A few quick hits this morning -- on what ails the Vikings, on the fans' anger in Indianapolis, on the Sunday night Bengals-Jets choice by the NFL, and on the prescience of Trent Green. You'll be amazed when we set the way-back machine back six months and you see a prediction of Green's that's come true.
• Re the ills of the Vikings, I see three major problems here. The biggest is the leakiness of the offensive line compared to the past couple of years. Not only is the right side getting caved in regularly -- twice Monday night the Vikes failed to covert third-and-short running there -- but recently the famed Bryant McKinnie/Steve Hutchinson left side is getting pushed back regularly.
Part of the reason is the run-blitzing and Double-A-gap blitzing. (Great story, by the way, by Tim Layden in last week's SI detailing the rise of blitzing two defenders on either side of the center, clogging all interior rushing lanes and putting quick pressure on the passer.) In the past couple of years, Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor simply had better and wider rush lanes. In 2007, Peterson's rookie year, Minnesota averaged a league-high 5.3 yards per rush. Last year it fell to 4.5 yards, still good. But now the Vikes are absolutely average -- 4.1 yards per rush, 18th in the NFL through 16 weeks -- with both Peterson and Taylor healthy. Why'd the Vikings go 70 minutes between Carolina and Chicago debacles without scoring a touchdown? Look no further than the holes not made by the line.
Two: The secondary is mediocre. I looked on ruefully as one of my all-decade corners, Antoine Winfield, got turnstiled by a bottom-of-the-depth-chart wide receiver Devin Aromashodu. Winfield's poor coverage was as big a reason for the loss as any other single factor. Now, he's playing with an injured foot, but facts are facts: He killed the Vikings on Monday night.
Finally, the Vikings have lost the ability to be a big-play defense. In their four-game slide, they've allowed 25.5 points a game and 12 touchdowns. Jared Allen has to get back to his destructive self, as does Kevin Williams; there's too little crashing of the pocket, and in those four games, Minnesota has forced three turnovers and had only five sacks. Contrast those eight game-changing defensive plays in the last four games to the 24 in the Vikings' first four games, or the 20 in the second four games.
I spoke with Minnesota wide receiver Sidney Rice from the locker room after the game, and he had a positive spin on the recent slide. He would, of course. I just wonder if his words are the kind you speak when you're trying to say the right thing to be positive, or if the Vikings know they're in a deep hole now that they've put their number-two seed in the NFC in jeopardy. "You've covered football for a long time,'' he said. "You've seen good teams go through times like this. But we'll come out of it. We've just got to find a way to do positive things consistently. We've done it before. We'll do it again.''
• Re the firestorm in Indianapolis, it's getting uglier. It got so bad for Colts president Bill Polian last night with angry fans on his never-is-heard-a-discouraging-word radio show that the show mysteriously ended 10 minutes early. It's clear that taking many starters out of the game in the third quarter with a five-point lead Sunday -- and losing, 29-15, behind a frightened performance by unprepared quarterback Curtis Painter -- touched a nerve in a fan base that the customary sitting of the regulars never did.
I asked Eddie White, who co-hosts the afternoon drive-time sports-talk show on 1070 The Fan, about the root of the anger. (I can tell you with certainty that the decision to pull the starters instead of going for the undefeated season wasn't universally popular in the organization or the locker room.)
"The fans felt cheated on a chance for history,'' White said. "What struck me is that numerous callers said they work two jobs, and the second job was to help them pay for season tickets. What's also become apparent here in recent years is Indiana and Indianapolis have officially become a football town and football state. The love the Colts. They wanted their team to make history. I think they would have accepted losing 31-30 on a great throw by Mark Sanchez at the gun if it had come with the starters on the field. But the way it happened, they viewed this as the Colts taking the towel and throwing it into the ring. The odd thing now is if they win the Super Bowl, some of the fans will be even more depressed because they felt they could have been perfect too, and that chance was ruined. It's overreaction times 100.''
As I said Monday, we knew this was coming. The reaction is understandable because of the perfect-season aspect, and I still don't understand taking out an ironman quarterback who knows better than any other player in football how not to take sacks and not to get hurt. In my relationship with Polian over the years, I've heard him talk about his respect for the game many times; no executive appreciates the history of football and the Hall of Fame and the place of football in society more. It's odd to me that he's so adamant about 16-0 meaning nothing. I certainly don't think it's nothing.
It's arguable, certainly, and many of you did argue with me about it, but I picked the 2007 Patriots as the team of the decade, even though they lost the Super Bowl ... because there'd never been a 16-0 team, and I thought from start to finish of the season that New England team was the best. Now it'll be interesting to see how the fans react when the Colts open their playoff season at home on the weekend of Jan. 16-17. How will they react? Will they boo? I doubt it, but it bears watching.
• Re the Jets-Bengals being moved to Sunday night. I've gotten plenty of e-mails and Tweets wondering about the fairness of moving the Bengals-Jets from 1 to 8:20 Sunday; now, if the Patriots win early at Houston on Sunday, New England will be locked as the No. 3 seed and Cincinnati will have anything to play for. Thus, the Jets could have their second straight cupcake game and skate into the playoffs as the luckiest team of the year. I emphasize "could'' because we don't know how Marvin Lewis would play a game like this knowing he might have to prepare his team coming off a night road game on a short week for a possible Saturday wild-card game.
