Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


Chat OT: Harvin's health, Winfield's resurgence, Ponder's upside

Posted by: under On the road, Vikings, Bears, Lions, Vikings offense, Adrian Peterson, Antoine Winfield, Jared Allen, Percy Harvin Updated: November 21, 2012 - 12:32 PM

If you missed my live Vikings chat on Tuesday afternoon, you can check in here and read the back and forth in full. In addition, each week I will attempt to go overtime, bringing good questions I didn’t get around to answering on the chat here to the Access Vikings blog for discussion. Here are Tuesday’s leftovers. Save them for the day after Thanksgiving if you must.

Question 1: I don't believe Percy Harvin won't play in Chicago this weekend due simply to soreness in his sprained ankle. That dude is tougher than nails and wants to compete worse than anyone. I gotta believe they'll just tape that ankle up and let him go. What do you think?

I think the same way. By kickoff Sunday, Harvin will have had 20 full days between games, a lengthy break that will have given him plenty of time to treat that sprained left ankle. With a division game and so much at stake and also knowing how antsy Harvin always is, I just don’t see him sitting this one out. Unless, of course, there’s some sort of significant setback at practice this week. And you’d have to believe, the Vikings will take it easy on him this week as a precaution.

Stay tuned for our updates from Wednesday’s practice.

Question 2: Vikings 24, Niners 13. Niners 32, Bears 7. I think this one is in the bag. Am I wrong?

Ah, yes. The good ol’ transitive property. Which we all know doesn’t work in the NFL. But if you’re looking for all the common opponents the Vikings and Bears have had to this point, let’s have a little fun with this.

  • Jaguars: Vikings win 26-23 at home in Week 1; Bears win 41-3 on the road in Week 5. --> Bears plus 25
  • Colts: Vikings lose 23-20 on the road in Week 2; Bears win 41-21 at home in Week 1 --> Bears plus 23
  • 49ers: Vikings win 24-13 at home in Week 3; Bears lose 32-7 on the road in Week 11 --> Vikings plus 36
  • Lions: Vikings win 20-13 on the road in Week 4 and 34-24 at home in Week 10 (average score 27-19); Bears win 13-7 at home in Week 7 --> Vikings plus 2
  • Titans: Vikings win 30-7 at home in Week 5; Bears win 51-20 on the road in Week 9 --> Bears plus 8

By my count, the Bears are plus 18 overall. Divide that by five opponents. And you find Chicago is plus-3.6. So basically, anticipate a 24-20 Chicago win.

Question 3: It seemed like Antoine Winfield found the fountain of youth this year – fewer snaps, staying over the slot in the nickel defense and thus remaining closer to the line of scrimmage. But since Cook went down, he's had to play more. Is that decreasing his effectiveness?

Aside from Adrian Peterson, no Viking has impressed me more in 2012 than Winfield. The guy is a true pro and one of the most respected players in that locker room. At 35, he’s still playing at a high level and even drawing some chatter as a possible Pro Bowler this year. I don’t buy the notion that Cook’s absence the past two games has decreased Winfield’s effectiveness. He was pretty darn solid in the last outing against Detroit and continues to be a menace in run support. We’ll see if Winfield can stay fresh down the stretch here. But the coaching staff gives him a lot of down time during the week, understanding that they need him fresh on Sundays.

Keep an eye on Winfield the rest of the way. Not so much out of fear that Winfield will wear down but with an understanding that he won’t be around forever. And it’s wise to appreciate just how good a player he is while he’s still around – and excelling.

Question 4: Why do so many fans act as though RG3, Andrew Luck, Andy Dalton, etc., have so much going for them when their respective teams are NO better than the Vikings in Christian Ponder's first full season?

Question 5: There is a guy named Ryan Mallett sitting in New England. He has a HUGE gun for an arm, he’s accurate and looked great in preseason games. Will the Vikings ever go after this guy?

Move over Dwayne Bowe. We have our first “Why aren’t the Vikings trying to get Ryan Mallett?” question. I just wanted that noted for fun and am not about to spend any more time on that topic. I’ll give the questioner the benefit of the doubt and let him off the hook with the idea that the question may have been somewhat facetious.

