To read Pacifist Viking's take on the Minnesota Viking's glorious beatdown of the Houston Texans, click here.
It's difficult for me to remember a Vikings road win where the team was as dominant as they were in beating a quality opponent like the Texans last Sunday. The 41-17 victory in 2007 over the New York Giants and the 35-14 pelting of the Arizona Cardinals both come to mind. Whatever. The victory in Houston was a road win and it came when the Vikings needed to have it – something this franchise hasn't been able to pull off much the past decade or so.
The Vikings players, of course, deserve full marks for that win. However, this was also the fourth game in a row where the Vikings have looked like the better prepared and better coached team. If not for Christian Ponder's two brutal interceptions in the Green Bay red zone at Lambeau a month ago, the Vikings could be playing for an NFC North title this Sunday instead of a Wild Card berth.
Two coaches that deserve a round of applause for the win against the Texans include defensive coordinator Alan Williams and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.
Let's start with some praise for Williams. Against Houston, and against the Rams the previous week, Williams recognized he was facing a stationary QB who was not comfortable throwing under duress. I've watched every minute of every Vikings game this year. This is not a team that likes to blitz, nor is it very good at it. But Williams sent his linebackers, and occasionally his cornerbacks and safeties, at Houston's Matt Schaub – usually on second-and-third-and-long situations.
Williams didn't blitz liberally. He picked his spots. But when he did pick them, the blitzes got home quite often and forced Schaub to throw earlier than he wanted to or from a spot on the field he didn't want to. This tactic is not something the Texans would have had a lot of film on from the Vikings D. But Williams wasn't content to sit back in the Cover Two and rush four all game. He knew that besides Andre Johnson and tight end Owen Daniels, the Texans don't have any pass catchers who can hurt you. Facing a team that doesn't have a variety of targets you must focus on makes blitzing a not-very-mobile QB a much sounder strategy for the Vikings (and something they probably won't do against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers this Sunday).
Musgrave also called a nice game against a tough Houston defense. He continued to be committed to running the ball, even when it wasn't working all that well. But Musgrave wasn't stubborn about it. Ponder did end up throwing the ball 30 times. And many of those throws came on first and second downs when you thought the Vikings were better off handing it to #28 – Adrian Peterson.
Musgrave seems to have figured out – after almost two years running the Vikings offense – what his players can and cannot do. And let's be honest here, there is a lot they can't do. But he knows the bootleg plays with Ponder rolling out and throwing to a tight end or back in the flat works as long as the Vikings don't run them too much. That's the effect Peterson is having on defenses right now. Musgrave also knows there is no point throwing anything deep to Michael Jenkins or Jerome Simpson. The can't get separation from defenders. So when the Vikings do take a deep shot lately, it's mostly been to rookie Jarius Wright or Devin Aromashodu (OK, I don't understand that one, either). Musgrave is also designing pass plays that have Ponder getting rid of the ball quickly, so the second-year QB doesn't have to think too much, can make one or two reads and if the throw isn't there, he takes off and runs or throws it (hopefully) away. It's a limited offensive gameplan. But it's the only one the Vikings can run with the WRs the have have and the QB they have. And they've been running it so much that they are getting pretty good at it, even when the opposing defenses know what is coming.
This coaching competence goes beyond Musgrave and Williams, too. From quarterback coach Craig Johnson, to special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, to linebackers coach Fred Pagac, it's difficult to finger a positional unit against Houston that was not on its game last Sunday. Credit for that has to go to the Vikings coaching staff.
I don't know what gameplans the head coach Leslie Frazier, Williams, Musgrave and the rest of the coaching staff will cook up with a playoff berth at stake against the Packers on Sunday. But I do feel pretty confident that the gameplans they do develop will be sound ones, that they will make the best use of the talent the Vikings have in place, and that the players trust the coaching staff enough that they will buy into it and believe the gameplans will put them in a position to succeed against a good Green Bay team.
It's been a while since I felt that way about a Vikings coaching staff. Right now, I have that feeling.