The 2011 Minnesota Vikings opened up their preseason schedule in Nashville, TN, taking on the Tennessee Titans. The similarities between both teams heading into the opener on Saturday night was freakishly intriguing. Both teams traded for veteran quarterbacks shortly following a collective bargaining agreement between the NFL owners and players union.
The Vikings removed the interim label from head coach Leslie Frazier's title and the Titans decided to promote offensive line coach Mike Munchak, who helped produce Chris Johnson's breakout season in 2009.
The similarities on the field were nowhere near what they looked like on paper heading into the game. The Tennessee Titans looked like a shell of what they normally look like in the preseason under coach Jeff Fisher. They were without their best players, Chris Johnson and Kenny Britt. Even so, veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck picked apart Minnesota on his only drive of the game.
The seventh overall pick in the 2011 draft, Washington Husky Jake Locker performed brilliantly, hitting Yamon Figurs for a 45-yard touchdown pass to give Tennessee a lead it would never relinquish. After that, Tennessee's defense was the only thing that resembled professional football in Nashville on Saturday.
Joe Webb took every snap with the intention of breaking towards the first hole that opened up in his pass-blocking. He literally scrambled on every pass play that broke down. Then the savior, the man who is supposed to solve Minnesota's quarterbacking situation for good (well, maybe in a couple years) enters the game.
Christian Ponder looked rushed, panicked and anything but ready for the NFL. He did settle down after a few startled snaps and finished eight for 13 for 84 yards and a quarterback rating of 80.3. One question needing to be answered in Minnesota: Is this is this futility post-lockout rust or a trend towards the cellar in the NFC North?
The most dreadful sign for Minnesota will be their Achilles' heel from last season: the inability of the wide receivers and tight-ends to find separation when facing one-on-one coverage. This was also the primary reason they just couldn't find their "mojo" a year ago. Donovan McNabb looked great moving around the pocket and going through all the reads in Bill Musgrave's offense. He completed four of six passes on his opening drive and six of 11 overall for 40 yards.
Most of them were check-downs to underneath routes because no one was open down field. It didn't take long for him to realize what Brett Favre had to deal with all last season. Minnesota's receiving corps is one of the most pathetic in football. Poor Percy Harvin is stuck in a bad spot similar to that of what Devin Hester of the Chicago Bears faced for so many years.
The Vikings are relying on Bernard Berrian, who Favre dismissed as a realistic option because he just can't get open. Michael Jenkins might be one of the worst free-agent signings in Vikings history. The guy couldn't catch the ball while playing with Michael Turner, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, so what difference can Bernard Berrian, Percy Harvin, Greg Camarillo, or even Adrian Peterson do for him? It will quickly be realized as the season moves forward—Donovan McNabb is going to have to turn Percy Harvin into DeSean Jackson. Visante Shiancoe will need to be Tony Gonzalez of old. And maybe, Greg Camarillo can be Wes Welker or Ed McCafferey.
First year head coach Leslie Frazier is destined to struggle in this season because he is stuck with a few horrendous leftovers from the Brad Childress era. The wide-receivers stand out easily at the top of the list, but running a nearby second is that group that guards the opposition's playmakers.
The defensive secondary looks terrible in their Tampa "Cover Two" zone-defense. They are not going to be able to hold anyone down if they can't get pressure on the quarterback to force bad throws into this defense. Where Tony Dungy succeeded in Tampa Bay and Indianapolis, implementing this defense was by building seven-men in the box who could put significant pressure on the quarterback without having to play games with what his corners and safeties were doing.
Minnesota can't play this way.
They are going to need to blitz teams a significant percentage of the time, just to have a chance at making turnovers. Otherwise, all three opposing quarterbacks within the division will have stars next to their dates with "The Purple." At this point, I would have to say that the issues in Vikings Country are here for good.
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