Monday, December 31, 2012

In Aftermath of Ponder's Finest Moment, Time for Reality Check

The Minnesota Vikings defeated the Green Bay Packers on Sunday to clinch a spot in the 2012-2013 NFL playoffs.  The victory meant a seven-game improvement over last year's win total, ensured that head coach Leslie Frazier will be extended, and demonstrated, yet again, that Adrian Peterson not only is valuable to this team, but that he is the heart of the team.

These were the primary take-aways from Sunday's game.  Yet, because he had set expectations so low, Christian Ponder's 234 yards passing and a handful of nice passes are being cited as proof that he is the Vikings' quarterback of the future.  While rekindling memories of Ponder's first game in the NFL gives reason for something other than utter disappointment, however, christening Ponder's "arrival" is perhaps a more fanciful response than even the most purple-infused follower routinely would dare offer.

To the objective observer, Ponder was above average over the course of yesterday's game and did precisely what needed to be done at at least three critical moments--he (twice) found Michael Jenkins open in the back of the endzone on a drive that required a Vikings' touchdown, he hit an open receiver in stride for a 65-yard pickup that set-up Jenkins' touchdown, and he hit a wide-open receiver on the sidelines on the winning drive to keep the drive going.  He also kept from turning the ball over.

If Ponder had missed on any of those plays, threw a pick, or put the ball on the ground, the Vikings probably would have lost to a Green Bay team that was eating alive Minnesota's suddenly porous secondary and suddenly suspect kick-return coverage team.

That, as the Vikings like to say, is what Ponder is asked to do.  Make the plays that need to be made.  That's good--but it certainly is not great.

Ponder also had his miscues and warts on Sunday--all of which he got away with because Green Bay was so desperately attempting to do what it simply cannot do, stop the best running back in the league.  Peterson gashed the Packers for 199 yards and two scores despite facing mostly eight- and nine-man fronts.  For the lay person, that means that Ponder had, at worst, single-man coverage on every receiver.  Often, however, the Packers opted not to cover a receiver--as they did on the third-down pass late in the game--hedge the run and dare Ponder to complete a pass to a wide-open Michael Jenkins.

What Ponder demonstrated in Sunday's game is nothing more than that he has it in him to hit wide-open receivers often enough to require at least single-man coverage by the defense.  In the case of the touchdown pass to Jenkins, he also demonstrated an ability to put some zip on a five-yard pass.

One of the local scribes who is normally properly critical of Ponder has suggested that Sunday's performance put Ponder on the same plane as Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers, if only for one game.  Hardly.

With virtually no running game to speak of and needing points the entire game, Rodgers shook off a sleepy first quarter to sling the ball anywhere he wanted.  Passes that typically lope from Ponder's hands into those of his receivers' zip with alacrity into the striding reach of Packers' receivers.  Long passes look artful, rather than a means of last resort fraught with danger.  And statistics strongly favor Rodgers--even in Ponder's finest hour.

Despite the outcome, there is, then, ample reason to maintain a cautious watch over Ponder.  Sunday offered several such examples.  One, in particular, stands out.  At a critical juncture in yesterday's game, Ponder dropped back.  Facing a heavy rush, he could not decide whether to throw the ball or eat it.  He chose both, heaving a ball forty yards up and twenty yards out.  The ball hit the hands of two Packer defenders and settled in the hands of a surprised Viking receiver.  It was a horrible decision that could have cost the Vikings the game, but for a miracle.

On Sunday, everyone in the NFL universe knew that the Vikings would force the Green Bay Packers to beat them on the ground.  With little ground game, the Packers nearly beat the Vikings through the air with Rodgers amassing 365 yards--a season high--and four touchdowns.  Despite this attention to the passing game, the Packers accumulated a mere 72 yards rushing.  Nobody in Titletown is marveling at the rushing attack.

While everyone in the NFL universe knew that the Packers would force the Vikings to beat them through the air, Peterson amassed 199 rushing yards and two scores.  Those numbers are on par--if slightly higher even--with Rodgers' quarterbacking numbers.  In Minnesota, Ponder's performance is being hailed as magical in some quarters.

The two forces on Sunday were Rodgers and Peterson, not DuJuan Harris and Ponder.  That Ponder did slightly more than expected--that he hit some wide-open receivers against a sell-out-against-the-run defense--only shows that, when he plays really well, Ponder can do just that.  As long as the Vikings have Adrian Peterson, that might be good enough--assuming it is the norm, rather than the high-end aberration.

Up Next:  Peterson Carrying Vikings on Both Sides of the Ball.  Plus, with cash in hand, Vikings need to resign Percy.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Viking Fans' Rare Moment for Optimism in the Face of Optimism

Winter football.  Snow on the ground.  Playoff seeding in the balance.  A superior record.  A prior victory against the opponent.  One of the top quarterbacks in the NFL.  Facing one of the lesser quarterbacks in the NFL.

It all sounds too good to be true--too certain to result in a victory for a team accustomed to playing, and winning, big games in the Winter.

And it is too good to be true--or should be.

While Green Bay is dominant outdoors at home in the Winter, it is less dominant indoors, any time, particularly when the indoor facility is the Metrodome in Minneapolis.  Add to that the fact that Green Bay is playing merely for playoff seed against a team playing for a playoff spot and Minnesota will have not only home-field advantage but extra incentive against a division rival.

Barring a roof collapse, there will be no Winter weather inside the dome today.  There also will be no defensive patsy in the face of a strong pass, modest-to-weak run offense.  And that quarterback issue for the Vikings?  That will continue to be somewhat meaningless unless the Packers demonstrate an ability to stop Adrian Peterson.

On the season, the Vikings rank in the middle of the league in passing yards and passing touchdowns allowed.  Minnesota has achieved those statistics despite facing decent passing attacks for most of the season and only three truly brutal such offenses.  Moreover, they have accomplished this feat, in part, because they have defended well against the rush, ranking in the top third of the league in rushing touchdowns and rushing yards allowed, despite facing some of the league's leading rushing threats --Marshawn Lynch, Chris Johnson, Arian Foster, Alfred Morris, Doug Martin, Frank Gore, and Robert Griffin III.

Green Bay does not offer the same rushing threat of any of Minnesota's staunchest 2012 opponents, ranking near the bottom third of the league in rushing, in spite of having a stout passing attack.  Last week, Ryan Grant showed some promise, rushing for 80 yards and two touchdowns.  But that was against Tennessee's silk defense, not against an NFL lineup.  Against the rest of the competition, Green Bay's leading rusher, Alex Green, has a supremely modest 458 yards rushing--approximately 1,500 yards fewer than Peterson.  If Minnesota can hold Aaron Rodgers in check (under 250 yards with two or fewer touchdowns), the game should be the Vikings' for the taking.

That puts the onus on the Vikings' offense, squarely where it has been the entire season.  Fortunately for Minnesota, the NFL is without a team capable of both stacking the box against Peterson and stopping the check-down lobs of Christian Ponder--and Green Bay certainly is no exception.

In the first meeting between the teams this year at Lambeau Field, Peterson rushed for 210 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries.  The Vikings lost that game because they limited Peterson to 21 carries and Ponder made several brutal decisions, costing the team two critical turnovers and points on the board.  The final result was 23-14 in favor of Green Bay.

If the Vikings can remain within striking distance of Green Bay on the road when their quarterback essentially plays for the opponent, even a zero performance by Ponder should make for a close game.  A zero performance by Ponder and more carries for Peterson should make for a Vikings' victory.  And a modest plus performance by Ponder, combined with more carries for Peterson, should result in a comfortable margin of victory for Minnesota.

If ever Vikings' fans should feel optimistic in the face of optimism, today ought to be the day.  Facing a strong opponent, there will be no reason for over-optimism.  Facing a strong passing attack, there will be no reason for let down, should the Vikings gain a lead.  Possessing a strong-willed, unstoppable running back and a modest, at best, quarterback, there will be no illusion about what ought to be done on offense.  And, defensively and on special teams, the Vikings have reason to be confident.

If ever the stars and moon were aligned for a much needed Vikings' victory against a good opponent, today is the day.

Up Next:  Avoiding a Kahn Moment.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Sunday's Victory Shows Vikings Error of Ways in Handling Ponder

The Minnesota Vikings defeated the Houston Texans on Sunday with a mix of modest offensive play and strong defense.  Two plays that most stand out from the victory demonstrate where the Vikings are in their progression and what they have been missing.

The first big play came near the end of the third quarter in a game still in the balance.  After permitting the Texans to gain some life with a seemingly effortless march to the Minnesota one-yard-line, the Vikings reverted to the defense that got them so late in the game with a cushion.  The key play in the sequence, following two defensive stops from the one, came on third and goal from the one.  With Schaub moving back in the pocket, Minnesota defensive tackle, Fred Evans, came up the middle and sacked Schaub for a fourteen-yard loss.

Houston converted the subsequent field-goal attempt, but what looked like a certain momentum-building touchdown drive just three plays earlier had crumbled into a deflating field goal that left the Texans still two scores behind.

The second big play came midway through the fourth quarter with the Vikings still holding a tenuous ten-point lead.  Facing a third and two from his own 44, Ponder scrambled for 29 yards, setting up the final score of the game.

The Evans sack was significant in demonstrating how far the Vikings' defense has come.  Last year, Minnesota's defense never would have halted a favored road opponent in that situation.  This year, with the season still meaningful, the Vikings stopped a team with its own playoff position still undetermined.

Ponder's scramble, too, demonstrated progress--if only back to early last year.  On the day, Ponder threw for 169 yards--60 yards less than the league averages against Houston.  To that, Minnesota Vikings' fans have become accustomed.  Ponder's long, fourth-quarter scramble, however, made up for his lack of passing yardage and some other gaffes, securing a touchdown that Minnesota likely would not have had under its favored check-down system.