But as for that first question, well, that one goes a little deeper. And it’s well documented that I think the most vocal Ponder naysayers are susceptible to premature judgment and can’t allow for even the idea that he will continue to grow as a quarterback and could one day emerge as the real catalyst of the Vikings’ offense.

The kid needs time and patience to test himself and the Vikings coaching staff and front office is doing a great job with managing that situation.

That said, if you can’t see the difference between RG3 and Ponder with a simple eye test, then I’m not sure I can help you. Griffin has only three interceptions in his first 10 starts. (Ponder had 13 picks.) Griffin has completed 67.1 percent of his passes in his first 10 starts. (Ponder had a .544 completion percentage through his first 10 starts). Griffin has a total of 18 TDs in his first 10 starts (12 passing, six rushing). Ponder had 13.

Anyway, to make a long story short, it’d be hard to find anyone with extensive football knowledge who would claim that Ponder had a brighter future than Griffin or Luck. Those two simply are a notch above Ponder in terms of athleticism and talent.

The biggest worries with Ponder come from those stinker games. Like the 58-yard afternoon and 35.5 rating against Arizona in Week 7. Or the 44 net passing yards and 37.3 rating in Seattle. Those drastic dips really don’t settle the anxiety of the fan base. And to date, Griffin hasn’t had a major stinker like that. And now, he’s coming off an effort in a 31-6 thrashing of Philadelphia in which he went 14-for-15 for 200 yards and four TD passes. That marked his fourth game this year with a rating above 100. (Ponder has five such games in twice as many starts).

Luck has had a few dips himself. He had three picks last week in New England, three picks in a season-opening loss in Chicago and was erratic in a 35-9 road loss to the Jets. His rating this season of 77.2 is well below Ponder’s (85.2). That said, Luck has thrown for 280 yards or more seven times. (Ponder has two such games in twice as many starts.) So it’s easy to deduce that Luck seems to be the more prolific quarterback.

Ponder may be in the same ballpark with Dalton when it comes to ability and upside. Dalton aided a playoff charge in 2011 as a rookie and has been pretty solid throughout 2012. He’s 14-12 as a starter. And while that’s not exactly a Canton credential, that kind of early success buys extra time and votes of confidence from all around.

Luck and Griffin get that extra time and those votes of confidence based on where they were picked and their obvious upside.

Ponder? In order to buy himself more time from an always jittery fan base, he needs to continue proving he’s getting better and making the Vikings’ offense better as a whole. Leading a charge to eight wins this season would be a big step in the right direction.

But overall, Ponder also needs to understand that his slumps cannot be as dramatic as they have been in his first two years. His recent funk drew twice as much worry because the end of his 2011 season was such a spill. He’ll also have to proceed knowing there’s a chunk of the fan base that will never be satisfied with anything he does. It’s just part of it.

Question 6: Who do you think needs to step up most these last six games for this team to make the playoffs?

I’ll give you a handful of names.

  • Ponder: The obvious one.
  • Jared Allen: Look, Adrian Peterson is doing his job as a superstar carrying the offense. Now it’s time for Allen to deliver on a similarly high level. There’s no greater opportunity than against a shaken offensive line in Chicago this weekend.
  • A.J. Jefferson: The third-year corner will have to do his part in slowing Brandon Marshall twice in the next three weeks. He’ll also be tested in two games against Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay and will see Andre Johnson in Houston in Week 16. Chris Cook's broken arm was a major setback to a secondary that was on the rise. It's up to Jefferson to keep things humming.
  • Letroy Guion: Assuming his turf toe issue doesn’t linger, the nose tackle will have to prove he’s as good as the coaching staff believes he can be. He’ll play a big part in making sure the run defense stays solid.
  • Brandon Fusco: His play has been ordinary at best for the past month-and-a-half with back-up Geoff Schwartz seeing more time at right guard. The Vikings offense needs stability up front. And that means Fusco has to do his part to keep it together.

 

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