VikesCentric is written by Twin Cities football writers Bo Mitchell of SportsData, Arif Hasan of Vikings Territory, Aj Mansour, who hosts Minnesota Vikings Overtime on KFAN, and Joe Oberle a long-time Minnesota based writer. The VikesCentric crew crunches numbers, watches video and isn't shy about saying what's on their minds.

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VikesCentric: Ponder deserves some, but not all of the blame

Posted by: Updated: October 3, 2014 - 6:03 AM

That the Vikings fell down 32 points is not just a referendum on Christian Ponder as a quarterback, as he would have you believe, but an issue with the entire team.



Offense

Naturally, the play of Christian Ponder is the first thing to point to. Though early on he had one or two moments where he's looked like a starting-caliber quarterback, his accuracy has been terrible throughout the game. Perhaps not to blame for the first interception (Luther Robinson, newly signed by the Packers, came through the line and hit his arm), the second interception was a terrible misread.

If there was much question about the issue of Bill Musgrave causing Ponder's struggles, perhaps this game can put that to rest. Ponder’s accuracy is well represented by his 50 percent completion rate, and though drops are not entirely his fault, the bad ball placement always increases the likelihood of those plays.

That said, against the Packers’ second-string defense, Ponder looked much sharper, especially on his last two drives. That doesn’t mean much, but it would be incomplete to ignore it. Ponder had more time on these throws, but he also had some plays where he escaped pressure smartly and made the play.

Of course, Ponder was still terrible. Let’s not get away from that. Averaging 5.0 yards per attempt when excluding sacks, touchdowns and interceptions (and 1.96 adjusted net yards per attempt when taking those into account).

It's difficult to really evaluate the wide receivers, as Greg JenningsJarius Wright and Cordarrelle Patterson have streaked open without targets. Patterson has had more issues than Wright or Jennings in getting open, but there's definitely a legitimate concern about the Vikings working away from "manufacturing" his touches—even if he can't do as good a job getting open on traditional pass plays, the Vikings need a spark and aren't getting one with the traditional offense.

Jarius Wright did drop one of the few excellent passes from Ponder, but for the most part has had done well with what he's been asked to do—he can't control his targets.

Jennings had six targets and only two receptions, something he and Ponder can both share blame for. Jennings didn’t look particularly interested in the game, but Ponder wasn’t doing him many favors with ball placement. There’s a good question over how many of those balls were truly catchable.

Interestingly, after the game was well and done, Adam Thielen had a good game and made the most of his targets. He wasn't asked to do anything extraordinary, but had consistently good play on his targets. Whether or not he was open because of the plays and defensive calls is to be determined later, but for now it's an encouraging outing.

Charles Johnson even got a few plays, though should have done more with a great deep ball late in the game. His other play was not executed with a high degree of skill, though Johnson is graded on a curve because of his late arrival to the team. That curve in mind, he still should have done better, but at least he ended with a reception.

Chase Ford has looked good at tight end, and so has Rhett Ellison, with Ellison providing some additional support in the running game. Though Ellison hasn’t been as good of a run-blocker this year as he has been in the past two years, nothing stood out in this game as particularly bad or good. For a blocker, that’s fine. Ford ended up grabbing some late conversions and can move the ball; he’s certainly looking like more than a standard undrafted free agent, and if MarQueis Gray develops as the season goes on (and he had a nice catch late in the game), the Vikings may be in an interesting spot in regards to their tight end depth chart next season.

As runners, Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon have been somewhat disappointing, but Asiata's fumble was his only real issue; his success rate as a runner tonight has been fairly astonishing in all honesty. He grabbed good yards when the blocking was sustained for him and people may be surprised to learn he finished with 4.8 yards a carry. His blocking was on-point for most of the game, but he had some big mistakes there, including a penalty, in a short succession of plays before being pulled out.

McKinnon, though not entirely at fault for his poor targets, needs to make the most of his ability in the open field. He hasn't pushed with the explosion he's flashed in other games and the offseason and is limiting his opportunities. Further, his runback on the Peppers interception was a little baffling. McKinnon’s vision is fine, as is his patience—he simply didn’t flash the burst he’s known to have.

It may be easy to forget the contributions of players like Jerome Felton and though I admit I wasn’t watching for him on many plays, the ones I did see were excellent. He’s a solid blocker that has left his average 2012 behind him. Where earlier, there was questions about Felton’s role on the squad because of Ellison’s proficiency there, Felton is proving his worth on the team and is showing up as a better lead blocker.

