Now that the Vikings season is over, we can talk about just how good the team actually was this year.
The Vikings have numerous problems on both sides of the ball. Obviously, the defense is the biggest, and most obvious, problem. The cornerbacks, minus Winfield, generally can't cover anyone. The safeties made almost zero plays this year. The linebackers as a squad are a mess. Individually, they're generally average to below average. The defensive line, minus Kevin Williams, is a collection of journeymen and stiffs. The defensive coordinator either doesn't know or doesn't care to tailor the defense towards what little talent can be found on the defensive side of the ball.
The defensive secondary, minus Winfield, could be replaced this off-season and no one would shed a tear. Brian Williams makes just enough plays to start ahead of the other stiffs on the team, but I'm not sure he would start on any other team in the league. Willie Offord is a decent special teams player, but that doesn't make him a serviceable strong safety. Brian Russell is a waste of a roster spot. Just how many sure interceptions does the guy have to drop before Tice takes him off the field? The other guys wearing cornerback numbers, and often lining up as cornerbacks (but not playing like professional cornerbacks) should be jettisoned this offseason. There must be guys the Vikes could sign this offseason for less money who can play (or not play) just as well. At least the Vikes would be getting their money's worth for a change.
The linebackers were a complete waste this year. The number of plays they made could be counted on my fingers and toes. To catalog the number of mistakes the linebackers made this year you'd need a commercial database running on some big iron servers. EJ Henderson looks great in uniform and lost on the field. Dump him. Chris Claiborne is slow and very rarely makes an impact play. Usually, he gets blocked out of the play or is chasing it from behind. Dontarrious Thomas needs a brain implant. Newman and the others who saw time at linebacker should be subject to the same treatment as the cornerbacks above. They should be dumped and the Vikes should give undrafted free agents a chance to compete for the spot. At least those guys would want to play.
The defensive line could be better. Udeze showed us little to nothing this year. In fact, he lost his starting spot to another (relatively unheralded) rookie. Mixon makes just enough plays to stay on the team. Lance Johnstone is nothing special. I'm not sold on guys who are trotted on to the field only for pass rushing downs. The great players stay on the field in every situation. In addition, the front four very rarely got much pressure on the quarterback without help from blitzing linebackers and the like. That lack of pressure more than once fatally exposed the Vikings cornerbacks for the frauds that they are.
Ted Cotrell, the Vikings defensive coordinator, should be dumped this offseason, as well. Clearly, his scheme is nothing special. The Vikes finished 28th overall in defense. It seems to me that we can only go up from there. Let's give someone else a shot.
In addition, his defense in the game against Philadelphia today was inexcusable. How many times did the mediocre Philly wideouts catch a ball without a Viking within forty feet of them? Twenty times? Against what, exactly, were the Vikings defending? The fake end-around? If I hadn't been able to see him with my own eyes, I might have thought Brian Westbrook was wearing an invisibility cloak for all the attention he got from the Vikings defense. Supposedly, Westbrook was being doubleteamed. Maybe the guys doing the doubleteaming were on the sidelines? They certainly weren't on the field.
On the offensive side of the ball, the picture is better, but far from perfect.
The Vikes need to seriously consider revamping their offensive line. Sure, Matt Birk is a stud, but everyone else on the offensive line is average, at best. McKinnie was a bust of a draft pick. Let's just admit it, so we can get busy trying to find someone else who actually wants to make millions of dollars playing left tackle for the Vikes. The Vikings running game this year virtually disappeared (once you subtract Culpepper's running yards, the team's yards-per-carry average just plummets) and a big part of that can be laid at the feet of the offensive line. The holes just weren't there this year. Walter Payton wouldn't have gotten 1000 yards behind the line the Vikes fielded this year. I can't count the number of times a running back hit the line looking for a hole, but all he saw was the big butts of his linemen and some (unblocked) defensive guys looking for his head.
A portion of the running game's failure can be laid at the feet of Scott Linehan, the Vikings offensive coordinator. Sure, the Vikes go downfield fairly often, and they even succeed once in a while. But when the team just needs to grind out sixty yards on the ground to kill the clock, don't call Linehan. The first time a run fails to go for ten yards, Linehan retreats into a passing mentality for the next thirty plays. Good running teams don't try running once, get frustrated, and give up for the rest of the game. In addition, Linehan seems to have an unnatural attraction for the draw. Unfortunately, defenses know it, and the draw, as drawn up by Linehan, and as called by Linehan, rarely works. In Linehan's mind, the pass is used to setup the pass while the run is used to setup the punt team.
The Vikings also need to take a very long look at the running back position. I know of no teams that have had success using a platoon at the running back position. Successful teams have one featured back that gets the lion's share of the carries. Using Michael Bennett for a couple downs, then Moore, then Smith, then Bennett, then Smith, then Moore, etc., etc., etc. does nothing to help any of the three develop a rhythm. Onterrio Smith doesn't seem to be the great back that the coaching staff is always touting. The number of big plays he came up with this year could be counted on one hand. Bennett has good speed and generally creates more big plays than Smith. Unfortunately, he is prone to running directly into his own linemen's asses, rather than around them. I don't know if that is because he lacks field vision, creativity, or simply cannot move his hips very well, but since we have an alternative, it seems that we ought to explore it. Moore is probably the best back the Vikes have at this point. So, it made sense for the team that he spent most of the year on the sidelines after proving his worth during several games early in the season. Hopefully, Tice and Co. will pull their collective heads out of...um...somewhere during the next training camp and give Moore a chance to be the Vikes number one back. Regardless of who they choose, the Vikes would do well to dump their running-back-by-committee approach.
Assuming that the Vikes can keep Culpepper, they are set for at least the next eight years at quarterback.
Marcus Robinson as a free-agent pickup was nothing special. Kelly Campbell lost relevance once the Vikes no longer had him returning kickoffs and stopped throwing him the ball. Moss is a punk, but when properly motivated, can still play the game like few others. The problem, more often than not, is getting him motivated. Apparently, $6 million dollars per annum just doesn't motivate him like it would most people. Burleson is a keeper and should start every game as the number two wideout next year.
The Vikes desperately need to sign an actual field-goal kicker. It's all well and good that Morten Anderson rarely misses from inside forty yards. However, it sure would be nice to have a kicker with a leg for a change. How long has it been since the Vikes had a field goal kicker who could make one from beyond forty-five yards? Eight or ten years, certainly. Even Sarah, for whom the Vikings are nothing more than a peripheral topic of conversation said she is "tired of hearing about Morten Anderson's limited range."Darren Bennett, the punter, ought to be let go. He is washed up. Once upon a time, he was special. This year, he was barely serviceable.
The Vikes then, were about as good as their 8 and 8 record indicated. Oh well, the 2005 season starts in just a bit over seven months.