Note: Mr. Cheer or Die is on vacation through September 7. Writing today is guest author Robert W. Blake aka "Philly-Vike".
Yes, we are hearing it one more time- the Vikings year is going to be better than ever, they are contenders for the Super bowl if Philadelphia self-destructs or sustain key injuries. Is this the year or is it just more hype to get us pumped up for the season?
Let us examine together the critical factors that will affect this upcoming season. There are of course both positive factors and negative ones we need to consider.
The positive, lets start with the good then focus on the bad.
1) Moss is gone. Yes, I said it he is gone and we will see a different team as a result. The offense in my opinion is going to be less predictable for opponents. No longer will the Vikings look to get the ball to keep the superstar happy and involved in the game. It means everyone will have to be a part of the offense to move the ball. Will we still pass down field, don't let Tice's words fool you about more of a running game, he has been saying it as long as he has been coach and we keep returning to the passing game. We will again this year.
2) Culpepper is a Viking. Man we all have to be happy now that he has progressed as he has as a QB that Green took the risk on him. Only Manning is a better pure passing QB in the league. I think this year Culpepper outshines Manning, why? See the above comment. Culpepper has progressed in his passing ability and reading the field. He is going to be able to pass to whoever is open and not laser in on Moss anymore. Opponents will not know who to cover with Burleson, Taylor, Robinson, Wiggins and the RB on the field at the time.
3) Defensive changes will make a difference. I think there will be some struggles the first few games but this team will hit stride as the season progresses. We have a defensive line and defensive backfield that will make an excellent combination. No time for the QB to pass and when they do, no one will be open. Do not buy into the vanilla schemes they have used in preseason, this team will be feared and by the 5th game is my prediction.
4) Zygi Wilf ownership carries over onto the field. his personal style with players and coaches will create a more cohesive team. You will see it on the field, more committed players because the owner is more committed to them. All you have to look at is installing air conditioning in the Winter Park locker rooms as one of the first orders of business to see that the owner is not about the bottom line anymore.
5) Running back depth will rule supreme. We are 3 or 4 starters deep at running back. truth be told whoever you want as the starter it does not matter because they will all produce on the field if given the chance.
The negative, where the season could unravel:
1) Special Teams is critical. The Vikings are still not investing in quality players at key positions and like last year, several games will be lost as a result. Add to it the lack of upgrading the coaching one more year you have a deadly formula. We have two kickers who when the pressure is on will shank their FG attempts. Add in the unsettled battle at punter and the formula becomes even deadlier. Games will be lost until the management takes this unit seriously.
2) The linebackers are going to be a weakness of the defense. I am not sold in Cowart or Harris being the solution to the problems at LB on defense. I think this will be where we get killed yet once again. The pass defense will be inadequate and the run defense will be a sieve if they get past the defensive line.
3) Change in offensive coaches will set the team back. I do not think Loney was a good choice as a replacement for Linehan. Although I was not a real fan of Linehan, you want consistency with coaching when other big changes have occurred such as the loss of Moss. He does not have the experience or skill to be a genius. That he says he wants to run more with Culpepper at QB is disheartening. Culpepper is deadly if given the time to pass.
4) Tice is still head coach. He has not made a good transition as coach. Yes, his hands were tied with a coaching salary cap, but he still is extremely bone headed when it comes to the critical game time decisions that need to be made. Just look back to last years Eagles game where he did not throw the red flag when Owens was out of bounds on the catch. He states he did not see it- that is why you have a guy in the booth and players to assist in making that decision. He will again make some crucial errors in judgment that lead to a loss or two.
5) The State government. I have to get my slam in here somewhere about the pathetic nature of Minnesota politics that still refuses to do squat about a new stadium. Even when excellent plans are dropped in front of them they still bury their head in the sand and say, "NO WAY WE WON'T PAY!" Trouble is if they do that long enough, the fans will end up paying with no team. The atmosphere does affect how the team plays on the field.
6) The offensive line is going to be a mess. I think it is the most unsettled part of the team just below special teams. You do not want the offensive line to be unsettled. The reason is the Vikings banked on unproven talent to be able to contribute significant roles instead of having solid veteran talent. Specifically, the RG or LG position depending on where Liewinski will play. It started with moving Liewinski, I knew it when I heard it that it was a bad idea. Sure enough Liewinski moved back to LG, where he should have remained all along to keep the line cohesive. Add in the dash of Birk's injury and again this could be a season killer. The Vikings gambled with young talent and it is looking as if it will not pay off, especially with the running game and lack thereof.
So how will the season unfold, you be the judge but mark my words these are the critical positive and negative factors you will hear about week in and out all season.