On the day, Ponder rushed for 58 yards--nearly 50 yards above his season average.  Those yards mattered, particularly situationally speaking.  If the Vikings want Ponder to be relevant as a quarterback, they need finally to acknowledge what they have in Ponder--a scrambling quarterback with some good running instincts and an ability to throw on a line when he rolls right.  That's it.  And it might suffice--if "unleashed"--to move the Vikings into the playoffs against a cast of characters not much better overall than a Minnesota team with an above average defense and a solid running game.

Up Next:  Fixing the Fixed.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Where Seattle is Bold, Vikings are Gutless

Following another monstrous game from Adrian Peterson (24 carries for 212 yards and a touchdown), the Minnesota Vikings find themselves precisely where everyone in the organization had hoped not be be at this point of the 2012 season--in a playoff race, relying entirely on a running back, and unable to trust the 12th overall pick in the 2011 draft, quarterback Christian Ponder.

For a team with reasonable playoff prospects, despite two difficult remaining games, this should not have been Minnesota's plight.  But because the Vikings insisted on adhering to convention, the team remains "committed" to Ponder.

On Sunday, in spite of the Rams' all-out effort to stop Peterson and encourage Ponder to pass, the Vikings ran.  The plan worked for Minnesota because Peterson is that good and the Rams' defense is that bad.  The plan worked in spite of Ponder, not because of him.

As has become his custom, Vikings' head coach Leslie Frazier saluted Ponder's "efficiency."  For the game, Ponder was 17 of 24 for 131 yards, a yards-per-attempt average of 5.5 (compared to Peterson's 8.8 yards-per-attempt rushing average), and a five-yard rushing touchdown.  Frazier called this "progress" following Ponder's 11 of 17 for 91 yard, 5.4 yards-per-attempt, one interception performance last week.

If this is "progress," progress for the Vikings has become the most meaningless of terms.

After sticking with Ponder throughout the season, likely costing the Vikings at least two games, the Vikings are now left with little choice but to be far bolder than anything required of Frazier in meeting earlier, ignored calls to pull Ponder from games in Seattle, Chicago, and Green Bay, and put Ponder on a short leash when the playoffs truly are on the line.  The alternative is to simply take the course of least resistance and continue to force Ponder on all involved and proclaim afterward that Ponder was "efficient"--or, given a loss--that Ponder still "has some things to work on, but we saw some progress in some areas."

Out West, a team likely to make the playoffs this year made the kind of bold decision that teams like the Vikings have demonstrated an inability to make this year.  Despite signing former Packer quarterback, Matt Flynn, to a three-year $26 million contract in the off-season, the Seattle Seahawks drafted former Wisconsin Badger quarterback, Russell Wilson, in the third round of the NFL draft.  When Wilson outperformed Flynn in pre-season, the Seahawks went one bold step further, starting Wilson and benching Flynn.

Seattle has been richly rewarded for defying conventional wisdom and for admitting that merit, not contract or draft position, should determine who starts at quarterback.  On Sunday, Wilson further validated the Seahawks' decision to start him, offering what should be the measure of efficiency and steady improvement in a first-year quarterback.  Wilson was 14 of 23 for 205 yards, an 8.9 yard-per-attempt average, and a passing touchdown.  And he added three rushing touchdowns--all from outside the 10-yard-line, one from the 25-yard-line--and 92 yards rushing.

Despite the performance, the Seahawks almost assuredly will continue to monitor Wilson's progress, holding him accountable if performance dramatically slips.

In Minnesota, meanwhile, the Vikings continue to lower the bar and make excuses for Ponder, fearing deviation from conventional wisdom.  That's why Frazier continues to "stand by" his man in the face of all that argues for not standing by his man and for, instead, standing by one of his other men.

Up Next:  Time to Extend Harvin.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Golden Opportunity for Vikings

A win in St. Louis today inches the Minnesota Vikings closer to a playoff position.  A loss all but eliminates the team from playoff consideration.

The Vikings have positioned themselves well for winning this game.  They have relied almost exclusively on Adrian Peterson for the past several weeks, noted that Ponder is being asked to do little and is obliging, and otherwise put opponents on notice that they have no intention of going to the air.

That, of course, is when going to the air is most readily an option.  If Ponder cannot improve on his season best--or even his season mean--under these circumstances, there is no point in even having him on the field.  If he can convert a couple touchdowns today, and Peterson does what most expect him to do, the Vikings not only should beat the Rams, they should do so with room to spare.

Up Next:  Playoffs or Next Year?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Vikings' Special Teams Coach Claims Punter's Eating is a Distraction

Well, not quite, but Mike Priefer might as well have said as much and demanded that punter Chris Kluwe refrain from eating, drinking, sleeping, walking, talking, and anything and everything else not requiring him to hold a football and/or punt it.

On Thursday, we were blessed with the wisdom that often flows from the mouths of NFL coaches who believe that they not only see the world correctly, but that others ought to see it the same way.  Responding to questions about Kluwe's decision to rally support for Ray Guy's inclusion into the NFL Hall of Fame by wearing a small piece of tape on his uniform encouraging voters to give Guy their vote, Priefer said he was "getting tired of" Kluwe's antics.  "He needs to focus on punting and holding," Priefer proclaimed.

Giving Priefer the perhaps underserved benefit of the doubt that he is not merely irritated that Kluwe's lobbying against a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in Minnesota helped defeat the measure, Priefer's statements nevertheless reflect an utter lack of awareness both that there is a larger world out there and that Kluwe's minimal gesture could hardly have been a distraction to the punter.  No claim was made that Kluwe was constantly fussing over the tape or in any conceivable way distracted by the tape, but Priefer was certain that it was part of a greater distraction.

As a punter this season, Kluwe has been average.  If that's not good enough for Priefer, the answer is not in identifying phantom distractions, but in getting his punter to work on his trade or find an alternative to his current punter.  Complaining about Kluwe offering a harmless measure of support for a punter long undeservedly denied a spot in Canton merely because a bunch of meathead voters think that punters are not tough enough to be in the Hall of Fame?  Please.

Up Next:  Minnesota Set to Flood the Gaming Market to Boost Addiction and Pay Our Bills.  Plus, other hallmark moments of good governance.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Top Three Ludicrous Comments from Week 14

Each week in the NFL provides a treasure trove of ludicrous comments--some from fans, some from announcers, some from broadcasters, and many, many more from sports scribes.  Following are three of the more ludicrous comments of the week.

(3)  Daryl Johnston Excuses Referees' Incompetence.  Following yet another push off by one of the Chicago Bears' burly wide-receiver twosome of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, FOX color analyst Daryl Johnston noted the offensive interference and the fact that the officials missed the call.  Johnston added, however, that "as long as the call is consistent" overlooking it is excusable.  Johnston's analysis would make sense, but for the fact that, by definition, there is no such thing as being consistent on such calls when only one team has burly wide-receivers that are pushing off--or when the other team doesn't even pass the ball.  Johnston's initial instinct was correct--the officials blew the call and had blown it consistently all day.  He should have stopped there.  Ludicrous Scale:  9.

(2)  Leslie Frazier Refers to Vikings' "Brand" of Football.  Vikings' head coach Leslie Frazier rears his head at the number two spot this week, after suggesting that the Vikings' have a "brand" of football.  Without a functioning quarterback, the Vikings mostly run the ball--32 times on 53 plays on Sunday.  When they pass, the pass is nothing more than an extended, often backward, handoff and expectations for success are more greatly diminished than if the quarterback were asked to simply down the ball on the snap. That's not representative of a brand of ball, that's dysfunction resulting from a stubborn approach to analyzing the performance of a player who should not be on an NFL roster.  Ludicrous Scale:  10.

(1)  Frazier Applauds Play of Quarterback.  Frazier also takes the number one spot in this week's rankings, after arguing that quarterback Christian Ponder, who finished the game 11 of 17 for 91 yards and a quarterback rating of 25--the lowest of all NFL quarterbacks in week 14--did his job.  If Ponder did his job against the Bears, the Vikings can save a boatload of money going forward hiring someone off the street to do what he did.  How bad was Ponder?  He had zero completions in which the ball traveled more than nine yards in the air and continued a downward trend over the past five games in which he has completed just one of twenty-one passes over 15 yards.  After the game, Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune referred to Ponder as the worst quarterback in the NFL.  FOX analyst Jimmy Johnson concurred.  Arizona fans might protest, but even their quarterback in yesterday's 58-0 loss finished with a higher quarterback rating.  Frazier seems schizophrenic regarding Ponder, alternately parsing his language to hide his frustration and praising his quarterback for his "efficiency."  The Vikings' three scores yesterday included exactly one pass from Ponder for an eleven-yard gain.  Ponder did have two completions that mattered late in the fourth quarter,  but they mattered more in that they gave Adrian Peterson a breather than they mattered in showing Ponder's value.  Ludicrous Scale:  11.

Up Next:  About That Bill.  Plus, what's the point of treating Ponder as nothing more than a placeholder?

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Frazier Lauds Ponder for "Efficiency," Calls Performance Part of the Maturation Process

After Greg Coleman offered that today's game was "not one of Christian Ponder's better games," he turned the microphone over to Vikings' head coach Leslie Frazier.  Frazier dismissed Coleman's adjectival phrase, stating that Ponder "was efficient" and that the performance was a good sign of Ponder's maturation.

Notwithstanding the fact that Ponder's performance--91 passing yards, a pick, and a 13 QB rating--was near expectations, Frazier is living in fantasy land.  Through the early games this week, Ponder ranked dead last in yardage.  His 91 passing yards in perfect conditions was twenty yards less than Mark Sanchez and only 57 yards more than Jason Campbell had in one series as a sub for the injured Jay Cutler.

The Vikings beat Chicago today, but they did so decidedly in spite of Ponder's performance.  Ponder's only contribution to this game was not turing the ball over.  The organ grinder can accomplish that much.

