REPORT CARD AFTER 4 GAMES
PASSING OFFENSE: D — QB Tarvaris Jackson got off to a good start in a 24-3 opening week victory over Atlanta (13 of 23 for 163 yards with one touchdown and one interception), but since then it has been all downhill. Jackson threw four interceptions in a loss at Detroit before suffering a strained groin. Veteran Kelly Holcomb replaced Jackson in the two games before the bye and threw one touchdown pass as the Vikings lost to Kansas City and Green Bay. The Vikings have made changes at quarterback, receiver and tight end, and yet little seems to be different about this aspect of the offense from 2006. It hasn't helped matters that Holcomb was sacked nine times in his two starts and the offensive line still seems to be struggling with the zone-blocking scheme. WR Bobby Wade, a free agent addition during the offseason, leads the team with 15 catches for 173 yards.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus — Rookie RB Adrian Peterson has proven himself to be the Vikings' one true playmaker on offense so far this season. RB Chester Taylor, who rushed for 1,216 yards and six touchdowns in his first year with the Vikings in 2006, suffered a hip injury in the opening game and missed the next two games. That opened the door for Peterson to carry much of the workload, and he did not disappoint. He is among the NFL's leading rushers with 383 yards on 76 carries and one touchdown and also has nine receptions for 166 yards and a 60-yard score. Every time Peterson touches the ball, he is capable of providing a big play. That's what made it so hard to understand why he got only two carries in the second half against Green Bay. Yes, Taylor needs to get work, but Peterson provides a big-time threat on an offense that is otherwise lacking in firepower. There are concerns about Peterson's ability as a pass-blocker, but the Vikings need to find ways to get him on the field.
PASS DEFENSE: C-minus — Not much has changed in this area under first-year coordinator Leslie Frazier. As was the case with Mike Tomlin, the Vikings have proven to be very good against the run and below average versus the pass. This continues to be in partially caused by a lack of consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Vikings had 10 sacks in their first two games but only two in the past two contests. The Lions and Packers both attacked the Vikings through the air; Detroit had 393 yards passing in Week 2 and Green Bay had 344 yards passing in Week 4. Teams are going after second-year CB Cedric Griffin and rookie Marcus McCauley, who plays a corner in the nickel. The Vikings assigned veteran Antoine Winfield to help cover the Packers' Donald Driver in Week 4, and they could try to get Winfield matched up against top receivers. Nonetheless, it appears that teams with the personnel to spread out the Vikings defense will continue to do so.
RUSH DEFENSE: A-minus — Many teams are operating under the same assumption they did last year: that they can't run against the Vikings, so they don't even try. This is in large part because DTs Kevin and Pat Williams remain a dominant inside combination. By going to the pass, opponents not only help to neutralize the two Pro Bowl players but get Pat Williams off the field because he's not used in passing situations. The Packers, for instance, attempted only 20 runs and threw the ball 45 times. Detroit ran the ball all of 21 times and threw it on 56 occasions. At this rate, the Vikings rush defense will end up ranked No. 1 in the NFL simply because teams won't even test it to see if yards can be made.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B — This is an area where the Vikings definitely seem to be improved over 2006. The Vikings' 26.8-yard average on kickoff returns is ranked seventh in the NFL and is due in part to Peterson being used on occasion. Punter Chris Kluwe has been exceptional, averaging 44.5 gross yards and 37.8 net yards; he tied a team record with five punts inside the 20-yard line in the opener and broke the team record in Week 2 for gross average (57.5), kicking the ball four times for 230 yards. Ryan Longwell has made six of seven field-goal attempts, and his kickoffs have been consistently deeper; his only miss was a heartbreaker, however. It came with seven seconds left with the score tied in Detroit when his 52-yarder hit the left upright. The Lions won 20-17 in overtime.
COACHING: D — Same old, same old. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has taken over the play-calling from Brad Childress, and although Bevell seems willing to take more down-the-field shots, not much has changed when it comes to generating points. After scoring 24 in a Week 1 victory over Atlanta, the Vikings haven't put up 20 in a game since. The refusal to use top play-maker Peterson in some key situations has been, to put it kindly, hard to figure. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, meanwhile, has faced the same challenges as his predecessor, Mike Tomlin, trying to figure out how to stop the pass on a more consistent basis and thus force teams to rush the ball more often against the Vikings' outstanding run defense.
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