October 4, 2014

Vikings struggles in perspective

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:45

The thrashing the Vikings absorbed from the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night had a lot of fans upset and angry, and rightly so: the team played a terrible game while Green Bay played very well. As I said in a post-game comment, “the news that Bridgewater would be inactive came as a knell of doom for any hopes we had for the eventual outcome.” Christian Ponder played badly, but so did almost everyone else in purple that night. You can make a (poor) case that Bridgewater being out would lower the morale of the offense, but it shouldn’t have made much of a difference to the defence or special teams players, yet almost everyone seemed to have “checked out” as Brian Robison put it in an interview.

Bo Mitchell wants to help put Thursday’s game into perspective:

Zimmer and Turner crafted their offseason game plan for the offense on basis of their best player (Peterson) being in the backfield. Turner said repeatedly that he planned to get him more involved in the passing game, get him in space, maybe line him up out wide on occasion, etc. Everything worked great in Week 1. Heck, the threat of Peterson was enough. Cordarrelle Patterson was the primary beneficiary. Vikings fans were riding high following the dismantling of the Rams.

Then the other shoe(s) dropped and scrambling to make adjustments ensued.

In Week 2, with a new game plan in place, new running backs in place and a controversy/distraction overshadowing the organization, the Vikings lost in lopsided fashion to the Patriots thanks in no small part to turnovers and a blocked field goal that was returned for a touchdown. You can never plan for such things as losing your star player in such an awful, embarrassing, scandalous (pick your adjective) way. The master plan was compromised significantly after one week. So they made adjustments and moved on like all coaches must.


Week 4 brought a brief return of giddiness to Vikings fans as they leveled the Falcons behind rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, whom they seemingly had to get ready in a hurry. The good thing was that Bridgewater had been splitting a lot of first team reps in practice with Cassel and played a lot in preseason so there was already a sense of chemistry in place when he had to take the reins. The coaching staff had prepared for this scenario and it showed.

What they hadn’t really prepared for was losing Bridgewater to an injury as well. Christian Ponder was pressed into emergency duty at the end of the Falcons game and then asked to get ready for the Packers four days later — after he really hadn’t spent any significant time at all working in Norv Turner’s offense. Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN and several others in the media pointed out that this would be a problem. Ponder barely played in the preseason outside of a few third and fourth quarters with second and third stringers.

So the Vikings were on their third quarterback in three games — their third quarterback in 12 days. If they wanted to use an excuse, I’d give them that one regardless of who that third quarterback was.

Ponder just wasn’t ready. Where have I heard that before? Seriously, few backup NFL quarterbacks would have been significantly better in this scenario with so little prep. This doesn’t excuse the horrible lack of accuracy, the indecisiveness and the rest of the Ponder-isms. It was a train wreck waiting to happen.

Looking back, you can only make so many adjustments so quickly. Zimmer, Turner and the rest of the coaching staff kept the team treading water for four weeks, but they drowned in the Green Bay rain on Thursday night after the adjustments fell short and time ran out.

The Vikings at 2-3 have been victims of really odd circumstances. This isn’t an excuse. It’s a fact, though I really hesitate to use the word “victim.” I don’t even want to call it bad luck. Maybe it’s just fair to say: no team could comfortably survive such a strange amalgam of issues in such a short amount of time. Every team deals with injuries and teams have to find a way to overcome the losses of players like Fusco, Greenway and Rudolph. “Next man up” is the mantra league-wide. But look around the NFL and let me know if you see another first-year head coach directing a team without its best player that has used three quarterbacks already. This is weird stuff. Then again, Vikings fans have grown used to weirdness. It comes with the territory.

October 3, 2014

Vikings visit to Green Bay goes Ponderously

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:13

To say last night’s game was ugly is to sugarcoat the truth: last night’s game was a shitshow. For those of us on #TeamTeddy, the news that Bridgewater would be inactive came as a knell of doom for any hopes we had for the eventual outcome. Before halftime, Twitter was starting to see calls for Christian Ponder to be benched in favour of Chandler Harnish, who’d just been elevated from the practice squad (and who’d only just joined the team this week).

All through the preseason, I expected the Vikings to trade Ponder for (at best) a mid- to late-round pick. When that didn’t happen, I thought they were just going to hold on until a team’s starting quarterback got injured and then they could get a better trade … I didn’t think the Vikings would be on their third starting quarterback of the season by game 5! Now that Ponder has shown he really is who we thought he was, I doubt that anyone in the league is likely to call the Vikings and make an offer for Ponder’s services. As Jim Souhan says in his Star Tribune column today, he’s still the same old Ponder:

They could have called.

