I can't stand losing to Green Bay, but I have to be honest, if I was ever going to be happy...well, not bummed out...Sunday was it. I fully expected a beating the likes of what we saw last season at the Metrodome, but something funny happened on our way to the bloodbath:
The Minnesota Vikings might have found themselves an answer at quarterback.
At first glance, Christian Ponder's numbers were fairly pedestrian, and some would even say mediocre to bad: 13/32 for 219 yards, 2 TD's, and 2 pretty bad picks. However, when you look a little deeper, there are things that you can definitely take away from this game and move forward with.
For the most part, he made good decisions, made some clutch throws, was mobile, and accurate on the run. And if the Vikes are going to rise from the ashes, it's going to be on the arms and legs of the Florida State rookie. And although some of you put in solid musical requests of Journey and Boston for the SMR this week, when we are in a good mood, we play Springsteen, for there is no one better:
Left the house this morning
Bells ringing filled the air
Wearin' the cross of my calling
On wheels of fire I come rollin' down here
Come on up for the rising
Come on up, lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising
Come on up for the rising tonight
SMR, after the jump.
Blue Chip Stocks:
Christian Ponder, QB: I'll be the first to admit that this might be a stretch, but I was happy this kid was able to go out and have a good game, for the most part. Now, if this was a ten year vet that had a 13-32 passing day *coughDonovanMcNabbcough*, we would have been rightly howling. But Ponder made some throws that Donovan McNabb wouldn't have even attempted, and I was impressed with his decision making process in when to run and when to throw. He stepped up in the pocket and threw the ball with authority, and the two picks by Woodson were a veteran taking a rookie to school, baiting him into making the throw. But I loved the fact that he wasn't scared to throw at Woodson again, and it paid off with a TD pass to Michael Jenkins that cut the Packers lead to 6.
Adrian Peterson, RB: I just run out of superlatives to throw towards the man we have come to call Purple Jesus, but maybe this could be the greatest compliment of all: Adrian Peterson had 175 yards rushing today, broke several long runs and scored a touchdown, and it was just another day at the office. Simply the best.
Jared Allen, DE: Jared Allen is a beast on defense, and is the only defensive lineman that has played at a consistently high level for the whole season. His 11.5 sacks on the year are more than 3 better than the #2 guy, and both of his sacks came at big points in the game, as in right when the Vikings needed them.
Michael Jenkins, WR: I'm picking up what Jenkins is throwing down. He was one of the more unheralded free agent signings, but it's been a great pickup for the Vikings. He's far and away been the most consistent WR on the roster, and I loved the 72 yarder to open the game. He's a solid veteran, and I think he's the security blanket that a young QB needs to develop.
Brandon Fusco, RG, and Joe Berger, C: Raise your hand if you thought that Ponder was going to get killed when Anthony Herrera went out with an injury. Yeah, me too. Fusco came in and acquitted himself pretty good, if you ask me. As for Berger, I thought he had a very solid game. I can only remember a single time that the Packers got a lot of pressure up the middle, and Ponder had enough room to step up in the pocket and throw. Well done, gentlemen.
Visanthe Shiancoe, TE: It's nice to see the tight ends get involved in a tight end heavy offense, and Shiancoe came up with a few big catches today, to include a couple of third down pick ups and the first TD of the game. He's been quiet this year, for the most part, but when you have a quarterback that can get the ball to his receivers, lo and behold they make some plays.
The Law Firm of Henderson, Henderson, and Greenway (copyright Eric Thompson): Chad Greenway and the Henderson brothers seemed to be out of position all day today. On the game sealing drive for the Packers, James Starks ran wild, and the linebackers were nowhere to be found. Starks had 75 yards rushing on the day, and 55 came on the last drive of the game, when the Vikings HAD to have a stop to try and win the game. Terrible.
Brian Robison, DE: We didn't really hear Brian Robison's name called at all today, unless he was kicking some dude in the family heritage (total bush league move, by the way). Robison really needed to step up if the Vikes were going to have a chance, and when Green Bay schemed to neutralize Allen, Robison couldn't elevate his game and make a play. Overall he's had a very good year, but he didn't have a very good game against Green Bay.
Heck, The Rest Of The Defense: Well, why we're at it, the entire defense was just plain bad today. With the secondary short handed, everyone was going to have to step up their game, and they didn't. We've already addressed the line and linebackers, and it lead to the secondary getting carved up like a Halloween pumpkin. Cedric Griffin and Asher Allen were just abused all day, and about the only time the Green Bay offense stalled was because their receivers dropped a pass as opposed to the secondary making a play. Terrible.
Kyle Rudolph, TE. This is probably unfair, because Shiancoe had a good game and re-emerged after not making much noise so far this year. But I wanted to see some Ponder to Rudolph passes, and I didn't. But Rudolph has had some nice catches this year, and I was disappointed that he didn't have any against Green Bay. I think these guys are going to be a solid combination for a decade, and I wanted it rolled out on Sunday, damn it. So we unfairly and arbitrarily punsh Kyle Rudolph.
