A humbling loss Sunday, in a humiliating season, did little to help Minnesota's 2014 NFL Draft selection.
No, the chances are Minnesota will draft 8th no matter if they win or lose next Sunday vs. the sinking Detroit Lions. Given that the 49ers will win tonight hosting the Atlanta Falcons, there will be five teams 1/2 game "ahead" in the standings. Minnesota at 4-10-1 won one too many. Atlanta, Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Oakland, and Cleveland are all 4-11 and are facing playoff contending teams. Each of these teams cunningly lost in Week 16. There are a few teams at 6-9, but thankfully the Vikings are safe from them.
Houston and Washington are going to finish ahead as well.
So barring an NFL miracle, Minnesota's position will not be changed whether they win or lose.
After Sunday's 42-14 loss to the Bengals, fans simply do not have enough fingers to point at the problems. From the owner, to the management, to coaching, and players, there is blame to be had. Hopefully, 2014 can see a rebound from the abyss that is the 2013 season.
The 2012 playoff visit a mere memory. And maybe one of the most fortunate records in Minnesota sports history, because apparently this team lacks a lot of talent we thought was there.
Everyone is aware of the quarterback issue. Hopefully, Week Sixteen enlightened enough to realize that we need a new quarterback. That does not mean we have to take Johnny Manziel with the eight pick. It does mean we should be looking over time for a franchise quarterback.
We need to look at the possibility of trading Adrian Peterson. He is incredible. Our Kevin Garnett of football. But like KG it may be time to set him free. He has paid his dues. We still love him. Many of us simply want him to experience a Super Bowl, and that may not occur here for the rest of his career. Others of us want to sell a commodity that keeps us from getting good draft picks.
The offensive line is struggling. From my couch view I saw Phil Loadholt and Matt Kalil fail more than they succeeded. Christian Ponder's demise was in part due to the lack of protection from these two. Kalil, a Pro Bowler his rookie season, looked slower. Loadholt even slower. The guards were worse Charlie Johnson and Brandon Fusco seemed to disappear often. Johnson, an older veteran, has to be nearing the end.
Offensive line must be addressed.
Running backs are a strength, but backup Toby Gerhart should take the Free Agent train to anywhere. Minnesota may need to replace him with an heir apparent to AP. Wide receivers are probably a need, but the poor protection and passing this season left a few receivers without chances to showcase. Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson will be back. The rest a mystery.
Defensively, Minnesota will need to replace Jared Allen. And while he is a beloved Viking, his gotta-sack mentality seemed to negatively impact the run defense. And Kevin Williams is getting older, soon to be retired. There seems to be some depth with Everson Griffen, Letroy Guoin and others. Still, Minnesota could use Sharrif Floyd to step up next year. He contributed little in 2013.
The linebackers are a definite sore spot. Minnesota drafted two Penn Staters last year in the latter part of the Draft, both ended up contributing only on special teams. Chad Greenway could not keep up with the faster running backs, and seemed to be less definitive about tackling in 2013. The rest of the LBs are worse. Fans like Audie Cole, but realistically, Minnesota could pick up three free agents who would not do much worse.
As bad as the linebackers appear, the defensive secondary might have been worse. High draft selections Chris Cook and Josh Robinson are not getting it done. Robinson has become a word synonymous with Swiss cheese. Cook is often hurt, a PR cancer, and not dependable on the field despite talent. Only S Harrison Smith and CB Xavier Rhodes appear talented enough to start for any other NFL team.
We must find more DBs.
As for coaching, nice guy Leslie Frazier appears to have the confidence of the team and the owner. But not many fans. Like Ron Gardenhire, this coach appears to have a free pass on success or not. If Minnesota is as bad as many now fear, maybe Frazier should have been coach of the year in 2012.
