The Minnesota offense showed new life under rookie quarterback Christian Ponder. That needs to continue in the final nine games.
The Minnesota Vikings (1-6) have the NFL’s fourth worst record—behind the St. Louis Rams (0-6), Miami Dolphins (0-6) and Indianapolis Colts (0-7). That means very little, if anything, has gone right for the Minnesota team.
There are plenty of parts of the team for the Vikings to fix. And there is plenty of time for them to fix them with nine games left in the season—meaning there is time for a miraculous nine-game winning streak (but not really).
Either way, if the Vikings want to post more victories than they did in the first seven games of the season, then here are seven things they need to fix in the last nine games:
Cornerback Chris Cook's indefinite suspension for being charged with felony domestic assault will hurt Minnesota's pass defense.
This has to be the worst part of the Vikings 2011 season. And that’s saying something. This team is full of flaws.
But this pass unit is ranked 30th against the pass. It allows, on average, 275 yards through the air per game. This was the unit that allowed Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers to complete his first 13 passes. The six he failed to complete during the game were because either he or his receiver made a mistake—not because of anything the Minnesota defense did.
Part of the problem in the past three games has been the noticeable absence of cornerback Antoine Winfield, who hasn’t played since Minnesota’s Week 4 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
There hasn’t been any word on when Winfield will return, but his return would certainly provide a boost.
The defense will take a hit with second-year cornerback Chris Cook's felony domestic assault charge on Tuesday. The Vikings suspended him indefinitely. He may not see the field again this year which would be a big blow because he’s one of Minnesota's three best cornerbacks.
The biggest problem for this pass defense is with the safeties. Free safety Hussain Abdullah, strong safety Jamarca Sanford and strong safety Tyrell Johnson are not strong pass defenders. These safeties are very productive in stopping the run, but are some of the league’s worst at pass defense.
Until these safeties improve at pass defense, then the pass defense will struggle. But it's something that must improve over time if Minnesota wants to get out of the cellar of the NFC North.
Since returning from his two game suspension defensive tackle Kevin Williams has seven tackles and zero sacks. Minnesota needs more from its six-time Pro Bowler in the last nine games.
The defensive tackle is the longest tenured starter on this defensive unit. He was suspended for the first two games of the season for consuming a banned substance in 2008.
In 2011 he has seven tackles and zero sacks on the year. He’s still tough for offensive linemen to move off of the line of scrimmage, but he needs to be more than just an immovable object.
He needs to create havoc for opposing quarterbacks. He needs to shed his blocker or blockers and make more plays in the run game.
This is a six-time member of the NFC Pro Bowl team. The man has talent. And he’s underperforming.
Where was he to be found when James Starks and the Green Bay run game posted 55 yards in the final 2.5 minutes to run out the clock? As a Pro-Bowl-caliber player and team leader, that's his time to shine. Minnesota needed a stop and couldn't get one because the run defense was putrid.
In each of the past three seasons, his sack totals have decreased (8.5, 6.0, 1.0).
Minnesota needs the old Williams to come back. And maybe that’s impossible. We’ll see over the next nine games if the Williams decline continues.
Center John Sullivan missed Week 7 with a concussion. Minnesota hopes to get him back in Week 8.
This is probably the flakiest unit on the Minnesota Vikings.
Then there are games where Peterson cannot even breathe—as was the case when he rushed for 39 yards on 12 carries against the Chicago Bears in Week 6.
It has consistently been a poor pass blocking unit, allowing less than two sacks only once this season. On the season it has allowed 18 sacks (2.57 per game) and 28 quarterback hits (four quarterback hits).
With Christian Ponder under center, some of those hits and sacks will disappear as he is much more mobile, agile and aware of the pass rush than Donovan McNabb was in the first six weeks of the season.
Part of the offensive line's recent struggles can be attributed to injuries. Center John Sullivan missed Week 7 with a concussion that forced him out of the Chicago game. It sounds like he’ll be back in Week 8. That will be a big boost.
Right guard Anthony Herrera re-injured his left knee in Sunday's game. It was a left knee injury that ended his 2010 season. No word yet on his status.
But if Ponder is to progress, he needs time in the pocket. If Peterson is to showcase that he’s the best running back in the NFL, then he needs holes to run through so he can get to the second level of defenders and make them look silly.
Cue the offensive line.
Wide receiver Michael Jenkins was the first Viking to surpass the 100-yard receiving mark in 2011 with his 111 in Week 7.
