Like many Vikings fans, I approached the season with, what turns out be misplaced, optimism. A strong end to the 2012 season in which Ponder finally looked like a starter and AP destroyed teams single-handedly, combined with a draft haul that was widely thought to be very strong, suggested that the 2013 season could bring great rewards to the Vikings team.
What a difference a couple of months makes. 6 weeks into the season and the Vikings are already onto a 3rd starting quarterback. Not only that; but the way in which the QB situation has been managed has been, at times, farcical. Freeman was obviously brought in to start – so why did the coaching staff not say that? To promote such confusion around the single most important position in the NFL seems strange, to put it kindly. Quite what Ponder and Cassel make of the situation is anyone’s guess – but it would be a surprise to see either of them happy to still be in purple next year. Freeman has a chance now to prove his doubters in Tampa wrong – but he may need a super human effort to make much of a difference.
As it turns out, Peterson’s outstanding efforts of 2012 served to help mask some severe deficiencies that must be addressed both in the short and long term for the Vikings to move forward. The offensive play calling will hamper Freeman unless a radical rethink is undertaken. Cassel’s two starts show lots of short passes attempted – he averaged less than 5 yards per attempt against Carolina and had that figured padded in London by Greg Jennings 70 yard TD (of which 60+ were after the catch). Short passes will not spread the defence enough to give AP room and even he can’t keep running for so many yards against 8 men in the box on every play. In Simpson, Jennings and Patterson the deep threat is there – it’s now up to the coaches to allow Freeman the chance to exploit that and get these receivers into the game. If not, then moving the ball consistently will be an issue going forward.
Defensively too there are big issues. Quite frankly the Vikings are terrible against the pass. Josh Robinson has only stopped a completion 3 times this season against nearly 40 passes completed. Yet despite that he has more playing time than much vaunted first round pick Xavier Rhodes. The pass rush has been ineffective at times – prompting the unthinkable and talk of Jared Allen being traded or released at the end of his contract in the summer. Having resigned Brian Robison and talks ongoing with Everson Griffin that seems to be the way things are going. Allen’s money could then be freed up to help plug other holes.
All of the above suggests a fresh start is needed for 2014. The coaching staff seem to lack direction and the ability to make clear decisions when required. Play calling has been poor and personnel decisions strange – how has Patterson not been involved more offensively, for example?! Next year’s draft could potentially give us another top 5 pick (unless things pick up markedly) which will either be used on a franchise QB (depending on Freeman’s form between now and the end of the year) or defensive reinforcements: potentially a dynamic pass rusher to replace Allen?!
It promises to be tough watching over the next few months unless the organisation and coaches can react to the start of the season in a positive and creative way. I hope to be proven wrong – starting against the Giants on Monday. Win that and we can start to move forward straight away; lose and all attention needs to switch to 2014 already....