They could have gone to Hallmark.

They could have Instagrammed or texted or Facebooked or Snapchatted or beamed telepathic messages west.

Instead, the Vikings franchise turned an entire game on “Thursday Night Football” into a get-well card for Teddy Bridgewater, who will ever more be known as Not The Ponder.

Bridgewater has played six full quarters in the NFL. He has proved himself a franchise quarterback with his presence. He proved his value even more with his absence.

His presence made the Saints game competitive, and brought the Vikings an upset victory over Atlanta.

His absence may have destroyed what was left of Christian Ponder’s career, and the horrid tradition of “Thursday Night Football,” otherwise known as “What Time Can We Flip to ‘Scandal’?”

Without Bridgewater to engage Vikings receivers and TV viewers, another edition of TNF turned into a reason to take night classes on fall Thursdays.

In a performance that conjured images of Josh Freeman and Spergon Wynn throwing knuckleballs and sabotaging their careers on Monday night games in 2001 and 2013, Ponder proved that you can believe some of the people some of the time but never football coaches when they’re trying to protect the feelings of a former first-round quarterback or the man who drafted him.

When the Vikings kept saying nice things about Ponder during training camp, you had to figure they were hoping to trade him. When they kept saying nice things about him while keeping him on the roster, you had to wonder whether offensive coordinator Norv Turner had rewired Ponder the way some made scientists can turn a toaster into a short-wave radio.

Thursday’s 42-10 loss was a reminder that in politics, parenting and sports, what people do always counts for much more than what they say.

December 22, 2013

Matt Cassel has done everything the Vikings have asked

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:48

In the Star Tribune, Jim Souhan wonders why Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier didn’t switch to Matt Cassel permanently the first time Christian Ponder went down to injury:

The Vikings will be looking for a quarterback in the draft. If they could draw up a prototype of the ideal prospect, he would look something like this:

About 6-foot-4, 230 pounds. Good mechanics. Able to control a huddle and read defenses. Adept at throwing the deep ball.

He’d possess leadership skills and experience. He’d be able to complete about 62 percent of his passes, move well within the pocket and handle the diplomatic demands of the modern NFL quarterback.

The Vikings absolutely should draft someone like that. They also should realize that they’ll have that guy in their huddle Sunday.

If you want to label Matt Cassel, you can pick any convenient phrase, and you’d be right. He has been project, prospect, young backup, winning starter, losing starter, demoted starter, castoff, veteran backup, emergency starter and, this season, a third quarterback on a team that temporarily favored two struggling quarterbacks.

At season’s end, either he or the Vikings can opt out of the second year of his two-year contract. The Vikings would be wise to keep him around. Asked whether he wants to stay, Cassel said, “I would love to be back here.”

Cassel has done exactly what the Vikings wanted Christian Ponder to do: take advantage of defenses stacked up to stop Adrian Peterson. Last Sunday, Cassel went further, taking advantage of a defense that had probably never heard of fill-in starter Matt Asiata. Cassel produced 48 points with an offense missing its top two backs and top two tight ends.

A Vikings quarterback has thrown for 240 yards five times this season. Ponder and Freeman have done it zero times; Cassel has done it five times.

Matt Cassel may not be the long-term answer, but he’s proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he’s a better quarterback than either Ponder or Freeman and has fully earned the starting role for the remainder of the season. The team has been more than generous in allowing Ponder opportunities to solidify his hold on the starting quarterback position and he’s remained frustratingly inconsistent. The $2 million spent on bringing Josh Freeman to town might as well have gone on redecorating the locker rooms at the soon-to-be-demolished Metrodome, as it would clearly take a miracle for him to see the field again this year.

Assuming that the Vikings spend a high pick on a quarterback in the 2014 draft, keeping Cassel on the roster is the intelligent thing to do. He can start, giving the rookie more time to acclimatize to the NFL, or he can be a mentor if the team decides to give the rookie a chance to start right away. Cassel may not be the best quarterback around, but he’s the best option open to Minnesota.


December 7, 2013

The NFC North QBs in picture form and “Rudolph the Vikings Tight End”

Filed under: Football, Humour — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:54

After seeing several amusing retweets by @ArifHasanDN, I started following @DrawPlayDave for entertaining little things like his pictoral explanation of the quarterbacks of the NFC North and his Twitter Christmas song for Kyle Rudolph:

DrawPlayDave - The NFC North

December 2, 2013

Vikings win in overtime against Chicago

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:20

The second game in a row that went to overtime against a divisional rival, but unlike last week’s game, the Vikings somehow came away with the win. Christian Ponder started at quarterback, but left the game with concussion symptoms and Matt Cassel stepped in to bring the team back from a 10-point deficit and force overtime. Poor Rhett Ellison was the goat not once but twice on what would have been game-winning plays: allowing an interception at the goal line and then committing a facemask infraction on a field goal attempt.