Rick Spielman, coming off of serious accolades for his shrewdness in handling Percy Harvin and the 2013 Draft, appears vulnerable. Christian Ponder's lack of success his albatross. Letting Antoine WInfield escape, Josh Robinson stay, and assembling the worst defense in Vikings' history.. telltale. Probably not enough to lose his job. But maybe lose some fans.
And the owner.
Ziggy WIlf won a new stadium. They won community support, not to mention a lot of future dollars. He puts out a product that is poor for the third time in the last four years. Despite bad press, law suits, and a sluggish economy, Wilf got everything he wanted.
We call that entrepreneurship.
So with nothing to play for, a dismal near future ahead, and a new stadium only a couple of years away, this game vs. Detroit is one for the players. We will see if our beloved Vikings want to beat up the Lions in Week 17. They will be deflated. Their fans more angry than even us.
Should be a good one.
With the trading of Percy Harvin for multiple draft picks in the next two years, the Vikings had added fan attention/concern to the upcoming NFL Draft. It was painfully obvious Minnesota lacked wide receiver talent in 2012, Letting go the only receiver to perform well last year seemed insane. But when players express a desire to be traded, the reality is they are probably not worth much to you. Getting a first round pick (among others) was better than could have been hoped.
And now with the signing of Greg Jennings, another in a slew of former-Packers players who seem to want to play for their rival, it seems Minnesota has already addressed the loss of Harvin in part. And with the 23rd and 25th pick in the upcoming draft, are poised to further amend the neediest of positions on the present roster. For after Jennings, the next most-highly regarded receiver is probably Jarius Wright. Or perhaps Jerome Simpson. You see the problem?
We need receivers now.
That is not the only need unfortunately. With Jasper Brinkley leaving for Arizona, there is an immediate hole at the vital position of middle linebacker. There has been talk of stealing Brian Urlacher away from another rival, the Chicago Bears. WLB Erin Henderson, entering his 6th year, is also a concern to some fans. Only Chad Greenway is above reproach at SLB, and he in his 8th season and thirty years old.
We might need a linebacker or two.
Antoine Winfield, easily the most consistent performing cornerback, was let go to free salary cap room. At thirty-five years old, Winfield is in the twilight of his career. Yet he would have been a starter for certain, Chris Cook and Josh Robinson give fans hope for a good future. A.J. Jefferson and Marcus Sherels remind us of how badly we need the aforementioned corners to stay healthy. Brandon Burton should be in the equation in 2013, and Sherels is a decent return guy, but even a blind man can see the need for help here.
Cornerback is in Spielman's front brain.
Adrian Peterson is entering his 7th season, and coming off of one of the greatest seasons in football history (and that is not hyperbole). He is in the prime of his career. The front line did an admirable job helping him find holes. They did less of a job protecting a skittish Christian Ponder. The loss of OG Geoffrey Schwarz creates a further need to improve at the guard position.
It is important to note that the Super Bowl champion Ravens had two former Vikings (Birk,McKinnie) on their front line. While Matt Kalil is proving an upgrade, and John Sullivan more than solid at center, there is a need to improve the depth and talent of guard. The right guard position presently belongs to Brandon Fusco. Charlie Johnson was recently signed to man the other guard. He is entering his 8th season, and was not resembling former All-Pro (happy retirement!) Steve Hutchinson in 2012.
Guard is a need in 2013.
On the other side of the ball, the Vikings have serious talent. DT Kevin Williams has given us ten good years at defensive tackle. DE Jared Allen enters his 10th year as a pro, and all have been exceptional since coming from the Chiefs. Add improving DE Brian Robison and you have one of the better front fours in football. But also maybe one of the oldest. All three will be thirty years old (or older) at the start of the season. Only NT LeTroy Guion at 26 is considered young in this group.
Luckily, Minnesota possesses others at defensive line who are ready to contribute. Everson Griffen showed signs of life in 2012, and in only his 4th season, is probably ready to replace someone at end. DT Christian Ballard is entering his 3rd season, and appears capable. So to is NT Fred Evans, though he is entering his 8th season. D'Aundre Reed should be back at defensive end, but has yet to get a chance to prove himself.