The offensive line has been a mess, and though Ponder can't be blamed for the majority of the pressure he's received, though with more open rushers, he may be somewhat responsible for the free blitzers or extra pressures by calling poor protections.

On the other hand, Phil Loadholt should not be excused for his poor play on the day. Not only did he give up a number of pressures and play on his heels for much of the game (against a number of different rushers, including Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers and Mike Neal), his added penalties didn’t help. Loadholt had been playing well in the previous two years, but he hasn’t looked like it in the past two games. He’ll need to find that form again.

On the other side of the line, Matt Kalil had a very up-and-down game, starting off with an excellent stretch of play to be followed by several more breakdowns in the middle of the game that gave rise to some of the questions he was attempting to stave off with his solid effort in the last game.

Kalil finished the game off fine, but that middle stretch of play is still enough to drive serious concerns, because there were some pretty big mistakes. That the end of the game was against backups may be relevant.

The interior of the line is difficult to evaluate in particular because of questions regarding the protection call—which head coach Mike Zimmer reinforced in the presser after the game by pointing out how involved the quarterback is in protection—where free rushers seemed more common than usual. Regardless, it looked like Charlie Johnson didn’t play with awareness—one of his strong points despite his maligned career.

It was difficult to tell if John Sullivan was at fault for the protection breakdowns, but he is likely not blameless, particularly with so much interior pressure. Christian Ponder was hit 16 times in the game, much of it up the middle. The only particular pressure I identified that was a result of a slipped block from Sullivan was an early Letroy Guion pressure (embarrassing), but it’s difficult to believe that it didn’t happen more often, given how many times Mike Daniels, Mike Neal and AJ Hawk were seen in the back field. On the other hand, it doesn’t look like Sullivan lost any ground as a road grader.

There was some dispositively poor play from Vlad Ducasse, but it wasn’t as clear as it was for Loadholt, who was likely the worst offensive lineman. Ducasse definitely didn’t sustain as many clear blocks. For as many issues Charlie Johnson had, Johnson at least looked like a better run blocker (with his own gaffes), while Ducasse seemed mixed at best in the same skill.



Defense

The defense was certainly up-and-down compared to the consistently anemic offense. Though Aaron Rodgers averaged 9.2 yards an attempt (10.6 adjusted net yards per attempt), there were good moments from the passing defense, including some highlight plays from Xavier Rhodes and consistently good play from Josh Robinson.

Though Rhodes has been out of position at times, he’s the kind of player that can make up for it if given the opportunity and did so against Nelson, though the ball was uncharacteristically underthrown from Rodgers. Despite some issues at the beginning of the game, Rhodes was able to finish well. Josh Robinson had a generally very good day, and though he drew a critical pass interference penalty, it was probably a good play and unfairly called. In the future, I imagine the Vikings coaches will ask him to play the same play similarly.

Captain Munnerlyn looked out of sorts in coverage, though wasn’t a bad run defender. Unfortunately, that’s not where his priorities should lie, and the touchdown Randall Cobb grabbed against him reminded Vikings fans of the Julian Edelman touchdown just weeks ago. Munnerlyn’s consistent issues in coverage need to be a talking point in the coaches’ meeting rooms, because it certainly is one outside of them. He hasn’t had a good game yet, and quite a few bad ones.

Jabari Price entered in for a few snaps with Xavier Rhodes out and played well for what it’s worth.

Behind them were Anthony Barr and Gerald Hodges, and though both had some good plays of note (more Barr than Hodges), they largely had some issues. Barr’s can be excused and don’t be surprised if he ends up positively graded by the Vikings and Pro Football Focus, with some great work in the run game, against a screen and looping for quick pressure. He also had some issues finishing tackles and staying disciplined.

Though the bigger issue with gap discipline was from Hodges, who was out of his gap for at least one play and potentially another on the two biggest Eddie Lacy runs. Beyond that, he too missed several tackles and took a poor angles on at least one run. He couldn’t get off of his blocks quickly enough. On the defensive side of the ball, there’s a good argument to be had that Hodges had the worst game of anybody, including Munnerlyn and Blanton.

If the question is about Eddie Lacy runs, the finger may more easily point to Robert Blanton, whose angles and tackling have been an issue for some time, and his coverage has not made up for this fact. In this game, the standout Eddie Lacy tackle has excited national media about Lacy’s ability to power in runs, but just reminds Vikings fans of the poor strength and technique Blanton plays with.

