Sunday, October 18, 2009

It's Better To Be Lucky Than Good

Given the way today's Viking-Raven tilt went, I think I'm going to have to do the duty of commenting on this one. Two of my fellow bloggers here at Oblong Spheroid, Jim and Chris, are Ravens fans. Jim is probably still shaking his head at all of the good and the bad that we saw today. Chris is probably somewhere on a ledge on the tallest building in town... I hope he lives in a small town.

This game really did have it all--the good, the bad, and the ugly. At times, both teams were brilliant, and at times, absolutely inept. When the dust cleared, the Vikings remained undefeated for yet another week, and the Ravens were left shaking their heads and wondering "what if?" for a third week in a row.

On the Viking side of the field, the offense came out like gangbusters, with Favre drilling his way down the field to nab two TDs in the first two drives. Throughout the game, Sidney Rice continued his significant improvement over last season, making difficult adjustments on catches and making big plays when they were needed, en route to a 6-catch, 176-yard day. Adrian Peterson broke a nice run early, was shut down for most of the rest of the game, but made some more big plays late in the game. For 3 quarters or so, the run defense for the Vikings was incredible.

Then the wheels totally fell off. As the broadcasting crew of Dan Dierdorf and Greg Gumbel noted, this was an absolutely immense defensive collapse in progress. The run defense that was an immovable object for most of the game suddenly became a bunch of matadors waving the Raven RBs through the line and unhindered to the end zone. Ray Rice capitalized on some big gaps and made the Vikings look silly. The Viking D may have continued what is now the longest active streak in the NFL of holding the opponent without a 100 yard rusher, but they should have nothing to feel good about after that 4th quarter. To add injury to insult, Percy Harvin went down late in the 4th, closely followed by Adrian Peterson a few plays later (though Peterson was able to return).

This came after what would perhaps turn out to be the most important loss of the game, the departure of Antoine Winfield in the 2nd quarter. Winfield, in my opinion, is one of the most underrated players in the game. He doesn't have the big stats or the fancy strut of your stereotype "shutdown corner" but the guy is all about solid fundamental football. He tackles as good as just about any linebacker in the league, and is rarely ever out of position on a play. He is also fierce in coming back to help out in run defense, and is one of the key cogs in the Viking dominance against the running game. With him in there, I think he's there to stop at least one, if not both, of the long Ray Rice TD runs, and is playing better coverage on Derrick Mason than happened after he left.

On the Raven side of the ball, I finally got a chance to see Joe Cool in a situation where I had a good feeling for the context--sometimes it can be difficult to evaluate a player if you aren't familiar with the opposing defense, but I got to see him against the defense I watch every week. I came away impressed as hell with the kid, and definitely see where the Joe Cool moniker came from. Just ask Aaron Rodgers what it can be like to face the Viking D, since they ate him alive for 8 sacks a couple weeks ago. The Raven O-Line did a great job of stopping the Viking pass rush, though they did struggle in the running game until the 4th. Still, it was as good of an effort as I've seen against the Viking D-Line this year.

Just as impressive were the Raven receivers. (Wait, did I really just write that sentence?!) I thought they were tough and gritty on several of the big plays that Flacco made. There were at least a couple where Joe had to deal with strong Minnesota pressure and fling the ball as he was about to be crushed. On those plays, the Raven receivers ended up getting balls that required a leap or an adjustment, which they did even with some tight pressure by the defenders at times. Without the receivers making those plays, Flacco just ends up with some impressive looking incompletions.

Even as the 4th quarter was collapsing all around the Vikings, credit Favre with recognizing one significant weak point in the Raven defense: cornerback Frank Walker. Twice in the 4th, as the Ravens gave a free play to the Vikings via an offides jump, Favre blasted the ball downfield to whomever Walker was guarding. Both times resulted in pass interference calls that were so blatant even Referee Pitman could call them, though only the first was enforced since Sidney Rice caught the second one despite the interference. Both set up Viking scores, which proved rather significant given the close finish.