Up Next:  Vikings Still in Playoff Picture; Still Intent on Force-Feeding Ponder.

Sanchez Passes Ponder, Campbell Closing In

Mark Sanchez has put insurmountable distance between himself and Ponder in the race for most wretched passing performance in week fourteen, putting up 111 passing yards.  In one series, Jason Campbell threatens Ponder.  Yuck.

Sanchez and Alexander Still Trail Ponder in Passing Yardage

Through three quarters, only the previously benched Mark Sanchez and wide-receiver Danario Alexander trail Minnesota's Christian Ponder in passing yards with at least one passing attempt in week fourteen.  Sanchez has 72 yards passing on 10 of 17 passing.  Ponder has 75 yards passing on 8 of 12 passes completed.  More scintillating passing statistics to follow.

With Must Win Looming for Vikings, Only A Few Outcomes Would Surprise

Despite ineffective play by quarterback Christian Ponder, a season-ending "injury" to Percy Harvin, suspect red-zone playcalling and execution, and losses in four of their past five games, the Minnesota Vikings still have an opportunity to make the playoffs this season.  Playoffs?  Playoffs?!  Are you kidding me--playoffs?!

Kidding, I am not.  Probable, it may not be, however.

At 6-6, the Vikings likely need to win out to make the playoffs.  And they probably still will not control their destiny.  But in the world of cliches where everyone takes one football game at a time and doesn't look too far down the road to the next football game, the Vikings need to go with the hot hand and play within themselves the rest of the way to give themselves the best chance to win their football games.


The Vikings know the formula for beating the Bears because the Bears are who we think they are--but worse, as they will be without middle linebacker Brian Urlacher and starting cornerback Tim Jennings. A good running game, some timely passing, and reasonable defense is good enough to beat the Bears, barring a rash of turnovers.

Two weeks ago, against a healthier version of the Bears, Adrian Peterson ran for 108 yards on 18 carries.  This, despite the Vikings digging themselves an early deficit.  At home, the Vikings need to establish the run and create enough of a comfort zone for Ponder to permit him to make a few plays.  And a few plays from Ponder should suffice against a one-headed Bears' attack that ought to be quieter without two of its top defenders.

Of course, anything could happen in this game--or almost anything.  It would not be surprising to see Peterson post a new NFL rushing record, it would not be surprising to see Ponder have some success hooking up with Kyle Rudolph against Urlacher's replacement, it would not be surprising to see the Vikings win, and it would not be surprising were the Vikings to lose.  In fact, the only things that would be surprising today would be Christian Ponder throwing for 400 yards and four touchdowns, or 300 yards and three touchdowns--or Leslie Frazier inserting Joe Webb into the lineup at any point.

For the Vikings, the best recipe for keeping playoff hope alive rests with getting Peterson 25-30 carries, holding onto the ball, and making use of the tight end.  That's as simple as it gets in the NFL.

Up Next:  Posturing or Acknowledgement?  Plus, who will go first--Ponder, Frazier, or Harvin?

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Morris Out at KFAN

Former Minnesota Vikings' long-snapper, Mike Morris, has been let go by Clear Channel's KFAN radio station.  By his own admission, Morris was not the most eloquent, subtle, or mature, but he did offer one thing to Vikings' fans that is a rare commodity in the Minneapolis market--blunt analysis of the Vikings.  Morris' departure likely means more of Cory Cove's unwarranted condescension in the Vikings' post-game shows, absent Morris' surprising moderating effect.  In a market already starved for objectivity, Morris' departure will be noticed.

Percy Harvin Could Be Frazier's Waterloo

On Thursday, two weeks after listing Percy Harvin as doubtful and four days after listing him as out, the Minnesota Vikings put Percy Harvin on the injured reserve list making him ineligible to return this season.  The move comes at a time when the Vikings must win out to make the playoffs.  And it comes in the aftermath of both Harvin's sideline criticism of quarterback Christian Ponder and head coach Leslie Frazier's Wednesday comments more than merely implying that something other than just an injury was keeping Harvin off the field.

In 2010, former Vikings' head coach Brad Childress brought Randy Moss back to the team.  After several run-ins with Childress, Moss was cut loose.  Childress' handling of the Moss situation was the final straw for a Vikings' organization already spent attempting to craft a positive public image for Childress and Childress was cut loose.

In many ways, Frazier has far less equity than did Childress at the time of his dismissal.  Though Frazier is eminently more likable than Childress, Childress had at least made the playoffs--even if he did so in spite of himself.  In his second full season with the Vikings, Frazier faces the strong possibility of a second straight losing season and a season that went into the tank after the Vikings met the meat of their schedule.

During the Vikings' early season success, Harvin was the team MVP.  He made plays that were not there and offered Ponder a nooky blanket, catching passes behind, beneath, and over him and boosting Ponder's statistics to the point that Ponder had the greatest yards-at-catch versus yards-after-catch disparity in the NFL.

Whatever has happened behind the scenes with Harvin, one thing is certain--Frazier has mishandled the affair from an early stage.  The Vikings never should have reached a point where even a mercurial personality such as Harvin could be prompted to voice displeasure over the guy feeding him hospital balls on the field.

Frazier seems to wear a "courage of my convictions" badge whenever addressing Ponder.  That would be laudable were the conviction warranted.  Standing in Ponder's corner, knowing that doing so could lead to Harvin's premature departure, only exacerbates a situation that Frazier could have forestalled had he merely had the courage to send an earlier signal to Ponder--one still not made--that Ponder's position as starting quarterback is not as secure as Ponder appears to believe it is.

Ultimately, this is going to have an unsatisfactory ending for someone--or for many.

Up Next:  Shocking Pull-Tab Revelation.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Harvin First Shoe to Fall in Vikings' Ponder Myopia

Minnesota Vikings' head coach Leslie Frazier is fighting his first rebellion against his decision to stick with quarterback Christian Ponder.  Wide-receiver/running back Percy Harvin has gone from doubtful for two straight weeks following an ankle injury to out last week to potentially out for the remainder of the season.

Asked Wednesday whether there were issues outside of the injury that could be influencing the now greatly extended return of the Vikings' star receiver, Frazier replied that "there could be some things--we'll just have to wait and see."  Asked to clarify whether it was a personality issue, Frazier stated that he did "not want to go into it."

The word on the street is that the issue is two-fold.  The first is that Harvin is grossly underpaid compared to his wide-receiving peers.  The other is that Harvin continues to protest Ponder's role as starting quarterback on the club.  The emphasis appears to be on the latter.

Frazier clearly is stuck in this dilemma.  He has committed to toeing the company line and presumably feels obligated to compel his players to do the same--no matter how objective the players might be in their assessment.

While it is rare that a player would find support for calling out a coaching staff, Harvin's reported criticism of the team's continuing support of Ponder is wholly understandable.  Ponder has been brutal.  More significantly, however, Ponder's poor performances diminish fellow players' contract prospects and health.  At some point, a voice of reason is required within the inner circle.  Frazier may elect to punish that, but, sooner rather than later, Frazier will be the one punished by loss of his job.

Statistic of the Day:  Christian Ponder has a QB PAA of -12.4.  QB PAA rates QBs versus a generic replacement quarterback.  Ponder ranks second lowest among NFL starters.  Peyton Manning ranks number one in the league with a 57.8 score.

Up Next:  Is This Frazier's Moss Moment?  Plus, Vikings' front office struggling to rehabilitate Ponder in public and behind the scenes.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Frazier Concedes that Vikings Will Have to Consider Options if Ponder were to be Injured

In 2011, with Joe Webb coming off a promising start to what Minnesota never intended to be a quarterback career, the Minnesota Vikings used their first-round draft choice on a little-heralded quarterback out of Florida State, Christian Ponder.  Faced with a lockout that prohibited coaches and players from working with each other and ostensibly prohibited teams with new coordinators from getting playbooks to players, the Vikings somehow found a way to get Ponder Bill Musgrave's offensive playbook.

Webb did not receive the same courtesy from the Vikings, despite new head coach Leslie Frazier's frequent public statements that the the Vikings' quarterback competition was equally open to all quarterbacks on roster.

When the lockout ended, Ponder stood atop the depth charts despite not yet having played in the NFL.  The Vikings' coaches lauded Ponder's IQ and Rick Spielman reminded fans and media members--assuming any meaningful distinction--that Ponder was "the most NFL-ready quarterback in the draft."

Just before the beginning of the 2011 NFL season, however, Frazier convinced Spielman to take a flyer on Donovan McNabb.  Spielman obliged.  After several games of limited effort but considerable sideline jocularity, preening, and backslapping, McNabb was out and Ponder was anointed the new starter.

There was no competition to be McNabb's successor.  Ponder was the successor.  We were told it was because Ponder had demonstrated himself in practice.  A fallacy, of course, given that Ponder took limited reps in practice prior to McNabb's ouster and, more importantly, because Spielman, as we now most definitely know, could not possibly have assessed Ponder's ability in such a short time.

Ponder took the field and immediately heaved an eephus pitch for a touchdown.  Spielman beamed.  "That's why we took him," he gloated.  The gloating did not last long.

When the 2011 season became rocky for Ponder, the Vikings turned to Webb who looked every bit a young but improving quarterback with a good arm, good instincts, and genuine--rather than manufactured and coached--rapport with teammates.  Nobody ever said that they worked long hours with Webb on how to be a team leader, as Frazier now says the team has done with Ponder.  Nor did anyone within the organization criticize Webb's play, other than to note the need to eliminate turnovers.

