Tag Archives: Minnesota Vikings

No Time To Bask In First Round Glory: Vikings Day 3 Preview

Vikings management had a very quiet Friday evening. Ordered take out, caught up on Mad Men and Walking Dead episodes, and enjoyed the spoils from their Thursday night coup. However, this is not a group that will sit back and coast through the rest of the draft.

There is a still a lot of work to do.

But, news flash, the final day of the NFL draft is rarely the day where a team hurts its chances in the upcoming season. Picks in rounds 4 through 7 are almost meant to be wasted. I am talking like Amanda Bynes-shaving half her head wasted. Especially considering their success of their first round, the Vikings can get flat our reckless with their remaining picks and it will likely not impact their upcoming season.

Getting an inside linebacker would hopefully prevent the Vikings from doing something silly like signing Urlacher.

Getting an inside linebacker would hopefully prevent the Vikings from doing something silly like signing Urlacher.

That freedom to take a risk and make the pick they want, could help them. Right now, there are still a couple needs that would be nice to fill: ILB, S, and maybe a little project back-up for the offensive line. Here are a few names to keep an eye out for:

Kevin Reddick (ILB) – This senior out of UNC has all the physical attributes of a solid middle linebacker. He has had a few injury issues in college, but nothing systemic or concerning to the point where it should affect his draft stock. He occasionally fails to read the gap properly on runs, but in today’s NFL, that is not as serious of a shortcoming. What he does incredibly well is recognize routes in zone coverage. He would be a perfect fit in the Vikings Cover 2. The Vikings could use another linebacker who could cover and Reddick would be a perfect fit in that regard.

Duke Williams (S) – Another senior, this time from Nevada. Williams has had a few “personality” problems and that is one of the reasons he has dropped. The physical intangibles are definitely there. He is a very disciplined safety, something the Vikings could really use considering the recently-paid Aaron Rodgers abuses players who are not disciplined…oh…hey A.J. Jefferson…I did not see you there. Williams is not really a ball-hawk, but that is not something the Vikings have ever expected from their safeties. He does an excellent job laying wood to receivers down field and, in Allan Williams’s system, he would get plenty of opportunities.

Earl Watford (OG) – A three starter at James Madison, Watford is the perfect kind of high upside project that the Vikings can afford to take in the later rounds. His skill set grades out fairly well, though he is not the largest guard in the world. He is a fast player and does an excellent job getting to the right spot. Under the tutelage of what is a fairly veteran offensive line, think a little help from Charlie Johnson, Watford could turn into a very good football player down the road.

Those are just a few of the names you might heard called for the Vikings today. There are plenty of names to choose from and, considering how well Thursday went, any success today should be the gravy.

But Drafting A Wide Receiver Has Worked So Well In The Past…

Beginning with Nate Burleson in the 3rd round of 2003, the Vikings have drafted 11 wide receivers in the last ten years. Just take a minute to review this who’s who of pass catchers:

Sidney showed flashes of talent in a Vikings uniform. That or Lord Favre is just really good at football.

Sidney showed flashes of talent in a Vikings uniform. That or Lord Favre was just really good at football.

  1. Nate Burleson
  2. Keenan Howry
  3. Troy Williamson
  4. Sidney Rice
  5. Aundrae Allison
  6. Chandler Williams
  7. Jaymar Johnson
  8. Percy Harvin
  9. Stephen Burton
  10. Jarius Wright
  11. Greg Childs                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Now, there is a name or three on that list (Burleson, Rice, and Harvin) who has made some noise in the league. Harvin is the only stud. Though, Burleson and Rice are a’ight. But, for each name on the a’ight list, there are three names who have made considerably more noise in the fast food industry slinging Big Macs.

As the 2013 NFL Draft approaches, the misinformation coming out of Winter Park is that the Vikings are considering nabbing a wide receiver with the 23rd or 25th pick of the first round. In one of the deeper wide receiver drafts, with no clear cut stud, and not exactly a stellar history of scouting wide receivers, spending a first round pick on a wide receiver might not be a prudent move.

Instead, this Vikings fan hopes that management targets one of the following guys (our range goes from Pipe Dream to Resigned Fate):

Pipe Dream

Dee Milliner (CB) – Look, it is called Pipe Dream for a reason!! Milliner is the kind of corner back that will have Vikings fans saying, “Antoine who?” He is a gritty player who is not afraid to mix it up. His closing speed and smarts are perfect for a corner playing in a zone defense like the Vikings Cover 2. And, even though character has never been a motivating factor for this organization…oh…hey Chris Cook…Milliner is a humble kid who leads by example. Even if it meant trading up to do it, we do have something like 32 draft picks in the last four rounds, landing this premiere corner back would be a great start to the draft for the Vikings.

Star represents a perfect fit for the Vikings with pick number 23. Top 5 talent who just needs a system where he can thrive. Kevin meet Star, Star this is Kevin.

Star represents a perfect fit for the Vikings with pick number 23. Top 5 talent who just needs a system where he can thrive. Kevin meet Star, Star this is Kevin.

Star Lotulelei (DT) – Remember, Pipe Dream people!? Most draftniks do not have Star dropping any lower than the high teens. However, his health might be just enough of a concern for him to slide to the Vikings at 23. He is a versatile play-maker that demands a double team in the interior. Learning from a seasoned vet like Kevin Williams, a player who’s game he emulates, would be a great start to his career. His upside is that he is a Pro-Bowl level players who could anchor this defense for the next 10 years.

Perfect Storm

Alec Ogletree (ILB) – The Vikings need a linebacker and Alec Ogletree is a dude. No getting around it. He fills a pressing need, the middle linebacker position, and he has the athleticism and skill to anchor the defense for years to come. He cut his chops in the SEC and presents a very low risk, high reward pick. Perhaps most importantly, Ogletree has the quickness to get to his drops in the Vikings Cover 2 system. That is something the Vikings have not had out of their middle linebacker since the early days of Ejay Henderson.

D.J. Hayden (CB) – The consolation prize in the Dee Milliner sweepstakes. Hayden is a play-maker. He has the ball skills to be an elite corner back in the league. He does not have the run-stopping, drop-you-like-a-rock hitting capability, but he can mix it up when he needs to. Considering he is slotted to go in the late teens early 20s, getting him with the 23rd pick would be a nice get. Considering the quarterbacks in our division, adding another weapon in the secondary could make taking that next step a reality.

Cordarelle Patterson (WR) – Fine, I could not resist. Here is your wide receiver. Cordarrelle has everything you could want in a wide receiver. He is big, strong, fast, and his hands are the size of has trash can lids. The knock on Cordarrelle is that he might struggle to spell C-A-T if you spotted him the C and the A. The NFL is a cerebral game. If he were a quarterback, an intelligence deficiency would be a problem. Joe Webb, get out of here. This is my column space. And, even though wide receivers do not need to be as cerebral as quarterbacks, they need to understand coverages so that they know which hot routes to run. The hope is that the Vikings, most importantly veteran free agent signing Greg Jennings, could teach him that. At least, that is the hope…

Resigned Fate

Sylvester Williams (DT) – This is the guy most “experts” have the Vikings selecting. He is a solid player. Oddly enough, the knock on him is his vertical. Evidently, he is not much of a leaper. Though, for a defensive tackle, I am not sure why that is a concern. And, even though he will turn 25 this season, he can contribute immediately and be a steady presence in the middle. He is probably never going to the Pro Bowl, but he will also not make plays that will hurt the team. Plus, like with Star, learning from a veteran like Kevin Williams will only help him in the long run.