He’s been blown out of plays, dragged by runners and pushed off the ballcarrier. He doesn’t play with awareness of other defenders and diminishes the strength of swarm tackling by playing without discipline. There’s also a question about his role in the Nelson touchdown that turned Harrison Smith around, though it seems likely the call was on both Munnerlyn and Smith to stop.

And though Smith should have had more help than he did, he’s not blameless in the touchdown dime to Nelson from Rodgers. Smith bit on the play action, then played flat-footed against one of the better receivers in the NFL. Luckily, Harrison made up for it after that (though before that he did have a bad missed tackle), even before the Packers decided to play the backups. Once again, Smith was called up on in a variety of roles, including as a pass-rusher, man coverage defender (though not as often), strong safety and free safety, and in particular showed up in the run as the force player and had a well-timed interception, even if it was of Matt Flynn.

Up front, backups like Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen outperformed starters Linval Joseph and Sharrif Floyd. Johnson didn’t just have the best presence in the run game with some key tackles, he brought pressure through the A and B gaps, as well as complicated blocking schemes. He caused issues for center Corey Linsley, right tackle Bryan Bulaga and even guards T.J. Lang Josh Sitton at times. Though Stephen didn’t do anything of particular note, he also didn’t give up the bigger gains that Joseph did, though Joseph had two legitimately good opportunities early on that he couldn’t close for reasons that weren’t his fault, but were borderline penalties (though a good ref wouldn’t call either of them).

Floyd saw his gap gashed in the run game at times and couldn’t produce positive plays to balance his play, and his ability to put pressure on the quarterback is questionable at best at this moment in his career. Though Floyd finished with a sack, it was the result of pressure from Harrison Smith, Gerald Hodges and Brian Robison.

With them were the defensive ends who couldn’t get much done. Everson Griffen sandwiched his best play of the night with two offsides calls, and those will overshadow any pressure he got (minimal, honestly) otherwise. Brian Robison was better about pressure but had several plays with very poor run defense, either pushed out of a play or left leaping for a missed tackle.

Despite individual issues from the majority of the defense, there's a good argument that the defense as a whole played better than advertised. Naturally, the Packers scored many points, but when accounting for field position, things don't look entirely awful.

A field-adjusted metric like Drive Success Rate—which measures how often a defense gives up first downs per opportunity—marks the play as a general success, by keeping the Packers to conversion on 70% of opportunities when Rodgers, not Flynn, had the ball (for context, if a team did that the whole year, they would generally rank as the 20th-best in the NFL).

On the other hand, the Packers scored 35 offensive points, when their field position would dictate an expected points outcome of 21 total points with Rodgers on the field (an average offense against an average defense), meaning that the Vikings defense were two scores worse than an average team in the same situation.

The truth is somewhere in the middle. The Vikings, for the most part, played with a decent rate of success (there were more plays that were defensive successes than you may recall—the Packers punted on five of their ten non-Flynn drives and were two of seven on third down with Rodgers playing).

But the high success rate was counter-balanced by the sheer magnitude of the failures. If the failures were as impactful as the successes, the Vikings would have kept the game close, but the failures were so big that the Packers were able to put points on the board.

All around, it was a poor showing by the Vikings on offense and defense, and the abysmal special teams play of Jeff Locke shouldn’t be ignored either. Marcus Sherels was also confusing, as he fielded punts he should have let go, and let go of punts he should have fielded. The problem started with Christian Ponder, but it definitely did not end with him.

There should be no question that a lot of the sloppiness of the game can be attributed to the fact that it was a Thursday Night Football game on wet grass, but the Packers dealt with the same conditions and did better. Whether or not the team played sluggishly because they “didn’t have confidence in Christian Ponder,” or because they were left with low preparation time, the individual duties they were asked to perform were executed poorly, even from some of their best players.

Head on over to VikingsJournal.com for a look at some where to go from here and a retrospective of the Vikings' evidently improved third down defense.

Arif Hasan is the editor-in-chief at VikingsTerritorya senior writer at VikingsJournal.com,and co-host of the Norse Code Podcast.

You can follow Arif on Twitter at @ArifHasanNFL

VikesCentric: The Vikings' first-round history at this year's 'need' positions

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: April 23, 2013 - 11:50 AM

The countdown to the Thursday night start of the NFL Draft is officially on. No, we don't have an actual clock ticking down the seconds on the wall here at the SportsData offices, but I wouldn't be opposed to the idea. Then again, I'm sure NFL Network and ESPN will have one gracing the corner of their screen soon enough.

