Fran Tarkenton: Vikings should adapt to today’s pass-happy, what-defense NFL
I never thought I’d see the day when the dominant teams had the worst defenses and, often, weak running games. but that’s where we are.
Monday night, Drew Brees broke Dan Marino’s record for passing yards in a season. and he didn’t just break the record. He broke the record with a whole game still to play. and Tom Brady is just a mediocre game away, while Aaron Rodgers has an outside shot if he has a huge Week 17. even Eli Manning and Matthew Stafford are within shouting distance.
The game this year has changed more physically than I’ve ever seen. the top three teams have been Green Bay, New Orleans and New England. they have the top three quarterbacks in the league, all potentially having landmark seasons. and they all play with challenged defenses, while only the Saints have a solid running game. It’s a reversal of the way we’ve traditionally seen dominant teams rise.
It tells me the offenses have gotten way ahead of the defenses. Things are cyclical, with the offense gaining an edge, then the defense finding a way to counter it, and back and forth.
Right now, offenses are spreading out the field, attacking defenses with big, physical and fast tight ends positioned against smaller defensive backs or slower linebackers. looking at the three teams I mentioned above, you see Jermichael Finley, Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez – all in addition to wide receiver threats.
Defenses just haven’t figured it out.
It’s the culmination of what the NFL has been trying to do, starting with the 1978 rule changes. to get more offense into the game, the league that year made it illegal to bump a receiver after five yards. ever since, the rules consistently have favored the offense, and the record-setting performances we’re seeing this year prove they’ve succeeded.
Marino’s 5,084 yards passing, which stood since 1984, likely will be eclipsed at least once more. Brees is on pace to beat his own record for single-season completion percentage and is 10 completions away from Peyton Manning’s single-season record. and Rodgers is ahead of Manning’s record QB rating and just five touchdowns away from Brady’s record.
I still believe having a strong defense and a running game are important to winning, and San Francisco, Baltimore and Houston are following that path. but as the game changes, it becomes more and more important for the Vikings to take advantage of what the rules allow, and right now that means passing.
Look at the top teams. all have multiple threats, including wide receivers, running backs catching passes out of the backfield, and the dominant tight end.
The Vikings need more explosive receivers, particularly with Adrian Peterson possibly out until the middle of next season. Percy Harvin is a great one, but they need more. find better receivers (who don’t have to come in the first round of the draft, if you look at the top receivers around the league), and work at mastering the short 5- and 10-yard throws. Let’s see if Kyle Rudolph can become a top-rate tight end to put up against the great ones around the league.
Defensively, being in a passing league means you need a good secondary. the Vikings in recent years have been great at stopping the run, and that’s still the strength of the defense. but ranking 29th in passing yards allowed and letting opponents complete a league-high 68.6 percent of their passes is a recipe for disaster in a division with Rodgers, Stafford and (when healthy) Jay Cutler.
Losing Peterson is never a good thing, but the Vikings can at least position themselves for the long term by developing a passing game (and pass defense) during his absence.
Fran Tarkenton is Vikings analyst for TwinCities.com and the Pioneer Press. He is a former Minnesota Vikings quarterback and a Pro Football Hall of Fame member. He also is an advocate for small businesses and the founder of OneMoreCustomer.com.
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