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.
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.
Coming off of the loss in Seattle, Minnesota finds itself at 5-4 and facing a difficult schedule. In fact, besides the road game at St. Louis ahead, this home game vs. the Lions might be the only game in which the Vikings will be near favored. (Oddsmakers are actually favoring Detroit by a little). And they will play without Percy Harvin, out with an ankle injury.
I have listened to my fellow Vikings' fans lament the play of Christian Ponder. And truthfully, he has been awful. Ponder helped the Vikings get off to a fast start by reducing mistakes, finding Harvin and Kyle Rudolph, and escaping the rush well enough to avoid sacks. But lately he has faltered. Ponder did not throw an interception in the first four games, where Minnesota went 3-1. In the last five games Ponder has thrown eight interceptions and Minnesota is 2-3 in those games. Ponder was sacked nine times in the 4-1 start, 14 times in the 1-3 stretch we have just endured.
But as any coach or knowledgeable fan knows, there is much that is hidden. From the television angle, I can see pass rushes are now getting through our line. Recently I have watched replays where John Sullivan,Charlie Johnson, Brandon Fusco, and Phil Loadholt have been beaten. Blitzes are not being picked up by running backs and/or tight ends. Even phenom Matt Kalil has allowed hits to Ponder. Opposing defenses are pressuring Ponder. Other than Harvin, no one else appears to getting open regularly. If quarterbacks face pressure without open receivers it gets ugly quickly. Just ask Michael Vick.
And the defense is suffering from the lack of passing offense. The Vikings have surrendered 30 or more points in their last three losses to Washington, Tampa Bay, and Seattle.Those teams are 23rd, 13th, and 32nd in passing offense. And that has not mattered because it has been through running games that Minnesota has collapsed. Against Washington Robert Griffin III slipped through countless tackles on his way to 138 yards in only 13 carries. Doug Martin did the same in his 135 yards on 29 carries (which turns out not so bad compared to other Martin games). And there is no shame in allowing Marshawn Lynch 124 yards on 26 carries, other than that means you do not have the ball. Inability to stop the run is the death of many teams.
And excuses are available. The defensive secondary misses the play of Chris Cook and Mistral Raymond until recent. Cook was having a great year and that freed up guys like Harrison Smith and Jamarca Sanford to make tackles. Josh Robinson, along with others, is raw and will be beaten at times.
Losing to ground games is often at the fault of the 'front seven'. In the case of RGIII, the front four needs to contain him within the rush and often a linebacker is assigned to quicker QBs. Neither did their job. It seemed in the loss to the Bucs and Seahawks that linebackers were simply missing assignments and/or tackles. Chad Greenway tackles so many people that we tend not to see fault in him, but the microscope is on Erin Henderson and Jasper Brinkley. And one cannot help but wonder if the "have to get that sack" mentality of Jared Allen and Brian Robison is negatively impacting the run defense, as most yardage allowed appears to be leaning to the outside gaps.
Fast forward to today. At 5-4, and this being the easiest of the three remaining home games,today's game vs. the Lions becomes a must win to entertain a winning season or slim remaining playoff hope. Having beaten them earlier in the season Minnesota should have a winning recipe. Contain the run and put pressure on Stafford with the front four. Offensively, do enough with the passing game to allow Adrian Peterson just a little wiggle room. And avoid mistakes in your own territory.
With Percy Harvin out that job just became harder. Harvin has been electric in all aspects of his game. Harvin is on pace to shatter personal receiving records in this his fourth year. While his receiving efforts are probably most missed today, the idea of not having Harvin return kickoffs is also disheartening, He was averaging almost 36 yards per return, with four returns over forty plus yards in sixteen attempts.
Can Minnesota right the ship with a season sweep of the Lions? Without Harvin, it appears that the job of kick off returning us to winning football just became available. Marcus Sherels, the punt returner, appears to be most likely to have that chance. And this also means someone like Jerome Simpson. Michael Jenkins, Devin Aromashodu, or Kyle Rudolph will have to pick up the slack receiving.
Because Lord knows Adrian Peterson cannot do it all.
By Louis Villaume
Nothing is easier to criticize than an NFL Draft. Comparatively, I find no fault in the Minnesota state tax or even the sane lane. The snow plows that knock my mailbox down every year are welcomed compared to a bad pick. And it is with that thought we examine the 2011 Draft.
Before it even started there was a dismal feel to this draft. The Packers are reigning Super Bowl Champions. The Patriots had compiled a slew of picks in the early rounds. There is the stay of the injunction. Why in the 2nd round the NFL announced the lockout was back on .. talk about a party-killer.
And then it began on a Thursday Night! For the first time in thirty years I was unable to watch Minnesota's first pick of the season. The NFL keeps finding ways to challenge my desire to have a life outside it. Luckily, I was able to give up my Friday Night and most of this rainy Saturday, and I got my fill.
On to the picks.
