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

VikesCentric: Dumpster fire derails optimism

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly under Vikings, Vikings coaches, Vikings defense, Vikings fans, Vikings management, Vikings offense, Vikings players, Vikings quarterbacks, Vikings special teams 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: Winless Vikings face must-win month

Posted by: Updated: September 15, 2013 - 9:10 PM

Like many Vikings fans, I expected Sunday's game at Soldier Field to be rough; something akin to what we saw in the Week 1 debacle in Detroit. Many of us anticipated that the Vikings would be sitting here at 0-2 (and 0-2 in the NFC North), in part because they rarely win in Chicago.

What I didn't see coming was the 31-30 roller coaster ride that has left me feeling woozy and unsure of what to make of this club. For every positive point in the Week 2 loss, there was also a negative side. For (nearly) every negative reaction, there was a silver lining. For example:

  • The special teams delivered a kickoff return touchdown and three field goals... but they couldn't contain Devin Hester (again).
  • The Bears' big-bodied receivers and tight ends (predictably) gave the Vikings defense trouble and Matt Forte piled up a ton of yards... but the defense also returned a fumble for a touchdown, picked off Jay Cutler twice, and recovered a Forte fumble. Four turnovers! Yes, four!
  • Christian Ponder was horrible for the first 27 minutes (4-12, 52 yards, one INT)... but he then went 12-18 for 175 yards, one touchdown, and no turnovers over the final 33 minutes...  but it's also clear that Bill Musgrave still doesn't trust Ponder in certain situations, such as 3rd-and-4 at the goal line with 3:23 left and a chance to put away the game.

You get my point. If you're a glass-half-full person, you can look back at Week 2 and see some positive signs that weren't there after Week 1. If you're a bitter lifelong Vikings fan, then you're probably thinking that the team simply found yet another way to punch you in the gut.

It will be very difficult for the Vikings to climb out of this 0-2 hole and make the playoffs... but there remains a small, one-month window for optimism. The Vikings don't have another "road" game until October 21. If they are going to pull out of their tailspin, the schedule is in their favor with the 0-2 Browns, 0-1 Steelers, and 0-2 Panthers coming up in three "home" games. The Vikings still have a reasonable shot at being 2-2 headed into the Week 5 bye and 3-2 going into Week 7.

Of course, we shouldn't be surprised if Browns, Steelers, and Panthers fans are all looking at their upcoming matchup against the 0-2 Vikings as a good chance to pick up a win and cure some of their woes, so any optimism about those games is cautious at best.

My hand is hovering over the panic button and I've started to dream about a purple "Bridgewater" jersey, but I'm not quite ready to go there. My stomach isn't ready for the "time to blow it all up and rebuild for the new stadium" plan. Ponder, Musgrave, Leslie Frazier, and many others likely have two more weeks - and possibly another month - to show that this current roster and coaching staff can build on the positives of the Week 2 loss and still make a run at the playoffs. If not? Well, this slope is going to get very slippery, very fast. 

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

Posted by: Bo Mitchell under On the road, Vikings, Bears, Vikings fans, Adrian Peterson 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

VikesCentric: Too soon to panic?

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly under Vikings, Vikings coaches, Vikings offense, Vikings players, Vikings quarterbacks, Vikings road games Updated: September 9, 2013 - 1:09 AM
Week 1 is in the books, and the Vikings are one giant step closer to answering the only question that really matters in 2013. Unfortunately, that giant step is in the direction they'd hoped not to be headed.
 
By the end of the season, this franchise absolutely must know – no ifs, ands or buts – whether Christian Ponder is capable of being The Man under center for an NFL team. He's got 16 games to show what he can do, and given that he was their No. 1 draft pick just three years ago, he'll probably get plenty of leash to answer that question. But on Sunday, the first set of meaningful data was applied to the equation, and thus far the answer is a resounding NO.
 
Don't be fooled by the numbers – 18-for-28 for 236 yards isn't bad, and in fact, the Vikings could win a lot of games if Ponder can match those stats on a consistent basis. Dig just a little deeper and you'll see three interceptions (with a fourth – a guaranteed pick-six – dropped) and a lost fumble (with another overturned by a penalty). His quarterback rating of 63.1 recalled the midseason crater that almost kept the Vikings out of the playoffs last year.
 
And then there's the eye test. I know fans and media members alike often get caught up in the search for intangibles like "swagger" and "leadership" that, often as not, are pointed out after the fact once a player has had a good game. But if there's a position in sports where those intangibles are necessary, it's at quarterback. And so far, Ponder hasn't shown any of it. Whether he's underthrowing open receivers on deep routes, getting happy feet in the pocket while going through his reads, or shrugging his way through a postgame press conference, this isn't a guy who seems comfortable with the idea of putting a team on his shoulders for four quarters or even for one drive. Shrinking violets don't tend to fare well in pressure positions.
 