Oh Manti. Just a riddle wrapped in an enigma battered in a mystery. The most famous cat-fish of all time. Kid has talent. But will he be able to move on and use it...

Oh Manti. Just a riddle wrapped in an enigma battered in a mystery. The most famous cat-fish of all time. Kid has talent. But will he be able to move on and use it…

Manti Te’o (ILB) – Alright, so here we are. Resigned fate territory. Manti is a hunyuck. Either because he got cat-fished on the national stage by a dude poorly pretending to be chick or he lied about a dead girlfriend to give his Heisman candidacy a boost. Either way, hunyuck. And, he looked brutal in the Alabama game, missing assignments and failing to fill the gaps up the middle. Though, in his defense, it was not like he had anything else on his mind. Te’o has incredible, you-cannot-teach-that instincts. Sure, he might be a bit slow for a middle linebacker, but speed can be gained with good workouts and smart angles. Instincts cannot. He fills an immediate need for the team and is surrounded by former teammates (Rudolph, Smith, and Sullivan) and that atmosphere might just help everyone forget about his little romantic kerfuffle. If Manti drops, there is a pretty good chance that the Vikings scoop him up with the 25th pick.

Kevin Minter (ILB) – This is the, “I guess that Manti thing was more serious than we thought” pick. In case you forgot, the Vikings need a middle linebacker. Minter led LSU’s defense for the past three years. Not a real vocal guy, he still manages to hold others accountable. Draftniks have called him a pro’s pro. He also is a step slow, but again, has great instincts. Plus, he honed those instincts in the SEC, so the increase in speed at the next level should not phase him. Could contribute immediately and has the upside to be an elite linebacker for years to come. If I have to go resigned fate, this is the guy I want.

With two picks in the first round, the Vikings need to fill some pressing holes (ILB, CB, DT, and…gulp…WR). Even though the heavy lifting usually comes in the later rounds, as the Vikings brass showed last year, if you can hit on two first round picks (Kalil and Smith), it can turn around your team right quick. Here is hoping they stick with that same winning formula.

In Case Of Emergency, Break Glass, Hire A Packer

After the controversial trade of trouble-making wideout Percy Harvin to the Seattle Seachickens, things must have been getting tense at 9520 Viking Drive. Shortly after the Harvin trade, the Vikings brain trust watched available wide receivers Danny Amendola, Wes Welker, Brandon Gibson, and Anquan Boldin sign with or get traded to other teams. Prior to Friday, the Vikings number one wide receiver was Jerome Simpson. Yes, THAT Jerome Simpson. He of 26 receptions on 52 targets fame. Yikes.

On Friday night, the Minnesota Vikings announced that they agreed to terms with former Packer wide receiver, Greg Jennings. Across Minnesota, a collective sigh of relief could be heard.

Jennings is the perfect fit for the Vikings offense. Sure, he is a little old for a wide receiver, he has knocked out 29  birthdays to date, but he still possesses the qualities, great route running and steady hands, that the Vikings receiver corps has been missing since Cris Carter hung up his cleats and started whining talking professionally for ESPN.
Jennings is great route runner with steady hands in the mold of Cris Carter.

Jennings is great route runner with steady hands in the mold of Cris Carter.

And I know what you are thinking, wait a minute, Cris Carter?!? Are you forgetting about Troy Williamso…errrrr…Randy Moss. No. Moss was a great wide receiver, but he just flew down the field and took the ball away from opposing defensive backs with his other-worldly athleticism. Jennings is precise. He uses his route running and physicality to get open 5 to 20 yards down the field. This is perfect.

If Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder showed anything last year, it was a hand cannon for an arm. Just kidding, I wanted to make sure you were still paying attention. What Ponder showed was a propensity for making the right play when the down and distance was between 8 and 10 yards. His passer rating in those instances was nearly 100. Jennings thrives on those kinds of plays.
In 2011, when he was not dealing with a hamstring injury, Jennings caught only 8 passes more than 20 yards down field. That means 59 of his 67 receptions were for less than 20 yards. And, of that 59, 41 were for 10 yards or less. Right in Ponder’s wheelhouse.
The next time Vikings fans see Cheech, he will be lining up across from Chris Cook --- in a Seachicken jersey.

The next time Vikings fans see Cheech, he will be lining up across from Chris Cook — in a Seachicken jersey.

Jennings’s deal is for 5 years and $47.5 million, with $18 million guaranteed. That is $7.5 million less than the Seachickens just guaranteed former Viking Percy Harvin. On its face, the trade of Harvin for a mess of draft picks (2013 1st and 7th – 2014 3rd) and the signing of Jennings for $1.5 million less seems like a great outcome. Was it tense there — sure. Considering the next best free agent wideout was Laurent Robinson (yikes), the stress was merited. But, in case of emergency, the Vikings went with a tried and true approach.

Signing away Packer greats has worked before — think Sharper, Longwell, and, of course, Brett Favre. Getting Jennings make the Vikings a lot better than they were 48 hours ago. However, the current outcome assumes one big thing: that the Vikings could not have found a way to keep both Harvin and Jennings.
The ticket-buying public has no idea what happens behind the scenes with Percy. Because he was traded, we can assume there were some significant issues. Percy being Percy. On the field, he is one of the most talented players in the league. A receiving corps of him, Jennings, and the emerging Kyle Rudolph would have been very hard to stop — no matter how well the quarterback played.
Unfortunately, we will never know what would have happened had the Vikings paid both guys. The cap room was there, but — at least in Harvin’s case — the attitude was not. Moving forward, with the emergency in the rear view, the Vikings need to nail this year’s draft like they did last year. Another wide receiver (please be Keenan Allen) and a some additional help in the secondary would be welcome additions to a team that is at a crossroads. Either take the next step and become a contender or take two steps back to the bottom of the division.

One Man’s Fake Dead Girlfriend, Is Another Man’s Steal Of The Draft

2013’s strangest story gets weirder each and every day. I mean, who expected Octomom to hop back on the stripper pole?? Okay, sad jokes aside, the story of this very new year has been that of confused/disgraced Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o. Te’o’s story played out this week like something out of the Theater of the Absurd. He did not know this was a hoax? Hang on, he was not complicit? This kid was supposed to be attending classes at one of the preeminent universities in this country and yet he was duped into a 2 year online relationship with a girl who, let’s face it, was a 7 out of 10 on a good day!? Either he is a hopeless romantic, gay, in on the hoax, or some combination of those three.

But here is the thing: it does not matter. I do not care. Neither should any self-respecting Vikings or Packers fan.

Te'o got embarrassed in a the national championship and now we know why...

Te’o got embarrassed in a the national championship and now we know why…

Manti Te’o is clearly a bit of a hunyuck. But he is also one helluva a football player. Sure, he got lit up like Chevy Chase’s Christmas Vacation house in the national championship game, but do you think he had other things on his mind? According to approximately 326,789 online reports, Te’o’s life had been falling apart (behind the Golden Dome) for about three weeks. Anytime you are spending a lot of QT with the school athletic director – Jack Swarbrick – your stress level is likely a bit higher than normal. Might even affect your play a little, especially against a squad like Alabama.

So, giving Te’o a mulligan for the Alabama game, what do we know? Te’o averaged 125 tackles, including 61 solo numbers, during the last three years. The guy has been a tackling machine. This year, he has added some play-making ability in the secondary, nabbing 7 INTs.

