I’m not completely sure how to feel about last Sunday’s game against the Jaguars. The aphorism “a win is a win” certainly rings true for those of us who desperately needed to see the Vikings finally claim a victory, Christian Ponders first in the Metrodome, and start this season off on a good note. However, the way in which they won, and against one of the leagues lesser teams at that, leaves something to be desired. It was a poor and generally sloppy performance at times on both sides of the ball, with bits of hope sprinkled in. Undoubtedly the fact that they were able to pull out the win has colored how we will all look back on the game, and after all, a win is a win, and we’ll take it. That being said, there are a number of things that need to improve, and it’s reasonable to expect to see some of them week 2 against the colts. What follows is a list of five things that were lacking week one, and should be perfectly fixable going in to week two.
1. The Defensive Line Needs to Show Up… Big.
For years the front four has been the strength of the whole Vikings team, with the exception perhaps of the leagues best running back. That certainly wasn’t evident on Sunday against the Jags. The NFL’s reigning sack leader Jared Allen was silent all game, hardly ever getting close to the quarterback. Brian Robison had a great day on the other end, but still the front four didn’t record a sack in the game. This needs to change, immediately. The D-line will have a chance to make up for its poor performance this coming weekend against a rookie QB and a less than stellar offensive line.
2. Get the Running Game Going
Adrian Peterson made his triumphant return Sunday and put many fantasy owners to shame, rushing for 84 yards and two touchdowns. His performance, along with that of Percy Harvin, was the catalyst that appeared to ignite the stagnant Vikings offense late in the first half, and ultimately propelled them to victory. Even so, the running game needs to improve in week two. We all know that the running game sets up the passing game, and vice versa. The Vikings remain a run-first team, by necessity if nothing else, therefore they need to have success in that area. Now ultimately they did, however it came later than it should have. They need to get things rolling right off the bat (and by this I DON’T mean running on every first down ala Darrell Bevell). We all know that we can expect great things from AP, but the league also needs to learn to respect the abilities of Toby Gerhart. He’s certainly shown that he’s capable enough to be a starting running back on a team that doesn’t already have a superstar at that position, however against the Jags he never really got going.
3. Get Off the Field on 3rd Downs
At times against the Jaguars the defense looked solid, and at times they showed signs of their former selves. They seemed to have no problem holding the Jags offense through the first two downs, but when third down came they failed nearly every time. That’s a big problem. This is another area that should improve next week against the colts, and if we don’t see any improvement, we can start to worry. This of course involves the entire defense. The front four needs to bring more pressure, the secondary needs to do a better job in coverage, and the linebackers need to show up with some big plays. If some combination of these factors begin to show up in week two, we’ll be in much better shape than in week one. Oh, and speaking of the secondary…
4. Consistency in the Secondary
There isn’t really much to say about this one. The Vikings secondary in week one wasn’t anything to write home about, but it wasn’t the abomination we all had to watch last season. Young players Harrison Smith, Mistral Raymond, and Chris Cook all have big potential, and a few of the other young guys show promise as well. Why does the secondary warrant its own entry when I’ve just written about the defense as a whole? It’s simple, last season our secondary was the worst in the league. We scraped by with third and fourth string guys, attempting to patch together something that would at least be able to slow down the pass attack that every team had no problem bringing against us. The secondary this season is so much better. With the exception of Antoine Winfield, our defensive backs are all young, and all going nowhere but up. This group as a whole should show steady improvement throughout the season, so the hope for week two would be to build on some of the solid plays from week one, and try to limit the mistakes.
5. Christian Ponder
As cliché as it may seem, every top whatever list about the Minnesota Vikings must include Christian Ponder. He’s the quarterback, the offensive leader by default, and thus the Vikings season lives and dies with him. Against the Jaguars, he had a terrible first half, defined by poor throws and poor decisions. He did absolutely nothing to help the team win. Then at the very end of the first half he came alive, and from that point on he looked like a real NFL quarterback. So what do we need to see from Christian Ponder in week two? Unfortunately playing at a mediocre level for a nearly two quarters and then deciding to play well won’t get you anywhere in this league. Perhaps if he’d played poorly and then decided to throw four or five touchdowns it’d be a different story, but that’s not the case. There are two things I want from Christian Ponder in week two, both of which he has already shown he is capable of. First, continue to make good decisions and good throws, as he did in the second half of the Jacksonville game as well as in the preseason. Second, he needs to come out swinging, the team can’t afford to get off to a slow start. If the first drive doesn’t go well, make a big play when you get the ball back. This isn’t entirely up to him, as it involves the offensive coordinator as well as the rest of the offense, however a great quarterback can turn nothing into something. If he can do these two things in week two, the team should be in good shape, and we as fans will have something to genuinely look forward to.
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