VikesCentric is written by Twin Cities football writers Bo Mitchell and Patrick Donnelly of SportsData, and Ted Carlson of TST Media. They are Twin Cities-based Vikings and NFL experts who crunch numbers, watch video and tell you what's on their minds.

Posts about Vikings management

VikesCentric: Ponder paranoia reaches all-time high

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly Updated: November 20, 2013 - 8:51 PM

It’s been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. If that’s true, then the inescapable conclusion to be drawn from this season is that the Vikings’ brain trust are insane.

Leslie Frazier’s announcement on Wednesday that Christian Ponder will be the Vikings’ starting quarterback this Sunday in Green Bay set of a storm of outrage in talk radio and social media circles. And rightly so. After Ponder threw away last week’s game in Seattle – turning a 24-13 game into a 38-13 blowout in the span of four passes – many fans and media members chose to look at the bright side.

“At least we’ve finally seen the last of Ponder,” they said. “No way they can throw him back out there after that performance.”

But certain cynical observers suspected otherwise.

It’s not that we had any inside information. It’s just that we’ve been following the Vikings all our lives and have learned to expect the worst – or most bizarre – outcome in any situation. And Ponder continuing to start at quarterback certainly qualifies as a bad and bizarre outcome.

The Vikings’ season began with one critical goal: find out if Ponder is your franchise quarterback. The answer has been clear for a few weeks now – a resounding no. Ponder is what he is – a guy who can do a few things and look OK in stretches, but with too many shortcomings for an NFL quarterback. He doesn’t see the field well, can’t sense pressure in the pocket, doesn’t use his quickness to keep plays alive behind the line of scrimmage, and he throws way too many interceptions.

Oh, and he doesn’t have a very strong or accurate arm. Otherwise, he’s a gem.

The problem is, the Vikings are compounding their error by the way they’re handling this situation. Not that we expect Frazier to verbally decapitate Ponder on the podium. But you get the sense that he doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about.

After all, Christian gives them the best chance to win. And his errors are all easily correctible.

Right?

Frazier and Co. act like Vikings fans can’t see this, like the people buying tickets are blind, like the people they hope will line up to buy PSLs at the new downtown football palace are complete, blithering idiots.

But anybody with two eyes – heck, probably even just one – can see that Ponder is not an NFL quarterback. They’ve got two other guys on their roster who have been full-season starters on other NFL teams, and yet they keep running Ponder out there. No wonder the natives are getting restless.

The fact that the Vikings consider Ponder preferable to Josh Freeman or even Matt Cassel could say something terrifying about those two. Or perhaps they don’t value Ponder over those two, they just value a higher draft pick next year and think Ponder will help get them there with fourth quarters like the one he played Sunday.

The thing is, whichever way you slice it, Frazier is flat-out lying every time he opens his mouth to talk about his quarterbacks. If Ponder truly does give them the best chance to win, then it’s a bald-faced lie to say that Freeman has “exceeded expectations” in his time here. There’s no way they paid him $2 million to come here and sit on the bench into December. If that’s exceeding expectations, the Vikings need to set the bar a little higher.

As for Cassel, the fairest read is now that their playoff hopes are officially toast, there’s no reason to start Cassel, who at this point in his career is a backup with no hopes of being anybody’s quarterback of the future. A more cynical (and perhaps accurate) read is that they realize Cassel is the quarterback most likely to give them a professional effort and thus put their 2014 draft position in peril.

So for the time being, Ponder will continue to play the role of Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, Freddie Krueger and other great horror movie villains. Just when Vikings fans thought he was gone for good …

They’d just better hope there’s no talk of another sequel.

Patrick Donnelly is a contributor to the Vikings Yearbook, and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.

VikesCentric: It's never as bad as it looks

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly Updated: November 8, 2013 - 12:52 AM

Of course, the converse of that headline also is true – it's never as good as it looks.

The 2012-13 Vikings are a case study of this theorem.

