Friday, October 5, 2007

How Bad are the Minnesota Vikings???

There's always hope, or at least it seems that way.

For the Minnesota Vikings and their fans there has been plenty of hope the last two years that this team was on the right track. However one season and four games into the Brad Childress era that hope seems to be turning to despair rather quickly.

The hope started before the 2006 season when the Vikings announced the hiring of Childress, who was a long-time assistant and Andy Reid understudy. He was going to shape things up in a Minnesota locker room that had been painted an ugly shade of purple following the now infamous boat party.

He was also going to bring the vaunted West Coast offense into the fold which promised to take advantage of veteran quarterback Brad Johnson's skill set. Don't forget it was Johnson who guided the Vikings to seven wins in their final nine games and a second place finish in the NFC North in 2005.

Things were looking up.

And then came the free agents. Chester Taylor, Steve Hutchinson, Dwight Smith, Tank Williams and Ben Leber all signed on for what was going to be one of the most improved teams in the NFL.

Then, as if a sign from above, Koren Robinson was arrested in a high-speed chase through a few sleepy Minnesota towns during training camp. Childress and the team took the hard-line approach with the troubled receiver and jettisoned him, but it was clear that the first year head coach did not have the noose-tight control over his players that he wanted.

As if the Robinson episode weren't enough, the team's top draft pick, linebacker Chad Greenway, would blow out his knee covering kicks in the very first quarter of the very first pre-season game.

Training camp that year would also feature the first glimpse at Childress' trademark paranoia as he refused to even comment on the number of wide receivers they might carry. Of course we all know what a huge tactical advantage that might give the opposition.

Through all that however there was still hope.

And early on it seemed the hope had been justified as the team jumped out to a 4-2 start that included a 31-13 thrashing of the defending NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks. That start was followed by four straight losses and the season of hope was effectively over.

Down the stretch the veteran quarterback would get benched, Marcus Robinson would be placed on the inactive list several times for no apparently good reason, and former top pick Troy Williamson would suffer from bouts of blindness and tourette syndrome when passes came his way.

Meanwhile the locker room would divide itself between an inept offense which was incapable of scoring points and a stifling defense which only gave up 24 touchdowns all year. On one side would also stand a head coach who commanded little respect among the veterans and a defensive coordinator who was universally beloved, but I digress.

Which leads us to 2007 and the re-birth hope.

The prevailing thought was that it couldn't get any worse. The team had drafted arguably the best player in the draft in running back Adrian Peterson, they were returning that stingy defense and the coach had a year of mistakes under his belt to learn from. No one expected a Super Bowl run, but things were going to be better.

The first week went pretty well too, as the Vikings executed their blueprint for wins. Solid running game, controlled passing attack and defensive domination in the 24-3 win over the Vick-less Atlanta Falcons.

Hope, hope, hope.

Three weeks later and what has really changed? The defense is still solid, giving up gobs of passing yards but doing a good job of keeping teams out of the end zone and creating turnovers. Meanwhile the offense has somehow found a way to one-up its previous level of awfulness, only scoring one more touchdown than the defense through four games.

Peterson has been a bright spot without question, but Childress seems intent on limiting him with Taylor also pining for carries. And inexplicably Childress sees it as a good idea to run the organization's only ticket-selling asset out to return kicks. I seem to remember everyone being very concerned about a certain collarbone during the pre-season, but again, I digress.

They've got three quarterbacks, none of which can even be considered NFL-average. They've got a set of receivers whose top target (Bobby Wade) is the proud owner of exactly two career touchdown catches. They also spent more money than they had to on an overrated tight end with a cool name.

They've got an offensive coordinator whose coaching claim to fame is that he once was employed by Brett Favre's Packers and has never called his own plays. Of course Childress never did that either before last year, and that worked out well.

The worst part of all is that there seems to be no discernible direction with the current coaching staff and the organization as a whole. The team has drafted quite well the past two years, but that's about all that has gone really right.

Still, this is the NFL we're talking about. The league where it only takes from one year to the next for a team to get good - just ask the Lions - so I suppose there is still hope. Lets just say I'm glad I'm not a Vikings fan.

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