 
As the countdown winds down, Vikings fans and media members continue to speculate who the team will select with their bevy of picks. Most of the focus centers on four positions of need: wide receiver, linebacker, cornerback and defensive line.
 
What's that? Teams don't draft for need? They just take the best player available regardless of position. Yeah, right. And Manti Te'o had a real online relationship with a real girl.
 
Speaking of Te'o, the whole catfish saga is water under the bridge as far as I'm concerned. It was all pretty dumb. He probably lied or made up some of it to cover his butt and I'm sure he was embarrassed by the whole mess. But who among us is proud of 100 percent of what they did during their college years? [crickets] If Te'o doesn't have some kind of compulsive lying disorder, I only care about whether he can play football. Likewise, if the Vikings or any other team think he can play, they likely won't downgrade him for the bizarre episode that played out last fall or the media frenzy that's sure to follow him this summer.
 
In fact, I would not be one bit surprised if Te'o were to wind up with the Vikings. And they'll have to take him with one of those first round picks if they want him, barring some trade maneuvers to move into the early second round.  I think he goes in round one.
 
The talk of linebackers, wide receivers, corners and d-linemen got the VikesCentric crew reflecting on past first-round picks the Vikings have spent on the aforementioned positions identified most often as their need positions.
 
Let's take a glance back at Vikings history, shall we?
 
Vikings First-round selections      
       
Defensive linemen Wide Receivers Linebackers Cornerbacks
Erasmus James (2005) Percy Harvin (2009) Chad Greenway (2006) D. Washington (1994)
Kenechi Udeze (2004) Troy Williamson (2005) Dwayne Rudd (1997)  
Kevin Williams (2003) Randy Moss (1998) Fred McNeill (1974)  
Chris Hovan (2000) Gene Washington (1967) Jeff Seimon (1972)  
Dimitrius Underwood (1999) Jack Snow (1965)    
Duane Clemons (1996)      
Derrick Alexander (1995)      
Gerald Robinson (1986)      
Chris Doleman (1985)      
Keith Millard (1984)      
Doug Martin (1980)      
Randy Halloway (1978)      
James White (1976)      
Mark Mullaney (1975)      
Alan Page (1967)      
Jerry Shay (1966)      
Carl Eller (1964)      
Jim Dunaway (1972)      
 
As you can see in the chart above, the Vikings have spent a lot of first-round picks on defensive linemen with varying degrees of success. The good includes three Hall of Famers (Eller, Page and Doleman) along with an All-Pro (Millard). The bad includes almost everyone else (I said almost), with special distinction going to Underwood as the worst Vikings draft pick of all time. In fact, the Vikings have spent more first-round draft picks on defensive linemen (18) than any position, but have not done so since Erasmus James in 2005. With Jared Allen, Brian Robison and Everson Griffen all entering the final year of their contracts, they may increase that number by one.
 
Here's a breakdown of Vikings first-round draft picks:
Vikings First-round selections by position      
QB RB WR OL DL LB CB S
3 10 5 7 18 4 1 2
 
An entire list of Vikings first-round picks can be found here.
 
If the Vikings do wind up taking Te'o, he will become just the fifth linebacker ever selected in the first-round by the team. Of the previous four linebackers selected, three turned out golden (Greenway, McNeill and Seimon). That's a nice precedent of success.
 
The Vikings history of first-round wide receivers has been all over the map: one bust (Williamson), one player who spent his entire career with a team other than the Vikings (Snow), one All-Pro who played just seven years (Washington)… and then the talented yet enigmatic Harvin and Moss.
 
The team's history at cornerbacks selected in the first-round is brief, as you can see. I had to double-check this one to be certain the count was correct. But it's true -- Dewayne Washington is the only cornerback the Vikings have ever selected in the first round. That's the lowest of any position aside from tight end, kicker and punter – on which they have never used a first-rounder.
 
Of course, none of this really matters to general manager Rick Speilman. I'm pretty certain he's not going to review the Vikings' first-round history by position and let it help dictate which players they'll select. It is, however, pretty interesting and pretty fun to look back at the breakdown. Besides, those among you who are card-carrying Vikings rubes might be able to use this data to stump your friends with some Vikings Draft Day trivia Thursday.
 
I'll see you at the Draft Party at Mall of America Field. Enjoy the festivities.
 
 
Bo Mitchell is the VP of Content at SportsData
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: A must-win game in Chicago

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: November 24, 2012 - 4:55 PM

I generally despise the term "must-win" game.