ESPN‘s Ben Goessling:

Ponder had completed just 3-of-8 eight passes for 40 yards before being examined for a concussion in the second quarter on Sunday, and had been sacked twice. The Vikings trailed 20-10 entering the fourth quarter, but Cassel directed two scoring drives to send the game into overtime. He rebounded from an interception that negated another scoring drive when Rhett Ellison couldn’t handle a would-be touchdown pass and the ball wound up in Bears linebacker Khaseem Greene’s hands. In overtime, Cassel marched the Vikings down the field twice more — once for a missed field goal after Ellison’s facemask penalty negated Blair Walsh’s would-be game winner, and another time for the 34-yard kick from Walsh that ended the game.

Cassel finished with 243 yards passing and a touchdown, hitting 20-of-33 passes in relief of Ponder. And while his success might have been due to the fact the Bears hadn’t prepared for him, he might have also put himself back in the race to start next Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, especially if Ponder can’t play.

Frazier has talked on several occasions this year about not considering Cassel as one of his starting options, preferring to keep him in reserve in case of situations such as Sunday’s, and Cassel showed again how much value he has as a veteran backup. But the Vikings also have been hesitant to go back to Freeman after he went 20 of 53 in his one start against the New York Giants, and if Ponder isn’t cleared in time to return, Cassel might get his second start of the season.

At the Star Tribune, Jim Souhan sings the praises of Adrian Peterson, who passed the 10,000 yard career rushing mark during yesterday’s game:

He begins his carries with the upright bearing of Eric Dickerson, and finishes them with the pugilistic mien of Jim Brown. Adrian Peterson bulled and sprinted into the company of legends again on Sunday, passing one of those round-number milestones so rapidly that he again made all of his outlandish goals seem attainable.

Peterson is chasing Emmitt Smith and other fast men now, and like all fast men he will find time to be his most worrisome enemy. At 28, Peterson on Sunday rushed 35 times for 211 yards to reach 10,000 yards faster than any backs in history other than Dickerson, who did it in 91 games, and Brown, who did it in 98.

Smith rushed for an NFL-record 18,355 yards, and while logic and history suggest Peterson will slow to an unsustainable pace long before he challenges that mark, logic has yet to constrain him, and history speaks well of him.

In the first 694 games in Vikings history, one back rushed for 200 yards in a game — Chuck Foreman gaining exactly 200 on Oct. 24, 1976. In his first 101 games, Peterson rushed for 200 yards or more five times.

In NFL history, only one player has had more 200-yard games than Peterson — O.J. Simpson, who had six. Peterson is tied for second with Tiki Barber.

November 18, 2013

Vikings crushed by “Vikings West”

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:07

It actually looked like a competitive game for most of the first half, as the Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings traded scores, but a 58-yard return by Percy Harvin helped put the Seahawks in the driver’s seat just before halftime with a 24-13 score, and the Vikings had no answers after that. There are a lot of former Vikings on the Seahawks roster, starting with their head coach and offensive co-ordinator, both of whom were coaches for Minnesota earlier in their careers. Pete Carroll served under both Bud Grant and Jerry Burns as an assistant, while Darrell Bevell was the offensive co-ordinator for Brad Childress. Former Vikings wide receiver Sidney Rice was sidelined with an injury (the story of Rice’s NFL career), but fellow alumni Percy Harvin put on a very good performance against his former team, and former Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson came in to finish the fourth quarter after the game was out of reach. On the other side of the field, former Seahawk John Carlson was one of the few Vikings to have a good game against his former team.

ESPN‘s Ben Goessling explains why many of us are expecting Josh Freeman to get his second start as a Viking next week against the Green Bay Packers:

Stock watch: Falling: Ponder. The quarterback’s second half was among the ugliest he’s had in 2 1/2 professional seasons; he hit just four of nine passes for 15 yards and threw two interceptions. He had another pass that could have been intercepted for a touchdown. Ponder hit seven of seven throws in the second quarter, and finished the first half 9-of-13 for 114 yards and a touchdown, though he did fumble deep in Vikings territory. But as he’s done so many times in Minnesota, he proved unable to put two consistent halves together, and was pulled for Matt Cassel with just more than 12 minutes left in the game. Coach Leslie Frazier could take most of the week, once again, to decide on a starting quarterback, but if the Vikings aren’t going to use Freeman now, it’s worth asking if they ever will.