Week 7 was the first time that a Minnesota receiver went over 100 yards (wide receiver Michael Jenkins posted 111 yards and one touchdown on three receptions). But this group has been unimpressive all year.
On Tuesday Minnesota cut ties with troubled wide receiver Bernard Berrian—it was time—which will open up playing time for an unproven receiver. It will allow a more passionate player onto the field, as Berrian often looked disinterested. One that can develop chemistry with Christian Ponder.
Ponder showed a solid connection with Jenkins in his NFL debut as a starting quarterback. If those two can show a good connection, it will go a long way toward rebuilding Minnesota’s broken ship.
But wide receiver Percy Harvin … wow. What a disappointment he has been this season (not all of it is on him as the quarterback position was weak for the first six games). Most of the disappointment is because of his lack of time on the field, although 27 receptions, 276 yards and zero touchdowns doesn't jump off the page from a No. 1 receiver.
Is he injured? Is he healthy? Figure it out. If he's injured, sit him out for a whole game. If he's healthy then play him the whole game. But Minnesota needs to figure it out. No more of this back-and-forth crap. He's Minnesota's best playmaker from the wide receiver position. Put him in a position where he can contribute to a full game.
Quarterback Christian Ponder got tight end Visanthe Shiancoe involved with the offense in Week 7. Shiancoe had four catches for 45 yards.
I feel like a broken record with this statement, but, given the lack of talent from the wide receiver position, the Vikings need to look to their tight ends more.
Don't just line them up in the tight end spot. But spread them out wide. Both players have good speed for tight ends.
Minnesota did that in Week 7, and Visanthe Shiancoe responded with arguably his best performance of 2011: four catches for 45 yards and a touchdown.
He helped Christian Ponder through his first NFL start at quarterback, and the two showed a solid connection.
Shiancoe and rookie tight end Kyle Rudolph are two of Minnesota’s four best receivers. Find a way to get them the ball.
Whenever a ball is thrown Rudolph’s way and hits him in the hands, then it has been caught. The man does not drop passes. On the year he has nine receptions for 118 yards (13.1 yards per catch). Not too shabby for a rookie.
His nine receptions are fifth most on the team. Shiancoe has 20 receptions for 204 yards and two touchdowns on the year—he’s third on the roster in receptions.
Those numbers should be higher for both receivers. Part of the problem was the poor play of Donovan McNabb through the first six weeks of the season. It’s mighty difficult to catch a ball bounced to or thrown nowhere near a receiver, as was often the case with McNabb.
Ponder showed zip on his passes and an ability to be precise with the ball. It should help get Rudolph and Shiancoe more involved.
Coach Leslie Frazier's team has blown four of its five first half leads, three of which were double-digit.
By now it’s well documented: The Vikings are a first-half team. They are a team that struggled mightily in the second half. They blew three first-half leads of 10 points or more in the first three games of the season.
In five of its seven games, Minnesota has had the lead at halftime but has won just one of those contests.
Blame is certainly warranted towards the players, as they are the ones on the field. But the coaching staff deserves more of the blame.
If this was a one game thing, then the players would deserve more blame. But if it’s consistent, that means there is more to the story. And the coaching staff has struggled to make adjustments in the second half of games.
It has shown an inability to adapt to what the opposition. And if that continues, then Leslie Frazier should not be the head coach of the Vikings or any other NFL franchise.
Quarterback Christian Ponder proved to be a significant upgrade to Donovan McNabb in Week 7. But Minnesota needs him to continue his progression.
It’s amazing how people reacted to the debut of Christian Ponder as Minnesota’s starting quarterback.
His numbers were overly ordinary: 13-of-32 (40.6 percent completed) for 219 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions and a 59.2 passer rating (150 is the perfect game).
But what stood out was his poise, ability to lead a fourth quarter scoring drive, the electricity behind his passes, the precision of many of his passes, and his clear passion for the game of football.
He passed the eye test.
His numbers didn’t illustrate the true performance of the rookie, but the performance in and of itself sure did.
Expect Ponder to continue to progress as he gets more and more comfortable as a starting quarterback in the NFL and as he develops more of a repertoire with the running backs, receivers and offensive linemen. And Minnesota needs him to do that if it hopes to garner more than one win this season.
On Sunday he nearly led Minnesota to a victory over defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers. He should be able to do well against any other team in the league if he can come close to knocking off Green Bay.