The Minnesota Vikings surprised a lot of the pundits out there by starting their season with a 5-3 mark. Most of those folks had the Vikings pegged to win three or four games all season, so to see them win five of the first eight certainly felt pretty good to most fans. But the way they lost their most recent game. . .a 36-17 thrashing at the hands of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on a Thursday night at home. . .has left a bitter taste in the mouths of most fans.
Well, that and the seeming regression of quarterback Christian Ponder.
After not throwing an interception in the season's first four games and leading the league in completion percentage, he has now thrown seven interceptions in his last four. He's attempted to throw some longer passes over the past few games, but just can't seem to connect with his receivers. Other times, he appears to be tentative about trying to fit passes into tighter windows and is content to throw shorter passes.
Earlier this week, Kyle suggested that Christian Ponder needed to channel his inner Obi-Wan Kenobi. As much as I like Star Wars, I think there's a different troubled movie character that the Vikings' starting quarterback should be attempting to emulate.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Ebby Calvin LaLoosh. . .or, as his friends and teammates know him, "Nuke." Or more accurately, the counseling given to him by his catcher, "Crash" Davis.
(insert language warning here)
Relax. Let's have some fun out here. This game's fun, okay?
Christian Ponder's game has changed from what it was last year. In some ways, that's good. He's a more accurate quarterback (54.3% completion rate as a rookie compared to 65.3% this season), and for the most part he seems to be making better decisions. In other ways, that's bad. While Ponder's yards/attempt is pretty much the same as it was last year (6.4 ypa in 2011, 6.7 ypa this year), his yards per completion numbers are down significantly. As a rookie he was averaging 11.7 yards per completion. This year, that number has dropped to 10.2 yards per completion.
Now, granted, the Vikings' receivers are not on the level of a team like the New York Giants or the Green Bay Packers or teams like that, and I understand that. (Yes, Percy Harvin might be a better individual receiver than anyone in the NFL right now, but as a unit the Vikings are toward the bottom of that category.) I know that the Vikings shouldn't start subscribing to the Rex Grossman "screw it, I'm going deep" philosophy or anything like that, but I'm curious about how much of this is on the Vikings' receivers and how much of it is on Ponder.
Part of the solution, in my opinion, lies in another Crash-ism.
Don't think. It can only hurt the ball club.
I'm not sure if anyone is still questioning Christian Ponder's physical ability to be an NFL quarterback. He obviously has the size and the mobility to play the position, and I'd like to think that the questions about his arm strength are starting to disappear. But at some point, he needs to go out and let that physical ability take over. I don't want to see the same thing we saw with Tarvaris Jackson, where it looked like he was absolutely scared to death to make a mistake.
That brings us back to this Sunday at CenturyLink Field. The Seattle Seahawks have a very good defense, and that defense is led by a very tough, physical secondary. Adrian Peterson is going to get his yards. We know this. Why? Because he's Adrian Peterson, and that's what he tends to do. The key will be whether or not Christian Ponder and company can take advantage of the few opportunities they're likely to get against a very tough back seven in what is, unquestionably, the loudest environment in the NFL.
If they can, the Vikings have a shot to steal one on the road and get the second half of their season off to the kind of start they need if they want to continue in the playoff chase.
If they can't. . .well, we know what happens. I don't want to think about it at the moment. But it's bad.