Free Head Exam: Minnesota Vikings

After the Minnesota Vikings' 21-14 victory over the Chicago Bears, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. As you might expect, tailback Adrian Peterson has expanded the scope of his success during a streak of seven consecutive 100-yard games. You might remember that Peterson almost exclusively was running between the tackles during the early part of the season. Whether by design or accident, it made sense for the Vikings to focus him on straight-ahead runs as his surgically-repaired knee strengthened. Over the past five games, however, Peterson has increased his percentage of runs outside of the tackles from 9.9 percent to 24.9 percent, according to ESPN's Stats & Information. He is averaging 8.6 yards per carry on such runs, including a 51-yard run to open Sunday's game, and has scored three touchdowns. Over the first eight games of the season, Peterson averaged 1.2 yards per carry on runs outside of the tackles. Meanwhile, after taking a career-high 31 carries Sunday, Peterson is on pace for 326 carries this season. That would be the second-highest total of his career.

  2. Sunday provided an opportunity to recognize the work of the Vikings' draft class. Five of its members were in the starting lineup Sunday: Left tackle Matt Kalil, safety Harrison Smith, cornerback Josh Robinson, receiver Jarius Wright and tight end Rhett Ellison (as part of a three-tight end set). Smith's 56-yard touchdown on an interception return proved the difference in the scoring. Robinson's first-quarter interception and return set up another touchdown. Kalil did his part in limiting the Bears' defensive line to one sack and one hit of quarterback Christian Ponder. It's worth noting that the second-quarter holding penalty Kalil received while trying to block defensive end Julius Peppers was his first holding call of the season, declined or accepted. (This one was declined.) No matter how this season turns out, the Vikings should feel proud to have won at least seven games with so many rookies playing prominent roles.

  3. Owner Zygi Wilf picked an interesting week to reinforce his support for the team in a meeting with players and coaches Friday. Coach Leslie Frazier and players all said Wilf's message was unfailingly positive, but it came after consecutive losses to the Bears and Green Bay Packers which seemed to cement the Vikings' third-tier status in the division. Wilf's presence at the team meeting might have indicated that it isn't enough for this team to win more games than media prognosticators thought it would. Two days later, the Vikings scored their first victory against the Bears or Packers in Frazier's tenure. Take that for what you will.

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

Sunday provided a glimpse of what Ponder can -- and can't -- do, leaving us without a good idea if he can be a viable long-term starter after the 23rd start of his career. The deep post pass he threw to Devin Aromashodu, after avoiding blitzing linebacker Lance Briggs, was a perfect 45-yard strike and frankly would have been caught by a better receiver. On the other hand, his footwork, presence and arm strength on a late throw to an open Wright down the seam was painful to watch. So, too, was Ponder's postgame reaction, when he said in part: "I had a flat to the left that I probably should have taken." Wright was open for a 61-yard touchdown. You want your quarterback kicking himself for not making a better throw to capitalize, not wishing he had dumped it off to avoid the interception he threw because the ball fell short of an open receiver.