In terms of off-season hardware, the guy pretty much cleaned house. In fact, Te’o is the most decorated defensive player in college football history. His awards list includes: IMPACT Player of the Year Lott Trophy, the Maxwell Award, the Chuck Bednarik Award, the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Butkus Award, the Lombardi Award, and the Walter Camp Award. Of course, he also took 2nd in the Heisman Trophy race.

Now, did the fact that Te’o’s fake girlfriend supposedly died only 6 hours after his grandma (or was it before – a cloudy timeline is a bit suspecting to say the least) give him a bit more national noteriety? Undoubtedly. Did his star shine a bit brighter? Assuredly. But he still had to perform on Saturdays. And perform he did.

Prior to Te’o’s world falling apart in spectacular fashion, he was ranked as the top linebacker in the country and, according to most draftniks, a guaranteed Top 10 pick. Now? Who knows? And that is where we come in.

Both the Vikings and Packers could use an improvement at middle linebacker. The Vikings have Jasper Brinkley, who had a decent season, but Te’o is the type of talent that could carry a franchise for the next 10 years. Now there could be some concern that Te’o could not adapt to the Vikings’ Cover 2 because in that system, the middle linebacker has to be able to get to the deep seam to help the safeties. And while Te’o has shown flashes of strong ball skills, particularly this season, he does not have break away speed. All of that said, I am not too worried, Te’o would still be a major upgrade for the Vikings and he would represent a superb value at the 23rd overall spot.

Hawk's minutes this year were way too high and Te'o would be a huge upgrade.

Hawk’s minutes this year were way too high and Te’o would be a huge upgrade.

The Packers could use a middle linebacker even more considering the corpse of A.J. Hawk logged serious minutes for the Green and Gold this year. For that reason alone, you know – having a pulse – Te’o would represent a significant upgrade in Dom Capers’s system.

Talent upgrade aside, the Packers might actually be a better fit for Te’o considering that he ran a 3-4 at Notre Dame. That system would not require him to get as deep on his pass drops and he would have the luxury of playing with a near Pro Bowler at nose tackle – B.J. Raji. Linebackers in a 3-4 are only as good as their nose tackle. And having Raji occupy interior linemen would give Te’o space to do what he does best: make tackles. He and Bishop would finally give the Packers top-end talents at ILB.

The Packers also have a veteran squad that could easily address/diffuse any lingering issues with Te’o’s imaginary girlfriend. This is perhaps more important than anything else considering how poorly Te’o played in the national championship game with everything on his mind.

Of course, this is all speculation. Over the next several months, we will learn – hopefully – the truth behind this hoax. And the truth will be the big determining factor into how much this hoax will affect Te’o’s draft stock, if at all. But for now, the imaginary 7 out of 10, Lennay Kakua, could be a very real blessing in disguise for the Vikings or Packers come draft day.

Rube vs. Roob: Playoffs Edition

Well ladies and gentlemen, AP has forced a Game 3. The bitter rivals face off again in another playoff matchup – and this time, under the bright lights of Saturday Night Football. After an instant classic this past Sunday, the two teams play for keeps with a chance to play at SF or Atlanta as the reward. Out of no respect to the ass-clown Rube, you can go first:

Vikings Rube:

Mr. MVP, AP, forces game 3.

Mr. MVP, AP, forces Game 3 – 1.5.13 – Lambeau Field.

Someone’s bitter. What, are you telling me you didn’t enjoy the 199 yards AP forced down your throat? Or the fact that Christian Ponder – yup, that Christian Ponder – had 3 TD’s and ZERO turnovers? What happened to that “elite” defense you’ve been bragging about?

Packers Roob:

Blind squirrel theory me boy – except that whole AP bit. That guy is a beast.

Vikings Rube:

While I am a full believer in the blind squirrel theory, that was not what happened Sunday. All-galaxy RB Adrian Peterson happened. Dr. Ponder and not Mr. Christian happened. Mike McCarthy doing his best Andy Reid impression happened (McCarthy gave no value to his TOs and it killed him). Kicking savant Blair Walsh happened. And lastly, a surprise playoff appearance happened.

It is this last bit that makes this Saturday’s playoff game so intriguing. The Vikes are playing with house money. They have nothing to lose. AP has already locked up his MVP candidacy. Side note, if he does not win, he needs to file the 843rd lawsuit, and counting, against Roger Goodell. AP’s season, compared to the very good seasons of Messers Manning, Brady, and Rodgers, was just that much better. All you need to do is look at last Sunday’s game to know AP deserves the hardware. Every person in the Packers organization knew AP was going to get the ball and he still went for nearly 200 yards.

But enough about the Vikings clutch victory last Sunday, let’s get back to this weekend’s game.

The Vikes were 3-13 last year and were not supposed to be even 5 wins better this year. This Saturday’s game represents the gravy. And I am talking, at Grandma’s for Thanksgiving gravy. The good stuff. Most Vikes fans would have been thrilled with AP’s other-worldly season, an improvement from Dr. Ponder, some consistency on defense, and an 8-8 year. That would have been great considering how poorly we played last season.

Instead, this team finishes 10-6 and makes the playoffs???? Seriously???

Jordy Nelson tries to rescue Coach Rei... McCarthy from a bone-headed illegal challenge.

Jordy Nelson tries to rescue Coach Rei… McCarthy from a bone-headed illegal challenge.

Match-ups (I swear we will get to these) and Coach Reid’s…I mean…McCarthy’s decision making aside, this Saturday’s game is going to be interesting because one team is not supposed to be there. That is always dangerous for the team that is.

Packers Roob:

House money. Interesting take. I frankly think it works against you. The Vikings just played their best game of the season… by far. It was a highly emotional game and atmosphere. Vikings simply gave everything they had to get to the playoffs by winning multiple games in a row, including a contested final game against its biggest rival. Their goal was making the playoffs, and they accomplished it. Now, to turn around and regain that emotion is difficult to accomplish – especially for a young and inexperienced team. I simply don’t see how the Vikings are able to regain that level of emotion which you need to play at such a high level in the playoffs. Of course, this is similar to what the Packers did in 2010 when it made it’s Super Bowl run. Still, that was a team led by an elite QB coming into his prime and a juggernaut of a defense. Vikings don’t have either.

Even if we assume the emotional levels will match, the Packers still have the edge. Like I said, it was a herculean-like effort for the Vikes to pull of this win. I don’t see Dr. Ponder (and not Mr. Steele) re-appearing to the tune of 200+ yards, 3TDs, and zero turnovers. And, in our third try, the Packers HAVE to limit AP to less than 200-yards. Right?!?! Plus, the Vikings pulled off this win after the Packers spotted them 13 points while it toiled away with running Ryan Grant the first two possessions – not to mention a few lucky bounces, such as the non-catch catch. Meanwhile, this was one of the worst defensive performances of the season by the Packers. Bottom line, there was a lot that went right for the Vikes last Sunday, while the Packers did not look like the same team that had been starting to peak at the right time. I just do not see the same thing happening, and that is what needs to happen in order for the Vikes to win.

