It's time to start looking for difference makers via prod.static.vikings.clubs.nfl.com
Given the loss to the Lions this last week, I'd like too look at some potential areas of improvement. I like to give the game a couple of days to sink in, win or lose, but I haven't really shared my opinion of this game. I'll try to keep the ranting to a minimum. Who can improve?
Leslie Frazier - Complacency. I am not perturbed by Frazier's lack of emotion. It's one of those things that is forgotten after wins and is reached for after losses. I draw the line when a team looks flat and uninspired. Complacency is a coaching issue. We have seen way too much of it in the last two months. The coaching staff took the training camp strategy of "let's just keep last year's team" and "if you started last year, you're starting this year." This resulted in poor preseason performances from Ponder, Kalil, Sullivan, Loadholt, Floyd, Rhodes, and Robinson. The preseason does mean something.
Frazier is allowed to have a calm expression, as long as genius is at work behind it. He is allowed to refrain from scolding a player, so long as that player responds. I honestly think that flatness has resulted from players knowing there are no consequences. Frazier is not a motivator, or a bencher.
In the end, Frazier must either put his players in better positions to win, through strategy and personnel decisions, or get his players to play better.
Erin Henderson - Erin was a mess both in run defense and pass defense. His struggles have been well documented and it is frustrating that the Vikings have been ignoring other options. I don't think it's simple enough to plug Bishop in the middle but something must be done. Desmond Bishop at least must be given the opportunity. First slowly, by actually letting him play instead of Mitchell. Even so, I'm worried its too late. Bishop is not 4-3 scheme-savvy, meaning MLB might be just as tough for him to master.
Let's not forget that MLB also handles the on-field play calls. Thus, I'm actually in favor of moving Chad Greenway to MLB first. He knows the defense and will make a much better field commander than Henderson. I realize that is unlikely, so for now I'm simply asking Henderson to focus on run defense.
Bill Musgrave - I gave Musgrave a pass last year, simply because of the year that Adrian Peterson had, and the fact that he was tied to a developing QB. This was not a good start to 2013, however. There are too main issues I had with Musgrave's play calling in week one.
The first was personnel driven. The Vikings repeatedly called plays for Jerome Simpson over Greg Jennings and Kyle Rudolph. While Simpson had a huge day, I disagree with the overall strategy. I get that the passing offense was criticized for a lack of big passing plays in 2012. For this game, with a great start by Adrian Peterson and a Detroit's high-octane offense, big passing plays were not to be desired over long, time-consuming, defense-resting, drives. I would much rather prefer this offense to be a YAC offense. Get the ball to your play makers and let them run afterwards. The argument against this is that nobody likes the dink-and-dunk. I just think that this was the wrong game to try and "unleash" Ponder. Musgrave ignored Cordarrelle Patterson, and on the first INT, why a quick slant to Simpson instead of Jennings? Musgrave valued scheme over personnel and I hated it.
The second was formation driven. While the OL had their struggles, it was apparent to me that Ponder was much more effective under center than he was in shotgun formation. That said, the Vikings featured shotgun in more that 50% of plays run on Sunday. Of the 28 shotgun plays, TWO were designed runs. That drives me crazy. Why are they featuring a pass-first offense? Even if they did choose to run out of shotgun, its a complete waste of how the offense is structured personnel-wise. Every play the offense runs should show a threat to run.
On a side note: Musgrave decided to ignore as many WR/RB screens as much as he could. With Peterson, Patterson, Jennings, and even Jarius Wright, it makes no sense to me.
Christian Ponder - A simple must for this space. While the play calling certainly did not help Ponder, he's got to eliminate the mistakes. The QB was involved in four turnovers on Sunday and that will lead to defeat almost every time. Ponder too must understand that the Vikings are built to manufacture long, demoralizing drives. Deep passes are great but I'll trade two 3rd down conversions for one deep pass every time, especially against teams like Detroit and GB. Ponder must convert third downs and eliminate turnovers. Musgrave can help him by enabling him to use his best short-field weapons.
Brian Robison - I will discuss the entire DL here, but I must highlight Robison's play. It's another example of the Vikings choosing an incumbent starter when there is potential immediately behind him on the depth chart. If Robison isn't generating pressure, he needs to be yanked in favor of Everson Griffen, and the leash needs to be short. Otherwise, Allen played well but not great. We may have something in Sharif Floyd and Fred Evans, and that will be reinforced when Kevin Williams returns. I actually am encouraged by the DL. Allen is capable of big things, and three solid DTs should hold up if the MLB behind them is a steady run defender.
Against Chicago, I'm looking for a Vikings team that has a sense of urgency. I want to see Henderson lock down on the run game, with Bishop playing next to him instead of Mitchell. I'd like to see Musgrave get Jennings, Rudolph, and Patterson more involved. I need to see Ponder become more of a game manager. I'm hoping that either Robison or Griffen begins their breakout season.
Hopefully, this segment will be shorter next week.