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 road games

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. San Francisco

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly Updated: August 25, 2013 - 11:46 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 Sunday night against the Niners:

1. Adrian Peterson – Yep, he flashed onto the field for two plays and then flashed right back to the sideline. But anybody who feels cheated or misled by his short appearance – or anybody who's offended they even bothered to play him – needs to understand the relationship between the NFL and its broadcast partners. The tail truly wags the dog here. NBC knows its only hope of drawing a rating higher than a Packer fan's BAC is to hype the presence of the NFL MVP. Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth spent half of their intro segment talking about Peterson. They had an extended interview with him to pimp at halftime. They can't sell the significance of an insignificant game if the one guy they're talking about spends the entire night on the sidelines. Yeah, they're insulting the intelligence of their audience if they think we'd be fooled into thinking Peterson would play a huge role in the game. But then again, what is the NFL preseason if not a giant insult to our collective intelligence?

2. NFL officials – They're in midseason form. No need for more preseason work – they'll get repetitive stress injuries in their flag-throwing elbows. Yeah, you can point the gnarly finger of blame at the players, who made their fair share of bonehead plays (looking at you, Lavelle Hawkins), but 17 penalties for 193 yards seemed a bit excessive. Those two personal foul calls on Matt Kalil especially carried the distinct stench of officials trying to "set the tone" by calling any ticky-tack infraction they see. I guess the lesson here is, if a guy touches you, make sure you fall down and let your limbs flail about in a comical fashion. That's the recipe for a sure 15 yards in the NFL of 2013. 

3. Josh Robinson – Well, he didn't exactly flash the way he'd want to flash, but he probably memorized the names of all the 49ers' wide receivers given how much time he spent looking at the backs of their jerseys all night. It was a rather troubling performance from the man the Vikings hope will replace Antoine Winfield at the slot corner position, especially given the injury concerns with Chris Cook and the learning curve for rookie Xavier Rhodes. Let's just say that if Robinson doesn't turn things around quickly, opposing quarterbacks will be looking to see wherever No. 21 is lining up on every play.

4. Those wacky 49ers fans – It's not often that a team's security staff has to call in reinforcements to keep spectators from staging their own track meet on the field. Fortunately, the SFPD had more success keeping fans off the field than they did catching the Zodiac killer, but it's still kind of embarrassing when Jerome Simpson makes the biggest tackle of the night for the Purple. Of course, NBC refused to show us what happened when the sacred field was invaded, so even though Michaels and Collinsworth basically gave us a play-by-play of the action on the field, our tender psyches were spared visual proof that some fans are occasionally overserved and wind up making fools of themselves. Yes, even NBC is in midseason pearl-clutching form.

So what will you remember most about Game 3 of the eagerly awaited 2013 Vikings preseason? We'll take your comments below.

 

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.

VikesCentric: How to beat the Packers in Lambeau

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly Updated: January 5, 2013 - 1:11 AM

The Green Bay Packers spent most of the 1960s building a mystique on the "frozen tundra of Lambeau Field" – a line, incidentally, that NFL Films legend John Facenda never once uttered, but hey, when has Chris Berman let the facts get in the way of a good story? Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Jerry Kramer and the great Vince Lombardi dominated the NFL, winning five NFL championships (including the first two Super Bowls) from 1961-67. 

That mystique was put on hold for a 25-year period during which the Packers made the playoffs just twice, but it was resurrected in 1993 when a good old Southern boy named Brett Favre picked up where Starr, et al, left off. Through the 2001 season, the Packers had played 13 postseason games at Lambeau Field, and they had won 13 postseason games at Lambeau Field. 

Since 2001, however, the fabled Lambeau mystique has gone AWOL. The Packers are just 2-4 in their last six home playoff games: 

  • 2002 Wild Card – Falcons 24, Packers 7
  • 2004 Wild Card – Vikings 31, Packers 17
  • 2007 NFC Championship – Giants 23, Packers 20 (OT)
  • 2011 Divisional Round – Giants 37, Packers 20

Along the way, a few trends have emerged, both in the Packers' Lambeau losses and in their two wins (both over the Seattle Seahawks, in 2003 and 2008). The following points lay out something of a blueprint for the Vikings to follow if they want to pull out a win tonight. The path to victory might appear to be common sense on the surface, but the stats behind the concepts should help illustrate their importance.

For the Vikings to beat the Packers tonight at Lambeau, they need to do the following:

1. Score first – The Falcons took a 24-0 lead into halftime (whereupon announcer Bob Trumpy uttered the often-replayed line, "The silence you hear … is Lambeau Field"). The Vikings jumped out to a 17-0 cushion in the first quarter. In 2007, the Giants led 6-0 before the Packers got on the board. In 2011 the Giants led 3-0 and took a 20-10 cushion into the locker room at halftime. The best way to get a team out of its gameplan is make it play from behind. Plus, with alcohol sales being cut off at halftime, if the Vikings lead in the third quarter the stands might empty out fast. (Of course, it's not a guarantee – Seattle scored first in both of its losses at Lambeau – but it's still your best bet.)

2. Win the turnover battle – In their four losses, the Packers coughed up the ball 15 times – nine interceptions (including four by the Vikings against Favre in 2004) and six fumbles – and had just two takeaways. In their two wins over Seattle, the Packers turned it over twice and forced two turnovers.

3. Run the ball effectively and stop the run – This could be a chicken-or-egg phenomenon, because teams often run the ball more when they're protecting a lead, but you still have to be effective to make that strategy work. In Green Bay's four losses, their opponents averaged 136 rushing yards and chewed up the clock by running the ball an average of 34 times per game. The Packers averaged just 21 attempts and 84 yards in those losses. In their two wins over Seattle, Green Bay outrushed the Seahawks by an average of 157 to 39 yards.

4. Make them work for their passing yards – The Packers have been a passing team since Mike Holmgren and Favre came to town in 1992. They're going to move the ball through the air. Just make them work for it. In their four losses, Packers quarterbacks put the ball up an average of 39 times and completed just 55.8 percent of those passes, with nine interceptions and an average gain of 6.2 yards per attempt. In their two wins, Favre averaged 30.5 passes and had a 72.1 completion percentage, with no picks and an 8.1-yard average per attempt.

Sounds simple, right? Four easy steps to victory at Lambeau Field. Again, all four points are pretty much common sense to win most any game, but in the playoffs, sometimes it's good to remember that the best approach is to keep it simple.

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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