Following his dismal 2011 finish, Ponder again received the nod in camp in 2012.  Despite being outplayed by Sage Rosenfels, Webb, and McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Ponder was anointed opening day starter.  Rosenfels was sent packing--presumably so as to remove one legitimate competitor and the scary specter for Ponder of having to be concerned about doing his job--and Webb was relegated to the role of backup upon whom the team never intended to call, with Spielman encouraging the locals to believe that Webb did not have a strong enough arm or adequate pocket presence to be a bona fide NFL quarterback.

Through the first month of the 2012 season, Ponder was average, the model rookie caretaker, minus the polish of a seasoned caretaker.  He was so ordinary that the Vikings encouraged touting his performance against San Francisco--a game in which Ponder performed just slightly below league average.

After that game, Ponder began to look increasingly less ordinary and more and more awful.  The nadir was Sunday's game in which he broke the 40-yard pass mark during an excruciatingly abysmal two-minute drive that saw full huddles and dump off passes against a prevent defense.

Not deterred, however, Spielman remains steadfast by his pick.  Frazier, ever the company robot--notwithstanding hints to the contrary--hides his disdain for such buffoonery behind pat cliches such as "Christian knows he will get better.  He needs to getter.  He will get better.  We know he will get better because we need him to get better."  If willing were a cure for awful quarterback play, Ponder would be en route to the Hall of Fame behind this coaching staff and front office.  Alas, it is not.

For the Vikings, the situation could not be worse.  Spielman does not want to pull Ponder because Ponder was a gigantic reach in 2011.  No other team appeared to have Ponder on their board in round one--or even in rounds two or three.  Not only did the Vikings reach, therefore, they reached against themselves.

Understandably unwilling to admit his folly and allow the "crowning jewel" to his house of draft cards to be felled, Spielman is willing to jeopardize not only his career but those of Frazier and Musgrave.  But the day of reckoning must and will come and Frazier surely knows this.

Frazier has now acknowledged, at least, that, if Ponder is injured, the Vikings will have to consider making a change at quarterback.  But Frazier is still maintaining that Ponder gives the Vikings the best chance to win.  We know Frazier does not believe this, but apparently he believes that step-toeing to Spielman's order will not cost him his job.

That's loyalty and stupidity.  And it's costly to the Vikings all for the sake of Spielman's vanity.  Removing Ponder now would give the Vikings not only a shot at the playoffs, but also time to assess what they have in Webb.  Spielman clearly is afraid of what this might reveal--that the guy who is more likely the team's quarterback of the future was already on the roster when he drafted Ponder.  Hence, the inertia to maintain Ponder as a fixture.

All of this, of course, is one huge dung drop on fans.  At the beginning of 2012, the Vikings promised that this was not a rebuilding year.  When they managed an exceedingly soft portion of the schedule with a 6-2 record, they looked to be keeping their pledge to compete.  When Ponder became the obstacle to success, however, rather than playing to win, Spielman and Frazier made excuses, claiming that the team is "young" and that this is about "building for the long term."  For Spielman, vanity had become more important than competing.  For Frazier, loyalty to someone who did not deserve loyalty trumped wisdom.  And for the fans--if not also the team--all are left to suffer.

Up Next:  Vikings' Best Hope for the Playoffs.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Frazier Hiding Contempt for Front Office on Ponder Issue

For the first time, Minnesota Vikings' head coach Leslie Frazier has begun to let slip the reality that current Vikings' starting quarterback Christian Ponder is not his guy.  During his weekly press conference, Frazier attempted to deflect questions about Ponder's status saying only that Ponder was the starting quarterback.  The background noise was clear, however.

With the local media corps pressing Frazier on a matter that Frazier clearly wanted to avoid--a decidedly uncharacteristic side of our usually fawning local contingent--Frazier began showing his frustration, admitting that Ponder must get better "because we need him to get better to win."

In Frazier-speak, that's the same as saying "I would have pulled the guy three weeks ago, but I've been told to ride this out.  Why, I do not know."  As if programmed, Frazier added that Ponder is "our starting quarterback" (here, the inclusive actually is deflective) and "Joe Webb is our backup."

The question, then, is what the Vikings hope to prove by starting Ponder the remainder of the season.  He clearly does not merit any more starts and shows no promise going forward.  Moreover, starting him in the face of necessary wins evidences the type of stubbornness that has seen prior Vikings' coaches dismissed.

Clearly, at this point, Ponder's only supporter is General Manager Rick Spielman.  This is not lost on ownership or those charged with selling the product.  And if Spielman does not give up the ghost before the end of the year, we will know at the end of the year only what we know now--that Ponder is not an NFL quarterback.

It certainly is unfair, at this point, to put Webb into the starter's role.  He has not had many reps in practice.  He has not played any meaningful time this year.  And he is facing the meat of the Vikings' schedule with no margin for error.

All that said, starting Webb gives the Vikings a better chance to win than does maintaining the status quo.  Sage Rosenfels might be safer, but he is not currently on the roster.  Plus, Rosenfels is not the "long-term" solution that the Vikings have decided they must identify.  Webb might be, but we will never know if he is not given at least half the opportunity that Ponder, with no apparent justification, was gifted.

Statistic of the Year:  Christian Ponder averages six yards per pass attempt.  Adrian Peterson averages 6.2 yards per rushing attempt.

Up Next:  If Vikings' Fans Scream Loud Enough, Will Vikings' Ownership Assert Itself?

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Vikings Speaking with Rosenfels?

Today's Minnesota Vikings' 23-14 loss at Lambeau Field, paired with the Chicago Bears' loss to the Seattle Seahawks, leaves the Vikings two games out of first and two games out of second.  Seattle's win,  combined with its earlier victory over Minnesota, also leaves the Vikings two games out of the final wild-card spot.

To have any hope of making the playoffs this season, the Vikings almost assuredly would need to win their final four games of the regular season.  With Christian Ponder at the helm, that's not only improbable but outright impossible.

After yet another dismal quarterbacking performance, and games remaining against Chicago, Houston, St. Louis, and Green Bay, Minnesota has only one meaningful option left for salvaging the season.  That option is to bring back Sage Rosenfels.  Rosenfels knows the Vikings' system and playbook and is competent enough not to lose a game that the Vikings otherwise would win, but for poor quarterback play.

For Ponder, the jury cannot possibly any longer be out--not even for the man who drafted him, Vikings' General Manager Rick Spielman.  Ponder's best game of the season was below league average against the opponent (San Francisco) and his worst games are the type that get all other quarterbacks banished from the league.

A clear example of what is wrong with Ponder's game is the juxtaposition of his two-minute skills versus those of first-year quarterback Andrew Luck--a true franchise quarterback.  With a defender tugging on him from behind and needing two scores to pull ahead late in the game, Luck rifled a deep pass into the end zone with just enough pitch to elude the defender.  The result was a touchdown and eventual victory.

Late in the fourth quarter, needing two scores to win, Ponder completed a series of non-chalant play-calling and dump-off passes over the middle with a scramble out of the pocket, to the left, where, with no pressure anywhere near, he fell backwards and launched a pass that floated harmlessly out of bounds--a good twenty yards from any eligible player.

Whereas there is considerable reason to believe that, no matter against whom Luck plays the remainder of the season, the time invested in him will pay dividends and result in continued improvement, the exact opposite is true of Ponder.  Against good competition the remainder of the year, there is zero reason to believe  that Ponder will do anything other than possibly rise to the level of a sub-par player.

In a league in which teams go from young to established within a single season, the Vikings' organization is either fooling itself or the fans with its nonsense about this being a building year for young players.  In the NFL, all teams are both young and experienced by this point of any given season.  And when the quarterback is so far below replacement level that he costs a team that offers a 200-yard back a game that would have put the team in first place, the organization can no longer bury its head in the sand of euphemisms and wishful thinking.  The rest of the team and the fans deserve better decision-making.  If they get it, Ponder will be out next week.  If not, the Vikings will be.

Up Next:  Whither Webb?

Friday, November 30, 2012

And Troy Williamson's Numbers Compare Favorably to Jerry Rice's Numbers

In either an attempt to ingratiate himself with somebody in the Vikings' organization or as a result of utter delusion, our local long-time sycophant scribe continues to offer excuses for why current Vikings' starting quarterback Christian Ponder has failed to achieve the success that the Vikings (and he) predicted for him prior to the start of the season.  In his screed, the scribe argues that Ponder's second-year numbers compare favorably to the second-year numbers of several now established starting quarterbacks.

In the same column, the scribe suggests that Ponder has been victimized by dropped passes to such an extent that his greatness has been masked by the failures of his receivers.  Not surprisingly, our scribe fails to support his ludicrous claims (in fact, the only numbers he offers are those that purport to support the claim that Ponder's statistics compare favorably with such quarterbacks as Tom Brady and Drew Brees--even though the numbers clearly show the opposite).

In previous columns, I have addressed the myth that Ponder has been the victim of dropped passes any more than any other quarterback in the league, pointing to statistics showing that the Vikings' receivers rank 25th in the NFL in dropped passes.

Apparently, that is not sufficient evidence for some, however, as the myth continues to circulate that "the Vikings don't know for certain whether the problem is Ponder or the receivers, particularly given all of the dropped passes by the Vikings' receivers" (quote courtesy Vikings' color man, Pete Bercich).

Again, the Vikings' receivers rank 25th in the league in dropped passes.  That means that 24 receiving corps have more dropped passes.

At least as telling as to where the Vikings' passing woes rest are statistics on individual dropped passes. Not one Viking receiver resides in the NFL's top 20 for dropped passes--eighteen teams have a player in this group with Tennessee and Denver having two such butterfingered wideouts.

The Vikings are represented in a corollary category, however, with two players among the top ten active receivers for percentage of passes thrown to them caught.  Percy Harvin is third in the NFL with 60 receptions on 61 catchable passes thrown to him.  Michael Jenkings ranks 10th in the NFL with 24 of 25 catchable passes caught.

