No big answers this week, just more questions.
1. How much should we re-calibrate our view of the team based on this loss?
The bandwagon is going to lose some weight after this loss, no question. Those power rankers who had the Vikings up in the top 10 are going to drop them. Mid-teens is where the Vikes will land on most of these rankings is my guess. And mid-teens is probably where they should’ve been anyway. It was a nice winning streak but they were never top 10 in the league. The only quality win in that stretch was against San Francisco and I think San Fran may have just been off that week. That win certainly gave the Vikes an infusion of confidence and they rode that wave to victories against a stinkola Detroit team and a poor Tennessee team. But in Washington they came up against something different. Washington had their backs to the wall, or at least felt like they did, being at 2-3 and having an 8 game home losing streak on their minds. And they responded with some character and fight and played a good game. In short, they played the kind of game you would expect a solid team to play under those circumstances. Oh and they have Robert Griffin III on their side. That guy is a game-changer. The Vikings’ defense was just overmatched, and their offense had no answer until it was too late. They played a bad game, no question. They’ve got things to figure out on both sides of the ball. But they didn’t suddenly go from being a good team to a bad team in one week. They had some things go right for them in that winning streak, and a lot of things go wrong against Washington. If you average that off, you get a clear picture of what the Vikings really are. A middle-of-the-road NFL team. They’re solid in some areas and weak in others. They’re good enough to surprise San Francisco when they’re off and certainly good enough to handle lesser teams like Tennessee. But they’re going to have bad weeks too. They ran into a buzzsaw in Washington and their flaws got exposed. They’re an 8-8 team. Which is still way better than most of us thought they would be.
2. What is the biggest issue for the Vikings?
It’s easy to look at that game and say quarterback is the big issue. Cause you look at what RG3 can do with his arm and feet and you think, “Christian Ponder will never be close to that level.” But let’s be frank. We already knew that about Ponder. What Ponder did yesterday is what Ponder is going to do in a game like that. You fall behind and call on that guy to throw the ball a bunch and you’re going to get some good plays but you’re also going to get some atrocious plays. The out for Ponder’s defenders is of course the same as always. He doesn’t have any receivers! That’s true enough. But Ponder also missed some open guys. The pick-six to Madieu Williams was an unspeakably bad throw. And he had another terrible overthrow on a deep ball down the middle to Percy Harvin that should’ve been an easy TD. You look at a thing like that, and you begin to understand why the Vikings take so few deep shots. It isn’t just the lack of receivers. Ponder is not a confident, consistent downfield thrower. He gets nervous in the pocket and when he does throw deeper than ten yards it’s about a 50-50 proposition whether the ball will even be catchable. Yesterday showed us again what we should’ve already known about this offense. It would be doomed without Percy Harvin. Percy makes the whole thing go. Percy’s playmaking is the only reason Ponder even looks like a viable quarterback. I don’t know how you fix this. Just hope Ponder improves his accuracy with more reps and gains more confidence in the pocket. He does do a few things well. If he can get a little better at some of the bad stuff, he can still be a decent pro QB. But he’s not there yet. That’s clear.
3. What happened to the defense?
I thought the defense played very well for a three week stretch. They were physical. They played with disciplined aggressiveness. They didn’t give up big plays or make a lot of stupid mistakes. They just looked like a legit NFL defense. And yesterday that defense laid an egg. The easy explanation is, it’s a fast defense that looks good on turf but doesn’t look so good outdoors on grass. They did win three games in a row indoors. And then they played outside in Washington and suddenly everyone was a step slow. The defensive line didn’t do much and the coverage guys were late closing. All those big holes that weren’t there for the most part against Detroit and Tennessee were suddenly there again. And they compounded things by making dumb mistakes and getting out of position. I love Harrison Smith but what the hell was he doing on the Darrel Young TD catch? He comes charging up like he’s reading run all the way and Young swings out into the flat and Smith has no shot to recover, so he catches it wide open and walks in. That was just not heady football. That’s the second week in a row the young man has looked like a rookie. But I’m not going to pick on Harrison Smith. After all he is a rookie. There are some veteran guys on this team who have more to answer for. How about Brian Robison? He got erased yesterday. Might be time for Everson Griffen to pick up more reps at left defensive end. At least Griffen got one hit on the QB. Just not a great day all-around for the front four. They made the Redskins’ line look like the old Hogs. RG3 had way too much time to stand back there and let his receivers run open. And they got open. A lot. Some of the coverage issues I imagine were caused by the RG3 running threat but I don’t think you can chalk it all up to that. Antoine Winfield was the only one back there who gave a solid professional performance yesterday. The rest of those guys looked like horsecrap.
