Minnesota Vikings Progress Report: Where Do They Stand Heading into Week 6?
It's hard to say you expected this with a straight face.
Maybe you did, but let's be honest—if that was the case, you might have been fitted for a straight jacket.
Even predicting 8-8 (as I did) was widely viewed as nutty outside of Minnesota.
Tied for first in the division after five weeks?
And yet, here we are.
But, how real is all this? We've all seen teams fly high early only to crash and burn by midseason.
Let's take an honest look at where this team stands and what might be to come.
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Christian Ponder has come a long way this year. Is he perfect? No, and last weekend was a good example of it.
According to Pro Football Focus, when the Vikings keep Ponder clean, he's got a QB rating of 102.2. When they allow pressure, he drops way down to 38.5. This weekend, he was only pressured (according to PFF) seven times out of 39 drop backs.
In this case, twice he threw interceptions, though that is definitely an outlier right now as he hadn't thrown an interception since last year.
Ponder hasn't been asked to win a game in the way Andrew Luck is asked to—at this point in his development, Ponder is asked to manage the game.
I know that's considered an insult, but it's not. He's at the point in his development where they have very specific tasks in mind for him and aren't looking for big, gaudy, flashy numbers.
He's shown the potential for it, but he's still raw. They will continue to lean on the run and the short game, both of which are working perfectly well.
Do you worry Ponder might not be able to improve past that ala Mark Sanchez? You shouldn't because even looking back at tape of both of them, Ponder had a lot more polish and fewer bad throws.
Sure, it was in college, and sure, it was a few years ago, but there is plenty to like about what you saw then as well as now.
At some point, they will open the offense up a bit, and we'll see what he can do.
Right now, why fix what isn't broken?
Most of this is—and rightfully so—about Adrian Peterson and his amazing, and somewhat incomprehensible, comeback from a huge injury.
While he hasn't been putting up Pro Bowl numbers, he has been running very hard and shown that his knee is just fine, thanks.
The advantage this gives the offense cannot be overstated, and the truth is that I don't believe this team is in this position without him being ready to go Week 1.
Toby Gerhart is a solid runner, and while he had some fumbling issues a few weeks ago, he normally takes good care of the ball.
But, the dropoff from Peterson to Gerhart is there and can't be overlooked.
Peterson being this healthy, this quickly, is huge and buys Ponder more time to develop.
Peterson can grind down defenses and keep them honest while Ponder smooths out his edges at his own pace.
The Receivers/Tight Ends:
Here would be the first significant flaw. Percy Harvin is beyond reproach and has been everything he said—and the team hoped—he could be.
After Harvin, though, it's shaky.
Jerome Simpson is hurt, and it's hard to say how long this back/leg issue will linger. If he's not healthy, this offense is pretty limited as Devin Aromashodu and Michael Jenkins are nothing special.
Injuries could really hurt this team and heaven forbid Harvin goes down.
Ponder depends on Harvin and tight end Kyle Rudolph to get open for him. Nobody behind them, at their positions, is really looking like they could be up to the task.
Still, as illustrated last weekend, Harvin and Rudolph could be enough for now.
Overall, the defense has been very, very good.
The front seven started out slow, but Jared Allen, Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson lead a fierce group of pass-rushers and run defenders who have stymied the opposition the last three weeks.
When they play an intensely physical brand of football, they are able to throw the offense off its rhythm. They seemed to get away from that a bit against Tennessee, and that can't happen against a decent team.
So, the defense needs to recapture that focus, and quickly, as their schedule doesn't get any easier.
The secondary is a question mark. Harrison Smith has been playing well (barring a questionable ejection), but neither Jamarca Sanford or Mistral Raymond have been standouts. Similarly, the cornerbacks haven't been tremendous.
All of them get the job done, sure. However, they will be tested by much more dynamic and potent offenses down the road and will have to step their play up.
We could lump this under "Percy Harvin," but overall, the special teams units have been good both on punt and kickoff duties. Rookie kicker Blair Walsh was a gem in the draft, but the team has gotten contributions from all sorts of corner players, like Audie Cole (who released Harvin with a huge block on his 105-yard touchdown return against the Lions).
It's a group effort and has made a big difference, even if it's not as noticeable to many fans.
This team is legit, and while there are still some questions even after last weekend, so far, it seems as though the Vikings are rolling along just fine.
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