As I'm sure you all remember, last year the Vikings went 10-6 and reached the NFC playoffs as the No. 6 seed. It was an out-of-nowhere season after they went 3-13 in Leslie Frazier's first year as head coach.

But lost in the giddiness of the surprise postseason berth and Adrian Peterson's super-human comeback season was the fact that the 2012 Vikings massively overachieved. In 16 games, they scored just 31 more points than they allowed. They gave up 215 more yards than they gained. Based on statistics, they probably should have been – at best – a .500 team.

So how did they become a playoff team? Well, football is a game of emotions and momentum – within each game, and from game-to-game. If you win a few that maybe you shouldn’t, suddenly you’ve got confidence, whether you earned those wins or they were based on blind luck. If you win a few games early, you start to believe you’re good, and that confidence can carry over to the next time you’re up against it with the game on the line.

It’s also the nature of the hyper-intense schedule inherent in football. In baseball, if you blow one play that costs you a game, that’s 1/162 of the season. In basketball or hockey, it’s about 1/80 of the season. But if you blow one play that costs you a game in the NFL, that’s 1/16 of the season. Everything is magnified – for better or for worse.

Let’s travel back to 2012. The Vikings started the season by winning a game they probably had no business winning. Jacksonville’s Blaine Gabbert hit Cecil Shorts with a 39-yard touchdown pass with 20 seconds left and the Purple trailed 23-20. But Christian Ponder hit Devin Aromashodu (remember him?) with a 26-yard bullet and flipped a 6-yard pass to Kyle Rudolph to set up Blair Walsh for a 55-yard game-tying field goal as time ran out. The Vikings won in overtime, and suddenly they had confidence they could win tight games – which they did with regularity the rest of the year. In fact, they went 5-1 in games decided by one score last year.

Push ahead 12 months. The Vikings opened the season in Detroit, entered the fourth quarter down by a field goal and lost by 10. They followed that with a loss at Chicago, giving up the winning touchdown on the Bears’ final drive. A week later they repeated that pattern against Cleveland, and before you knew it, they were 0-3 and the season was circling the bowl. Even with Thursday night’s win over Washington, the Vikings are 2-3 in games decided by one score. When the game hits crunch time, this year they haven’t gotten (or made their own) breaks.

That’s not to say there aren’t personnel problems on the 2013 Vikings. Or coaching problems. There certainly are. But the personnel and coaches aren’t much different from last year. I’d argue that if they’d found a way to win two or three of those first three games, it would have snowballed into a positive trend as the players gained confidence. Maybe that midseason lull doesn’t happen. Maybe they don’t feel the need to grab Josh Freeman and throw the whole quarterback situation into flux. Maybe Frazier still has a modicum of job security.

Yeah, that’s a lot of maybes. And yeah, it’s always annoying when a fan of a 2-7 team says, “We’re just four our five plays away from maybe being 7-2!”

But last year, the Vikings were four or five plays away from going 5-11. Instead, they finished 10-6. The ball bounced their way last year, masking their flaws. This year, their flaws have been exposed.

But next year? With a new coach, a new quarterback (sorry, even Thursday night’s mostly stellar performance doesn’t have me buying stock in Ponder) and a fresh slate, don’t be shocked if this roller coaster ride resumes in a positive direction.

Patrick Donnelly is a contributor to the Vikings Yearbook, and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.

VikesCentric: The Josh Freeman Era

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly Updated: October 7, 2013 - 2:36 PM

And thus began the Josh Freeman Era. Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier cut open a vein on Monday, telling the assembled media that he's through making excuses for Christian Ponder, that Josh Freeman is the team's quarterback of the future, he's been given Ponder's locker and playbook and henceforth Ponder will be referred to as "He Who Must Not Be Named."

Oh, wait. None of that happened.

What Frazier actually said on Monday afternoon was that Ponder is "still our starter if he's healthy," that he "still has a bright future here with our football team" and that "it's hard to say" how Ponder's injured ribs are healing.

