April 4, 2017

QotD: The last 30 years of Vikings football

Filed under: Football, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Watching the Vikings the past three decades has been like chronicling an ’80s hair band. It’s been all fun and games except for the times the lead singer got busted and the drummer spontaneously combusted.

For a franchise that has been frequently competitive, the Vikings have rarely experienced what felt like sustainable success.

They were once owned by a Gang of 10 that feuded with the general manager, who was replaced by a non-football executive who wore coach’s shorts and a stopwatch.

Their next owner lived in San Antonio, and, once he realized he couldn’t win big or get a stadium built, stripped the team to make it attractive to new buyers.

Red McCombs sold to Zygi Wilf, whose jagged learning curve led to the hiring of Fran “I know New Mexico Football” Foley and Brad Childress.

Jerry Burns was an elderly coach who would have retired even if he had won a Super Bowl. He gave way to Dennis Green, who collected enemies the way a coffee shop message board collects business cards. Green gave way to Mike Tice, who had never been a coordinator at any level before he became a head coach, and eventually Childress, who saved time by burning bridges before he bothered to build them.

Childress gave way to Leslie Frazier, who served as the asbestos quilt that ownership threw over their constant brushfires, then tossed aside once the flames went out.

The Vikings’ best teams since the mid-’80s have been one-offs: The 1987 team that backed into the playoffs, then won two games with Wade Wilson at quarterback. The 1998 team that resurrected Randall Cunningham. The 2000 team that relied on Daunte Culpepper to outscore a shoddy defense. The 2009 team that hired Brett Favre as a temp. The 2012 team that made the playoffs in Christian Ponder’s lone showing of competence.

The past 30 years of Vikings football have felt like annual acts of desperation. That might be changing.

Jim Souhan, “Vikings finally have the makings for long-term success”, Star Tribune, 2015-09-13.

January 4, 2014

Former Vikings head coach doesn’t stay unemployed for long

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 13:08

Leslie Frazier was fired as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings on Monday. Today, he accepted the job as defensive co-ordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

You can stop worrying about Leslie Frazier. He’s fine. He has scored himself a new gig as defensive coordinator with his old friend Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay.

Rumors have it that Rod Marinelli was actually the first choice as DC in Tampa but I guess Marinelli didn’t want the gig so they went to #2 choice Frazier. Leslie served as defensive coordinator for a couple years in Minnesota before his ill-fated tenure as head coach. Years back he was DC with Cincinnati.

Frazier, a long-time devotee of the Tampa-2 defense, goes to the city that gave the defense its name. Now we wait to see if he tries to bring any of his former Minnesota assistants with him. The Vikings still have all those guys under contract, including Leslie’s friend Mike Singletary.

We can also speculate on which current Viking free agents might now look at Tampa Bay as an attractive destination because Leslie is there and will likely install a system similar to the one the Vikings ran. Jared Allen is a guy who might be a fit in Tampa. You also have to look at a guy like Erin Henderson who is likely done in Minnesota after his most recent DWI arrest. Frazier was always in Henderson’s corner and seems to like him as a Will backer in his scheme.

I’d be surprised if Singletary didn’t also follow Frazier to Tampa Bay, and (sadly) Jared Allen has almost certainly played his final game for the Vikings and hasn’t indicated any plan to retire. I’m glad Frazier will be in the league next year, even if he is working for another team. Still no change on the replacement head coach search in Minnesota: lots of candidates mentioned, but many interviews still to be conducted.

December 31, 2013

Vikings start search for new head coach

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:36

I was away for a few days, celebrating our 30th anniversary, so I didn’t get to watch the final game at the Metrodome between the Vikings and the Detroit Lions (see Arif Hasan’s summary here). I was also away from my computer when the news came down that the team had fired head coach Leslie Frazier. I wasn’t surprised that Frazier took the blame for the awful 2013 season, but it also wouldn’t have surprised me greatly if they’d decided to keep Frazier. The problem was really at the quarterback position, not the head coach (although Frazier and his staff certainly made some mistakes). One of the big mistakes was on display during the game against the Lions: the outstanding performance by Cordarrelle Patterson … in whom the coaching staff had so little confidence that he barely saw the playing field for most of the season.

