We are back with Blogger Q & A, this week with Christopher Gates from The Daily Norseman. Chris is here to give us a little insight on the current state of the Vikings and what we can expect from them on Sunday.
Question 1: Did you agree with the decision to bench McNabb and what did you think of Ponders first start?
Chris: At the beginning of the season, I thought McNabb would be a good one-year fix while Christian Ponder was learning the offense, but as the first few games went by, it became clear that it wasn't. I was in favor of keeping McNabb in at first, but it just got to the point with the offensive ineptitude that a change needed to be made. This is a lost season for the Minnesota Vikings, barring an absolutely miraculous run over the last nine games of the season, and so this team needs to start finding out what they have at the quarterback position going forward.
As far as Ponder's first start, I was incredibly impressed. For all of the people that bagged the pick when Minnesota made it, I think a lot of them were convinced that, hey, it's the Vikings. They've obviously made another mistake at the quarterback position. Yes, while the numbers weren't eye-popping or anything, he was extremely good on third downs last Sunday, which had been one of the Vikings' biggest deficiencies, and did a lot of good things in general. As he gains experience, he's only going to continue to get better, and is giving people in Minnesota good reason to think we might have something special at the QB position for the first me in a long time.
I certainly liked Ponder coming in the draft but thought at the time they reached for him. Turns out all of the QB's in the draft went earlier than many thought they should. Though I think Newton has proven he belongs in the NFL I think the remaining rookie QB's still have something to prove.
Question 2: Is the offense and specifically the QB position to blame for the Vikings slow start? If not, please explain. If so, what else needs to improve besides QB play?
Chris: The quarterback position was a big part of it while McNabb was in there, yes. More specifically the fact that the team simply didn't convert third downs in the second half with McNabb at quarterback. In the fourth quarter of the first five games of the year, all started by McNabb, the Vikings were 4-of-15 converting third down situations in the fourth quarters of those games. Christian Ponder converted 5-of-7 of those last Sunday alone. . .four of them from completing passes, and one of them from a 12-yard scramble. Ponder just gives this team more chances, and I think we're going to see that going forward.
That isn't to say that the defense is without fault here. While the Vikings' defensive line remains as good as any in the league despite the losses of Ray Edwards and Pat Williams, their back seven is a mess. We love E.J. Henderson for the way he came back from the devastating injury he suffered a couple of years ago, but his knees look like they're going on him. Cedric Griffin tore both ACLs in the span of ten months in 2010 and fought like heck to get back, too, but he's having his struggles as well. The Vikings need to completely overhaul the entire back seven, and that simply isn't going to happen this season. Along with the offensive line, I think the secondary needs to be the Vikings' biggest focus this off-season.
Certainly the Panthers will look to throw early and often against the Vikings and hopefully pop a big play and open up the running game.
Question 3: What impact will the loss of DB Chris Cook have on the Vikings secondary?
Chris: Well, the secondary wasn't great with him or anything, but at least Cook had shown promise after a rough rookie year. It's entirely possible that he's played his last game for the Vikings, particularly if his tryout for the Minnesota Penal League goes the way a lot of us are thinking it will. He's already not allowed to leave the state of Minnesota (so he couldn't play in this one even if the Vikings hadn't suspended him), and he might not get on the field for Minnesota again. If Antoine Winfield can play on Sunday for the first time since the Kansas City game in Week 4, it will be incredibly helpful, but I haven't seen any solid updates on his condition yet. Otherwise, we've got a lot of young corners, a lot of whom might be a bit overmatched, which isn't a great recipe when you're facing a guy that's playing the way Cam Newton has been this year.
Newton to Smith is pure fantasy gold this week.
Question 4: How do the Panthers stop AP from gashing them for 200 yards?
Chris: You can't. You're doomed. MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!
Ahem. . .sorry.
It's much easier said than done because of Peterson's combination of size, strength, and elusiveness, but you have to be a good tackling team. Arm tackles aren't going to bring Adrian Peterson down, and it's very rare that one guy is going to bring him down, unless it's one guy grabbing him by his shoelaces when it looks like he's getting ready to take off for about 70 yards (which is something we've seen on a frustratingly high number of occasions already this season). But the key to stopping Peterson is the key to stopping any running back. . .just hit him, wrap him up, slow him down, and gang tackle him. I know that the Panthers have had some issues with injuries at the linebacker spots this season, and I think that plays into the Vikings favor, as does the threat of a quarterback that isn't constantly trying to force wide receivers to catch passes off of their shoe tops.
Peterson is pure fantasy gold this week.
Question 5: What do you think the Vikings will do on defense to limit Cam Newton?
Chris: I think that they're going to have to try to give him some different looks and some things that he's never seen before. I'm not sure how they're going to do that, because the guy is already playing like somebody who has seen it all and is adjusting much better to the NFL than anybody thought he would. The Vikings are going to have to try some more blitzing, try a few different things in coverage, and just try to give Newton more to think about. Hopefully he'll be thinking about it long enough to get an opportunity to meet Jared Allen once or twice.
Given Allen is likely lined up on rookie RT Byron Bell he should see Newton up close at least a couple times. Let's hope it's not more often than that.
Got a score prediction?
Chris: I'm a homer, and I've caught a little bit of Ponder-mania, but I think the Vikings can squeak out a close one here. If I have to put a score on it, I'll go with something like 23-20, Minnesota.
Thanks Chris for your time and answers! Be sure to check out my answers to his questions over at his site.