Last week we asked five big questions about Vikings vs. Titans. Now we give five big answers not necessarily related to the five big questions…
1. Yes, this defense is for real.
Last week’s performance against the Lions was actually more impressive because the Lions have a real professional offense (presumably). But the defensive job against Tennessee told us a few things too. For one, it showed that the Vikings really do deserve their reputation as a physical defense. They’re out there hammering people. That’s consistent week after week now. Two, it demonstrated how solid the coverage is getting. Guys like Jamarca Sanford and Chris Cook are out there jumping routes now. That’s what happens when guys learn their roles and really settle in. It goes from “I’m back here just hoping not to get burned” to “I’m all over this guy” to “I’m reading the QB and jumping in front.” Now they have to finish the job by getting picks. Antoine Winfield had one, but Sanford and Chad Greenway both just missed. Finish those plays guys. Now of course, Tennessee didn’t offer much of a test. That is a dreadful, dreadful offense and Matt Hasselbeck is Donovan McNabb-level washed-up. Down the road they will face much sterner challenges. Maybe this weekend against RG3 and Washington, if RG3 is able to play. Right now, this is a top 10 defense, and that’s front to back. Shocking turnaround from the poopfest of 2011.
2. No, Christian Ponder should not be bashed for the two interceptions.
Ponder said after the game he was okay with the two picks because they were bad throws, not bad decisions. The first one that got tipped a couple times, he was rolling left trying to connect with Kyle Rudolph – very similar play to the one TD against San Francisco in the corner of the end zone – and the play was obviously there if he gets it out on Rudolph’s front shoulder but the ball just sailed on Ponder and Rudolph couldn’t adjust to it and it was tipped up and finally intercepted. Bad throw? I would say very bad throw. Ugly bad. Not a very hard throw either since there was no defender really in the area. Should’ve been a nice easy toss but I guess Ponder just short-armed it or something. Second interception was a tight window deal to Jerome Simpson on a post route. Ponder tried to put a little extra mustard on it to stick it in and the ball sailed high and behind Simpson and was intercepted. So, two bad throws – one super-bad, one just normal-bad – both high and behind the receiver. Does this tell us anything about Ponder mechanically or in terms of arm strength? The first one should’ve been easy, the second one was a tougher throw that was probably just Ponder not having enough arm. Actually, his worst throw of all was probably the one that wasn’t picked right before the first one that was picked. He had Michael Jenkins in a little space in the zone and tried to loft it over the underneath DB and the ball just came up woefully short. Ponder is usually better on those touch passes. I’d say it was a good day for Ponder but not great. He didn’t have the horseshoe in this game. The Titans got the picks. In past games, those picks were dropped. It’s how it goes.
3. Yes, Adrian Peterson is struggling to get to the edge.
A lot of percentages are being thrown around with regards to Adrian Peterson and what kind of runs he’s having success with and what kind he’s not having success with. The one I saw from ESPN Stats & Info is probably telling: 96.4% of Peterson’s rush yards this year have come running between the tackles. That is disproportionately large. Of course the Vikings haven’t tried a ton of run plays outside the tackles. Is that because they’re not great at blocking those plays or is it because they don’t think Peterson has enough burst to get to the edge? I think it might be the latter. Because they actually ran to the outside with Percy Harvin and Harvin, who has more than enough burst, got a nice gain out of it. So I don’t think it’s the blocking. Their guards can pull and John Sullivan is a good pulling center. Maybe their tight ends aren’t the best blockers but I don’t think that’s the real problem. I think it’s just Peterson’s lack of burst. He looks great up the middle cutting and running through tackles and weaving through traffic, but he’s not running away from people. He doesn’t have the explosion. Maybe that will return as he continues getting stronger. But what if it doesn’t? Can you be a truly great running back if all your game is between the tackles? And now he has this little ankle sprain.
4. Yes, Harrison Smith needs to dial it back a notch.
I love Harrison Smith. I love his physicality and his smarts. I love the fact that he wants to bring the pain. I love the fact that for the first time since forever the Vikings have a legit playmaker at safety. I love the fact that he plays with emotion. But emotion can be a double-edged sword as we saw against Tennessee. Was the referee push egregious? No. And the league acknowledged that by not giving Smith a suspension or fine. Correct discipline. But still, he pushed an official. He let emotion take over. I don’t want him to stop playing with that fire and intensity but I want him to rein it in. You can be fiery and smart at the same time. I know Harrison is smart and I know he’s fiery. He just needs to find a better balance of the two.
5. Yes, Percy Harvin is an MVP candidate.
The team is 4-1. A lot of that is on the defense, especially the last three wins, and a lot of it is on Percy Harvin. Just how huge is Percy for this offense? Imagine what would happen if he got hurt. Actually, don’t imagine it because you’ll only terrify yourself. Percy is everything to this offense. Without him the Vikings don’t have an offense. Is there another non-QB offensive player you can say that about? No team wants to lose their star, but most teams could survive without their star. The Texans could still get it done without Arian Foster. The Patriots without Wes Welker. The Bears without Brandon Marshall. I’m talking about winning teams now. The Lions would be up poop creek without Calvin Johnson but this year they’ve been up poop creek with him so it’s moot. Clearly, among winning teams, the Vikings are the one that would suffer the most devastation if they lost their #1 weapon. If Percy went down today, the Vikes would immediately go from playoff contenders to nothing. They’d be lucky to win three more games the rest of the year without him. Yes I know the defense is good but they’re not dominating enough to win without a decent offense. The Vikings aren’t a great offense but they’re good enough. Harvin raises them to that level. Without him, they become garbage. That’s an MVP right there.
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