Monday, November 26, 2012

Coming off the Ledge: Leslie Frazier and Co. come up small in big game

To read Pacifist Viking's polite request of the National Football League in light of another predictable Vikings beatdown at Soldier Field, click here.

Last week I asked ESPN 1500's Tom Pelissero during an online chat what Minnesota Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier would have to do to keep his job beyond the 2012 season. Pelissero's response was as follows:

"I think it has less to do with how many wins they get to than how they get there. Does the coaching staff adjust to what teams are trying to do? Do young players keep ascending? Does the locker room stay together?"

Well, consider Leslie Frazier and the rest of his coaching staff minus 1 in those categories as the Vikings played (and lost badly) the first of a critical three-game stretch that will likely determine if they make the postseason or not.

We all know it's the players that make the plays on the field and against the Chicago Bears Sunday afternoon, the Vikings players rarely made any. But the coaching staff is responsible for preparing those players to make those plays. They are the ones who have to drill the players on fundamentals – things like catching balls that hit them in the chest and ball security. They are responsible for coming up with defensive and offensive schemes to exploit an opponent's weaknesses. And they are responsible for coming up with ways to counter what an opponent is doing if something isn't working during a game.

We saw none of that in the 28-10 loss to the Bears. This was really evident on the defensive side of the ball, as the Vikings were content to rush four guys at Jay Cutler most of the game, even as the Bears used six or seven guys to protect him. As bad of an offensive line as Chicago has, that's not the kind of odds many defensive lines can overcome. The Vikings defensive line was no exception, and Leslie Frazier and defensive coordinator Alan Williams had no answer for it as Cutler completed 74 per cent of his passes.

We also saw tactical blunders. Why did Frazier go for it on fourth-and-two at the Bears 18 yard line early in the fourth quarter when the Vikings were down 18 points and need a field goal at some point to cut into that lead and tie the game anyway? Some will say it was an aggressive call. I'll say it was a stupid call. I like Blair Walsh's chances of making a 28-yard field goal a lot more than I like Christian Ponder's chances of converting a fourth-down play with a pass on a day when the Vikings receivers could barely catch a cold.

And how do you leave for a big game on the road without ensuring Adrian Peterson is on the team bus? It is Peterson's fault that he was late, and that doesn't reflect well on him, but making sure all players are ready to get on the bus for a road game is one of those details a coaching staff should be on top of.

What's particularly bothersome is that the Vikings performance on the road under Frazier wasn't an anomaly. For the third straight road game (losses to Seattle and Washington are the others), the Vikings looked unprepared for the moment – outcoached and outschemed. The defense, which is Frazier's specialty, has been sieve-like in all three losses and the offense has been largely unproductive for long stretches of those games.

The Vikings have developed into a bad road team under Frazier. They are 1-4 this season and have grown increasingly uncompetitive in each road loss. This is a young team, for sure, and it's been showing that youth as of late. But with the right head coach, you could feel good about where the Vikings are right now and you'd have some faith that coach and his staff could turn this thing around.

But against the Bears at Soldier Field in a game that meant everything for Minnesota, the team and its head coach looked overmatched. What are the odds things get turned around next Sunday against Green Bay at Lambeau Field? Or the week after that at home against the Bears?

The clock is ticking on the Leslie Frazier era in Minnesota.

7 comments:

  1. It's strange that during the preseason we thought it might take 5 or 6 wins for Frazier to keep his job (we were assuming a low level of talent on the team that would require good coaching to get to 6 wins) and now this team looks like it has the talent and potential to get 9 wins this season, and poor coaching is dragging it down.

    It's a shame that Minnesota is wasting Peterson and Winfield and Allen and Greenway and Percy and Sullivan etc. It's a shame they wasted Birk and Moss and Culpepper.

    And I will hate New Orleans evermore for taking from Peterson and Rice and Favre etc. what rightfully belonged to the Vikings in 2009.

