Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


Chat OT: What's next with flex scheduling, Ponder's growth, Peterson's record chases?

Posted by: under Quarterbacks, Vikings, Bears, Lions, Packers, Leslie Frazier, Vikings fans, Adrian Peterson, Leslie Frazier Updated: November 14, 2012 - 10:05 PM

If you missed my live Vikings chat on Tuesday afternoon, you can check in here and read the back and forth in full. In addition, each week I will attempt to go overtime, bringing good questions I didn’t get around to answering on the chat here to the Access Vikings blog for discussion. Here are Tuesday’s leftovers.

Question 1: Do you think any of the Vikings games against the Bears or Packers will be flexed into the late afternoon spot or onto “Football Night in America” on NBC?

Been getting this question more and more frequently as the Vikings’ win total has risen.

So here’s how we should proceed. First, take a second to digest the NFL’s flex scheduling parameters as noted below:

“The NFL will utilize ‘flexible scheduling’ on Sundays in Weeks 11-17. Flexible scheduling will ensure quality matchups in all NFL Sunday time slots in those weeks and give teams a chance to play their way onto prime time and into the late-afternoon 3:25 p.m. time slot on CBS and Fox. For each of the flexible scheduling weeks with the exception of Week 17, the NFL will announce the start times of games on Sundays no later than 12 days prior to that weekend. To ensure a Sunday night game and doubleheader games with playoff implications in Week 17, the flexible scheduling decision for that Sunday may be made on six days notice.”

So, given that we’re inside of 12 days and there’s been no change announced for the game in Chicago, that one comes off the table.

Now, here’s a look at the NBC showcase games for the Sunday nights on those weeks where the Vikings play the Packers (Weeks 13 and 17) and the Sunday they host the Bears (Week 14).

  • Week 13: Eagles at Cowboys
  • Week 14: Texans at Patriots [[[ CORRECTION: Lions at Packers ]]]
  • Week 17: No Sunday night game scheduled with the hole left open for the most consequential and/or intriguing match-up.

Before anything else, those Week 13 and 14 games have to be duds to warrant being moved. So it seems unlikely Eagles-Cowboys or Texans-Patriots will be bumped.

[[[ CORRECTION UPDATE: The original post identified Texans at Patriots as the Sunday night game in Week 14. That's actually the Monday night game. The Week 14 NBC game is Lions at Packers. Which might not be firmly entrenched in that Sunday night slot after all. ]]]

As for the later afternoon Fox headline games …

  • Week 13: Bucs at Broncos
  • Week 14: Saints at Giants

Doubtful Fox will want to move their chance to showcase Peyton Manning. And Saints-Giants will probably still generate more interest that Vikings-Bears that week.

So that brings us to Week 17 where there’s an outside possibility that Vikings-Packers could bring Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth to town if both teams are still fighting for playoff bids. That seems to be the only way, the Vikings would get the flex treatment.

So, after all that, what I’m telling you is be prepared for nooners the rest of the way for the Vikings.

Question 2: Heard charges against Adrian Peterson were being dropped from his summer arrest because a grand jury didn’t find probable cause. Why was a grand jury used for such a minor incident? Also, you think will A.P. sue the Houston police?

The grand jury proceeding is quite rare for a misdemeanor charge. But that was a setup that Peterson’s attorney Rusty Hardin and the prosecution had agreed to as a means to measure the case’s validity.

I asked Hardin specifically about that odd use of the grand jury and why the prosecution didn’t just drop the charges on their own accord.

He offered an interesting potential explanation.

“The advantage to that approach is it doesn’t require the prosecutor to dismiss the case, which would basically say the police officers were lying,” Hardin said. “And we don’t know what goes into a grand jury’s deliberation. But here, you’d think it produces the same result potentially that a trial would without the prosecutor having to reject what the police officers have said. Instead, you present both sides of the case to 12 citizens and let them decide.”

The grand jury decided the charge against Peterson was unwarranted. And that’s that.

As far as any recourse Peterson might have, Hardin said he’d have until July 7, 2014 to file a civil suit, an option he could take if he wanted to pursue damages for defamation from the Houston police. But Hardin said that next step isn’t something he and Peterson would even begin discussing until after the Vikings’ season is over.

Question 3: It's probably unconventional but I thought the Vikings had some notable success rotating Mistral Raymond and Jamarca Sanford at safety against Detroit. You get different things with both guys and they both contribute. Will Sanford keep the starting role at this point with Mistral continuing to split time?

Maybe the best thing to come out of the six games that Raymond missed with his dislocated right ankle was the realization that Sanford has improved significantly since last year and doesn’t seem to be a major weakness anymore. So going forward the Vikings have increased confidence that they have a guy who can be dependable back there in a pinch. In this case, the pinch lasted six games.

But in the big picture, as soon as Raymond has his conditioning back to full strength, the plan is for him to start and take pretty much all the reps alongside Harrison Smith at safety with Sanford being a nice Plan B and a major contributor on special teams. Whether Raymond can get his conditioning up in the next 10 days and supplant Sanford as the starter at Chicago remains to be seen. But that switch is coming.

