Preseason - The most important games that mean nothing and other oddities

As some of you may remember I post occasionally and tend to ramble. That won't change with this post. Still I have a couple thoughts I have had meandering around my brain as the current preseason works its way out. Posting is a bit harder to accomplish now that my usual browser (Opera) has been blindsided by SBNation (yeah they broke the login link, nothing important). And it's taking longer to post (write) than I had hoped, as I wanted to get this up before cuts and now hope to have it up before the final preseason game. It also means this post may run long as it's been a while. Anyway.

I wish I could breakdown games like Arif, and then back them up with solid statistics (yeah being a math guy I do know that is one of the better oxymoron's language has). I have a tendency to be more watch and see then try to figure what went wrong, or what he missed. But nothing concrete to back things up, other than my ability to pay attention to the screen. I tend to think about the coaching style fairly often, and while I do prefer a coach who is under control (without all the a$$-hattery we see these days) I also prefer one that pushes accountability, proper respect (of the game and fans), and yet also has that drive or desire or fire (intensity is a good word for all those combined) that shines through during a game and during a season. With all that said I am going to once again discuss quite a few topics that have been beaten to death around here, hopefully without saying the same things everyone else has said. Hrmf. and if you have perused some recent articles and comments . . . . so much for that idea.

Coaching, Philosophical ideas, or Just Plain Stubborn

Well, I was going to start out with a Ponder thing, but I am going to use that as a tangent to start off with a further concern on the coaching side. A while back Arif was covering training camp and mentioned in a kind of off hand way how difficult it was setting a roster when you have guys who might be impressive playing and showing great ability, but who don't fit the 'scheme' you have in mind. This came right after I had read another item on PFT (which I just spent about 35 minutes trying to locate so I could link it) where Musgrave had talked about the changes on the QB situation, and why moving Webb to WR was better all around. Basically from the comment it seems that Webb was not really considered a replacement for Ponder because he does not play LIKE Ponder. A quick link that I was able to find: Musgrave Media Talk and probably a few others that have better content via a Google search. But here is the relevant part for those interested:

". . . So we’re going to employ a lot of the same concepts that we do with Christian when Matt is in there too. That helps our team. The other 10 guys have had the time on task with all those concepts. So we don’t want to have two distinctly different guys. And Matt fits that mold where he can step in and we wouldn’t miss a beat."

Now, one problem when coaching is refusing to play someone you acknowledge can play, but you don't because he's a 'loose cannon' on the field. You have a plan, and 'he' never seems to care about it so you sit him hoping he adopts to your system. If your on a positional group and everything depends on the chemistry, its certainly not a bad thing as 1 player freelancing and all the others following the plan is not a good thing. But when a complete coaching staff is focused on 'scheme' and making sure players fit into it, then what happens is someone with serious talent gets wasted as you don't see him fitting the style you prefer. So last year rather than push Ponder by benching him during an epic streak of crap play, and playing someone who does not fit your stereotypical QB mold for a game, you had 'your guy' tough it out. Let's see if he can get rid of the demons in his head and actually play. And Ponder kind of responded, so we sat Webb even longer as the brain funk was supposedly cured, just in time to make the playoffs. And even though Ponder was in no shape to perform all week the hope was held out that he would play. So you put in a couple of 'twist' plays for the backup, call an interesting game that stays close . . . and then abandon everything that works, to call the same kind of game that you would have called if 'your guy' was in there. The result: a Crap-Tastic game.