Dan Zinski of The Viking Age chimes in on the Ponder situation:

Seattle’s defense set the tone in the second half, picking off Christian Ponder twice, and returning one of those picks for a TD. Ponder played reasonably well in the first half, but whatever tweaks the Seahawks introduced in the third quarter utterly bewildered the Vikings QB. His interceptions were not rushed throws or bad footwork throws or anything that could be chalked up to poor pass protection or receivers running bad routes or any of the rest of it. No excuses for Ponder: he made two of the worst throws you will ever see from a third-year quarterback.

Leslie Frazier decided after the pick-six that he had seen enough and yanked Ponder. But by that point it was too late for backup Matt Cassel to get anything going anyway. Seattle didn’t even need much from their offense in the second half. Russell Wilson did all the damage he needed to in the first half. With Ponder throwing the ball around like a fool, Seattle’s D was able to put the game away without any difficulty.

John Holler makes the same point about quarterbacking for Viking Update:

Christian Ponder’s inconsistency was encapsulated against the Seahawks: promising first half, brutal second half. By now, the Vikings should have seen enough to know what they have in Ponder and make a change to evaluate the next possibility.

What Vikings fans saw Sunday from quarterback Christian Ponder is nothing unusual. His three-year NFL career has been defined more by his failures than his achievements and Sunday was no exception. The difference this time is that it just might be his last disappointing game as the Vikings’ starting quarterback.

Head coach Leslie Frazier said team officials will talk about a quarterback change Monday, but Ponder continued with some of the trends that have made him a human piñata among Vikings fans. He completed 13 of 22 passes to his offensive teammates and two passes to Seattle defenders, one that was brought back for a touchdown. On his first dropback of the game, he was hit from behind and fumbled, leading to the game’s first three points. His three turnovers accounted for 17 Seattle points and turned a close game into a blowout.

This hasn’t been anything unusual for Ponder this season. He has at least one interception in seven of the eight games he has played, and almost invariably his turnovers directly lead to points.

What made Sunday’s game so painful for Ponder apologists is that, aside from the blindside fumble in the first quarter, he was having a decent game. At halftime, he had completed nine of 13 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown – giving him a passer rating of 122.0.

I liked Christian Ponder when the Vikings drafted him, and I wanted him to get the opportunity to show what he could do, but after two-and-a-half seasons, I think we now know what Ponder can do. He may still be able to improve as a passer, but I think it’ll be for another team. The Vikings will almost certainly be drafting a quarterback in the first round of the 2014 draft, and if the team keeps Ponder for the final season of his contract, he’ll just be holding the spot until the rookie is able to take over.

October 23, 2013

Josh Freeman has a concussion – Christian Ponder likely to start against Green Bay

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 15:37

Can this season get any more convoluted? This afternoon, it was announced that Josh Freeman is suffering from concussion symptoms from Monday night’s game and probably won’t be able to play against the Packers on Sunday night. If he can’t go, Christian Ponder will be back at quarterback for the Vikings.

Reactions have been unkind:

October 8, 2013

Decoding Vikings management-speak

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:27

In the Star Tribune, Jim Souhan explains how to interpret classic management lines that have been deployed in profusion since the news of Josh Freeman’s signing became public:

Reporters and fans crave access. So when the Vikings sign a new quarterback, hold news conferences and allow interviews in their locker room, 40 reporters will show up to ask questions and fans will devour the resulting quotes.

Here’s the key to covering and following the NFL: Step 1: Ask the right questions. Step 2: Listen carefully to the answers. Step 3: Ignore just about everything you hear.


Frazier is as honest a man as you’ll find coaching an NFL team. He’s also a member of management, so he is much more interested in avoiding statements that could hurt him and his team than he is in being blunt.

There is no upside for Frazier in admitting the obvious: That Freeman was brought in to be the starter, that Cassel should start on Sunday, and that Ponder’s career with the Vikings is nearing an end.


With management, always judge actions, not words. The Vikings wouldn’t have signed Freeman if they believed in Ponder, or if they thought Cassel was a long-term solution. Freeman wouldn’t have signed with the Vikings, choosing them over a half-dozen other suitors, unless he was assured he will get a chance to start.

Ponder’s rib injury has enabled the Vikings’ attempts at vagueness and protected Ponder from the truth. If he were completely healthy, the Vikings would be forced to reveal more of their plans. The rib allowed the Vikings to start Cassel in London, in a move that might have saved their season. The rib allows them to pretend Ponder is relevant this week, and that there is a difficult decision to be made about the future of the quarterback position.

