The narrative of the Minnesota Vikings’ 28-17 win over the Arizona Cardinals is that head coach Leslie Frazier finally put a short leash on QB Donovan McNabb and handed the ball to Adrian Peterson, who rewarded Minnesota fans with three early touchdowns for a lead so safe even the Vikings could not blow it.
If you buy that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I would like to sell you.
Inept play by the Cardinals gave the Vikings possession in the Arizona 18, 24 and 25-yard line. From that distance, Minnesota needed a four-play, one-play and five-play drive for their first three scores. All were on the ground, including the third score when McNabb scrambled from the shotgun when his receivers were covered.
Minnesota’s last scoring drive began on their own 27-yard line and consisted of a 10-yard Arizona penalty, a 21-yard pass completion to Devin Aromashodu and three rushing plays. The last two were 14-yard running plays by Peterson for the touchdown. After 10 minutes of the first quarter, this game was a sleeper that was interesting only to fans of the teams.
The game situation dictated that the Vikings rush the ball 37 times against Arizona. The Cardinals did not force the Vikings out of it even though Arizona ran 16 more offensive plays and controlled the clock two minutes longer than Minnesota. The Cards could not exploit the Vikings’ defense for a comeback as the Lions did two weeks earlier.
If anything, the Vikings might not have thrown the ball enough.
McNabb has not thrown so few pass attempts since game one against the San Diego Chargers, when he famously threw for 39 yards on 15 tries. In the following three games, McNabb attempted at least 30 passes, completed 60 percent of them for passer ratings of 83.8, 86.7 and 88.5 and four touchdowns.
What McNabb is not doing is elevating Minnesota’s receivers the way he did with magic in Philadelphia, or the way former Eagle Randall Cunningham did in Minnesota in the 1990s. Cunningham had Randy Moss and Chris Carter to lob balls to. McNabb does not.
McNabb is a streak player who needs repetition to for success. He also needs a full complement of receivers. Bernard Berrian is missing in action—11 targets, 2 completions, 37 yards, and benched for disciplinary reasons for the Arizona game. (Apparently exchanging tweet bombs with state legislators sponsoring a new stadium deal is now frowned upon.)
By now, Coach Frazier knows that McNabb is not the answer. But in a passing league, cutting McNabb’s pass attempts is not a long-term solution either. Developing Aromashodu to backfill Berrian holds promise. Fixing a vulnerable secondary to hold a lead will help more.
Bottom line for the Vikings’ run-heavy gameplan last week: It’s not every day that a team runs into the Arizona offense.
The Vikings do run into the Chicago Bears Sunday night. The Bears are not stopping anyone by allowing 419 yards and 24 points a game. The shell shocked Bears were so focused on Calvin Johnson in last Monday night’s loss to the Detroit Lions that they allowed Lions rusher Javid Best to have the, um, best night of his career capped by his 88-yard fourth quarter romp.
Minnesota has no receiver like Johnson to intimidate Chicago’s defense. They will focus on Peterson. Frazier has to call McNabb’s number for half the offense to keep Chicago honest. Chicago has allowed opposing quarterbacks to roll to a 97.0 passer rating. If Percy Harvin and Michael Jenkins can find a seam in the Bears secondary against Chicago’s new safeties, McNabb and the Minnesota offense might build a two score lead by halftime, then hold on for the defense to save it.
Vikings pass rushers Jared Allen and Brian Robison must be casting a cold eye on Jay Cutler. Chicago’s quarterback has been sacked in the last 27 games. Chicago’s one-man gang, Matt Forte, will keep Minnesota’s defense honest. It might not be enough.
The Vikings are three-point underdogs against the Bears. With McNabb managing the game in a balanced run-pass attack, that strikes me as the margin for a Minnesota win.