Question 4: What is the reason behind Ponder’s up-and-down year? Is it his fault? The coaching staff? Lack of quality WRs and o-line? You would think with Peterson in the backfield, the Vikings could have more success in the passing game.

Question 5: The Lions game last weekend was the first game in at least a month where it looked like Mr. Ponder was willing to throw to receivers who were open, but where the defender was close. He finally seemed to have confidence in his ability to throw the ball. Where did that confidence go and why did it come back? And more importantly, how can he hold onto it?

Man, that’s a lot of Ponder questions. First things first, the up-and-down year is easily explained. Ponder is 24 years old and he’s made 20 NFL starts. Find me another young quarterback with fewer than two dozen starts who isn’t still inconsistent and facing a steep learning curve.

As far as making throws with defenders nearby in coverage, that’s something Leslie Frazier, Bill Musgrave and quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson reminded Ponder he had to do to be successful.

First, Johnson told him not to worry so much about the consequences of every throw. Then, Frazier made it clear that successful NFL quarterbacks create their own success by occasionally throwing into tight windows. You’re right that Ponder seemed to do more of that against Detroit. And for the Vikings, it was encouraging that those throws were pretty successful overall.

One last thing on Ponder, as I had a very interesting discussion with Johnson before the Seahawks game. As sharp as he is as a student of the game, able to pick things up in the classroom and absorb all of the concepts and teachings thrown at him, he still needs to go through the experiences on this level of seeing things, feeling things and reacting.

As it relates to getting blitzed, Johnson noticed Ponder’s unease in the Tampa Bay game when the Bucs just kept coming and coming and threw every different pressure look they had at the Vikings. And here was a little bit of how he explained to me one of the next big steps in Ponder’s development:

“You have to get used to the pressure. How’s my protection? Am I in the right protection to be able to block the blitzes? If I am in the right protection, do I lose check-down options because the guys, for instance, my backs and my tight ends may be involved in protection? Well I may be protected, but now we’re getting fewer guys out. So where now are the holes in the defense? That’s the process he’s going through right now. He can figure out if they don’t blitz and we get everybody out. He can figure out if they blitz me and I have a chance to throw hot. That’s all beautiful. But now what happens if I lose backs and I lose tight ends and lose whoever in protection, now I don’t have those check-down options and they’re still blitzing me, where am I able to go with the football? That’s advanced chemistry for quarterback play. But that’s what Christian is going through right now.

“This is a no mercy league. And teams are going to keep dialing stuff up until they see you can solve it. That’s the way it is. He’s going to keep pushing. And we as coaches are going to continue to try and keep scratching to figure out a way. We get it. We understand that if teams think blitzing is going to cause us problems, that’s what they’re going to do. They’re going to continue to attack until you prove you can beat it. … For Christian, he needs to know where to go with the ball and see it live. Because in the classroom, he’s lights out. There’s nothing I can ask him in the classroom that he can’t answer immediately and correctly. He’s boom, boom, boom, boom. That’s never an issue. But now, he’s a young quarterback in the process. And so it’s now, if they bring a pressure and I lose my ability to stretch the width and depth of the field with my underneath options, where can I go with the ball? Now if I’m in the pocket, where do I go? If I’m on the edge, where do I go? How long do I run to see if I can continue a play? Do I throw the ball away? It’s a flurry of decisions.”

Question 6: In 2007: AP burns the Bears for 224 yards and three TDs in Chicago. The way he is running he could very well top this performance. Agree?

With Peterson, I’m willing to believe anything right now. Seriously. I thought a 1,200-yard rushing season was probably the ceiling for a guy coming off ACL surgery. Boy, did I underestimate Peterson’s drive and positive energy.

Now, I’m doing calculations on when he might possibly be able to chase down Emmitt Smith’s all-time rushing record.

Here are the calculations there. Peterson is currently averaging 94.9 rushing yards per game played in his career. He’s 10,475 yards short of Smith right now. At his current rate, if he stays healthy, he could be attacking Smith’s mark 109, 110, maybe 111 games from now. Which for the record would be sometime around November 2019. Mark your calendars.

I’m half-kidding with such projections, obviously. But part of me isn’t kidding either.

Still, if you want to come back down closer to earth and look more short-term, understand these milestones Peterson could chase in 2012. He needs to average 105.3 rushing yards over the final six games to break his career high of 1,760 set in 2008. He needs to average 145.3 rushing yards to top 2,000. He needs to average 162.8 rushing yards to break Eric Dickerson’s single-season record of 2,105.

Is it possible? Probably not. But I’m not about to tell Peterson that. Are you?

Question 7: Will there be an Adrian Peterson statue outside of the new Target Stadium in 2020?

With everything I just projected, I should hope so.

Question 8: What should Vikings fans really be hoping for most the rest of the season: a playoff game this year or continued steady progress from the young players? Are both realistic?

You should be hoping for both. But counting on a playoff game this year still seems a little too far-fetched for me. I’m still finding it hard to believe the Vikings will fare well in their remaining road games. And I think 8-8 might be the best-case scenario. Which is a terrific, terrific improvement with what everyone had expected from the outside in August.

I give them credit for staying alive in the playoff race to this point. But as you mention young players showing steady progress, that will be as important down the stretch as anything.

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2014 preseason     
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