This non-committal song-and-dance routine was expected, because this is, after all, the National FOOTBALL League, and in the National FOOTBALL League you don't tip your hand or give away company secrets until you absolutely have to. Sure, most Vikings fans would love to turn on the 6 o'clock news tonight and see video of Frazier helping Ponder pack up his locker and Bill Musgrave waving good-bye as Ponder's SUV pulls out of the parking lot at Winter Park.

But that's not going to happen, because the Vikings (for good reason, usually) don't care what the fans want to see. The organization still considers Ponder an asset. You can question the validity of that assessment, but they're going to try to get whatever they can for Ponder, either now or later. Given that his current trade value might net them a bag of used kicking tees, don't look for a trade any time soon.

Frazier left himself some wiggle room when discussing Ponder's future with the team – that whole "if he's healthy" caveat creates a hole big enough to drive the Maddencruiser through, especially in the secretive world of the National FOOTBALL League. Don't be surprised to learn on Wednesday that Ponder's mysterious rib injury has been deemed life-threatening and ol' No. 7 will be spending the rest of the year on Injured Reserve.

In the meantime, look for Matt Cassel to start on Sunday against Carolina, and maybe even the next week at the Giants if he plays well against the Panthers. But the Josh Freeman Era is going to start sooner than later. They're not spending a couple million to look at Freeman in shorts and shells. He'll get a good, long look in the second half of the season to show what he can do with the best running back in the league, a solid offensive line (that is capable of playing much better than it has) and a head coach who isn't a raving, spittle-flecked lunatic.

So how's it going to play out? Let's take a look at a few potential outcomes:

Scenario A: Freeman plays well the rest of the season, leads the Vikings to the playoffs, signs a long-term contract to be the new franchise quarterback, Ponder is traded to Jacksonville for a seventh-round draft pick (a slight upgrade from the bag of kicking tees, but not much), the heavens rejoice, etc.

Scenario B: Freeman stinks it up, Vikings turn back to Cassel (or even Ponder, if he's not put on the IR) to run out the string, team uses its top-10 first-round pick on best quarterback available, Cassel stays on to start season until said rookie is ready to take over.

Scenario C: Freeman is so-so, leads Vikings to six or seven wins, bolts to the highest bidder next spring, Vikings stuck with best QB available around pick No. 16 and here we go again …

Personally, I could see any one of these scenarios playing out in the next three months. One thing you learn quickly as a Vikings fan is that nothing is surprising. What's your forecast? We'll take your predictions in the comments below.

Patrick Donnelly is a contributor to the Vikings Yearbook, and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.

VikesCentric: Dumpster fire derails optimism

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly Updated: September 23, 2013 - 12:26 AM

If you do a quick Twitter search on #DUMPSTERFIRE, you'll find multiple Vikings-related outbursts. And only one of them was written by me!

Where else can you go after that debacle on Sunday against the previously winless Browns, a team that had traded its only NFL-caliber running back and was starting its third-string quarterback?

This has to be the worst kind of Monday for a die-hard Vikings fan. I'm not talking about the blind loyalist who slurps the purple Kool-Aid all year long, the type of self-proclaimed "Super Fan" who named his dog Francis and his goldfish Randy and his first-born Tingelhoff (boy or girl), the guy whose wardrobe ranges in color from violet to eggplant. You'll never shake that guy's faith, and God love him for it. That's how scams like PSLs and $12 Budweisers continue to thrive in the NFL.

No, I'm talking about the more realistic Vikings fans, ones who can take the long view and acknowledge the team's flaws and know a thing or two about league-wide trends that have left the Vikings choking in a trail of dust. Those fans are going to have a hard Monday, because against their better judgment, they probably bought into the optimistic view of the Vikings' 2013 season that was being spun last week.

