We'll find out in the next few days the extent to which Brad Childress has the confidence of owner Zygi Wilf. At a time when the NFC has become completely up for grabs and teams that were once viewed as dominant have been humbled, if any major changes are typically made, they often come during the bye week.
The Vikings had a chance Sunday to dig themselves out of the hole they had created by starting 0-2. With a win, the Vikings would have had a share of the lead in the NFC North with the Packers and been heading into the bye week with the top three teams in the North. Instead, the Vikings find themselves a game behind both Chicago and Green Bay with a loss head-to-head with both of them.
Sunday's loss was particularly painful because it was a reprise of what has been wrong with the Vikings all season – play well enough to win, but dig yourself a hole thanks to key mistakes. Once again, the special teams came back to haunt the Vikings, allowing two more touchdowns to bring the season total to five. While a coach can blame injuries or ineffectiveness for problems on offense or defense, the same isn't true for special teams. By and large, special teams are selected by the coaching staff and, unlike offense or defense, if things don't work, there are plenty of candidates to bring in and make changes because, technically, any of the 53 players on the roster can be used on special teams.
The Vikings' most recent stumble comes at a time when the NFC has been flipped on its head. With both the Redskins and Cowboys losing to St. Louis over the last two games, the NFC East no longer looks dominating. The Giants got blown out last Monday by the lowly Browns to take some of the shine off of the start to their season, and the Cowboys have lost three of the last four games to sit at 4-3 through seven games. Suddenly the balance of power has shifted to the NFC South, where both Carolina and Tampa Bay are 5-2 and the Falcons are on their bye week with a 4-2 record.
The Vikings find themselves in a similar situation to last season – sub-.500 at 3-4 through seven games and looking up at both the division race and the wild card chase. The difference is that last year's team didn't have Jared Allen, Bernard Berrian or Madieu Williams. Granted, this year's team hasn't had Williams, either (or Thomas Tapeh, who proved to be a colossal waste of time and money), but this was a team that was vastly improved via the trade for Allen and the free-agent signing of Berrian. Both of them have done their jobs – Allen has changed how offenses scheme their blocking and Berrian is on pace to almost double the yardage team leader Bobby Wade posted last season. They have contributed. Still, the Vikings struggle and don't have the look of a playoff team.
If Wilf was quick with the trigger, it would be time for Childress to be on his version of the Kluwe Watch. While fingers can be pointed at players and units like the special teams, the head coach is under the same sort of scrutiny. With the talent the Vikings have, they should be better than 3-4. Are the players solely responsible? No. The offense was hamstrung by conservative play-calling early when Tarvaris Jackson was in and the coaching staff has been so preoccupied with not being embarrassed on special teams that they have only made the situation worse. Players are trying to do too much and, in the end, make even more mistakes because of the climate of paranoia that seems to pervade the special teams.
For those fans who want to see Childress go, don't hold your breath. The odds of Wilf stepping in with a dismissal for Chilly aren't likely to come during the bye week. But unless things change in a hurry, when the season ends, he made feel the swift hand of Wilf justice with the same sort of speed that Mike Tice did when he was fired within minutes of his post-game press conference after the final game of the 2005 season.
Commentary: Improved personnel, not wins
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