Vikings Rube:

You are absolutely right (holy hell, someone write that down). It will be difficult for the Vikings to match the emotion of last Sunday’s game. But that is the beauty of it. They do not have to achieve that kind of emotion. There is no pressure on them. Just like the Packers in 2010. Or the Giants in 2012. Both teams won big games going into the playoffs and replicated that success in the playoffs. The Vikings can just go out and play football. Meanwhile, the pressure continues to build for the Green and Gold. The Packers are looking at this match-up and thinking, man, we got gifted the first game, played an outstanding offensive game in round two, and somehow we still lost. We should be 0-2 against this squad. The Packers’ defense is reeling. They have shown no answer for stopping AP. And for the record, I am not sure there is one. I am waiting to hear back from my buddy at NASA.

Mr. Steele's wedding was the first one without a reception.

Mr. Steele’s wedding was the first one without a reception.

Now, will Dr. Ponder play as well this Saturday as he did last Sunday? Maybe not. But, he is trending in the right direction. His average QBR during the last 4 games of the season (against quality opponents) was nearly 30 points higher than through his previous 12 games. And 4 games is a decent sample size. Keeping that in mind, if Dr. Ponder can find the stadium, lace his shoes up right, and not throw any back-breaking INTs he could manage the Vikes to victory. Remember, just saying that AP will not continue to impose his will on this defense is not a solution. Coach Reid…I mean McCarthy…better come up with a better scheme than that.

Packers Roob:

You will not win in the playoffs hoping your QB can be a game-manager. The Vikings defense is not elite enough to accomplish that. Dr. Ponder needs to have a similar effort for the Vikes to win. And that is assuming AP runs roughshod over our defense again. And even though there is no stopping this beast, I do expect the third time to be a little more difficult for him. This is a proud defense. Woodson is coming back this week, and he is known for sticking his nose in there and making tackles at the line or even behind it. And you have got to expect the coaching staff to embarrass Tramon, Shields, and Hayward for their poor tackling efforts. Check that, Tramon did not make tackling efforts, he simply played ole with AP.

Plus, lost in AP’s dominance was B.J. Raji’s dominance. He was constantly in the backfield, bottling up the middle of the line. AP got his yards by bouncing it outside where our OLB’s – yes, that includes Claymaker – poorly set the edge and/or the CB’s wanted no part of AP. But, if Raji and Pickett continue to control the middle and are able to push the line into the backfield, AP will have to work hard, again, to get his yards. If the Packers maintain better gap control, they can limit AP. And before you go off, realize that by limiting AP, I simply mean limiting him to the low-100’s. That can be accomplished. In his career, AP has had the following rushing yards at Lambeau: 2011 – 51 yds.; 2010 – 131; 2009 – 97; 2008 – 103; and 2008 – 45. Though there are many variables in play with such a historical study – i.e. worse offensive lines and blowouts by the Packers – those performances show that the Packers have historically “limited” AP to normal, human-level rushing totals. If the Packers expect to win, AP’s 200-yard average cannot continue.

Vikings Rube:

I have to give credit, where credit is due, Woodson is a better tackler than Tramon. Though, that might the world’s lowest bar. Raji did play well and Sullivan played poorly. If you want to talk about a trend that likely will not continue, that is it. Sullivan is too good of a player (his Pro Bowl spot was stolen by the Packers’ back-up center) to let that happen twice. So, even if the Packers are able to improve on the edges, I expect a similar improvement for the Vikings in the middle. And while 200 yards might be a reach, AP and the Vikes could get a win with a consistent 150 and a well-managed game from Dr. Ponder.

That said, the team’s success hinges, not necessarily on the offense (where I expect the Vikings to put up some points), but on the defense (where there are a couple of significant question marks). Those questions marks are the health of Antoine Winfield and Brian Robison. Both are impact players for the Vikings and not having either or both could suck all the drama out of this weekend’s match-up faster than a Psy concert on New Year’s Eve.

(Not so quick aside, after watching Psy’s terrible performance on New Year’s Eve, he had the gall to announce that he is putting an end to the Gangnam Style momentum? My first reaction was: what a moron!!! Why kill the golden goose? Milk that bad boy for all it is worth. Just ask other one-hit wonders (that is right Psy, you are a one-hit wonder) like Vanilla Ice and Lou Bega. You do not kill the golden goose. My second reaction (I know what you are thinking – you had two reactions to this news – this is my life) was: who does he think he is? When we (putting on my society hat), make you an overnight millionaire, WE tell YOU when to stop playing that terrible song. That means we might just stop paying attention or we might relegate it to the wedding circuit for the next 10 to 15 years (in which case –  you’re welcome). Or, we may give that bad boy an S-curve bounce in the charts and have its remix (thank you Skrillex) be the hit song of this summer. We are fickle and have not decided yet. But you will keep playing it until we decide.

Okay, back to football.

Robison's strip-sack was the biggest play of the game.

Robison’s strip-sack was the biggest play of the game.

The loss of Winfield or Robison would be killer. Robison has had a really good season and his strip sack in Sunday’s game was a huge turning point. Him being out there is critical to the Vikes rushing the passer and getting home with 4 guys. Perhaps most importantly, he allows Everson Griffen to play inside, where he had a field day on Sunday, notching a hat trick with 3 sacks. As huge a loss as Robison would be, the loss of Winfield might be even bigger. Prior to Winfield’s injury, Rodgers was Ponder-like 8 for 15 for 48 yards and one TD. After Winfield’s injury, with Sherrels and Jefferson seeing more playing time, Rodgers went 20 for 25 for 317 yards and 3 TDs. That is downright scary.

Both players swear they will play this week. But a bum shoulder is not the best injury for a defensive lineman. It is just about as bad as a broken hand for a defensive back. The outlook is scary and the Vikes will need both players healthy if they are going to prevail.

Packers Roob:

Raji’s been on a tear for the last 1½ months or so. And he didn’t abuse Sully; he abused those turnstiles you call guards. Though not as dominant as last Sunday, Raji was regularly blowing up the middle runs in the first go-around too. I expect the same to happen this third game.

Finally, we get to the most important part of Saturday’s game: the relative health of each team. In a weird turn of events, the Packers enter Saturday’s game about as healthy as it can be. The only noteworthy injury to follow is Jordy, who mysteriously missed practice early this week. Thankfully, it doesn’t appear serious and he appears to be full-go. And yes, I’m aware of Jerel Worthy’s season-ending injury, but those 14 tackles aren’t exactly tough to replace. Conversely, there are major injury issues with the Vikings. You are absolutely right, Winfield’s injury opened the flood-gates to Rodgers & Co. You’re also forgetting your new favorite, the Golden Fundamental. He was out for the last part of the game and, while it sounds like he will play, he may be limited. If both Smith and Winfield are out or severely limited, the game is over before it begins.

Frankly, Robison does not scare me. He made the most important play of the game when he stripped-sacked Rodgers. But, I do not buy into his importance. And the reason is simple: I do not care how much you sack Rodgers. Unless it turns into the first-half of the Seahawks game where Rodgers was sacked a preposterous 8-times or something, sacking him a number of times throughout the game has little impact on his effectiveness. In Sunday’s game, the Vikings had 5 sacks and applied some pressure on top of that. What did Rodgers do? Throw for 365 yards and 4 TD’s. This was his third-consecutive game of 3 or more TDs and nearly-or-above 300 yards throwing. The offense is clicking. The only thing I worry about with the sacks is the strip-sack. But, Rodgers isn’t Culpepper with the ball. And as I said last week, the sacks often occur because of Rodger’s propensity to hold the ball longer in hopes of making plays with his feet. He’s simply lethal rolling out of the pocket. So, bring the pressure. You may get the sacks. Unless you get a turnover with it – which is not a common occurrence when Rodgers is pressured – I do not expect the sacks, pressure, or hits to impact the game as it does with other QBs. Thus, to me, the game turns on the Vikings’ secondary play. Given the recent success of the Packers passing offense and the Vikings injuries, the Packers are probably licking their chops to get after it Saturday night.

