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ZB Notebook 10-15-13

Is Leslie Frazier feeling desperate? Frazier and the Vikings coaching staff have to be feeling the heat after an embarrassing 35-10 loss to Carolina dropped this 2012 playoff team’s record to 1-4.

ESPN 1500 notes in its writeup on the Vikings/Panthers game that Frazier uncharacteristically placed some of the blame for Sunday’s loss on the players rather than taking it all upon himself as he often does.

While it’s true that the players were pathetic in Sunday’s loss, Frazier’s defense of his coordinators – particularly offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave – rings hollow to me. The lack of creativity just oozed from the screens as I consistently watched the Vikings repeatedly run Peterson on first down, maybe run him again on second down or maybe run a short pass. Then on third down, it’d be another pass, generally short of the first-down marker.

All this going on while other teams were going deep, mixing up sequences, passing on first down … this team is foundering right now and the offensive play calling, whether based on a blasé coordinator or lack of confidence in the players, is a major reason.

The defense isn’t helping at all either. The Vikings made a major blunder in the offseason in letting Antoine Winfield go. Xavier Rhodes has shown flashes of being a solid cover cornerback, but Josh Robinson is a liability in the slot. I don’t generally pretend to be an expert on personnel moves, but Robinson needs to grab some bench. He was scorched on one of the long touchdowns during the 35-10 loss to Carolina and if he hasn’t found his way to the bench in favor of lesser-known-but-better-performing Marcus Sherels, then there is no accountability left in how this team is being handled.

Kudos to Thad

Sunday was the first time in awhile I’ve had a chance to go to a bar and watch several games at one time. One thing that was especially disturbing to me about how the Vikings played was how creative and interesting some of the other teams looked while Minnesota was repeatedly crapping the bed.

Take, for example, Buffalo, where unheralded free agent QB Thad Lewis made his NFL starting debut in place of EJ Manuel. The Bills, who also were missing No. 1 WR Stevie Johnson, did not beat Cincinnati, but they also did not cower in defeat. The Bills continued running their offense, regularly throwing the ball downfield and giving the rookie a chance to shine.

His numbers weren’t great, but he threw for 216 yards and a couple touchdowns, adding another on the ground. Lewis was legitimately handed the reins and he responded with an effort that should provide fans and coaches with some hope that he can continue to keep the Bills competitive until Manuel returns. Kudos to the staff for not holding him back as some other teams seem to do these days even with their unproven starters.

Falcons … what a difference a year makes

While the Vikings have been bad, they’re no worse than the second most disappointing team in the NFL through six weeks. Fighting for the top spot would be the New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons, who have combined to go 1-10.

And it looks particularly bad for Atlanta. The Falcoholic blog has spent much of the past week debating whether the offensive line, the pass rush or injuries have been at the root of the issues. That’s still to be decided.

But this week they’ll get back into action taking on Tampa likely without Julio Jones and possibly Steven Jackson and Roddy White. That leaves Darrelle Revis free to single up on either TE Tony Gonzalez or WR3 turned WR1 Harry Douglas.

Think Gonzalez may be regretting coming out of retirement?

Patriots/Saints lives up to Game of Week billing

Don’t have a ton to say about the Saints/Patriots game other than it lived up to its billing as our Game of the Week.

As the fan of a team that has lacked a real quarterback strategy since Daunte Culpepper shredded his knee, it’s really fun to get to watch games where guys like Drew Brees and Tom Brady duel for 60 minutes of back-and-forth action.

The defense has taken away Jimmy Graham? No problem. I’ll toss a TD to Kenny Stills. Don’t have Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola is hurt again? Kenbrell Thompkins, corner of the end zone, five seconds left, ballgame.

The Saints have been better than expected. The Pats have struggled a bit. Both are 5-1. This game showed why both of these teams will continue to be in the mix right up until Super Bowl Sunday. Good QB play is THE great equalizer.

Colts not quite there yet

San Diego played well Monday night. Philip Rivers looked like the 2008-2010 version of himself in leading the Chargers to a Monday night upset of Indy.

The biggest tell about this game, however, is that the Colts aren’t quite ready to hit the league’s elite just yet.

I am a huge fan and believer in Andrew Luck. It pains me to agree with Jon Gruden, but I do – Luck stands tall among a great group of young NFL QBs these days. But this team is an unfinished project.

The Colts, this game showed, are vulnerable to a power run game. Frankly, the combo of Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead really aren’t that powerful. If Indy can’t stop those two, wait until they see some of the actual elite power backs plowing up the middle on them. The Indy defense could not get off the field and get the ball back for Luck all night long.

The offensive line also is a work-in-project. Luck is great in the pocket, but he shouldn’t have to use those skills on every single play.

I also question the coaching. Chuck Pagano’s decision to punt late in the game on fourth down was questionable. I understand he had timeouts left, but the Chargers had been running the ball at will. A QB who has led so many game-winning drives in his one-plus seasons at the helm should have been given a chance to convert the fourth-and-short, if only to keep the ball away from an offense that clearly had the number of the Colts’ defense.

I like Indy and think they’ll win the AFC South. They’ve beaten two elite NFC squads in Seattle and San Francisco, but this was a team loss and there remains rebuilding to be done on this roster before the Colts can truly be called an elite team.

Texans fans … really?

And now stepping away from the game itself … Texans fans, you may think you’re hot stuff, but you had a really bad week. First there are reports that some number of you or one of you or … well, whatever the case might be, if any of you actually did go to the home of Matt Schaub to confront him over his play in recent weeks, you should be arrested and jailed immediately.

And then to cheer when he gets hurt on Sunday?

Boo Schaub’s bad play all you want. Boo Gary Kubiak for not pulling him. Whatever. But if you’ve so lost touch with reality that you think it’s okay to stalk a guy in his front yard or cheer when he gets hurt, let me suggest that you take a few weeks away from watching football to get your pathetic life back in perspective. The Texans as an organization were right to chastise you and you are an embarrassment to yourself and your family.

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