This is probably going to get a little long-winded. Probably not an Arif-length piece, but it's going to be of significant verbiage. You've been warned.
As those of you that regularly inhabit our daily Open Threads know, most weeks we have some sort of music that accompanies the post, and more often than now there's a theme that goes with it. This past week, we used Led Zeppelin songs, and after today's game, I think there's one that we didn't get to during the week that's quite appropriate for the Minnesota Vikings' current situation.
Now cryin' won't help you, prayin' won't do you no good.
When the levee breaks, mama, you've got to move.
Well, folks, the levee has officially broken in Minnesota. And before it's all said and done, there are going to be plenty of folks that are going to end up moving.
Before we get too far into things, I want to give a quick apology to the folks from Football Outsiders. Like most of you, I scoffed at their perception that the Minnesota Vikings would be among the NFL's worst teams this season. It appears as though I should have kept my scoffing to a minimum. In the words of noted American philosopher Happy Gilmore, I'm stupid, you're smart. . .I was wrong, you were right. . .you're the best, I'm the worst. . .you're very good looking, I'm not attractive.
As much as it saddens and depresses me to say this after Week 3, it appears that the competitive portion of the Minnesota Vikings' 2013 season is over with. Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to start cheering for losses or hoping that this team "tanks" or anything like that. . .I've always been of the philosophy that cheering for losses is for losers. . .but after the performances that we've seen the past couple of weeks, it's hard to get terribly jazzed over what we have to look forward to over the next 14 weeks (counting the bye week, which this team will likely allow to go on a last-second, game-winning drive as well).
Watching the Vikings this season thus far, there's one question I have to ask myself. . .and that question is "exactly how many deficiencies did Adrian Peterson's monstrous 2012 season mask with this team?" I'll get to the elephant in the room, that being the quarterback situation, here in a moment, but there are plenty of other things to get to as well.
The first one is the offensive line. Going into this season, we. . .rightfully, I think. . .thought this unit was one of Minnesota's strengths, with Matt Kalil showing plenty of promise as a rookie, John Sullivan being one of the league's best centers, and Phil Loadholt just having received a big new contract this off-season. Yes, we knew the guard play was going to be suspect, but this is the line that helped pave the way for Peterson last year, so there had to be something there, right?
Well, not today, there wasn't.
After it appeared that they had figured things out against Chicago, the "Minnesota Moving Company" was back to getting whooped on a regular basis this afternoon. Christian Ponder was sacked six times, and was running for his life on numerous other occasions. For the second time in three games, Adrian Peterson was held under 100 yards rushing and under four yards/carry. That's not going to be a winning recipe for the Vikings any time soon. A lot of folks on Twitter were talking about how Loadholt was, apparently, playing through some sort of an injury. If that's true, then I'm not sure why the coaching staff didn't get him the heck out of there. I'll get to the coaches here shortly, too.
Then there's the defensive issues. Ignore, for a moment, the fact that this defense got shredded by Brian Hoyer for three touchdowns and over 300 yards through the air. We saw the same thing here that we saw against the Chicago Bears the previous week. The Vikings got absolutely thrashed in the first half, and then woke up and played decent defense for about 29 minutes of the second half. The defense generated four turnovers, just like they did against the Bears. The offense, for all their issues, had this team in a position to win at the end of the game.
And then, when the game was on the line, they completely disappeared.
I understand that the Vikings were short-handed in the secondary, personnel-wise, for a lot of the second half, thanks to Chris Cook being injured and A.J. Jefferson simply being A.J. Jefferson. I'll give Marcus Sherels a lot of credit. . .that guy played his ass off after being thrust into duty in nickel and dime situations. But there is no reason for the entire defense to go completely AWOL during the last couple of minutes of games. This probably comes down to coaching as well.
(By the way, I'm done with Chris Cook. Guy's in a contract year, and as far as I'm concerned this team can let him walk. If you're hurt more often than you're healthy, you don't need a great big contract to stick around.)
The coaching staff. . .I like Leslie Frazier a lot. He seems like a nice guy and all of that, and I've said that for as long as he's been the Vikings' head coach. But over these first three weeks, he and his staff have left a lot to be desired. We've been over the disappearing act that Alan Williams' defense has pulled over the past couple of weeks. . .we've gone over the issues with offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave ad nauseum. . .and even Mike Priefer's special teams units have looked like hot garbage for most of these first few games. Seriously, when was the last time you saw a team fall victim to a fake field goal and a fake punt. . .in the same damn game?
I don't know if this coaching staff allowed these players to get sucked into the whole "Cleveland has given up on the season" rhetoric that was thrown out there in the aftermath of the Trent Richardson trade this week, but they looked woefully unprepared for this one. I said during the season that it would take this team completely bottoming out in order for Frazier and company to lose their jobs this season. So far, it looks like that's the track we're on.
And that brings us to the guy that a lot of the focus is going to center on. . .again. . .that being quarterback Christian Ponder. I've been a staunch Ponder supporter for the past couple of seasons, and I still firmly believe that he's the best quarterback on this roster right now. Matt Cassel is not better than Christian Ponder. . .quite frankly, had he been out there today, we'd probably be referring to Cassel in the past tense, because he would have gotten killed out there today. McLeod Bethel-Thompson is, also, not a better quarterback than Christian Ponder. And even if he wasn't the best quarterback on the roster, Leslie Frazier has shown absolutely no inclination to bench the guy and, barring injury, he probably won't. So, whether we like it, or we don't like it, Ponder is the guy for 2013. But, then, we basically knew that going in.
Ponder had the (sadly) typical Ponder game today. He made some very good throws, including a few where his receivers didn't do him any favors, and he made some throws that made you scratch your head and wonder exactly what the heck he was thinking. Yes, he didn't pass well in the second half, but he was consistently getting things done with his legs (something that Cassel would have no shot at doing), including scoring two touchdowns on the ground, with the one in the second half coming in a situation where the play broke down. And, as already pointed out, regardless of how they went about it, the offense put the defense in a position at the end of the game.
But regardless of how much potential or whatever I think Ponder has, his fate is tied to Frazier's. If Frazier goes down, Ponder is going down with him, because a new coach is going to want "his guy" running his new offense. I have a sneaky suspicion that, if Ponder moves on to a different team, he's going to wind up being better than he was when he was here. But, again, I'm not in the Vikings' front office, so my opinion means squat. In the meantime, I'll keep hoping. . .likely futilely. . .that the light magically comes on and the guy develops some level of consistency. If the Vikings continue on their current course, there are going to be very few people that are going to be safe anyway, and Christian Ponder isn't going to be among them.
And if you want to make the case of having Ponder at quarterback means the team is "wasting a year" of Adrian Peterson or Jared Allen or whoever else. . .sorry, kids, but that ship has sailed, I'm afraid. The Vikings are 0-3, including 0-2 in the division, and just lost the final home opener in their current stadium to a Cleveland Browns team that was derided all week for attempting to tank their 2013 season for 2014 draft position. As they might say in the South, the season's done been wasted already, it appears.
The problems with the Minnesota Vikings are not solely the fault of one player, or one coach, or one position group. This is a full-scale, team-wide dumpster fire, the likes of which most of us couldn't possibly have anticipated after the late-season run to the post-season this team made in 2012 and what appeared to be a bumper draft crop this past April. It appears that the course that's being charted is one that leads to a tumultuous off-season filled with potential personnel changes, coaching staff changes, and possibly even front office changes. We're just going to have to ride it out and see where it takes us, unfortunately.
Who knows. . .maybe this team will get lucky and someone will completely overlook them, too.