DuJuan Harris. Set to become the 2012 version of James Starks.

DuJuan Harris. Set to become the 2012 version of James Starks.

And, let’s not also forget about the success of the Packers run game Sunday. Though far from great, once Ryan Grant was benched and DuJuan Harris was inserted into the full-time role, the run game produced an effective 70 yards on 14 carries, good enough for a 5.0 ypc. If the Packers continue to have any sort of success with the run game, the offense should approach, if not surpass, 30 points again. I do not see the Vikings going tit-for-tat in the scoring department like last week. So, yeah, you may say, I am rather confident heading into Saturday’s showdown.

One final note – 2 of Walsh’s 3 misses were in outdoor games – at Chicago and at Lambeau. Considering the Vikes only played four outdoor games this season and the fact Walsh has never kicked in a game when the temperatures will be 20-degrees or below, your second-best offensive weapon may not be as reliable. (And save it. Yes, I know Shanksby is still our kicker.)

Vikings Rube:

Only a Packers Roob would try and go after a Pro Bowl, record-setting kicker with some foolish stat like that. All three of those misses occurred on either Thursday or Sunday, this weekend’s game is Saturday night. Boom! The best way to counter a preposterous stat is with another preposterous stat.

You are sort of right about Rodgers. You cannot stop him by blitzing him. You can stop him by getting pressure with your front four. That is where Robison’s value comes in. Plus, and you completely ignored this, it is not just about Robison, but instead about allowing Griffen to rush from the middle, that means so much to the Vikings defensive scheme. Unfortunately, even with that pressure from the front four, I am not sure a coached up Sherrels or Jefferson can hold their own. That is why Winfield is so important.

So, now that I have re-explained it to you, how about that vaunted Packers running attack. Sure, the Packers averaged 5 yards a carry, but it was not consistent. Harris had more than half his yards, 39, on just 5 carries. Everything else was a few yards here and there. Since the Packers are not going to give him the rock 25 plus times and let him try to break a big one, why even bother? Rodgers has already shown an ability to sustain a drive without running the ball. Take a page out of Sean Payton’s book and just throw it 50+ times. Now that is a scary proposition. And as proof, in 5 of the 6 scoring drives last weekend, the Packers ran the ball two times or less. Um, hmmmmm, even Andy Reid could figure this one out. Actually, on second thought, never mind…pay no attention to that…I was only playing around.

Predictions:

Vikings Rube:

I know what the logical move is here. Pick the Green and Gold. Vegas has them as a TD+ favorite. Fortunately, Adrian Peterson plays for the Vikings and this season has just been one of those years. He has done illogical things all year. He is a man possessed who has answered the bell every time he has been called on. Oh, 2nd and 27 following a moronic set of penalties? How about 28 and a trail of bodies for 1st and Goal. Out of the backfield after a ball fake? Sure, this receiving thing cannot be that hard. 2nd and 10 on the final drive of the game/season and only seconds remaining? I will have 26 yards and a near record to set up Blair for a chippy. Block a FG or make a tackle on special teams? Okay, so he only wants to do that. It seems like every time the Vikings have needed him, Peterson has performed. Logical or not. What is more, the Vikings’ opponents knew it was going to him and they still could not stop him. That only adds to the lunacy. I am not picking against him now. Peterson gets whatever we need, including a Vikings playoff win.

Vikings 30 Packers 28

Packers Roob:

The Packers have been looking to the playoffs all season long. That is why they were so cautious with injuries and have been slowly gaining momentum to come into the playoffs playing at or near its peak. Last week was a setback for the defense. But, the return of Woodson will make a difference and I think the rest of the defense will fair better tackling AP. Rodgers & Co. keeps on rolling. This is a veteran team that knows what it takes to win in the playoffs. With last year’s brutal ending in mind, they will be looking for redemption. Packers start their Super Bowl run with a complete game victory over the Vikes.

Pack 34 Vikes 23

Again, for those looking for last-minute ticket deals. You won’t find a better selection of tickets at Ticket King. Reliable and local. Trust in The Ticket King.

Rube v. Roob: Playoffs or Bust Edition

Sunday will be the 104th installment of what’s quickly become one of the best rivalries in football: Green Bay vs. Minnesota. Green Bay holds the series edge at 54-48-1. The Packers have won eight of the last ten, including the last five games. But this game is different for two distinct reasons. If the Vikings win, they are in the playoffs. If the Packers win, they lock up the second seed and the all-important 1st-round bye. In the regular season, it does not get any bigger than this. The drama level for this one is at eleven. Out of respect to the visiting squad, we will let the Packer Roob fire the first shot:

The drama level will be at a peak this Sunday. With playoff positioning at stake, there will be that little extra...that difference between 10 and 11.

The drama level will be at a peak this Sunday. With playoff positioning at stake, there will be that little extra…that difference between 10 and 11.

Packers Roob:

Thank you for your courtesies. I do not anticipate such courtesy will last long in this debate. I am not sure you need me to explain how I feel about my squad. Just see my latest post. So, with that out of the way, I look at this weekend as really a win-win situation. Either the Packers win and get a bye, or we lose and still get a bye because there is no way the Vikes beat us twice.

Vikings Rube:

Let it be confirmed that I tried to take to the high road. Tried to be courteous. Not surprisingly, the Roob dodges the analysis and goes right for the low blow, cheap shot. How very Woodson-like. Before getting into this weekend, it is that very reaction that makes Packers believers so insufferable. When their squad shows even a flash or two of dominance, all of sudden they are not only the best team in the league, but likely the best team of all-time. This is not a new phenomenon. It has been going on for as long as I can remember. Reaching the peak of insufferability during the Brett Favre MVP years.

What!!! Is that present for me??? And that one too?? Both of Burnett's INTs in the last game might as well have been gift-wrapped.

What!!! Is that present for me??? And that one too?? Both of Burnett’s INTs in the last game might as well have been gift-wrapped.

Oddly enough, Packers fans were not chirping like that after they got their early Christmas present from Christian Ponder at Lamblow a few weeks ago. More like running away from the House that Moss repo’d like they stole something. The Vikings dominated the first meeting of the season, and if not for some incredibly bone-headed plays — you are welcome Morgan Burnett — the Vikings take down their bitter rivals and are playing for the 2nd seed this weekend. But that is not the reality of the situation. So let’s get to the reality.

Unlike the Packers roob, I am going to take off the purple-and-gold glasses and look at Sunday’s tilt with an objective eye. This game, like many others in the NFL, is going to come down to who controls the line of scrimmage. The Minnesota Moving Co. has been downright filthy in the last nine games. Even though AP did not rush for 100 yards last week, it took 9 or 10 in the box to slow him down. Plus, he still did enough damage to allow Ponder to shot put footballs to his wide receivers and tight ends. If the Minnesota Moving Co. can keep it going, they will not need the 210 yards AP got a few weeks ago to win this game.