Among the teams with receivers that drop the highest percentage of catchable passes are Denver (Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas), Washington (Santana Moss), New Orleans (Lance Moore), New England (Brandon Lloyd), and Green Bay (Jordy Nelson).  Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and RGIII rank one through four, respectively, in passer rating, Drew Brees is 12th.  With two of the league's more reliable receivers--and none of the league's least reliable receivers--Ponder ranks 24th in passer rating and well below all five of the these quarterbacks in passing yardage and offensive output.

Whether you believe that Ponder is being undermined by something other than his own limitations, the statistics strongly suggest that dropped passes is nowhere near the fore of the cause(s) of Ponder's problems.  If that myth can be put to rest, perhaps the Vikings can begin making plans in accordance with what the statistics and eyes tells us about Ponder's performance.

Up Next:  Will Minnesotans Be Represented on Stadium Commission in Lease and Revenue Stream Allocation Discussions?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

And if Jermome Simpson Would Have Caught That Four-Yard Pass, Mitt Romney Would Be President

Those who went all in on Minnesota Vikings' quarterback Christian Ponder are finding it difficult to admit the apparent--that Ponder never will be the Vikings' savior.  Faced with admitting the error in their judgment or doubling down with nothing in the bank, many, unfortunately, are electing the latter.

The most recent manifestation of this myopic commitment to Ponder is the dedication to identifying all of the obstacles to Ponder's success over which Ponder purportedly has no control.  The offensive line is bad, the coaching stinks, and the play-calling is putrid.  These, not Ponder's shortcomings, are the reasons for the quarterback's poor performance this year.  But for these ills, Ponder would be holding the Lombardi Trophy this year.

Added to all of these obstacles is the flavor of the week for Ponder's entrenched supporters--his receivers cannot catch a pass.

Objectively speaking, the Vikings do not have one of the better receiving corps in the NFL.  But to argue that the Vikings are without receiving options greatly understates what is happening with Minnesota's receivers in a Ponder-led offense.

Among the Vikings' receivers are one of the better receiving tight ends in the NFL, Kyle Rudolph, one of the top slot receivers, Percy Harvin, a capable possession receiver, Michael Jenkins, and three players who each appear to have downfield ability--Devin Aromashodu, Jarius Wright, and Jerome Simpson.  And the Vikings have a running back that makes all of the receivers more open, more often than they otherwise would be.

Yet, based on reports from Ponder's supporters, one would think that the Vikings suffered an unusual spate of drops in the game against the Bears.  The facts, however, do not support this conclusion.  While dropped passes do not aid any quarterback, pointing the finger at these isolated plays misses both the fact that passes are part of every quarterback's performance.

Including dropped passes against Chicago, the Vikings rank only 25th in the NFL in passes dropped, with 17.  The three dropped passes on Sunday would put the Vikings marginally ahead of their season's pace.  Given that the passes were all short, the impact of dropped passes in the Vikings' system is even less apparent.

Dropped passes notwithstanding, few, if any, other meaningful statistics suggest anything other than that the primary source of the Vikings' passing woes is Ponder.

Green Bay has allowed 37 sacks, had a leading rusher with 302 yards, and a stable of receivers on IR.  Still, Aaron Rodgers has 28 passing touchdowns this year. New Orleans has a modest offensive line (21 sacks), a leading rusher with 341 yards for the season, a reasonable deep threat in Marques Colston, and a good tight end in Jimmy Graham.  Drew Brees has thrown 31 touchdowns this year.

On the other end of the spectrum, Arizona has allowed 47 sacks this year, has a rushing leader with 312 yards on the season, a leading receiver named Andre Roberts, and a revolving door for both offensive philosophy and quarterback.  Despite these shortcomings, the Cardinals have passed for 10 touchdowns this season.

Adrian Peterson leads the NFL with 1236 yards rushing--nearly 200 more than the number two back in the league, the Vikings offensive line is near the league mean in sacks allowed, and Percy Harvin is 28th in the league in receiving yards--despite missing more than three games.  Yet Ponder ranks 24th in passing yardage, touchdown passes, and quarterback rating.

What the numbers suggest and the eye test supports is that Ponder is an average to below-average NFL quarterback.  He does not make the players around him better, but he definitely makes one wonder whether any reasonable determination can be made regarding the offensive line or the receiving corps as long as he is behind center.

For Vikings' General Manager Rick Spielman, the question now becomes whether he is more committed to sunken costs in Ponder or in assessing the degree to which he ought to remain committed to his other decisions--Musgrave, Simpson, Wright, and John Carlson.

Up Next:  More Myths.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Peterson Not Enough to Propel Ponder

After a 3-13 2011 season in which Christian Ponder started 10 games, finishing with 1800 passing yards, 13 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions, the Vikings' front office and coaching staff put us on notice--wait until 2012!

Why the optimism?  Those not buying the usual sales pitch of a general manager reaching to defend a reach were admonished that Ponder would improve and improve exponentially in 2012 as the result of a full off-season and training camp, a starting role from day one, greater familiarity with the coaching staff, and greater understanding of the game.

When things began to go south in 2012, the Vikings' General Manager told us that quarterbacks need 25 games before they properly can be judged.

As things went further south in 2012, the Vikings' General Manager told us that three years are required to make a proper assessment of a quarterback.

Eyes and statistics tell us, however, what Rick Spielman currently is unwilling to admit--that Ponder is, at best, a caretaker quarterback.  Sunday's performance only further cements that impression.

Through eleven games in 2012, Ponder is minus 399 yards passing against the opposition versus the mean.  That means that the rest of the league averages nearly 400 yards more passing against the Vikings' opposition to date than does Ponder.

That statistic, alone, is not nearly telling enough, however.  Far better is a comparison of that figure to one offered by another quarterback that virtually no team in the league, save his own, currently considers anything other than a sub-par quarterback--Ryan Tannehill of the Miami Dolphins.

On the season, Tannehill has passed for plus 114 yards against the opposition versus the mean.  For the average quarterback, the difference between Tannehill and Ponder is nearly two full games of passing.  For Ponder, it is at least double that figure.

Even in the one game for which Ponder received accolades this year as a meaningful force on the field--the San Francisco game--Ponder passed for but one more yard than the league average.

Passing yards are but one statistic--one measure of a quarterback's value to a team.  But passing yards are particularly meaningful for evaluating a quarterback's value because the current NFL is a passing league with rules intended to promote passing, every 100 yards of passing tends to equate to seven points, and teams that pass well tend to win.

Passing statistics are also particularly relevant for assessing Ponder's career, because Ponder has had the luxury of playing with Adrian Peterson--a luxury that should make Ponder appear even better than he is.  Fear greatly how Ponder would look were he blessed with merely a Toby Gerhart in the backfield.

Up Next:  Was Reinventing The Wheel Musgrave's Demise in Carolina, As Well?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Governor Dayton's Curious Letter to Vikings Subjugates Weightier Revenue Issues

Yesterday, Minnesota Governor cum military attache, Mark Dayton, penned a letter to the Minnesota Vikings in which he expressed dismay and dissatisfaction with the team's apparent plans to incorporate personal seat licenses (PSLs) into their ticket-pricing plans and the team's commitment to play one or more home games in London.  On the former, the Governor is either obtuse or a fraud.  On the latter, he has a case he needs to continue to push.

If Governor Dayton is serious about his dismay over the Vikings' pursuit of a PSL, that dismay does nothing but suggest that the Governor is woefully out of touch with one of his primary policy "achievements"--the Vikings' stadium bill.  The final language of the agreement to construct a new Vikings' stadium specifically confers upon the stadium management authority the role of coordinating with the Vikings the sale of PSLs.  The language of the agreement makes clear that, though not a fait accompli, PSLs are both permissible and, seemingly, expected.

Assuming Governor Dayton is not simply suffering an episode of dementia, it is impossible to believe that he did not understand the language of the stadium agreement--language requiring only rudimentary reading skills to comprehend.

That leaves only the more troubling possibility that Governor Dayton's outrage is not sincere.  That would be unfortunate, as it would undermine the second source of his outrage--the one not addressed by the Vikings in their otherwise germane response to the Governor's letter--the Vikings' decision to play at least one home game in London.  It would also quite unfortunately suggest that Governor Dayton does not understand that there remains a considerable degree of negotiation over the new stadium left to be had, should his minions on the stadium authority council be so directed.

The Vikings' decision to play a home game in London is disgraceful on every level.  It comes only after passage of legislation providing substantial public funding for the team's new stadium and undercuts the team's purported commitment to those who made the stadium possible and whose livelihoods depend on the home games.  The Vikings' rationale for the decision is that the NLF has guaranteed the team a lot of money and that the team will be able to "grow its brand."  If you did not before understand where the Vikings stood regarding the loyalty relationship between fans and team--the one that the team called on in support of a new stadium and now betrays--you should now.

The London issue is one that Dayton ought to continue to press and one that he ought to instruct his stadium authority friends to hold over the head of the Vikings in negotiations on a lease for a new stadium.

That latter element is something that Dayton appears not be fully versed on either.  For, as of this moment, the Vikings have not yet inked the terms of their lease agreement in the new stadium.  Under the new stadium agreement, the stadium authority is vested with the power to grant the Vikings all revenue streams--or none.  That spectrum is something that will determine whether Minneapolis, Hennepin County, and Minnesota struck a good deal on the stadium.  And that is the issue that should be consuming Governor Dayton's sports facility-occupied time.

Conversely, Dayton should care whether the Vikings employ PSLs only to the extent that the Vikings' ability to impose PSLs may be used as leverage by the stadium authority to obtain similar revenue benefits for the public that is footing the bill for the stadium.  Otherwise, Dayton should be content with  the knowledge that the Vikings can only impose PSLs if fans are willing to pay for them--and that almost assuredly will depend both on how much the team charges and for which seats.  Objections to such licenses logically would need to carry over to objections to higher ticket prices.  For, if the team does not impose PSLs, it almost assuredly will charge more for tickets (above the increase that fans already will realize in the new stadium).  That's simple economics.

