Oct 21, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith (22) during the third quarter against the Arizona Cardinals at the Metrodome. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE

Vikings vs. Cardinals Wrap: Five Big Points

Five big points on the Vikings’ win over the Cardinals…

1. Christian Ponder is a mess right now.

It’s very disheartening to see Ponder apparently regressing before our eyes. But that’s what’s happening. In the San Francisco game he seemed to be developing into a real NFL QB. A guy who didn’t just manage the game but actually helped win it by making plays. But it’s been downhill since then. It’s at the point now where you cringe every time he drops back. What’s going to happen? Will he hold onto the ball too long and get sacked? Will he try to scramble and throw a terrible interception? Will he wing it three feet over his receiver’s head? Here’s what’s obvious to me right now: Ponder can’t function at all without the Percy Harvin security blanket. The Cardinals took Percy away like Detroit did and forced Bill Musgrave to dial up other stuff. But Ponder just couldn’t make the throws. He couldn’t handle the pressure that was coming his way. Yes it was ferocious but lots of QBs face ferocious pressure every week. And a lot of them still stand tall and make accurate throws. Ponder gets any pressure and his mechanics go haywire. And Ponder’s arm isn’t strong enough to overcome the poor mechanics. And now you can tell it’s gotten in his head. So even when he has a little time he’s still off-kilter and the ball is still sailing. I’d say Ponder’s head is as much the problem as his arm right now. What happened to the confident player we saw against San Francisco? Are the coaches grinding him down with their preaching about ball security? Is he afraid of getting hit? Does he have a fragile psyche? The Tampa Bay game will be very interesting in terms of gauging where Ponder is right now. Because Tampa has a terrible pass defense. So the excuse of playing a good defense won’t be there like it was against the Cardinals. Maybe playing a bad defense will be a nice tonic for Ponder. Hopefully he can get back to making smart decisions. Cause some of the stuff he did against Arizona was just a joke. Some of those throws never should’ve even been attempted. And yes some of this is on Bill Musgrave. He needs to come up with ways to get guys open.

2. Leslie Frazier has to answer for that debacle at the end of the first half.

I can’t believe Leslie Frazier is trying to make an excuse for what happened at the end of the first half. He said in his post-game presser that they thought they could get into field goal range there. So that’s why they called time out with 14 seconds left. And then called a passing play that turned into an interception. I’m all for being aggressive – God knows I’ve complained enough about some of the over-conservative tendencies of this offense – but you’ve gotta be intelligently aggressive. Situational awareness. Frazier needs to realize right there that the offense is struggling and in particular Ponder is struggling. He needs to just take a knee and go to the half. And not play games with it. Okay, so maybe the idea was, maybe we can catch Arizona napping here at the end of the half and get a big play and build some confidence for Ponder at least. But what happened instead? Ponder made a terrible decision, threw a pick and lost even more confidence. And played the entire second half like a man who was scared to throw the football. Vikings are lucky that play didn’t come back to bite them on the scoreboard because, oh my goodness, could you imagine the outrage right now? But Frazier still deserves to get heat, even if that sequence didn’t ultimately cost them the game. Stuff like that makes him look clueless and makes the Vikings look like a second-rate operation. And this after we were starting to believe a little bit in Frazier and his staff.

3. The defensive effort was a mixed bag.

I don’t know what you would grade the defense if you had to do the letter grade bit. Maybe a B-minus? Taking into consideration the level of competition here. That was a bad, bad Cardinals offense out there. And that offense still managed to run the ball against the Vikings with relative ease. I don’t know, maybe the LaRod Stephens-Howling kid is the second coming of Gale Sayers. But it’s more likely the Vikes just got lazy in their tackling technique and made him look like Gale Sayers. Maybe it was a hangover from RG3. Maybe their heads were still spinning a little. The good news is, the Vikes now have enough legitimate playmakers on their defense to compensate for a so-so effort. Brian Robison worked over that poor Bobby Massie fella, didn’t he? Nice to see Robison get into the game like that. Pressure was the key all day. John Skelton just didn’t have much of a prayer out there once the Vikes got it cranked up. The best play wasn’t even a sack, it was Skelton being forced up in the pocket and throwing the pick-six to Harrison Smith. This is why I love Harrison Smith. After the game Smith described how the pressure put Skelton where he could easily read Skelton’s eyes. So he knew right where the ball was going. Isn’t that great? A Vikings safety who actually grasps the subtle nuances of the game and can make those snap reads? Those are the little things that separate the good players from the great ones. Harrison Smith isn’t a great player yet but he has the potential to be one. He’s fearless physically. He’s smart. And he can house it once he gets his hands on it. The Vikes may still have some issues defensively but they now have enough really good players out there to compensate. Right now they have four guys legitimately in the Pro Bowl conversation: Antoine Winfield, Chad Greenway, Jared Allen and Kevin Williams (on rep and the fact that he’s playing pretty well; numbers have never been the big thing with Williams). And Harrison Smith is lurking. They do still have some inconsistent guys out there though. Jasper Brinkley I thought played a bad game yesterday. Missed tackles, poor coverage, just not a good effort by him.

4. Adrian Peterson is a monster.

I am convinced that one of these days Adrian Peterson is going to rip a defender’s arm off and eat it. Something gets into that man’s soul when the game starts. He becomes possessed. He wants to hurt people. He’s a running back with the mentality of a linebacker. I actually feel sorry for the poor fools who have to tackle him. And forget about that notion that he’s lost his burst. Did you see the way he hit those holes yesterday? He’s got plenty of burst. My goodness, what a weapon this guy would be on a team with a real passing game. Makes you shudder.

5. A question: Can this formula keep working when the competition gets tougher?

A win is a win, right? Who cares if you have to win ugly? But here’s my thing. Does anyone seriously think the Vikings have a shot against good teams with Ponder playing the way he played against Arizona? What happens when it’s Aaron Rodgers on the other side or Jay Cutler? The defense has been good but is it good enough to hold up when the offense isn’t producing first downs and staying on the field? After Tampa Bay, the Vikes will have navigated the relatively soft part of their schedule (and I’m not so certain Tampa is that soft). Then what? The second half of their schedule is brutality heaped upon brutality. If they hope to get through that gauntlet with any playoff dreams left alive, Ponder has to get his act together. He knows this. They know it. The formula has worked better than expected so far, but the true test comes in the second half. It will take a complete team effort to get through those 8 games with enough wins to get in the postseason. That means running, defense, special teams and passing. Looking at this last game, it’s not hard to see what the weak link is. It’s the man behind center. Maybe it’s not fair to put so much onus on that one guy but this is reality of NFL life. We understand Ponder’s physical limitations but now we’re finding out about his mental ones. This last stretch will make him or break him.

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