 
Shouldn't they all be must-wins? I mean, by its very definition, a must-win game implies that some games really don't matter. I suppose that's the case for teams that are out of playoff contention, but in reality all games should be considered must wins as long as a team is mathematically alive for the postseason. After that, some would argue, games can become "must lose" in order to ensure a higher draft pick.
 
Now that we've got that somewhat cleared up… Sunday's game in Chicago feels like it should be considered of the must-win ilk for the Minnesota Vikings. This assumes, of course, that you are in the camp that believes it is in the Vikings' best interest to continue winning games in pursuit of a postseason berth.
 
A cogent argument could be made that the Vikings don't have the horses to go very far – or even advance past the first round – if they do somehow make the playoffs, and therefore losing games down the stretch and missing the postseason wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. That argument presupposes the Vikings are in full-scale rebuilding mode and could benefit more by higher draft picks than a few extra wins during a rebuilding campaign.
 
Of course, that line of thinking won't get you very far within the halls at Winter Park. For as much as they are refurbishing following last season's 3-13 disaster, the Vikings roster is dotted with high-profile veterans that want to win now. For players like Antoine Winfield, Jared Allen and Kevin Williams time is of the essence. A football player only has so many years to pursue a ring.
 
Thus, the Vikings really, really need to beat the Bears on Sunday.
 
The Vikings remaining schedule – as everyone knows – is pretty dicey, and they need to win four of the final six to have a reasonable shot of making it to the playoffs. Ten wins probably gets them in. Nine probably won't cut it. Next week's game against the Packers in Green Bay does not look very winnable for the Purple. The Packers have won the last four games in the series and have won five of the last six games between these two teams at Lambeau Field. And the Week 16 game in Houston appears even less winnable for the Vikings against a 10-1 Texans squad that appears to be one of the four best teams in the league.
 
In other words, that leaves no room for error in the other four games for Minnesota – two against the Bears, a Week 15 game in St. Louis, and the regular-season finale at home against the Packers.
 
You want to see the Vikings in the playoffs this season? Then they need to win Sunday in Chicago. Period.
 
Fortunately for the Vikes, they have a lot of factors aligning perfectly to give them a shot at upsetting the favored Bears – aside from Percy Harvin's tri-lateral ankle sprain that has yet to fully heal.
 
Not that the Vikings needed a blueprint for beating Chicago, given their familiarity with their division rival, but Monday's lopsided loss by the Bears to the 49ers provided a very detailed roadmap. Christian Ponder and the Vikings offense needs to somehow avoid turning the ball over to the hyper-opportunistic Bears defense and Allen and company need to pin their ears back and pressure the heck out of the quarterback.
 
Said quarterback will likely be Jay Cutler, who appears on course to return from his concussion, but whether it's Cutler or Jason Campbell, the Vikings have a golden opportunity to really get after him. The Bears offensive line is in complete shambles after being exposed for six sacks by the 49ers. Chilo Rachal was demoted from his starting left guard position following the game and promptly left the team. Meanwhile, starting right tackle Gabe Carimi was also benched after the Niners game. Left tackle J'Marcus Webb hasn't been much better, but remains in the starting lineup to take on Allen – who logged 3.5 sacks against him when these teams met last year in Week 17.
 
On paper at least, Allen and Brian Robison should have a field day. On paper, Adrian Peterson should be able to continue his dominance because, well, no one has stopped him yet this season. The Bears run defense is stout, but Peterson is playing the best football of his Hall of Fame career right now. On paper, the well-rested Vikings, who don't have many injury concerns beyond Harvin, have the advantage over the Bears who are on a short week after getting mauled on Monday night.
 
On paper, the Vikings have a really good shot of beating Chicago. And on paper, they really need to do so if they want to remain a relevant playoff contender.
 
Bo Mitchell is the VP of Content at SportsData
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: Giving thanks to the Purple

Posted by: Updated: November 20, 2012 - 12:08 PM

The holiday week and the bye week have combined to make this a perfect time for Vikings fans to take a step back, consider the big-picture landscape, and think about what they are thankful for this year when it comes to the Purple.

Like most fans, I have plenty to quibble about when it comes to our home club – I’m still trying to get over the Bucs loss and still trying to comprehend the enigma that is Christian Ponder - but when I remember where this franchise sat on January 1, 2012, there are a ton of positives that lead me to believe Vikings fans should be pleased with this year’s progress.

I’m thankful for Adrian Peterson’s inspirational work ethic, alien DNA, newborn-baby knees, and love of the game. It’s an absolute joy to watch him play every week, and it’s mindboggling that he looks this good after tearing up his knee last December.

