Extra Points: Vikings need to start over

Published October 23, 2013

| Sports Network

(SportsNetwork.com) - Dysfunction starts at the top of any organization.

There is no shortage of people to blame for the disaster that is the 2013 Minnesota Vikings season.

Left to his own devices, general manager Rick Spielman would probably pick Cooper to play quarterback at the Manning family reunion, while head coach Leslie Frazier is about as cutting edge as a Betamax player. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's play-calling is more repetitive than a stutter, and defensive chief Alan Williams is nothing more than a lightly regarded rubber stamp for Frazier's antiquated view of defensive football.

Simply put, every single key member of the Vikings' football hierarchy is in over his head, meaning the actual author of this real life Titanic is owner Zygi Wilf.

Wilf deserves plenty of credit for keeping the Vikings in Minnesota by getting a stadium deal done in what may have been the most unfriendly market in America for getting something like that accomplished.

Minneapolis and the Gopher State as a whole are liberal bastions much more concerned with throwing every ounce of money they have at the world's social concerns, not subsidizing billionaires and their boondoggles.

So, while Wilf is all aces at navigating political winds much tougher than a Bering Sea storm and some might even call him a business genius, as a football mind, novice is too kind a word.

Wilf has yet to make one good hire on the football side since buying the team in 2005. There was the Fran Foley debacle and the bidding war against himself for the insufferably arrogant Brad Childress before starting over with the current regime of know-nothings, who hit a new low on Monday night by getting trounced by the previously winless New York Giants.

How bad has it gotten for the Vikings?

Earlier in the day, a few colleagues gathered in my office and none of us could even envision a way this Minnesota group could beat a Giants team who had been giving the football away at an historic pace.

And sure enough an 0-6 club which allowed at least 27 points in each of its games, averaged a paltry 2.0 yards a rush with a guy who was volunteering as a high school football coach the prior week (Peyton Hillis) and managed all of 4.9 yards per pass play looked like the 1985 Bears compared to the Vikings en route to an easy 23-7 win.

"This is the worst sporting event ever broadcasted," former Vikings All-Pro guard Steve Hutchinson said on Twitter during the game

Nearly everyone likes Frazier as a person, so most of the blame was slanted toward Spielman at least by the "insiders" on hand in East Rutherford. Whispers say Josh Freeman was unjustifiably forced on Frazier, who would have preferred to stick with Christian Ponder at quarterback.

As if sticking with a signal caller who has the ceiling of a children's playhouse is a prudent move.

"If I had to do it over again, I don't think I'd do it any differently under the circumstances," Frazier said, toeing the company line for now. "I knew exactly why we made the decision. I felt very confident going into the ballgame with the decision. It didn't work out for us this time."

Jon Gruden, a great analyst when not shilling for his friends in the coaching fraternity, was quick to jump on the sword for Frazier by pointing out again and again how scaled down the Vikings offense was with Freeman because the ex- Tampa Bay starter was unable to audible or make adjustments.

Fair enough, but let's invoke the equal time rule here. What Gruden didn't tell you was Freeman didn't audible or make any adjustments because Frazier and Musgrave wouldn't allow him to, leaning on the crutch that Freeman was only with the team for two weeks so he couldn't have possibly ingested enough of Minnesota's oh-so complicated offense.

You know the same one that uses the dual-read, cut-off-the-field waggle play for the overmatched Ponder five to 10 times a game.

It's more than fair to call Freeman's play egregious against the Giants and his mechanics were downright unprofessional, but insinuating he couldn't have at least used a simple automatic at the line of scrimmage in this offense is laughable and another example of the hubris that is all to prevalent in the NFL's coaching ranks, even among lightweights like Frazier and Musgrave.

"His footwork wasn't ideal," Frazier understated when discussing Freeman's bowling shoe ugly 20-of-53 passing performance. "His shoulders weren't square all the time. So it was more technical stuff. But the mental part, he was sharp. He did a great job of running our offense throughout the night."

Freeman will get every chance to embarrass himself on the national stage for the second time in a week on Sunday night against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.

"I do have confidence that we can improve and get better, and we can get better when we line up on Sunday night at home," Frazier said.

Good luck.

Football is the ultimate team game and when the snowball starts rolling down the hill in the wrong direction, it's almost impossible to stop it. In Minnesota right now, the players don't believe in the coaches, the coaches think the players aren't executing their unassailable schemes and everyone thinks the GM is hamstringing them with bad personnel decisions.

