Wednesday, March 29, 2017

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It is common knowledge in Lutefisk Land that the Vikings offensive line is horribly, awfully terrible.

To illustrate just how bad they were on Sunday in run blocking, I want to pass this little tidbit along courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

Toby Gerhart ran for 90 yards against the Lions depleted defensive line, but 87 of those yards came after contact.  Let that sink in for a minute.

Gerhart deserves credit for his performance behind an atrocious offensive line, gaining yards by breaking tackles eight times in 19 carries.

You can check out PFF’s full breakdown of the game by clicking here.  They talk about great games had by Steve Hutchinson and Kyle Rudolph, in addition to Jamarca Sanford’s miserable performance.

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Last week, Bill Musgrave took some heat from local beat writers for failing to put injured tight end Kyle Rudolph on the field in certain scoring situations.  I even poked some fun at Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan when I disagreed with his stance that Musgrave misused his various tight ends versus the Broncos.

This week, the roles are going to be reversed.

I argued last week that Jim Kleinsasser’s presence as a blocker was far more beneficial to the Vikings offense than the pass catching abilities of Rudolph.  It wasn’t meant as a knock to Rudolph, he is a fine player, but the Vikings couldn’t afford to see their quarterback further injure himself in a meaningless game behind the leakiest of offensive lines.  Furthermore, Kleinsasser’s presence on the field will at least suggest that the play being run could possibly be a run.

Fast forward to this week. 

There are eight seconds left in the fourth quarter.  The ball is at the one yard line.  Kyle Rudolph, much to Souhan’s pleasure, is lined up wide left while Visanthe Shiancoe is on the line next the right tackle.  Two receivers are on the right side.  Webb takes the snap.

Shiancoe bursts off the line, leaving only four blockers (okay, five, if you count Phil Loadholt) against six Lions defenders rushing the quarterback.

In an all too predictable fashion, left tackle Charlie Johnson is quickly overwhelmed by two defenders and both blow by him.  The clock literally reads “:08” when linebacker DeAndre Levy first makes contact with Joe Webb’s facemask, meaning he had a grand total of a second to make a play.

Of course, Webb didn’t make a play, and instead the result was a disastrous fumble and an travelling game of hacky sack.

The game was over.

Like everyone else that couldn’t help but get caught up in the possibility of a dramatic comeback, I was disappointed in the outcome.  Unlike those that were focused on the lack of a facemask penalty, however, I was busy wondering why Jim Kleinsasser wasn’t on the field to provide the blocking needed to at least have a chance of making a play. 

Without him, defenders took one second to get to Webb and there was zero chance of a play being made, regardless of if Rudolph or Betty White were the ones running the route.

Earlier in the game Webb had the time to throw a two yard touchdown pass to Toby Gerhart.  Webb threw the pass after three seconds ticked off the clock and had nobody within six yards of him.  Jim Kleinsasser, coincidentally enough, was holding a very solid block against Cliff Avril.

Even the shiftiest of quarterbacks need more than one second to make things happen and even the toughest of quarterbacks can suffer an injury.  With the Vikings offensive line barely able to stay upright on any given play, Musgrave should continue to use Kleinsasser to at least attempt to prevent future disasters.

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Rookie Stephen Burton contributed two catches for 38 yards against the Broncos last week. 

He was unable to make any contributions to the offensive efforts this Sunday, and won’t be able to help out for the rest of this season after injuring his MCL.  The injury will not require surgery and Burton figures to be at Vikings training camp next year.

Taking his place on the active roster will be former CFL receiver Emmanuel Arceneaux who joined the Vikings last offseason and has been on the team’s practice squad.

The next question, of course, is who the team will find to take Arceneaux’s place on the practice squad.  My recommendation would be to find a young, speedy running back to join Caleb King in pressuring Lorenzo Booker for his job.  Booker fumbled twice on Sunday.

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Last week, Leslie Frazier hinted that some in the secondary could lose their jobs after they allowed Tim Tebow throw the ball at will.  Nobody lost their job last week.

This week, Cedric Griffin made comments that could have been interpreted as an acknowledgement that he will be cut before the 2012 season.

“I’m going to do the best that I can do and do what I do,” Griffin said after the Lions game in which he was benched. “But that’s on the team (to make that) decision. So, I’m going to make my decision, what I’ve got to do after the season and they’re going to make their decision.”

I’m not convinced, however, that the Vikings are going to part ways with their once-promising cornerback that easily.  After all, they have made quite an investment into Griffin in both recovery time and cap space.

In 2009, the Vikings gave Griffin a five year deal worth $28.5 million, with $10.5 million in guaranteed money.  Prior to the 2011 offseason, he was the only Viking committed to through the year 2014.

After knee surgeries in two consecutive seasons, the thought is that the Vikings could give up on Griffin despite the $14.55 million that remains on his contract. 

“He is a guy who has worked extremely hard for us and battled back from some tough injuries,” Leslie Frazier said of the situation. “He had some moments that were a little bit difficult, but I haven’t given up on him and I hope he hasn’t given up on himself. We will revisit things this week as we prepare for our next opponent and just see where he fits at that point. But he is not in my doghouse at all.”

Frazier seems to be willing to give Griffin more chances and also seems to think that Griffin’s recent struggles have more to do with confidence than talent or health.

“(That has) been something that has kind of been ongoing,” Frazier said. “He and I have talked about it on different occasions during the year. About just playing with the confidence that I know he is capable of having, because he has made some plays for us and at times has made some plays for us this season.

“I don’t ever want him to get down at that position. It’s hard to play corner in our league when you don’t play with confidence. You are going to get beat sometimes, but you have to believe in yourself and your abilities in order to be successful at that position.

“If for some reason you are not executing, we don’t want it to be because of lack of confidence.”

Despite the theory that Griffin might ask for, and might receive, his release this offseason, I am betting he at least makes it to training camp next season.

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I have seen plenty of comments around the internet following Sunday’s game that indicate the “close” nature of many 2011 Vikings losses has led a number of fans to believe this team is better than their 2-11 record indicates.

If they are better than that, they sure have a funny way of proving it.

There is no doubt that there were a number of positive things to take away from Sunday’s loss in Detroit.  Jared Allen notched three sacks and is having the best season of his career with 17.5 sacks through 13 games.  Joe Webb performed well as a replacement for the benched Christian Ponder, running with ease and seemingly showing improvement as a passer.  Percy Harvin had 109 yards from scrimmage, a touchdown, and a 47 yard kickoff return.  Toby Gerhart ran for 90 yards and showed competence as a receiving back, especially on his two yard score.  Heck, even Benny Sapp looked good at times.

Then we must look at the bad.  And, boy, was there ever some bad stuff to look at.

Christian Ponder was benched after throwing three picks and fumbling twice, and two of those turnovers were defensive scores for the Lions.  Cedric Griffin was benched after being torched for a touchdown by rookie Titus Young.  Lorenzo Booker fumbled the ball twice, despite only touching it three times.  Rookies Mistral Raymond and Stephen Burton exited with injuries.  Left tackle Charlie Johnson gave up a few big plays, while right tackle Phil Loadholt never seemed even capable of making a play of his own.  Four sacks were given up for 43 yards.  Asher Allen and any of our various safeties were constantly out of position.  Meanwhile, both of the Henderson brothers were nearly invisible.

Oh yeah, and in case you missed it, there was a very interesting non-call on the final play of the game.

“For me to come in and blame it on a facemask — we had way, way, way worse things go wrong in that game,” Percy Harvin said after the game.

I have to agree. 

Until the Vikings show they are capable of winning games on their own merits, nobody should be claiming they are losing them because of anyone other than themselves.

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