I’m thankful for the 6-4 record and meaningful games down the stretch. Even with a healthy dose of Purple Kool-Aid in my system, not even my wildest offseason hopes had us sniffing a playoff spot.

I’m thankful for Percy Harvin, who has been arguably the NFL’s most valuable non-quarterback since the middle of the 2011 season. And I’m thankful that Leslie Frazier and Bill Musgrave have found creative ways to get him 166 touches over his last 16 full games.

I’m thankful for the stadium bill.

I’m thankful for Jared Allen’s outspoken attitude and on-field fire. I wish we could bottle up his passion and put it in the home team’s water cooler at Target Field.

I’m thankful for a healthy Antoine Winfield. Watching No. 26 fearlessly take on offensive linemen, tangle with tight ends, and blow up running backs in the backfield brings me as much joy as any AP run or Percy kickoff return.

I’m thankful for Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert, and Jake Locker for assuring us that life isn’t always easy for second-year quarterbacks. Ponder’s fellow 2011 first-round picks have completed 58.0 percent of their passes, own a 80.5 quarterback rating, and are on teams that are a combined 7-23.

I’m thankful for the Vikings 2012 rookie class. Matt Kalil, Harrison Smith, Josh Robinson, Blair Walsh, and Rhett Ellison have all made major contributions, and we saw a spark from Jarius Wright in Week 10. It’s still too early for final grades on this group, but it looks like Rick Spielman deserves something close to an “A”.

I’m thankful for Brian Robison, who continues to remind us that some players are late-bloomers.

I’m thankful that Ponder remembered that Kyle Rudolph is on this team. Rudolph only saw eight combined targets in the Cardinals, Bucs and Seahawks games. That’s unacceptable. Kyle caught seven of his nine targets for 64 yards and a score in Week 10.

I’m thankful to John Sullivan and Kevin Williams for quietly and efficiently anchoring the two lines.

And, finally, I’m thankful that I’m not a Lions fan. Who wants to ruin their Turkey Day meal by watching their team fall in defeat? The Lions have lost eight straight Thanksgiving Day games, and they host the 9-1 Texans this Thursday. Andre Johnson and J.J. Watt should bring their forks in preparation for a slice of post-game turducken.

So, my fellow Vikings fans, what are you thankful for?

Ted is a content strategy manager for TST Media and contributor to LeagueSafe Post.  You can follow Ted on Twitter at @tcarlson34.

VikesCentric: Jumping to conclusions

Posted by: Updated: September 10, 2012 - 3:30 PM

It’s just one week, but everyone still wants to jump to conclusions about, well, just about everything we saw during the Vikings’ scintillating Week 1 win over the Jaguars. Let’s run down a handful of conclusions one might reach after Sunday, and discuss whether they’re more trend or mirage.

Blair Walsh has ice water in his veins.

Or “intestinal fortitude,” as head coach Leslie Frazier told the media after the game. For a 22-year-old rookie kicking in his first career game, Walsh could not have been more clutch. He calmly knocked down the 55-yarder to force overtime like it was just another routine extra point, then booted the 38-yarder in overtime for the (eventual) win.

Verdict: Trend. Walsh destroyed all doubts about whether the Vikings “wasted” a sixth-round pick on him, and vindicated General Manager Rick Spielman, who put his faith in Walsh by cutting expensive veteran Ryan Longwell in the offseason. We knew Walsh had a big leg, but after his clutch performance on Sunday it appears he’s got the guts to go along with it.
 
Adrian Peterson is not human.
 
Without playing a single preseason snap and a mere eight months removed from a knee injury that usually takes at least a year or more to completely heal from, Peterson didn’t miss a beat. After looking a bit tentative early in the game, Peterson settled down after scoring his first touchdown before looking like vintage AP on a couple of long runs (of ten and 20 yards) in overtime.
 
Verdict: Trend. He’s superman. Nobody will ever underestimate him again.
 
The secondary still stinks.
 
Sophomore Blaine Gabbert completed only 51 percent of his passes as a rookie and threw for almost as many interceptions (11) as he did touchdowns (12). On Sunday, what was supposed to be an improved Vikings secondary let him complete 23-of-39 (59 percent) for 260 yards and two touchdowns.
 
