Minnesota Vikings: 7 Players Who Must Step Up in Week 7

Mike Nelson@Mike_E_NelsonCorrespondent IOctober 21, 2011

Minnesota Vikings: 7 Players Who Must Step Up in Week 7

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    The Minnesota Vikings (1-5) need more from their roster. It has underperformed and underwhelmed through the first six games of the season. 

    Things need to change. Players need to play up to what’s expected of them or this season will continue to spiral downwards and end with Minnesota owning a top five pick in the 2012 NFL draft.

    This week, Minnesota plays the Green Bay Packers (6-0), a daunting task. But at least the game’s at home.

    If Minnesota has any chance of not getting blown out on its home turf, these seven players need to step up.

Cornerback Cedric Griffin

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    After missing the previous two weeks, No. 1 cornerback Antoine Winfield returned to practice on Wednesday.

    But there wasn’t any official word on if he would play in Week 7.

    Either way, Minnesota needs more from Griffin. He was part of the 48-yard bomb Chicago wide receiver Devin Hester burned Minnesota for last week—although the significant blame falls to safety Hussain Abdullah.

    Health status aside—rumors are that his ACL isn’t 100 percent—his performance this season has been uninspiring. He gives receivers too big of cushions and allows them to make easy catches.

    Those add up and kill the defense.

    Green Bay has the No. 3 passing offense (325.2 yards per game), not good news for a Minnesota pass defense that ranks 25th (270 yards allowed per game).

    Griffin, as Minnesota’s No. 1 or No. 2 corner, needs to step up or this game will get ugly fast with Green Bay's high-powered offense.

Safety Hussain Abdullah

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    Remember Chicago’s first touchdown in Sunday night’s 39-10 blowout victory?

    Remember Abdullah’s weak attempt to defend that pass? I do. It was pathetic at best.

    As a run stopper and good tackler, Abdullah has made positive contributions to the Vikings' defense. But as a pass defender, he’s been weak and is a big reason Minnesota is 25th against the pass.

    He needs to be more aware of the receivers on the field and what his teammates are doing. He hasn't shown a good feel for that through the first six games.

    And with Green Bay coming to Mall of America Field Sunday afternoon, Minnesota needs a better pass defense effort from Abdullah.

    Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense will put up 35-plus points on the Vikings if Abdullah has a similar performance as he had in Chicago.

Left Tackle Charlie Johnson

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    The entire offensive line looked weak against Chicago. Even left guard Steve Hutchinson, who’s a consistent member of the Pro Bowl, made mistakes.

    But left tackle Charlie Johnson was at the heart of it.

    Minnesota gave up five sacks and allowed eight quarterback hits against a Chicago Bears defense that didn’t have defensive end Julius Peppers at 100 percent.

    Green Bay enters Sunday’s contest tied for 10th in the NFL in sacks (15), and with Christian Ponder making his first NFL start, Minnesota needs more from Johnson.

    He needs to sufficiently protect Ponder’s blindside. Ponder is more mobile than McNabb, but he needs adequate time to throw. That’s Johnson’s responsibility.

    And with center John Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholdt uncertain for Week 7, Minnesota needs Johnson, one of its regulars, to play better.

Tight End Visanthe Shiancoe

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    Minnesota’s beginning to get Shiancoe more involved in the offense and for good reason.

    Besides wide receiver Percy Harvin, Shiancoe is the best receiver on the roster. He's the only Vikings player to post double-digit touchdown receptions in the previous three seasons (11 in 2009), and he has a good combination of size and speed.

    With rookie quarterback Christian Ponder starting for the first time in his career, Shiancoe needs to be a consistent safety valve. The Green Bay pass rush isn’t what it was last year, but it’s still in the top 10 for sacks.

    With only one touchdown reception and no games with over 58 yards receiving or six receptions, Shiancoe needs to provide more for Minnesota and Ponder.

    Shiancoe, as a veteran, needs to make life easier for Ponder and the offense by making himself available early and often Sunday.

    And Ponder needs to return the favor by finding him early and often.

Wide Receiver Percy Harvin

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    Seven catches for 78 yards isn’t a bad game. But Minnesota needs more from Harvin after his performance in Week 6.

    He is Minnesota’s No. 1 receiver and hasn’t eclipsed the 100-yard mark this season. It may not be all his fault, be he has only gone over 75 yards receiving twice this season. He hasn’t caught over seven passes in any game this year.

    As previously mentioned, it isn’t all his fault. Donovan McNabb, Minnesota’s starting quarterback for the first six games, didn’t make it easy for any Minnesota receiver to look good.

    But with Christian Ponder taking over for McNabb, Harvin—as the No. 1 receiver—needs to step up.

    He needs to do more, especially if Minnesota is to have any hope against Green Bay's No. 1 scoring offense (32.8 points per game). Harvin needs to post at least 100 yards receiving for Minnesota to have a chance against the Packers.

Quarterback Christian Ponder

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    Hopefully, Christian Ponder watched Donovan McNabb play the quarterback position for the first six games and learned exactly what not to do.

    McNabb, entering Week 6, averaged the fewest passing yards per game among all NFL starting quarterbacks (169.8 yards per game).

    He bounced and overthrew far too many passes to his receivers, while looking very old in the process, to serve as a good role model for Ponder.

    But Ponder's presence on this list isn't a negative critique of his performance against Chicago. It’s just a statement of fact—Minnesota needs him to play better than McNabb did through the first six weeks.

    He needs to step up.

    Ponder’s presence brought new life to the offense in Chicago. He completed 9-of-17 passes (52.9 percent completed) for 99 yards. He hit receivers in stride, showed a strong arm and maneuvered around the pass rush better than McNabb has all season.

    He needs to show off those skills and more this Sunday to have a shot against Green Bay.

Defensive Tackle Kevin Williams

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    The ninth-year defensive tackle was suspended for the first two games of the season because of a positive test for a banned substance in 2008.

    Since his return, defensive end Jared Allen has averaged two sacks per game. But Williams has zero sacks on the season—his sack total decreased each year between 2008-2010—and he hasn’t recorded over two tackles in a game yet this season.

    Williams is the longest tenured starter on the Minnesota defense. As such, much more is expected of him than most.

    Green Bay doesn’t run the ball as often as they pass, so Williams will have to get to quarterback Aaron Rodgers in order to make a big impact in this game.

    Something he is capable of doing.