For those unaware, I coordinate the Vikings chat on the Star Tribune sports page for each game. And what once seemed like a prominent position now is sort of a drag.
And this isn’t to complain about getting paid to watch the Vikings game; this is terrific. The Star Tribune has been a magnificent place to work, as I’ve been able to rub shoulders with and bounce ideas off some of the people I respect most in journalism.
The chat has become a drag because of the numerous logical fallacies that pollute it. Every other post is “get Brett Favre back” or “Fire Ponder/Wilf/Frazier/Musgrave.” Predictably, people have turned to terrible nicknames to make this abundantly clear, such as “Lessie” Frazier, “MustGo” or “Muscrat” for Musgrave, and “Pound Me” Ponder. Predictably lame.
If this weren’t enough, the Ponder bashing is entirely over the top. I will admit that Ponder is part of the problem, but to be fair, most people just don’t really understand how this whole thing works. Chatters call the offensive game plan “unimaginative” and “boring.” What would you do differently, run reverses and flea flickers? The Packers tried the flea flicker and it was intercepted yesterday, prompting one soul to ask “Why don’t the Vikings try that?” Why do you think? Because it’s a gimmick play that, when it fails, can be disastrous?
At the end of any game people can look back and see only 18 carries for Adrian Peterson versus 30-plus throws and criticize the play-calling. “Why didn’t they go to AP more,” people lament. Well football isn’t played in a vacuum. In that 12-plus play discrepancy, how many of those were third and long? How many were after a run was stuffed? How many were play action?
The problem isn’t Ponder, I’m becoming increasingly convinced. We’ve seen four different Ponders this season. The game manager at the beginning of the season was actually quite nice. Sure, people begged for him to take shots, but he moved deftly in the pocket — relatively speaking, anyway — taking what was given, running for what wasn’t, and playing generally mistake-free football. This was followed by maverick Ponder, perhaps in a nod to Mr. Favre, in which he threw far more picks than any game manager can and still be successful.
Briefly, good Ponder made his triumphant return to Detroit, before bad Ponder reared his still aesthetically pleasing head the past few weeks. Chatters call for shots downfield from Ponder. I ask “to whom?” on a frequent basis. Michael Jenkins could be mistaken for a Siamese twin with his defensive counterpart. Have you even heard Devin Aromashodu’s name called? Stephen Burton? You can’t just loft it downfield with nobody out there; you play the card you’re dealt.
And when Ponder is forced/asked to take chances, predictably it ends poorly. For one, this isn’t his game. Secondly, he just doesn’t have the supporting talent. When Jay Cutler was hurling treacherous passes, who was on the other end? Brandon Marshall, who seemed to have football-seeking magnets on his mitts last weekend. This is a luxury that most gamblers need. Favre had Sterling Sharpe, Antonio Freeman, Robert Brooks, Donald Driver, Greg Jennings….the list goes on, really.
And again let me emphasize that Ponder’s play Sunday was unacceptable. He needs to be above those clamoring for more production and just make the plays — safe or otherwise — that keep the team moving in a positive direction. Every quarterback is going to throw interceptions, but one or the other that Ponder threw to Burnett has to be overcome. Two bad picks in one game just won’t cut it.
But also let’s emphasize that this team is 6-6. If, on August 1, someone told you the Vikings would be 6-6, you’d have been thrilled. If they told you the season would end 7-9, you’d have understood. This is the great quandary with overachieving; it leaves the fans always wanting more. So instead of the Bucs loss being the back-breaker, fans are allowing single vertebra to be shattered with each coming loss. It’s just not…..logical.
So the Vikings need a plan for the offseason. Thanks for that, Captain Obvious. But since numerous people have asked for my opinion in the chat for how the rest of the season and subsequent offseason should shake out, here it is:
For the rest of the season, Ponder starts. Sorry Joe Webb. Ponder needs to fight through this adversity; to wallow in the lows and bask in the highs. Nobody can tell me at this point that Ponder has damaged his chances to be the quarterback of the future. I’ve seen the same games, I’ve read the same stats, and there just isn’t conclusive evidence yet. Let him finish the season, go home and lick his wounds and come back a different player next summer.
The offseason plan has to be the following:
* Add a pass-catching back to spell Peterson on third downs.
This isn’t necessarily saying to dump Toby Gerhart, but at the same time Darren Sproles isn’t coming through those doors, but there should be at least a decent scat back type who can catch the football, and possibly pass protect so that he isn’t too one-dimensional. It all boils down to adding skill players for Ponder to lean on.
* Add three wide receivers in the offseason. (also: Sign Harvin to a five-year deal.)
Only one needs to be a game-changer. But Jenkins, Aromashodu, and Simpson ought to be out of the picture. I don’t want to see Wright anywhere higher than fourth on the depth chart. Ponder needs someone who is 6’2″, with good hands and enough RAC ability to reach for the sticks on an underneath throw from time to time. For the other receivers, it’ll be important for Vikings scouts to scour the list for guys with good hands and limited opportunities. Buying low on the free agent market will be paramount.
And I know there will be people questioning why the Vikings thought it would be OK going into this season with the present depth. While there isn’t really a good answer for this, keep in mind the Vikings were A. planning on rebuilding (as in a 5-11 or 6-10 season) and B. banking on some semblance of life from Simpson. The same could be said for John Carlson, who got hurt at just the wrong time. I wouldn’t be surprised if Carlson is or isn’t on the team next season, because either choice seems defensible at this point.
* Add defensive depth
The Vikings will probably need to add one contributor at each level of the defense. Kevin Williams has played on a snap count, but overall the front four — at least in my view — still draws raves from national commentators but overall is uninspiring. Perhaps we were spoiled a few seasons ago, but I just don’t know that Everson Griffen can be all that effective when kicked inside, as he was during at least one of the offside calls yesterday. Another corner will be necessary, and maybe another safety too.
The biggest thing here is to add weapons around Ponder. Then, if the team decides he isn’t the answer, it won’t be hard to bring someone in to commandeer an offense filled with weapons and no one to get them the football. After all, it worked with Favre, didn’t it?