Defensive line is needing youth.
And so over the next forty days I will be offering reviews of prospects for this year's NFL Draft. Minnesota has eleven selections in the draft. They have five in the top one hundred. Now is the time for the return to atop the North division. The Packers, still the team to beat, are an Aaron Rodgers injury away from mediocrity. Their defense is suspect. And now they are without Jennings on offense. The Bears and Lions are good, but so are we. We might even be better?
Thirty-Nine days and counting...
I know many Vikings' fans were trying to reason it is OK to run just one more time. After Adrian Peterson's incredible performance which included two touchdowns, 199 yards rushing, and countless cut-backs and jukes that had the crowd in a raucous mood.
"Give him the ball. He will get the record. You can still call timeout. We want the ball on the right hash mark."
But in the end we had to concede that Adrian's heroic effort in 2012 would fall nine yards short of setting the NFL record still held by Erick Dickerson. Earlier in the day Dickerson had made it clear on national television that he wanted to keep the record. He was hoping Peterson would get 180 or so and win the game, but fall short of his hallowed title. He laughed, but he was serious. The rushing record is one of the most prized individual records in football.
And as Minnesotans celebrated Blair Walsh's winning field goal that just snuck inside the left goalpost, there was a sadness that the running back we love was denied the individual glory we all wished for him. Not so much that we did not jump up and down and think of all of our Packers and Bears friends we could Facebook.
We beat the blessed Packers.
The loss cost Green Bay a bye, and forces them to play us again next week.
How good does that feel?
The win knocked out the Chicago Bears from the playoffs. The 2012 Vikings eliminated someone. And it was someone we don't like very much.
And we have so many players to thank. Besides AP, there was Christian Ponder. While not perfect, and scary a few times, Ponder was brilliant and steady most of the game. His down field throws, decision-making, and precision under pressure were foreign to most fans. But I am certain that the slew of fans who insisted we need a new quarterback for 2013 are having doubt. Maybe Ponder might be just what we need?
There was pressure at times on Aaron Rodgers. He was hit hard by Everson Griffen often and Brian Robison made a huge play stripping him of the ball on a sack. Jared Allen was a force early in the game. Minnesota did not want to blitz and left it up to their front four most of the game. While Rodgers knifed through the defense often, he also gave up five sacks (three to Griffen). In the end Rodgers had 365 yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions. But the lack of a running game cost Rodgers pressure.
Jarius Wright became the favorite of many young fans today with his circus catch of a deflected pass that could have been a costly Ponder error. Instead, Wright's questionable grab that was undisputed, was a key first down when Rodgers was heating up. And Wright's big catch of a Ponder bomb (what is that asks most fans) was an even bigger play. Michael Jenkins, almost a goat earlier, made a couple of big catches. Even Jerome Simpson looked the part. All-Pro fullback Terry Felton even looked good on the other side of a perfect Ponder spiral.
I could always point out mistakes. Every game has them. The late timeout in the first half that seemed to give Rodgers enough time to get a field goal. Phil Loadholt's foolish decisions and penalties. Mistral Raymond overran a tackle that seemed to give momentum to Green Bay. Marcus Sherels leaves Jordy Nelson on a deep route. Even Adrian almost fumbled.
Or not, as replay overcame.
I choose not to dwell on these sobering events. I want to bask in the glory of another playoff visit to Lambeau Field. I want to think about winning three games in 2011, and then ten in 2012. I want to tell all the Ponder haters that I was right about him, he ain't so bad. He is just young. I want to call my Vikings' friends. It is a happy time.
And then I think about the record. Peterson came back in less than a year from a career-threatening knee injury. He dominated against defenses sole bent on stopping him. He ran so hard that most every time he touched the ball everyone in the room got excited. He even stayed in-bounds late in the game (see that Robert Smith?).