Ball control is what won the day against the Texans last week. The Vikings did not have one 3-and-out and their average drive consumed nearly 3 minutes of game time. That same game plan is what is needed this week. In Lamblow, the Vikings dominated the ball for 2 ½ quarters. They need to bring it for a full 4 quarters and there is no doubt they can win the game. Controlling the line scrimmage, maintaining ball possession, and keeping Aaron Rodgers off the field are the ingredients for a Vikings win. Even though the Packers have their precious Claymaker back, they are still susceptible to the run. The Roob will try to point at how well the Packers run defense has been the last few weeks. But AP and Toby are on another level compared to the RBs the Packers have seen in those games. Chris Johnson and Matt Forte are shells of their former selves. Neither is much of a threat. Joique Bell and Mikel Leshoure are…well… Joique Bell and Mikel Leshoure. Nothing more to say there.

Packers Roob:

Seeing #28 in the backfield has not been a pleasant experience for any opposing defense this year. The Packers are probably still having nightmares about AP's last performance.

Seeing #28 in the backfield has not been a pleasant experience for any opposing defense this year. The Packers are probably still having nightmares about AP’s last performance.

This league is all about when you play teams. And when the Vikes and Pack last played, the Pack fielded half a team. Only four defensive linemen were healthy and Clay was out. Insert 3 undrafted FAs at OLB – a critical part to any 3-4 – and not enough big bodies to stay fresh, and you get a 210 effort by AP. Not that it matters when you are facing a beast like AP, but for argument’s sake, the Packers are 10th in total defense, including a respectable 14th against the run. In fact, all season, the Packers have given up more than 100-yards to only 2 rushers – Frank Gore and AP. And this is with a squad that’s had injuries on top of injuries on top of injuries. That is not the case this time around. The following players are back healthy: Claymaker (and the new sack dance: The Clayboy), Mike Neal, Jerel Worthy, and, hopefully, C.J. Wilson.

The loss of Claymaker simply cannot be understated. He is close to, if not, the best defensive player in the league. He is elite in all phases: rushing the passer, run defense, and even dropping into coverage. He’s tenacious and gets after the ball wherever it is on the field. In his place, were the likes of Frank Zombo and Dezman Moses. A bit of a drop off in talent, to say the least.

Standout rookie Casey Hayward will need to have another strong performance if the Packers are going to slow down AP & Co.

Standout rookie Casey Hayward will need to have another strong performance if the Packers are going to slow down AP & Co.

So, yes, AP rolled up on the Packers last time. But, that is not happening this time around. And even if he does post 100+ yards, it won’t matter because you still have Christian Steele and his noodle arm throwing the ball around to the Gustavus Adolphus WR corps. Don’t let last week’s performance fool you. Ponder is not a NFL QB. He’ll be lucky to be in the league in five years at this rate. And this week he is going up against an elite secondary, one that houses the top 1-3 level of CB’s in the league: Tramon, Shields, and Hayward. He won’t have anyone open to throw the ball to. Remember, last time around – when Shields was hurt – Ponder completed only 3 passes to 2 different WRs for 38 yards. So the game will come down to AP and AP alone. 210 yards was not enough last time around. Assuming he does not put up another monster game, how do you expect to beat the Packers this time around?

Vikings Rube:

210 was not enough?? It was more than enough. Unfortunately, Ponder gift wrapped two INTs for that vaunted Packers secondary and completely ruined the Vikings chances. In the last three games since those idiotic moments of charity, Ponder has only one INT and a QBR that is more than 20 points higher than his season average. Has Christian Ponder been Aaron Rodgers in the last three games? No. I am not foolish enough (read: drunk on the Kool-Aid) to suggest that. That would be like trying to say the Grant/Green combo has been AP-like in their last three games (something I am sure you were going to say later on). So even though the Vikings are 32nd in the league in passing, can Ponder shot put enough completions to get the Vikings a victory on Sunday? Absolutely.

While I admit that the Packers defense is better now than when these teams saw each other a few weeks ago, the same can be said of the Vikings defense. They absolutely throttled the vaunted Texans’ offense, holding them to just a tick more than 200 yards of total offense. And while the Rams actually put up some yards against the Vikes two weeks ago, most of it was in garbage time after the game had been decided. Even though he might not be Casey Hayward, the addition of Chris Cook to the Vikings secondary certainly made the squad better as it meant less Josh Robinson field time. Teams were absolutely destroying Robinson in coverage.

What is nice about having Chris Cook back, is that he does not have to be an elite CB. The one thing the Vikings defense has done consistently well all year, and will need to again on Sunday, is get home with 4 or 5 defensive linemen. This makes Chris Cook that much better because he is not on an island. Now, the potential loss of Brian Robison hurts us here; though, the latest reports are that he is going to give it a go. Robison was having a really good season prior to dinging up his wing a couple of weeks ago. Everson Griffen stepped in nicely for him last week. But the Vikings rotation of linemen, particularly having Griffen rush from the interior, had been the secret to theVikings’ success. Having to move Griffen to the edge hurts our ability to create that push up the middle.

Thankfully, we still have Ten Gallon Allen. The guy who’s poster is on the Clayboy’s bedroom. With 2 more sacks against the Pack in the last match-up, that brings his total to 13.5 in his last 7 games against the green and gold. He just feasts on the Packers and, considering the Packers’ current patch-work line, I would expect more of the same on Sunday.

Packers Roob:

You are partially right. The only way the Vikes win is if its D-line absolutely dominates. Allen is a beast against us, but we held the rest of that line to 0 sacks. And even with Allen’s dominance, the Packers absolutely controlled the game last time around, with the game-winning drive going for 11-minutes. Let me repeat that… behind a “patch-work” line that had EDS at guard (who is terrible there) and Lang at RT (for a half) and Don Barclay replacing him (his first game action of his career), the Packers went on an 11-MINUTE game-clinching drive. Barclay is not perfect, but he has been solid since being inserted at RT. And Lang is an above-average guard. Heck, our line is so good right now that we replaced our Pro Bowl center: Jeff Saturday. The luxuries we have with such a deep talent pool along the line. Clearly, our line will be better this time around.

And because of that improvement, we have discovered a respectable running game. Packers have changed their rushing attack somewhat by doing more zone traps than stretch plays, and there have been more pulling linemen. The result is a rushing attack that’s gone for 100-yards in each of the last five games, including against that alleged dominant D-line the Vikes sport.

At the end of it all, Rodgers is the x-factor. If he keeps rolling, the Vikes will be hard pressed to get a win. Pressure him and the Vikes will be playoff bound.

At the end of it all, Rodgers is the x-factor. If he keeps rolling, the Vikes will be hard pressed to get a win. Pressure him and the Vikes will be playoff bound.

Congrats on holding Bradford and Schaub in check. But, it is another beast to tame Rodgers. The reigning MVP is finally hitting his stride with the passing game. Against a Bears defense that normally controls our passing game, Rodgers shredded them – on the road – to the tune of just under 300 yards and 3 TDs. Mr. Domestic Abuser is not your answer to solving our passing attack. The only way this passing attack does not continue its recent strong play is if Cobb is not healthy enough to play. Unfortunately, reports seem to point to him missing the game. Thankfully, Jordy returns. And a healthy Jordy and Jennings are more than serviceable “replacements” of Cobb.

Vikings Rube:

No doubt that Rodgers will be the difference maker (just like last game). Though as mentioned above, when he is running for his life, his effectiveness is greatly reduced. The Packers’ running game is not a concern. I hope that Grant and Green get 20+ carries a piece. If that happens, the Vikings chances of winning are greatly increased. Anything to get the ball out of Rodgers’ hands.

