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.

Posts about Vikings

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

VikesCentric: Too soon to panic?

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

VikesCentric: Four who flashed vs. Tennessee

Posted by: Updated: August 29, 2013 - 11:36 PM

We've started a new feature here at VikesCentric for the hotly awaited 2013 preseason (also known as the NFL's annual festival of gouging season-ticket holders by charging full price for a glorified scrimmage). We're calling it "Four Who Flashed" because "flashing" is our favorite preseason football cliché. No, it has nothing to do with Dino Ciccarelli (but just to be safe, don't read this with your garage door open). It's a buzzword used by the likes of Mike Mayock to describe a player who showed tremendous ability on the football field, perhaps even rising beyond expectations to merit extra attention. And we're limiting it to the preseason because in the regular season we'd have to call it "Adrian Peterson and Three Other Guys" – though we discussed tweaking it in Week 1 and calling it "While You Were Having Your Breath Taken Away by Adrian Peterson" to highlight the work of one of the less-heralded 52 Vikings. Honestly, we're still workshopping it. Stay tuned.

 
So without further delay, here are the Four Who Flashed on Thursday night against the Titans:
 
1. Desmond Bishop – Playing against the Titans' offensive starters, alongside mostly the Vikings' defensive backups, Bishop let it be known that he's ready and able to contribute to the 53-man roster this year. He broke through the line for a couple of big stops, made a game-high seven tackles in his brief time on the field and more or less ensured that he'll be one of the three linebackers in the starting lineup Sept. 8 at Detroit.
 
2. Matt Asiata – In a classic "playing for your job" game, the third-year running back showed plenty of burst with Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart watching from the sidelines. Asiata carried the ball eight times for 32 yards and scored the Vikings' first touchdown on a 1-yard dive. And although second-year man Joe Banyard was impressive in a much longer look (13 carries for 62 yards and 7 receptions for 54 yards and a touchdown) it looks like Asiata did enough to hang onto his job for another year.
 
3. Joe Webb – If the Vikings have to decide between Webb and Stephen Burton, the converted quarterback picked a good time to showcase his skills. Webb caught five passes for 38 yards (although he dropped an easy grab in the flat), threw some key blocks on special teams and generally was a presence whenever he was on the field. He also caught a break in that McLeod Bethel-Thompson didn't set the world on fire in his extended duty, meaning the Vikings could hang onto Webb as their emergency third quarterback and roll the dice with Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel under center.
 
4. Marcus Sherels – Everybody's favorite underdog had himself a big night, with a 109-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and an interception while playing cornerback. After missing Sunday's game at San Francisco due to the death of his father, Sherels' NFL career might have been riding on his performance Thursday. His roster spot seemingly solidified late in the game when fellow bubble cornerback/return man Bobby Felder was carted to the locker room with an ankle injury.
 
 
 
Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData, a contributor to the Vikings Yearbook, and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.
 
 

VikesCentric: Four who flashed vs. San Francisco

Posted by: Updated: August 25, 2013 - 11:46 PM

We've started a new feature here at VikesCentric for the hotly awaited 2013 preseason (also known as the NFL's annual festival of gouging season-ticket holders by charging full price for a glorified scrimmage). We're calling it "Four Who Flashed" because "flashing" is our favorite preseason football cliché. No, it has nothing to do with Dino Ciccarelli (but just to be safe, don't read this with your garage door open). It's a buzzword used by the likes of Mike Mayock to describe a player who showed tremendous ability on the football field, perhaps even rising beyond expectations to merit extra attention. And we're limiting it to the preseason because in the regular season we'd have to call it "Adrian Peterson and Three Other Guys" – though we discussed tweaking it in Week 1 and calling it "While You Were Having Your Breath Taken Away by Adrian Peterson" to highlight the work of one of the less-heralded 52 Vikings. Honestly, we're still workshopping it. Stay tuned.

So without further delay, here are the Four Who Flashed on Sunday night against the Niners:

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

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

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

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

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

 

Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData, a contributor to the Vikings Yearbook, and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.

VikesCentric: Four Who Flashed vs. Buffalo

Posted by: Updated: August 16, 2013 - 10:59 PM

We've started a new feature here at VikesCentric for the hotly awaited 2013 preseason (also known as the NFL's annual festival of gouging season-ticket holders by charging full price for a glorified scrimmage). We're calling it "Four Who Flashed" because "flashing" is our favorite preseason football cliché. No, it has nothing to do with Dino Ciccarelli (but just to be safe, don't read this with your garage door open). It's a buzzword used by the likes of Mike Mayock to describe a player who showed tremendous ability on the football field, perhaps even rising beyond expectations to merit extra attention. And we're limiting it to the preseason because in the regular season we'd have to call it "Adrian Peterson and Three Other Guys" – though we discussed tweaking it in Week 1 and calling it "While You Were Having Your Breath Taken Away by Adrian Peterson" to highlight the work of one of the less-heralded 52 Vikings. Honestly, we're still workshopping it. Stay tuned. 

So without further delay, here are the Four Who Flashed on Friday night against the Bills: 

1. Jeff Locke – Last week the rookie punter put up some pedestrian numbers (38.2-yard average on five kicks), mostly because he was usually kicking from midfield and trying to pin the Texans deep in their own territory. Still, he had a couple of chances to show off his big leg and didn't really come through. On Friday, the offense's struggles gave him more opportunities to prove special teams coordinator Mike Priefer right, and he came through with a big night. Locke punted seven times for a 48.9-yard average, dropped three punts inside the 10 and had a couple of bombs, including a 61-yarder. Blair Walsh showed last year that having elite special teams can help a good-but-not-great team overachieve. Locke could be the latest rookie to push the Vikings' kicking game over the top. 

2. Bobby Felder – The rookie free agent from Nicholls State is probably going to have a hard time cracking the 53-man roster, but if he keeps playing special teams like he did on Friday, the Vikings might have to find a spot for him. He calmly downed two of Locke's punts inside Buffalo's 5-yard line, and when the Vikings needed a big return to set up their final possession, he fielded a punt inside his own 10 (usually a no-no, but this is the preseason, where a guy like Felder is trying to make a name for himself) and brought it back 37 yards to set the offense up near midfield. Add in six tackles and suddenly you've got a guy who might be picking up some steam as we head to roster cutdown day. 

3. Toby Gerhart – The Vikings know what they have in Gerhart: a no-nonsense back who can do a little bit of everything but rarely gets to show his skills because of that Peterson fellow. This preseason is Gerhart's chance to audition for other teams – he's in his walk year and there's likely no way the Vikings bring him back, barring something catastrophic happening to Peterson that we hesitate to even write about so let's just forget we even said anything. On Friday, Gerhart showcased his pile-driving ability with a 9-yard run that was pretty much two yards of running and seven yards of shoving the defense backward just by keeping his feet moving. On the next play, Gerhart nimbly side-stepped a would-be tackler and converted a third-and-1 to move the chains on the first-team offense's only scoring drive. Gerhart's agent would do well to send that two-play snippet to any GM wondering about his client's versatility. 

4. Kyle Rudolph – The term "catch radius" was invented with Rudolph in mind. Basically, you throw it anywhere within five yards of this guy and he's going to find a way to catch it. He hauled in three balls from Christian Ponder including a leaping grab on the run that he took downfield for 25 yards. In fact, the one ball that hit him in the gut was the only one he dropped. He's such a unique talent – the trick will be making sure Ponder has enough time to find him (he usually didn't on Friday) and enough accuracy to get the ball somewhere remotely near his favorite tight end. Rudolph will take care of the rest.  

 

Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData, a contributor to the Vikings Yearbook, and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.

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