Even with the best running back in the game and a rising star at wide receiver, the Vikings could only do so much with the quarterback floundering. I liked Christian Ponder when he was drafted, and I’d hoped to see him grow into the kind of quarterback you can build a franchise around. Instead, Ponder regressed to the point that benching him was a kindness. Matt Cassel was an excellent signing as a backup and did quite well when he was called upon to take over the starting role. I hope he decides to come back for the second year of his contract (which can be voided by either the team or the player). I still don’t understand what happened with Josh Freeman…

The Vikings have the 8th overall pick in the 2014 draft, and would have had the same pick even if they’d lost the game to the Lions because all the teams above them in the draft order lost on Sunday. The obvious choice with that pick would be a quarterback (Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M has been the common prediction for the Vikings in early mock drafts). There are certainly other needs that could be addressed if all the “can’t miss” quarterback prospects are off the board by then, including cornerback, linebacker, safety, defensive end, and nose tackle. I’ve even seen fantasists floating the idea of trading Adrian Peterson to the Rams for their two first-round picks. I guess having had multiple first-rounders in the last two years has spoiled the draftniks.

Before the news of Frazier’s firing, John Holler explained why it was likely to happen:

If the Vikings fire Leslie Frazier today, it’s not because he isn’t a good head coach. He is.

It won’t be because his team quit on him. They didn’t. At a time when pragmatic fans were thinking it wouldn’t be so bad if the Vikings lost all their remaining games when they were 1-7 at midseason, the Vikings went 4-3-1 in the second half – the best record in the division, as well as a 2-0-1 record against the NFC North in Act II of their annual meetings.

It won’t be because his players didn’t have his back. They do. If you were to ask anyone who has spent any amount of time with Frazier to define his character, you wouldn’t hear a dissenting opinion. If the Vikings had a 36-12 record over the last three years and players were asked if Frazier was a better coach or human being, that 12-win average would pale by comparison.

Frazier is a good coach. He is an exemplary man.

The Vikings are going to undergo a significant overhaul in the next few months and, at the moment, it doesn’t appear as though that is going to include Frazier. Have the Vikings succeeded under his watch? The empirical evidence says no. Given that 8-7-1 won the NFC North, it can be argued that the Vikings were more snake-bit than dismal.

But, in a bottom-line world, over the last three seasons as head coach, Frazier has a regular season record of 18-29-1 in 48 games and is 0-1 in the postseason.

If the thought process at Winter Park is based on a belief that Frazier can be the person to mold the young core of the Vikings team moving forward, he will be back next year. But, in the NFL, lame-duck coaching contracts are rarely fulfilled. Change is constant in the NFL. Players come. Players go. Coaches come. Coaches go. Unfortunately, character isn’t a consideration. If it was, Frazier would have been given a vote of confidence.

He didn’t get it.

In the end, it’s not personal. It’s only business.

Frazier’s firing got almost unanimous response from the Twin Cities sportswriters who’ve been covering the Vikings:

Update, 2 January: Cordarrelle Patterson just won the Offensive Rookie of the Month award, having been the first rookie to score at least three rushing and three receiving touchdowns since Roger Craig in December, 1983. He’s the fourth Viking to win ORotM, joining Adrian Peterson, Randy Moss, and Percy Harvin.

Patterson was also named to the All-NFC North team:

Even if several players got spots because they were the best options in a mediocre division, the Vikings’ group of all-division players did provide highlights. Patterson was the best kick returner in the NFL, leading the league with a 32.4-yard return average and becoming the only player in the league to return two kicks for touchdowns. Peterson finished fifth in the NFL with 1,266 rushing yards, despite carrying only 18 times in the final four games and missing two with groin and foot injuries. And Robison had the best year of his career, finishing with nine sacks and ending the year second in the NFL with 81 total pressures, according to Pro Football Focus.

