Five big questions on Vikings-Cardinals:
1. Will the Vikings’ defense rebound from a terrible performance?
The defense was a mess against RG3 and the Redskins. Washington’s read-option offense had the Vikes totally flustered. The linebackers spent the whole day biting on fakes, leaving massive holes in front of the backpedaling secondary. The defensive line was affected by the offensive approach too. They became less and less aggressive as the day wore on and finally could get no pressure whatsoever. And when Alan Williams dialed up a blitz what happened? RG3 housed it from 76 yards out. Not very much went right for the defense that whole game. But, good news this week. Arizona doesn’t have RG3, they have John Skelton. And Skelton is only playing because Kevin Kolb finally took too many hits and broke. Kolb is a bad quarterback so imagine how lousy Skelton must be if he couldn’t move ahead of Kolb on the depth chart. But quarterback isn’t even the biggest problem for Arizona, it’s the offensive line. Arizona’s tackle combo of Bobby Massie and D’Anthony Batiste is the worst in the league by far. So this should equal a big game for Brian Robison and Jared Allen right? You would think so. You also have to believe the coverage will be better without all the option stuff and play action making life miserable for the linebackers. They’ll be able to just read pass/run and drop into their zones accordingly. With any luck the D will get back to the form they showed for that three week stretch against San Francisco, Detroit and Tennessee. That’s what I expect to happen anyway. The defense didn’t suddenly go from top 10 to dog crap in one game. That was all RG3 last week.
2. Will Christian Ponder get back to playing sound, mistake-free football?
Ponder committed a pair of brutal turnovers last week vs. Washington. One was only partially his fault because Adrian Peterson was blocked back into him, forcing him to fumble. The other was all Ponder. A horrific overthrow that went right into Madieu Williams’ hands for a pick-six. That kind of stuff can’t happen especially on the road against a team that’s already thumping you on the other side of the ball. Ponder addressed the mistakes to the media this week, saying his footwork was to blame for the interception and the other bad overthrows, including one ball over Percy Harvin’s head that should’ve been a touchdown. All right then. If it’s truly just bad footwork on Ponder’s part, that can be corrected. We’ll see how he does against Arizona. That’s a tough defense they’re going up against. The defensive line gets after it and the linebackers are fast and they’re good tacklers. It might be tough running the ball against this unit – they haven’t given up a 100-yard rusher in 14 straight games – so the passing game will have to be on-target. It figures to be a fairly low-scoring game, and in those kind of games, one bad mistake can kill you. Ponder doesn’t want to be the guy making the one bad mistake.
3. What about that red zone issue?
Bill Musgrave committed seppuku in front of the media this week over the red zone struggles against Washington. He confessed that the playcalling wasn’t good and he admitted they should’ve had Percy Harvin on the field more. Okay great. So now what? How do the Vikings correct the problem? Is it just a matter of getting the ball to Percy Harvin and Kyle Rudolph more? I actually think we’re focusing a little too much on that part of the issue and not enough on another part. Here’s what needs more attention: Two of those bothersome first quarter red zone possessions stalled out because Adrian Peterson got stuffed for a loss on first down. So right away you’re putting yourself behind the eight ball. The first adjustment I’d like to see the Vikes make in their playcalling down there is to throw it on first down if they’ve got, say, first-and-goal from the 9. Spread it out, go shotgun, send three receivers into the end zone and let Christian Ponder find someone open. Of course you have to protect. The main thing is to stay aggressive. Keep the defense on their heels. Don’t let up when you get in there. I think it becomes a psychological thing more than anything after awhile. Especially for your quarterback. If you have an attacking mentality, it makes it a little easier. Put a little trust in Ponder and let him make a play.
4. Jerome Simpson. This is the week right? Please tell me this is the week.
Oh man am I sick of talking about Jerome Simpson. Please tell me this is the week he goes nuts for 150 yards and 2 TDs. I want this “can he be the deep threat the Vikings are looking for” talk to cease. We need an answer one way or another. This guy needs a huge game. Of course that can’t happen if Christian Ponder doesn’t throw him the ball. And I’m not talking about dig routes. At least give us a frigging slant that maybe the guy can bust for a big gain. By the way, who cares if you throw an incompletion on a deep sideline pattern? Somebody inform Mr. Ponder that nobody ever got to the Hall of Fame on completion percentage. Those shots, even when they don’t connect, do at least give the defense something to think about. A little early aggression can pay off later. Yeah I know I know. “You’ll rip him if he forces it deep and gets picked off.” No. I’ll rip him if he tries a 10 yard pass to Michael Jenkins and fires it five feet over his head.
5. What will it mean for the Vikings if they lose this game?
A big picture question here. If the Vikes lose a home game to a team that’s on a two-game losing streak and is starting their #2 QB behind a horrid offensive line? That to me would be a bad loss. Almost crushingly bad. Vikings lose this game and people will really start to wonder if their three-game winning streak was a mirage. If the Vikes win, then they’re back on-track and the Washington game just looks like a hiccup. My expectation is that the Vikes will come out looking sharp at home, fired up to get a win after being knocked around by Washington. It will still be a meat-grinder of a game because of Arizona’s tough defense but the Vikes will pull it out. And if they don’t pull it out? Then we’ll really have to wonder about the rest of the season. If they lose this game, they might go into a tailspin. This game and the Tampa Bay game, they really need both those games. Cause the schedule is going to get tough soon.
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