Friday, December 16, 2005

Why are the Vikings suddenly winning?

This article is from Roy S Johnson, a very good writer, unfortunately I think he missed with this one. He poses the question, since Brad Johnson has saved the Vikings, why not trade Daunte. This seems to be the easy and popular answer for the Vikings success. To this I say do some research into why the team is winning.

The easy answer is Brad Johnson, who on the surface is the most obvious difference in the Vikings’ 6-0 turnaround. Some in the media have even suggested that Johnson is the better long term answer for the Vikings. To the casual observer it makes for simple math. Daunte Culpepper struggles to a 2-5 start, and then suffers a season ending injury. Enter Johnson who wins six straight: A+B=C. Beyond the barroom logic and fuzzy math, there are several reasons for the Vikings turnaround.

Let’s start with an easy answer for the Vikes 180.The schedule for the first seven games included losses to Tampa Bay, at Cincinnati, at Atlanta, at Chicago and at Carolina. Four teams leading their divisions, plus playoff contender Atlanta all with a combined record of 45-18 (.71 winning percentage).

Since the low point in Carolina, the Vikings have won versus Detroit, at New York Giants, at Green Bay, versus Cleveland, at Detroit and versus St. Louis. A whopping 25-40 record and .38 winning percentage is helpful when breaking out of a slump. Quite simply the Vikings have won all the games they were supposed to plus a big road win against the Giants.

The next point starts with Culpepper’s play. It is a fact that he was struggling and threw for more interceptions in six and a half (12) than either of the past two seasons (11). Johnson conversely has two in basically the same time frame. That is significant and there’s no doubt Culpepper struggled, but an important question is why? Here’s a clue; it wasn’t Randy Moss. Entering 2005 Minnesota had new personnel in many important places. New receivers Travis Taylor, Troy Williamson and Koren Robinson all took time to create rapport with their quarterback, plus incumbent Culpepper favorites Nate Bureleson and Moe Williams were injured early in the season, leaving Culpepper with few comfortable options. The offensive line, a strength in past seasons, was in flux after losing Matt Birk (injury) and David Dixon (retirement). They were replaced by career backup Cory Withrow and rookie Marcus Johnson. To make matters worse, former offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Scott Linehan’s duties were split among three coaches. The communication errors led to delay of game penalties, wrong personnel and burnt timeouts. All of these ingredients combined to create a cocktail of discomfort for Culpepper, who in turn pressed and forced bad plays. On top of this was his physical discomfort in the form an injured knee from week one.

The Week 8 loss to Carolina marked the point of despair for the Vikings. For a playoff favorite, that had lost their Pro Bowl quarterback and was now 2-5, the season appeared lost. Brad Johnson has done a lot of things right for the Vikings since then. To say he is the sole reason for the turnaround is inaccurate.

The offensive line has been more consistent, keeping Johnson in the pocket and off his back. The play calling, once clumsy and inefficient was simplified. Newcomers like Koren Robinson have stepped up at receiver. Probably the most credit should go to the defense. At one point the defensive line suffered such attrition that the team switched to a 3-4 just to have enough able bodies on the field. Thanks to the emergence of rookie lineman Erasmus James and C.J. Mosely the team reverted to a 4-3 and the turnovers soon followed.

Had Johnson entered a lineup as the only modification with the same results, then he deserves a lot of credit, much the way Tom Brady and Kurt Warner emerged. Johnson deserves credit for taking care of the ball and keeping the Vikings in every game. But let’s not get carried away, he’s not going to throw for 300 yards or be a quarterback that defenses will scheme for. This turnaround was a complete team effort and should be viewed that way.