It’s tough to find too many snubs on the Vikings roster. The biggest one might be punt returner Marcus Sherels, who surged at the end of the season and finished third in the NFL with a 15.2-yard return average. Sherels, though, was up against a strong field; every punt returner in the NFC North had a touchdown this season.

December 19, 2012

Leslie Frazier, calm man in a crazy job

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:12

At the Star Tribune, Jim Souhan explains why Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier deserves consideration for coach of the year … and a contract extension:

That Frazier has won eight games this season after winning three in 2011 is impressive, but it is not nearly as impressive as his ability to becalm a franchise that has given “Chaos Theory” a bad name.

In the past year or so, Frazier has dealt with a major injury to franchise player Adrian Peterson. He has dealt with the great Percy Harvin complaining during a minicamp and on the sideline in Seattle, then being lost for the season.

Frazier has managed a struggling young quarterback. He has replaced one of his hand-picked coordinators. He has faced down a midseason slump that could have unraveled the team.

Now, 14 games into his first full season following an offseason not limited by a lockout, Frazier has positioned the Vikings to compete for a playoff spot. His team is 8-6 despite Christian Ponder’s erratic play and the loss of Harvin. Young players have improved. Role players have contributed.

Frazier has accelerated the development of a rebuilding team while turning major disruptions into nothing more than minor annoyances.

He is the first Vikings coach since Grant who can turn potential controversies into footnotes. Had Harvin screamed on the sideline at Childress or Tice, the story would have become a national talking point. With Frazier, the story withered on the vine.

Frazier is giving Wilf the competitive team he craves and the class organization he demands. He is winning games in December with a team considered a year or two away from contention. He and General Manager Rick Spielman are following a methodical blueprint that should lead to sustainable success.

January 22, 2012

Souhan: Perhaps Leslie Frazier is on the right track after all

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:57

The Vikings’ season is over, but the chatter carries on. Jim Souhan, however, looks at the surviving playoff contenders and draws an interesting conclusion:

An apology is required.

Yes, one may eventually be asked of Vikings coach Leslie Frazier for building a coaching staff filled with people who have either been demoted or have yet to prove they can succeed at their current jobs.

Today, though, let me be the one to offer the apology.

I’m sorry, Leslie, for questioning whether your vintage football philosophies could work in the modern world.

I’m sorry for questioning whether your vision of the bareknuckle 1985 Bears had skewed your perspective on the NFL in the Year of the Mayan Prophecy, when passes flew in NFL stadia like locusts in the Old Testament.

Whether your coaches and players will be good enough to win remains in doubt, but your philosophies will be on display all day Sunday, in the NFL’s conference championship games.

Three of the four remaining teams play black-and-white football in the age of 3D color. Sunday provides proof that Frazier’s vision of winning with a powerful running game and a stout defense doesn’t necessarily require that he undergo Lasik surgery.

December 8, 2011

What early Xmas gift can you give to your favourite NFL quarterback?

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:30

If you really want to have your team’s quarterback enjoy an early Christmas gift, there’s nothing better than setting up a date with the Minnesota Vikings pass defence: your quarterback’s stats will improve dramatically after just one game!

The Vikings head to Detroit to challenge the Lions’ fifth-ranked passing attack with a depleted secondary that’s been embarrassing the past seven games.

How embarrassing?

Well, for starters, it’s allowed quarterbacks to complete 71 percent of their passes with 18 touchdowns and no interceptions. And the Vikings have one of the best pass rushes in the league.

Of course, it doesn’t help that the Vikings have used four left cornerbacks, three free safeties and been forced to use nine different combinations in the secondary.

“We talked in depth about it the last couple of days and what we can do to try and help our guys on the back end,” Frazier said Wednesday. “We’ll try some things. You can only do what you can do, but we’ll try to offset what’s happening with some of the quarterbacks that we’re facing. This is a pass offense that we’re facing (on Sunday).