I want everyone to buy an Adrian Peterson jersey tomorrow. Celebrate his greatness. Nine lousy yards.
Skol, MVP, Skol.
On December 2nd we had another falling out with Christian Ponder. Minnesota had taken a 14-10 lead over Green Bay in Lambeau Field by halftime. After a 48-yard run in the early second half by Adrian Peterson, we were poised to go up 11 against our hated rival. That is when Ponder threw an interception to Morgan Burnett, killing the drive, and changing the potential upset into the predictable loss at Green Bay.
The loss placed the Vikings at 6-6, and given the impossibility of the remaining schedule, most gave up on the season.
And then Minnesota beat the Bears, Rams, and Texans by a combined score of 80-42. Two of the games on the road, even. Now we are 9-6 and need only win at home to go from 9-23 the last two seasons, to a playoff team. All we have to do is beat the Packers.
And we can.
The recipe is simple. And given this is the season of recipes, I have decided to share....
Get a large mixing bowl, or Dome. Fill it with alcohol, food, and crazy people. Pipe in loud music that forces them to yell until their throats are sore.
Quickly stir in something to get excited about. Defensively, a sack by Jared Allen or Everson Griffen. Maybe an interception by wonder kid Harrison Smith, or a fumble-producing hit from Antoine Winfield. Chad Greenway will cover the ball. Hopefully, that will be the impetus for an early lead.
Offensively, blend in just enough passing by Christian Ponder so that a run-stopping Packers defense is caught off-guard. Just like OC Bill Musgrave managed in the Texans win. With Green Bay bent on stopping AP, Ponder will have chances to exploit single coverage often. But the Green Bay defense has been very good of late. Ponder will need to be smart.
This will get the noise to rise. And let it bake. Do not open the oven door (turnovers).
When we have the lead it is time decorate/frost our meal. And that means lots of Adrian Peterson. I know everyone wants to see him get the record, but our focus should be on All Day pounding would be tacklers all game. Punish them. Sprinkle in a little Toby Gerhart to keep it fresh.
Defensively, everyone has to be at their best. It is time for the front four, and whatever blitz we concoct, to affect Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay has won five straight vs. Minnesota, but not too long ago Rodgers feared the Dome. It is time to remind him of games past.
When we have the lead late in the game, it is time for the fans and the defense to join together. With every great rush by Jared Allen, cover by Josh Robinson, Chris Cook, or A.J. Jefferson, the fans must reward them with noise. Green Bay is very good at the passing game, but in the season's first loss they rushed for 150 yards. This cannot happen again. We must get a lead and force them out of the run so that we can attack Rodgers with a pass rush. And given the sporadic play of Green Bay's offensive line, it is possible.
We will serve the meal to everyone. A national audience, fans off the bandwagon. It does not matter.
More than likely, the reward for winning means a rematch next week back in Lambeau.
This Sunday's game vs. the Packers will be big. The biggest game since the "Assault in New Orleans", or otherwise referred to as the NFC Championship in the 2009 season. If Minnesota wins, they will have gone from back-to-back losing seasons, including last year's 3-13 season to a 2012 10-6 record and a playoff berth. Unbelievable.
Still, Minnesotans refuse to embrace quarterback Christian Ponder. And for solid reasons. His passer rating lies in-between Michael Vick and Blaine Gabbert. He throws for under 100 yards. He had five fumbles lost and twelve interceptions. His decision-making is much maligned.
Yet here we are at 9-6.
Adrian Peterson is demonstrating how important a running game can be. Peterson's 126.5 rushing yards per game dwarfs the next closest runner by nearly 30 yards per game. AP's 6.0 yards per carry are second to only C.J. Spiller, and his due mostly to running against prevent defenses, as opposed to 8 or 9 in the "box". Adrian's 2012 season ranks 8th all-time for rushing yards in a season, with Earl Campbell only 36 yards away, and O.J. Simpson's 2,003 yard performance a mere 105. Peterson's season ranks 79th all-time in all purpose yards, and if he can manage to set a single-season record by rushing for 208 yards vs. Green Bay, will finish in the top 30 all-time. He is 2nd in the league in rushing TDs. 2nd in attempts. And he has only lost two fumbles.
