Hey guys. Mr. Sunshine here. Having a nice Monday? If so, this can wait until Tuesday.
Let's not sugarcoat this or bother with compliment sandwiches or any other such- this team is awful. There are four players I can count that have been consistently successful this season. They are: Blair Walsh (who is a kicker), Brian Robison (who is IMO doing much better than his ‘sack count' indicates), Harrison Smith (who has still been partly to blame for two game winning drives) and Cordarrelle Patterson (who hasn't exactly been asked to do much, but what he has done has been generally outstanding). That's it. Not Pro Bowl MVP Kyle Rudolph. Not NFL MVP Adrian Peterson. Not All Pro Jared Allen. Not Pro Bowlers Matt Kalil, Kevin Williams, or should be Pro Bowler John Sullivan. Greg Jennings and Jarius Wright have been OK, but not phenomenal. Maybe I should give Desmond Bishop the same pass I gave Cordarrelle Patterson considering the fact that when he is on the field, he typically does something pretty good. Certainly not Christian Ponder.
This team stinks. From top to bottom. Special Teams, which won ST (maybe) guru Mike Priefer an award last year, has been shaky (again outside our kicker) to say the best. They were embarrassed in Chicago by Devin Hester and at home against a team that ran not one, but two fake kicks. The defense has netted 8 turnovers in 2 games, hooray! Except for every turnover they've gotten, they give up multiple 3rd and long conversions, points, and not to mention game winning drives. Flashes of brilliance filled in between by glooming shadows of utter incompetence with the fundamentals isn't winning football, and it sure as hell isn't the shutdown D I thought we were growing into. And the offense....... Oh, the offense. When the D does step up and give them the ball back, they either do squat with it, or go ahead and give the ball right back to our opponents. Even the cybernetic machine known as Adrian Peterson has two fumbles in as many games- which I think was also exactly how many he had last year. I will say by and large he remains a fairly solid running back, but when your team is built almost exclusively around said running back, "fairly solid" ain't cuttin' it. Our coaches make what is charitably described as "bad" calls, challenge plays that can't be challenged*, and make what can only be called ‘bizarre' personnel decisions.
*Yes, the refs bungled what penalty Leslie Frazier and co. should have received for that error. Yes, the yards penalized likely cost us points. But you know what? I don't care. If a game against the Browns at home comes down to a referee error... you deserved to lose anyways.
I don't know what in the blue hell has happened here. This team should have been better, or at least as good, as the team that went to the playoffs last year. I thought we had a fairly solid FA, retaining Phil Loadholt against the Bears' advances, signing Greg Jennings and Desmond Bishop, and trading Percy Harvin off for a 1st round pick that later turned into a bountiful draft that included his clear heir apparent, Patterson. I still firmly believe- and I don't see how this season is changing my mind- that dumping Antoine Winfield was a terrible mistake. But that was one bad move amongst several- on paper- very good ones. And the draft appeared one for the ages.
Even if you predicted Ponder would still be an up-and-down QB, even if you predicted that AD2K would have a season that would be relatively down for him, this still should have been a fiercely competitive team. And it's not like by and large our division got fiercer- the Lions remain incompetently coached and penalty-prone, the Bears had dumped Brian Urlacher (which was the right call but regardless was a loss) and have a new coach (who of all things was thinking about the read option with Jay Cutler), and Green Bay has an offensive line that was worse than the one last year. You know, the one that allowed Aaron Rodgers to lead the league in sacks taken. Really, we should be 3-0 and thinking that a division title was not out of the cards.
But we're division bottom feeders and stat fluffers, league laughing stocks, and probably our best competition right now would be for the first overall draft pick. What. The. Hell.
So... after that catharsis... what now? We're not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, this is true. Of course, Katherine Webb is also single right now. I put the odds of the Vikings making a playoff run slightly below the odds of me getting her number. This team is about to get blown up, and rightfully so.
