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: Bridled optimism

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: September 10, 2014 - 7:54 AM

On one hand, Vikings fans need to take a deep breath and realize their squad just manhandled a Rams team that doesn’t appear to be very good and was using their second and third-string quarterbacks. On the other hand, the Week 1 victory was different for many reasons and should be cause for a dash or two of optimism.

Those who watched Sunday’s 34-6 dismantling of the Rams knew they were watching a different product on the field – from the aggressiveness and improved tackling on defense to the imagination on offense.

This is a different-looking Vikings team that’s already starting to produce some different results.

I mean seriously, when was the last time the Vikings even won a road game? Um, that would be Dec. 23, 2012 when they inexplicably pounded a 12-2 Texans team 23-6. That’s also the last time the Vikings held any opponent to six points or less. The last time before that was their 34-3 shellacking of the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs following the 2009 season. And the last time the Vikings held an opponent to six points or less in a regular season game prior to 2012 was their 24-3 win over the Falcons to open the 2007 season.

Here’s a few more “last times” from Week 1.

The last time the Vikings won by as many as 28 points on the road was Sept. 28, 1994 at Chicago.

The last time the Vikings won by 28 points on the road in Week 1 was their 40-9 victory over the Saints to open the 1976 season. That’s 38 years ago. No current Vikings player was even alive 38 years ago. Not even Cullen Loeffler (he’s the Vikings’ elder statesman at 33).

The last time the Vikings won by 28 points under a first-year head coach was 22 years ago under Denny Green when they beat the Bengals in Cincinnati on Sept. 27, 1992. Rich Gannon threw for 318 yards and four touchdowns in that game. Terry Allen rushed for two touchdowns and caught another. Cris Carter had 11 receptions for 124 yards and two touchdowns. And the Vikings picked off Boomer Esiason four times. Yeah, that was a while ago.

I love this one despite the meaningless nature of preseason games: the last time the Vikings won all four of their preseason games and then won in Week 1 was – wait for it – the 1998 season. Yes, that season. You know, the one in which they went 15-1 and then made it to the NFC Championship Game and… I’ll stop there. No, I’m not comparing the 2014 Vikings to the 1998 Vikings.

The last time the Vikings had a wide receiver gain 100 yards rushing in a game, as Cordarrelle Patterson did on Sunday, was… never. Not even Percy Harvin managed that trick in a Vikings uniform.

The last time the Vikings returned an interception for a touchdown, as Harrison Smith did on Sunday, was Dec. 16, 2012 by Everson Griffen against the Rams. The last time a Vikings player returned an interception for a touchdown against someone other than the Rams was… Harrison Smith, who did it twice in 2012, against the Bears and the Cardinals at home. The last time someone other than Smith returned an interception for a touchdown against someone other than the Rams was in 2010 when Jared Allen did it in the last game of the season against the Lions.

The last time the Vikings won on the road without getting either 100 rushing yards or a touchdown from Adrian Peterson was, once again, that 23-6 game against Houston in December 2012. Since Peterson came into the league in 2007, the Vikings have now won just four road games in which he has been held under 100 yards and out of the end zone.

So yeah, Sunday’s game against the Rams was definitely different.

Give yourself permission to feel good about that first victory, Vikings fans.  Optimism, yes. Unbridled merriment, not yet. We’ll hold off on saving up money for playoff tickets or planning a Super Bowl parade route for now. However, we might revisit that notion if the Vikings find a way to take out the Patriots on Sunday.

On that note, one more “last time” stat: the last time the New England Patriots (0-1) started a season 0-2 was 2001. That’s a long time ago. They also won the Super Bowl that year, beating (kind of ironically) the Rams 20—17.


Head on over to VikingsJournal.com for a detailed breakdown on how Sugaring the A-Gap is head coach Mike Zimmer’s Pressure Du Jour and a fun look at Cordarrelle Patterson’s epic 67-yard touchdown run against the Rams.

Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData, head writer at VikingsJournal.com, co-host of the Fantasy Football Pants Party at 1500ESPN.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.

VikesCentric: Ponder paranoia reaches all-time high

Posted by: 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: The Josh Freeman Era

Posted by: 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: 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: Vikings face long odds if they fall to 0-2

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: September 13, 2013 - 9:21 PM

There aren't many outside of Winter Park who seriously expect the Minnesota Vikings to win on Sunday. You know it's true.

In fact, given their history at Soldier Field, one has to wonder just how confident the Vikings themselves are of coming away with a win in Chicago this Sunday. Obviously, not a single person employed by the Vikings would ever admit such a thing on the record, but it is human nature to have such doubts. A look at the track record tells us why.

It's perfectly logical to question the Vikings' ability to win in Chicago – where the Bears have won the last five in a row and 11 of the last 12. That's an unmistakable trend, folks. Yes, the Vikings beat the Bears the last time these two teams squared off in Week 14 last season, but that was at Mall of America Field.

Vikings vs. Bears in Chicago
Year Bears Vikings
2012 28 10
2011 39 10
2010 27 13
2009 36 30
2008 48 41
2007 31 34
2006 23 13
2005 28 3
2004 24 14
2003 13 10
2002 27 23
2001 17 10

The Bears have defeated the Vikings by an average score of 28.4 to 17.6 over the last 12 games in the Chicago. My Richfield math tells me that's a double-digit difference on average. That's not promising for the Purple.

As the table shows, the Vikings' lone win in the Windy City in the last 12 years came in 2007. They needed overtime as well as 224 rushing yards and three touchdowns from a rookie named Adrian Peterson to win that day. They might need a similar Herculean effort from the MVP to do it again – which of course is never out of the question when it comes to Peterson.

Regardless of what Adrian does, Christian Ponder needs to play better and the defense needs to figure out a way to stop Matt Forte or he'll do the same thing Reggie Bush did to them in Week 1.

Moreover, if the Vikings are serious about their playoff chances – and I have every reason to believe that they are -- they'll have to buck the odds and figure out a way to win. If you've been paying attention to football at all this past week you have undoubtedly heard the daunting statistic about 0-2 teams and the postseason: since the playoffs expanded to 12 teams in 1990, 0-2 teams have gone on to make the playoffs only 11.6 percent of the time.

Of course, starting 0-2 on the road isn't the worst thing in the world. I think the Vikings will likely lose this Sunday, but I also expect them to win their next two games against the Cleveland Browns (at home) and Pittsburgh Steelers (in London). I'm guessing the percentage of teams that start 2-2 and make the playoffs is considerably higher than 11.6.

Should Vikings fans be concerned if they fall to 0-2 this Sunday? Of course. Should they throw in the towel on 2013 if they lose? Absolutely not.

Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData

You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

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