This has been a depressing season with plenty of losses to inspire some very critical things written on this blog, and elsewhere, about the Vikings. So, after weeks of being a negative nelly, I decided to devote an entire post to some positives to take away from Thursday Night’s win against Washington.
1. Sendejo Steps In
With Harrison Smith and Jamarca Sanford both injured the Vikings tested their secondary depth and the results were not as bad as many would have expected. One guy that stuck out to me for the second straight week was reserve safety Andrew Sendejo who has a knack for the big hit. Sendejo led the Vikings with eight solo tackles and was tied with Chad Greenway for a team-leading 16 total tackles. His coverage skills need work, but he certainly made a case for himself to remain the starter, no matter how badly Jamarca Sanford wants to play against Percy Harvin. Sanford will likely get his starting gig back this week, but it won’t be from a lack of effort on Sendejo’s part.
2. Progression From Ponder
Whether or not Christian Ponder is able to progress enough over the long run to be the answer at quarterback remains to be seen, but there is no doubt he “progressed” in the short term. Thursday night we saw a Christian Ponder that looked far better than we had seen from him since the end of last year. He completed 17 of 21 passes for 174 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception prior to leaving the game with a dislocated shoulder. His lone interception was ugly and all too familiar, but Ponder looked as cool and comfortable as he has in quite some time. If he could play like he did Thursday on a more consistent basis then I have no doubt the Vikings fans would be far more welcoming than they have been of late.
3. Webb Outplays Loadholt
With Phil Loadholt out with a concussion, many wondered how reserve swing tackle J’Marcus Webb would hold up. In short: he did just fine. The offensive line was actually down two starters, as Joe Berger filled in for Charlie Johnson, and they arguably played their best game of the season. They only allowed one sack and Webb had nothing to do with it. It seemed there was a little dropoff in the run blocking area, with Adrian Peterson averaging “only” 3.8 yards per carry on 20 attempts. Loadholt has not had a very good season and has made some boneheaded mistakes, and the lack of big mistakes from Webb suggests that he was actually the better right tackle for the Vikings… at least for one week.
4. Carlson Redeems Spielman For One Week
While, as a blogger, I don’t share nearly the level of accountability that G.M. Rick Spielman does when I endorse a Vikings move, I was pleased to see tight end John Carlson have a big game after nearly two years of his signing being extremely criticized. With Kyle Rudolph sidelined, Carlson displayed the catch and run ability that got me excited about the team acquiring him two offseasons ago. He led the team with seven catches and 98 yards, including a nice touchdown grab. No pass catcher for the Vikings was targeted as often as Carlson’s seven. I think the lesson learned here is that Bill Musgrave, or whoever is calling offensive plays in the future, needs to figure out ways to utilize both Carlson and Rudolph as more than just blockers and emergency outlets.
5. No Huddle Has No Downside
For two weeks now, Bill Musgrave and Christian Ponder have both looked more competent when the offense is running a fast-paced, no-huddle offense. Ponder somehow looks more prepared when he doesn’t have to go to the huddle and the predictability of this offense seems to dissipate. It seems like the offense functions better under this increased urgency and I hope they continue to deploy it. Our offense is plenty capable of keeping defenses on their heels, so adding that little bit of extra pressure really seems to make a difference.
6. Williams Backs It Up
The thing about Kevin Williams is that he doesn’t say much. He’s a quiet leader that didn’t say much when he was the best defensive tackle in the NFL and doesn’t say a whole lot now that he’s regressed. He’s one of those guys that really catches you surprise when he gives the media a quote worth printing. That’s why it was notable last week when he spoke up in disgust about how the Vikings handled the end of games this season, thinking they should have kept the pressure on Tony Romo. My favorite part about Williams speaking up? He backed up his words with one heck of a performance that made us feel like we travelled back in time about four or five years. He hit RGIII four times on Thursday, registering 2.5 sacks, and led a defensive effort that should provide some confidence moving forward.
7. Showing Some Heart
You know who doesn’t care about draft position? Greg Jennings. When Leslie Frazier called timeouts at the end of the game, seemingly giving the Redskins a chance to plan a scoring drive more effectively, Jennings was seen on the sideline basically freaking out. Right or wrong, I loved the scene. The guy wants to win… somebody on the Vikings was showing some heart during the game. It wasn’t in the locker room afterwards… he didn’t use Twitter or a reporter to get his point across… it was a moment of raw emotion from a Vikings player that really, really, really wanted to win. I loved that.
8. Frazier Gets One Right
As much as I loved Jennings’ sideline theatrics, I equally loved Leslie Frazier’s handling of the questions about those timeouts. He essentially said it boiled down to a depleted roster being completely gassed and needing a break, plus wanting to allow his offense to have time left on the clock to strike back if need be. I was confused as to what he was doing at the moment, but I thought his explanation was perfect… mainly because it worked. Frazier showed an ability to defy convention, to calmly decide what was best for his team in a critical situation, and get his team to execute. I’m not sure you can ask for much more than that.
9. C-Pat Is The Real Deal
Most Vikings fans have grown increasingly impatient to see more of Cordarrelle Patterson on offense than what they had seen prior to last week. Patterson got his first receiving touchdown on a nifty toe-tapping catch. Even more consistently noticeable was how the Redskins respected, or perhaps feared, Patterson on kickoffs. Patterson only got two chances at returns, as the Skins decided to kick away from him most of the night, and for good reason. Patterson would likely be a Pro Bowler as a return specialist if the NFL hadn’t decided to do away with that particular post-season honor.
10. Discipline Is There
Despite starting a bunch of backups and not having enough healthy guys to dress an entire active roster, the Vikings showed great discipline in all three phases of the game. They only had one penalty called against them through the entire game. It might be too little, too late, but this coaching staff is clearly starting to put some things together that are worthy of praise.