What can I say, this is awesome! A year removed from a three win season, the Minnesota Vikings are in the playoffs, while Detroit and Chicago are seeing heads roll. Like I said, this is awesome!
I have been unable to think of a specific “format” to follow this week when it comes to writing on this site, so to kick things off I want to just offer up a few observations pertaining to last week’s victory over Green Bay and this week’s trip to Green Bay.
Here we go:
Was That Progress We Saw?
I am certain that any evaluators with complicated analysis and formulas for grading players will be giving Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder his highest marks of his career for his latest performance. Ponder was 16 of 28 for 234 yards and three touchdowns, posting a career high passer rating of 120.2. Most importantly, he did not turn the ball over at all and completed some crucial third down passes that kept Adrian Peterson on the field, and Aaron Rodgers off of it.
Some Negative Nellies out there (i.e. Me) might be quick to point out that Ponder had some luck aid his efforts and also made a number of questionable throws, but there is no denying that what we saw on Sunday was progress, or at the very least something that looked like progress.
For the sake of starting the new year on positive notes I will not point out the negatives and instead focus on what I thought was Ponder’s best throw of the season. The fourth quarter bomb to Jarius Wright, that went for 45 yards and set up a touchdown, was a work of art. So far this season, I have not seen Ponder confidently stand in the pocket and step into a throw the way he did on that one.
As most of you reading this know, I am not a 100% sold on this kid, but at the same time it is obvious he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. So, it only stands to reason, us fans should be thrilled to witness the progress we did at the most opportune time possible.
Now we get to include post season play in Ponder’s evaluation, which can only be viewed as a bonus when this team is forced to move on with self-evaluation.
Imagine The Possibilities
I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself here, but I want to say this anyways: If there is one team in these playoffs I feel the Vikings matchup great against it is the Atlanta Falcons.
Why do I bring that up?
Well, if the Vikings manage to come out of Saturday’s game as victors; their reward will be a trip to Atlanta to take on the Falcons. In that case, I would strongly predict a win because I feel that strongly about the matchup.
I’m not saying it would be easy, but what I am trying to say here is that it is not inconceivable to me that this team could indeed end up playing in the NFC Championship Game.
A Matter Of Exploitation
Green Bay may not employ all of the same strategies in the upcoming game that they did on Sunday, but if it was pretty obvious what they tried to do to the Vikings… exploit their weaknesses.
The Packers picked on A.J. Jefferson as the weakest link in the secondary. Once Antoine Winfield had to leave due to pain in his broken hand, it was reserve cornerback Marcus Sherels that was viciously targeted. As a result, Aaron Rodgers completed 70% of his passes for 365 yards and four touchdowns. It worked, but just not well enough.
On defense, the Packers schemed to have monster nose tackle B.J. Raji bull rush on obvious running downs and ensured he was lined up against Brandon Fusco, the Vikings weakest link along the offensive line. Raji was consistently getting penetration and made a number of big stops as a result. It worked, but just not well enough.
The health of certain players, particularly Winfield, will be of great importance as the Wild Card weekend draws nearer.
Special Teams Worries
Jeremy Ross has been unable to beat out Randall Cobb as the primary return man in Green Bay, but Cobb’s injury that forced him out of the week 17 lineup gave Ross an opportunity and he took full advantage of it.
Ross averaged 28 yards on three kick returns, including a 44 yarder that he nearly took to the house. He also averaged a whopping 20 yards on two punt returns. Ross is essentially the only return man to shred yardage out of the otherwise stout coverage unit of the Vikings this season.
While the rest of the team is getting hot, however, it was worrisome to see the coverage unit struggle so much heading into the playoffs. The importance of special teams cannot be underestimated, especially for a team that really needs all three phases of the game to be in synch in order to continue their winning streak.
Leslie Frazier Deserves No Small Amount Of Credit
Before the Vikings pay anyone on this roster, Zygi Wilf and Rick Spielman really need to get Leslie Frazier’s contract extended well into the future.
He has handled so many situations with grace, grace that kept things from becoming a media circus, that I just think he is a huge breath of fresh air after the Childress era.
If Frazier has really been able to successfully mentor Everson Griffen, Chris Cook, and Jerome Felton into men of character, after they each made serious off field transgressions, then their success this season (of which there has been plenty) should be directly attributed to his abilities as a head coach.
If Christian Ponder is really going to become the franchise quarterback that flashed last Sunday, then his devotion during the trying times of November should be reciprocated from above.
If Adrian Peterson’s incredible season can ever possibly be duplicated or improved upon in the future, then why not stick with the guy that oversaw the action this season?
If so many rookies can be coached up and produce in such a big way, like they have this season, then why would you want to leave that coaching staff in any sort of limbo state?
It is time for Frazier to be rewarded. Actually, scratch that, it was time for him to be rewarded four wins ago.