Our good friends over at TC Huddle were kind enough to answer some questions with us about the Vikings after their 1-5 start this season.
The Vikings are not a good football team right now. Despite their woes, they are only two years removed from the NFC championship game and have talent on their roster. Are we a few steps away from being a playoff team again or are we in the middle of a 2-3 year down cycle?
Randy Perrin: In the NFL anything can happen, but if I was a betting man I’d say the Vikings are 2-3 years out before we’re back in playoff contention. While we do have a lot of talent on the team, we still have some holes to fill. The offensive line would be where I would start. John Sullivan looks like he’s improving and for the most part he seems to be holding his own against bigger Nose Tackle’s this year. Phil Loadholt had a rough start, but seems like he’s starting to settle down a bit and had his best game of his career against Arizona. The rest of the line is aging or down right terrible. LT Charlie Johnson is better fit at guard, LG Steve Hutchinson is getting close to retirement, and RG Anthony Herrera still doesn’t look 100% since his ACL tear last year. Outside of the O-Line, Secondary could use some help. Chris Cook is emerging as a solid cornerback but Cedric Griffin doesn’t look the same, Winfield is still elite but not getting any younger, and we need more solid production from the SS position. Depth at other positions needs to be filled also. We have 5 starters that will be hitting free agency and depending on who we can resign, we might have to fill those positions. Lastly and most importantly, a lot of our success will depend on how well Ponder plays.
Branden Lemke: We are a few steps away from being a playoff team. Yes, right now we are not a good team. The chemistry doesn’t seem to be there between the players and coaches, but that is what an offseason with no contact between players and coaches will do to you. Not to mention, there is a new face in each coaching position, head coach, offensive coordinator, and defensive coordinator. We are a quarterback and wide receiver threat away from having a good offense. The departure of Sidney Rice really hurt us in my opinion, look how good we were with him in the mix in 2009. Hopefully, our quarterback problems will be solved with Christian Ponder.
Dan Buri: This is a trick question right? We’re currently 1-5. Last year we finished the season 6-10. I think it’s safe to say we’re amidst a 2-3 year down cycle, since we’re already one and a half seasons into it.
Joe Buri: In terms of ability to keep fans interested year in and year out, the NFL is far superior than its professional league counterparts. This is true for mainly one reason: a team’s fortune from one season to the next can change in the blink of an eye. A team that finishes 4-12 one season can make the playoffs the next. Put another way, the NFL has so much talent and so much parity that most teams are never too far from the playoffs. The Vikings are missing some big pieces…but not as many as it may seem.
Sean Ryan: This team is a couple of good draft picks and a good trade away from being playoff bound. Any team in the NFL is going to have a chance with AP—but O-line, WR, and most importantly, secondary are holding this team back. 2-3 years away, in my book.
If the Vikings started the season with Ponder at quarterback, do you think the Vikings record would be different or would they still be sitting at 1-5?
Randy Perrin: It’s hard to predict what our record would be with Ponder because we haven’t really seen much from him in live action. Rookies are going to go through growing pains while they learn the game. One thing McNabb hasn’t done is commit turnovers. Rookies tend to turn the ball over, so if that happened would the Vikings have had leads at half? On the other hand, I don’t know if Ponder could of been as bad as McNabb on third down. From limited action in the Chicago game, Ponder showed good ability to escape the pocket and show accuracy and zip on short throws. If I had to choose a record with Ponder as the starter for all 6 games, I’d say 2-4 or possibly 3-3.
Dan Buri: The played with more energy when Ponder entered the game last Sunday night in Chicago. I think the team will have a different feel this week against Green Bay. That being said, it wasn’t McNabb that blew three sizable leads. It’s easy to say that we would be 3-3 with Ponder starting, but it’s also reasonable to say that if we played those games out again, the Vikings would be 3-3 with McNabb at the helm too.
Joe Buri: The Vikings should be 3-3 right now. That’s with McNabb playing quarterback. And if a few breaks go their way, they could easily be 4-2…or even, Gadzooks!, 5-1. So why aren’t they? It’s simple. Donovan McNabb is not the player he once was. Arm strength…accuracy…mobility…they just aren’t there. And that has resulted in a conservative McNabb playing without confidence. Would Ponder have made a difference? Who knows? But consider this: he has better arm strength…better accuracy…and better mobility than McNabb. Reading between the lines, with Ponder at quarterback, the Vikings are 3-3 right now.
Sean Ryan: My guess us the Vikings would be 2-4. In 5 of those games, I don’t think it would be expecting too much from a rookie to play as well or better than McNabb.
In Tuesday’s edition Tuesday Morning Quarterback, Gregg Easterbrook postulated that the tight end is the essence of the modern game. According to him, if you want to crack modern defenses, you have to use your tight end. The Vikings have Visanthe Shiancoe and Kyle Rudolph, yet the two of them have a combined 25 receptions for 277 yards and 1 touchdown. Should the blame for the Vikings’ failures to utilize their tight ends be placed on the coaching staff, McNabb or the tight ends themselves?
