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.
The NFL has never been more pass-friendly. However, on Sunday in Tampa the worst passing offense in the NFL will square off with the worst pass defense in the NFL. It’s the movable object vs. the resistible force and (you guessed it) something’s gotta give!
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were on bye this past weekend. This presumably gave them a little extra time to, among other things, review film from their 48-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 6 – a game in which Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco gashed their defense for five touchdown passes before halftime.
Yes, before halftime.
In other words, Flacco – a fairly pedestrian quarterback statistically speaking by today’s NFL standards – had more touchdown passes against the Buccaneers in the first 30 minutes of that game than Vikings quarterbacks have had all season.
Yes, all season.
The Vikings’ passing game has been that bad… and the Buccaneers’ pass defense has been just as bad. On Sunday at Raymond James Stadium we’ll find out which is worse.
In the purple corner: the Vikings passing game
Thus far this season, the Vikings rank 32nd in pass offense (a.k.a. dead last) with an average of 184 yards per game. Astonishingly, they have thrown just four touchdown passes. No other team has fewer than seven.
The 184 yards per game rate is fairly awful, but not historically awful. There are examples in recent seasons of teams who have averaged less than that. In fact, just last year both the Jets and Buccaneers averaged fewer passing yards per game. Of course, both of those teams at least reached double digits in touchdown passes.
The Vikings are currently on a pace to finish the season with 2,944 yards passing and nine touchdown passes. Nine. Touchdown. Passes. Heck, Joe Kapp once threw seven touchdown passes in a single game for the Vikings back in 1969.
Nine would be bad. Really bad. It would tie the franchise record for fewest touchdown passes in a season set by the 1971 Vikings. Gary Cuozzo led that team with six touchdown passes. Bob Lee had two and Norm Snead had one. Cuozzo, Lee and Snead is not the company Bridgewater, Ponder and Cassel want to join. Speaking of Cassel, the last NFL team to have a full season with passing stats as bad as the Vikings’ are projected to be was the 2012 Kansas City Chiefs, who finished with 2,937 yards and eight touchdown passes – led by Cassel, who threw for 1,796 yards and six touchdowns.
Fortunately for Vikings fans, I’m optimistic they’ll break the 10 touchdown-plateau this season. As Arif Hasan adroitly suggested yesterday, patience is needed with Teddy Bridgewater. He’ll become more acclimated as the season goes on and start producing better numbers.
Maybe even this week.
In the pewter corner: the Buccaneers pass defense
The Buccaneers rank 32nd in pass defense, allowing 295 yards per game. They have allowed 15 touchdown passes, which ties them for next-to-last in the NFL. Only the Jets have allowed more scoring passes (18). Of course, the Jets haven’t had a bye week yet, so technically the Bucs are right there with them in terms of ineptitude.
The Buccaneers are also allowing the highest completion percentage (71.6) and quarterback rating (111.8) in the NFL. Their 8.4 yards per attempt allowed ranks 31st.
Sacks have not been a specialty of the Buccaneers this season, either. They only have nine in six games, which has to be a little encouraging for the depleted and ineffective Vikings offensive line.
Injuries have been part of the problem. The Buccaneers lost starting right cornerback Mike Jenkins in Week 1 to a torn pectoral. His replacement, Johnthan Banks missed the game against the Ravens in Week 6 due to a neck injury. Banks could play against the Vikings – not that it would be a bad thing for the Vikings since Banks ranks 99th overall out of 106 cornerbacks graded by ProFootballFocus.com.
Look for the Vikings to target Banks, if he plays, more often than left corner Alterraun Verner, who’s actually playing pretty well this season after signing a four-year deal with the Bucs in May.
Scheme might be the other problem. Leslie Frazier, who oversaw the Vikings’ 31st-ranked pass defense last season has taken his Tampa 2 scheme to Tampa as the Buccaneers defensive coordinator. It could be the Tampa 2 defense is on its last legs as a base NFL defense, as many others have suggested.
And the winner is…
The resistible force will come out on top against the movable object. This isn’t necessarily a prediction for a Vikings win, but it is a favorable outlook for the Vikings’ passing game as a whole, assuming head coach Mike Zimmer can find enough healthy bodies to block ‘em up front.
