falcons team and were it not for the seven (seven!!) fumbles, the Vikings would have won the game. It wasn’t because of Jackson that we lost the game. If he continues his great play against the Giants, I think we will have seen enough to give us confidence that he is the quarterback of the future we’d hoped he’d be.

And if that happens, I think Brad Childress has secured his future as head coach for another year, regardless of whether or not we reach the playoffs this year. If TJax justifies Childress’ faith in him and considering the strides this offense has made this year, we should see Chilly return next year.

The question remains, though, of whether he keeps his offensive coordinator, Darren Bevell, as his playcaller. The Vikings offensive play calling has been uninspiring at best and consistently predictable.

The other big story on the offensive side of the ball this year has been Visanthe Shiancoe. Shiancoe has turned out to be the rockstar Childress predicted he’d be. Here’s another case where Childress’ talent evaluation has proven correct–though it took a mighty long time for the evidence to surface. Bernard Berrian‘s 99 yard touchdown reception was possible because Shiancoe is a legitimate threat; the safety bit on that play to cover Shiancoe, leaving Berrian all alone.

We haven’t had a big play tight end like Shiancoe since Steve Jordan. It’s been that long.

Adrian Peterson is, of course, Adrian Peterson. He’ll end the season as the leading rusher in the NFL this year. But he’s had eight fumbles this year and his fumbles last week cost us a game we needed to clinch a playoff appearance.

As phenomenally talented as he is, he needs to improve next year: 1) He has to stop fumbling and learn to switch the ball to his outside arm during runs, and 2) he needs to improve his pass blocking skills so he isn’t on the sideline on third downs and in obvious passing situations.

The defense has been outstanding and that bodes well for next year. Jared Allen has made all the difference in the world; by improving the pass rush exponentially, he’s improved the pass coverage that much as well. Defensive backs and linebackers do not have to cover receivers as long as they used to because we’re getting to the quarterback much faster this season.

I’ve had a lot of problems with Chad Greenway‘s play; his trouble shedding blocks and some of his decisions have been poor. But he’s made tremendous strides this year. With the return of E.J. Henderson next year, the Vikings should have a top-five linebacker corps next year.

Cedric Griffin has turned the corner with a vengance. He had another outstanding game last week: Staying with receivers, batting away passes, making Winfieldesque tackles, jamming receivers at the line, and playing in control. If he continues this progress (and there’s no reason to think he won’t), we should have a top-five cornerback tandem next year as well.

My only concern is Darren Sharper, who I expect will be allowed to leave for free agency after the season. It looks like Sharper has lost a step. He seems to be late in coverage and has consistently taken bad angles on tackles this year. Tyrell Johnson played well at the beginning of the season, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start next year.

There’s a lot to be encouraged about for next year regardless of how this season turns out.