Surely you heard it. The Vikings offense – and Christian Ponder in particular – had figured it out in the second half against the Bears. The schedule gets soft after two tough road games to start the season. Four straight wins – against the Browns, Steelers, Panthers and Giants – seemed likely, starting with a "loser-proof" game against Cleveland.

Well, that optimism has been buried in an avalanche of turnovers, blown assignments, overthrown receivers and brain-dead special teams play that turned a "loser-proof" game into one of the Vikings' most disappointing losses in recent memory. The chances of recovering from an 0-3 start to reach the playoffs are miniscule, rendering the next 14 weeks (don't forget the bye week!) essentially meaningless.

Seriously, what can Ponder do to show that he's a legitimate NFL quarterback after the track record he's compiled? What can Leslie Frazier do to save his job when most observers believed he was in a "playoffs-or-bust" season? How can Adrian Peterson approach his lofty goals with the offensive line playing the way it has?

Oh, we'll figure out a way to cover the season, to glean importance out of each and every game. The takeaway from Sunday's loss is too obvious to require much elaboration, but we'll leave you with this: We agree that Ponder should remain the starting quarterback, because if they put Matt Cassel behind that offensive line, they'll get Cassel killed. He seems like a nice guy and we don't want that on our conscience.

Other than benching Ponder, what quick fixes would you make? Or are the Vikings truly as doomed as they appeared on Sunday? We'll take your suggestions in the comments.

Patrick Donnelly is a contributor to the Vikings Yearbook, and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.

VikesCentric: What they gave up for Patterson

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly Updated: April 26, 2013 - 11:30 AM

The first round of the NFL Draft was a whirlwind on Thursday night. The Vikings got a gift when Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd fell to them at No. 23, and they got a replacement for Antoine Winfield in Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes at No. 25.

But the biggest story of the night was yet to come. The Vikings pulled off a deal with New England, sending four picks (Nos. 52, 83, 102 and 229) to the Patriots for the 29th pick, which they used to select Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.

(One quick aside: The Purple needed a quality receiver for a couple of important reasons – to make up for the loss of Percy Harvin, and to give themselves the best chance possible to truly evaluate Christian Ponder this year. At the end of the 2013 season, they absolutely have to know whether Ponder is capable of being their franchise quarterback. Thus far, his rookie year was a wash due to the NFL lockout that robbed him of his first offseason, the presence of Donovan McNabb and late-season injury problems. Last year, it wasn't entirely clear whether Ponder's struggles were self-inflicted or caused by an anemic crop of receivers that became downright putrid when Harvin missed the last two months with an ankle injury. The additions of Greg Jennings and Patterson should remove any excuse for Ponder and allow the coaching staff to assess exactly what they've got in their third-year starter.)

The reaction to the Patterson trade was predictable. Fans gathered at Mall of America Field were beyond thrilled to see the Vikings maneuver back into the first round and grab a big-name player they could instantly envision slicing through opposing defenses in that slick new uniform. The national take was not as kind, in part because "four for one" always sets off alarms, and in part because the national media always swoons in the presence of Bill Belichick.

But what did the Vikings actually give up in that trade? The oft-cited Draft Trade Value Chart popularized by former Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson in the early 90s has somewhat fallen out of favor among football insiders, but given that the talking heads on TV are usually about a decade late to the dance, you'll probably see the following breakdown at some point in the discussion:

Pick

Value to NE

Value to MIN

29

 

640

52

380

 

83

175

 

102

92

 

229

---

 

TOTAL

647

640

So, pretty much a push, right? Factor in the Vikings' desperate need at wide receiver, and it makes even more sense to spend that draft capital on a potential impact player at that key position in a critical juncture for the franchise, with a likely make-or-break year for Ponder looming.

As for history, what kind of return can the Patriots expect on those picks? Or to put it another way, let's slap some names on those draft picks and see who was taken there in the last five years. Players in bold are considered likely starters heading into this year.

