Monday, October 15, 2012

Coming Off the Ledge – Part Two: No red zone threats leads to field goals

To read Pacifist Viking's take on the Vikings 38-26 loss, click here.

I'm not terribly alarmed by the Vikings loss to Washington on Sunday. I kind of sensed it would happen. The stars just weren't aligned for a victory. The Vikings had won three straight at FedEx Field. Washington had lost eight straight homes games. And there isn't much separating either team at this point in the season.

The Vikings started this game very strong, though. The defense induced a three-and-out and intercepted a Robert Griffin III pass in Washington's first two drives. Minnesota's offense was clicking as well. Twice the Vikings had a first-and-10 inside Washington's 20 yard line and once they had a first-and-10 at Washington's 10 yard line. This all occurred in the first quarter. Each drive ended in a Blair Walsh field goal.

That's better than nothing. But if the Vikings had been able to punch, say, two of those three drives in the end zone, we might be reveling in a fourth straight win and a 5-1 record for our favorite team.

One big reason the Vikings couldn't turn those opportunities into touchdowns is because the team has no wide receiver who can get open down there. Vikings fans like to say that Percy Harvin can do it all. That's not true. Harvin is not a red zone threat. He's not 6'2 or more, so Christian Ponder can't throw him fades in the corner of the end zone. And down inside the opponent's 20 yard line, where real estate is dear, those bubble screens to him are less effective because there are just too many bodies for Harvin to sift through.

Kyle Rudolph is a legit red zone threat because of his 6'6 height and big hands. But he's not the most sudden athlete. He's going to outjump, outmuscle and outposition defenders rather than beat them with quickness. It also doesn't help that Michael Jenkins, Devin Aromashodu and Stephen Burton don't scare anyone and can't influence coverages on their own – so opposing defenses can scheme to take away Rudolph without worrying that someone else will make them pay for it.

As Tom Pelissero notes in this post, Minnesota's offense had been surprisingly effective scoring touchdowns in the red zone during their first five games.That success doesn't mean it wasn't a weakness, however, and against Washington that weakness haunted the Vikings. If the Vikings are up 17-0 or 21-0 - even in the first quarter - that could have influenced how the Washington offense approached their playcalling. They may have felt they had to abandon the run, and that would have done away with all the fake handoffs and option-type stuff that had the Vikings defense confused and off kilter the following three quarters. It may have forced Washington to call slower developing pass plays, rather than the quick slants it favored. It may have forced RGIII to hold onto the ball longer while waiting for those slower developing routes to materialize, which Jared Allen and company would have liked very much. In short, a 17-0 or 21-0 deficit might have made RGIII and the Washington offense more one dimensional and easier to defend.

This is a problem that isn't going away, either. Jerome Simpson, the Vikings de facto deep threat, hasn't made much of an impact due to a suspension and a troublesome back injury. Rookie Jarius Wright is a slot guy in the Harvin mold and has yet to dress for a game. And you know what you've got with Jenkins, Aromashodu and Burton, and it isn't a deep threat. This is a problem that won't be rectified until 2013 at the earliest.

For five games, one of the Vikings glaring weaknesses wasn't exposed. Against Washington it was. Let's hope it's the first and last time.             


  1. The playcalling was awful as well. Putting aside the inexplicable decision to run Gerhart up the middle on 3rd & 4 on the third drive (a playcall that said "we prefer to kick a FG"), Pelissero said on Twitter that Harvin wasn't even on the field for 5 of the 9 plays in the Red Zone those first three drives. It makes no sense to take out Harvin, even with his weaknesses. He's the only receiver besides Rudolph that defenses are going to worry about, and leaving him on the sideline means even more of a focus on Rudolph.

    1. TBird:

      Agreed. It's gotten better, but I continue to be exasperated when I see Harvin catch a pass, make a guy miss, break two tackles, and run over a defender or two for a first down, then look to the sidelines and jog to the sidelines for a play or three on coaches orders - especially when they get inside the opponent's 20. I never see the guy breathing hard, and as a 24-year-old pro football player he should be extremely fit, so why are you taking him out? The guy is a TD waiting to happen every single fucking time he gets the ball in his hands.

  2. At the risk of generating some eye rolls, why not put Webb I'm there in the red zone as a receiver. Guy's got the size and vertical to at least be taken seriously.


    1. Jianfu:

      I have no visual evidence, but I read several times last year that the Vikings tried using Webb as a WR and his hands are terrible, so they abandoned it.