Buy: The 72 yard bomb from Ponder to Jenkins to open up the game. I thought that was a great call to open the game. Let the young QB get in to the game early, and he made a great throw. It was almost a touchdown, and got the home crowd rockin' early.
Sell: The 79 yard bomb from Rodgers to Jennings to open the second half. The good guys played about as well as can be expected in the first half, and a stop to open up the second half would have been huge. But Hasain Abdullah butchered his coverage assignment, and Greg Jennings was more open than a hooker's legs. That completion was easier than a training camp practice for Rodgers, and Green Bay took a lead they would not relinquish.
Buy: Adrian Peterson running right and in the middle: Purple Jesus was getting substantial yardage over the right side, and his TD run from the one came off the right. Was that due to Joe Berger getting the start? It's tough to say after one game, but Peterson had 175 yards, and some gaping holes.
Sell: James Starks running right with the game on the line. Late in the game, and the Vikes desperately need a three and out to try and get the legend of Christian Ponder started. Green Bay has amassed a total of 59 yards on the ground, and everyone in the Metrodome knows that they're going to run the ball and force the Vikings to burn their time outs. Then James Starks puts on his Adrian Peterson cleats and goes for runs of 15, 4, 20, 4, and 13 yards (along with one run for -1 yard). Ball game. Thanks for coming, please drive safely.
Buy: The game plan to roll out Ponder. It was a nice run-pass option game plan for the athletic QB, and the Vikings used parts of the playbook on Sunday they probably hadn't seen since training camp. I thought the Vikes did a good job of maximizing Ponder's athleticism, and by rolling him out they gave him a couple of receiver options and then a 'go ahead and tuck it and run' option. And I gotta say, he threw the ball very well rolling out, at least I thought so.
Sell: Coming out flat in the second half--again. Very frustrating. Green Bay scores on the huge 79 yarder, Vikes get the ball, go three and out while giving up a sack, give up a big punt return, and Green Bay goes in for another TD 5 plays later. Before you know it, a 17-13 lead is a 27-17 deficit not even five minutes into the second half.
Buy: Letroy Guion lined up as a FB on the goal line. It's a nice wrinkle, and Guion made a nice block on AP's 1 yard TD run on a blitzing DB. I remember when Denny Green used to insert Randall McDaniel in to those situations, and Big Mac would just obliterate some poor bastard of a linebacker.
Sell: The rest of Letroy Guion's game today. He didn't even make the stat sheet, although he was on the field regularly. But it was pretty indicative of the rest of the defense, with the exception of a couple of aforementioned players.
Buy: The third down completion to Greg Camarillo. Fourth quarter, the Vikes needed a TD to have a chance, and had a 3rd and 13. In the previous 6 games, 13 yards might have equalled 113 yards, as the Vikings couldn't convert a long third down to save their life. But Ponder rolled out, avoided the rush, and hit Greg Camarillo for 16 yards and a first down. On the next play he hit Jenkins for a TD.
Sell: The two picks to Charles Woodson. But with the good, there was some bad. Some of his incompletions he threw right into coverage, and he was fortunate that he only had two picks. Charles Woodson baited Ponder into making two throws that he should have never made, and Woodson made two nice plays. Of course, he should have also been called for at least three PI calls that I can think of off the top of my head, but whatever.
Buy: Punting the ball with 2:37 left. This was absolutely the right call. The offense was moving the ball, the defense had made a couple of stops, and the Vikes were on their own 30'ish facing a 4th and 10. there's 2:37 left, and they had all three timeouts, plus the two minute warning. You miss it and the Packers are already in FG range and can make it a two score game. You kick the ball, make Green Bay run to burn your timeouts, and if you're lucky, you'll get to the two minute warning with Green Bay facing 4th down, and you'll still have a time out left. But when you decide to let James Starks run stark raving mad wild, strategy doesn't mean dick, does it?
Sell: Giving up a big punt return early in the third quarter. You know, the first five minutes of the second half was kind of the Vikes season in a nutshell. Bad defense, bad offense, bad special teams, dig a hole you can't get out of. And so it was Sunday. Vikes defense gave up the busted TD to Jennings, the offense went a meek 3 and out, and then the punt team wanted in on the action and gave up a 42 yard punt return, giving Green Bay golden field position.
So although the Vikings now have a worse record than they did this time last week, this loos doesn't have me as nearly discouraged as I was after the Bears game. There was nothing redeeming that came out of the Bears game, but out of this one? Well, obviously the poential that Ponder brings is enticing, and Joe Berger and Brandon Fusco give me hope that the offensive line might be able to be fixed sooner rather than later. But on the flip side, the secondary is a train wreck, and outside of Jared Allen, the defensive line and secondary has some serious depth issues that won't be able to be addressed until the draft and free agency.
But as we look to the future, I kind of like what I'm seeing.