This week’s lucky recipient of a possibly career record passing game? None other than Detroit’s Matthew Stafford. Next week, it’ll be Drew Brees racking up a personal best passing performance for the New Orleans Saints.

November 28, 2011

Vikings fall short (again) against the Atlanta Falcons

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:27

Yesterday’s game had some great work by Percy Harvin, fewer rookie mistakes from Christian Ponder, and random guys pulled in off the street playing in the Vikings’ secondary. Okay, that last part isn’t quite true, but when you’re playing your fourth-best corner against the opponent’s number one receiver (at least, until he leaves the game with a shoulder injury), and your third-best safety (until he leaves the game with a hamstring pull), it’s going to be a long, long day for the defence.

In traditional Viking style, Harvin entered the record books, but not in a good way: his 104-yard kick return is almost certainly the longest in NFL history that didn’t conclude with a touchdown.


October 19, 2011

Vikings finally hand the keys to Christian Ponder

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:31

Most of the reaction to yesterday’s announcement that Christian Ponder will start the Vikings’ next game against the Green Bay Packers follows the same line: it’s about time. Ponder comes in with the team sitting at 1-5 and out of playoff contention. Green Bay, defending Super Bowl champs, are unbeaten this season. It’s a tall order for a rookie, but he clearly showed enough of a spark in last weekend’s disastrous outing against Chicago to get the nod to replace Donovan McNabb.

Dan Wiederer at the Star Tribune:

Truthfully, it was becoming awfully hard to find a risk-reward scenario that didn’t lead to Ponder replacing McNabb. As quarterback controversies go, this one sure seems clear-cut. For a Vikings squad whose 2011 season is going down in flames, the chance to develop a promising young quarterback far outweighs the value of possibly scratching out an extra two or three wins with an aging veteran whose contract will be up at season’s end.

It was quickly becoming a foregone conclusion that Ponder would start at some point this season. Frazier said as much Monday. So why delay the inevitable?

The Vikings head coach might say Wednesday he believes Ponder gives the Vikings the best chance to win now — this week and for the rest of 2011. But really, this is a prudent move designed to build toward a more promising future.

October 17, 2011

The Vikings’ litany of mistakes, miscues, and brain farts yesterday

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:52

October 10, 2011

Does a win keep Berrian and McNabb afloat for another week?

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

It must be bad if the home team is up 21 points and the fans in the stadium are still booing the starting quarterback. McNabb is a tough guy: he’s heard the boo-birds often enough in Philadelphia, but it must be hard to cope with this level of rejection at this stage of his career. Bernard Berrian was benched for this game and his replacement does more than enough to make a case for being his permanent replacement. Will this be the week that the team parts company with their under-productive number 1 receiver?

Tom Pelissero:

The Vikings raced to a 28-0 lead in the first 12½ minutes on Sunday in spite of McNabb, not because of him. They held on despite a remarkable series of misfires that drew boos and chants of “WE WANT PONDER!” from the first quarter to the fourth.

“I can’t worry about that,” McNabb said. “I don’t worry about it at all, because at the end of the day, they look up and they see a win.”

This win was all about a defense that was opportunistic and unrelenting, sacking Kevin Kolb four times and forcing four turnovers on a day top cornerback Antoine Winfield was sidelined with a neck strain.

The offense fizzled after first-quarter touchdown drives of 18, 24 and 25 yards set up by defense and special teams, plus a 73-yarder keyed by Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson’s 36-yard pass interference penalty. McNabb completed only 10 of 21 passes, nearly was intercepted twice and threw a handful of others into the ground.

October 9, 2011

Is this the beginning of the end for Bernard Berrian as a Viking?

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:56

Tom Pelissero has the story:

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Bernard Berrian was a surprise inactive for Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals at the Metrodome.