Here's my point: No matter what game the NFL moved to Sunday night, it would affect the playoffs. There's no guarantee the Jets-Bengals would have been played at 1 p.m. had it not been moved to nighttime; if the league did that, then the New York TV market would have been robbed of the Dallas-Philadelphia late game because the Giants and Vikings would have had to be moved to the late-afternoon slot, and the FOX rating would have been splintered and lessened there.
"It's impossible to stay away from factors like that,'' league scheduling czar Howard Katz said this morning. "Our biggest priority is to find a game that, regardless what happens early, will have playoff implications at night. And in this game, it's a win-and-in scenario.''
By the way, my guess is if New England wins early, Carson Palmer will play little or none of that game. Which will only make the people who need the Bengals to win Sunday night even angrier.
Two notes about the MMQB book deal I offered: I've gotten notes that approximately 175 to 200 books never arrived after being mailed out from SI. That seems high. We're going to try to figure out a fair way to handle this. I haven't done that yet, but it's going to be problematic, because I've sent out all the books that were sent to me. So let me think about that for a while, and I'll let you know how we'll handle it.
Also, I don't have plans to do any more signing now. Thanks for your enthusiasm and your support of the book. But this was a one-time deal, for the holidays this year, and the mailing costs and the fact that I'm not in my New York office with any regularity make it difficult.
Now for your e-mail ... and Green's foresight:
• FRANK, THIS IS SMART. From Frank of San Luis Obispo, Calif.: "Hi Peter. By my count there are eight QB's that have passed for more than 4,000 yards this season, with at least two more within reach of that mark before season's end. Has there ever been a season with more 4,000-yard passers?''
Right you are -- and there are actually three who are close. (NFL.com stats here.)Brett Favre needs 114 yards, Eli Manning 120 and Kurt Warner 278 to get to 4,000. I'd say Favre and Manning, opposing quarterbacks Sunday in Minneapolis, probably will get there, because the Vikes are competing for the first-round bye, and Tom Coughlin will be playing to win the game. Never know about Warner. But adding Manning and Favre would make it 10. The NFL record for 4,000-yard passers in a season is seven, set two years ago. Last year there were six. So with one game left, the league already has more 4,000-yard passers than in any season ever.
Which brings me to Trent Green's substitute MMQB column last summer. He wrote: "I think with teams going pass happy, there will be at least 10 quarterbacks to throw for more than 4,000 yards this season. Seem like a lot? I see six locks and seven more with potential. Let's break it down: Guaranteed to do it -- Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Kurt Warner, Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers. Potential to do it -- Jay Cutler, Matt Cassel, Carson Palmer, Matt Schaub, Donovan McNabb, Tony Romo and Matt Hasselbeck.'' The only one he missed who's already there is Ben Roethlisberger. Nice job, Trent. Want the job again this summer for a week?
• CONSPIRACY THEORY DEPT. From Gabe of Brooklyn: "Do you think once the Colts saw the Jets got their miracle and all the teams lost they needed to on Sunday, that the Colts threw the Jets a bone and lost on purpose? The rationale is it stops two very dangerous teams, the Ravens and Steelers, from entering the playoffs. I think that is what happened and will never be admitted by the Colts. I would like your opinion on this.''
Sorry. This was done with regard to only one factor -- making sure the Colts had less exposure to injury than if they'd played starters the entire game.
• NOTHING LIKE A LITTLE LABOR DISCUSSION. From Doug Johnson of Franklin, N.C.: "Enjoy the weekly football insights. Regarding the possibility of no football in 2011: Three or four years ago, I would have said there was no way this would ever happen. The owners and players had learned from MLB and the NBA and would NEVER allow an impasse to reach the point that a work stoppage could ensue. The NFL was exceedingly conscious of its relationship with its fans and the damage that such a stoppage could cause. But over the last couple of years, the League's popularity (especially in terms of television viewership, fantasy football participation, etc) seems to have reached a "critical mass" such that the fans now need the NFL more than the NFL needs the fans. In other words, I believe that the owners and players feel like the fans will forgive any trespass just to get their football back. Is the NFL too powerful for its own good?''
Interesting question. I do believe NFL owners feel a little bulletproof, seeing every networks' ratings climbing every year (ESPN and NBC both have ratings increases north of 15 percent over last year), and it'll be interesting to see if that confidence in the product makes owners drive a harder deal in negotiations with players.
• VERY GOOD QUESTION. From Eric Goolsby of Pembroke Pines, Fla.: "My question is why did the NFL play a game on Christmas night? How did that make any sense for the league or the players involved and their families? Why not Christmas Eve or just not play a game until Sunday? Or maybe match two teams that were located geographically closer together (Pittsburgh/Baltimore?). How was asking San Diego to travel across the country for a Christmas Day game in the spirit of the season? Were advertising dollars that plentiful for a Christmas night game?''
I agree with you. Christmas football makes me uncomfortable. I liked what Stan Van Gundy, the Orlando Magic coach, said about playing on Christmas. He said he didn't like it at all, felt that Christmas should be a family time but understood that the NBA got great ratings on Christmas and basically he had to take one for the team ... but it didn't mean he liked it. I'm sure the Titans and Chargers felt the same way.