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.


Childress of A Lesser God said...

Good post. I fully agree.

The added irony is that our old friend Darrell Bevel is running Seattle's almost unstoppable offense. It uses read-option runs by the QB, and is anything but the "kick ass offense" that Bevel had to use under Childress. Favre always said that Bevel was the best QB coach he ever had (a bold statement given that he worked under A. Reid and S. Mariucci). Recall that Fraiser essentially exiled Bevel for a few weeks before ultimately deciding to hire Musgrave.

vikes geek said...

I questioned Musgrave's hiring, given his less than stellar history. At this point, it is difficult to know how much blame to assign Musgrave, however, as Ponder simply checks down on almost every play. I did not like Bevell's playcalling when he first began calling plays, but there was always a question about whether he had any input in the pre-game planning and when he was making the calls on the field. I don't know if Wilson's performance is due to Bevell's presence, but Bevell is at least not hindering Wilson's progress.

I questioned using the 12th overall pick on Ponder, because I believed that Ponder was a less-polished version of Webb. It immediately became evident that Ponder also had a weaker arm. What Ponder did well--though not as well as Webb--was escape the pocket and make plays. Musgrave and Frazier have taken this option away from Ponder. Perhaps this is an attempt to paper over the fact that, if the team is willing to let Ponder scramble, Ponder not only was a reach but also an unnecessary addition to the 2011 team. Or, perhaps it is entirely a function of the Vikings' inability to escape the confines of the conventional wisdom that is neither necessarily wise or any longer conventional (for progressive teams).

All of this certainly must be weighed when assessing Frazier's value to the team.

comet52 said...

Frazier stands by his man because Rick Spielman told him to.

vikes geek said...


You are correct--but that doesn't let Frazier off the hook.

comet52 said...

He toes the company line, it's true. If he had the stones to yank Ponder at Green Bay, this team would probably be 9-5 right now and able, by winning out, to win the North--their stated pre-season goal.

He's not a bad guy for following orders like a good soldier. But he fits the organizational pattern of constantly overlooking opportunities to reach for success, and instead sticking to rigid "plans" that are ill-conceived to begin with. Aka "Coach" Childress, for example. It's the Wilf way, I think.

The whole Ponder experiment stinks in so many ways. And it sets up very poorly for next year and beyond.

vikes geek said...


Again, agreed. It is not clear what the Vikings will have gained from this season if they fail to make they playoffs. They had a kind schedule for most of the year and did reasonably well against that opposition. Peterson has largely carried this team for the past several weeks, however, and Frazier continues to imply that Ponder and the team benefit from having Ponder do no more than hand the ball off--even when he passes. At the end of the year, the Vikings will still want to see more from Ponder and will know no more about the other two quarterbacks on the roster. And the team likely will have wasted a very rare running back season when even moderate competence at quarterback likely would have made the Vikings a difficult opponent in the post-season.