A snapshot look at the Vikings as they prepare for next Sunday’s game at Mall of America Field against the Raiders.
PLAYER IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Rookie quarterback Christian Ponder needs to show marked improvement this week. No, no, no, we’re not advocating a full-fledged panicked exit from the Ponder bandwagon. The kid still has the requisite talent and composure to be a difference-maker for years to come. But it is worth pointing out that Ponder has only completed 50.5 percent of his passes this season and has a quarterback rating (69.8) that registers below mocked signal callers likes Arizona’s Kevin Kolb (77.8), Seattle’s Tarvaris Jackson (74.8) and Denver’s long-ago benched veteran Kyle Orton (75.7). Look, Ponder needs a lot of help around him – up front and in the receiving corps. But also remember he is facing his own steep learning curve. That was fully evident Monday at Lambeau Field as the Packers blitzed him early and often and rattled him into a night in which he went 16-for-34 for 190 yards with an interception. Ponder was 7-for-17 for 96 yards after halftime.
MOST PRESSING QUESTION
Which team has the advantage in turnaround time, the Vikings or Raiders?
The Raiders played on Thursday of last week, winning 24-17 in San Diego and then getting nine full days to rest and recover before their trip to Minneapolis. The Vikings? They get a shortened week to address a multitude of errors that surfaced during Monday night’s embarrassing 45-7 loss in Green Bay. But who knows? Maybe the quick turnaround will be a blessing. After all, the Vikings had 15 days between games after beating Carolina 24-21 in Week 8. And yet they returned after their bye week to deliver their biggest stinker of the season.
KEEP AN EYE ON …
Cullen Loeffler’s shoulder. The veteran long snapper suffered a rotator cuff injury Monday night. No big deal; he’s just a long snapper, right? Well, Loeffler has played in 126 consecutive games for the Vikings, including playoffs. You’d have to go back to the 2003 regular season finale to find a Vikings punt or field goal attempt that didn’t have Loeffler snapping. On the current roster, Jared Allen is the second-best long snapper. But the Vikings certainly would not ask him to take on that role if Loeffler’s injury were serious. They’re instead forced to scour the open market.
SCOUTING THE RAIDERS
In Oakland, it all starts with the running game. Through the first four games, Darren McFadden ran like a Pro Bowl star, accumulating 468 rushing yards and three touchdowns. The last three weeks, with McFadden sidelined and nursing a sprained foot, Michael Bush has sprung to life. Bush had 111 yards from scrimmage in Week 7, 129 yards in Week 9 then blew up for 242 total yards in last week’s win over San Diego. As a team, the Raiders have the NFL’s fourth best rushing offense (156.2 yards per game). They also now have quarterback Carson Palmer knocking the rust off and sparking a big to win the AFC West.
TRUE OR FALSE
The Vikings can win Sunday: True.
Amazingly, even after seeing Monday night’s 45-7 horror show in Green Bay, the oddsmakers still only have the Vikings pegged as one-point underdogs against the Raiders. Oakland, for what it’s worth, has already won road games this season at Denver, Houston and San Diego. So now we’ll learn a whole lot about the character that coach Leslie Frazier thinks he has on this team. So far, the Vikings have not handled their small samples of success well. They’ve followed each of their wins this season with wildly lopsided losses. But at least after the first blowout loss of the season – a 39-10 faceplant in Chicago – the Vikings came back and fought Green Bay to the wire in Week 7. They’ll need a similar effort Sunday.