Cornerback Antoine Winfield also was inactive, but that doesn’t come as a surprise given that he did not practice last week because of a neck injury. Chris Kluwe, who was bothered by a hamstring injury and missed two days of practice last week, will handle the punting duties for the 0-4 Vikings.

Berrian was not listed on the injury report during the week and although he has only two receptions this season, the move almost certainly comes as punishment for Berrian’s exchange on Twitter last Sunday with Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove.

[. . .]

Frazier clearly was not pleased and made that clear on Monday.

“I have talked to Bernard and we do … matter of fact Bob (Hagan, the Vikings director of public relations) and some of our PR people actually talk with our team once we come to training camp,” Frazier said. “Just about social media and what our relationship should be with social media.

“It’s something we’ve talked about, something we’ll continue to deal with and talk about. Bernard kind of knows where we stand on that issue and we’ll move on from there. … We want to make sure that our focus is on football and trying to win football games. I think going forward he’ll handle things the right way.”

October 3, 2011

Time to consider a change at quarterback?

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:46

Tom Pelissero of ESPN1500.com reports after yesterday’s game in Kansas City.

September 25, 2011

Jim Souhan makes a subtle case for starting Christian Ponder

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:00

At least, that’s the way most Minnesota fans are going to read this little history lesson:

For those considering the Vikings a playoff contender, this week represents a severe test of Frazier’s abilities. For those with a more realistic view of this team, these losses could have been predicted. Even coaching legends lose early in their tenures.

Bill Belichick went 6-10 his first year, didn’t post a winning record until his fourth season, and didn’t win a Super Bowl title until his seventh, and then only after Tom Brady replaced injured Drew Bledsoe.

Tom Landry went 0-11-1 his first season and didn’t post a winning record until his seventh season. Chuck Noll went 1-13 his first season and didn’t post a winning record until his fourth season. Bill Walsh went 2-14 his first season, Jimmy Johnson 1-15.

Vikings history, too, suggests that becoming a head coach requires a learning curve. Norm Van Brocklin went 3-11 his first year. Bud Grant was 3-8-3. Les Steckel went 3-13, then Grant returned to go 7-9.

Mike Tice lost his first five games; Brad Childress went 6-10 his first season. Only Jerry Burns and Denny Green made immediate inroads. Burns went 9-7 in 1986 and didn’t suffer a losing record until 1990. Green assembled one of the best coaching staffs in recent NFL history — including Monte Kiffin, Tom Moore, Willie Shaw, Tyrone Willingham, John Michels, John Teerlinck and Tony Dungy — and went 11-5 after replacing Burns.

[. . .]

All those NFL coaching legends have two things in common: They lost early, and they looked much smarter after a young, future Hall of Famer started taking snaps.

April 29, 2011

The first round of the NFL draft

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:05

As I’ve said every year, the NFL draft is not a huge fascination for me because I don’t follow college football. I don’t know enough about any of the players, and after you’ve read two or three mock drafts, you know even less. Once the draft is over, you still won’t know whether your team was a big winner or a big loser in the draft . . . it really does take a few years to put perspective on it.

This year, the Vikings had the 12th pick in the draft and an immediate need for a quarterback, which meant they took Christian Ponder of Florida State. Joe Webb, who was a late-round draft choice last year got the chance to start a couple of games late in the season after Brett Favre was injured. He did fairly well, but he’s not widely considered ready to be a regular starter yet. Ponder will have a good chance to show what he can do in training camp (assuming that the labour situation is resolved fairly soon after the draft).

Here’s Judd Zulgad’s take on the Vikings’ draft choice:

Vikings executive Rick Spielman, coach Leslie Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave were among the members of the Vikings brass who spent a day-and-a-half with Christian Ponder last month in Tallahassee, Fla., putting the Florida State quarterback through various drills and evaluating his football smarts during a private workout.

“I thought the whole interview went great, the whole process,” Ponder said. “I was impressed by Musgrave and what he was doing on offense [and] Coach Frazier. I’m not sure how interested they were going to be, but I thought the whole process went well.”

