Jackson's improvement needs to show

The Vikings proclaimed an improved and more confident Tarvaris Jackson throughout the offseason, but his performance Monday night didn't show it. Jackson was especially disappointed with an interception that ended the team's hopes.

The Vikings devoted considerable time throughout the preseason publicly stating how much improvement they've seen and expect from quarterback Tarvaris Jackson entering his second full season as the starter.

And then he promptly passed for 16 yards in the first half of a 24-19 loss at Green Bay in the season opener, bringing a new round of criticism and questions about whether Jackson can lead the Vikings to the playoffs and beyond.

Jackson was the clear-cut No. 1 question mark for a Vikings team that entered the season with high aspirations. The Vikings can only hope Jackson's inconsistency against the Packers was simply a product of first-game nerves and not a signal of something else entirely.
This much is for certain: he'll need to perform at a higher level if the Vikings hope to avoid an 0-2 start with the Indianapolis Colts coming to the Metrodome.

Jackson completed only 16 of 35 passes for 178 yards with one touchdown and one interception and a subpar 59.0 passer rating. He rushed for a career-high 65 yards on nine carries, but with the game on the line in the final minutes, he overthrew tight end Visanthe Shiancoe badly and it resulted in a game-ending interception.

"I felt like when our defense stopped them and we got the ball back there was no doubt in my mind that we were going to win that football game," Jackson said. "Obviously we didn't because of the interception.

It was just too wide open for me not to complete that pass."
The Vikings have other areas of concern heading into the Colts game. Left tackle Artis Hicks, who is filling in for the suspended Bryant McKinnie, suffered a right elbow injury and had limited participation in practice on Wednesday.

Backup right tackle Marcus Johnson replaced Hicks for most of the second half, even though he has never played left tackle in the NFL. That situation has reached the critical stage as the Vikings prepare to face Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney.

The Vikings defense must correct breakdowns that resulted in a few critical big plays. The defense gave up a 56-yard reception to Greg Jennings and a 57-yard run by Ryan Grant. Both plays led to touchdowns.
The Vikings gave up a 76-yard punt return for a touchdown to Will Blackmon and also were penalized nine times.

So there are plenty of things to correct this week.

"Back to the drawing board," Vikings coach Brad Childress said.


The biggest question on the offensive is where Marcus Johnson was pressed into duty at left tackle in the second half last week after emergency starter Artis Hicks suffered a right elbow injury. Hicks, a backup guard, is filling in for Bryant McKinnie, who was suspended for the first four games for violating the league's personal conduct policy.

The team doesn't believe Hicks' injury is too serious, but if he cannot play — or be effective — Johnson will have to step in again. Johnson has played exclusively on the right side, at both guard and tackle, in his four-year NFL career.

He did an adequate job against Green Bay, but Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney is a difficult matchup for even experienced left tackles.

Tight end Garrett Mills got little work in during the preseason because of a high ankle sprain, but he was an important part of the offense in the opener. Mills was the team's leading receiver in the opener with three catches for 49 yards and was used in different roles. He split out wide as a receiver in one set. Coach Brad Childress said they would to get mismatches with either a strong safety or linebacker in those situations. Mills is versatile enough to line up in the backfield as an H-back.

  • CB Marcus McCauley, who played in all 16 games last season, including nine starts, was inactive in the opener. Childress said a knee injury in training camp set him back and that the ability of other backup defensive backs to play special teams played a part. McCauley started the 2007 season as a nickel back but he's now fighting just to be active on game days.

  • RB Chester Taylor got five carries, three catches and one kickoff return. Coach Brad Childress said that is an appropriate number of touches for Adrian Peterson's backup.

  • Kickoff returner Maurice Hicks, who is the No. 3 running back, returned to practice after missing all of last week because of a foot injury. Chester Taylor and Aundrae Allison returned kickoffs in his absence.

  • LB Chad Greenway was used in almost every nickel situation in the opener. Greenway and Ben Leber alternated coming out of the game last season when the defense brought in an extra defensive back.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 1,250 — Career points for Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell, which puts him 25th on the NFL's career scoring list.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "The sense of urgency has to go up. You look at that (Packers) game, the big plays that they had. But we had the ball with two minutes left to win it. In the NFL that's what these games are going to come down to. You don't see a whole lot of blowouts. But again, it's all self-inflicted wounds." — Defensive end Jared Allen in his team's mindset after losing the opener at Green Bay.

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