In short, if Governor Dayton truly is sincere in his disgust with the Vikings' latest money grab, he should save his public venom for the Vikings' commitment to playing in London and pursue recoupment for that commitment and the near-certain imposition of PSLs through negotiation of a more public-friendly lease agreement that confers upon the public more of the benefits from the stadium's various revenue streams.

Up Next:  Rick Spielman Changes Timeline on Christian Ponder

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Ponder Mediocre

Five calls into the Vikings' flagship station's post-game call-in show, Minnesota Vikings' PBP announcer, Paul Allen, called into the station to give his two bits.  Sounding like someone who had already had another, Allen offered a rant all but demanding that all those who have been down on Vikings' quarterback Christian Ponder now sing the quarterback's praises.  Leaving aside matters of professionalism and PA's own recent criticism of Ponder (including his curious decision to ask Ponder whether he would have benched himself), the request offers a singular misunderstanding about Ponder's performance--on Sunday and to date.

On Sunday, Ponder did what he had done in several games earlier this season.  On Sunday, Ponder was neither spectacular nor awful.  He was, instead, the definition of a caretaker quarterback.  He (under) threw one deep pass, but otherwise opted for the short pass and gave Adrian Peterson the ball.

Ponder's performance put him right in the middle of starting quarterback numbers in week eleven, with his numbers greatly assisted by injuries to at least four other starters and poor weather in at least three venues.

On Sunday, Ponder had his health, perfect weather conditions inside the dome, a new receiver, and running back the likes of which no other team in the league even remotely offers on their roster.  And, yes, the Vikings were playing a Detroit team that was without its two starting safeties.

With Peterson in the backfield, Detroit stacked the box with eight or nine players.  For most quarterbacks facing a depleted secondary, that would mean a field day--even more so when stacking the box failed to curtail the running game.  For Ponder, it meant passable numbers.  But passable numbers do not equate to a passable performance.

What would have been a passable performance for Ponder on Sunday?  For starters, a better than 25% touchdown rate inside the red zone.  From there, more than a tip of the cap to mid-range and longer passing options.

Unfortunately, after several weeks of setting the bar ever lower, Ponder's 221 yards and two touchdowns look like the stuff of legends.  When this is where, by the Vikings' own predictions, Ponder was supposed to have been coming out of college and, by more reasonable assessments, the point from which Ponder should have been building from the beginning of the year to a much higher point today, there should be little taken from Sunday's game regarding Ponder's play other than that he did not put the final nail in his coffin.

That's not the stuff of legends, nor is it grounds for any request for a mea culpa from Ponder's critics.

Up Next:  Dayton Calls Out Vikings.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Vikings Find Media Support for Tired Refrain on Quarterback

Entering the 2011 off-season, the Minnesota Vikings committed themselves to identifying their quarterback of the future.  Already on the roster was Joe Webb, a 2010 sixth-round pick who had started two games for the Vikings in 2011--winning one in dramatic fashion and losing the other with less impressive numbers.

Desperate to show conviction in identifying a franchise quarterback, the Vikings used the number twelve pick in the 2011 draft to select Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder.  Ponder, widely regarded as a 2nd to 4th round pick, was the fourth quarterback to go in the first round.  Twenty-three picks later, the Cincinnati Bengals used the 35th pick in the draft to select quarterback Andy Dalton, widely regarded as a late first-round, early second-round pick.

To date, the Vikings' gamble on Ponder has not paid off.  Against marginal opposition earlier this year, Ponder looked modest to good (against San Francisco).  In the last three weeks, against Arizona, Tampa Bay, and Seattle, Ponder has thrown for 58, 251, and 63 yards, respectively, with the bulk of the yardage against Tampa Bay coming in garbage time when Tampa Bay was giving 20-yard cushions (and Ponder was still dumping off and relying on YAC).

Through 19 NFL starts, Ponder has 23 touchdown passes and 21 interceptions, with the ratio beginning to skew negatively.  More alarming are that Ponder ranks near the bottom of the NFL in yards at catch (as opposed to yards after the catch) and in third-down conversion percentage.  Add to these issues the fact that Ponder's nookie blanket, Percy Harvin, may not be available in the near future, and there is every reason to worry that Ponder's problems will only accelerate over the remainder of the season.

The Vikings'--and Ponder's--explanation for Ponder's problems are that Ponder simply needs to play better.  The eye test says that Ponder needs to work on his mechanics, gain pocket awareness, and work on arm strength.  The intelligence test says that, if those things were not possible against the easiest schedule that any NFL team faced in the first nine weeks of the 2012 season, they are highly improbable over what is regarded as one of the toughest remaining schedules of the 2012 season.

When the Vikings selected Ponder, those in the local media charged with cheerleading everything done by the local teams went all in, noting Ponder's intelligence, arm strength, and agility, and putting their full faith in the wisdom of someone paid to evaluate talent.  For those suggesting that Webb had shown enough to merit consideration as starter, there was contempt and derision.

That contempt, that derision, has taken on Republican proportions.  Despite the evidence to the contrary, those who offered unwavering support for the curious decision to draft Ponder number twelve overall in 2011 now apparently feel too invested to back down.  Boxed in by the certainty of their own convictions, they now offer nothing more than a tired cliche--"Ponder deserves an opportunity to finish the season and show what he has"--as if the end of an NFL season marks some magical moment of clarity that can not equally be found in weeks six, ten, twelve, or any other.

For those crouching in their Ponder bunkers, there is more nauseating ammunition, however.  Not only does Ponder deserve to finish out this season, we are scolded, but Webb deserves nothing.  That Webb merits no further consideration, we are told, is evident from the fact that Webb "had his chance." Remember those two starts?  Webb showed nothing in those two starts, we are told.

Revisionism aside, in those two starts, Webb was 1-1 with three passing touchdowns, two rushing touchdowns, and two interceptions.  Those critical of Webb would have us focus not on Webb's rushing ability, which can be electric, or his greater lack of talent on the offensive line and in the passing game, but on Webb's two picks--Ponder's average over the past three games.

Webb's critics point to his "weak arm" and lack of pocket presence in trumpeting their conclusion that Webb has had his chance.  Notwithstanding Webb's strong arm, Ponder's eephus pitches when not rolling to the right, and the utter lack of any semblance of an offensive line for Webb's two starts, Webb's critics mystifyingly are able to deduce about Webb after two starts what they cannot bring themselves to deduce about Ponder after nineteen starts, despite personal statistics, a 7-12 career record, and the always useful eye test.

The Vikings have an excuse for their myopia on this issue--the General Manager, coach, and team have invested heavily in a player who most other teams regarded as far less of an NFL certainty.  And the Vikings did so with hubris, calling Ponder "the most NFL-ready quarterback in the 2011 draft."

Those covering the team have no such excuse.  Based on performance to date, there is nothing in Ponder's resume that even remotely suggests that he will turn things around this year.  If he does not, the Vikings will enter 2013 no further down the path to reestablishing the team as a playoff contender than the day the team drafted Ponder.  If the metric, therefore, is performance, Ponder ought to be replaced sooner rather than later with Webb given more than the two games he has been provided to prove his mettle.

Up Next:  2013 NFL Draft.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Vikings Considering Move to Webb

The rumor out of Winter Park is that, in the wake of yet another dismal performance by quarterback Christian Ponder, the Minnesota Vikings are strongly considering a move to third-year quarterback Joe Webb.  Supporting the move is said to be team owner Zygi Wilf with head coach Leslie Frazier apparently moving in that direction.  Opposed to the move is said to be General Manager Rick Spielman, the person largely responsible for drafting Ponder and inserting him into the starter's role.

The Vikings likely are considering two options.  One would give Ponder one more week--in a home game against the Detroit Lions--to offer a dramatic turn-around.  This option would give the Vikings one more week to assess Ponder's progress and give the coaching staff the bye week to prepare Webb for his first start in 2012.

The second option would insert Webb into the starter's role against the Lions, permitting Webb to get his feet wet at home against a weaker opponent.

At this point, the best option appears to be the latter.  The guess here is that the Vikings are presently considering the various maladies that Ponder could be said to have.

Up Next:  More Rumors.  Plus, debunking myths.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Fixing Ponder--For Better or Worse

Having tied their fortunes to Christian Ponder in all-in fashion by virtue of anointing their 2011 first-round draft pick the uncontested starter at quarterback--come hell or high water--the Minnesota Vikings are now facing at least high water.  Absent an attempt to jolt Ponder to attention by at least pretending that his hold on the quarterback position is tenuous, the Vikings need to address Ponder's ills differently than they currently are doing.

At six feet tall and with a penchant for throwing off the back foot and sinking his shoulders when behind the line of scrimmage, Ponder plays more like a weak-armed 5'8" player.  To correct this, the Vikings could spend the rest of this season and innumerable additional seasons attempting to get Ponder to stand tall, square his shoulders, and step into his passes.

Or, the Vikings could work with the player that they drafted--the player who shows signs of good play when he rolls to the right and is not forced to be a pure pocket passer.  That decision is on the Vikings.

For Ponder to succeed, he must roll out of the pocket a significant percentage of the time--more than most NFL quarterbacks.  Rolling right allows Ponder to properly square up on his passes and to use the squaring up process to get sling on his passes.  That means some zip on downfield passes rather than the usual eephus toss that Ponder exhibits as a back-foot passing pocket passer.

Having to anticipate the rollout also requires opposing defenses to reconsider blitzes and forces defenses to keep a spy on Ponder.  That takes pressure off of the offensive line and allows the Vikings to work more with Ponder on his pocket passing in a lower pressure environment.