Randy Perrin: It’s hard to put all blame on one person, but I’d have to put McNabb as the front runner. So many times this year we have seen McNabb throw ground balls to Shiancoe like he was playing short stop. So many times we’ve seen McNabb miss a TE in the flats on a roll out. Vikings are heavy on TE sets and for any QB to be successful in our offense, they need to utilize the studs we have at the position.
Branden Lemke: I think the use of our tight ends has been a factor in some of the games thus far, but it hasn’t been as great as it can be. I don’t know if there’s necessarily one guy, if anyone, to blame. I think the Vikings just need to realize what they have, 2 threats at the tight end position, especially in the red zone.
Dan Buri: I think part of the blame lies on McNabb. It’s tough to get yards after the catch when your diving backwards to pick a ball up of your shoelaces. I think it’s also partially Bill Musgrave’s fault. I get that the playbook is limited right now since we had a lockout-shortened preseason to prep a new free agent QB and a rookie, but the Vikings should own the middle of the field, and I wrote about it Wednesday.
Joe Buri: When analyzing the Vikings use of their tight ends this season, they aren’t doing as poorly as I would have expected. Compare them to their division rivals. The Lions have completed 46 passes to their tight ends for 396 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Packers…38 for 347 yards and 3 TDs. And the Bears…a measly 13 completions for 122 yards and 3 TDs. Considering that the Vikings have a lack of quality receivers and lack of quality quarterback, they actually are using their tight ends pretty well. Where they have failed, where do you put the blame? It’s a combination of two things: the Vikings wide receivers and (I hate to pile on) Donovan McNabb.
Sean Ryan: Coaching staff. I mean seriously, who knew we’d end up with Chilly 2.0 as our offensive coordinator.
After an awful 1-5 start, the Vikings are, to say the least, reeling. With 10 games left in the 2011 season, what is the best record the Vikings can hope for?
Randy Perrin: At this point, unless the Vikings win out, their record doesn’t really mean much. What they can hope for is continuing to gel as a team. They have new faces on the coaching staff, new young players, and I expect them to improve as they all gain more experience. Getting the younger players involved now on a season where wins and losses shouldn’t matter much would be ideal. Can any of these younger players help down the road? That’s a question that they could get answered by year’s end if they get them in now.
Branden Lemke: I think the Vikings will have some oppurtunities to win some games here in the 2nd half of the season. I doubt we’ll win 10 in a row and be the comeback story of the year, but that’s ok. Ponder needs this aweful start as motivation, and to build confidence in himself and his team. the more games he wins under center, the more comfortable he will be with his offense. This is HIS team, and HIS time. Let’s make lemonade out of lemons in the 2nd half of the season. I think we can win 5-6 more from here on out.
Dan Buri: All right. I’m typically the sane one from TC Huddle, (at least I pretend I am), but I’m about to go crazy on you. The Vikings finish the season 6-10 or 7-9. Now will someone loosen the arm on this straight jacket!
Joe Buri: The Vikings will finish the season 5-11. What’s that? You’re curious to know which games they will win? Purgo will win at Carolina, at home against Oakland and Denver, and against Chicago to close out the season. And with that prediction out of the way, I can focus on predicting more important things…like the end of the world, which will come 40 days after the Ides of March in the 77th year of the 3rd millennium. I believe that is April 24th, 3077.
Sean Ryan: Absolute best is 6-10. 2 games against Green Bay, and a myriad of playoff contending teams, the only cream puffs this team will see is the one in the mirror
Sitting at 1-5, it looks like the Vikings will be looking at a possible top 10 pick. As it stands now what are the Vikings top 3 positions of need and which position of need should Vikings address in the 1st round?
Randy Perrin: After 6 games, I have the Vikings top 3 needs as LT, WR, and S. This could change as the year moves on. OG is another big need, LB could be an issue with E.J. and Erin Henderson set to be free agents and Brinkley coming off an injury, NT could be upgraded since Remi Ayodele has been invisible, and CB could use some more depth. Before deciding on our 1st round pick, I would get LT DeMarcus Love as many reps as possible to see what he could offer. A few scouts have said they like what they seen from Love in pre-season and think he could eventually be a starter in this league. If he doesn’t look like starting material I would go with LT in the first round and if not I’d look to grab a top tier receiver.
Dan Buri: The Vikings top three positions are #1- offensive line, #2- offensive line, and #3- offensive line. If Minnesota drafts anything but an O-lineman in the first round, I will be disgusted. Can you imagine if AP had the O-line Robert Smith once had? Unless it’s clear by season’s end that Ponder is a major bust and we have a shot to get a good QB again next year, it has to O-line. Not WR. Not Safety. O-line. That’s the only right answer to this question.
Joe Buri: 98% of the time, you take the best player available. But the upcoming (does that word sound weird considering that the draft is still over six months away?) draft might actually fall in that rare 2% of the time when you focus on filling a need and take the best player available at a particular position. If the Vikings focus on a position, it has to be on the offensive line. Hutch is nearly done, and the rest of the bunch have been middling at best. Beyond offensive line, it’s a bit of a toss-up. I’d say the next two areas of focus are safety and wide receiver. Then again, can you ever have too many stud defensive lineman?
Sean Ryan: 1. O-Line. 2. Def Secondary. 3. O-Line