Update: At the Daily Norseman, Ted Glover uses all the technological tools at his disposal to provide a managementspeak-to-English translation of Leslie Frazier’s remarks:

Q: What’s the primary reason you signed Josh Freeman?

What Frazier said: We’re hoping that he’s another good football player that our personnel guys, along with myself, felt like could help our team. That was the primary reason. We’re always trying to find guys who you think can help your team win and we think he’s one of those guys.

What Frazier Meant: Well, Christian Ponder is about as popular as the bubonic plague, and we really feel that after he throws his first incompletion on Sunday, people would rather see Bane come out on the field and start blowing it up than watch Ponder anymore. And Matt Cassel is on borrowed time. He’s about three quarters of football away from remembering he’s Matt Cassel, and when that shit tsunami hits, we want to be able to throw a quarterback life jacket to the seven fans we will have left in the state of Minnesota. Hopefully, he’ll keep us afloat long enough to get my house packed up and out of the state before people realize what the hell just happened. It’s a long shot, but that’s plan A. I don’t have a plan B.

Q: Are you afraid it’s going to mix up the chemistry a little bit?

What Frazier said: No, our guys want us to do whatever it takes to win, whatever it takes to help us improve and they understand the business we’re in and we’re trying to do something to help us win, so it should help our chemistry.

What Frazier Meant: Nope. They are so desperate for anything that resembles a pulse behind center, they’d get behind Miley Cyrus if she could throw a football on a rope and hit a glass of water at 60 yards. Also, I was told there would be no chemistry involved in this Q and A. Ask another one, or a math question, and this presser is over.

Q: Can you go forward with those three quarterbacks — Ponder, Cassel and Freeman — or do you have to make a move?

What Frazier said: No, you don’t. We’ve had three guys on our roster throughout these first four weeks of the season so it wouldn’t be unusual to do that, so we don’t have to make a move.

What Frazier Meant: Well DUH, of course we have to make a move. We have a starter going to the third string, a second string guy that’s on borrowed time, and a free agent signee we’re going to give more latitude to than AA gives to Lindsay Lohan. But yeah, we could keep all three quarterbacks, because we want to watch the world burn.

September 28, 2013

Christian Ponder’s injury and the Vikings’ QB decision

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:12

As mentioned the other day, the Vikings have named backup quarterback Matt Cassel as the starter for tomorrow’s game in London against the Pittsburgh Steelers. 1500ESPN‘s Judd Zulgad makes the case that the decision was driven less by Ponder’s actual injury than by the team’s need to spark something by making the change at QB:

A fractured rib means the Minnesota Vikings don’t have to face the reality of the Christian Ponder situation for a few more weeks.

Obviously, the general public doesn’t know the extent of the injury to the Vikings’ first selection in the 2011 draft, but for now the team is well within its rights to sell us on the fact that a quarterback change to Matt Cassel has been made for injury-related reasons.

Eventually, however, the Vikings almost certainly are going to have to come clean and admit that Ponder has been benched. What makes this so intriguing is that many in the organization privately have to be holding out hope that soon a day will come when that admission can be made.

That’s because if Cassel plays the way that coach Leslie Frazier, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, wide receiver Greg Jennings, running back Adrian Peterson and many others are hoping he does, Ponder won’t see the field again this season.

And that’s not being overly dramatic.

The quarterback play hasn’t been anything like the only issue the Vikings have faced this season, but it’s the one that attracts by far the most attention from fans. The backup quarterback is pretty much always the most popular player on a football team (well, one that isn’t winning consistently, anyway), and Matt Cassel got a relatively big contract to come to Minnesota for two years (second year voidable by the team or by Cassel). Tomorrow is his big test to find out if he’s really the answer for the Vikings.

For now, Frazier is downplaying any potential quarterback controversy and Ponder is saying all the right things about playing against the Panthers. What else would you expect anyone to say?

But if Cassel gets on a roll we all know he will start for the Vikings coming out of the bye and we also know he will have a good chance to remain in that role the following week against the Giants.

Eventually, the Vikings are going to have to take Ponder off the injury report and admit he’s healthy. The second they do that, and he still doesn’t play, the admission will have to be made: Christian Ponder has been benched.

The only question then will be if he will get one last chance to try to get his job back – that might not be until training camp 2014, if Cassel stays healthy – or if he will go down as one of the Vikings’ most disappointing first-round picks.

