If you had asked most sober Vikings fans, prior to the start of last season, to predict the squad’s record for the upcoming season, most fans would have been thrilled with an 8-8 finish. I have friends with so little faith in Dr. Christian and Mr. Ponder that a 6-10 finish would have been considered a victory.
We all know what happened: some of the Vikings young bucks exceeded expectations (Messers Kalil, Smith, and Walsh), All Day quite literally turned in a performance for the ages, and Dr. Christian showed up just often enough for the Vikings to cobble together 10 wins. Unfortunately, an injury to Dr. Christian left the Vikings starting Joe “Wait, I Am Starting A Playoff Game?” Webb against the Packers in Lamblow Field.
That pitiful performance left all Vikings fans asking the same questions: so, now what?
And unfortunately, that question just led to more questions: Will this year’s squad be able to take the proverbial next step? Can last year’s stellar rookie class continue to get better? Will this year’s rookie class be able to contribute as quickly as last year’s class did? Which version of Greg Jennings and Desmond Bishop did the Vikings get?
We will get to the young bucks and free agents in a bit, but whether the Vikings take the proverbial next step this season hinges almost entirely on the play of 3rd year QB Christian Ponder. We covered his erratic play at length last year. One positive update to that analysis is that, in Ponder’s last 4 games, all Vikings wins, Ponder played reasonably well. He almost gave the game away against Da Bears, but he played well against the Rams, Texans, and rival Packers. In fact, his QB rating in those games was more than 90. However, before we give him a lei and send him to Hawaii, it is important to point out that in those same 4 games, All Day averaged a foolish 163 yards/game.
If Ponder’s successful play is tied to that kind of production from All Day, we might be in trouble. Not that All Day cannot deliver, it is just silly to doubt him at this point, but it would be nice if he did not have to deliver other-worldly stats in every game for the Vikings to have a chance.
So that is what this season boils down to: can Christian Ponder show us that he can win a game without All Day threatening the record books?
He does have some new toys…hey there Greg, Cordarrelle…to replace some old ones…see you Cheech…Juice…get out of here…fine, fine, fine, you can stay. Pro Bowl MVP Kyle Rudolph is looking to build on a solid rookie campaign. Even Jarius Wright flashed a little promise last season. The pieces are there. The potential is great.
Heck, Ponder even demonstrated that he has it in him. On 3rd down and more than 6 yards, Dr. Christian completed nearly 70% of his passes for just a tick more than 7 yards. He actually struggled most on 1st and 2nd down, completing a far less impressive 60% of his passes. Mr. Ponder also struggled to complete intermediate passes of more than 10 yards and less than 40 yards. He completed those throws with Tavarius-like precision, finding the target 38% of the time.
Quite frankly, that is unacceptable. If he cannot improve on that number, this team is going to need another all-universe performance from All Day; Pro-Bowl seasons from The Golden Fundamental, Greg Jennings, and Kyle Rudolph; and some favorable bounces in the schedule to be a playoff threat. Could that happen? Sure. But is it likely? I, for one, am not so sure. Unfortunately, regression might be the more likely outcome. It all rests on Dr. Christian and Mr. Ponder’s inconsistent right arm. I think that means that, based on what we know, that gives us a 38% chance of pulling it off.
Packers’ Roob Take
PA, is that you? Joking aside, there is no doubt that Vikings nation is abuzz following last season’s breakthrough. But, to me, the Vikings are at a crossroads. Is it a team on the rise that’s ready to take the next step in becoming perennial division-contenders and a playoff team? Or, is it this year’s Lions – you know, a team that makes the playoffs with a young roster only to fall flat with newer and higher expectations and a tougher schedule?
We will know after two weeks what this team is made of because the Vikes open on the road at both the Lions and Bears. Both are winnable games, but both are losable. The Lions are seeking redemption after last season’s abomination and Da Bears simply have the Vikes’ number at Solider Field. It is critical, in my opinion, for the Vikings to win both games in order to gain the ever-important momentum and prove to themselves that they can battle division foes on the road. If, however, the Vikes lose both, watch out. The bottom will fall out.
The NFL is a parity-driven league. Almost every year there is a team that is supposed to be on the rise that falls well short of the new lofty expectations. And this year, I think the Vikings are that team. Ponder is too inconsistent and the loss of Percy will prove crucial. I don’t buy that Jennings – and his recent injury history – and Cordarelle Patterson are the answer. And there is still the matter of a leaky secondary, even with newcomers Rhodes and The Golden Fundamental. It’ll be a fitting end to the Metrodome era – disappointment.