Vikings trying to right the ship after being pillaged by the Buccaneers. Now it’s off to Seattle. Five big questions time…
1. Do the Vikings have any shot to move the ball against Seattle’s defense?
Seattle’s defense is playing very well. Right now they are one of the top five defenses in the league probably. You don’t look at them and see any obvious vulnerabilities that the Vikes might exploit. They’re good against the run. They rush the passer very well with their front four and don’t need to blitz a lot. Their linebackers are fast and solid tacklers. Their secondary is outstanding with big, physical, tough corners and a fantastic safety in Earl Thomas. I’m reminded a little bit of the San Francisco game. You looked at that match-up and said to yourself, “How are the Vikings going to attack this unit?” If you recall, the key to that game ended up being the way the offensive line played. That was the game after Leslie Frazier challenged his team’s manhood. The O-line came out and pushed San Francisco around a little bit. They didn’t do anything exceptionally great offensively but they did execute well and above all they kept the 49ers rush away from Christian Ponder. And when Ponder got a chance to make a couple plays, he made the plays. And they didn’t turn the ball over. So there’s your formula for success. No turnovers. Ponder making a few plays. The O-line neutralizing the pass rush or at least controlling it. And on the other side of the ball, the Vikes’ defense doesn’t allow any big plays. See how easy it is?
2. Is it time to stop talking about Jerome Simpson?
This whole idea of Jerome Simpson being a consistent deep threat and the Vikings using him to stretch the defense and give their other guys room to operate underneath? It’s a nice idea but I don’t think it’s going to materialize. Even if you hit Simpson on an early deep shot, is that going to get defenses out of their plan? Are they going to stop putting an extra man in the box to stop Adrian Peterson? Are they going to cease double-teaming Percy Harvin? Simpson just doesn’t scare defenses enough. Right now all you’re hoping is you’ll get lucky maybe once or twice a game and find him in one-on-one coverage in a situation where Ponder has time to deliver the ball. If the Vikes are going to perform on offense it has to be about Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson. You can’t worry about what the defense is doing. You have to just keep getting it to those guys. You can’t worry about “predictability.” You know what you do well and the other team knows what you do well. So it’s just about, here’s what we do, now try and make a tackle. You can make monkeys out of a bad tackling team like Tennessee, but a sound tackling team is going to be tougher. But at least force the defense to make the stops. If you’re trying to force the ball to Jerome Simpson down the field and the ball is nowhere near, you’ve stopped yourself. You’ve done the defense a favor. So I would say scrap the whole “let’s get it deep” plan and just do what you do. It’s never going to result in consistently good production but that’s just reality. This team’s offense boils down to the 3-5 big plays you know you’ll get every game from the Adrian-Percy combo, and just not making mistakes the rest of the time. So yeah, Jerome Simpson as a major part of this offense? Not seeing it.
3. Can we please stop it with the three-and-outs?
Three-and-outs are killers. Especially when they happen deep in your own territory. And it’s even worse when your punter can’t flip the field position and bail your butt out. Of course three-and-outs are all about first down usually. It’s when you get stuffed on first down that bad things happen. Bill Musgrave must focus on making sure his first down plays produce yardage. Most of the time that’s going to mean running it on first down. I know people hate it when the team only runs on first down but when Adrian Peterson is your best weapon? You might as well run it on first down. I would mix in Percy Harvin more as a runner on first down but that’s just me. Actually, I’d consider giving Percy more carries period. Like 8 per game. Hammer with Adrian then whoop here comes Percy then whoop back to Adrian. Of course the situation needs to dictate that a little bit. If Adrian is ripping off five-yard chunks and everything’s going well then just leave him in. But that would require Bill Musgrave to have an actual feel for the game wouldn’t it? I don’t think Musgrave likes feeling his way along. I think he likes having a plan and working that plan no matter what. I don’t think he likes trying to adjust in-game. I think he panics when stuff stops working the way he expects. That’s just my opinion.
4. Will the defense remember how to tackle?
Weirdly enough, I’m less worried about the defense this week than last game. I actually think the Vikings can handle Seattle. I don’t want to hear about Sidney Rice. The deep game isn’t what’s been hurting the Vikes. It’s been the little shifty running backs. Marshawn Lynch is a good back but he’s more of a bruiser. He’s not going to make you miss, he’s going to try to run through you. The Vikings aren’t a team to shy away from that kind of contact. In fact, after the slippery guys they saw the last couple weeks, it might be a relief to face Lynch. The problem might come if the Seahawks whip out the play action and the screens. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but the Vikes haven’t been playing the most disciplined D. They’re been getting fooled a lot. Ever since the Redskins game it seems like their linebackers are lost and clueless. Chad Greenway was having a nice year but he’s been flat-out bad the last couple games. Erin Henderson is a non-entity now and Jasper Brinkley seems to have regressed. And the D-line just isn’t that stout against the run, let’s face it. They just want to get upfield and rush the passer and that makes them vulnerable to the draws and screens and misdirections. We’ll see how Seattle plays it.
5. Will Viking fans come out of this game wishing the team had drafted Russell Wilson?
Much is going to be made of the Christian Ponder v. Russell Wilson match-up. It’s a natural talker. The second-year guy vs. the rookie phenom. Both considered to be very cerebral players. Both sort of undersized. Both mobile. Big difference between them being of course, Wilson can actually make plays downfield consistently. No comparison whatsoever in terms of arm. Wilson can sling it, Ponder…eh. Right now, you look at where they are on the learning curve, and you almost have to give Wilson the nod even though Ponder has more games under his belt. Now Seattle does have advantages, let’s be clear. Their offensive line is probably better. They at least have one legitimate deep threat in Sidney Rice. Running back wise, you’d have to say Peterson and Lynch are a push. Vikings have the advantage in the Percy x-factor. In the end I really think it all comes down to flat out physical ability. Wilson has more tools than Ponder. He’s less limited in terms of the throws he can make. As time goes on the Seahawks will open up more of the playbook for him. The Vikings I don’t think will ever be able to fully open the playbook for Ponder. He’s limited. They’ll always have to work around him. As long as they play solid D and run the ball well it won’t be a problem. Chad Pennington had a nice career with no arm whatsoever. All things being equal, I’d take Wilson and his upside. But he’s far from unbeatable at this point. If the Vikings handle Lynch, which I think they can just because of his style, and put the ball in Wilson’s hands, he’s still a rookie and he’ll still make mistakes. And the Vikes have shown they can take away deep receivers. So even with Chris Cook out, I don’t see Rice being a factor. This game is winnable is what I’m saying. If the Vikes can get back to sound execution. Like the San Fran game and the Detroit game and the Tennessee game. And not play all discombobulated on defense like they did vs. Washington and Tampa Bay.
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