September 27, 2013

Matt Cassel to start London game against the Steelers

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:58

The Vikings announced earlier today that quarterback Christian Ponder’s rib injury is severe enough that he won’t be playing against the Pittsburgh Steelers this weekend. In his place, backup Matt Cassel will get the start:

Cassel, who is replacing an injured Christian Ponder (ribs), will try to steer the Vikings towards their first win of the season, and comes into a situation that few expected a month ago. The Vikings are 0-3 and on the verge of their season imploding, if it already hasn’t. With issues at QB, offensive line, and all over the defense, the Vikings have stumbled badly out of the gate, and they really need a spark.

Will Cassel provide that? It remains to be seen. This is the reason Cassel was signed in the off season. Last year, the Vikings had serious deficiencies at the backup position, as was evidenced by the tire fire that was Joe Webb in the Wild Card playoff game against Green Bay. As a starter, Cassel 29-33. In his career, he has a completion percentage of just over 58%, with 82 TD passes and 57 interceptions.

There’s already fan speculation that this is a “designed” play:

Update: The cynics are already hard at work:

September 9, 2013

Vikings start season with bad outing in Detroit

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:36

The Detroit Lions did just about everything they could to be good hosts: they kept providing the guests with opportunities to take extra advantage of mistakes, miscues, and assorted errors, but the Vikings seemed equally determined not to take advantage. The first half ended with the Vikings in the lead, but Detroit having demonstrated that they could move the ball pretty much at will and only bad luck and individual player errors kept them from being at least a touchdown ahead.

The (very) short list of Vikings who looked like they came to play football on Sunday included Jerome Simpson (who had his best receiving performance since he joined the team with 7 catches for 140 yards), Jared Allen, Harrison Smith (but more in the second half), and Blair Walsh … that pretty much rounds out the top ten. The rest of the team ranked somewhere between “adequate” and “cover-your-eyes awful”. Even the NFL MVP from last season had a relatively pedestrian outing. If you take away Adrian Peterson’s first run (78 yards for at touchdown), he didn’t even manage to average one yard per rush after that (15 yards on 17 carries). None of Minnesota’s three first-round draft picks had a memorable day (Sharrif Floyd was in the rotation at defensive tackle and had a pass deflection with those tragically short arms, Xavier Rhodes had a couple of penalties at corner, and Cordarrelle Patterson was given few opportunities to return kicks on special teams and had only one reception).

Reggie Bush, Detroit’s latest running back addition, had a great game both on the ground and through the air (90 yards rushing and 101 receiving). The absence of Kevin Williams at defensive tackle gave Bush lots of opportunities to showcase his elusive running style. As noted by a few commentators, the lack of Antoine Winfield on running downs was quite apparent (in two games against Detroit last year, Winfield tallied 20 tackles). A partial explanation for the poor defensive outing may be that they spent most of the first half on the field, but that doesn’t excuse the overall performance.

1500ESPN‘s Judd Zulgad and Jeff Dubay have a rant:

Christopher Gates of the Daily Norseman:

Truth be told, if the Lions could have stopped shooting themselves in the foot in the first half, this game probably would have been decided significantly earlier than it was. They botched a field goal attempt on their opening drive, had what looked like a touchdown catch by Calvin Johnson overturned (on what was the right call). They had a touchdown taken off the board thanks to a personal foul penalty on Ndamukong Suh on what should have been a pick-six by DeAndre Levy off of a deflection by Simpson. Detroit wasn’t really that far away from putting up a 50-spot in this one. . .the Vikings were relatively lucky that things were as close as they were, given the circumstances.

It was an ugly loss for the Vikings on Sunday afternoon at Ford Field, and it was truly a group effort. Hopefully this team can get themselves together before next Sunday at Soldier Field. . .a place that, incidentally, they pretty much never win at. Getting into an 0-2 hole not just in the overall standings, but in the division, after the first two games of the season is going to be a pretty tough hole to dig out of.

Can the Vikings learn from this loss? Sure, they can. Will they? Unfortunately, we have to wait seven days to find out.

The Star Tribune‘s Jim Souhan is losing patience with Christian Ponder:

Let’s cut through the enabling fog: Ponder cost the Vikings a potentially important victory Sunday, and he should have taken full blame.

At the helm of an offense featuring the NFL MVP, an excellent offensive line, a Pro Bowl tight end and a dramatically improved receiving corps, Ponder filled the role of neither inspired leader nor adequate facilitator. He didn’t make winning plays, and he didn’t avoid losing plays.

Facing a defense intent on stopping Peterson, he threw three interceptions. One would have resulted in a defensive touchdown if not for a despicable personal foul by the NFL’s dirtiest player, Ndamukong Suh. Ponder was saved from a fourth interception and another touchdown return when Lions defender Bill Bentley dropped a Ponder pass with nothing but fake grass between him and the end zone.