And yet, there were positives about Webb's play, even though almost all came about too little too late. Still That brings up the reason Webb was moved off QB while MBT, who spent last year BEHIND Webb, stayed on at QB. Some posters would have you believe that he showed us all just what he could do in the Packers game at Green Bay in the playoffs. That discounts his performances under pressure previously, which undercuts the arguments that he can't play the position. And he was tapped by this same staff as the backup, which means he plays when the starter struggles or gets hurt. And yet, during the entire season we had a chance to put Webb on the field while Ponder struggled we never did it. That serious stretch of bad games by our starter were so bad that Webb's single playoff game was actually BETTER than Ponder's horrid stretch, based on Webb's play during an obviously abysmal game. On the other hand, initially we actually had GB kind of on their heels, and abandoned what was working, so we could throw the ball down field, in the cold, in the playoffs, with a slick ball, and no real attempt to get Webb acclimated to throwing early by using screens or short pass plays. Unlike Ponder he at least LOOKED down field and to BOTH SIDES of the field, but his accuracy was more reliant on the Atomic weaponry axiom that if its in the same zip code then its right on target. Various debates on if Webb actually stayed in the zip code not withstanding. You might think this rant is directed that I think Webb should be put back to QB, and again not exactly. It's more directed at the coaching staff for failing to prepare, a game plan, Webb, and especially recognize how they failed everyone else by taking advantage of what was WORKING. It seems that 'scheme' had won out over BEATING GREEN BAY! Even Frazier was talking about Ponder being scratched as a non issue, because he would be ready to play in Atlanta the next week.

On the one hand it seems like that is confidence in your backup QB to win the game. But taking account of what we know now, and supposed in some part even then, even if Webb had lit the sky on fire and played better than Rogers, he was going to be benched next week. And more than likely traded away in the off-season. . . Because it all points to how does Webb fit into the 'scheme', when Musgrave thinks he doesn't. And also back on Frazier who has backed players well past time to move on. And certainly Webb didn't have the same swagger and pop in his step that I am used to seeing. So Webb was certainly not prepared properly.

Going further back in time we had Puntf__ker as a coach, a man who was so absorbed by his 'scheme' that he completely ignored the players ability, and focused solely at what position they were. Can't have a QB who talks about what he is good at and how do we maximize that. Players are given a position and they are completely interchangeable. Which anyone who coaches at even a youth level knows is complete and utter hogwash (at best).

So Musgrave realizes that Webb can play, but doesn't want to put him in because 'his guy' can do it better. It's still a step up from PuntF__ker, but it's not what I consider the best coaching style. Because it shows a coach that not only wants players who can fit his 'scheme' but he is willing to waste quality players if he feels that they don't fit. And during the off-season, moves are made to get another player that fits the mold of what is our 'expected' QB.

This also applies to another issue which I touched on previously, which is just how coaches can be so enamored with a particular player that they get blinded to the players faults, or in some cases actual play. Frazier on occasion drives me bonkers with his desire to support players well beyond the time to call it done. And also on occasion when a player should be kept because they PRODUCE when needed, but gets cut for the Vet/Rookie. On the other hand, while Frazier has a lot of say, many calls go to Rick Speilman, who has done quite the masterful job of drafting recently. Which also drops back into no-one wants to take the blame when you pick the wrong player. Say a certain QB in the first round. And a couple years later players you passed on for him (and OTHER PICKS also) are making that choice look downright idiotic. In this case I think it might not be the PLAYER that we got enamored with, but instead it was their 'style of play' which looks to neatly fit the 'scheme'. Enter Matt Cassell, he of the Hat Gif Hall of Fame. You now have a QB who fits your 'scheme' along with a backup in the same mold, and is not a threat to your hopeful QBotF. But why is the scheme so important that you go out and specifically add talent (which could be a very loose interpretation in this case) that's that . . . bad. And seriously, why do our QB's all seem to be struggling? If the coaching staff has finally moved out the one that doesn't fit our 'scheme' I am left wondering. . . Does our 'scheme' require a QB who is Crap-Tastic? I doubt that is what we have in mind, so that means that the preseason games are where we should be actually doing an evaluation. (I think that may have been an actual point, please note the date and time as It may be a while before the next one)