    (sigh)

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    1. Peter:

      What is your feeling on Frazier? Some fans seem to dislike him because he doesn't show much emotion on the sideline. I could care less about that. Belicheck and McCarthy aren't real yellers and screamers, but their teams do allright. That's not who Frazier is. I just don't like how the team is performing (or should I say not performing) on the road. Good teams travel well and I think good coaches help those teams travel well.

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    2. I don't know much about telltale signs of the quality of coaching within a team's play, but I have heard what you wrote: that good coaching travels well. And Minnesota's road record under Frazier's reign is not good.

      However, I see the potential for Frazier to end up with a story similar to Bill Cowher's. Cowher has a great record (more seasons with double-digit wins than without), but with no Super Bowl victories after a long time with the team, the Steelers entered a 3 year slump and after recovering, dropped to 6-10 a few years later before they finally got their SB victory.

      Will Frazier do that? Probably not. COULD he? Of course we cannot know, however, I don't think Frazier will lose his job after this season if nothing truly embarassing happens, and I'll be happy about that. He needs a little time.

      Musgrave is a great play designer but not a good decision maker during games. Different scenarios seem to puzzle him - it's as though he thinks it is better to stick to a gameplan than to adjust (which can sometimes be the case), but I'd like to see better play calling on offense.

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    3. PS - I like that he doesn't show emotion. He's a coach that handles media VERY well, and I won't get caught complaining about that.

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  2. No coach will ever get as much time as Cowher did without winning a Super Bowl, the Rooneys are unique. My best friend is a Steeler super fan, and even he says Cowher gets remembered for being better than he was because of the jaw and because he was the coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers with an awesome scouting department. Very good coach, not great though. He lost 4 AFC Championship games at home (one to a horrible San Diego team that got trounced in the Super Bowl), almost lost another one to a bad Colts team with Jim Harbaugh and should have lost the Super Bowl to an inferior Seahawks team. Five years ago, he would have been the perfect coach for an Adrian Peterson led team and I would have killed to get him. That being said, Frazier has shown nothing to even be considered in the same ball park as Cowher.

    Head coaches need to hire good coordinators, say what you want about Childress but he could do that very well. I would give Frazier a D so far, and that’s optimistic. He absolutely gets an F for Pagac, it was a horrible, embarrassing hire. Musgrave might get a C if you were being nice. He's like the brilliant professor who has never left the university to work in the real world, probably better as a QB's coach where he can teach offensive philosophy and help game plan but doesn't get to call the plays in games. Alan Williams could get a B if we’re being generous on a small sample size. And from what I read, having Singletary around has done more harm than good but that’s just reporters talking.

    Next we can look at game plans and failures to adjust at half time, that’s been pretty well documented. It has improved a lot from last year, I will say that. Questionable game management decisions. They are horrible on the road, you hit that. What scares me is how they get crushed coming off a bye 2 years in a row. I’m also perplexed as to why he won’t start a younger player unless he has no other option; I’m looking at you Jarius Wright.

    His pros are being a nice guy, staying calm, and relating to players. Who cares about being calm, Mike Tomlin or Tony Dungy can both get the job done. Hell with nice, Bill Belichick is a ruthless sonofabitch. The problem the Vikings have is that NFL coaches rarely go into a season as a lame duck. He deserves one more year, but that’s not an option. We either have to re-up him to keep continuity or cut him loose and start over. I think he is definitely getting shafted if he gets let go, but it wouldn’t really bother me because I definitely don’t want 3 more years of this either. Hopefully he shows something in these last five games to allow a clear decision, either they go on a run or they go down in flames. Just cruising along in neutral would be the real disaster.

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  3. Damn. I'm sorry that was longer than I thought it would be.

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    1. ETR:

      That was a long comment, but that's what we're looking for around here. I think Musgrave does a good job with what he has to work with on the WR front. The thing that bothers me, and other observers, is how he kind of outsmarts himself sometimes – like the 3rd-and-2/4th-and-2 series against the Bears. Peterson is rocking and rolling, you need that first down and you put the ball in Ponder's hands both times? The Bears would have been expecting it, but I give the ball to Peterson one more time on 3rd-and-2. And there have been many instances of that in his two years with the team.

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