Pick No. 52

Year

Player

Team

Notes

2012

Zach Brown, LB, North Carolina

TEN

16 games, 68 tackles, 5.5 sacks

2011

Marvin Austin, DL, North Carolina

NYG

7 games, 8 tackles, no starts

2010

Jason Worilds, LB, Virginia Tech

PIT

42 games, 45 tackles, 10 sacks

2009

David Veikune, DE, Hawaii

CLE

14 games, no starts, out of NFL

2008

Quentin Groves, LB, Auburn

JAX

on 4th team in 6 years, 29 starts

 

Pick No. 83

Year

Player

Team

Notes

2012

Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers

CIN

8 games, 16 rec, 154 yds, 4 TDs

2011

Jerrel Jernigan, WR, Troy

NYG

17 games, 3 rec, 22 yds, 0 TDs

2010

Corey Peters, DT, Kentucky

ATL

2-year starter, lost job to injury

2009

Brandon Tate, WR, North Carolina

NE

solid PR/KR, 37 catches, 643 yards

2008

Jeremy Zuttah, G, Rutgers

TB

74 games, 60 starts

 

Pick No. 102

Year

Player

Team

Notes

2012

Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan St.

WAS

Solid backup to RGIII

2011

Jordan Cameron, TE, Southern Cal

CLE

22 games, 20 rec, 226 yds, 1 TD

2010

Darryl Sharpton, LB, Miami

HOU

27 games, 11 starts, 60 tackles

2009

Donald Washington, DB, Ohio St.

KC

32 games, 5 starts, out of NFL

2008

Jeremy Thompson, DE, Wake Forest

GB

15 games, 3 starts, out of NFL

 

Pick No. 229

Year

Player

Team

Notes

2012

Bryce Brown, RB, Kansas St.

PHI

564 yds, 4 TDs, filled in for McCoy

2011

Jonathan Nelson, DB, Oklahoma

STL

2 games, out of NFL

2010

Eric Cook, C, New Mexico

WAS

6 games, no starts, out of NFL

2009

Manuel Johnson, WR, Oklahoma

DAL

2 games, 1 catch, out of NFL

2008

Cary Williams, DB, Washburn

TEN

2-year starter in BAL, now in PHI

Of course, the Patriots (like any organization) will argue that they'll do a better job of player evaluation and come up with a few diamonds in the rough, but the tables show that in the last five years, just 35 percent (7 of 20) of the players drafted in with the four picks the Vikings gave up for Patterson went on to become starters. That's not to say the Vikings robbed New England or vise-versa. We just wanted to lay out the facts and let you decide, rather than have one of the TV talking heads tell you who got the better end of the deal.

Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData, a contributor to the 2012 Vikings Yearbook, and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.

VikesCentric: Best and worst of the first round

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly Updated: April 24, 2013 - 1:16 PM

The Vikings have made 51 first-round draft picks dating back to their NFL debut in 1961. We're not going to rank all 51 of those picks because we don't have a death wish, but would you be interested in seeing the best and worst of those picks? If so, read on.

1. (tie) Carl Eller 6th overall pick, 1964
1. (tie) Alan Page
15, 1967
1. (tie) Ron Yary – 1, 1968
1. (tie) Chris Doleman
– 4, 1985
1. (tie) Randall McDaniel
– 19, 1988

Maybe that's a cop-out, but how do you rate one Pro Football Hall of Famer over another? You might look at value and say McDaniel was the best pick, or say that Page was the man because he won the NFL's MVP award, but honestly, you could make the case for ranking these five in any order and you'd get no argument here.

6. Adrian Peterson – 7, 2007
He's a sure-fire future Hall of Famer who only solidified those credentials with his super-human effort returning from a torn ACL to post the second-most rushing yards in a season in NFL history. He'll be up there within that top class the day his bust is unveiled in Canton.

