Minnesota Vikings 2010 Season Preview
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
"Now the world don't move to the beat of just one drum. What might be right for you, may not be right for some."
The introductory verse of the theme song to "Diff'rent Strokes" describes Brett Favre's ongoing behavior thoroughly, because he's proven that marching to the beat of his own drum may not be conducive with teammates or coaches.
There was always some sort of gratified ending to every episode of the old sitcom, and folks in Minneapolis hope that Favre decides to make one last curtain call before going off the air for good. And it just feels right for the future Hall of Fame quarterback to string the Minnesota Vikings along for a second straight year, while the rest of the team continues to work hard after what was perhaps one of the best seasons in franchise history.
Luckily for Favre, if he does return to the gridiron for another season, his rapport with the receivers and knowledge of the offense is already there. But then again, who knows if the aging legend is fully recovered from his surgically-repaired ankle.
The ankle, of course, is apparently what's holding Favre up.
Vikings head coach Brad Childress even visited the All-Pro quarterback down in Mississippi earlier this summer and didn't depart with a definitive answer. A few weeks later reports surfaced that Favre has informed some personnel, including teammates, that he wouldn't return for a second season with the club.
The Favre-led Vikings came close to playing for the Vince Lombardi trophy last season and won the NFC North for a second straight campaign by recording a 12-4 mark. Favre helped Minnesota rip through the Dallas Cowboys in the Divisional Round of the playoffs before the team lost in overtime to the eventual Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship Game.
Many would understand why Favre would hang up the cleats after the beating he took against the Saints. If Favre wasn't scrambling for his life, he was either on his back or under a pile of a large men. According to Childress after his visit to Favre's Mississippi home, the future Hall of Fame quarterback has been working out rigorously to get his ankle back to form. Not that speed is an entity in Favre's game, though being able to move around the pocket is.
Speaking of pockets, the team was rumored to have offered Favre more money to come back for one year.
"Deep down I think he really wants to play, loves the guys, loves the locker room," Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell said of Favre. "But if you can't play and give it your all like you're used to playing with injuries and stuff, then that kind of leaves you in a bind."
Pressure is bearing down on Childress, and that won't change if he's forced to run with Tarvaris Jackson as his starting quarterback this season. Minnesota had one of the best offenses in the league in 2009 thanks to Favre, who had perhaps the most efficient season of his storied career. The emergence of wide receiver Sidney Rice and rookie Percy Harvin were key to Favre's precision and success, but a lot of credit deservedly goes to Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson, who went over the 1,300-yard rushing mark for a third straight year.
They say offense sells tickets and defense wins championships. For the Vikings, behind their productive offense is one of the stingiest defenses in the NFL. Led by mammoth tackles Kevin and Pat Williams, the Vikings made it nearly impossible for opposing running backs to find daylight. It helps to have a defensive end in Jared Allen, who's accumulated 14 1/2 sacks or more in each of his last three seasons applying the pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2010 edition of the Minnesota Vikings, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
2009 RECORD: 12-4 (1st, NFC North)
LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2009, lost to New Orleans, 31-28 (OT), in NFC Championship
COACH (RECORD): Brad Childress (36-28 in four seasons with Vikings, 36-28 overall)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Darrell Bevell
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Leslie Frazier
OFFENSIVE STAR: Brett Favre, QB (4202 passing yards, 33 TD, 7 INT)
DEFENSIVE STAR: Jared Allen, DE (51 tackles, 14.5 sacks, 1 INT)
OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 13th rushing, 8th passing, 2nd scoring
DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 2nd rushing, 19th passing, 10th scoring
KEY ADDITIONS: RB Ryan Moats (from Texans), RB Toby Gerhart (2nd Round, Stanford), WR/QB Joe Webb (6th Round, UAB), DE Mike Montgomery (from Packers), CB Lito Sheppard (from Jets), CB Chris Cook (2nd Round, Virginia), K Rhys Lloyd (from Panthers)
KEY DEPARTURES: RB Chester Taylor (to Bears), OL Artis Hicks (to Redskins), CB Karl Paymah (to 49ers)
QB: Favre (4,202 passing yards, 33 TD, 7 INT) headed back to his home in Mississippi after the season and made no statement on whether he's returning or not. But it would be hard to imagine him hanging it up after the Vikings were so close to a Super Bowl berth and after throwing for more than 4,000 yards for the second time in three years. His 107.2 passer rating was the highest in his career, and this was after undergoing shoulder surgery the previous offseason. He showed no signs of fatigue, but Minnesota committed too many turnovers against the Saints to keep the season alive. The 40-year-old, who completed 68.4 percent of his passes as well, threw a costly interception late in the NFC title game, the same thing he did for Green Bay against the Giants in the 2007 conference championship before coming back to play for the New York Jets. History may repeat itself again this time, and that means Jackson (201 passing yards, 1 TD) will be holding the clipboard as backup. Sage Rosenfels should serve as third-string QB.
RB: If Peterson (1,383 rushing yards, 18 TD) can keep the fumbles to a minimum, the Vikings would be even deadlier on offense. The chiseled running back, who fumbled twice against the Saints, is one of the hardest runners in the game and has more yards than any NFL back over the past three years. He has rushed for at least 10 touchdowns in each of his three seasons in the league and set a Vikings record by netting 18 rushing scores in 2009, which led the NFL in points by non-kickers for the season. Gone is backup running back Chester Taylor, who joined the rival Bears in the offseason. Second-round draft pick and power back Toby Gerhart is expected to help fill the vacancy behind Peterson, while veteran Ryan Moats was added as insurance.
