Friday, February 5, 2016

leslie frazier

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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I’ll be the first to admit it.

I declared the Vikings dead before they were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.  I thought the loss to the Packers at Lambeau Field, and the fashion in which they (Christian Ponder) lost it was an indicator for how the rest of the season would go.

If I had been right, I would have been labeled a realist.  Now that I am one win away from being wrong, I am very close to being an admitted pessimist.  Never, until now, have I thought of myself as a possible pessimist when it comes to my Vikings, but always felt I was a realist.

I still stand by my assertion that Christian Ponder has thus far done nothing to show us he is a franchise quarterback, but the Vikings are now playing football in a way, as a team, that could see them continue their winning streak should it continue.

Leslie Frazier.  A number of players.  A handful of readers here at VT.  They, you, are all very close to being able to say “I told you so” and I couldn’t be more thrilled about it.

Once again setting aside any pessimism or homerism, the realist in me has decided that this team, warts and all, can beat Green Bay this weekend and qualify for the postseason.  They can do some damage in January if given the chance.

They can continue to embarrass the pessimist and the realists alike.

And that kicks ass.

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[NOTE FROM ADAM:  After thoroughly enjoying the first installment of “Garbage Time” two of our favorite readers/writers are now back for some more.  Enjoy!]

B. GRANT

Well, Tomb, the Vikes won a big home game this week over the Bears and are still in the playoff hunt.  Granted ( :-) ), it was accomplished with, for all intents and purposes, two defensive scores, and another Adrian Peterson symphony.  But a win, nonetheless.  So, what about their playoff chances?  It might be asking a lot for them to go 3-0 to finish the season, but if they could win 2 and finish 9-7, could they be in?  Regardless of the answer, I think Leslie Frazier has done a pretty darn good job this year.  How many of us would have given this team a chance to have a bona fide shot at the playoffs with 3 weeks to go?  Surely you have some sort of warped perspective on this whole situation, don’t you?

TOMB

Easy there, Pollyanna. By all means, savor the flavor of a victory, but playoffs? I haven’t seen this kind of denial since Aaron Rodgers proposed to a woman. Let me be clear: I am a stalwart Vikings fan who vastly enjoyed this particular win, but we will not–I repeat–NOT make the playoffs this season. It’s interesting that after gushing about bona fide playoff potential for this team, you ask ME for a ‘warped perspective.’ Sure, it’s ‘mathematically possible’ for the Vikes to make the playoffs, but it’s also ‘mathematically possible’ Tomb ends up on the business end of a Mrs. Tomb/Salma Hayek group tryst. Sure, I may occasionally dwell on the possibilities fondly, but I’m not holding my breath on either delightful event occurring.

This entire Vikings Territory site, authors and commenters alike, have covered the Big Reach Ponder situation ad nauseum, but with him at the helm, we seriously have no prayer. He almost makes Tebow seem like a legitimate QB threat. IMPROMPTU FUN FACT ALERT: on the same weekend, Cam Newton threw for 287 yards, and ran for 116 that Ponder threw for 91 yards, and ran for zero (on 4 attempts). That’s right, QB Cam Newton RAN for more yards than QB(?) Big Reach threw. When I first heard that stat, I blinked way too rapidly, then slunk quietly out of the room. With this rascal piloting our offense, we’ll never be more than an Adrian Peterson sideshow. Such a shame.  AD is not human. What he’s doing is just not human. Absolute beast. I am in awe.

This credit you’re giving Leslie Frazier is a little baffling. I don’t necessarily see what he’s bringing to the table. He plays everything so close to the vest, I’m finding it impossible to figure out what role he has in any success or failure on any given day and/or play. He reminds me of a skinny Art Shell, standing on the sidelines worrying that either smile or frown may crack his face. He portrays as much genuine emotion on the sidelines as Keanu Reeves in, well, pretty much any movie he’s ever been in. Zilch.

An earlier comment of yours caught my eye and furrowed my brow. “Leslie says ‘we won the way we were designed to win.’ What in the name of Shanahan’s freaky bug eyes does that even mean? More to the point, does that imply the inverse ‘we lost the way were designed to lose’ also holds true? Seems about as goofy as your one man wrong-a-thon that’s supposed to serve as an opening statement.

Mmmm…Salma.

Consider this statistical analysis for a second.  Christian Ponder completed 11 passes to Vikings receivers during Sunday’s win.

These 11 passes were good for 91 yards and no touchdowns.  Jay Cutler, on the other hand, completed two passes to Vikings cornerbacks and those interceptions were good for 100 yards and a touchdown.

So, to be clear, Jay Cutler was a better Vikings quarterback on Sunday than Christian Ponder was.

