Audible audacity or ineffective execution?

Brett Favre (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Brad Childress disputed the assertion that he was miffed at Brett Favre for audibling out of running plays, and the visual evidence doesn't show an obvious audible. But the bigger issue with the offense is a simple lack of execution.

Every good drama has to have a good cop and bad cop, right? What's a good movie without the protagonist and antagonist?

Sorry, but in this real-life drama between Brett Favre and Brad Childress they come off both playing stubborn cop.

By now, everyone in the NFL theater knows the storyline. Brett Favre is getting beat around against the Carolina Panthers and the Vikings only have a 7-6 edge in the third quarter – which, by the way, they'd easily take now knowing how disastrous the final period turned out to be. Childress says, "Hey, you know what? I'm thinking about taking you out of the game here. You're getting your rear end kicked."

The problem is that telling Favre he was in line for a benching doesn't solve the issues at offensive tackle. Neither did benching left tackle Bryant McKinnie for Artis Hicks. The Vikings have seen all season long how teams try to neutralize Jared Allen, so it shouldn't have been too difficult to offer McKinnie (or even Hicks) extra help blocking Julius Peppers.

"That is me. I will take that. We didn't do a good enough job of getting him help. Whether it was chip help or tight end help or fading a guard that direction," Childress said, adding a bit later that "we actually had it set up that way a couple of times that it didn't occur and it should have occurred. A lot of it was a one-on-one operation."

McKinnie admitted that he had a poor night.

But several reports following the "heated" conversation or "stream of consciousness" (depending on who you believe) said that there was actually a bigger issue than protecting Favre. According to the reports, Childress was miffed at Favre for audibling out of running plays and into passing plays at key junctures late in games against Green Bay and Detroit when the Vikings had the lead.

"That couldn't be further from the truth," Childress said Tuesday on Sirius NFL Radio. "He's been a great, great team player here. His communication has been great, with Bev (offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell), with myself, with our offensive staff. You don't play this game for 18, 19 years and not have different ideas seeing different fronts. I always say it's a pretty good free flow of information. You know what? He's taught us some things and we've taught him some things about how we've been successful here."

Reports from various media outlets cited three previous incidents where Favre reportedly audibled out of a run and upset Childress:

  • The first was on Oct. 5 against Green Bay when the Vikings had a 10-point lead with less than four minutes to play. Following a Jordy Nelson touchdown to make it 30-20, the Vikings ran twice for no real gain. On third down, they lined up with three receivers – Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin and Bernard Berrian – and Chester Taylor in the backfield. They ran a play-action fake to Taylor and Favre lofted a long bomb down the right sideline. Berrian was bumped out of bounds, making the pass incomplete. But there was no indication of an audible at the line of scrimmage on the TV copy of the game. The three-down possession only took about 30 seconds because of timeouts and the incomplete pass. With Rice recovering two onside kicks, the Vikings won 30-23 and Favre was able to kneel on the ball for their final possession.

  • According to reports, Childress was also irked at a similar situation in the next Packers game on Nov. 1. With a 31-26 lead and again with less than four minutes to go, Favre reportedly changed a third-and-11 play from the Green Bay 16-yard line from a run to a pass. He threw between two defenders and connected with Berrian for a 16-yard touchdown. Favre could have settled for what would have been about a 34-yard field goal and an eight-point lead, but it's unclear from the TV copy if he audibled or not. That time, the TV account didn't show Favre enough before the snap to make much of a judgment.

  • Two weeks later, after the team's bye, was the next reported instance of Childress considering benching Favre. This time it was in the second quarter against Detroit. Like Sunday's game against Carolina, that would have seemed premature to bench a future Hall of Fame quarterback who has given the team's passing offense a shot in the arm.

    But the issue here probably runs deeper than one, two, three or four instances of audible audacity. If these reports are true – again, Childress says they are far from the truth – it's more a difference in philosophy. Earlier this year, Childress said it was almost heresy for him to think of becoming more of a passing offense. With a running back like Adrian Peterson, it should start with the rush, but Favre appears to have given the passing offense such a rush that it's easy for the play-callers to get away from the running game.

    And, facts being facts, Peterson is averaging almost a half yard less per carry (4.4) compared to last year (4.8).

    One of the issues is that the Vikings don't really have an identity. They had always been a run-first team under Childress the previous three seasons, but this 40-year-old toy is still pretty fun to play with and they tend to drop the old way of doing things with Peterson first and become enamored with Favre's abilities.

    That's fine as long as points are going on the board, Favre is holding up and the offensive line can protect. But the Panthers defense had the Vikings' number and Peterson ended up with only 12 carries on 45 offensive plays.

    That's a trend in the Vikings' losses. In all three losses, Peterson has had fewer than 20 carries. Against Arizona, he had 13 carries and in Pittsburgh he had 18. He averaged 3.8 yards against Pittsburgh, but against Arizona he averaged only 1.5 and against Carolina it was 2.9. But when the Vikings get away from the running game, the pass rush heats up.

    The Childress-Favre prime-time drama is interesting, as many expected it would be when Favre signed with the Vikings, but this team doesn't just have problems with play selection and audibles, it has execution issues in its running game and on the offensive line.


    Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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