Minnesota Vikings: The Biggest Early Season Storylines of 2012
The Minnesota Vikings are who we thought they were.
It's a team undergoing a massive overhaul after bottoming out in the 2011 season. The problem with that is that you can't really do a massive overhaul in one offseason. Part of the overhaul includes giving three rookies plenty of playing time and mixing new blood into both the offensive and defensive rotations.
Some fans who can't take off their purple colored glasses had unrealistic goals for the 2012 season. Most of those lofty predictions were predicated on the team winning their first two games against two of the have-nots in the league.
The Vikings played down-to-the-wire games against both Jacksonville and Indianapolis, winning one and losing one. The players, coaches and Minnesota fanbase all feel like they should have won both of them. Realistically, Minnesota is looking at an up-and-down season, with seven or eight wins about the most that can be expected.
The proof is in the pudding, the Vikings played two very close games against two of the worst teams in the league. They are who we thought they were.
Here are a few of the talking points that have jumped out after two games for the Vikings.
Christian Ponder: Better, but Is It Good Enough?
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Christian Ponder had a better game than Andrew Luck on Sunday by every measurable stat, throwing for more yards on more completions and with a better passing rating.
The thing is, Luck won the game while playing without three of his starting offensive linemen and one of his starting wide receivers. Luck made Donnie Avery look like an All-Pro.
Ponder was efficient and mostly accurate, but his game certainly lacked any pizazz. Luck looked like a quarterback you can build a franchise around. Ponder looked like a work in progress who may or may not be a franchise type of guy.
Ponder has certainly progressed, but there is still plenty of work to be done. While he hasn't thrown any interceptions (a couple should have been picked), he's lost a fumble in each game. The passing game has been limited to short throws (Ponder's completions on Sunday averaged 3.9 yards downfield), which mostly can be attributed to the absence of deep threats in Minnesota's receiving corps.
But at some point the Vikings will have to open things up.
We probably won't learn much more about Ponder this Sunday versus the best defense in the league, but Jerome Simpson is back for Week four, and Ponder will have his deep threat.
So far Ponder's taken a step forward, albeit a baby one.
Percy Harvin Is the Vikings Best Player
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So where would the Vikings offense be without Percy Harvin?
So far in 2012, Minnesota's only effective offensive play is a three- or four-yard pass to Harvin and then sit back and watch him do his thing. Percy outruns defenders, he outmuscles defenders and he stops on a dime and cuts by defenders.
Harvin has kick-started the offense in both games and they've desperately needed him to as Ponder has averaged a paltry 69 yards passing in the first half of the two games.
Harvin is due a new contract at the end of the year, and the Vikings are going to have to pay him big bucks in order to keep him. He's worth every penny as slot receivers are becoming key components in any NFL offense (although nobody seems to want to pay them like they are.)
Yes, Harvin is a slot receiver and, yes, he's a nightmare for any defense to try to match up with in short routes. Having said that, send the guy deep a time or two and see what happens.
It may be a long year in the wins and losses department, but it's worth tuning in each week just to watch Harvin.
Adrian Peterson Is Ready for a Breakout Game
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All of the talk surrounding Adrian Peterson this offseason was centered on the "will he, or won't he" be able to start the season.
Peterson proved that he's a physical freak and was back in the starting lineup a mere eight months after a complete reconstruction of his left knee.
We've seen him take a couple of hits and bounce up. We heard that there was some swelling in the knee after Week 1, and that gave us pause. He played decent against Indianapolis, but there was certainly some rust in his timing.
Peterson's most encouraging play of the two games came against the Colts Sunday when Ponder dumped a short pass off to him, and he scampered for 20 yards. It was the play that has been missing from Peterson's repertoire his whole career.
If the Vikings can find any kind of downfield threat that will stretch out the defense, Peterson could become a complete nightmare for defenses as a safety-valve option.
We've seen glimpses of the beast. The best of 2012 is still to come from Adrian Peterson.
The Vikings Defense Needs Playmakers
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No interceptions and just four sacks in two games.
Two games against bad teams.
A game against a second year quarterback who was awful in his rookie year and one against a rookie missing most of his starting offensive line.
Newsworthy so far in 2012 for the Vikings are complaints about the defensive-line rotation and the continued implementation of the Tampa 2 defense.
As for the first complaint, players shouldn't whine when the unit is this bad. Jared Allen has been a ghost so far this year, only showing up when he's taking penalties. Part of being a leader is always doing the right thing, and his personal foul on Sunday (you can argue all day long about whether it was a penalty or not) was just plain dumb. The equivalent of a turnover.
As for the Tampa 2 defense, in consecutive weeks we've seen a corner given one-on-one coverage when the Jaguars had to score a touchdown, and we've seen a linebacker tasked with covering an All-Pro wide receiver for 30 yards.
The first instance is sort of dumb; the second is just asinine.
If your scheme begets Erin Henderson covering Reggie Wayne for 30 yards, you need a new scheme.
So far the Vikings rank 12th overall in team defense, which sounds pretty good. The problem is that Rodgers, Stafford and Cutler are all still to come.
Leslie Frazier and Staff Are on Thin Ice
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Was Leslie Frazier dealt a good hand when he got the head coaching job of the Minnesota Vikings?
No. An emphatic no.
The roster was completely stripped of any depth, and beyond five or six outstanding players, there just wasn't a lot of talent. The offensive line was abysmal and the defense had holes the size of the Dome in it.
So every courtesy and every ounce of patience should be given to Frazier and his staff.
Having said that, we'll now say this: Frazier being back as head coach in 2013 is a 50/50 proposition at best.
We've seen a football team come out completely flat in the two most winnable games on the schedule. We've seen an offense stuck in neutral and a defense that seems to fold when the chips are down. We've seen way too many penalties—some a little iffy to be sure, but others so boneheaded that you wonder whether the players are being held accountable for such mental mistakes.
Are these the coaches fault? Yes and no. Obviously they can't control what the players do after the ball is snapped, but they can certainly create a culture where discipline is a given.
Frazier hasn't shown much life on the sidelines, and his coaching style so far has proven to be pretty static and unimaginative.
We wrote "every ounce of patience" just a few paragraphs back. We're trying, but it's starting to wear pretty thin.