Green Bay won the 2011 Super Bowl thanks in part to a strong General Manager and wise draft choices. QB Aaron Rodgers proved to be a gold mine and the main impetus for a cheesy champion. The Vikings decided this year to try their luck at a first round choice being a quarterback. In a draft littered with hurlers, Minnesota chose Christian Ponder from Florida State. The talking heads liked the pick for the most part. I could not help but think about Nick Fairley at the 12th selection, and his subsequent joining of the improving Detroit Lions. But I see we do need a franchise play caller, and given last year's collapse, I suppose we are in rebuilding mode.
Our 2nd round pick was a shocker. I was sure we would beef offensive line. True, we had added Chris DeGeare and Phil Loadholt in the last drafts, but the way Brett Favre was battered and given the importance of keeping Adrian Peterson happy and healthy, I was hopeful we would improve on the efforts of Sullivan, McKinnie and friends... But we went tight end. The choice of Kyle Rudolph of Notre Dame sounds intriguing. At 6'6, he could be an Antonio Gates or Tony Gonzalez type of TE that becomes a deadly weapon in the red zone. Kind of like Visanthe Shiancoe. Damage control came in the news that the TEs on roster were all aging and in the final year of their contracts.
The 3rd round went by very slowly. I kept trying to remember just what the reason was for trading it away. I couldn't. Or wouldn't remember. Some things are better forgotten.
The anticipated 4th round on Saturday morning had the Vikings with an early selection. They chose DT Christian Ballard of Iowa. My first reaction was .. "Two Christians?", I immediately regressed to my days as a Timberwolves' fan, and the choosing of Christian Laettner. I hate Christians. But this Christian is a beefy tackle that is needed to replace a section of the Williams wall, along with existing solid DTs like Guion and Kennedy. I can live with that one.
The 5th round of tow selections became just one pick (with a trade) and then four in the 6th round. It was at that time I pulled myself away enough to eat and write. We grabbed Brandon Burton a CB form Utah. Definitely a need position given the fact that Lito Sheppard and Frank Walker ended up being on the field with regularity. With Chris Cook and Griffin hurt most of the season, and Antoine Winfield solid but older, this pick makes sense. Just wonder if it was soon enough to help.
The 6th round will be busy. It is back to the TV for me. Hope it keeps raining so I can justify the next three to four hours.
Early in the game the Packers moved the ball at will. Cornerback Chris Cook looked like he had on the wrong spikes, falling down, making poor cuts, and getting taken to the cleaners by James Jones. The defensive line had their now normal lack of any pass rush. E.J. Henderson disappeared. And yet Minnesota was in the game.
On offense, the Vikings ignored the fact that they had Randy Moss, choosing to throw underneath coverage to Visanthe Shiancoe and Percy Harvin. For a while it looked like the two offenses traded dinking and dunking to move the ball. Only Green Bay was doing it better. Adrian Peterson was his usual dominant self, and at game's end most Vikings' fans were unhappy that he 'only' had 23 carries on the game. AP was the best player on the field.
Late in the game mistakes cost Minnesota big. An interception returned for a TD by the Packers made it a 28-17 game. But even as the situation crumbled, I confess I was not worried. Minnesota showed it could move the ball. The talent on offense strong enough to at least give hope in an eleven point deficit in the second half. And I was right.
Back came Minnesota.
Never mind that earlier Minnesota chose not to ask for a replay on the Quarless TD. Replay did show that the ball was bobbled as he landed on the back of the end zone line. It appeared he did not fully land in bounds as his elongated backside covered both in and out of bounds. But with the quick extra-point try the coaching staff of Minnesota (Brad Childress) was left to an instant decision to challenge. And we did not. This was a 3rd down attempt that would have ended in a field goal try. Instead, it was a questionable score that meant the Vikings' final drive was from behind instead of tied.
Late in the game, as the Vikings drove for that winning TD, they made two crucial mistakes. The first was on Visanthe Shiancoe, who flipped a ball high in the air after a key first down put the Vikings inside the 15-yard line with a minute left. He was given a delay of game penalty and Minnesota was pushed back five yards. On the ensuing play, offensive tackle Phil Loadholt put his hands to the facemask of an onrushing Clay Matthews (that long-haired player you love to hate) and was awarded a fifteen yard personal foul. It was clearly a foul. I thought the referee's let holding calls go throughout the game, but they have this thing about hands to the face. The first and thirty result was too much to overcome. Percy Harvin had a foot out and the last play and the Packers coaching staff challenged for the umpteenth time in the game and won. Finally, there was a desperation throw toward Randy Moss, who looked to have three or four guys covering him.
The Vikings lose a close one.
We can blame mistakes, penalties, and turnovers. Those are a part of the game. But losing via instant replay (or lack thereof) is a new disease. One that affects non-cognizant coaches. I have defended Childress in the past because I saw it more as a player/personnel issue. But not challenging a questionable TD in a division rivalry has me concerned. Losing via the instant replay leaves me cold.
P.S. I still think we will win this thing. Our rivals are not that good.
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