All this mishmash of stuff really boils down to is whether I think our coaches are outsmarting themselves by trying to locate the right pegs to fit the scheme instead of using what WORKS, and modifying the 'scheme' to add in new twists based on your roster. I see some things improving in this regard, but it still seems to be more about the 'scheme' than getting in a good player. The other night on NBC I listened to Frazier, and how we are approaching the season. Ponder does not need to be in the same breath as Rogers, Stafford or Cutler, as we don't need him to be that kind of player, if I heard him correctly. But if I remember right it also came across as we don't need a good quarterback, just a serviceable one. And he's partly right in that we don't need Rogers as we have Adrian clearing a path. What we DO need is someone to take advantage of a defense geared up to stop only the run. We DO NEED at least a middle of the road QB, and yet you could almost hear a repeated "Rex Grossman is our Quarterback" type sound.

But it could be even more fundamental than that. If we have an epic streak of not being able to get what was at one point the 'most NFL ready QB on the board' ready to actually PLAY in the NFL, is it the players or coaching? Or both? Based on the last few drafts it seems that we have a very decent scout and evaluate group going for us. At almost every position, except QB, which is the MOST important position. I could complain and say they should be replaced, but how many others out there seem to have the same issue? Well there are only 31 other teams and realistically there are so few that are able to make that magical pick every time. You can make the argument that the Colts know what they are doing in this regard, but they also picked all those incredible backups to Peyton Manning. So . . . no. What about the 49ers? Well they did pick Kaepernick, but he sat for a bit as Alex Smith proved it wasn't him it was the constant system changes going on. The Vikings have had the same OC for going on . . . THREE . . . SEASONS. Think about that for a second. Alex Smith looked better and more prepared when he was learning a new system EVERY YEAR. Joe Webb looked better and he was THIRD STRING when we tossed him to the wolves (or bears or lions, oh my). Yet the coaching staff then decided not to even give Webb a chance and drafted a replacement QB, then added a VETERAN QB (which is not what played for us, it is however what they signed, and some alien presence pulled a quantum leap switch on us). It is now 3 years on, well we did lose that first off-season but still, and the QB needs to show improvement. And the coaching staff is playing down that he has to be good since we have some of the better quarterbacks in our division.

And this reasoning applies to a lot of players brought in during the off-season, players that quickly become fan favorites like Audi Cole, this year Zach Line and Adam Thielan, and Bradley Randle. Some of these type players actually look really good, and we end up cutting them and sometimes they don't even get called back to the practice squad. But we also don't see the epic failure to improve in those positions that we do in QB. But I almost digress.

Another issue I have with coaching styles is certainly more reasonable to understand. I have been there and at least this one I understand, how players perform in camp, practice (and film study for sports where it's useful) is more important than how they play in the actual game. I guess in most cases this goes right back to our first issue which is study shows how well you understand 'scheme' and how it should be applied on the field. Unfortunately, it completely ignores HOW IT'S APPLIED IN THE GAME. Once again following that blinders thing that lets us see what we want during camps, practices, film studies (and who knows maybe pop quiz and tests), but not see how all that application seems to fall apart once game time stress is applied.

What is already under serious consideration by many here as shown by comments and posts is there is worry that we don't have the right person for the OC job. In some ways I think it misses the mark, because we do seem to have an offense that works, good running backs, good blocking, scoring points on occasion. And of course we did make the playoffs last year. But making the playoffs is just the first part of team improvement, the next is contending for a title. Do we have the staff that can do that? We let Tony Dungy go, and saw him improve teams faster and better than us. He eventually won a superbowl but few doubt that he had contenders for years. We let Mike Tomlin go and all he did was take a team and keep them in the mix, and get a shiny trophy as well. So the front office was seriously shy about letting Frazier walk and see it happen again . . . for someone else.

And the staff he has put together seems unable to improve play at the single most important position on the field. Players Love Frazier, he has their respect, actually he has mine as well. But . . . . Those blinders cause me to doubt that he is getting the right staff together. Year one we had a sham of a contest for 2nd string QB. The next year there is no contest, and yet the results are so mixed it's hard to get a read on if we were going 9-7 or 4-12. The over achievement of a 10-6 record and playoff berth though means they did something right . . . right? Or was it just a fantastic superhuman effort by a singular player to toss it all on his back and rumble through hell and high waters to get us all to the playoffs? In spite of our inconsistent QB play?

