Good to be back after a crazy Holiday season! My wife's family was in town for Christmas eve, and my parents and sister joined them on Christmas morning, when we informed them that we're expecting a baby on July 1, 2008! The news of Baby Fiscal '09 (my wife is an accountant) brought tears of joy and hugs - the highlight of an emotional week. I also had Lasik on the 22nd, in order to spend the last 2 grand of my health plan's Flex dollars, and very nearly had major knee reconstruction surgery on the 28th. I'm getting donated tissue, and it didn't quite match - we'll have to wait until January.
In the midst of all this, the Vikings took us on their typical emotional roller-coaster. How many times have they played just well enough to give us hope, before falling flat in the big game? So consistent - makes you proud to be a fan!
Obviously, a lot of the blame is going to be directed at Tarvaris Jackson, and much of it will be deserved. He should have cost us the Bears game, and did cost us the Redskins game, where solid play would have resulted in a playoff berth. However, he certainly played well enough to force overtime in the Denver game, and deserved to win it in regulation. After all, it's not his fault Chester fumbled at the pylon, or Troy Williamson dropped a sure long touchdown. Had Troy made that catch, Jackson's QB rating for the game likely would have been around 100 - a good game for sure!
The last three games may color the evaluation of Jackson too much. His overall record as a starter was 8-4. Even with his putrid performances against Chicago and the 'Skins, his total numbers over the last 7 games were pretty good:
120/184 (65.2%) for 1311 yards, 7 TDs, 7 INTs
for an average of:
17/26 for 187 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 89.8 avg QB rating
If Williamson hauls in that long pass on Sunday, his average yds/game is 197.4, and his average rating is solidly in the 90s. His .712 winning percentage over that stretch would be sufficient for at least an 11-win season over 16 games.
He was certainly uneven in his performance in 2007. He had four bad games (rating < 65) in which he went 1-3, four decent games (65 < rating > 90) in which he went 4-0, and four good games (rating > 90) in which he went 3-1. Hopefully, with a full season under his belt, he can turn 1-2 of the bad games into decent games, and 1-2 of the decent games into good games. Either way, with the running game/defense the Vikings have, he should be able to steer the team to 10-11 wins next season, especially if the Vikes make the right moves this off-season.
With the emergence of Adrian Peterson, the Vikes have two stud running backs. Personally, I think if Peterson gets 25-30 carries a game, he's going to rack up 100+ yards every time. Mewelde Moore can spell him for a few plays here and there. So Chester Taylor becomes expendable for the Vikes, but a very valuable trade item for some other team. I'd like to see the Vikes move him for a tight end of comparable ability/experience, or a high (20-50 overall) draft pick.
The two biggest weaknesses with the 2007 Vikes were pass offense and defense. At this point it looks like they'll be making the 19th overall pick in the 2008 draft. The latest Scout's Inc. prospect rankings on ESPN.com show lots of nice defensive players in that neighborhood: OLBs Keith Rivers (USC) and Dan Connor (Penn State), and CB Mike Jenkins (S. Florida). There are also two wide receivers around there in Limas Sweed (Texas) and Early Doucet III (LSU). Any of those guys would be good choices for the team's needs.
But I think the biggest upgrade the Vikes need to make is at tight end. With an offense so geared toward the run, it's essential that our starting TE be a downfield receiving threat in addition to a good blocker. With defensive coordinators scheming 9-man fronts against us the last few weeks, the running attack was stymied. The Vikes could burn that game plan by having a guy who could slip out of his block and pick up yards down field.
But, in 2007, the Vikes didn't get much production from the TE position. Shiancoe, Kleinsasser, Dugan, and Mills combined for 40 catches for 449 yards and 1 TD. That's a per/game average of 2.5 catches for 28 yards. In all the NFL, only Seattle, Arizona, Detroit and Cincinnati had less production from the TEs. Since WR also isn't a very strong position for the Vikes' offense, it's especially important to get some production out of the tight end.
There isn't a sure-fire 1st-round TE in this year's draft class, though John Carlson (Notre Dame), Fred Davis (USC) and Martin Rucker (Missouri) could all go by the end of the second. There are also some possible under-classmen who might declare for the draft. The Vikes should be able to pick up a quality player here, particularly if they trade Taylor for a draft pick.
Cheer up Vikings fans - the team is on an upswing, despite the short-comings in December. If the team can show the sort of improvement in 2008 they showed in 2007, they should be able to win 10-11 games and compete for the division title, or at least be in the mix for the wild card again.
Then we'll be all set up for disappointment in January!