So, is it time for Vikings fans to panic? Before we go too crazy, let's take a look at a few factors that suggest Ponder deserves a bit more rope:
 
1. Bill Musgrave – It's always easy to blame the offensive coordinator when your favorite squad can't move the ball, and complaining about the play-calling is a tradition that dates back to the days of leather helmets. But there are a few ways Musgrave can help quiet the calls for Matt Cassel or MBT. Ponder's accuracy has been suspect at best, so it's time to eliminate some of the more dangerous throws from the gameplan until that improves. His first interception on Sunday came on a slant pattern to Jerome Simpson that was off-target – not by much, but when your receiver is surrounded by defenders two yards off the line of scrimmage, anything short of 100 percent accuracy is an interception waiting to happen. And while we're on the topic of accuracy, how about we eliminate the rollout to the left? Ponder has shown his entire career that he can't make that pass consistently. So why call it on 3rd-and-1. Musgrave seems intent on making Ponder run his system, rather than creating a system that minimizes his flaws. If Ponder is going to save his job, he'll need help from his OC.
 
2. Better offensive line play – Throughout the preseason we heard excuses for Ponder's shaky play that often centered on the offensive line. You don't gameplan for an opponent in the preseason, or so we were told, so it's not fair to expect the line to handle unique blitz packages until the regular season begins. Well, it's begun, and the o-line play was just as inconsistent on Sunday as it was in the preseason. After springing Adrian Peterson for a 78-yard touchdown on their first play, the line managed to escort Peterson 15 yards downfield on 17 carries. Ponder was sacked three times and scrambled four other times for 12 yards total. And he coughed up a fumble when guard Brandon Fusco tripped him on his dropback after being blown off the line at the snap. If the five guys up front can't play better than they did on Sunday, it won't matter who's under center – it's going to be ugly.
 
3. It's just one game – As football fans, we tend to overreact to a loss because it's another whole week before the team gets to show whether it was a trend or a mirage. One NFL game is 1/16 of a season, so in essence one loss is like a 10-game losing streak in baseball. But take a look around the league – a lot of good teams, or at least teams with high hopes – are 0-1: Atlanta, Baltimore, Cincinnati, the Giants, the Packers, and the loser of Monday night's Washington-Philadelphia game. Nobody's season is over yet. With a win in Chicago next week, the Vikings would be no worse than tied with the Bears and Packers, one game behind Detroit.
 
So, back to the question in the headline – is it time to panic? Probably not. But after his performance on Sunday, Ponder's leash suddenly got a lot tighter.
 
 
Patrick Donnelly is a contributor to the Vikings Yearbook, and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.

VikesCentric: Predictions for the Purple

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: September 8, 2013 - 10:24 AM

I guess I wouldn't be much of a Vikings blogger if I didn't go on the record with some sort of official predictions post for the season ahead. So as I sit here staring at a half-dozen televisions all tuned to NFL pregame shows at SportsData world headquarters on the first Sunday of the NFL season I thought I'd throw out a handful of purple prognostications.

 
As with most in the media, if I'm on target with more than 60 percent of them I'll likely revisit these at the end of the season. If I swing and miss on most of them (the likelier scenario) I won't be as quick to bring them back up. But at least they'll be out there in print for better or worse.
 
Let's start with the record. I have the Vikings going 10-6 again this season. Here's how they get there:
 
Week 1 at Lions – win
Week 2 at Bears – loss
Week 3 vs. Browns – win
Week 4 vs. Steelers – win
Week 5 BYE
Week 6 vs. Panthers – win
Week 7 at Giants – loss
Week 8 vs. Packers – win
Week 9 at Cowboys – loss
Week 10 vs. Redskins – win
Week 11 at Seahawks – loss
Week 12 at Packers – loss
Week 13 vs. Bears – win
Week 14 at Ravens – win
Week 15 vs. Eagles – win
Week 16 at Bengals – loss
Week 17 vs. Lions -- win
 
The 10 wins will be enough to get them into the postseason again. They'll need to get past that first round of the playoffs to really deem the year a success. Can they do it? Yes, if healthy. Will they? I suppose since this is a predictions column I have to make a call one way or another. I'll say no because I'm guessing they'll be on the road in the first round of the playoffs. Based on my forecast above for road struggles again this year, it would be rather hypocritical of me to predict a win on the road in the postseason. For the sake of Vikings Nation, I hope I'm wrong.
 