If you think, by the way, this article is ever going to go the route of "Lambs to the slaughter for Teddy Bridgewater" (the best I've heard yet, and I'll have to give Joshua Deceuster, twitter @DB_JoshD, full credit for it), you're reading the wrong writer. Not that I think there are writers here who would promote that. Any team that willingly tanks deserves to have every... single... player cut, every coach fired. And if you think that players like Chris Cook, Jared Allen, Brian Robison, et al who are in contract years are going to intentionally suck, then you're insane. Not to mention players like Christian Ponder who are fighting for jobs that are rapidly becoming lost causes, or natural competitors like Adrian Peterson who'd sooner cut their own legs off than willingly lose a game. And if as a fan you root for your team to lose, well, in my humble opinion you suck as a fan. (FLAME WAR BEGIN!)
That said, there are routes and directions that this team should probably begin to explore that might hurt our short-term interests in favor of long-term competitiveness. When a season becomes hopeless, I advocate that strategy. That doesn't mean that you don't coach to win, and that players don't do everything they can to beat their opponents. Let's start with trades.
First off, Everson Griffin hasn't existed on the field this season. (Has he even seen any snaps? I can't actually recall seeing him on the field. I'm sure he has but I'm legitimately asking.) That said, Jared Allen is fading. He is still, I think, a very high level player. He's just not "THE" Jared Allen of yesteryear. And I still think you've got a fine starting caliber DE who is going to do you some good for 2-3 years. But... and I hate this... it's time for that trade.
Look, the team is working on Griffin's contract as we speak. Nothing's in ink and I wouldn't put it past Rick Spielman at the 11th hour to say "You know what? Never mind." But I think it's pretty obvious he's a DE of the future. And right now I prefer to keep Robison over Allen, for two reasons. First off, I think because Robison wasn't a starter until later in his career, you're going to see a bit of the "Pat Williams" effect: a greater period of longevity due to early career resting and freshness. And I think he, as earlier mentioned, has done a fine job at his position. The second reason is that you're simply going to net more in a trade for Jared Allen than Brian Robison. And since we're in ‘blow it up' mode, that's something that cannot be ignored.
The downside to trading a player mid-season is that said trades involve contenders. The Browns aren't the ones giving up picks; that's the Colts, who see themselves as legit threats (and considering that game over the 49ers may have a considerable argument). Because of this, you're picks are typically going to be lower in their respective rounds. But come the end of the season, you get squat for him. Get what you can while you still can.
Now, this trade is probably not happening tomorrow. I expect a few more games, but I think it's happening, and I will be both shocked and actually angry if it doesn't happen and he walks come season end. Look, if we're 3-0 keep your stars and let them walk. But when you're 0-3 and basically just hoping to not become your division's rankings caboose, that's lunacy.
Some people have suggested two other trades that I remain against: Chris Cook and Adrian Peterson. First off, I'm not really sure how people think we can trade Cook. Maybe for a 7th rounder? Maybe? Probably not even that. But I'm against the trade regardless because- wait for it- I want him resigned. Our secondary depth has been practically non-existent for years (although major hat-tip to one Mr. Marcus Sherels yesterday, who actually looked like a starter out on the field). Cook would, assuming the contract is right, provide excellent depth. With his constant injuries he does not deserve to be a starter, but if he's seeing backup and spot action, then those concerns become considerably less so. And when he's on the field he can be a solid player. Now, if other teams offer him a starting position or just more money than we're willing to pay a #3 CB, then obviously forget it. But I'm curious to see who's going to offer what for a guy who's yet to play an entire season of football.
Adrian Peterson also has no place on the trade block. Look, if we're getting another QB next year (which is more than just "likely" at this point), then your best bet at remaining competitive is keeping him around. Not only is our offense still based around him, but he would create considerable ease on a rookie signal-caller. Can't see a good pass coming open? Screw it, audible the run. Time's running out in the pocket and you don't have a downfield option? Guess who's in the flat! Plus, considering Peterson's underrated blocking skills, I'm loathe to get rid of anyone on this team who can help prevent a QB from getting murdered. The guy remains our top player on offense and very importantly, that's not changing in the next few coming years. Unlike Allen who is losing a step, Peterson, despite his down season thus far, shows no actual signs of slowing down. Trading generational talent who still has many a season left in the tank is not how rebuilding occurs. Especially considering...
TRADE TOBY GERHART. To anyone. For almost anything. What in the blue hell did the Colts offer that we turned down? If it was anything above a fourth I'm pissed. This is another guy walking at the end of this season. And while he's been getting a few more snaps this season than usual, he's not even an integral part to our offense the way Jared Allen is to our defense. The only issue is the one team interested in trading for a RB is now out of the running. And honestly, I imagine with that Andrew Luck guy around, the Colts were probably going to offer us the highest bid. Fantastic, front office. Fantastic.