Don’t believe what Ponder’s apologists will tell you about the team sharing blame, and don’t look at the stat sheet, which showed 18 completions on 28 attempts for 236 yards. Perhaps the scariest aspect of Ponder’s performance was not his oh-no-he-didn’t throws. It was that even his completions looked shaky.

August 26, 2013

Preseason “action” as Vikings lose to San Francisco

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:10

This was a nationally televised game, and both teams were expected to play their starters for at least the first half (except the 49ers have like a dozen quarterbacks on the roster, so each prospective backup was going to play less than a quarter). The Vikings didn’t look good. In fact, they looked particularly bad with the first team offence on the field. The defence looked much better, but not good enough to make up for the lack of offensive productivity on display.

Adrian Peterson got a few symbolic snaps, but no meaningful action (no contact at all), and was quickly replaced by Toby Gerhart at running back. Stephen Burton, who has been pushing to make the roster as a wide receiver, gave up an interception to end an early series and reduce his chance of being on the 53-man roster at the start of the season. Both of the starting tackles ended up with personal fouls — Matt Kalil drew two unsportsmanlike penalties and Phil Loadholt was flagged for holding.

The Vikings special teams gave up a kick-return TD which immediately wiped out any momentum from the Zach Line touchdown reception. Joe Webb caught a second TD from Christian Ponder to round out the scoring for the Purple. Chris Cook left the game with a groin injury and Kevin Williams will have an MRI today after he was injured on a nasty-looking block away from the ball.

I saw the first half, then a thunderstorm rolled through our area and took out the power briefly. When the power came on a few seconds later, the cable was out and I couldn’t watch the rest of the game. From the reports, I missed very little indeed…

The first round of roster cuts (from 90 players down to 75) are due by Tuesday, so this game was the last chance for some players to make any kind of showing.

ESPN‘s Ben Goessling says the final stat line is kinder to Christian Ponder than it appeared on the field:

Ponder went 7-of-9 for 48 yards on his final drive during the Minnesota Vikings’ 34-14 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night, directing a 12-play, 78-yard drive that ended with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Joe Webb on a fade route. It was as assertive and accurate as Ponder has looked all preseason, and though most of his completions were underneath the 49ers’ coverage, he converted two third downs (one on a 7-yard scramble, the other on his touchdown to Webb), and the scoring pass was Ponder’s second of the night. It helped him finish with his best stat line of the preseason — 17-of-23 for 116 yards, two touchdowns and an interception — but it also dressed things up after another ragged start for Ponder.

August 11, 2013

Christian Ponder’s light workload in preseason opener

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

For the record, I actually like Judd Zulgad’s view of the Minnesota Vikings (although I’m already missing the wonderful point/counterpoint fencing of Tom Pelissero and Zulgad in their traditional post-game videos). That being said, Judd Zulgad would have to be counted as one of Christian Ponder’s chorus of detractors:

Christian Ponder will have at least one thing going for him as he prepares for the Minnesota Vikings’ second preseason game on Friday night at Buffalo. The third-year quarterback will be extremely well rested.

Ponder played only two snaps in the Vikings’ 27-13 exhibition loss on Friday to Houston at the Metrodome, completing his first pass for 15 yards to Jerome Simpson and then having his second pass intercepted after it was tipped by Simpson.

A check of the NFL game books from the 15 other preseason games that had been played through Friday showed no other quarterback took as few snaps as Ponder.

In fact, the Texans’ Matt Schaub was next on the list, having been under center for six snaps in one series. In games not involving the Vikings, the lightest workload went to the Broncos’ Peyton Manning, who handled seven snaps in a series before being pulled.

There were seven quarterbacks, including Ponder, Schaub and Manning, who were pulled after only one drive. That list included Dallas’ Kyle Orton, who started the Hall of Fame game in place of Tony Romo; San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick; Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers; and Kansas City’s Alex Smith.

Despite Zulgad’s clear anti-Ponder bias, he’s quite right that Ponder should have been granted at least another series in the first preseason game. I’m not completely convinced that Ponder is the answer to the Vikings’ needs, but he deserved better than being pulled after an incredibly short series. Whether the blame for the interception belongs to Ponder or to Jerome Simpson, I think the coaching staff short-changed Ponder by sticking to the “one series then out” philosophy. There’s the risk of injury in a meaningless game, but there’s also the psychological need to establish whether Ponder has the chops to be the starting quarterback for this team (I have nothing against Matt Cassel, and I’m glad he’s our backup QB, but I want Ponder to be given the opportunity to prove that he’s learned from both the positive and negative aspects of the 2012 season.)

