The irony of Vikings fans seemingly resigning themselves to Donovan McNabb's benching after a 39-10 thrashing in his hometown of Chicago is that Sunday night might have actually been his best game of the season.
The NFL's passer rating says it was his best performance – he finished at 97.4, almost 10 points higher than any previous game. Still, with McNabb having only a one-year contract and the Vikings looking to get a better read on rookie Christian Ponder, the move seems inevitable. The quarterback position is a problem, but it far from the only one, especially after the mauling the Bears put on Minnesota.
Here is a look at what else needs fixing:
Offensive line: Adrian Peterson never really had a chance to get going or take advantage of the 28th-ranked rushing defense in the NFL. But the offensive line proved it still has worked to do in pass protection. Vikings quarterbacks were hit eight times and McNabb was sacked five times. Part of the issue was the injuries that cropped up early in the third quarter. Pat Brown played the entire second half for Phil Loadholt (bruised knee) at right tackle and struggled when Chicago's defensive linemen had no other responsibility other than to rush the passer. Then, on the opening drive of the second half, center John Sullivan took a shot to his helmet from Lance Briggs and crumbled with a concussion.
McNabb's final two series emphasized the issue. He was sacked four of the six times he dropped to pass, and both series ended with three-and-out efforts. The first sack came when Julius Peppers used an inside move to quickly lose left tackle Charlie Johnson. One play later, McNabb held the ball too long and defensive tackle Amobi Okoye got to him on third down. On the next series, Peppers pushed down McNabb after he held the ball too long again, and on third down Israel Idonije got past Pat Brown at right tackle to end a second straight Vikings series with a third-down sack.
"I didn't see a lack of effort, but we were not nearly as physical up front on either the offensive line or the defensive line as we needed to be. That is unexplainable," Frazier said. "That's what we kind of pride ourselves on, our O-line and our D-line, particularly our defensive line really being the force to drive our defense. We were not the most physical group out there last night. And that's a concern."
Dropped passes: While some of the blame can be placed on McNabb, his receivers didn't help him early in the game. On the Vikings' initial third down, tight end Visanthe Shiancoe dropped a pass he could have had, despite it being a bit behind him and high. On the next series, Bernard Berrian dropped a third-down pass that the hit him perfectly in stride.
Approach to the pass rush: The Bears came into Sunday night's game with all kinds of questions on their offensive line. Rookie first-round pick Gabe Carimi was ruled out on Friday and Chicago was switching linemen around looking for an answer. The answer for Jay Cutler was more blockers to protect him and it worked. The Vikings had only one sack on Cutler – from Jared Allen – and Cutler found plenty of time to wait for his receivers. On the biggest offensive play of the night, a 48-yard touchdown to Devin Hester, the Bears had eight players in to protect against the Vikings' five-man rush, and a two-man advantage in protection was the norm all night long.
"They did a lot of chipping with Jared early on. We didn't win the one-on-ones at other positions from what I was able to see," Frazier said. "If they're going to bring a tight end or back over to chip him, that leaves somebody else one on one. We were not winning those one-on-ones."
The 29-point loss left defensive end Brian Robison a descriptor like "humiliating" and others calling it "embarrassing."
"For me personally, as a starter, that's the first game we've been straight maxed pro'd almost the whole game," Robison said. "The only time they went really five-man, six-man blocks was right there at the end of the first half in the two-minute drill. We were getting in his face. I think they made a decision after that they couldn't block us with five, so they just left seven in."
Secondary concerns: While the defensive line couldn't generate much of a pass rush with extra blockers, the secondary left receivers unchallenged much of the night, and no one was a victim more than cornerback Cedric Griffin. A player that just two years ago was in the conversation for fastest player on the team could only watch as Devin Hester pulled away from him on the Bears' first touchdown, a play in which Husain Abdullah's bad angle on the pass only contributed to the woes. Hester beat Griffin again in the second quarter for a 23-yard pass play, and Griffin looked passive on a 19-yard reception to Johnny Knox before that.
"He's had a tough few weeks, and we need him to play better in order for us to improve as a defense and as a team. But he's one of those guys we've got to get to come and come fast if he's going to help our team win," Frazier said.
"He played well last week against Arizona. He did a good job in that ballgame. We really thought that he had turned the corner physically, but he's had some up and down moments over the course of this season so we've got to continue to look at where he is and what he's doing and see how we can help him and whether we can help him and just continue to evaluate his progress."
Special teams breakdown: Perhaps most surprising among the breakdowns Sunday night were those made on special teams. Ryan Longwell missed a 38-yard field goal wide left, his second miss this season and second in as many games. Chris Kluwe, coming off one of the better games of his career, had a net punting average of only 31.8 yards, more than 15 yards shorter than the previous game against the Arizona Cardinals. And punt return Marcus Sherels fielded two punts that ended inside the 10-yard line, including a fair catch on the 5-yard line.
"We like to get our feet at about 8 yards and not have to back up unless he feels that he may have a chance to down the ball inside the 5," Fraizer said. "But we're really coached to let that ball go over our heads and take a chance that it might go out of the end zone and become a touchback. Marcus will get better as time goes on."
Frazier knows the big decision ahead of him is at the quarterback position, which is why he addressed the pending pronouncement at the outset of his Monday press conference. But he also knows not much else went right, either, on Sunday night.
"We really didn't play well in any phase (Sunday night). We weren't able to stop them on defense, passing, and just couldn't really get anything going offensively. Just the big play on special teams, just a disappointing night for our football team."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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