Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Is Leslie Frazier In Over His Head?

I've tried not to harp too much on this year's NFL happenings, mainly because I completely whiffed on the NFC North, outside of Green Bay.

I am not going to rub anyone's face in the Packers' success. It's been a lot of fun to watch, and it's probably not a lot of fun for a lot of the readers of this blog, many of whom are not Packers fans.

I thought Minnesota would be good. I actually thought they could compete for a playoff spot.

I was dead wrong.

Minnesota is simply a bad team. The Vikings don't have any serious play-making receivers, a porous offensive line, and they are incredibly weak and thin in the secondary, especially at safety.

There are players on this team. Adrian Peterson is a beast, Jared Allen is having a huge season, Brian Robison is a real upgrade on Ray Edwards, Kevin Williams -- even injured -- can go, and while Chad Greenway isn't dynamic in any way at linebacker, he's reliable and very solid.

But it's not enough. The Vikings made a bad move at quarterback with Donovan McNabb, paid for it with a poor start to the season, and rookie Christian Ponder is quickly finding out that it wasn't McNabb's fault that plays weren't being made downfield.

So there are real concerns about the talent. But how much of this can be pinned on head coach Leslie Frazier?

At times, it looks like Frazier's in over his head a bit, like the job of head coach is too big for him to handle. There are times where the Vikings have looked unprepared for games, as if they don't understand how to handle their opposition.

One of those times was Monday night. In a perfect storm of sorts for Frazier, the Vikings were on national television (ESPN) against a rival (Green Bay) and coming off a bye week. Losing 45-7 in that situation just looks bad for Frazier and the entire staff.

But it's not that simple. Look at what Frazier took over.

We're in a passing league nowadays. The Vikings' problems are magnified because of the lack of receivers who can make plays at this level. While Aaron Rodgers is posting obscene passer ratings week after week (he's at 130.2 for the season), and it seems everyone is throwing the ball with great success, the Vikings can't move the ball through the air. Even with Ponder on board, they're going to find it excessively difficult to even present the threat of a passing game that can take heat off Peterson and the ground game.

These problems existed before, but having a quarterback in Brett Favre who could throw a ball 50 yards into a moving wastebasket helps mask such deficiencies. Guys that don't come around every day, and Favre made a rather pedestrian group of Vikings receivers look like stars. Sidney Rice's heyday helped, too, because his big-play ability on the outside took a lot of coverage away from Percy Harvin.

Now, Harvin -- not the best receiver when playing outside the slot -- is much more limited in what he can do. The injuries he keeps battling don't help, either.

Those are circumstances beyond Frazier's control, and they shouldn't be held against him when conducting a fair evaluation of his coaching acumen.

Did the Vikings look unprepared Monday night, or were they just overwhelmed by a team far superior in every area of the game? The defense permitted just ten points in the first half (remember, the first touchdown was a punt return). They kept Rodgers at bay as much as anyone has in the last year-plus, outside of the Bears and maybe Philadelphia in last year's Wild Card game. It was a good effort, and the Vikings had a 17-0 hole to show for it. That's a hole that was on the offense, not the defense, which did everything it could to keep the team in the game despite being overmatched on paper.

To rip Frazier for offensive shortcomings that appear to be talent-driven and not coach- or coordinator-driven seems unfair. Holding the defense responsible for those shortcomings also seems unfair. Yeah, the Packers rolled up 28 points in the second half, and didn't appear to be really trying in the fourth quarter while scoring the last 14. But saying that and putting it on the head coach is convenient, when that same team held the Packers to ten offensive points in the first 30 minutes.

Frazier might look like he's in over his head, but it's amazing what a couple good drafts can do to the perception people have of a coach. Mike McCarthy, who looked to be on the hot seat that national pundits love so much just a year or so ago, is lauded now as a genius. He earned a chunk of that praise, coaching a team full of injured stars to a championship last year. But part of it is the talent level that Ted Thompson has accumulated on the roster.

In the NFL, people like to say teams take on the personality of the coach. It's a convenient argument usually only thrown around when a team is losing and the coach appears stoic on the sidelines. When the bluster-filled, energetic coach can't win, no one seems to want to roll out this argument.

I'm not saying Frazier is the answer in Minnesota. I'm saying 15 games -- counting his time as interim head coach last year -- isn't enough to make that judgment.

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