The defense is anchored by more than just Jared Allen and Chad Greenway in 2012. Brian Robison and Everson Griffen have been impressive, combining for 12.5 sacks. Kevin Williams, along with Fred Evans and Letroy Guion, have kept the middle solid throughout the season. Jasper Brinkley is starting to dominate at the middle linebacker. Harrison Smith and Antoine Winfield pound would be runners and receivers, and the cornerbacks have been better than any in recent memory. A total team defense.
Even Blair Walsh deserves credit. All he has done is set team and NFL records with nine consecutive field goals of 50+ yards. He is 32 of 35 on the year in field goal attempts. His kick-offs are pinning opponents deeper than in years past. He could very likely be an All-Pro is 2012.
And then there is Ponder.
Ponder lost favor by mid-season. Whether it was Bill Musgrave tightening the reins, or a lack of good decision-making, Christian stunk up the place for a while. And Minnesota lost games they had opportunities to win. Certainly the Washington loss, the Green Bay loss, and a few others drew pointed fingers at Ponder.
Despite a good game yesterday, most still feel he is not the quarterback of the future, and will be the demise of 2012. These fans want Minnesota to draft another quarterback next year, and open the door to potential free agent QBs or others out of favor with present teams. The list includes: Tim Tebow, Mark Sanchez, Alex Smith, Philip Rivers, and more. Even Tarvaris Jackson would be an upgrade in the more pessimistic fan's eye.
But let's look at a few past drafts before we come to judgment...
2012 NFL Draft included a slew of apparent strong quarterbacks. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin headline a strong class. But would it surprise you to know that Luck's present passer rating is below Ponder? And other than the top two draft picks overall, only Russell Wilson (75th pick) is looking good. Miami's Tannehill (8th) and Cleveland's Weeden (22nd) have had mixed reviews.
The 2011 NFL Draft saw four quarterbacks chosen in the top twelve, six in the top thirty-six picks. Cam Newton, first overall, has been impressive. Jake Locker (8th) less so. Blaine Gabbert (10th) a disappointment. After Ponder, Andy Dalton was chosen 35th and Colin Kaepernick 36th. Both look better than Ponder to date.
In 2010, five QBs were draft in the first four rounds. The top pick was Sam Bradford, chosen 1st overall. Next was Tim Tebow, who went with the 25th pick. The remaining QBs include Jimmy Clausen, Colt McCoy, and some guy named Kafka. Only Bradford holds hope for a solid future.
In 2009 only three QBs are of note still today. Matthew Stafford, first overall, has been great and terrible. Mark Sanchez, fifth overall, is now washed up after his fourth season. And Josh Freeman (17th) continues to struggle with Tampa Bay. In this their fourth year, this class has taken a mighty step back.
2008 had of note Matt Ryan (3rd) and Joe Flacco (18th) and maybe Chad Henne (57th). Flacco has his detractors while Matt Ryan has proved himself year after year. The rest? Nothing.
So go ahead and hate on Ponder. Wish for another quarterback to take over. You may end up right, Christian might not be that good. But do not forget, Minnesota will not have a top ten pick. Probably not a top twenty. That means talent like Griffin, Luck, Newton, etc.. will not be available. We will have to find a Russell Wilson, or a Colin Kaepernick. In the meantime, most fans understand we still need to improve at other positions, such as wide receiver or offensive guard.
In the meantime, I will support Ponder as he beats Green Bay (along with AP and the defense), and brings us back to the playoffs in 2012.
Onward Christian Ponder. I will march off to war with you.
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