Ponder and the rest of the Vikings first team should see at least a full quarter of action against the Buffalo Bills — which should be available in the Toronto TV-viewing area — in next week’s match-up.

January 12, 2013

Looking back at the ups and downs of the Vikings’ 2012 season

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:22

In the Daily Norseman, Eric Thompson reviews the Minnesota Vikings 10-6 season:

…let’s take a moment to appreciate how surprisingly well the 2012 season went as a whole. I thought the Vikings would finish with the exact inverse of their 10-6 regular season record. I felt that if everything went well for them, maybe they could scratch their way to .500. But the [insert Jim Mora voice here] playoffs? You kiddin’ me?! Only the rubiest of rubes could have predicted that with a straight face before the season. The Vikings struck gold multiple times in the draft: Matt Kalil, Harrison Smith, and Blair Walsh all made an immediate impact. Josh Robinson, Rhett Ellison, and Jarius Wright chipped in with noticeable contributions as well. When you come off a 3-13 season where you were the third worst team in the league, you better kick ass in the draft. Rick Spielman & company did just that and it paid off.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have your all-world cyborg running back return from major knee surgery to come within nine yards of the single-season rushing record either. Adrian Peterson surprised everyone but himself this year. He put the team (and multiple defenders) on his back time and time again throughout the season. If he doesn’t win the MVP in a few weeks, Webster is going to have to change the definition of “valuable”.

[. . .]

So yeah…about that internal quarterback controversy. The Joe Webb bandwagon didn’t just come to a halt last Saturday. It went down like the Hindenburg. Webb confirmed what Arif, Skol Girl, and I all thought after covering training camp this summer. He’s an amazing athlete — it’s just too bad he can’t throw a football. He has an arm like a Civil War cannon; unfortunately, he also has the accuracy of one. At least in the cannon’s case it was usually OK if you missed the target by a few yards. I’ve always rooted for Joe Webb and marveled at his ridiculous athleticism. But if he’s the backup quarterback again next year, something is seriously wrong. That said, I can’t hate on Webb too much. He was thrust into an impossible situation with virtually no game reps to prepare himself. I didn’t think that the Vikings were going to win that game regardless of who was under center. And outside of the first drive it’s not like the play calling did him too many favors. [. . .]

Christian Ponder’s “Injury”: [. . .] the bruising on Christian Ponder’s arm was there for everyone to see. It was definitely a shock when it was announced Ponder couldn’t go just hours before kickoff. The sudden drastic change in Ponder’s status led people to believe that he was being soft and unwilling to play through pain. I saw all sorts of tweets and comments to the effect of “LOL PONDER’S A WUSS HE DOESN’T WANT TO SUCK AGAINST GB AGAIN” or “DURRR FAVRE WOULD HAVE BEEN OUT THERE WITH BOTH ELBOWS AMPUTATED NO DOUBT”. But then we saw Ponder’s arm, which looked like it talked back to Ike Turner too many times. And Rich Eisen said on his podcast this week that he heard the Vikings knew that Ponder wouldn’t be able to go on Friday night. Not exactly your run of the mill owwie, is it?

January 6, 2013

Vikings lose in Green Bay

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:48

Yesterday, I said “Everyone is expecting Green Bay to romp over the Vikings today“. That became an even more likely outcome just a few hours before game time, as the Vikings announced that starting quarterback Christian Ponder would be inactive with an elbow injury suffered in last week’s win. Backup Joe Webb would be the Vikings quarterback for the Green Bay game, not having thrown a pass since the preseason. After the game, it was made clear that the problem wasn’t pain, it was range of motion: Ponder couldn’t move his elbow enough to make the throws.

The Vikings got the opening kickoff and put on an entertaining drive that ended with a Blair Walsh field goal. Webb didn’t complete a single pass on the drive: it was all Adrian Peterson or Joe Webb running the ball. After the first drive, however, the Vikings went away from what had worked in the opening drive and were unable to move the ball consistently.

Jesse Reed at Bleacher Report:

Maybe we all took Christian Ponder for granted in 2012.

Joe Webb proved an invaluable lesson on Saturday night: The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and it doesn’t matter if you have the best running back in the world; without one, you won’t win in the playoffs.

Webb started the game because Ponder couldn’t overcome an elbow injury he suffered in Week 17, and the Minnesota Vikings offense was a hopeless mess without Ponder.

That’s right.

As much as many (myself included) have ripped Ponder for his flaws, his value to the Vikings was made apparent in the worst way against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Saturday night.

Webb was simply atrocious.

1500ESPN’s Judd Zulgad and Tom Pelissero:

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