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.
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell
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.
@Skorzo60 We've thought that before.— Patrick Donnelly (@donnelly612) November 18, 2013
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.
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.
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.
And we're back! After a brief sabbatical, it's time to once again spew forth opinions, observations and speculation from our little VikesCentric corner of the interweb. A lot has transpired since I last checked in so here are a few quick thoughts on the happenings of the last few weeks before we look ahead:
In the week that's passed since the Vikings' season-ending Wild Card defeat at Green Bay, a disturbing – but predictable – phenomenon has been on display in the world of social media: the trashing of Christian Ponder's reputation for having the audacity to miss a playoff game due to an injury to his throwing arm.
Actually, the criticism of Ponder started almost immediately after the Vikings announced he would not be active for Saturday's game. His deactivation was a surprising development, no doubt, thanks mostly to Vikings officials and Ponder himself downplaying the seriousness of his triceps injury throughout the week. A few local scribes wondered if Leslie Frazier's leaving the door slightly open to the possibility of Ponder not playing was just a case of Belichickian subterfuge designed to force the Packers to prepare for both Ponder and Joe Webb. But until word of Ponder's truncated pregame warmup trickled out, no one in their right mind thought he would actually miss the game.
Thus, when Webb was named as the starter 90 minutes before the game, Twitter exploded with outrage over Ponder's supposed lack of heart. Just one example: former Wild star Wes Walz expressed his shock at the news and ended his tweet with "#suckitup" in a hashtag. And that was one of the nicer critiques of Ponder's backbone.
Even after the game, when reporters noted that Ponder could barely lift his right arm to put his shirt on and Frazier said Ponder couldn't make the throws necessary to give the Vikings a chance to win the game, the tide of invective was not stemmed. If anything, the tone of the Internet tough guys hardened when gory photos of Ponder's swollen, discolored arm were made public on Monday.
Now, some amount of mudslinging is to be expected on the Internet, where critics can remain anonymous as they tear down the celebrities in their midst. But even on sites that require Facebook logins to post – or on Facebook itself – a shocking number of Vikings "fans" attached their name to commentary that revealed a pretty distorted view of reality, or at least a fundamental misunderstanding of the physical conditions required to play quarterback in an NFL game.
Most of the Ponder criticism can be broken down into five basic (and faulty) arguments.
1. Brett Favre would have sucked it up and played through that injury. Yes, Brett Favre started a remarkable 297 consecutive games and probably played through a number of injuries that would have sidelined any other player. But that's what makes this comparison so specious. Didn't we (and by "we" I mean fans and the media, especially certain members of the national media) just spend the last 20 years gushing about Favre's super-human strength and healing powers? Didn't we inflate the man's image until it was basically accepted that he was a god-like figure walking among us mere mortals? And we expect Christian Ponder – a player that most Vikings fans spent the first three months of the season trying to run out of town based on his dismal performance – to measure up to the Great Favre? (Oh, and not for nothing, but Favre did suffer a similar injury in 2008 with the Jets. He "sucked it up" and played through it, and the Jets lost four of their last five games as Favre threw two touchdown passes and nine interceptions in that stretch. Just sayin'.)
2. RGIII played through a much worse injury on Sunday. He sure did. And how did that turn out? Oh yeah. Not only did the Redskins blow a 14-0 lead after Griffin reinjured his knee in the first quarter and spent the remainder of the game hobbling around the field like the reincarnation of Billy Kilmer, but the rookie quarterback needed reconstructive surgery this week after his ACL and LCL finally gave out in the fourth quarter. The Redskins have a quality backup in Kirk Cousins, who led them to a comeback win over the playoff-bound Ravens and a blowout victory at Cleveland in December, but by the time Mike Shanahan turned the offense over to him, it was too late. So yes, RGIII played through a much worse injury on Sunday, and it cost his team a chance to win a playoff game and jeopardized his 2013 season.