Here are 10 more predictions for the season ahead:
 
1. Yes, Adrian Peterson WILL rush for 2,500 yards and be named NFL MVP for the second year in a row, edging out Colts quarterback Andrew Luck for the award.
2. Christian Ponder will not start every game for the Vikings this season.
3. Blair Walsh will regress to the mean a little this season following what might have been the best season by a rookie kicker in NFL history.
4. Xavier Rhodes will emerge as the Vikings' best cornerback.
5. Cordarrelle Patterson will be in the starting lineup by October.
6. Construction for the new Vikings stadium will begin on time or with so little delay that it will not matter.
7. Greg Jennings will be just effective enough to top 1,000 yards receiving for the first time since 2010. He'll be the first Vikings 1,000-yard receiver since 2009.
8. Kyle Rudolph will score nine touchdowns for the second season in a row.
9. The Vikings Pro Bowl players will be Peterson, Rudolph, Chad Greenway, Harrison Smith, John Sullivan and Matt Kalil.
10. Leslie Frazier will have his contract extended four years by the Vikings in January.
 
Okay, go ahead. Rip me apart in the comments section below. But be sure to add a few predictions of your own. That way we can all be on the record.
 
 
Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: Putting 2,500 yards into context for Adrian

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: September 5, 2013 - 2:14 PM

Adrian Peterson isn't backing down from the 2,500-yard prediction. It's probably too late now anyways. He's been asked about it so often that to back away from it now would be un-Adrian.

 
Heck, he even added a 20-touchdown forecast for the season in a sideline interview with Ben Leber during the Vikings' preseason finale last week. So 2,500 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns… that would be a pretty good encore for the NFL MVP, huh?
 
The 20 rushing touchdowns wouldn't be a record. It's been done 11 times before. Peterson's career best is 18 back in 2009 so it would represent a personal best for him. So there is that.
 
The 2,500 yards, of course, is a different matter.
 
Even the most casual football fan knows that Peterson fell nine yards short of breaking the single-season rushing record last year, finishing with 2,097 -- compared to the 2,105 that Eric Dickerson totaled in 1984.
 
Therefore, I thought it might be kind of interesting to put 2,500 rushing yards in a little perspective as compared to the other NFL counting stats records.
 
To obliterate 2,105 by 395 yards would be an 18.8 percent increase. Full disclosure: I used this online percentage increase calculator to double-check my math because I didn't trust my own arithmetic. It's pretty handy. Try it.
 
You can't top the single-season rushing touchdown record of 28 (set by LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006) by 18.8 percent because you can't score partial touchdowns. Scoring 33 would be a 17.8 percent increase, which is close enough. That would be impressive, but going from 28 to 33 doesn't really sound like much. It doesn't sound as awesome as going from 2,105 to 2,500.
 
We need bigger numbers and bigger stats to compare.
 
Instead, let's look at the single-season marks for receiving yards and passing yards.
 
You may remember that Calvin Johnson broke the record for receiving yards in a season just last year. I know the Vikings remember since they have to figure out a way to contain him in the season-opener on Sunday. Johnson recorded 1,964 yards receiving, breaking the old record of 1,848 by Jerry Rice. That was a "paltry" 6.3 percent increase. If Megatron or someone else wants to break the record of 1,964 receiving yards by 18.8 percent, they'd need a ridiculous 2,333 yards.
 
Drew Brees set the record for most passing yards in a season with 5,476 in 2011. For a quarterback to top that many passing yards by 18.8 percent he would need to throw for a whopping 6,505 yards. Absurd. Some might say impossible.
 
So that's the kind of record-smashing performance Adrian is shooting for this season. Think about that while you watch him sprinting down the sideline. Think about that while Paul Allen is screaming "And he's loose!" as Peterson busts into the open field. Just think about that.
 
A lot of NFL observers have thought about it. Few think it's possible. I'm one of those few.
 
Coming back from ACL surgery as fast as he did was thought impossible. Coming back from ACL surgery and actually being better than he was before the surgery had to be impossible. But Peterson made it possible.
 
I'm done doubting Adrian. If he says he's running for 2,500 yards, who are we to doubt him? He's earned the benefit of the non-doubt. This isn't a homer thing; if Calvin Johnson says he's shooting for 2,333 receiving yards, I'll probably believe in him too.
 
My calculator also tells me that in order to rush for that many yards in a season he will need to average 156.25 yards per game. In his last 10 games last season he averaged 159.8 yards per game.
 
The countdown to 2,500 yards starts Sunday.
 
 
Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

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