You are absolutely right about our resident Erik Walden, he is not a Pro Bowl caliber CB. He is not the answer. But he is a significant improvement over Josh Robinson. Frankly, that is all we need. If we are going to talk about the Vikings’ secondary, we need to give the appropriate due to rookie Harrison Smith. The Golden Fundamental has exceeded expectations in his rookie season. He is a heady football player who makes all the right plays and a few exceptional ones. For example, his tackles at the goal line and on third down against the Texans last week almost single-handedly changed the outcome of that game. He picked Rodgers in their first meeting and he will looking for the hat trick of INT for TDs this Sunday.

Packers Roob:

What?! Rodgers running for his life results in his effectiveness being greatly reduced?! Have you seen Rodgers outside the pocket? He’s the best QB in the league, due in part to the fact that he is the best outside the pocket. He can run for first downs and make all the throws even while on the run. If the Vikes want to successfully stop him, it’s best to keep him contained in the pocket, forcing him to step up in the pocket.

And trust me, if we run the ball 20+ times, we win the game. I cannot find the actual record, but the Packers own a ridiculous winning percentage during MM’s tenure when they run it more than 20-times. We do not run it when we are trailing. So if we run it that much, we are in cruise control.

— Predictions —

Packers Roob:

I almost feel bad the Vikes won last week to get your hopes up for this week. But this is what Minnesota fandom is all about: major letdowns. The domefield advantage won’t be enough. After all, Rodgers has hung 64 points in his last two trips to the Dome.

Like I said, it is all about when you play teams and you are catching a Packers team at the start of its run. The team is finally getting healthier. And all aspects of the Packers game is trending in the right direction – minus Mason Shanksby. With a 2-seed in the balance, I foresee a motivated team looking to quash those playoffs aspirations.

Pack 28 Vikes 16

Vikings Rube:

This is not going to be an easy game to win. And you are right, this is lining up for the classic end to the Vikings season. Make a miraculous run, win 3 straight, and then lose at home to our most-hated rival. Sounds like I will be earning another horn stamp on my Vikings fan card. Two more and I get a free dome dog. All kidding aside, the Vikings had the first match-up in their grasp and Ponder threw it away. Or failed to throw it away, depending on how you look at it. They will not make the same mistake twice. AP gets his 2,000 yard season, falls short of the record, but the Vikings get the victory. On to Lamblow for Round 3.

Vikes 23 Pack 21

And, if you want to try and watch this Sunday’s game in person, do not forget to visit our friends at Ticket King. They have all the options covered for this HUUUUGE game.

Would The Real Christian Ponder Please Stand Up?

If at the start of the 2012 season you had asked Vikings fans for their reaction to the squad being 5-3 at the halfway point, excitement would have been the resounding response. And we are not talking just regular ole, the drive-through guy gave me an extra burger excitement, we are talking just noticed my numbers match the Powerball numbers excitement. Considering that was our mind set, as fans, coming into this season, why are we all so disappointed about the team going into this Sunday’s game?

Ponder is the rock the team’s success is built on. As he goes, so goes the team.

The obvious answer is because of how good we looked through the first four games. In particular, how good Vikings QB Christian Ponder looked through the first four games. The quality of that play through the first four games has been even more apparent when contrasted with his less than quality play in the previous four games. Here are the splits:

First 4 Games:                                                                                                                                    Comp   Att    Yards    TD   INT    Rating                                                                                       84          123    824        4        0         96.5

Last 4 games:                                                                                                                                   Comp   Att    Yards    TD   INT    Rating                                                                                        87          139    919         6        7         70.3

At first glance, one thing jumps out immediately. Seven interceptions. Okay…so it does not hurt that I bolded the number. But, I am not sure you needed the help. It sticks out like Lindsey Lohan in a convent. What is worse, of those 7 INTs, more than half of them occurred in the red zones. INTs in those critical areas of the field sting even more. They either kill your drive or put your defense at a disadvantage. Worse yet, those kind of turnovers also usually result in points on the board for the wrong team.

What is probably most infuriating about Ponder’s INTs is that many of them are not bad decisions. The receivers he is targeting are usually open, but his execution (of late) has been less than stellar. And while the surprisingly strong Vikings defense has bailed him out in some of those games, think DET, TEN, and ARI games, the turnovers inside the 20s have killed the Vikings.

So where do we go from here?

With the Kitties potentially in Tom Petty mode, the Vikes need to lock up a big win at home in two weeks.

The schedule is about to get really hard. They have winnable games against the Kitties (who are in Tom Petty mode: “Yeah I am freeeeeeeeeeeeeeee…) and the Seachickens. Win those games and the rest of the season will be an enjoyable discussion about whether or not the Vikings can make the playoffs. Lose, or even split, those games and the rest of season will likely be spent gnashing teeth and wondering how soon the other shoe is going to drop.

In today’s NFL, the quarterback’s play is usually the factor that will swing the pendulum one way or the other. In Ponder’s case, which Ponder shows up will be the difference.

Now, there could be one saving grace regardless of how these next 8 games turn out: Ponder’s continued maturity. When you stack up last season’s numbers with Ponder’s numbers through the last 4 games, it really has not been as bad as you might think. That is promising. It has not been a true regression. More like a two steps forward and one step back. So, even though the remaining schedule is literally the most difficult in the league, there is room for continued improvement.

If Ponder can continue to demonstrate the leadership qualities and solid decision making abilities that he has shown through the first 8 games, even a losing record would not sting so bad. Another strong draft and a few key agent signings (come on down Dwayne Bowe), and the Vikes could be a real contender. But if Ponder regresses back to 2011, all bets are off.

Personally, I think the improvement will continue. I think the real Christian Ponder will stand up (including this weekend). And Vikings fans are in for a real treat.

Vikings 21 Seachickens 17

Come On In, The Water Is Not Freezing

The 4-1 Vikings are preparing for an important road test against a frisky Washington Redskins squad. No, seriously, the 4-1 Vikings. NFC North Division leader Vikings. This is an important game, to be sure.

The birdcage liners around the Twin Cities have been scouring game film from the past few games to find elements of the Vikings offense, defense, and special teams that need to improve. But, here is the thing, the Vikings are 4-1. Leaders of the NFC North Division. We, as fans, should be thrilled to be here. And I mean like Honey BooBoo staring down a Baconater with side of cheese curds thrilled.

Coming in to this season, expectations for this particular Vikings squad were low, to say the least. Most mic jockeys had the team finishing around 3-13. Only Minnesota Viking employee and resident rube, PA, had this squad with a winning record through the first eight games. But here we sit. 4-1. That includes quality wins against the royalty of the NFC, the 49ers, and a playoff team from last year, the Detroit Lions. In fact, if not for a dramatic loss against the NFC North Killer Colts, the Vikings would be undefeated going into this week’s tilt against the Skins.

Vikings fans should step back and enjoy the ride. We are playing with house money right now.

Cross the middle at your peril with the Golden Fundamental roaming.

Now, don’t get me wrong, could there be improvements? Sure. The Vikings have yet to face a premiere signal caller (sorry Fat Stafford and Andrew Horseshoe Up My Rear). The Vikings secondary still seems to lack the ball-hawking skills of a great defense. Though, the addition of the Golden Fundamental, save for last week’s Earl Weaver blow-up, has certainly steadied what was a very inconsistent unit. They still have a long way to go in terms of keeping up the Jones, aka da Bears, who have housed four defensive TDs in the last two weeks.