It's a toxic environment and many have already speculated that Spielman and the coaching staff will ultimately lose their jobs, a denouement that Wilf almost has to embrace.

After all, does Zygi really want a guy who thought A.J. Feeley and Ponder could do it at this level making another decision at the game's most important position?

Does he really want a coach destroying the confidence of yet another crew of young defensive backs by insisting they ignore their own physical gifts and conform to a cover-2 zone scheme that belongs in the Smithsonian?

Is he really envisioning Musgrave calling another sprint-option on 4th-and-1 in 2014?

Is a guy like Williams who thinks a double A-gap blitz is exotic really the answer when you are trying to stop Rodgers in the two-minute drill?

The answers to those questions are more than obvious, but both Frazier and Spielman will undoubtedly be lobbying in Wilf's ear in the coming weeks pointing the finger of blame at each other as things go off the rails even further -- rats on a sinking ship hoping to prop themselves up by harping on the deficiencies of others.

Wilf can't listen to either.

It's time to start over for the Vikings.

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THE GAMES - (All Times Eastern) - WEEK 8

Carolina (3-3) at Tampa Bay (0-6), Thursday, 8:25 p.m.

LINE: Panthers by 5 1/2

THE SKINNY: Something has to give here. The Bucs have never lost to Carolina under embattled head coach Greg Schiano (2-0) but have dropped 11 of their past 12 games dating back to last season.

Making matters worse for Tampa Bay is the fact that star running back Doug Martin has been diagnosed with a labrum tear in his left shoulder, an injury which could sideline the second-year pro for the remainder of the season.

The Panthers have won two straight behind an opportunistic defense led by safety Mike Mitchell, the only player in the NFL with three interceptions and two sacks, along with defensive end Charles Johnson, who has 16 1/2 sacks and seven forced fumbles over his last 19 outings.

PREDICTION: Panthers 23, Bucs 13

Dallas (4-3) at Detroit (4-3), Sunday, 1 p.m.

LINE: Lions by 3

THE SKINNY: We could be in for a shootout when the NFC East-leading Cowboys visit Detroit. Dallas QB Tony Romo has passed for at least 300 yards and two TDs in his previous three efforts against the Lions, while star receiver Dez Bryant is tied for the NFC lead with six TD receptions.

The Lions bring QB Matthew Stafford to the table, who ranks second in the NFL with 12,134 passing yards since 2011, along with RB Reggie Bush, who is third in the league with 121.8 scrimmage yards per game, and WR Calvin Johnson, who snared eight balls for 96 yards and two TDs the last time Detroit faced Dallas.

PREDICTION: Lions 30, Cowboys 27

San Francisco (5-2) at Jacksonville (0-7), Sunday, 1 p.m. - NFL International Series, Wembley Stadium

LINE: 49ers by 16 1/2

THE SKINNY: Hopping the pond doesn't figure to make life any easier for the winless Jaguars, who will play the role as host in this NFL International Series affair at London's Wembley Stadium.

The defending NFC champion 49ers have been hitting their stride recently, winning four straight and scoring 30-or-more points in each of those games. San Francisco is also familiar with the UK, having topped Denver in Britain back on Oct. 31, 2010.

"We've done it before," said 49ers offensive tackle Joe Staley said when asked about playing in London. "This is our second trip to London. Everyone here is used to long trips, and I think it's beneficial."

The Jags don't have much to hang their hat on, but QB Chad Henne has passed for over 300 yards in two consecutive games thanks in large part to the return of talented second-year wide receiver Justin Blackmon, who leads NFL in receptions (25) and receiving yards (384) since returning from suspension in Week 5.

PREDICTION: 49ers 31, Jaguars 21

Cleveland (3-4) at Kansas City (7-0), Sunday, 1 p.m.

LINE: Chiefs by 7

THE SKINNY: What a difference a year makes. The Chiefs are the last unbeaten team in football and the first club in NFL history to start 7-0 after losing 14-or-more games in the previous season. Kansas City will be aiming for its first 8-0 start since 2003 (9-0) thanks in large part to its plus-11 turnover ratio, the best in the NFL.

"The more you win, the closer you get to the playoffs," said Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, who joined Dieter Brock of the 1985 Los Angeles Rams as the only players since the 1970 merger to win their first seven games to start a season with a new team. "As you get later into the season, the stakes get bigger."

In the Super Bowl era, 31 teams have started 7-0 and all 31 made the playoffs. Fifteen of those 31 advanced to the Super Bowl with nine of those clubs winning the Lombardi Trophy.