Ponder likely would have longer NFL shelf life as a pocket passer.  That, along with a desire to maintain the freshness of the offensive line, is undoubtedly one of the primary reasons that the Vikings prefer Ponder as a pocket passer.  But that's not what he is--certainly not now.  And continuing to pound the square peg in the undersized round hole will prove increasingly counter-productive.

Up Next:  Receivers, Quarterback, or Coaching?  Plus, a funny thing happened on the way to assessing Joe Webb.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Ponder Not the Answer for Vikings

In Thursday night's 36-17 home loss to the previously 2-4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Minnesota Vikings' quarterback Christian Ponder was 19-35 for 251 yards, one touchdown and one interception.  Those appear to be relatively modest numbers.  Appearances, as they say, however, can be deceiving.

Where modest appearances often mask spectacular quality, Ponder's modest numbers on Thursday masked what can only be described as a horrid performance.  For three straight weeks, Ponder has underwhelmed in the role of caretaker quarterback--falling below even the levels of his predecessor, Tarvaris Jackson.

With a season and one-half under his belt, Ponder, on Thursday, verified that he is not the franchise quarterback that the Vikings desperately hoped that he would be when the team reached for him with the twelfth overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft.  Nor, unfortunately, is Ponder, at this juncture, even capable of being the caretaker quarterback.

Through the first quarter on Thursday, the Vikings had four yards of offense on 0-5 passing by Ponder.   That was good, somehow, for a passer rating of 39.5.  Against the 29th ranked pass defense, Ponder had 75 passing yards at halftime, when the game was still in doubt.  His pass to start the final drive of the first half was so awful, that the Vikings decided to run out the clock rather than risk yet another turnover in their own end.  Not until Tampa Bay had the game firmly in hand and had shifted to a deep cover zone did Ponder amass the bulk of his mostly meaningless yards.

In addition to the awful numbers, Ponder progressively--or regressively--exhibits characteristics opposite of those necessary for strong on-field performance.  He routinely throws off the back foot, throws across his body, attempts to make impossible plays rolling to the left, fails to spot wide open receivers, opts for the check down, exhibits no strength on his downfield passes, and shows no confidence.  And, despite contentions by some affiliated with the team, Ponder's greatest flaw is not his lack of confidence--the greatest flaws are mechanics, lack of arm strength, and the fact that he appears to be in over his head far too often and increasingly so.

Early last season, Ponder appeared to be making progress toward being at least a decent NFL quarterback.  That seems like eons ago, however.  Were Ponder a free agent today, no NFL team would pick him up--that's how bad things have become.

Unfortunately, those in large part responsible for this mess--not because they drafted Ponder, but because they failed to develop an out-of-the-pocket quarterback into a part pocket, part out-of-the-pocket passer--probably will refuse to admit their mistake until Ponder's contract expires.  That could make for a long interlude for Vikings' fans.

The options, were the Vikings willing to consider them, unfortunately are not all that appealing anyway.  If the Vikings are insistent on molding a pocket passer, Ponder is not their guy.  Nor is Joe Webb--the stronger armed, better running version of Ponder.  Only McLeod Bethel-Thompson has the arm strenght and staying power to meet the requirements of the pure pocket passer that the Vikings, for whatever misguided reason, feel is necessary to lead the team.  And the odds of the Vikings benching Ponder for an untested rookie are lower than Ponder's quarterback rating.

For all involved, Ponder's journey in the NFL has been unfortunate.  Ponder entered the league as a modestly armed passer, good at hitting short routes and wide-open long routes for which the eephus toss that characterizes his downfield passing is more suited for the college game.  He was also gifted at scrambling.

The Vikings liked Ponder's IQ and personality, but they wanted a different football player--a pocket passer.  To transform Ponder into something that he is not, the Vikings permitted and encouraged Ponder to milk the short pass.  Ponder, to his detriment, eschewed the run and dumped it short--often behind the line.  Now, he is incapable of even assessing situations outside of the dump pass and looks both miserable and lost.

Most telling of Ponder's short-comings was not a failure on Thursday, but a success.  His second-quarter touchdown to Percy Harvin was his longest touchdown pass of the season.  The play went for 18 yards.  In game eight of the season, that statistic says a mouthful.  In year two of a career in which he has had the opportunity to play with Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, and Kyle Rudolph, it fills the stomach.

Up Next:  What's Next?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Time to Spend on Harvin

Through the first seven games of the NFL season, the Minnesota Vikings rank 22 in the league in passing yardage, near the bottom of the league in passes for more the forty yards, near the bottom of the league in passes for more than thirty yards, and near the bottom of the league in passes for more than twenty yards--all that, despite the fact that Percy Harvin is, by far, the league leaders in yards-after-catch, outdistancing the number two receiver in this category, Wes Welker, by nearly 100 yards.

The Vikings' passing statistics reveal two things that most Vikings' fans already know.  The first is that Harvin has become indispensable to the Vikings' offense.  The other is that the Vikings must open the coffers and extend Harvin before Harvin either becomes even more valuable--as he will if the touchdowns begin to follow from his receptions--or he has the opportunity to gauge the interest of the rest of the league.

With $10 million in salary cap space--and more almost certainly to flow back to the team in the form of unearned incentives--the Vikings are in an ideal position to sign Harvin now and have the cap hit count against 2012 rather than 2013 salary cap numbers.  A player of Harvin's abilities likely will command a contract in the neighborhood of $50 million over five seasons, with at least $22 million of that guaranteed.

When the Vikings were pushing for a new stadium, the front office's philosophy was to spend nearly to the salary cap limit and use the roster bonus when signing players.  Now that the stadium is in the bank, the team has backed off both commitments--ominous signs for a team with a pressing decision on Harvin that could and should be resolved yesterday.

Harvin currently earns $915,000 per season--slightly more than Jerome Simpson ($800k) and nearly one-third what Michael Jenkins ($2.5m) receives.  That low figure is a disincentive for the Vikings to renegotiate Harvin's salary this year.

The argument for extending Harvin this year, however, is that the Vikings do have a surplus that otherwise will be unspent and they can use that surplus to pay for at least half of Harvin's likely bonus (assuming at least half of the bonus is in the form of a roster bonus) and pro-rate the remainder over the five years of the contract--considerations that the Vikings need to contemplate as they look down the road to the expiration of other, team-friendly, rookie contracts.

Up Next:  6-2 a Must if Vikings Want to Stay on Playoff Course.  Plus, Time to Truly Develop Quarterback.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Vikings to Fans: Thanks for Pushing Through Stadium, Now F Yourselves

True to the form we've come to expect from entities such as NFL ownership groups, the Minnesota Vikings announced on Sunday that they have committed to play a 2013 home game in London.  For the uninitiated, that was a voluntary decision.

The Vikings' decision to play in London will mean at least two things.  First, it will mean that the local fans and local businesses--the bulk of the support for the Vikings' publicly funded new stadium--will lose a game.  No doubt, however, the Vikings will find some way to recapture the "lost" revenue.

Playing overseas next year also ensures the Vikings a tidy NFL payout--a guarantee likely to exceed what the Vikings would have made had the team merely honored its commitment to play in Minnesota.

Rest assured, the Vikings are already in spin mode on this, sending out missives to the effect that, without a lease agreement for next year, the team is both free to play elsewhere in 2013 and that the team must protect its interests.  Rational fans and members of the public will see that for the canard that it is.  Members of the local media--still vested in everything purple--will certainly come to the Vikings' defense.

The Vikings pitched a stadium deal employing a marketing theme centering on the notion that the team and the community were intertwined.  It appears that that sentiment was exactly as it objectively appeared to be at the time--a one-sided marketing ploy.  Never mind the good faith presumptions of such dealings--such legalities were intended for those paying, not those receiving.

Nothing says bend over and grab your ankles quite like NFL ownership groups.  And as long as the fans buy into the bit, the demands will increase and the money will continue to flow out with less and less received in return.

Up Next:  Vikings Sitting on Salary Cap Cash.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Will Vikings Coast Into Playoffs?

For the first time since 2009, the Minnesota Vikings have at least four wins in their first five games.  In that season, the Vikings started 5-0, defeating one playoff team and four largely woeful teams.  Minnesota finished the 2009 season with a disheartening 31-28 loss at New Orleans, following a 12-4 regular season.

The 2009 Minnesota Vikings were built on a strong offense with Brett Favre, Adrian Peterson, Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, and Visanthe Shiancoe leading the way.  On the season, the Vikings were second in the league in scoring and fifth in total yards.  Defensively, the team was more pedestrian, finishing number one against the rush, but in the bottom third against the pass; the 2009 Vikings also ceded 26 passing touchdowns.

At 4-1, the 2012 Vikings have the look of the polar opposite of the 2009 Vikings.  Through five games this year, the Vikings are in the top ten in the league in points allowed, passing touchdowns, and rushing yards and touchdowns, and just outside the top ten in passing yards allowed.  Offensively, however, the Vikings are less impressive, with mid- to bottom-third rankings in points and passing, respectively, and a near top-third ranking in rushing offense.

Like 2009, the 2012 Vikings have begun the season against mostly non-playoff caliber teams.  The question, then, is whether the Vikings are more the product of improvement or opposition.  The answer to that question might not be known until the playoffs.

Playoffs?  Playoffs!?

To date, the Vikings' 2012 competition has compiled a 9-14 record with only San Francisco (4-1) above .500.  Of the team's remaining eleven opponents, only five (Chicago twice) currently have records at or above .500 and only Chicago and Houston have demonstrated any semblance of balance on both sides of the ball.

Based on where all NFL teams currently stand and the Vikings' remaining schedule, a strong case can be made that the Vikings will be favored to finish no worse than 11-5.  In NFL history, only three teams with at least eleven wins have failed to make the playoffs.  Since the introduction of wild-card teams, only the 2008 New England Patriots have met such misery.

