VikesCentric is written by Twin Cities football writers Bo Mitchell of SportsData and Patrick Donnelly, who has written on a variety of Minnesota sports topics. Mitchell and Donnelly are Twin Cities-based Vikings and NFL experts who crunch numbers, watch video and tell you what's on their minds.

Posts about Vikings quarterbacks

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: Too soon to panic?

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly Updated: September 9, 2013 - 1:09 AM
Week 1 is in the books, and the Vikings are one giant step closer to answering the only question that really matters in 2013. Unfortunately, that giant step is in the direction they'd hoped not to be headed.
 
By the end of the season, this franchise absolutely must know – no ifs, ands or buts – whether Christian Ponder is capable of being The Man under center for an NFL team. He's got 16 games to show what he can do, and given that he was their No. 1 draft pick just three years ago, he'll probably get plenty of leash to answer that question. But on Sunday, the first set of meaningful data was applied to the equation, and thus far the answer is a resounding NO.
 
Don't be fooled by the numbers – 18-for-28 for 236 yards isn't bad, and in fact, the Vikings could win a lot of games if Ponder can match those stats on a consistent basis. Dig just a little deeper and you'll see three interceptions (with a fourth – a guaranteed pick-six – dropped) and a lost fumble (with another overturned by a penalty). His quarterback rating of 63.1 recalled the midseason crater that almost kept the Vikings out of the playoffs last year.
 
And then there's the eye test. I know fans and media members alike often get caught up in the search for intangibles like "swagger" and "leadership" that, often as not, are pointed out after the fact once a player has had a good game. But if there's a position in sports where those intangibles are necessary, it's at quarterback. And so far, Ponder hasn't shown any of it. Whether he's underthrowing open receivers on deep routes, getting happy feet in the pocket while going through his reads, or shrugging his way through a postgame press conference, this isn't a guy who seems comfortable with the idea of putting a team on his shoulders for four quarters or even for one drive. Shrinking violets don't tend to fare well in pressure positions.
 
So, is it time for Vikings fans to panic? Before we go too crazy, let's take a look at a few factors that suggest Ponder deserves a bit more rope:
 
1. Bill Musgrave – It's always easy to blame the offensive coordinator when your favorite squad can't move the ball, and complaining about the play-calling is a tradition that dates back to the days of leather helmets. But there are a few ways Musgrave can help quiet the calls for Matt Cassel or MBT. Ponder's accuracy has been suspect at best, so it's time to eliminate some of the more dangerous throws from the gameplan until that improves. His first interception on Sunday came on a slant pattern to Jerome Simpson that was off-target – not by much, but when your receiver is surrounded by defenders two yards off the line of scrimmage, anything short of 100 percent accuracy is an interception waiting to happen. And while we're on the topic of accuracy, how about we eliminate the rollout to the left? Ponder has shown his entire career that he can't make that pass consistently. So why call it on 3rd-and-1. Musgrave seems intent on making Ponder run his system, rather than creating a system that minimizes his flaws. If Ponder is going to save his job, he'll need help from his OC.
 
2. Better offensive line play – Throughout the preseason we heard excuses for Ponder's shaky play that often centered on the offensive line. You don't gameplan for an opponent in the preseason, or so we were told, so it's not fair to expect the line to handle unique blitz packages until the regular season begins. Well, it's begun, and the o-line play was just as inconsistent on Sunday as it was in the preseason. After springing Adrian Peterson for a 78-yard touchdown on their first play, the line managed to escort Peterson 15 yards downfield on 17 carries. Ponder was sacked three times and scrambled four other times for 12 yards total. And he coughed up a fumble when guard Brandon Fusco tripped him on his dropback after being blown off the line at the snap. If the five guys up front can't play better than they did on Sunday, it won't matter who's under center – it's going to be ugly.
 
3. It's just one game – As football fans, we tend to overreact to a loss because it's another whole week before the team gets to show whether it was a trend or a mirage. One NFL game is 1/16 of a season, so in essence one loss is like a 10-game losing streak in baseball. But take a look around the league – a lot of good teams, or at least teams with high hopes – are 0-1: Atlanta, Baltimore, Cincinnati, the Giants, the Packers, and the loser of Monday night's Washington-Philadelphia game. Nobody's season is over yet. With a win in Chicago next week, the Vikings would be no worse than tied with the Bears and Packers, one game behind Detroit.
 
So, back to the question in the headline – is it time to panic? Probably not. But after his performance on Sunday, Ponder's leash suddenly got a lot tighter.
 
 
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: Four who flashed vs. Tennessee

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly Updated: August 29, 2013 - 11:36 PM

We've started a new feature here at VikesCentric for the hotly awaited 2013 preseason (also known as the NFL's annual festival of gouging season-ticket holders by charging full price for a glorified scrimmage). We're calling it "Four Who Flashed" because "flashing" is our favorite preseason football cliché. No, it has nothing to do with Dino Ciccarelli (but just to be safe, don't read this with your garage door open). It's a buzzword used by the likes of Mike Mayock to describe a player who showed tremendous ability on the football field, perhaps even rising beyond expectations to merit extra attention. And we're limiting it to the preseason because in the regular season we'd have to call it "Adrian Peterson and Three Other Guys" – though we discussed tweaking it in Week 1 and calling it "While You Were Having Your Breath Taken Away by Adrian Peterson" to highlight the work of one of the less-heralded 52 Vikings. Honestly, we're still workshopping it. Stay tuned.

 
So without further delay, here are the Four Who Flashed on Thursday night against the Titans:
 
1. Desmond Bishop – Playing against the Titans' offensive starters, alongside mostly the Vikings' defensive backups, Bishop let it be known that he's ready and able to contribute to the 53-man roster this year. He broke through the line for a couple of big stops, made a game-high seven tackles in his brief time on the field and more or less ensured that he'll be one of the three linebackers in the starting lineup Sept. 8 at Detroit.
 
2. Matt Asiata – In a classic "playing for your job" game, the third-year running back showed plenty of burst with Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart watching from the sidelines. Asiata carried the ball eight times for 32 yards and scored the Vikings' first touchdown on a 1-yard dive. And although second-year man Joe Banyard was impressive in a much longer look (13 carries for 62 yards and 7 receptions for 54 yards and a touchdown) it looks like Asiata did enough to hang onto his job for another year.
 
3. Joe Webb – If the Vikings have to decide between Webb and Stephen Burton, the converted quarterback picked a good time to showcase his skills. Webb caught five passes for 38 yards (although he dropped an easy grab in the flat), threw some key blocks on special teams and generally was a presence whenever he was on the field. He also caught a break in that McLeod Bethel-Thompson didn't set the world on fire in his extended duty, meaning the Vikings could hang onto Webb as their emergency third quarterback and roll the dice with Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel under center.
 
4. Marcus Sherels – Everybody's favorite underdog had himself a big night, with a 109-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and an interception while playing cornerback. After missing Sunday's game at San Francisco due to the death of his father, Sherels' NFL career might have been riding on his performance Thursday. His roster spot seemingly solidified late in the game when fellow bubble cornerback/return man Bobby Felder was carted to the locker room with an ankle injury.
 
 
 
Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData, 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.
 
 

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT