Who Deserves Most Blame for the Minnesota Vikings' Struggles This Season

Mike Nelson@Mike_E_NelsonCorrespondent ISeptember 27, 2013

Christian Ponder! Christian Ponder! Christian Ponder!

His play has been under more scrutiny than Miley Cyrus twerking.

Enough already.

Everyone knows he isn’t playing at the level of a franchise quarterback and is destined for a career as a backup—at this rate.

Ponder is part of the losing equation, but he isn’t the biggest problem.

Remember, Minnesota reached the postseason in 2012 with Ponder at the helm. And while he is playing below his 2012 standard, he’s not too off from that.

He averaged 183.4 yards passing, 1.1 touchdown passes and .75 interceptions per game while completing 62.1 percent of his passes in 2012. In 2013 he averages 230.3 yards passing, .7 touchdown passes and 1.7 interceptions per game, while completing 59 percent of his passes.

So if not Ponder, what’s the difference?


It was on display in Minnesota’s latest loss, a 31-27 defeat at the hands of the then winless Cleveland Browns, who traded away their standout running back Trent Richardson the week before that game and were led by their third-string quarterback Brian Hoyer.

Highlighting that loss were two special teams catastrophes—a fake field goal converted into a touchdown and a fake punt on fourth-and-1 resulting in a 34-yard rush up the middle—and an 11-play, 55-yard drive resulting in the game-winning touchdown for the Browns ON THE ROAD, which left Minnesota 51 seconds to respond.

That disaster ended in a sack of Ponder.

Minnesota did lose Chris Cook and Jamarca Sanford to injury that game, leaving the secondary further depleted. That excuse would be valid while playing Aaron Rodgers, but not Brian Hoyer—who finished 30 of 54 for 321 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions

The Vikings defense should have been able to slow the 27-year-old journeyman more than it did, especially at crunch time at home.

The previous week a similar thing happened against the Chicago Bears. The defense conceded a lead in the final minute, allowing Jay Cutler to hit Martellus Bennett for a 16-yard touchdown with 10 seconds left.

At least that one was on the road and to a team with its first-string quarterback.

After that Week 2 loss, head coach Leslie Frazier admitted he could have done more to help the defense succeed.

"There were some general things that I definitely could have done better in that situation to help our coaches, but I didn't and I have to do a better job in that situation," Frazier told the Associated Press.

Chad Greenway told the St. Paul Pioneer Press communication issues paved the way for Bennett to score the game winner.

Greenway didn’t specify whether it was between players or coaches and players. Bet on it being a little bit of both, especially with Frazier saying he could have done more to help out.

Well-coached teams don’t have those types of problems. Everyone is on the same page.

And that page was ruffled in the preseason.

In Week 2 against the Buffalo Bills, left tackle Matt Kalil described the Vikings as “unprepared,” according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave told Fox Sports that the Vikings “were not playing our best” in the preseason and were “still working to improve some of those corrections” after their season-opening loss to Detroit.

Again, well-coached teams are never unprepared and they iron out their preseason problems in the preseason.

What makes Minnesota’s situation worse is that players are either performing at the same level as 2012 or have regressed.

Coaches are supposed to make their players better. They work with them to turn their weaknesses into strengths.

The biggest culprit of regression is the offensive line, as a whole.

That unit returned all five starters from a year ago when Adrian Peterson was 9 yards from setting the single-season rushing record. Peterson has only reached the 100-yard marker once this season, never eclipsing it.

That group allowed the 11th fewest sacks (32) last season but has allowed 10 sacks (sixth most) three games into 2013, which ties it with the Green Bay Packers, who are without left tackle Bryan Bulaga.

The secondary can chalk some of its struggles up to losing Antoine Winfield. But returning three of four starters should have netted better results than we’ve seen thus far—28th against the pass (315.7 yards per game).

Regression or stagnation across the board. Players unprepared for games. A quarterback failing to develop under the regime that drafted him. And an offense more predictable than the hands on a clock.

Minnesota’s staff may want to check out a copy of “Coaching Football for Dummies” or another how-to-coach book. It needs to study up because it has been taken to school.


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