Making the playoffs would have been unthinkable for Minnesota in the off-season.  But that was before the Vikings demonstrated that they could play some defense and before the Lions and Packers decided to check out for the season.  With the other divisions muddled, the NFC North is likely to have two playoff teams.  And, at this point, regardless of competition to date and lingering offensive concerns, the Vikings ought to be favorites to secure at least a wild-card spot.

Up Next:  Money and Linebacker.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Ponder's Management Style Pales in Comparison to Contemporaries

Through the first quarter of the 2012 NFL season, the Minnesota Vikings stand 3-1 and atop the NFC North division.  Having faced three suspect teams and one team widely regarded as a Super Bowl contender this year, that record is not all that surprising.

What has surprised many is that the Vikings not only beat the 49ers in sound fashion, but that the Vikings also defeated Detroit, at Detroit, without the benefit of a passing attack.  Those closely following the Vikings' quarterback situation--nearly everyone in any way following the team--appear split on what the Detroit game suggested for the Vikings' second-year quarterback.

On one side of the aisle stand those who view Ponder's 16-26 for 111 yard passing effort against a Detroit team previously ranking near the bottom of the league in pass defense as a function of circumstances.  With the Vikings already up in the game, they contend, Ponder was given a conservative script and asked to protect the ball.  This resulted in mostly short passes and limited yardage.

Those on the other side of the aisle note that 111 yards passing on 26 attempts is never a good thing, notwithstanding the final victorious result.

Debating Ponder's performance in 2012 is meaningless, however, if not put in some form of relevant context.  Fortunately, there are viable contextual mechanisms for drawing conclusions about Ponder's performance this year.  The most obvious are afforded by Ponder's contemporaries.

The Vikings' 3-1 record follows from two road and two home games, with the sole loss at Indianapolis. Through those four games, Ponder has thrown for 825 yards with four touchdowns and zero interceptions.  Of the 825 passing yards, 406 are yards-after-catch--nearly one-half of Ponder's passing yardage total.  

Fellow second-year player, Andy Dalton, has compiled 1111 passing yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions.  Of Dalton's 1111 passing yards, 468 are yards-after-catch--approximately 42% of Dalton's passing yards.  Dalton's Bengals are also 3-1, having played one home game--a season-opening loss to the Ravens--and three road games.

First-year player, Robert Griffin III, has passed for 1070 yards with four touchdowns and one interception.  Of Griffin's 1070 passing yards, 404 are yards-after-catch--approximately 37% of Griffin's passing yards.  Griffin's team is 2-2, with three road and one home game in the books.

Much has been made of Ponder's protection of the ball and the value of protecting the ball versus attempting longer passes.  Through one quarter of the 2012 season, there is significant evidence, however, that the benefit of passing beyond the sticks pays.

Interesting in comparing Ponder, RGIII, and Dalton is that Ponder arguably has the best offensive talent around him.  The Vikings have legitimate offensive skill players in Percy Harvin, Adrian Peterson, and Kyle Rudolph and a good offensive line.  Cincinnati has A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham and a suspect offensive line.  Washington has no legitimate offensive threat outside of Griffin and has the most suspect offensive line of the three teams.

Even more interesting, however, are the offensive points per game put up by Minnesota, Cincinnati, and Washington, respectively.  Minnesota is averaging just over 17 offensive points per game, Cincinnati is averaging 32 and Washington is averaging 34.

The most glaring difference explaining this disparity--despite similar opposition for each team--is in the degree of commitment that each team has made to moving beyond the dump-off pass.  The Vikings have made virtually zero commitment to this, despite being the only team of the three noted here with a legitimate rushing attack.  With far higher passing to yards-after-catch values than the Vikings, Washington and Cincinnati clearly have committed more than have the Vikings to at least the mid-range passing game.

The Vikings revel in pointing to wins following from limited touchdown and passing yardage games.  That's a fine sentiment if it proves itself over the long haul.  But it just as easily could prove fatal as it ensures close games on the average.  Better is the approach that takes sound intermediate risks for a much higher relative average return than that offered by the dump-off passing game of limited risk, limited return.  

The question for the Vikings is whether Ponder can transform from the dump-off passer that he predominantly is to something more akin to Dalton or Griffin.  The answer rests not only with Ponder's ability, but also with offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's willingness to properly manage Ponder--allowing Ponder to move out of the pocket at times and encouraging Ponder to learn the proper balance between scrambling and staying in the pocket.

Up Next:  Time to Open Check Book.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Recipe for Success in Detroit No Secret for Vikings

For the Minnesota Vikings to prevail in Detroit today, they must continue to do what they did well last week.  That means using Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, and Kyle Rudolph until the Lions show they can stop the three, permitting--even requiring--Christian Ponder to threaten the Lions with his legs, and showing intensity on defense.  If the Vikings follow this brief recipe, they should stay with the Lions and perhaps win.

Defensively, the Vikings do not yet know which quarterback they will face.  But be it Shaun Hill or Matthew Stafford, the only real concern will be the person to whom that quarterback will be passing.  Since E.J. Henderson went down with concussion symptoms, the Vikings have covered better against the tight end.  That's an n of 1, but in a season of sixteen games, it is worth noting.  At the back end, the Vikings have yet to show that they can cover an elite wide receiver receiving passes from a competent quarterback.  They will have to accomplish this task today, or risk falling behind in quick spurts.

Starting the game with a kick-off return for a touchdown would be nice, as well.

Up Next:  Post Game.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Vikings' Victory Bigger Than One Win

Despite an officiating error that threatened to determine the outcome of the game, the Minnesota Vikings rose to the challenge and defeated the favored San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.  The victory means far more to Minnesota than a lone win, however.

Among the things revealed in Sunday's win were that:

  • Quarterback Christian Ponder can be very effective if permitted to use his legs as well as his arm
  • Leslie Frazier can have his team prepared to play in the first half
  • Bill Musgrave does recognize the weapons he has in Percy Harvin and Kyle Rudolph
  • The Vikings, if determined, can pass down the field without Jerome Simpson in the line-up
  • The Vikings can beat the best teams in the NFL if they play with passion on both sides of the ball and make good calls--particularly on offense

Up Next:  More Post-Game.  Plus, how one victory can change a 3-13 team into a playoff contender.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Minnesota Vikings' Rebuilding Lacks Understanding of Modern NFL Realities

In 2011, the Minnesota Vikings finished 3-13.  Minnesota's front office assured fans that 2012 would be different and pointed to close losses in 2011, a high draft pick in the college entry draft, and ambitions to pick up high-end free agents.

Two games into the 2012 season, despite a well-used high pick, the Vikings arguably are worse than they were last year.  Quarterback Christian Ponder has done a better job avoiding picks, but some of that appears to be good fortune and most of it appears to be the result of a passing attack so short in design that it threatens to reintroduce the underhanded passing game for teams more concerned with quarterback rating than fielding a quarterback that can read defenses.  Adrian Peterson is back after suffering a knew injury at the end of last season in a meaningless game, but he looks like any other back coming out of the backfield.  And Percy Harvin has avoided migraines, but he remains the Vikings' only target--either by design or oversight.

Offensively, 2012 thus has the same feel for the Vikings as did 2011, except now the Vikings are not even pretending to go downfield (i.e., beyond the line scrimmage).  Defensively, of course, the team looks horrid.

The result has been a 1-1 record in two close games against opponents currently without any reasonable claim to being good.

That's not a surprise, given that the Vikings spent their first off-season since securing a new stadium shedding salary and signing perhaps one meaningful player in free-agency (a player who has yet to contribute).  What is a surprise, however, is that the Vikings' front office believes that it is operating in a window of rebuilding that could take as many as three years.

Given free-agency, player contract lengths, and short careers, three years is an eternity in the NFL.  Given the Vikings' odd mix of veterans and rookies--with the big money going to players currently in their prime or at the end of their prime years in the league--three years might as well be ten.

Even assuming dramatic improvement this year, the Vikings are unlikely to finish any better than 5-11 or 6-10.  Assuming another high draft choice that fills a glaring need--wide receiver, offensive lineman, linebacker, cornerback--and another off-season of ignoring prime free-agent talent, the Vikings likely will enter next season favored to finish the season no better than 8-8.

All of this assumes continuing improvement, of course.  And it assumes, equally as important, that the Vikings not only add front-end talent in the next off-seaon, but that the team does not have additional holes to fill. That's a highly fanciful proposition.

This year is almost certainly Antoine Winfield's final season with the Vikings, Kevin Williams and Jared Allen might each have another year left in them after this year, Chris Cook was done before he ever started his career in Minnesota, Charlie Johnson is merely a place-holder, no matter how the Vikings' front office attempts to doll him up, and Phil Loadholt might not be far behind.  Each of these players represents a player currently holding a position that the Vikings consider filled.  Clearly, that's an optimistic thought process, even in the short term.

The Vikings appear reasonably well set at slot receiver, left tackle, center, right tackle, receiving tight end, and, hopefully, one of two safety positions, for any period beyond the next two years.  That leaves an awful lot of question marks, not the least of which is the starting quarterback position.

Even if the Vikings fill some holes next year and the year after and manage a normal trajectory of improvement over the two years, they are not assured of maturing beyond mediocre in three years if they do not find more than two starters in the draft and do not add at least two quality free agents each year.  This year, the team added two starters and a kicker in the draft but nobody picked up in free-agency has yet had an impact.  If that holds through 2012, the Vikings will need to add even more talent in 2013 to compensate for this year's shortfall and still will need to meet the demands of 2013.  All the while, the clock ticks on the team's purported cornerstones.

The short of it is that the Vikings, like all NFL teams that aspire to win a championship, must dream in two-year sequences.  Planning rosters any further out ultimately results in major short-comings in all but the rarest of circumstances--an unlikelihood for a Vikings' team so presently constructed.

Up Next:  Selling High--or at Least not Low.