4. What the hell is going on in the red zone?
The capsule summary of this game has to start with “Vikings settled for three field goals despite dominating in the first quarter.” When you look at that the obvious first conclusion is that something is not right with the playcalling. You start to wonder again about Bill Musgrave’s feel for dialing stuff up at the right times. Is this legit? I don’t know. I do know the Vikings have had certain things work for them in the red zone this year and certain other things not work for them. The best thing has been Kyle Rudolph. Just getting Rudolph into the end zone and letting Ponder throw it toward him. My thing is, if you’re down there close and you don’t take at least one shot to Rudolph in the end zone, you’re probably overthinking it. Now maybe there was some stuff that was designed to go to Rudolph and the Redskins’ defense just stuffed it. It would make sense for the defense to focus on Rudolph considering that he is clearly the Vikings’ best red zone weapon. Let’s give a little credit to Washington before we go slamming Bill Musgrave and Christian Ponder anymore. All I’m going to say is, I’m looking at the recap of the first three drives, and I see zero passes to Rudolph in the red zone. I see two completed passes to Toby Gerhart, one incompleted pass to Devin Aromashodu and one incompleted pass to Rhett Ellison. Are Gerhart, Aromashodu and Ellison your main red zone threats? Am I supposed to believe Washington had both Rudolph and Percy Harvin double-covered on every red zone passing attempt? Cause Percy didn’t get targeted down there either. Not to sound like a typical ignorant fan bitching about the playcalling when he doesn’t know what he’s talking about but, if you can’t find your main weapons in the scoring zone AT ALL FOR THREE STRAIGHT SERIES, methinks something is wrong with the stuff that’s being dialed up. All I’m saying is, you’ve run certain plays in the past couple of weeks that have worked. How about go back to them when you need them?
5. Is there anything positive we can take from this game?
All right enough hammering. Let’s look at the positives. I see a couple things to hang your hat on here. The first is obviously the effort. They fought right up till the end. We said that a lot last year too, if you recall. But here’s the difference: Last year we had little evidence that this team was capable of putting it together. So ALL we had to hang our hat on was the fact that they didn’t quit. But this year they’ve shown they can play well. Especially if they’re indoors on turf against sub-par competition. This one loss doesn’t throw all that improvement out the window. It just shows that there’s room for more improvement. The second positive is, Ponder again looked pretty good in the two-minute. I realize Washington was playing soft late there but still, give Ponder some credit. He hit some receivers and padded his stats. There was the urgency and tempo issue again. Those red zone situations early, everything just bogged down. They didn’t attack. They almost seemed like they were playing for field goals. Maybe it was just on the players for a lack of focus. Maybe they got a little full of themselves and needed to get hit in the face to remember they were in a fight. I still say you have to throw to Rudolph and Percy in the red zone even if it means forcing the ball to them when they’re covered. They’re supposed to be great players. Great players make plays even when they’re covered. Ponder needs to trust them and not worry about making a mistake. He’s looking a little Tarvaris Jackson-ish at times, to be quite frank. A little scared out there. That’s gotta stop. Then again, even if he tries making the tougher throws, is he capable of sticking the ball in there? I wonder if the kid trusts his arm. Worse, I wonder if Bill Musgrave trusts his arm.
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