Leslie Frazier and his staff decided to go “all in” utilizing a formula many of were calling for weeks ago, and it led to a fairly impressive victory over a divisional foe.  The Vikings fully embraced the idea of having to run the football (accompanied by solid defense) to win football games, and even if it seems they figured it out a little too late, they are still in the playoff hunt because of it.

Against the Bears on Sunday Adrian Peterson had a career high of 31 carries while Christian Ponder tied his season low of 17 passing attempts.  If you throw in some Toby Gerhart and bootlegs, the Vikings ran the ball 21 more times than they threw it.

The Vikings have once again proved that they can win with Christian Ponder at quarterback, but once again it is obvious that they can really only do it if Peterson continues to play out of his mind and the defense continues to come up with big plays.

When Percy Harvin suffered an ankle injury on November fourth it was the third quarter of a game taking place in Seattle.

Despite the ugly nature of the hit to his ankle, and the obvious pain he was in, the Vikings coaching staff allowed Harvin to re-enter the game and play on.  That decision can possibly be added to the list of questionable ones being compiled by those that would like to see Leslie Frazier and his staff gone for good.

Harvin reportedly suffered a grade three sprain, which means a ligament actually tore, and the team held his roster spot for him hoping he would recover in the four to six week timeframe expected of these injuries.  Each week, however, Frazier strung along the media (and fans) making it seem like Harvin could actually suit up the following game.

As recently as yesterday, Frazier expressed some optimism that Harvin would be able to do some things in practice that would indicate that he might be available to face the Bears on Sunday.

Instead, news broke late in the day on Wednesday that Harvin would be placed on Injured Reserve, prematurely ending his 2012 campaign that had him in the MVP conversation early on.

The news is grim for everyone that enjoys seeing Harvin play, but it perhaps hits quarterback Christian Ponder and his 32nd ranked passing offense the hardest.

As a receiver, Harvin caught 66 passes for 677 yards through nine games, which both still lead the Vikings.  In fact, through 12 games all of the Vikings wide receivers combined have accounted for only 68 catches and 809 yards.  His three touchdowns as a receiver match that of all the others combined, as well.

Plus, those stats don’t even begin to measure the full impact could have on a game as a running back and as a return man.  His ability to pick up yards, scare opposing coaches, and set the Vikings up with excellent field position has been sorely missed in his absence and that will surely continue.

Another thing that bothers me (and quite possibly only me) is that Harvin’s ankle injury occurred on a run play.  Now, I don’t mind mixing it up and getting creative with how you use a talent like Harvin, but I have been harping on something all year long and this now gives me the chance to use hindsight to hammer a point home.

Why sacrifice a third round draft pick to trade up a handful of spots in the second round of the Draft to “steal” a running back like Toby Gerhart if you aren’t going to use the guy?

Through 12 games the Stanford product has only touched the ball 33 times.  After a rough game against San Francisco in week three, Gerhart has seen his role diminish to almost nothing, averaging less than one carry per game over the last seven weeks.

For as creative as the Vikings are in their use of Harvin, and as forgiving of disastrous performances as they are with Ponder, you would think they could find a better way to utilize the backup running back for which they invested so much to acquire.  It isn’t like they didn’t know how dangerously thin they were at wide receiver and that Harvin’s industrial-sized work made him an even bigger injury risk than he normally is.

After an amazing half of a season, however, one of our last images of Harvin’s 2012 season will be him yelling at Frazier on the sideline out of frustration for a series of red zone calls that resulted in a Blair Walsh field goal.

That spat on the sideline sets up perfectly what will surely be a drama-filled offseason for Harvin and the Vikings, previewed last offseason over a brief period of time, as Harvin and the Vikings could very well end up in a stalemate over his contract status.

2013 is set to be the final year of his contract and he is expected to make only about $1.55 million.  Harvin has been rumored to consider 2012 a “contract year,” however, and it is obvious that things could get very ugly very fast if a contract extension cannot be worked out.

And it may not be easy.

Harvin, like many fans, probably views himself as one of the top offensive threats in the NFL.  His agent Joel Segal probably does little to temper Harvin’s expectations of big money, as he is known for getting incredibly robust contracts in place for lesser talents than Harvin, and I would not be shocked to see him demanding top dollar at the negotiating table.

Meanwhile, the Vikings have on their hands a temperamental player that came out of college proceeded by stories of his entitled attitude, and that even once hurled a weight at head coach Brad Childress in the training facility.  Oh, and while he had only ever missed three games prior to this injury, he also seems to be a weekly mainstay on the injury report.

Going to the internet and browsing Harvin’s highlight reels will make you think paying the man is a no-brainer, but I just have a hunch the decision will not be such an easy one inside Winter Park this offseason.

Get ready for a Harvin-filled offseason, folks.

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