Free Head Exam: Minnesota Vikings

After the Minnesota Vikings' 23-14 loss to the Green Bay Packers, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Would you believe that Adrian Peterson already has produced his second-highest yardage total for an entire season in his career? That's right. Peterson's 210-yard performance Sunday puts him at 1,446 yards through 12 games. That pushed him past his season total of 1,383 yards in 2009 and left him behind the 1,760 yards he gained in 2008. Sunday, he gained 117 yards after contact, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That's the most of any running back in the NFL this season, and quite frankly Peterson is running better than he has at any point in his NFL career. What's sad is that he was genuinely kicking himself afterward for not scoring on a 48-yard run in the third quarter, a play that put the Vikings in scoring position but did not lead to points because of a Christian Ponder interception. There have only been eight games in NFL history when a team has squandered a 200-yard game by a running back, and Sunday was one of them.

  2. There were no visible cracks in the Vikings' support for Ponder, not from coach Leslie Frazier or any of a number of players who spoke confidently about his promise. But we should note that Ponder is on the brink of putting the Vikings in a near-impossible situation this offseason. His play has been competent at some points this season, enough so to conjure a future vision of a smart, efficient quarterback who finds non-flashy ways to win. But he produced too many clunkers, games that are below standard for any NFL quarterback, to feel confident about him. Sunday, with a running back gashing the opposing defense for 210 yards, he still couldn't complete a pass between the 12:18 mark of the second quarter and the 3:32 mark in the fourth quarter. So unless Ponder finishes the season with four really efficient starts, the Vikings will be in the unenviable position of risking their 2013 season on an unproven third-year quarterback. Otherwise, they could either give up and start over or hedge their bet with a mid-level addition such as Alex Smith. None of those answers sound great to me.

  3. After a midseason disappearing act, tight end Kyle Rudolph has re-emerged as the threat we thought he would be when the season began. He has caught touchdown passes in three consecutive games, hauling in a total of 18 passes over that stretch, and had a chance at another score on a bootleg pass Sunday if Ponder had delivered the ball more crisply and accurately. He now has 45 receptions on the season and his eight touchdowns trails only Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots among NFL tight ends. An offense with a big tight end and a powerful running back can go places, if of course the quarterback does his part.

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

We noted Sunday that Packers emergency right tackle Don Barclay did a nice job filling in for the injured T.J. Lang. But Barclay was the first to acknowledge his surprise that the Vikings didn't try more stunts and other games to confuse him. Defensive end Brian Robison crashed inside a few times when Barclay first entered the game in the second quarter, but by his count, the Vikings only tried one more stunt against him. "The whole second half," Barclay said, "they didn't move much." Obviously a lot goes into those kinds of defensive calls, and maybe they thought Robison should fare well by conventional means. But from the outside it sure appears the Vikings missed a chance to at least find out if they could exploit a backup.