So, after enduring that awful display in Seattle, I've been thinking about our team this evening (and totally ignoring the Sunday Night game as a result), and I think I may have some ideas as to what's going on with the Vikes.
IMO, the main problem with the Vikings is the defense. For the past 5 weeks our opponents have scored an average of 31 points (and we've been 2-5 during this span). This is unacceptable.
Exhibit A: Defensive Tackles
I don't know about you, but I saw the Vikings D-Line (save Brian Robison) not get any push against the Seattle O-Line all afternoon. They were manhandled, for the 3rd week in a row. Letroy Guion is exactly what many of us were afraid of during the offseason: mediocre. He flashed a little early in the year, but he does not have what it takes to be the starting nose tackle for the entire year. He simply isn't holding up at the point of attack, and looks gassed in the 4th quarter. In our Tampa 2 scheme, we need a run-stuffing DT and someone who can also get penetration so we can bring pressure with only 4 guys. Add in the fact that 32 year old DT Kevin Williams hasn't been getting consistent penetration (and only has 1 sack so far), and we're looking at the worst DT pair the Vikings have had in at least the last 10 years. Offenses have figured this out and have been rolling double coverage to Jared Allen to neutralize our D-Line. Oh, and for even more evidence, we've allowed 100 yard rushers for 4 weeks straight.
Exhibit B: Cornerback
Look, I love Antoine Winfield, and he's still playing at a high level. But we've now lost 2 starters in the secondary recently (Raymond and Cook), and we don't have a reliable starter opposite Winfield. Harrison Smith and Jamarca Sanford have been playing well at safety, but AJ Jefferson and Josh Robinson are behind the curve this year at CB. Maybe they can progress in the future, but this year, we once again are finding ourselves missing Chris Cook and wondering if our corners can cover anyone. We need a consistent starting CB on the field. Jefferson was burned in the end zone guarding All World Wide Receiver Golden Tate (who?), committed some dumb penalties, and looked in over his head. Josh Robinson has flashed potential, but he's still a rookie, and still learning. We're better than last year for sure, but we had no where to go but up. And after Jefferson and Robinson who else is there? Sherels? Burton? Yikes.
Exhibit C: Offensive Line
We need a Right Guard, like...really badly. We've been watching Fusco and Schwartz at RG the past couple of weeks, and neither guy has impressed. I can't believe I'm writing this, but I don't think either one has been an upgrade over Anthony Herrera. And at this point, Loadhold couldn't pass block his way out of a paper bag. The right side of the line is a major liability in the passing game. The O-Line is definitely improved compared to last year, but then again (like the secondary), they really had nowhere to go but up. I'm not convinced that Jeff Davidson is a good O-Line coach, because their blitz pickups today were terrible. Is that on the line or the RB? Or both?
Exhibit D: Pass Catchers
When Percy Harvin limped off the field with an ankle injury, and announcers listed him as questionable to return, I figured we might as well pack up our bags and call this season done. I mean really, who else is going to catch the ball? In 4 games, Jerome Simpson has 7 catches for 93 yards and 1 Fumble. Yeah he made a tough catch today, and has drawn a few PI penalties, but I haven't been impressed by him at all. I think we got what we paid for there, which is to say, not much. Michael Jenkins still has great hands and runs crisp routes, but damn is he old and slow. After that we're looking at guys that can't get separation and have inconsistent hands/route-running like Aromashodu, Burton...and...? I don't know what's going on with Kyle Rudolph, but he has completely disappeared (and his blocking has looked downright terrible), and John Carlson can't stay on the field. Who's left? Allen Reisner? Rhett Ellison? This pass catching corp after Percy Harvin is maybe the worst in the league. Quick, name a team that has worse receivers? The only one that comes to mind for me is Jacksonville, but at least they have Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts. If Jarius Wright can't get on the field with THIS receiving corp, what does that say about him? At this point, if we don't draft a WR somewhere in the first 2 rounds of the 2013 draft, I'm calling shenanigans.
Exhibit E: Christian Ponder
Ponder isn't devoid of blame. For the past 3 weeks he's been 38 for 74 (51.4%) for 372 yards with 2 TDs and 4 INTs (that's about 13 of 25 for 124 yards on average). I also don't think it's a coincidence that he has been listed on the injury report for the past 4 weeks with a knee injury. He was noticeably limping around the field today as well. Regardless, his play has been trending down after starting off the season pretty hot for the first 6 weeks. Whether this is due to injury, receivers, O-Line, poor decision-making, play-calling or lack of talent remains to be seen. He does look a little rattled whenever he's facing blitzers, but then again, his RB, TE and O-Line aren't adept at picking them up either. Ponder needs to play better without a doubt, but I'm not convinced that any of the other QBs on the roster would do significantly better with the same O-Line and receivers. IMO, we committed to live and die by Ponder this year, and barring injury, we'll do just that. After all, we lived by him for the first 6 weeks (and went 4-2), and we've died by him the past 3 (and went 1-2). He needs to play better, but I don't think it's time to make a switch. The Vikings have a history of giving up on QBs too soon, and it's why we've had a revolving door at QB and continually brought in aging, old veterans. We need to learn to be patient and give Ponder time to develop and learn. We can't panic at QB in the hopes we might keep our playoff hopes alive. Hell, no one even thought we'd have a chance to make the playoffs this year anyway! So, keep Ponder in there, and let him learn the game. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year, remember?
So, that's what I've got. I don't think benching Ponder will solve anything. That said, if his knee is preventing him from playing at a high level, then I can understand the argument to bench him out of health concerns. But, if he can play well enough through the knee injury, then he should try to play, and we will have to take our lumps right along with him. Anyway, hopefully we can eek out a win against Detroit at home, and regroup after the BYE week for our brutal 5-game season stretch run. This is a team that looks like it needs the BYE in a bad way.