Dan Wiederer conducts a Live Chat on the Vikings on Tuesdays at startribune.com. Here are edited excerpts from this week's Chat.
Q If Christian Ponder continues to struggle this year, what route do you think the Vikings will go at for the 2013 starting QB position? Free agency? High draft pick? Stick with Ponder?
A If Ponder struggles this way for the rest of the season, you can't stick with him. But starting over has its risks as well. So it's really a tough spot the Vikings are in if the guy they took at No. 12 overall in 2011 ends up being a flop. This has always been about his growth. And if he regresses too much, no matter how much other talent is on the team, you can't win at a high level in this league. So I'd think you'd have to go into next April's draft figuring out what talent would be at your slot. For the Vikings, it's all about measuring Ponder on 16 starts. You give him the full season to see how he handles the ebbs and flows and the roller coaster ride that comes with being an NFL QB.
Q How good is that John Carlson signing looking now? Why didn't they use that money on Vincent Jackson?
A Well, for starters VJax signed a five-year deal worth $55.5 million, Carlson signed a five-year $25 mill deal. So that's a mere difference of $30 million. Which is like having your Honda Civic break down and then wondering why you didn't spend that money on a Porsche. But finances aside, the playmakers brought in via free agency and the draft have all been busts to this point. And I stress "to this point." Carlson, Jerome Simpson, Jarius Wright, Greg Childs. The offense needs life breathed into it. And the Vikings have thus far failed to get the players to do so.
Q Do you think Brandon Fusco is going to be the right guard for years to come?
A Like Ponder, Fusco has also clearly hit a bit of a confidence dip. Geoff Schwartz is seeing more time at RG now. Fusco is tentative overall and that's not going to help with the sputtering passing attack.
Q Where has Kyle Rudolph been the last three games? Have teams started putting corners and safeties to limit him?
A Two catches the past three games for No. 82. Not good. Rudolph is supposed to be the security blanket to help relieve the struggles Ponder is having right now. This guy is supposed to have huge, reliable hands and a catching radius that allows you to take chances. So I'd guess that Ponder might need to take more chances with him. Think about that TD against Tennessee. Throw it into a crowd and see what happens.
Q Is there trouble brewing with Percy? If Percy ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.
A The Vikings do a good job of managing Harvin's temper. They keep him in line. And I'm not one of those in the camp of treating every sideline blowup as if it's major drama. It's not. This is a 24-year-old playing a wildly intense and emotional sport. That said, Harvin has to mature to that end. It's not a good look when you're marching after your coach screaming at him. And you have to know cameras are going to catch it, which leads to headlines, which leads to questions about your mood and your temper. So if you don't want to be cast as an irritable prima donna, you have to manage moments like that much, much better.
Q The Vikings are relying too much on Peterson and Harvin and neither of them will finish the season without being injured.
A It's a no-win situation. Either you feature your playmakers a lot, or you preserve them and get yelled at for not featuring them more. Harvin, of course, now has injuries to both legs and might be in Sharpie on the injury report the rest of the way. Peterson? Never seen a guy play like him and be as durable. Knee surgery, sore ankle. Doesn't matter. For 16 Sundays, he's a machine.
Q I realize the defense has looked bad at times, but how much of that can you attribute to the fact they're constantly on the field?
A Chicken and egg in some ways. But as a defense, it's your job to get off the field. Somehow, some way. Against Tampa Bay, they were still alive until they surrendered a 16-play, 87-yard, nine-minute TD drive. Seattle, too, ended the first half with a 12-play, 80-yard march. Gotta get off the field. Can't have silly offside penalties or get consistently gashed for big runs.
Q I love Harrison Smith. But do the coaches not teach him to wrap up or does he simply not apply the proper technique when the bullets fly?
A As good as he's been all season, he's a rookie with flaws. Being a more consistent tackler is one of those things he needs to work on. You can't always bring the boom. Sometimes you have to wrap up.