Which of course leads right into the next fun section.

Ponder, Quarterback of the Future, or maybe just today.

Let's start with the usual litany of Ponder-isms that various people toss out. There's the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. Jeez even this is already used I'm feeling more and more like a hack as I write. In one of my previous posts I worried about Ponder and how he was looking on his throws during training camp, as he was not doing as well as I (random Joe Fan) felt a first string quarterback should be doing. Fast forward to our first preseason game, and he throws 1/2 15 yards 1 int. Joe Webb could have thrown those statistic's and he has not played quarterback for 8 months, and in fact I would have put up serious money that he would have done BETTER. Again, I am NOT advocating that Webb be moved back to QB, and oddly enough I am NOT trying to say Ponder sucks. What amazes me though is that in the past years we have not been able to groom ANY QB through a long term success or even ability to stick with the team. Culpepper, probably should have been the one to break that streak, but PuntF__ker made a mess of that one fast enough, and Pep himself made sure to light it on fire.

But watching those 2 Ponder plays, he looked like the same player he was last year, locked on target, single read, bad throw (and yes I fault Ponder for the INT, as he SAW the hitch before he even threw the ball). But even seeing that, and remembering my concerns over his camp performance, it is 2 plays. There is NO amount of reasoning that could allow a full and complete judgement on that small a sample. So smart money is to wait and watch the second game where he plays a bit more. And his performance according to the stats is once again Crap-Tastic.

And yet I saw something, a spark, and ember, no it was actually a parting of the heavens and a chorus of Angles humming as Ponder performed the rare act of . . . a progression. A REAL progression. A RIGHT side of the field all the way to the LEFT SIDE of the field read. Impossible you say? Well I had thought so, but there it was. So now something is stirring, slumbering, and yawning itself awake:


But of course then I had to watch Sunday night football. Stunning I know, but I saw it again. In among the overthrown balls, the horrid reads, the luck of the Irish he must have channeled on occasion, were a couple more . . . PROGRESSIONS. Right now it's not enough to say our season will be okay. In fact seeing how well we are playing I am a little concerned about next years draft placement. The defense is great to okay (depending on various things), and special teams are working (return TD notwithstanding). But the QB offense is looking more like mid-season Ponder than make the playoffs Ponder. Still making a full progression? . . . . Yeah it's something to hope for, but right now it might as well be Bigfoot, something alluded to but never seen. I'm just glad we see any type of progression. And better pocket awareness.

And badly thrown balls.

And some offensive plays (and I mean that in the not good way).

. . . All ye who enter here. . .

And offensive is just what things seem to be right now. I was prepared for the Ponder Performances (okay not the ones in second and third games). I was liking the fact that we had a complete line that did well and should only improve. And what I have seen is . . . a mess. Kalil should be incredibly polished, considering how well he looked last year. The weak point was obviously going to be the guards, as we kept Fusco over the much better Schwartz (yup there's those blinders again), and we are still pushing Charlie into a guard spot. Truthfully Charlie is looking better this year, and Fusco is looking . . . meh. . . same as last year (maybe). But our tackles are stout right? Loadholt / Kalil are looking . . . lost. Did I miss something on the training camp notes that Arif wrote? . . . Did we lose our line coach? . . . Did the same aliens who pulled the quantum leap joke on our QB situation previously return once again and decide Trenches . . . Let's play in the trenches? Last year we had the WR dumpster fires being stoked all year, although I think they were better than we thought. Not all world good, but serviceable. This year the line seems to be where the hoses will need to be directed. Missed blocks by Kalil, resulting in loss of yards, sacks, fumbles. . . Same with Loadholt. . . and Fusco . . . And Sullivan?