And I suppose, I cannot call you Busey for saying that the Vikings offense has been maddeningly inconsistent. They had four scoring drives of more than 60 yards against the Titans and 49ers but only two, one, and zero against Fat Stafford, Blaine “No I Am Not The Lead Singer Of Death Cab” Gabbert” and Senor Horseshoe Up My Rear, respectively. Without sustainable, and better yet, repeatable offensive game-planning, this team may suffer some defeats.

But again, 4-1 people. 4-1! I would have been thrilled with 2-3. Furthermore, considering the gut-breaking and heart-wrenching losses Vikings fans have endured over the years, stuff it Lord Favre, a 4-1 start when the doom and gloomers were predicting far worse is  winning all day. And yes, I am talking Chaz Sheen at the peak of his Busey, winning.

So come on in! There is plenty of room and the water is pretty damn warm. Skol Vikings.

Vikings 20 Redskins 17

The Golden Fundamental

Vikings strong safety Harrison Smith started his career as a linebacker at Notre Dame. His sophomore and junior year he played a mix of both strong safety and linebacker. In his senior season, he was finally slotted for good as the Irish starting strong safety. Always a little undersized at linebacker, Vikings fans ought to be thankful for the decision to keep him at safety.

While Smith has a ways to go to catch up to the hard hitting, ball-hawking Dawkins, their styles of play are very similar.

Through his first 4 NFL games as a starting strong safety, the Notre Dame rookie and first round pick has been fundamentally sound. He has not made a ton of flashy plays. But, he has also not done anything to hurt the Vikings defense. As a rookie, playing a difficult NFL position, he has lived up to his billing. He takes good angles to make tackles. He fills gaps with a gusto. And, when need be, he can absolutely lay the wood on an opposing receiver, tight end, or running back.

At Notre Dame, Smith was a steady performer who had 90 tackles in his senior season. He was also team captain and leader of a pretty stingy Irish defense. It is those intangibles that have been contagious on the 2012 Vikings defense. Smith’s presence in the Vikings secondary has helped transform a pass defense that last season was one of the worst in the league, into one of the league’s better pass defenses.

The Vikings have not had a strong safety of this quality since Robert Griffith roamed the secondary. And while Smith has not yet displayed Griffith’s nose for the ball, Smith has shown a tenacity and toughness that you cannot teach. The guy is just nails.

Last week’s game against the Motor City Kitties is the perfect example. With the Kitties trying to comeback, Fat Stafford threw a deep post to All-Universe WR Calvin Johnson. And yes, Johnson is every bit of 6’5″ and 230 lbs. The guy is a beast. Johnson was supposed to be covered by 5’9″ Antoine Winfield and 5’10” Jamarca Sanford. Sanford blew his coverage and, last year, it would have been a pitch and catch TD for the Kitties. See here if you need proof. This year, the Golden Fundamental, Smith, came to the rescue. He cheated back into the play and delivered monster hit on Megatron. We are talking Mack truck.

No, that is not a Kitties’ receiver, that is Alligator mississippiensis.

That hit served two purposes. First, it jarred the ball loose and took seven points off the board. But second, and maybe more importantly, it set the tone for later in the game. When the Kitties were trying to come back in the 4th Quarter and, it seemed like on every down field pass, the Kitties’ receivers were pulling a Qadry Ismail and short-arming their attempt at catching the ball. The sudden appearance of alligator arms was likely because of Smith’s looming presence in the secondary.

This week the Vikings face a Tenessee Titans squad that has been beaten by 20+ points in three out of their four games. The Titans offense has looked Rip Torn-mug shot bad and their defense has looked worse — think James Brown’s police photoshoot. Even though Matt Hasselbeck is a seasoned NFL QB, okay fine, maybe he is a little over-seasoned, Smith and the Vikings defense should be able to hold the Titans offense in check.

Provided the Vikings offense can put up a few scores against the Titans, the Vikings should have no issues getting win number four. Especially with the Golden Fundamental laying the wood on anyone brave enough to go after a pass in his secondary.

Vikings 23 Titans 13

Announcing Their Presence With Authority

In a scene from the classic flick, Bull Durham, a puppy dog-faced Nuke Laloosh protests to grizzly catcher, Crash Davis, that he wants to announce his presence with authority. See the clip here. This clip perfectly captures the essence of youthful exuberance mixed with misguided overconfidence. Though I am not sure overconfidence is ever properly guided.

Young players are always eager to show the world their skills. Here is hoping the Ponder and Rudolph show has a lot of seasons left.

In response to his young pitcher’s stubborn pronouncement, Crash informs the hitter of the fastball that is coming and the hitter promptly parks it over the right field fence.

This scene is also a great example of the struggle that most players go through on their way to the show. This is true for most sports. Many young players have a difficult time initially applying their skills at the highest level. For many, it is their experiences in defeat that motivate them to be better. For Vikings fans, we are  lucky enough to get to watch not one, but two, young players go through this very process.

Last Sunday’s dominating victory over the 49ers of San Francisco, one of the best teams in the NFC, was a coming out party for a young Vikings squad. The lead roles in that victory were played by second year players Christian Ponder and Kyle Rudolph. Ponder threw two TDs (both to Rudolph) and ran for another.

2011’s manuscript was almost completely devoid of any happy endings. The squad went 3-13 and there was very little that fans could get excited about going into 2012.

During training camp, there were whispers that Ponder had developed a strong bond with Rudolph; they were in the same draft class and were rookies together. And, on the field, the two looked very much in sync. More than ever, a QB’s ability to play pitch and catch with his receivers is critical to a team’s success. Just ask any of the talking heads on the four letter network.

Rudolph has quickly established himself as Ponder’s security blanket. When Harvin is covered, Ponder looks for his 6’6″ tight end. You always get the sense that, if everything goes to hell, Ponder could just sling near Rudolph and he will make a strong play for the ball.

Through 3 games, Rudolph has 18 targets and 13 receptions. Of his 13 snags, Rudolph has three TDs. Considering his imposing frame and monster mitts, he is a match-up nightmare. It is still VERY early, but if Ponder continues to look for Rudolph in clutch situations, Rudolph has the pedigree to join Graham and Gronk as a premiere tight end in the NFL.

It was Uncle Rod who sang that he only had eyes for you. Am I embarrassed that I just made a Rod Stewart reference in this piece? Not one bit…okay….maybe a little.

A great example of Rudolph’s emerging skills were on display on his second TD. On the play, AP was WIDE open in the end zone. Like, not even Tavarius Jackson could have incompleted that pass. But, Ponder only had eyes for Rudolph. He trusted his battery mate enough, throwing the ball behind the defender and Rudolph made a  great catch in the back of the end zone. It is that mixture of trust and athleticism that could separates Rudolph and Ponder from the other QB/TE combos in the league.

Now, just like Nuke Laloosh’s journey in Bull Durham, the growing pains are nowhere near over. There will be Sundays, and maybe even Thursdays or Saturdays, where Rudolph and Ponder will want to announce their presence with authority and the team will struggle. But, just like you got emotionally invested in the Bull Durham characters, Vikings fans have to be excited about the prospects of watching Ponder and Rudolph make the journey. I know I sure am. In fact, would someone pass the popcorn, this is going to be good.