Other than that though, I say no other midseason moves. After the season I stay strong on the idea of trading Ponder away to a read-option team. Hell, he might actually have decent success in that kind of a system. And don't tell me he's too injury prone or anything- Michael Vick, ladies and gentlemen, is a starter in this league. I rest my case. I sincerely think we can get a least a little return on our investment on Ponder... which is better than nothing.
In terms of coaching, I'm down for firing Bill Musgrave any time now. Maybe after the season, I suppose I can choke through it until then. But the second the final game clock ticks 0, Musgrave better have security surrounding him, holding boxes filled with the items from his desk and politely offering to escort him to his car. And quite frankly, if Leslie Frazier does anything but, I think as soon as Musgrave has left the parking lot said security guards begin packing his desk.
I'm not looking to get rid of Mike Priefer or Alan Williams...... yet. And I'm mostly OK with keeping Leslie Frazier.... for now. If STs shapes up and if the defensive calls stop being totally boneheaded on game winning drives, I say keep the two coordinators. Frazier has a few more qualifications to hit.
First off, he needs to fire Musgrave in the exact scenario listed above (sooner is fine too). He's responsible for his coaching staff, and keeping that buffoon around as an OC has run its course three times now. If he can't see that it was a mistake and that he needs to go, then obviously he can't have the responsibility of leading a coaching staff. Secondly, he needs- needs- to keep this locker room together. He did that in 2011 and that's one of the biggest reasons I still support him. I also consider that a key responsibility of a HC, and if he loses the locker room, then it's the way of the Childress for him. Honestly, I care far less about the win-loss ratio as I do about how a coach continues to inspire and lead his team in spite of it all. Any coach can keep a team together during a winning season. It takes a good coach to keep them together during a losing one. That aspect wasn't looking too hot after the Bears game, when players were grumbling about coaching calls and decisions. We will see.
The final qualification for Frazier is taking a more assertive lead in determining who gets what snaps and who starts over who. Thus far, it's not looking great. It bothered me that Frazier twice said he wanted to see Patterson get more snaps. To me, if a HC wants a player to get more snaps... then why in the blue hell isn't that player getting more snaps?! At least there was considerable progress on the Desmond Bishop front yesterday, but Marvin Mitchell still technically saw more snaps than him. Frazier needs to stop the "slow and steady" pace with personnel decisions, and put the best players on the field.
Hit those three conditions, and I go to war saying Frazier needs to get at least a 1 or 2 year extension. Maybe not more, but he'll have earned his shot for more chances to prove himself.
In practice, these players need to be working on fundamentals. And I mean all the fundamentals, all the time. Outside of Harrison Smith and Marcus Sherels (wait what?), I'm not sure I've seen a player consistently take someone down on the first hit. More often it looks like the Keystone Cops performing a Benny Hill sketch out there. I gave a bit of a pass because of the turf conditions in Soldier Field, but it's not like their showing at home was much better. So defense? Tackle drills. And more tackle drills. And more tackle drills. And when the ‘blowing this up' time comes, those who show the best fundamentals get the pass, and those who don't get the boot.
Offensive line, more of the same. Footwork drills. Teamwork drills. Blocking drills. Nothing else. Period. Wide receivers... OK, I can give them a bit of a pass because I will say I'm satisfied-ish with their performances as a whole. Ponder needs to, at this point, do nothing but footwork drills and learning to not stare down a receiver. Simplify the play book on both sides of the ball folks- when people can't do the basics, they have no business trying to be fancy. (That said I'm OK with Ponder getting draws. It's the one thing he's got down to a t.) Hell, even with Adrian Peterson, give him that stupid oversized football he got after the 2009 season and remind him to not fumble.
None of this is a recipe as of right now for success this season. But it's not tanking intentionally, either. But just remember- we're not just 0-3. We're also 0-2 in a competitive division, and we haven't even played Green Bay (who maybe I shouldn't crown just yet however) yet. Just like this is a terrible football team, this is a lost season. It's time to start the blow-it-up process, and time to start building towards the quickest turnaround for next year possible.
And no matter what- SKOL VIKINGS!