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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Pointing Purple Fingers



This season has been a disaster in every sense of the word, and with a catastrophic seventh loss looming, I'm pulling out the big guns and playing the blame game. There's a lot to go around -- I have more ammo than the late Charlton Heston at an NRA Convention.


1. Sidney Rice and Drew Rosenhaus
Let this be a reminder: professional athletics are a business, not a game. Instead of building upon the first good season of his three year career, the brittle Sidney Rice and the real life Jerry Maguire chose to leverage the breakout season into a contractual ploy. The injured receiver didn't get paid in February after his Pro Bowl season, so he chose to hold off on hip surgery until September. This ensured he'd stay off the field for most, if not all of 2010, preserving his 2009 market value without risk of further injury or decline in production. Yeah, I'm speculating. Maybe Sidney really thought it would heal on its own even though two doctors told him it wouldn't. And I agree that he easily outperformed his current contract last season, even though he stole from the team his first two years. Ultimately, where there's smoke there's usually fire, and where there's Rosenhaus, there's always conniving. This development derailed the Vikings' season before it even started.

2. Brett Favre
Brett Favre said he wouldn't come back halfheartedly. He lied. He's only had one foot in the door this entire season. For the 64th straight year, he skipped training camp and much of the preseason, setting the standard that he'd abide by his own set of rules, and that the coach could be undermined. As the quarterback and veteran leader, he drove a stake through the heart of the team with his never-ending power struggle against Brad Childress. A true leader gets on his coach's page and sets a positive example for the young players on the team. Favre has done the exact opposite. The egomaniacal diva has been a major distraction off the field as well, and it's had a toxic effect on the team. Those shenanigans are tolerable in an MVP-like season, but not when you're the 31st-rated quarterback in the league and you've turned the ball over 21 times through nine games. Go home.

3. Brad Childress
Only third? Let the hate mail begin. Sure, he's made his fair share of tactical blunders, and ultimately everything comes back to the head coach. But overall, I think Childress is a pretty average coach whose cold demeanor has never been embraced by the public. I've become a bit of a Childress apologist in that regard, because as the automatic scapegoat, I think he's taken an unfair amount the blame for this team's problems. He can't block. He can't pass. He can't catch. He can't tackle. And in the back of my brain, I'm clinging to the notion that in the two biggest games of his life -- Dallas and New Orleans last postseason -- Brad Childress dialed up the best two head coaching performances of his career. From mental preparation, to game plan, to play-calling, he kicked Wade Phillips' and Sean Payton's asses for eight quarters. In a town where Ron Gardenhire has lost his last 12 postseason games, that carries a lot of weight with me. He even had the class to fall on the sword for Eric Bieniemy and Naufahu Tahi, the real culprits for "12 Men in the Huddle." I keep hearing that players are winning (even though they're not winning) "in spite" of Brad Childress. The truth is, Childress nearly took this team to the Super Bowl in spite of the players who coughed up six fumbles, and in spite of the worst decision of Brett Favre's career (an interception this team has never recovered from).


4. Jared Allen
After seven weeks, Jared Allen finally came off the PUP list. Wait, he was active that whole time? Allen has 4.5 sacks in his last two games, but it's way too little way too late. He's become the guy who pads his stats against bad teams, and he appears physically unable to get around most any competent offensive tackle. For a team that doesn't blitz much, his inability to put the quarterback on the ground has been a major blow to this defense. With injuries in the secondary, the Vikings simply can't allow quarterbacks extra time in the pocket to exploit them. Every good defensive end gets double-teamed in the NFL. That's why your contract is worth over $73M, Jared. Do better.

5. Offensive Line
It all starts up front. Brett Favre's been bad, but his offensive line has done him no favors. He's been sacked 18 times, pressured constantly, and forced into terrible decisions. Well, nobody really has to force Brett to make terrible decisions, so let's just say they've presented him ample opportunities to make terrible decisions. Adrian Peterson's having a fantastic year, but he seems to be doing it all on his own most days. For as big and talented as this group supposedly is, they never seem to get any kind of push. Letting Matt Birk go may have cost this team the Super Bowl last season, and it remains one of the biggest blunders of Rick Spielman's mostly-successful run in Minnesota.

Honorable Mention: Leslie Frazier
Sure, there's injuries in the secondary. What team isn't dealing with injuries by Week 11? This defense isn't generating pressure, isn't wrapping up, isn't playing with fire, and isn't making adjustments. In no way do I view Frazier as a head coaching upgrade for this team.

Honorable Mention: Bernard Berrian
With Sidney Rice injured, Bernard Berrian became one of the most important players on the team. The Vikings' highest paid receiver (by a landslide) has had exactly one good game, asked out of a must-win divisional matchup with the Bears last week, and appears more interested in his fashion career that his dwindling football future.

It's Packer Week here in Minnesota, and you could hear a pin drop. The silence is deafening.