"It feels real good," said Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles, who is one of only two players (O.J. Simpson) to record at least 100 scrimmage yards and a touchdown in each of their first seven games to start a season. "I'm just blessed that we continue to win games, but we've still got to play consistently."

The Browns, on the other hand, will start their third QB of the season, turning to veteran Jason Campbell after second-year man Brandon Weeden struggled mightily in Green Bay during Week 7.

"Obviously Brandon was disappointed, but he's a pro," Cleveland coach Rob Chudzinski said Wednesday. "I'm committed to doing whatever gives us the best chance to win. From a game plan standpoint, I like the things that Jason Campbell brings to the table."

PREDICTION: Chiefs 24, Browns 13

Miami (3-3) at New England (5-2), Sunday, 1 p.m.

LINE: Patriots by 7

THE SKINNY: New England shoots for its seventh straight win over slumping Miami, which has dropped three straight after starting the season 3-0. The Pats, who are 24-3 at home since 2010, have won 13 consecutive over AFC East foes in Foxborough. Tom Brady has passed for 1,695 yards with 11 TDs and just two interceptions with a 102.4 passer rating during the Pats' six-game run against Miami. That includes a career-best 517-yard passing performance against the Dolphins on Sept. 12, 2011.

Desperate to improve a leaky offensive line that has made things difficult for QB Ryan Tannehill, the Dolphins acquired former Pro Bowl left tackle Bryant McKinnie from the Baltimore Ravens in exchange for an undisclosed draft choice earlier this week.

PREDICTION: Patriots 27, Dolphins 21

Buffalo (3-4) at New Orleans (5-1), Sunday, 1 p.m.

LINE: Saints by 12

THE SKINNY: Things aren't shaping up well for the Bills and Thad Lewis this week. The Saints suffered their only loss of the season back on Oct. 13 when Tom Brady found Kenbrell Thompkins with five seconds remaining in the fourth quarter to lift the New England Patriots to a dramatic 30-27 win.

New Orleans had an extra week to stew in that and prepare for Lewis, who will be making only his fourth career NFL start and third with Buffalo. Drew Brees, meanwhile, is 15-4 at the Superdome since 2011, completing 497-of-735 passes (67.6 percent) for 6,192 yards with 64 TDs and a 113.5 passer rating over that span.

Lewis has been solid as the replacement for injured rookie EJ Manuel, connecting on 40-of-64 passes or 418 yards with three TDs (two pass, one rush) in an overtime loss against Cincinnati and a win over Miami.

PREDICTION: Saints 33, Bills 21

New York Giants (1-6) at Philadelphia (3-4), Sunday, 1 p.m.

LINE: Eagles by 6

THE SKINNY: The quarterback carousel continues in Philadelphia with veteran Michael Vick likely returning under center after missing the previous 2 1/2 games with a hamstring issue. Second-year man Nick Foles seemed to be grabbing hold of the job until last week's debacle against Dallas in which he performed very poorly before being knocked out of the contest with a concussion.

The Giants, who have lost eight of their past 10 against Philadelphia, finally put one in the win column against the woeful Vikings but hardly played well in the process.

PREDICTION: Eagles 31, Giants 16

Pittsburgh (2-4) at Oakland (2-4), Sunday, 4:05 p.m.

LINE: Steelers by 3

THE SKINNY: Two straight wins and a date with the Raiders has the Steelers thinking they can get back into the playoff hunt. Pittsburgh traditionally spikes a bit in October and has won nine of its past 10 in the month.

Oakland, though, has won two straight at home against the Steelers and Terrelle Pryor, a Western Pennsylvania native, has yet to lose as a starter in Oaktown, going 2-0 and completing 33-of-47 passes for 347 yards with two TDs and a passer rating of 105.5 in those games.

PREDICTION: Steelers 21, Raiders 17

New York Jets (4-3) at Cincinnati (5-2), Sunday, 4:05 p.m.

LINE: Bengals by 6 1/2

THE SKINNY: Cincinnati now holds a two-game advantage in the AFC North after last weekend's 27-24 road win at Detroit which was fueled by the Andy Dalton- to-A.J. Green connection. Dalton and Green hooked up six times for 155 yards, including an 82-yard touchdown, and kicker Mike Nugent sealed the win with a monster, game-winning 54-yard field goal as time expired.