Verdict: Trend. Here we go again. Despite the return of cornerbacks Chris Cook and Antoine Winfield and the infusion of some young talent (safety Harrison Smith and nickel corner Josh Robinson), the Vikings had few answers for what was one of the worst passing offenses in the NFL a year ago. They managed to hold highly touted rookie wideout Justin Blackmon in check, but there were frequent breakdowns that led on numerous times to wide open receivers converting big plays for the Jaguars. Winfield has lost at least a step, Cook looked rusty, and the safety tandem of Smith and Mistral Raymond was far too inconsistent. In particular, on the fateful last-minute touchdown catch by the Jaguars’ Cecil Shorts, Raymond barely moved from where he had lined up. He was inexplicably frozen right after the snap, appearing, for some reason, to be shadowing Gabbert in the pocket while one receiver ran right past him and leaving Cook on an island against Shorts. How do you not ensure that there’s adequate coverage deep on that play?
 
Christian Ponder has arrived.
 
Ponder got off to a rocky start, but he engineered five scoring drives after halftime, including the game-tying one with 20 seconds on the clock and a methodical overtime drive. Most importantly, he didn’t commit a turnover.
 
Verdict: Mirage. Outside of Peterson looking healthy, Ponder was easily the most promising takeaway from this game. He completed nearly 75 percent of his passes and got in a groove once he got Percy Harvin involved. Harvin and tight end Kyle Rudolph are starting to emerge as legitimate go-to guys for Ponder, and if Peterson is this effective in the running game Ponder should continue to have opportunities to grow. But let’s not confuse a home opener against a bad Jaguars defense that was missing its’ top cornerback for the Bears or Packers on the road in late November. Sunday was a positive step in nearly every way for Ponder, but there will be more bumps in the road.
 
The play calling remains dubious.
 
The Vikings gained a total of two first downs on their first four drives of the game, all of which resulted in punts. Other than a reverse to Percy Harvin on the third play of the game, Harvin was completely invisible in the offense until the fifth drive. Later, they stalled out several times inside the red zone and had to settle for field goals when a touchdown would have put the game out of reach.
 
Verdict: Trend. The entire offense looked out of sync early on. Perhaps it was because nobody knew what to expect while breaking Peterson in, or perhaps the team was just sluggish coming off an equally sluggish preseason. Whatever the case, there shouldn’t be any excuse for excluding Harvin from the game plan for almost an entire half. Things finally got moving on the fifth drive, when Ponder threw it to Harvin three straight times to open a drive that began with just over two minutes left in the half. That ultimately resulted in the first of Peterson’s two touchdowns, and things were generally much improved for the remainder of the game. But why did it take nearly an entire half to get the ball into Harvin’s hands? Later, a nice Ponder-to-Rudolph connection gave the Vikings a first-and-goal from the three-yard line. Instead of just jamming Peterson down the Jaguars’ throats for a third time, the Vikings got cute; first running Harvin straight up the gut out of the backfield, then throwing a pass to third-string running back Matt Asiata before a broken play resulted in an incomplete pass to little-used tight end John Carlson on third down. Matt Asiata? Really? By not punching the ball into the end zone after three straight bizarre play calls, the Vikes left the door open for the late Jaguars’ comeback. The Vikings game plan should be pretty obvious and simple: Get the ball to Peterson and Harvin. End of story. Bill Musgrave seems to be doing a decent job with Christian Ponder’s development, but there continue to be a handful of head-scratching moments in just about every game.
 
Jared Allen was invisible.
 
Other than a sack on the second Jaguars offensive play that was reversed because of a questionable offside call on Allen himself, we saw little from last year’s NFL sacks leader. He was essentially stifled by Jaguars left tackle Eugene Monroe, and the Vikings inability to generate a pass rush was part of the reason Gabbert was able to dissect the secondary.
 
Verdict: Mirage. It was uncharacteristic and disappointing that he didn’t show up at home in the season opener – he failed to register a sack in just three games all of last year – but Allen will get his. Call it an off day and expect to see him terrorize Colts rookie QB Andrew Luck next week. If Allen and Brian Robison can generate a better pass rush next week and beyond, it will make the inexperienced secondary look a lot better.
 
Winning cures all ills.
 
It was ugly at times and you’d expect the Vikings to win a home game against one of last year’s worst AFC teams, but a win is a win is a win.
 