Really? we have the off-season to prepare and THIS is what comes out of it during our games? Okay it is pre-season everyone says, nothing to worry about everyone says, remember 0-4 and 4-0 translating exactly opposite for the Lions and Pats gets tossed around an awful lot. I really don't care about the W/L in preseason, but your game plan (minimal as it is) should still be able to do minor things like . . . pick up a blitz? . . . . Block the ASSIGNED GUY? Run a complete pattern? We played our starters for almost 3 QUARTERS, and the second and third string defense was STILL holding us down. Our starting defense played quite a bit, and got gashed, not by the read option, but by (GASP) passing. Wow will you look at that? Passing in Football? Must be a phase, after all the Vikings don't need to have a great QB, just a serviceable one, must be that some teams didn't get the memo. I mean really, Kaepernick is just a read option guy, so he's a glorified running back. Not like he can throw the football right? . . . D@MIT!

See the one thing about preseasongames and records is that while you experiment, you also make sure the starters still look like . . . STARTERS. You know that evaluation thing. And right now some of our starters look like . . . well they look like bubble players. That is just not acceptable.

Something Old, something new, something something dark side, someone blue in the face

But preseason is really about evaluating those new players right? And as I mentioned above every year there's some rookies and undrafted players vying for a spot on the roster, and some truly deserve that spot. But mostly it seems that the development phase in many fan's mind is something that happens on other teams, because here you always take the best players. Whoops BLINDERS!

Looking over the games, some players that were here previously are in some serious danger of being dropped for undrafted players. I have nothing against Asiata, as he has played well in the past. But Felton is so far ahead of him, oh wait he plays the third running back spot right? Yeah Felton is so . . . . Okay in all seriousness though, looking at his blocking and pick ups, based on what I have seen Zach Line doing, Asiata should be on the block. But if those blinders are there we try to get him to practice squad. And I predict a monumental failure on that working out. Sherels best shot at staying on the team has been his ability to return punts, but Felder covers better if he has to see the field, and looks to be able to do the punt return thing too.

Last year we had Audie Cole, who in a BRILLIANT 3 play stretch absolutely showed that cutting him was a BAD IDEA. And yet this year a lot of talk is about him going to practice squad as we just can't cut our draft picks. That is the opposite of what I worry our coaching staff is doing, and in fact I see it as worse. The lure of new players is the untapped potential they could have, but you have to balance that with the experience that a veteran player brings to the locker room. In this case cutting a player who showed pretty well that he deserves a shot, a real shot, not a well hope you make it to camp next year type shot, would be worse than keeping a player who can't / won't (think McGroundBall) pick his game up to the right level. While I like the defensive back picks we have, and I do think we should keep Mauti, I think cutting Cole is shortsighted. But I doubt Mauti would make it to practice squad as well.

I know I will see a few players that I think should stay get cut. Hopefully it's not BLINDERS causing it, or scheme, but rather that we keep the best players. But we won't. Because we really can't. Most likely Adam Thielen is playing out for the hope of a practice squad invite. I like him, I think we should keep him, but we really don't have the room to do that. Same with Banyard, and the already lost Bradley. Not to mention Webb and Burton might be playing for a single spot. Right now I give the edge to Webb.

At the end of it all, I will likely be torqued once I see the cut list, and within a day the best player(s) for our practice squad get poached. We saw it with Hogan during the buffalo game, sometimes your practice squad player is just too good to pass up. The question being who gets cut, and who stays? Who plays with intensity and makes the team? Who plays themselves off the practice squad.

And while evaluation is going on for players, some of us are doing the same with our coaching staff. What parts of the team are just NOT working year after year after year.

Which means that these games which mean absolutely nothing, are the MOST meaningful games for the Vikings future. Win/Lose/Draw matters not. Performance matters. As Yoda said, "Do or Do Not. There is no TRY!"

This FanPost was created by a registered user of The Daily Norseman, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the staff of the site. However, since this is a community, that view is no less important.

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