Chewing the Cud Week 5.5

The eleven days that have elapsed since the last Vikings game have not been without excitement. Many would look at the quarterback conundrum with doubt since, as the saying goes, “If you have two three quarterback, you have none.” I pay no heed to such haters.

This squad has been engineered with “character” in mind, and as such I am not too worried about potential fallout. In 29 regular season starts, Christian Ponder simply didn’t distinguish himself. On the whole, his biggest problem has been happy feet in the pocket. His inability to stay clam or navigate a slightly crowded pocket is a milder form of what has ailed draft-mate Blaine Gabbert.

Nevertheless, the way he played against Green Bay in Week 17 of last year or that second half at Soldier Field  a few weeks ago make me think he could possibly be a better player in the long-run than Cassel or Freeman. Such a consistent run of form will probably have to take place elsewhere. Between the constant booing and comments made to the press by his teammates, I think the tide had turned. Unless…

Mashing on some Panther-flavored grass

Mashing on some Panther-flavored grass

Cassel or Freeman (or Ponder and then Freeman?)

As I have written before, Cassel by no means played like Randall Cunningham circa 1998. Luck, above all else, helped keep us turnover free. Indeed, it has been giveaways that has felled this offense, as opposed to impotence (on an expected points added per play basis, the Vikings offense is tenth in the league!). All that being said, he still looked better than Ponder has, and the team is behind him. Sidebar: Some people seem to have  hard time decoding Greg Jennings’ comments about Cassel’s command. It seems Grantland’s Bill Barnwell already saw this back at training camp.

The former USC Trojan benchwarmer would seem to have all the ducks in a row. After a momentous first win in a must-win, the next two contests are against the listless Panthers in Minneapolis, and the winless team who lost to the listless Panthers 38-0. The game at New York is in prime time.

The fact that Cassel’s coronation would take place during what is shaping up to be the easiest three game stretch on the schedule is alarming. I think the coaching staff may be thinking the same thing. Coach Frazier would be remiss if he could not give Freeman a serious shot because Matt Cassel won three “easy” games. This is why Ponder is still lingering about, casting a press-conference-room-sized pall of ambiguity over this situation.

I am not one for conspiracies, but it is otherwise hard to explain why, given that Freeman will not suit up, Frazier has been so non-committal. This allows the team to start Ponder, or not give Cassel a full vote of confidence, while getting Freeman under center ASAP. Given the seeming chasm in performance between numbers 7 and 16, it would be ludicrous to risk the season for a game of cat and mouse.

But oh the reward. There are enough people out there who believe Josh Freeman could be a franchise QB. The guy who Vikings fans thought they had with Daunte Culpepper, or got a glimpse of in that magical 2009 season. Finding out Freeman is that guy would be worth the season. It could also save the season.

Next up, Josh Freeman re-imagines Purple Rain via photo shoot

Next up, Josh Freeman re-imagines Purple Rain 

Scouting Report

Since the name of this column implies that I am re-hashing over something that I recently consumed, I made myself watch Panthers-Cardinals, ignoring the touchdown orgy that was going down in North Texas.

Before that, I quickly watched-over the week 1 showdown against Seattle. I did not pay much attention to their games against the Bills or Giants, since their o-lines are reputedly weak and Carolina’s supposed defensive strength is their front four. Seattle’s offensive line has also looked pretty weak recently, but that is down to a spat of injuries.

In any case, in both the games I watched, Carolina’s defensive line had a performance commensurate with their reputation. They push, specifically Star Lotulelei, rather than get pushed. I am a bit worried, considering how much the Vikings struggled against the strong push provided by Cleveland’s defensive front.

The Panthers also rushed the passer effectively, and could have compiled more sacks had Carson Palmer not been so uncharacteristically slippery.

Beyond the line, Carolina’s defense impressed me. Both their linebackers and defensive backs flow quickly to the ball, gang tackling ball carriers and not allowing much YAC. For a team that was supposed to be extremely vulnerable in the secondary, I was surprised.

