This week the Buccaneers face the Minnesota Vikings, and we sat down with Vikings blogger Dan Zinski from The Viking Age to talk about who is going to come out on top in what should be an ugly battle between two growing teams. The Vikings are coming off a sneaky win over the Arizona Cardinals and are riding high at 5-2 this season. Fans are having flashbacks to the Vikings winning ways of 2008-09, and the Buccaneers are having flashback to the 1998 season when they were the only blemish on an otherwise perfect record for the Vikings.
Dan Zinski gives us some insight on this Vikings team that is in the hunt to win the NFC North in 2012.
Q: First off, all my Vikings friends are back to their 2008-09 ways of thinking their on the top of the world. It’s great to see but how real is this team? Is this a team that can compete with the Texans and Giants of the NFL or will something like Christian Ponder’s growth stunt this team at some point this year?
A: No doubt Ponder needs to play better if they’re going to be legit. That’s the #1 thing that will hold them back. They’ve overcome it so far but you have to look at a few things. Schedule for one thing. They’ve played some weak teams and they caught San Francisco at the right time. Also, the way they were able to use Percy Harvin early in the season. Throwing lots of screens and short passes that Harvin was able to break for big gains. That made Ponder’s life a lot easier. But now teams are scheming to take that away. So how do they adjust? At some point you have to go down the field more. Which means Ponder has to get more settled in the pocket. He has to step up and deliver the ball. The second half of the season, when they’re playing Green Bay twice, the Bears twice, Houston, Seattle up in Seattle, all these tough games. They going to win those games running and playing defense and getting under 100 yards from their QB? I don’t see it.
Q: Adrian Peterson is back and that’s great to see. But the question everyone wants to know is how long will he be back? Is what Paul Allen says on a daily basis true? Is Adrian Peterson really the best back in the NFL and can he carry this team as it is to a serious Super Bowl run, or is PA just blowing homer smoke like always?
A: Peterson may be the best back in the league. It’s either him or Arian Foster at this point. Or Ray Rice if the Ravens would actually give him the ball. Whether he can carry the team as its currently constituted on a Super Bowl run is another question. I personally don’t see it. But I don’t have PA’s deep penetrating vision. Does he see McLeod Bethel-Thompson taking over as quarterback? I love Peterson but he can’t do it alone. They’ll need a lot more from the passing game the second half of the season. It’s going to be a meat grinder.
Q: Let’s get back to Ponder. People were quick to be down on him, which is a stark contrast to how people felt about Josh Freeman when he was drafted. But they seem to be almost in the same place in their development as NFL leaders. At this point and with the future still in motion, who would you rather have leading your team: Christian Ponder or Josh Freeman?
A: You look at Ponder and you look at Freeman. You see one guy who’s a little on the small side and doesn’t have the best arm. And then you look at the other guy and he’s big and strong and can chuck it a long way. I’m always taking the big strong guy with the arm. As long as his name isn’t Cam Newton (just not real high on him right now with his attitude issues). I just think you can do more with that kind of guy. You can open up the offense. Ponder will always have limitations. There are certain throws he’s never going to be able to make. Freeman has had his ups and downs but he hasn’t done anything yet to make you say “This guy can’t be a winning quarterback.” In the right situation, he can be a winning quarterback. I’d love to see him behind the Vikings’ improving line, with Percy Harvin and Kyle Rudolph, and Adrian Peterson giving him a running game. Sorry Ponder.
Q: The Buccaneers clearly have weaknesses in their secondary and their play calling that are hampering their season. What weaknesses do the Vikings have that the Buccaneers might potentially exploit on Thursday night?
A: Thing that leaps out at me is the run defense. The Vikings let some hyphenated kid from Arizona run all over them last week. It was really a bad tackling performance by them which is somewhat uncharacteristic. I’d say run it up the middle. And run it outside away from Antoine Winfield. Also, they’ve struggled defensively in the two-minute drill. Andrew Luck carved them up in that area. As far as attacking the offense, well that’s simple. Just stack the box and make Ponder throw. I don’t even think you need to bring extra heat on him. The four man rush is enough to make him uncomfortable. He hasn’t shown yet that he can consistently deliver the ball even ten yards down the field, especially with pressure in his face. And the Vikings don’t have a lot of guys who get separation. So that leads to coverage sacks. And when Ponder breaks the pocket he’s been making bad decisions.
Q: Let’s be frank and say this Vikings team is maybe lucking their way into wins. There is no doubt talent present, but this team clearly isn’t complete. What more does this need in this upcoming offseason to give the Jared Allen’s on the team one more serious and legitimate run at a Super Bowl?
A: #1 priority has to be wide receiver. They must find a legitimate complement to Percy Harvin. Middle linebacker is another place where they could definitely upgrade. The Te’o kid from Notre Dame would be perfect. But let’s be honest. The key is still the quarterback. Whether this team has a legit shot to be any good at all next year depends entirely on Ponder. And this nine game stretch coming up will really tell the tale on him I think. If he can get through that meat grinder showing improvement and get some wins, even if they only finish 7-9, that will give you great hope for next year. That will make you say “They’ve got their QB, now they just need to fill in around him.” But that’s a big “if.” And if Ponder struggles, what do you do? Take a shot at a veteran QB looking for one last go-around? Dip into the draft? The way they approach next offseason will depend entirely on Ponder’s growth. Maybe they’d be better off just building up the defense. Try to get so good on defense that you can win even with a mediocre QB and no legit deep passing game. But in today’s NFL I don’t know if that’s a viable plan.
Q: Alright, money on the line. Who wins on Thursday night at the loudest stadium in the NFL and why?
A: I just have a funny feeling Tampa is going to win this game. I’m concerned that Adrian Peterson will be affected by the quick turnaround. He has been nursing an ankle issue. He was great vs. Arizona but asking him to come back on such short rest and do it again, that might be too much. And right now I’m not confident in Ponder’s ability to take up the slack. The passing game is non-existent right now if Percy Harvin is taken out by the defense. I think the Vikes will have to pass effectively to win. Of course Tampa’s pass defense has been bad, but the Vikes haven’t shown they can attack even bad pass defenses all that effectively. The Vikes are certainly good enough defensively to control Tampa so this could end up being a grinding game. Might be an ugly game. Vikes have been winning ugly games but you can’t keep banking on that forever.