From 1998 to the beginning of last season, the arrival of Fall meant certain fixation among those tuned into the Minnesota sport's scene with the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings' uneven, at times miserable, performance last season began to change fan affinity with the team with fans increasingly evidencing a general disenchantment with the Vikings' play, the team's failure to meet its own modest goals, and the general incompetency of the organization.
After last season's failings, the Vikings brought in a new coaching staff with a different approach to dealing with players and a different view on how properly to prepare for games. On the field, the results have been acceptable--two victories and one loss against three teams that many pre-season prognosticators believed would be in the playoff picture at the end of this season.
Off the field, however, success is more difficult to gauge. But judging from the last-minute push to sell seats against the Chicago Bears and the continuing availability of tickets for home games this season, it appears clear that solid coaching and success on the field do not necessarily create the week-long hype that sells the weekend tickets. And talk about the Vikings has taken a backseat to the more interesting local baseball team.
The reason for the Vikings' early-season mundane offense is partially evident as the Vikings have played three successive games against teams with a defense-first approach to football. The Vikings, coincidentally, have decided on that approach as well this season, if not merely coincidentally by necessity. The combination of defensive-minded game plans between the Vikings and their opponents in the first three weeks has meant offensively dull, low-scoring football.
There is little reason to expect the Vikings to deviate from their dull offense, decent defense trend in week four at Buffalo. In the Bills, the Vikings face a team that has allowed an average of 18 points per game against three questionable opponents--the New England Patriots, the Miami Dolphins, and the New York Jets. In building a 2-1 record against this competition, the Bills have allowed an average of 280 yards of offense. That put their opponents right at the expected scoring return of 18-19 points.
On offense, the Bills have been more suspect. In their first three games, they have averaged 295 yards of offense per game. That's against one decent defense--largely as the result of its play against Buffalo, one subpar defense, and one truly awful defense. The result has been an offensive output on par with expectations at 17.7 points per game, but a total offensive output below what would be expected against the caliber of teams that the Bills have faced this season.
Minnesota, meanwhile, has averaged 310 yards of offense per game against teams widely regarded as among the top five in the NFL on defense. The Vikings have converted, however, four points below their expected scoring of 21 points per game.
On defense, Minnesota has yielded an average of 287 yards per game and two to three points less than expected at 16 per game against teams that, whether due to missing personnel or the mere lack of personnel, were not expected to score large numbers of points against Minnesota. Buffalo appears to have an offense similar to what the Vikings have faced in the first three weeks with a decent running attack and a mediocre to below-average quarterback and receiving corps.
If the Vikings insist on taking the minimal number of shots downfield, they will continue to dwell below their expected scoring level. If this tendency persists against Buffalo, Minnesota should expect another 13-16 point output.
If, however, the Vikings commit to making the receiving corps a relevant element of their offense, the Vikings ought to be able to improve on their scoring against the Bills by plus four over their expected scoring level. With Brad Childress' stated commitment to getting the offense going sounding more serious than in weeks past, look for the Vikings to open it up--i.e., throw to the recievers--a a little bit this week. Vikings 24 over Buffalo 17.
A win shakes fan boredom. A loss...
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