Free Head Exam: Minnesota Vikings

After the Minnesota Vikings' 36-17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Coach Leslie Frazier confirmed that cornerback Chris Cook broke his wrist in the second half but didn't immediately know how much time Cook will miss. "Sometimes you can cast it," Frazier said. "But I don't know enough yet." If Frazier's confirmation is accurate, however, the chances of Cook returning anytime soon are slim. Given how often cornerbacks need to use their hands at the line of scrimmage, as well as to tackle, it's hard to imagine Cook playing with the injury. Cook has already had his first two NFL seasons cut short, by injury in 2010 and arrest in 2011. His eight games this season are already a career high. Suffice it to say, the Vikings haven't gotten enough return from their top overall draft pick in 2010. He'll be replaced by rookie Josh Robinson and/or veteran A.J. Jefferson. Robinson and Jefferson were both beaten Thursday night for big passes by receiver Mike Williams, but I thought they had pretty good position in each. Williams had elite footwork in the end zone on a 3-yard scoring reception against Robinson, and he simply jumped higher than Jefferson on a 34-yard pass to convert a third down in the fourth quarter.

  2. After speaking with reporters late Thursday night, defensive end Jared Allen headed off to get stitches on the bridge of his nose -- courtesy of his third-quarter fight with Buccaneers left tackle Donald Penn. The two spoke after the game and are "all good," Allen said. Still, I thought Allen provided what will be one of the most memorable moments of the Vikings' season no matter how it turns out. Blowing through a running back chip and inside of Penn, Allen sacked Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman on the next play. That was an All-Pro response and one that should have propelled momentum in the Vikings' direction. An ensuing three-and-out by the Vikings' offense let the air out of the proverbial balloon, but you can't ask for anything more from a veteran superstar than the kind of momentum-changer Allen provided. Well, almost nothing more. "Unfortunately," Allen said, "it wasn't a sack-fumble so we didn't get any points out of it."

  3. It didn't get much attention after a loss, but tailback Adrian Peterson's 64-yard touchdown run was his longest since Week 3 of the 2010 season. To me, a breakaway touchdown was the final stage in his comeback from December knee surgery. There really isn't anything left for Peterson to prove. He has been productive, durable and consistent this season. His first-half fumble certainly set back the Vikings, but for him to have 775 yards at the midpoint of the season -- and to be averaging 5.1 yards per carry -- is stunning. Perhaps the most interesting development is that the Vikings have almost exclusively used him on runs between the tackles, rather than send him wide toward the sideline. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Peterson gained 126 yards Thursday night on 13 runs in between the tackles and lost three yards on his two carries to the outside. On the season, Peterson has gained 94.6 percent of his rushing yards between the tackles. I'm not sure if that's related to his knee rehabilitation -- straight ahead is better than lateral for tender knees, I suppose -- but it's worked pretty well regardless.

And here is one issue I still don't get:

What should we make of quarterback Christian Ponder? He has followed four efficient games with four, shall we say, less-efficient performances. What should we expect for the second half of the season? What seems clear is that the Vikings, through their scheme and personnel, have put Ponder in position to play better than he has. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave is asking him mostly to make high-percentage passes near the line of scrimmage. He is missing some really easy throws; Thursday night he misfired on two in the flat to receiver Percy Harvin. And when he does take a shot, his accuracy has been inconsistent at best. His 18-yard scoring pass to Harvin was beautiful, but two go routes to receiver Jerome Simpson flew out of bounds. "That's not what an NFL quarterback does," Ponder said. Can't argue with that.