3. Ponder needs to learn how to stay healthy. I'm not sure how one trains one's body to avoid injuries like the one that knocked Ponder out of Saturday's game. He hurt his triceps when Green Bay safety Morgan Burnett crashed into his right arm helmet-first as he was trying to complete a pass. If Ponder had curled up into the fetal position and taken the sack to protect his body, the same Internet tough guys would have called him "soft" and "gutless" and a bunch of other names we can't use on a family website. Injuries are what you call an occupational hazard when you play quarterback in the NFL. Sometimes they're unavoidable, no matter how well you've "learned" how to stay healthy.
4. They could have shot him up with pain-killers and sent him out there. No, they couldn't have. I'm not sure why this point wasn't made more clearly in the postgame breakdowns, but the issue was never Ponder's pain tolerance. It was all about what his body was capable of doing on Saturday afternoon and evening. All the injections in the world wouldn't have reduced the swelling in his arm, which hampered his range of motion and prevented him from getting any power behind his throws. You can't fire an 18-yard sideline route to Jarius Wright when you can't raise your arm above your chin.
5. I would have gone to work with a bruised elbow. This one's my personal favorite. Yes, Internet Tough Guy (or Gal), I'm sure you would have shown up for your job at the law firm or factory or McDonald's with a similar injury. I would have too. Because most of us can figure out a way to do our jobs without having to raise our right arm above our shoulder. An NFL quarterback doesn't have that luxury. It's right there on the NFL quarterback application for employment: 1. Can you raise your throwing arm above your shoulder? If the answer to that question is "no," then you can't be an NFL quarterback. Even if you have a physically taxing job, you can probably make accommodations for a similar injury and still perform your duties at a slower pace. It should go without saying that the same does not apply for an NFL quarterback.
In the end, I'm guessing most of the Ponder-based angst stems from fans who are upset that the Vikings laid an egg in the playoffs and wanted somebody to be mad at. They needed to lash out because the thought of spending a week (or an entire offseason) alongside smug Packers fans after that loss is really hard to stomach. Maybe they were in the "play Joe Webb" camp all season and were embarrassed to be proven so wrong. Or they were upset with the Vikings' brain trust for having no legitimate backup quarterback to turn to when Ponder went down. So they found themselves a convenient scapegoat – the pretty-boy No. 1 draft pick who earns millions of dollars, married the blonde bombshell sideline reporter, and showed just barely enough improvement in his second season (in the last four games of his second season, actually) to tease the Vikings into running him out there again in 2013.
But I can say this with complete confidence: if Ponder had "sucked it up" and tried to play through the injury, only to heave a dying quail on the first possession that Charles Woodson picked off and returned for a touchdown, these same Internet tough guys would have been screaming at Ponder for being selfish, for putting himself ahead of his team, for desperately trying to hang onto his job when everybody knows that Joe Webb gives the Vikings the best chance to win.
Look, I'm not saying Ponder is untouchable or should be immune from any criticism. Lord knows he provided plenty of ammunition this year – his performance in the first Lambeau game alone should give the front office night sweats this entire offseason, and rushing into a marriage with two weeks left in the season and a playoff berth at stake was certainly … odd.
But if you're going to attack the guy via social media, do it for the right reasons. His "toughness," "heart" or "dedication" are not among them.
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.
Like it or not, the Vikings are committed to Christian Ponder for 2013. They will hopefully bring in a tested veteran to push Ponder, mentor the young quarterback, and provide insurance, but I highly doubt Joe Flacco, Michael Vick, or Alex Smith will be calling Winter Park home.
Instead, Rick Spielman will likely place their No. 1 priority on shoring up and improving the offensive talent around Ponder, and that starts with assessing and upgrading the wide receiver situation. The "assessing" part of the equation is key, as the first step in the Vikings' offseason plan will be to figure out what to do with the enigmatic Percy Harvin. Let him play out the final year of his deal and hope he plays nice? Trade him? Offer a long-term deal?
Harvin's situation requires its own blog post, but his status will obviously impact how the Vikings build the rest of the wide receiver group. Let's assume, as Leslie Frazier asserted earlier this week, that Harvin will be back in 2013. I'd then like to see the Vikings pay Phil Loadholt, pay Jerome Felton, and open up the purse strings for a talented wideout who is ready to step into the starting lineup opposite. Who will be available and a good fit?
(Note: I'm only including known free agents at this point. I'm not going to predict any potential cap casualties such as, for instance, Anquan Boldin.)