7. Randy Moss – 21, 1998
Just like Peterson, you'll see Moss in a garish yellow blazer within the next decade. He gets a few demerits for not fully living up to his potential in Minnesota – seriously, he could have been the greatest receiver who ever lived had he cared enough to try on every play – but he changed the fortunes of the entire franchise the first day he took the field in Mankato.

8. Chuck Foreman – 12, 1973
Here's another player who revolutionized his position. Foreman never truly got the accolades he deserved nationally, perhaps because he was part of those Vikings teams that couldn't win the big one, but Jerry Burns' precursor to the West Coast offense wouldn't have been nearly as effective without Forman's unique rushing and pass-catching abilities.

9. Korey Stringer – 24, 1995
His career was tragically cut short after just six seasons, but he made a huge impact on the franchise in his too-brief time in Minnesota. Stringer had just made his first Pro Bowl and was emerging as a possible heir to McDaniel as the leader on the offensive line and in the locker room when he succumbed to heat stroke during training camp in 2001. His death not only sent the Vikings into a spiral – they missed the playoffs in six of the next seven seasons, after they'd made the postseason in eight of the previous nine years – but also triggered policy changes regarding practicing and playing in oppressive heat and humidity from youth football up to the NFL that has likely prevented numerous other fatalities.

10. Joey Browner – 19, 1983
A nine-year starter and six-time Pro Bowler, Browner was named to the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team. Plus, he had the strongest hands in the NFL – as Vikings fans were reminded every week by network announcers who thought they were breaking news – which he used to yank down opposing carriers and pick off 37 passes, fourth-most in team history.

11 through 46 – all kinds of great, good, mediocre and bad players, not to mention a few guys who remain works in progress (Matt Kalil, for one, has a great shot at cracking the top 10). But we're running out of pixels here, so let's dive into the five worst first-round picks in Vikings history.

47. D.J. Dozier – 14, 1987
His best season was his rookie year, when he rushed for 257 yards and five touchdowns. He wound up retiring from the NFL to play pro baseball. But his failure did arguably more damage to any franchise than any player in history, because if he'd delivered what the Vikings thought they were getting, they never would have made the Herschel Walker trade.

48. Derrick Alexander – 11, 1995
The Vikings needed a defensive lineman. They took Alexander, who finished his five-year NFL career with 164 tackles and 20 sacks. They passed on Warren Sapp, who finished his 13-year NFL career with 438 tackles, 96.5 sacks, and a bust in Canton. Oops.

49. Leo Hayden – 24, 1971
Who? That's right, the Vikings took a guy named Leo Hayden in the first round of the 1971 draft. He appeared in seven games as a rookie, never touched the ball, and washed out of the league two years later after an unremarkable stint with the Cardinals. Who did they pass up that year? Jack Ham, Dan Dierdorf and Ken Anderson, just to name a few better options.

50. Dimitrius Underwood – 29, 1999
Dennis Green infamously referred to Underwood as an "extra pick" acquired from Washington in exchange for Brad Johnson. Green obviously thought Underwood was worth the gamble, despite numerous red flags and unenthusiastic reports from his own coaches at Michigan State. Underwood showed up for training camp in battle fatigues, suggesting he was ready for combat, then walked out on the team after his first practice in Mankato, never to return.

51. Troy Williamson – 7, 2005
Underwood hurt the Vikings by not playing. Williamson hurt the Vikings by playing. His selection was a textbook overreaction on so many levels. The No. 7 pick came from the Raiders in the Moss trade, and they clearly felt pressure to use that pick to replace Moss. They reached for a receiver who looked great in shorts and a T-shirt at the NFL Combine but had one little problem that plagued him in his three years in Minnesota – he couldn't catch the ball. In 39 games here he caught 79 balls – and dropped at least half that many – despite numerous creative efforts to improve his vision, his hands and his route-running. They all failed, earning him the coveted title of the worst first-round pick in Vikings history.

Who'd we miss, good or bad? Let's hear about it in the comments.

Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData, a contributor to the 2012 Vikings Yearbook, and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.

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