Monday, May 25, 2015
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christian ponder

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.

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There is no doubt that Adrian Peterson led the Vikings to victory on Sunday, but it was the rarely seen big plays out of the Vikings defense that turned this one into a runaway win for the purple and gold.

The Vikings four sacks of Sam Bradford (Greenway, Ballard, Henderson, and Robison) are nothing out of the norm for the modern day Vikings, but they seemed to have the desire and ability to put an inferior team away on a couple of occasions.  This is most noticeable because this is something we have seen very rarely this year.

Prior to Sunday, the Vikings had only 9 interceptions and Harrison Smith’s two touchdowns were the only ones returned for scores.  That is why it was so nice to see Alan Williams mixing in some different looks, blitzing a little more often than normal, and dropping Everson Griffen back into the coverage scheme that resulted in the Vikings third pick six of the season.

The interception, coupled with Chad Greenway’s opportunistic fumble recovery, gave the Vikings the keys to their first two touchdown victory since week five against the Titans.

Incredible performances out of Adrian Peterson, the Vikings defense, and their special teams unit meant that the pressure was largely off of quarterback Christian Ponder which is exactly how they are going to continue to stay competitive in their remaining two weeks.

Big plays from the defense turned this game from a nail biter into a blowout and that is something I think we need to see more of as this young team grows into a legitimate force.

At the beginning of this month I stated that the Vikings playoff hopes died on Lambeau Field in their week 13 loss and while I still think that will be the case, I have great hopes for the future based off of what this young defense has shown me this season.

It would appear, however, that this team might be once again looking at the quarterback position as their top offseason need in order to continue taking things to the next level.

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A nice Brian Robison sack followed shortly by an impressive Marcus Sherels return set Christian Ponder up for the best drive he has had in quite some time.  Two runs, including a fourth down scramble, resulted in the young quarterback using his mobility to score the game’s first touchdown.

Then, with one Rams drive aside, it was all Vikings from there on out.  A Chad Greenway fumble recovery, an Everson Griffen pick six, an 82 yard touchdown run from Adrian Peterson, and a pair of big field goals from Blair Walsh has all but given the Vikings a win in just one half of football.

The second half is sure to feature plenty of Adrian Peterson as he continues his quest for immortality.  Enjoy!

Adrian Peterson has already made history this season, coming off of a gruesome knee injury in a way that no other player ever has, but is now approaching a point in the year that could potentially see him make records fall left and right.

Peterson currently leads the NFL with 1,600 yards.  Over the next three games he only needs 160 more to break his own personal best achieved in 2008.  He needs 400 more to become only the seventh player in NFL history to rush for more than 2,000 yards.

He also needs 506 yards, an average of 169 yards per game, to best Eric Dickerson’s all-time rushing record for a single season.

Heck, he may even shock the world and beat out Tom Brady and Peyton Manning for the league MVP award.

With the Vikings playoff chances very much in doubt, Peterson’s record busting pace is providing quite the excitement, and Peterson has been willing to talk about it.  He has expressed interest in both winning MVP honors and toppling Dickerson’s high water mark.

While Peterson always has lofty goals, only some of which he shares publically, but he is the type of guy that always seems to put the team ahead of his own personal goals.  The type of guy that would rather rush for three yards and get the win than go for 300 and lose.  The type of guy that ridiculously shoulders blame for a Lambeau loss in which he gained 220 yards.

When reading some comments about Peterson’s recent media blitz I noticed that plenty of readers of other sites, including Vikings fans, felt that Peterson’s public statements regarding his desire to shatter records this season undermine the team goal of making the playoffs.

I think those people are preposterous.

First off, if Peterson gains 506 yards over the next three games then the odds are pretty darn good that the team is qualifying for the postseason.

Second, Peterson has already been credited by Vikings coaches for being an inspiration to every other player in the locker room this season, a leader of men.  If he wants to demand only the best of himself, then perhaps that attitude will be contagious and we will see only the best come out of numerous others on the roster down the stretch.

Third, the effort that Peterson puts forth when it isn’t game day is what obviously sets him apart from every other player on game day.  His work ethic and dedication, by most accounts, is second to none.  I have a sneaking suspicion that Peterson was not satisfied with “only” drawing nine Bears defenders to the line on Sunday and places part of the blame for only 91 passing yards on himself.

Maybe Peterson is simply hanging a giant “kick me” sign on his back for the next three weeks with hopes of drawing even more attention his direction in an attempt to provide Ponder and company with even more of a chance to succeed.

Peterson is a treat to watch and I hope he meets all of his personal goals, that the team meets their collective goals, and that we get to see the whole team pursue even more goals after the regular season concludes.

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