Sunday, September 23, 2012

Trailing Clouds of Heaven: Vikings 24, 49ers 13

Vikings-49ers Box Score (ESPN)

All my euphoric yelling and dancing got taken care of during this game. Now it's time to try step back. How did this just happen?

The Viking defense is way, way better at home
If you watched this game as a Viking fan, you sweated out the whole fourth quarter. But if you somehow were able to watch this game objectively knowing nothing about either team, you would have thought it was the 49er offense that was totally inept: mistake-prone, lacking playmakers, unable to hit big plays or sustain a drive, lacking chemistry and timing. I worried going into this game that the Viking offense would look like it just had no chance, but it was the 49er offense that looked that way.

The Vikings had a steady pass rush (I'm not concerned with how often the Vikings have hurried the QB but missed the sack this season--that happens, and if they keep up the pressure, they'll keep disrupting the opponent). They tackled well (very few yards after the catch in my immediate recall). They played better on third down (49ers went 4-10). They got out of bad spots (like after the long kickoff return). They forced turnovers. I can't think of anything you'd want from the Viking defense that they didn't provide today.

The Metrodome is not a place teams should want to see on their schedule this season. And if the Viking defense can play like that on the road, the Vikings will be a team that can compete with anybody this season.

Christian Ponder is sort of good
He avoided pass rushers. He consistently hit pass catchers in the hands. He led long, sustained drives. He ran effectively. He faced down a good, steady defense, and played well.

There are two concerns to Ponder's game that he showed today: a quick tendency to scramble to the sideline even when it seems there is time to step into the pocket, and a tendency to float passes high over the middle of the field. Today these tendencies didn't hurt him--they actually helped him (they could have hurt him).

But the Vikings may have a legitimately good quarterback with a long career in front of him. They really might.

The opening drive fourth down pass
Last week Brian Billick had a one-way argument for taking field goals instead going for it on fourth down in the red zone. What if you go for it and fail, he said, then lose by two? He never asked, what if you kick the field goal instead of going for it, and then lose by two?

Well the Vikings did the thing today that is both gutsy and statistically wise: they drove down the field and went for it on 4th and goal from the one. And the play-action pass was a good play call. And it was well-executed by Ponder and Kyle Rudolph. The Vikes went up 7-0 instead of 3-0, and it wasn't long into the first half that it was clear the Vikings simply had control of this game.

The Vikings might be good
The Vikings played their strongest opponent of the year, and won their most decisive game. Jim Harbaugh could have been granted an infinite number of timeouts, and the Vikings still had control of the 49ers. They are 2-1 (2-0 at home), and just might be a better team than we thought.

2-1 after beating a team considered the NFC's best. I ask you, when was the last time you could feel this good about a Viking victory? When was the last time you could feel this good about the Vikings?

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