Offensively, they run a lot of zone-reads. A lot. Given our historic struggles* with running quarterbacks, I am somewhat nervous. Discipline will be key. Cam Newton can make all the throws, but he seems to struggle when pressure comes directly in his face (to be fair most QBs do) and against zone defense, when defenders are lurking underneath. Hopefully, Alan Williams calls those Green Dog blitzes that were run often in the Cleveland game. I also like the idea of running zone-blitzes with Griffen dropping into coverage – that worked well last year.

Underinvesting, and badly investing.

I have talked previously about how the Rick Spielman has probably invested less resources in linebackers than any other positional group. I wrote how it hurt us, especially against the Lions. Given limited resources, however, I don’t think it is all too bad  a strategy with the increase in Nickel snaps and the lower downside of poor linebacking versus poor line play or a poor secondary.

What is shaping up in the secondary might be far worse. The Nickel package features three DBs drafted in the first round. To wit, Josh Robinson cost a third round pick which is hardly nothing. Yet, other than the unmitigated success that has been Harrison Smith lacing up at free safety, these players have looked shaky. Xavier Rhodes is still pretty new, so his mediocre play can be countenanced. Chris Cook on the other hand, between injuries, off the field issues and mediocre play has been a disappointment. He’s also a free agent after the season. Josh Robinson has hit a serious sophmore slump, as I cannot recall the last time he disrupted a pass. Quite frankly the most impressive cornerback has been the undrafted Marcus Sherels. If the latter becomes a consistently solid slot-corner, it might help with the sting, but if the Vikings have to go back to the drawing board after investing so many recent picks on DBs it will be a serious problem. It is hard to build a team when constantly burning draft picks. New England has also shown a similar tendency of whiffing on DBs in the draft. They have also shown a tremendous tendency of having Tom Brady under center.

The Explosive Run 

Everyone loves it. Watching the most explosive running back in NFL history break a few tackles and then accelerate into daylight is one of the NFL’s best attractions. If you don’t believe me, just watch this:

or this:

Peterson’s ability to destroy defenses on a single carry is what makes this team tick. It is what produces all the single safety looks that have temporarily made many a middling quarterback look like good pros. It is this ability that also makes up for a startlingly high amount of mediocre carries. In 2012, for example, one of the best running back seasons of all time, Peterson’s success rate** trailed that of thirteen other running backs. I’m not talking low-volume runners either – Marshawn Lynch, C.J. Spiller, Ahmad Bradshaw to name a few.

I raise this simply to re-emphasize the importance of the more mundane. He continues to hit the home run – in only four games he has already produced two such runs, yet Peterson’s average has dropped nearly 1.5 yards from last season to this one. In those four games, he has also fumbled twice. In the two games where he hasn’t hit a home run this year, he has been averaging less than four yard per carry. Last year, such a per-game, per-carry average only occurred three times. Two of those three games came in the first three weeks, when that surgically repaired knee was still finding its, um….feet. Two of those three games were also against top 5 rushing defenses.

The end zone surges are great for the team, and wonderful to behold. Since even the greatest backs only get 15 such runs in their entire career***, let’s get more of those games where the longest run may be only for 18 yards, but the per carry figure will be a respectable 4.9. Or better yet, a long of 23 with an average of 6 .

The feast is great, but the famine can be rough.

 

Until next week – Skol!

 

 

*In case you need reminders:

**As measured by Footballoutsiders.com, a success is defined by scoring a touchdown, obtaining a first down, or 40% of the to-go yardage on 1st down, and 60% of the to-go yardage on 2nd down. There is also a few minor adjustments if a team is behind in the fourth quarter. Check here for more.

***The link I posted is from 2010, and my rough count is that Adrian has 12 50+ yard touchdown runs. Given the pace of both 2012 and 2013 – relevant given the same crop of blockers and scheme – this record seems very breakable.

 

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