There will be five top-tier talents available, but I'm going to cross three off the list right away:
Wes Welker, Patriots: The prolific pass-catcher turns 32 this May, duplicates too much of what the Vikings already possess in Harvin and Jarius Wright, and needs to be in a high-volume passing attack. Pass.
Mike Wallace, Steelers: He has grumbled about not getting the ball this season and about the Steelers not throwing deep often enough. I love the explosiveness, but I can't imagine he would entertain joining an offense that lacks a vertical passing attack and requires him to share with Harvin and Adrian Peterson.
Victor Cruz, Giants (RFA): Keep dreaming.
That brings us to…
Greg Jennings, Packers: Vikings fans know his talents all too well, and we seem to get a kick out of signing former rivals. Jennings turns 30 this coming September, and he has broken down in recent seasons, missing eight games in 2012 and three contests in 2011. I have little doubt that he'd look good in Purple, but the price tag could be troublesome. Vincent Jackson, who is turns 30 this month, signed a five-year, $55 million deal with the Buccaneers last March. Jennings boasts a better statistical resume but also brings his injury history, so five years and $55 million could be in the ballpark for what he ultimately receives. Would you pay it? It feels steep and risky to me right now, but ask me again in two months.
Dwyane Bowe, Chiefs: The Andy Reid hiring may mean the Chiefs will be more serious about bringing Bowe back, but if he hits the market and if the Vikings are willing to spend big, he would be my top target. Bowe, who is a year younger than Jennings, carries some baggage, but he is also the big-bodied, No. 1-type receiver who makes sense opposite Harvin. And it doesn't hurt that he is accustomed to catching passes from
terrible less-than-perfect quarterbacks. We need play-making wideouts who can consistently win 50-50 battles (and instill confidence in Ponder to throw those type of passes) and Bowe will be the best option on the open market.
Brian Hartline, Dolphins: The market for Hartline will be very interesting to watch. If the Dolphins don't re-sign him early, Hartline could linger on the market and either (1) get a ridiculous desperation offer from a team that misses out on Wallace, Jennings or Bowe or (2) end up with a low-end bargain deal. He underwhelmed for three years before exploding for 1,083 yards this season. Nearly one quarter of that total came in one game (253 yards, Week 4), and he managed only one touchdown all season. I don't want the Vikings to be the ones who gamble on his breakout year being for real.
Danny Amendola, Rams: A slot receiver who was only healthy enough to play 12 games over the past two seasons? Where do I sign up?!? Amendola isn't a good fit for the Vikings right now, but I'm already anticipating someone like the Patriots, Broncos or Saints turning a cheap two-year contract into 200 catches over the next two seasons.
Danario Alexander, Chargers (RFA): The Chargers aren't letting him leave.
Donnie Avery, Colts: I'd take him at the same deal the Colts paid him this season (one-year, $615,000), but he is likely to receive a couple million to be some team's No. 3 wideout. I'd be okay with Avery if the price is decent, but I don't think he's an upgrade over...
Jerome Simpson, Vikings: Yep, we're already to that point in the free agent rankings.
Kevin Ogletree, Cowboys: He starred in the Cowboys' season opener (114 yards, two scores) before fading into the background and losing reps to Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley. He's worth a look on a cheap one-year deal to replace Devin Aromashodu.
Domenik Hixon, Giants: He's not sexy, but Hixon is one of the mid/lower-level receivers I'd like the Vikings to take a look at. He can be a veteran leader, runs good routes, has shown sticky hands, chips in on special teams, and should be fairly cheap.
Brandon Gibson, Rams: The 25-year-old wideout started 34 games for the Rams over the last three years, but I'll forgive you if you didn't notice. He set career-highs with 51 catches, 691 yards, and five touchdowns this season and received positive marks from both Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders. He is another mid/lower-tier guy that I like as long as the price tag is reasonable.
And with that, we've quickly dwindled down to names like Randy Moss, Ramses Barden, Braylon Edwards, Jabar Gaffney, Devery Henderson, and Mohamed Massaquoi - receivers who rabid fans don't dream about in January when trying to dig for difference-making talents. At this point, we're better off turning our attention to the early rounds of the NFL draft, which will be a hot topic for the coming months.
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