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?