Verdict: TBD. The Vikings will take wins any way they can. Coming off the worst season in franchise history, they’re not in a position to be worried about who they beat or how pretty or ugly it is. Take last year, for example, when they easily could have been 3-0 after the first three games but turned that into 0-3 with a series of incredible second-half collapses. If the team wins a couple of those games early last season, there’s a school of thought that says the remainder of the year could have been totally different. One thing is very clear: if they’d lost on Sunday in the waning moments on a Blaine Gabbert-to-Cecil Shorts miracle, it could have sent them spiraling the wrong way before the season was even two weeks old. The impressive comeback should do wonders for this team’s confidence, and with an early-season schedule that’s littered with winnable games (Colts, Titans, Redskins, Cardinals, Bucs all within the next seven weeks), that confidence could lead to some more W’s.

Christian Peterson is the Director of Operations at LeagueSafe.com and Managing Editor of LeagueSafe Post. He has been a contributor to Vikings.com and is a co-host of the Fantasy Football Weekly radio show on FM 100.3 KFAN on Saturday mornings during the football season. Follow him on Twitter: @CP_ChristianP

Reviewing a decade of drafts

Posted by: Updated: April 26, 2012 - 12:33 PM

How will we look back on the Vikings' 2012 draft? The Purple could reap a harvest of multiple Pro Bowlers, consistent starters and quality reserves, as they did in 2007 and 2003. They could bring aboard a heap of busts that would make the 2005 draft look decent by comparison. Or they could land somewhere in the middle.

Let's take a look at their last 10 drafts to see how each group of rookies stack up. For the purposes of our discussion, we've sorted the picks into the following categories: 

Pro Bowlers: Actually selected to the Pro Bowl roster, not named as a replacement for an injured player or a Super Bowl participant

Starters: Have started at least eight games in a season, either for the Vikings or another team

Reserves: Made the Vikings' roster but did not start at least half of a season

Never made the roster: They might have played for somebody else, but they never made the Vikings' 53-man team.

And away we go …


2011

Pro Bowlers: None
Starters: Christian Ponder (1), Kyle Rudolph (2)
Reserves: Christian Ballard (4), Brandon Burton (5), DeMarcus Love (6), Mistral Raymond (6), Brandon Fusco (6), D'Aundre Reed (7), Stephen Burton (7)
Never made the roster: Ross Homan (6)

 

2010
Pro Bowlers: None
Starters: None
Reserves: Chris Cook (2), Toby Gerhart (2), Everson Griffen (4), Chris DeGeare (5), Joe Webb (6), Mickey Shuler (7), Ryan D'Imperio (7)
Never made the roster: Nate Triplett (5)

 

2009
Pro Bowlers: Percy Harvin (1)
Starters: Phil Loadholt (2), Asher Allen (3), Jamarca Sanford (7)
Reserves: Jasper Brinkley (5)
Never made the roster: None

 

2008
Pro Bowlers: None
Starters: Tyrell Johnson (2), John Sullivan (6)
Reserves: J.D. Booty (5), Letroy Guion (5), Jaymar Johnson (6)
Never made the roster: None

 

2007
Pro Bowlers: Adrian Peterson (1), Sidney Rice (2)
Starters: Marcus McCauley (3), Brian Robison (4)
Reserves: Aundrae Allison (5), Rufus Alexander (6)
Never made the roster: Tyler Thigpen (7), Chandler Williams (7)

 

2006
Pro Bowlers: None
Starters: Chad Greenway (1), Cedric Griffin (2), Ryan Cook (2), Tarvaris Jackson (2), Ray Edwards (4)
Reserves: Greg Blue (5)
Never made the roster: Tyrone Culver (6)

 

2005
Pro Bowlers: None
Starters: Troy Williamson (1), Erasmus James (1), Marcus Johnson (2)
Reserves: Ciatrick Fason (4), C.J. Mosley (6)
Never made the roster: Dustin Fox (3), Adrian Ward (7)

 

2004
Pro Bowlers: None
Starters: Kenechi Udeze (1), Darrion Scott (3), Mewelde Moore (4)
Reserves: Dontarrious Thomas (2), Nat Dorsey (4), Rod Davis (5), Jeff Dugan (7)
Never made the roster: Deandre' Eiland (6)

 

2003
Pro Bowlers: Kevin Williams (1), E.J. Henderson (2)
Starters: Nate Burleson (3), Eddie Johnson (6)
Reserves: Onterrio Smith (4), Mike Nattiel (6), Keenan Howry (7)
Never made the roster: None

 

2002
Pro Bowlers: Bryant McKinnie (1)
Starters: Brian Williams (4), Nick Rogers (6)
Reserves: Raonall Smith (2), Willie Offord (3)
Never made the roster: Edward Ta'amu (4), Chad Beasley (7)

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