Friday, August 24, 2012

Vikings Show Shades of Never Before

In 1984, the Minnesota Vikings finished 3-13 playing in the NFC Central.  Last year, the Vikings also finished 3-13, marking the team as arguably the second-worst team in team history--second to the 1984 team because the 2011 team had All-Pro talent at running back (Adrian Peterson), wide-receiver (Percy Harvin), and defensive end (Jared Allen), while the 1984 team had nary a player even worth considering for All-Pro status.

This year's Vikings' team still has Peterson, Harvin, and Allen, but, based on the early returns, little else to be too excited about.  And even this bit of optimism assumes a healthy Peterson and a migraine-free Harvin when the games matter.

After a thoroughly unimpressive performance against the San Diego Chargers' C-squad, the Vikings look poised to make last year's team--and possibly the 1984 team--look like mere challengers for title of worst Vikings' squad in team history.

Few players earned their positions on Friday.  Those who did include running backs Toby Gerhart and Matt Asiata (despite his goal line fumble), tight ends Kyle Rudolph, Rhett Ellison, and Allen Reisner, offensive tackle Matt Kalil, middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley, and, probably, safety Harrison Smith (despite a careless roughing penalty that led to the game-winning field goal).

Kicker Blair Walsh missed what should have been an easy, mid-forty range field-goal attempt, but put most of his kickoffs out of the endzone and otherwise did what was expected of him, and Audie Cole showed the kind of vision and tackling ability that the Vikings desperately need at linebacker.

Players who noticeably underperformed on Friday include offensive guard Charlie Johnson, quarterback Christian Ponder, linebacker Chad Greenway, and cornerback Chris Carr.  Ponder and Greenway presumably are safe as starters.  Johnson likely is, as well, if only because the Vikings have few options.  Assuming any alternative, Carr is almost certainly gone.

What ought to be most disconcerting to the Vikings is that, outside of Jared Allen, there is no apparent focused leadership on the team.  Peterson's return will help with leadership, but probably not focus.  And Peterson's return doesn't even solve a problem for the Vikings as, during his absence, Gerhart has played well, as has Asiata--who any thinking GM/coach would keep on this roster.  Winfield brings focus, but diminished skills without any necessary hold on even a cornerback spot where the Vikings are beyond woefully thin.

At this point in his career, Greenway ought to be a middle linebacker presence.  Instead, he continues to look like a player best suited to play the outside, possibly even the weak side.  That's not a terrible indictment, except that it happens to coincide with the Vikings' linebacking weakness as a unit.  Three years ago, the Vikings probably envisioned a linebacking trio of Greenway, EJ Henderson, and some up and comer in 2012.  Henderson is gone, the up and comer, Jasper Brinkley is recovering from a serious injury, and Greenway is not even the best linebacker.  That's left the linebacking corps wanting and needing more than weak-side level play from Greenway.

On offense, the Vikings need a pulse from Ponder, who, tonight, alternated between his Joe Mauer impersonation, absent the numbers, and his rookie impression.  Vikings' play-by-play man, Paul Allen, did his best to spin the night for Ponder, noting that "in fairness, it's tough to be too hard on Ponder given that he had to play without AP tonight."  In fairness, Ponder had solid backs in the backfield all night and played with the first unit.  None of that explains a pass directly to the opponent, the utter lack of motivation or enthusiasm, or the failure to get rid of the ball more quickly.  And we won't even go into the eephus passes down the field.

Leslie Frazier attempted his own spin of the game after a disappointing first half, noting that "this is still the pre-season."  True.  But, unless the Vikings are keeping virtually everything under wraps until the regular season begins--confident that they will be able to execute the more exotic when they cannot now master the elementary--this season portends to be one of the worst, if not the worst, in Vikings' history.

Up Next:  Can Plodding Work in the NFL?


Cyd said...

VG, what is your honest opinion of Ponder? Do you think he will make it as a QB? An elite QB? An average one?

My thoughts are that he is more than a bit skittish behind the line and hopefully will settle down. I am not so confident, but am hopeful. I think last year did a number on his psyche. If he can overcome his faults, he can become an above average QB. Not sure about elite. Btw, I hate how he gives the false bravado in interviews, as if he is a 10 year veteran. It comes off as, well, false. Lol

Regarding Webb, extremely physically talented. Calm, but inconsistent. Am curious to hear your thoughts.

vikes geek said...


More on this in the next post. My short take is that, if the Vikings are going to insist that Ponder become a pocket passer, they probably can resign themselves to far more of what we saw last week and far less of any shades of hope that we saw earlier in the season last year. Ponder plays short in the pocket. His talent is getting outside, particularly to the right. That exposes him to far more hits and likely will shorten his career, but a short career of some success is better (at least production-wise) than what Ponder likely will offer as a strict pocket passer.

Childress of A Lesser God said...

Talent-wise, Ponder is a third-tier QB. He can't "do it all." He's not Rogers, Luck or Ryan - and never will be. As such, the offense has to be built around his strengths. The key question is whether the Vikings coaches are good enough to identify those strengths, come up with a successful scheme to capitalize on them, and then plug in players around him that fit that design. The jury is out (way, way out)on that.

Webb has the same problem, but from a different angle. He has (the overused word) "freakish" physical skills that Ponder doesn't have, but lacks the "feel" necessary to succeed as a QB. Coaching and scheme-design might be able to help him, but does the current staff have the horse-power to do that? Again, that is very questionable.

In short, Ponder and Webb are really two sides of the same coin. Without great coaching, neither will succeed.