Rookie quarterback Christian Ponder needs to continue to progress as Minnesota's "franchise quarterback."
The bye week is a double edged sword. For some teams, it’s terrible. They are on a roll and the bye week only throws them off course. For others, it is a great opportunity to fix the flaws that have killed their team up until that point.
The Minnesota Vikings are one of those latter teams.
At 2-6, the season hasn't gone according to plan for this veteran driven team. It was supposed to be a year in which Minnesota flirted with a wild card berth. But instead it appears destined for a top-12 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
But if these six items of concern are fixed for the last eight games of the season, the Vikings could surprise.
Right guard Anthony Herrera is not likely to play in Week 10 as he battles a left knee injury.
Three of Minnesota’s five starting offensive linemen have battled with injury at some point this season (right guard Anthony Herrera, center John Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholt).
Sullivan and Loadholt returned for Weeks 7 and 8 but that doesn’t mean that they were 100 percent healthy.
Herrera is likely not to play the Week 10 matchup with the Green Bay Packers because of a left knee injury.
The Vikings need a healthy, top-of-the-line offensive line so that the franchise can properly protect its quarterback of the future, Christian Ponder. Ponder's shown an ability to avoid the pass rush and successfully scramble, but Minnesota doesn't want to see its future at the most important position get killed in his rookie season.
The Vikings offensive line isn’t one the league’s best, but if it isn’t healthy then it can make life difficult for Ponder.
Wide receiver Michael Jenkins made life easier for Christian Ponder in Ponder's first NFL start with three catches for 111 yards and a touchdown.
Week 7 against the Green Bay Packers was a roller coaster ride for rookie quarterback Christian Ponder (two interceptions, two touchdowns, 219 yards on 13-of-32 passing—40.6 percent completed).
In Week 8 we saw a quarterback with more poise and control and not only did he pass the eye test but he also passed the statistical test (one touchdown, zero interceptions and 236 yards on 18-of-28 passing—64.3 percent completed).
Through his first two NFL starts he’s gotten progressively better. But he’s only had two games in which to get connected with his receivers.
Imagine how his game will have improved with more time to work one-on-one with guys like tight end Visanthe Shiancoe and wide receivers Percy Harvin, Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu. When he gets in a rhythm with them then we’ll see the rookie at his best.
Wide receiver Percy Harvin has spent far too much time on the sidelines on gameday.
Percy Harvin on the injury report. It’s a weekly expectation like the sun rising every morning.
And it has to change. Harvin needs to either sit out or play the full game. This back and forth stuff doesn’t work. It hurts the offense by throwing off its rhythm.
On Tuesday, Harvin told CBSSPORTS.com his bruised ribs were “good” and didn’t think that “they should be a problem at all.”
If he’s speaking truthfully. If Ponder is to play his best then he needs his No. 1 receiver to be healthy and on the same page as him. Just like the previous slide said: He needs to develop chemistry with him.
The Minnesota pass defense is 28th in the league (274 yards per game). The biggest problem for the pass defense is the safety play.
The Vikings have had a terrible secondary this season. It’s very much public knowledge. The pass defense is 28th against the pass (2,189 yards allowed, 274 per game) and has allowed two or more touchdown passes in five out of eight games.
But those struggles are amplified with Minnesota’s rush defense among the league’s best (94.4 yards per game, 755 yards total, No. 4 against the run).
And it gets amplified even more when the serious damage gets done over the top because the safeties get beaten time after time. The Minnesota safeties are the worst in the NFL against the pass. They haven’t got a clue. Just look at the opening touchdown of the game against the Chicago Bears.
Chicago receiver Devin Hester blew past safety Hussain Abdullah for a 48-yard touchdown reception. Abdullah had deep coverage and just let Hester own him on a simple go route.
With cornerback Chris Cook out until his assault case gets resolved and Cedric Griffin having a down year, Minnesota needs Antoine Winfield back at cornerback.
Cornerback Antoine Winfield is as sure of a tackler as there is in the NFL.
And that’s precisely how the last slide ended. Minnesota needs its No. 1 cornerback to be healthy coming off of the bye week. He’s listed as active as of Thursday and rotoworld.com reported that Winfield noted his neck as 100 percent healthy.
Minnesota needs him back. Having played in only four games, he's still sixth on the team in tackles (35).
Excluding the 34-10 shellacking Minnesota put on Arizona in Week 5 when turnovers forced changed the entire complexion of the game, Minnesota allowed an average of 297.33 yards passing per game, 23.33 yards per game more than it allowed on average this season.
Winfield is not only a lockdown corner, but he’s Minnesota’s most sure-handed tackler. He doesn’t miss tackles. Once he gets his paws on an offensive player, that offensive player goes down.
E.J. Henderson averages 5.25 tackles per game. An unacceptable total for a middle linebacker.
Henderson has had only one game with double-digit tackles and only two games with more than five tackles. He has 42 tackles on the year (5.25 tackles per game), tied for third on the team.
Those are unacceptable facts for a middle linebacker. A middle linebacker should be a top two or three tackler for his team on any given Sunday.
He was nowhere to be seen when James Starks ran for 55 yards in the final 2:30 of Minnesota’s 33-27 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
As the middle linebacker of a top-five rush defense, Henderson is on the hook for that drive more than any other player on the field. He should have been the one to slow down Starks.
Hopefully the bye week woke him up and brought him back to his 2011 Pro Bowl form.