After an 0-4 start to the season, the Minnesota Vikings are in desperate need of some players who can step up and salvage the season.
The Vikings have established themselves as the league's best choke-artists, but this past week against the Kansas City Chiefs was a horse of a different color. The Vikings failed to ever establish a lead larger than one point before ultimately losing by a score of 17-22.
Normally, I wouldn't be too concerned over a Week 4 loss, but considering the fact that the Vikings seem to be making more steps backward than forward, it might be time to hit the panic button.
To let these losses go unpunished would be a gigantic mistake for this young coaching staff. If they cannot shake their players and get the most potential out of them, heads will roll.
This team is full of potential and players with great leadership qualities. The question now is: Who will be the ones to step up?
Backup safety Mistral Raymond is itching to see the field. The sixth-round draft pick showed great potential in the preseason after making the team as a long shot.
Raymond, proclaimed the "Pride of Palmetto" (FL) is a very versatile player who can play both safety positions as well as cornerback. He uses his big frame to be competitive and physical with opposing offensive players.
Raymond was voted captain at USF in 2010. Considering he walked on to the team in 2008, this shows his ability to overcome adversity to get himself into a leadership role.
Though the Vikings safeties look better this year than they have in recent years, they aren't playing well enough to keep the defense competitive for four quarters of football.
Playing Raymond might not immediately improve the play quality of the defense, but working him into the game to earn the rookie some experience could make a splash for a very vanilla team.
Raymond is capable of making some big hits and big plays; the rookie safety could turn some heads if given the chance. Who knows, he could be the leader the Vikings are looking for in the secondary.
Chris Cook has been a pleasant surprise this season. Not much was expected from him after two meniscus tears in 2010 that left the Vikings' top draft pick sidelined for much of the season.
Preseason wasn't kind to Cook either. The young corner did not look very polished as he routinely struggled against opposing receivers.
Since the season started, however, Cook has looked pretty solid. Though he completely locked down Tampa Bay's Mike Williams, his most notable outing came against Detroit's Calvin Johnson, who he kept at bay for most of the game.
Though Johnson ended up lighting up the Vikings secondary in the fourth quarter, that doesn't reflect on Cook because most of Megatron's production came against Cedric Griffin. Instead of being completely outplayed by arguably the most talented receiver in the game, Cook was able to use his size to keep the massive WR at bay through almost three quarters.
Cook was not matched up against Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe, and was instead lining up across from small and speedy WR Steve Breaston who made a big impact for the Chiefs offense. Had Cook matched up with Bowe, leaving veteran Antoine Winfield to cover the speedy WR, the outcome may have been different.
Next week Cook will likely cover, or at least share a cover of, All Pro Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald. If he is able to once again use his size to displace Fitzgerald, he could end up receiving some national attention as an up and coming corner in the NFL.
Needless to say, Cook is finally turning into the corner the Vikings drafted and need him to be.
Everson Griffen has been another pleasant surprise this season.
After a couple of disappointing run-ins with the law over the offseason, Griffen needed to prove his worth to keep his spot on the team, and hasn't disappointed so far.
The young utility player was heralded as having first-round talent, but slipped to the Vikings in the fourth round because of "character issues." Since his issues this past offseason, Griffen has remained on the straight and narrow and really worked his way into some decent playing time.
Originally, Griffen was competing for the starting LE spot left vacant by Ray Edwards. After losing the starting job to Brian Robison, it was tough to see him getting any significant playing time.
That was until the young player opened up his positional range a bit, and is now playing not only LE, but earning time as a pass-rusher in the 3-4 and at tackle in nickel packages. His new-found versatility is coming in quite handy for new defensive coordinator Fred Pagac, who couldn't be more happy with the way things turned out with Griffen.
If Griffen can continue to turn heads and make plays with his versatility, he could end up being one of the cornerstones on this very solid defense—he just needs to stop face-masking QBs on the opening plays of games.
Jared Allen is the most important Viking at this point. The eight-year veteran seems to be the only one playing with any fire on defense.
Though the Vikings are looking to OLB Chad Greenway to be a leader on this defense, it's very clear who the alpha dog is in Minnesota.
Jared Allen still makes OCs lose sleep the night before games—getting this relentless force blocked almost always requires two linemen, and sometimes even that isn't enough.
Allen already leads the NFL this season with 6.5 sacks, and is on pace to reach his season goal of 17 sacks which will earn him a total of 100 for his career. If this mullet-bearing warrior is able to reach that goal this season, he will join an exclusive and elite club of defensive phenoms.
Jared Allen showed how intimidating he can be against Detroit when he caused veteran LT Jeff Backus to false start on two consecutive plays before ultimately recording a sack, and almost pulling down RB Jahvid Best in the end zone for a safety—all in the same series. To end the game, Allen sacked Lions QB Matthew Stafford three times, despite Stafford not being sacked in a game up to that point.
Allen's fire and determination can be felt even from TV sets at home. He is, cut and dry, one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL and is clearly a leader on this Minnesota team. He is a catalyst on defense who always needs to be accounted for and can change the momentum of entire games.
Now we'll have to see if he can change the momentum of the Vikings' entire season, because God knows we need it.
To those of you who read my article from a few days ago about why Ponder shouldn't start this season, I am not waffling over this issue, I have merely reassessed my opinion of Donovan McNabb.
Through the first three games of the season, as much blame could be put on the Vikings wideouts as could McNabb. After seeing how well the Vikings got open against a depleted Chiefs secondary, with less than mediocre production from McNabb, I have officially jumped off the bandwagon.
McNabb can step up in the pocket, sure, but he is completely unwilling to make plays with his feet and escape the pocket to open up things downfield for his receivers. It seems as though he doesn't really even want to be out there and his apathy can be felt through radio waves.
Ponder, on the other hand, showed his willingness and ability to make plays and pick up necessary yards on the ground if his receivers can't get open. With a weak offensive line, Ponder's athleticism could be just what this offense needs to start putting points on the board and converting on essential third-down plays.
To be clear about where I now stand, Ponder Watch has officially begun in Minnesota.
As the Vikings are struggling to sell out their next home game against the Arizona Cardinals, starting their top QB could be just what the franchise needs to fill the seats.
After an 0-4 start, what do the Vikings have to lose by starting a QB who has probably studied the playbook a lot harder than Donovan McNabb? The only place the Vikings have to go is up. If the Vikings play Ponder, they can find out where they stand with this proclaimed "franchise quarterback." If they don't start Ponder and he ends up not being what they expected from him, then they delayed the inevitable.
Either way, starting Ponder now gives the Minnesota Vikings the best chance to win, and who knows, he could end up salvaging some games for the season.
Thanks for reading.