WR/TE: Minnesota's receiving corps turned out to be the team's strength in 2009, as wideouts Rice (83 receptions, 1312 yards, 8 TD), Harvin (60 receptions, 6 TD), Bernard Berrian (55 receptions, 4 TD) and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe (56 receptions) were major contributors under offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. Rice led the team in yards and receptions, while Shiancoe finished with a team-best 11 touchdown catches. Harvin earned NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and brings a host of different talents to the field. The versatile young star, who also serves as a return man, was Favre's main target in the slot on third down. Headaches hampered Harvin during the season, however, and the passing of his grandmother in the offseason limited his practice time. Berrian is entering his third season with Minnesota and his numbers were down a bit last year after Favre built a solid trust in both Rice and Harvin.
OL: Favre was sacked 34 times last season and took a beating in the NFC title game. The Vikings didn't do much this offseason to shore up the offensive line and even lost top reserve Artis Hicks to Washington. Tackles Bryant McKinnie and Phil Loadholt will be back, while guards Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera hope to contribute to another successful ground game. McKinnie isn't known for having the best run-blocking skills, something Hutchinson can do in his sleep. Center John Sullivan had some big shoes to fill last year when Matt Birk departed for Baltimore, and was keyed on by most opposing defenses. The line and Favre both suffered because of it. The unit will surely miss the versatility Hicks had, with Ryan Cook now set to work as a rover on the line. Bill Noethlich and rookie Chris DeGeare were also signed for depth in the offseason.
DL: The Vikings will have one of the top run defenses again this season with their two huge tackles returning in the middle. Pat Williams (45 tackles, 2 sacks) is back for his 14th season at nose tackle and his sidekick, Kevin Williams (30 tackles, 6 sacks), will be right there with him. The two occupy so much space and attention from the offensive line that it makes it easier for Allen to come off the edge. The two tackles are also facing a possible four-game suspension for violations of the league's banned substance policy, however. Allen (50 tackles, 14.5 sacks, 1 INT) has been a nightmare for opposing offenses and finished second in the league in sacks last season. In the past three seasons, he has recorded no less than 14 1.2 sacks a year. On the opposite end the Vikings have the emerging Ray Edwards (51 tackles, 8.5 sacks), who should see a lot of one-on-one coverage this season with both Williams anchoring the front wall and Allen doing what he does best. Edwards also hopes his boxing training in the offseason pays off. The Vikes also drafted USC end Everson Griffen in April. Minnesota's 48 sacks led the league last season.
LB: Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier has to be excited to know that middle linebacker E.J. Henderson (83 tackles, 2 sacks) could be back at full strength in 2010 after going down with a fractured femur last season. When healthy, the athletic Henderson is one of the toughest defenders in the league and was selected as Minnesota's defensive captain in both 2008 and 2009. Jasper Brinkley (31 tackles) took over when Henderson went down and could find himself in the starting role when the regular season commences. Outside linebacker Chad Greenway (99 tackles, 3 INT) finished first in tackles and second on the team with three interceptions in 2009. He and Ben Leber (46 tackles, 2.5 sacks) are entering the final year of their contracts, but adding a few years to Greenway's is imperative. Leber also plays in nickel packages.
DB: Minnesota's secondary raised a lot of eyebrows last season and finished 19th against the pass. Two of Minnesota's top cornerbacks, veteran Antoine Winfield (55 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) and Cedric Griffin (78 tackles, 4 INT), both suffered major injuries, with Griffin going down with an ACL tear and most likely missing the start of the season. The Vikings did draft Chris Cook out of Virginia in the second round in April, while Benny Sapp (43 tackles) and Asher Allen (27 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) are expected to battle for playing time. The Vikings also signed cornerback Lito Sheppard to shore up the defensive backfield, and he was with the Eagles when Childress ran that team's offense. He will probably start until Griffin is ready to return. Tackling was a big issue for safeties Madieu Williams (73 tackles) and Tyrell Johnson (57 tackles, 1 INT), but that can easily be righted with added work. These defenders should be in top shape after battling with Rice, Harvin, Berrian and Shiancoe all summer.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Longwell has been one of the most consistent kickers in the game and was 26-for-28 on field goal attempts a season ago. His 92.9 field goal percentage was the highest in his career, and he perfect on both attempts from 50 yards or longer in 2009. He went 6-for-6 from that distance in 2008. Punter Chris Kluwe averaged 43.9 yards per blast last season and landed 11 kicks inside the 10-yard line. Minnesota's defense started inside the opposing 20-yard line 24 times, which often spells doom for offenses against this stop unit. Harvin (27.5 avg.), meanwhile, is a threat to score every time he makes a return. He recorded 1,156 yards and two scores on 42 kickoff returns a year ago. Darius Reynaud (10.3 avg.) handled punts and racked up 308 yards on 30 returns.
PROGNOSIS: Childress has improved every season at the helm in Minnesota, but knows the wins will be hard to come by and the pressure will rise if No. 4 truly calls it a career. It seems owner Zygi Wilf knows that too and is reportedly willing to shell out more dough for the Wrangler jeans-wearing signal-caller. The possibility of losing veteran leadership and a strong locker room presence may have the organization worried. The 2010 season will be a grind with or without Favre, though, since division-rival Green Bay is on the rise and also enters the year as one of the favorites in the conference. The Bears are expected to be better in year two under quarterback Jay Cutler, and the Lions can't be any worse than they've been in the past. There's no question Minnesota enters the new year with a target on its back because of last season's success. But with a dominating defense and productive offense, there's enough talent and experience to taking advantage of the window of opportunity that is beginning to close.