Our five big questions on Thursday night’s huge game…
1. Will Christian Ponder get his s**t together?
The Vikings have shown they can win without much of a contribution from their quarterback. As long as the opponent is horsecrap like Arizona. But what about the Buccaneers? Don’t look at their record either. I know they’re 2-4 but they’re better than a 2-4 team. They’re certainly better than Arizona. Josh Freeman is certainly a better quarterback than John Skelton and their offensive line is at least serviceable. So it’s not going to be like the Arizona game. It’s not going to be, just run the ball down their throats and let the defense win it. Ponder needs to actually show up in this game. In fact, I think Ponder needs to do more than show up. I think he needs to really be a big part of the effort. Cause if you look at Tampa Bay’s season, they’ve done a good job against the run but their pass defense has absolutely stunk it up. Now, you look at Adrian Peterson. He ran like a man possessed against Arizona, but we know he has a bum ankle, and he’s only had a couple days to recover from that last game. So what is Adrian Peterson going to have Thursday night? He’ll give 100% effort of course, but he gave 100% effort against Washington and still admitted he wasn’t all there. And like I said, Tampa can stop the run. So I just don’t see this game playing out the way the Arizona game played out. Running won’t be as easy, and stuffing the other team’s offense won’t be as easy. Ponder will have to play at least as well as he did against San Francisco and Tennessee. He has to make smart plays. Stand tall in the pocket. Step up. Deliver it. Above all, be decisive. That’s the big difference between Ponder now and Ponder when he was playing well. He looked decisive before, now he looks tentative. Now he’s running around just to run. Frankly he looks a little scared back there at times. He needs to get his confidence back. This week.
2. Our weekly question: Is this the week Jerome Simpson breaks out?
Jerome Simpson leads the league in average yards gained on pass interference penalties. Other than that he hasn’t contributed a heck of a lot. Not all his fault of course. Hard getting a downfield receiver involved when the QB doesn’t seem interested in uncorking anything. Bill Musgrave needs to get creative with Simpson I think. We know Musgrave has some imagination to him. Maybe get him on an end-around or throw him some of those Percy Harvin bubble screens. Get the guy involved a little bit. There must be something he can do besides run a go route up the sideline and hope the corner lays hands on him.
3. Will the Vikings be able to handle Vincent Jackson?
The Vikes have been very good this year at taking away teams’ top receivers. They’ve done it by getting physical. They pounded Calvin Johnson and they had Chris Cook all over Larry Fitzgerald. Be interesting to see how they handle Vincent Jackson. My guess is we’ll see a similar plan to what we saw against the two receivers mentioned above. Not a lot of blitzing. A fair amount of press coverage. Chris Cook mostly matched-up on the top guy. I do think they’ll probably have to blitz at least a little against Tampa though. Like I said, this ain’t the Cardinals offensive line. It’s an okay offensive line. The vulnerability is on the right side so this could be Brian Robison time again. Be nice to see Robison put together two good games in a row.
4. Do we need to be worried about the run defense?
The Vikings haven’t looked all that good in run defense the last couple weeks. Two weeks ago you could chalk that up to RG3 making them look terrible. But last game? I can’t even remember the kid’s name who ran all over them like Barry Sanders. He was like Arizona’s fourth-string RB or something. And the Vikes were just throwing themselves at his ankles like a comedy routine. They need to do better than that this week because I believe this kid for Tampa Bay, Doug Martin, is just itching to break out against someone. His YPC average the last three weeks: 4.1 against Washington. 5.8 against Kansas City. 5.3 against New Orleans. I grant you, those are three pretty wretched defenses right there, but still. This is a kid who’s trending upward. The Vikings better not sleep on him. He can catch the ball out of the backfield too. He’s a shifty guy but he has some power to him also. He seems like a guy who’s just on the verge. You don’t want to be the team that gives up the 150/3 TD performance that puts a guy on the map.
5. How will the Vikings compensate for the loss of John Carlson?
I have a perfect plan for replacing John Carlson who is expected to miss the game with a concussion. Go to a medical supply store or wherever and buy one of those fake skeletons like they have in science class. Put a uniform on it. Line it up on about 10 plays. Have Christian Ponder throw the ball to it once. Of course the skeleton can’t catch but that doesn’t matter. It will still give you the same exact production as John Carlson. And the best thing is, if it gets hit in the head, it won’t be hurt. You can just stand it back up and run another play.
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