[. . .]

While the Vikings could attempt to sign a veteran free agent to play in front of Ponder for a season, there also is the chance he will step in as the team’s starter. Frazier attempted to frame it as if Ponder will be competing with Joe Webb and Rhett Bomar for the job, but that’s a bit hard to believe considering the commitment the Vikings have made.

“I want it to still be an open competition with the guys that are on our roster,” Frazier said. “It will be those three. What happens with free agency? Who knows? We’ll eventually get to that point. But right now it’s a competition between those three and we’ll line up with the best guy when we get ready to line up against the Chargers [on Sept. 11 in the regular-season opener].”

In addition to a quarterback, the team has lots of other needs that could not be addressed in free agency, including both offensive and defensive linemen, linebacker, corner, safety, wide receiver, and tight end.

Update: Jim Souhan thinks that the jeering fans at the Winter Park draft party should give Spielman and Frazier a break:

The inebriated might wind up being right. Ponder might prove too fragile for the NFL and might become one of the many first-round quarterback busts in recent league history.

But this is one of those moments when it might be best to invest a little hope in the Vikings’ brain trust, because there is no greater thrill for the modern-day sports fan than to watch the development of a good, young quarterback, and there is no better template for winning than a coach and a young quarterback growing into their jobs together.

Let’s skip the usual draft-day analysis. It doesn’t matter whether the draft experts think the Vikings reached. Or think there were better quarterbacks available than Ponder. Or think there were better players at other positions available at No. 12.

Draft experts and NFL teams alike are often wrong, not because of a lack of due diligence but because projecting young quarterbacks is an inherently risky business.

[. . .]

What we know is this: Vikings coach Leslie Frazier was desperate to draft a quarterback who could lead his team, and he seemed very happy at the lectern late Thursday night.

Why not? This is a day for hope, and Ponder gives Vikings fans reason to do so.

The consensus: He’s smart, diligent and tough. His injuries gave his detractors reason to question him; the Vikings say they liked his toughness in trying to overcome them.

What we know for sure is that Frazier has tied his future to Ponder. So has personnel boss Spielman.

If Ponder develops into a star, Frazier and Spielman will be here a while. If he proves to be a bust, Zygi Wilf probably will be hiring a new personnel guru and coach within three years.

December 31, 2010

Mark Craig: Frazier and Webb are both keepers

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Star Tribune columnist Mark Craig thinks the biggest benefit to the Vikings from Tuesday’s game wasn’t the win, but the harbingers of the future:

Frazier is 3-2 with two road wins, the latter over a team that needed to win to secure a first-round bye. He also outcoached Andy Reid, one of the league’s best coaches, while holding the Vikings together through the most ridiculous of circumstances over the past three weeks.

Not knowing who the Wilfs have spoken to or feel they can get to coach the team full-time after this season makes it difficult to declare Frazier the man for the job. But I do not believe they will have a better candidate than the guy they have in place now.

The players respect him as a former player and an even-tempered professional. And obviously they’re willing to follow his lead. Otherwise, last night’s game never would have turned out the way it did.

And on the quarterback position:

As for Joe Webb, all I can say is Brett Favre’s streak of starts coming to an end was beneficial to the future of the franchise. It has allowed everyone to realize: A, Tarvaris Jackson is not the answer, nor will he ever be; and B, Joe Webb has what it takes to play quarterback in the NFL.

First of all, he has the size, athleticism, speed and arm strength. That allows him to be competent while learning how to play the position. Philly’s poor left end spent the whole game watching Webb dodge his pass rush and turn sacks into positive yardage. Secondly, he showed something in his first start that T-Jack never really showed in five seasons: He’s got a feel for the position and he won’t get hurt every time he’s touched.

Webb’s read and throw on the third-and-11 pass to Percy Harvin late in the game was beautiful. If converted a third down and buried the Eagles.

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