Monday, August 26, 2013

Ponder and Musgrave Travel in Time

The forward pass in professional football dates to 1906.  From 1906 until the late 1970s, professional football in the United States very slowly evolved from a run-first philosophy to a pass-run mix.  In the the 1980s, the forward pass quickly overtook the running game as the primary mode of offensive playcalling in the NFL.  With substantial rule changes aimed at increasing the safety of high paid players and increasing fan bases through greater offensive shows, the NFL quickly became a pass-first league with few teams relying on the running game for rushing yard production and increasingly more teams relying on running backs for screen plays and blocking in pass situations.

The Minnesota Vikings have taken the least logical step in the progression of the passing game, putting all eggs in the 1950's basket.  Sunday night's pre-season performance was merely a microcosm of two plus years of this system, with quarterback Christian Ponder passing for an improbable 117 yards on 17 completions--approximately seven yards per completion, including yards-after-catch--and Ponder and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave conspiring to offer the shortest of short passing games in the history of the forward pass.

Of his twenty-three passes on Sunday, two were beyond five yards of the line of scrimmage.  Two.  That is how a quarterback completes seventeen passes for a mere 116 yards.  And that is how one of last year's NFL playoff teams risks missing the playoffs this year, despite having the most dominate rushing back in the modern era.

For Vikings' fans, the record is past broken.  With a functional offensive line, a dominate running back, and a respectable defense, the Vikings have one of the more complete teams in the NFL, but for the quarterback.  Unfortunately, quarterback play generally dictates the fortunes of today's NFL teams.  And based on Ponder's continuing check-down performance, that increasingly bodes negatively for the Vikings.

The truly bad news for Vikings' fans, however, is that, in spite of other positive no-brainer decisions in the draft, Vikings' General Manager Rick Spielman persists in foisting upon the team and fans a stubborn notion that Ponder will evolve into something that he is not.  Spielman desperately wants this result because he bet heavily on Ponder and has continued to cheerlead for the signal caller.  Objectivity requires a different view.  Objectivity required that the Vikings bring in true competition for Ponder, rather than Kansas City's cast-off.  At most other positions, linebacker and receiver excepted, Spielman appears to possess such objectivity.  But, presented with Adrian Peterson's most productive seasons of his career and the approaching the end of Kevin Williams' and Jared Allen's careers, Spielman remains stubborn.

We have seen such stubborness in Vikingland during the regimes of Mike Tice (Randy Ration) and Brad Childress (Tarvaris Jackson).  We now face the same with Spielman's unwarranted love affair with Ponder, an affair adopted either by choice or by force by Vikings' head coach Leslie Frazier.  Favre offered a reprieve from Childress' obstinancy.  The only conceivable savior from Spielman's obstinancy appears to be Peterson rushing for 3,000 yards.  That seems improbable this year and increasingly so each passing year.

Up Next:  Dayton's "Tough Talk" on Stadium All About Show.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Vikings Prepare to Show Full Package Against 49ers, But Still Fear the Exotic

On the eve of their third and most meaningful pre-season game, the Minnesota Vikings are preparing to throw caution to the wind and unleash upon the presumably unsuspecting 49ers their full offensive arsenal.  At a team conference on Wednesday, Minnesota offensive coordinator, Bill Musgrave, was all but frothing at the prospect.

"We're going to give 'em everything we've got," Musgrave leaked.  "I know I shouldn't be saying this, but we have some things to prove and we feel real good about doing that this week."

Asked what Vikings' fans might expect, Musgrave initially advised that they should "wait and see," but could not restrain himself from detailing what the Vikings planned.  "Like I said, we're going to give them everything we've got.  No more "plain vanilla."  We're opening it up."

Pressed on what "opening it up" might entail, Musgrave was frank.  "We've got Adrian in the game for at least a quarter, maybe more," he giddily noted, rubbing his hands and smiling gleefully.  "We'll have the standard give it to Adrian to the left, give it to Adrian to the right, give it to Adrian up the middle, and dump it to Adrian in the backfield--our bread and butter.  But you're going to see some of that to Toby [Gerhart], as well, and we might even dump one off to one of those two.  Really, with Adrian in the game, the offensive options really open up."

Asked what that might mean for the passing game, Musgrave was equally forthcoming.  "There's no doubt that having Adrian really opens up our option in the passing game.  With eight, nine, ten, twelve men in the box, we can give it to Adrian or we can dump it off.  The options are boundless."

Musgrave was quick to add that he certainly expected Ponder to "continue his strong performances from the end of last year and this pre-season."

Asked what that meant, Musgrave shuffled his feet and looked down, mumbling in robotic-like fashion that he had "all the confidence in the world that Christian will make significant strides in the NFL this year and continue to validate the team's decision to take him with the number twelfth overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft."

Musgrave added that "we expect Christian to hit a higher percentage of his one- and two-yard passes this year, make clean handoffs to Adrian--and Toby, if necessary--and toss it to the sticks a couple times a game.  And we think that Christian has shown that he can do just that, barring some exotic scheme."

Vikings' head coach Leslie Frazier echoed Musgrave's sentiments, adding that "Christian is a marvelous human being.  We have all the confidence in the world in him."

Frazier did express some trepidation over facing the talent-laden 49ers in "our most meaningful game of the pre-season.  You'd like this game to come earlier or later, rather than now," he lamented.  "But we don't make the schedule, we just play it.  Am I concerned that they might do some things that we haven't seen recently or prepared for?  Sure," he said.

Asked what most concerns him, Frazier noted that he is "always concerned when a team has the ability to run and pass.  If they start passing down field, I'm not sure how well we will respond.  That's sort of a hybrid, exotic type of thing that you expect to see more in the playoffs.  I guess they'll do what they feel they need to do to get ready for the season and we'll respond as best we can."

Up Next: More Stadium Shenanigans