And speaking of the finish--let's just say Steven Hauschka is no Matt Stover. Despite the abysmal start by the Ravens, they still had a chance to pull this one out in the final seconds with a 47 yard field goal. Yet, in a windless and warm domed stadium, the Ravens lost yet another game in the closing moments.

Both teams had plenty of positives to feel good about, but I don't think either team is going to feel at all good about the game anyway. There were too many mental-error penalties (especially false starts by the Ravens and offsides by the Vikings), too many blown coverages in both the running game and passing game, too many sloppy moments for either team to enjoy. Certainly the Ravens won't, and I suspect the Vikings are going to feel like they got away with one--after the magnitude of the 4th quarter collapse, they really do have plenty of room to continue to improve.

Still, someone had to win, and though I was actually suspecting the Ravens would pull it out (given the rule of thumb that the most desperate team usually wins), the Vikings managed to sneak away with another game en route to a 6-0 record.

The one silver lining for both teams is that they were neither the Titans, who lost 59-0 in a game that wasn't even as close as the score indicated, nor the Iggles, who actually managed to find a way to lose to the Raiders. Ouch and ouch.


  1. Nice post.

    I was wondering if the whole Ravens comeback deserved an asterisk, since it all happened after Winfield went out.

    The Vikings are impressive as hell. Playmakers all over the place on both sides of the ball; tons of speed and power on defense. If Favre continues to play within himself, just give what's needed, they can go really far.

  2. I wouldn't put an asterisk on it at all. Sure, it made a difference, but the Ravens get credit for continuing to adapt until they figured out how to exploit it, and then pouring it on. Plus, the Vikings need to make better adjustments when one of their key players is out. That actually is a potential vulnerability--they don't have a lot of secondary depth, especially secondary depth with experience.

    It's a good news/bad news thing that we haven't really seen the Vikings play a complete game on both sides of the ball yet. That was to be expected on offense, but even the defense is struggling a little bit to figure out the changes in the secondary (most notably, the departure of Darren Sharper, who is having a phenomenal season in New Orleans). So, if the Vikings put it all together, they're going to be scary good, and we've seen glimpses of that this season. However, if they continue to hit cold streaks through the rest of the season and/or the playoffs, it's going to leave a bitter "what-if" taste in their mouths.

    The good news is that I think the team seems to have gotten the correct message from yesterday--no one is apologizing for winning and feels glad that they did, but also no one seems to be getting cocky over a flawed victory, indicating that there is still a lot to improve upon. As a coach, that's the ideal situation--keep putting wins on the board, but having your guys keep focus on improving instead of getting complacent (*cough* 1998 Vikings, anyone? *cough*).

  3. I was almost as hoarse today as I was after normally going to the stadium for a game. Screaming, cheering, yelling in fury, back and forth the entire fourth quarter. The only positive I can say about my performance yesterday is that none of our neighbors - many of which with children under age 7 - came knocking on my door asking me to please quiet my swearing.

    Re: Frank Walker
    Harbaugh came out today and said Ladarius Webb - a young corner who looks very promising - will be getting more playing time on defense. One wonders which DB he might possibly be replacing. hmmmmmm...

    Re: Ravens receivers
    I agree, and they've been doing that for a while. However, that's the ONLY good thing they do. They need a big, strong WR that can stretch the field in the worst way.

    Re: Hauschka
    Lotta Ravens fans whining how they wished we still had Stover and he would have made that kick. BS. Stover went from 86% to 67% to 56% from 40-49 over the last three years, and is 41 years old. I think it's more likely he misses that kick (which was I believe 44 yards, not 47) than makes it. And honestly, even with Stover, Hauschka's still on the roster, and it's 50/50 whether Stover's the one attempting it anyway.

    Re: Vikes DL
    Holy freakin' crap!

    The Ravens have lost three close games to three good teams. Disappointing, but they're still a good team. Baltimore's panicking way too much right now. Particularly with the Jets loss, and the possibility Denver puts the division away tonight. It's entirely possible both Wildcard teams come out of the AFC North...


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