"We fought for all four quarters, on the road, playing a really good team," said Dalton, who passed for 372 yards and three TDs. "We're 5-2 now and it sets us up nicely for where we want to go."

The surprising Jets, meanwhile, got an early holiday gift a week ago when umpire Tony Michalek flagged New England's Chris Jones for pushing one of his own teammates from behind during a potential game-winning, 56-yard field goal attempt by Nick Folk in the extra frame of the Jets' eventual 30-27 victory over the Pats.

Folk pulled the try wide to the left, but was given a rather sizeable mulligan when Jones was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, a miscue that moved the ball inside the Pats' 25-yard line and all but sealed the outcome as Folk was indeed true on the re-do to complete New York's rousing comeback from an 11- point halftime deficit.

"This was a big victory for us," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "We have a ton of work to do and need to improve a great deal as a football team. At the same time, it's a great team effort."

Lost in all of the hoopla of the controversial call was the fact the Jets' defense limited New England to 295 total net yards and stopped the Patriots on 11-of-12 third-down attempts, something that is unlikely to happen again in the Queen City.

PREDICTION: Bengals 24, Jets 17

Atlanta (2-4) at Arizona (3-4), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.

LINE: Cardinals by 2 1/2

THE SKINNY: Matt Ryan persevered without his top weapons last weekend against winless Tampa Bay with a career-best 148.4 passer rating. In his career, the Falcons are 34-2 when Ryan breaks the 100.0 barrier.

The Cards have dropped back-to-back games to division foes (San Francisco and Seattle) and are in danger of falling out of the NFC West race thanks in large part to their inability to protect the football. Carson Palmer, however, has generally played very well against the Falcons and will be aiming for a fourth straight game of a 100.0 or more passer rating against Atlanta.

PREDICTION: Cardinals 23, Falcons 20

Washington (2-4) at Denver (6-1), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.

LINE: Broncos by 13

THE SKINNY: The high-powered Broncos will try to start another winning streak after their lengthy 17-game regular season run was halted in the "War of 18-12" in Indianapolis last week.

Despite the setback, Denver still leads the NFL with 298 points scored and quarterback Peyton Manning tops the league in passing yards (2,565), touchdown passes (25) and passer rating (123.3).

"This is a game we need to learn from," Manning said when talking about the team's first loss. "We can learn from it. We certainly have to improve from this game because we weren't as sharp execution-wise as we'd like."

The Redskins got back into the NFC East race in Week 7 by outlasting Chicago, 45-41, and Washington head coach Mike Shanahan will be returning to the Rockies, where he coached for 14 seasons and won two Super Bowls (XXXII and XXXIII).

PREDICTION: Broncos 38, Redskins 27

Green Bay (4-2) at Minnesota (1-5), Sunday, 8:30 p.m.

LINE: Packers by 10

THE SKINNY: The Pack arrive in Minny riding a three-game winning streak after Aaron Rodgers passed for three touchdowns and rookie running back Eddie Lacy had 108 scrimmage yards with a touchdown in Green Bay's easy 31-13 win over Cleveland. Including the postseason, Rodgers has won six of his past seven starts against the Vikings, posting a 121.6 passer rating.

"We're 1-0 in the division and this is an important time for us with back-to- back division games (Minnesota in Week 8, Chicago in Week 9)," Rodgers said. "We know what kind of environment it is in Minnesota. It's going to be a challenge."

Not much of one. The woebegone Vikings are looking to rebound from their pathetic effort against the previously winless Giants on "Monday Night Football."

"You come in with goals and expectations," said QB Josh Freeman, who will be making his second start for Minnesota. "I see a lot of areas that are manageable in terms of improvement. We can definitely get better."

PREDICTION: Packers 34, Vikings 10

Seattle (6-1) at St. Louis (3-4), Monday, 8:40 p.m.

LINE: Seahawks by 10 1/2

THE SKINNY: The Seahawks are 6-1 for the first time in franchise history and will be visiting a Rams team minus its starting QB after Sam Bradford went down with a torn ACL in a 30-15 loss at Carolina.

Veteran Kellen Clemens, who has 12 career NFL starts under his belt, will take over for Bradford and face perhaps the NFL's best secondary. It's built around All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, who leads the NFL with 15 interceptions since entering the league in 2011 and will be shooting for his third straight game with a pick versus the Rams, and Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas, who has an INT in four of his last six games and is currently the only player in the NFL with 40-plus tackle, four picks and two forced fumbles.

PREDICTION: Seahawks 31, Rams 13

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