Vikings still have questions after blowout win

Posted Oct. 10, 2011 @ 3:11 p.m.
Posted By Eric Edholm

Win by 24 points, and typically it's a good thing. But there was a strange uneasiness around the Metrodome as fans filed out near the end of a 34-10 thrashing of the Cardinals on Sunday. It was the Vikings' first victory of the season, but remarkably they have outscored their opponents by five points (111-106) on the season and have a plus-3 turnover margin. And yet there remain concerns about the offense, especially at quarterback.

The PFW Spin

It was a bizarre sight and sound, hearing the consistent ringing of "We want Ponder!" throughout the crowd Sunday, even as the Vikings stormed to a 28-0 lead in the game's first 12-plus minutes. Ponder, of course, is rookie Christian Ponder, the team's backup quarterback and first-round pick, and no player is more popular than the one who has yet to play.

Head coach Leslie Frazier has been publicly resolute in his support of QB Donovan McNabb, saying he is not making a switch with his starter. That certainly is not as likely to change after a blowout win, but a closer look at the tape reveals that the passing game was woeful at times, much of it because of McNabb's inaccuracy.

The defense and special teams were the early heroes, setting up very favorable field position on the first three drives, and the running game did the heavy lifting from there. Along the way through the game, McNabb made a handful of impressive throws, but they were far outweighed by some absolute clunkers, including a screen-pass attempt that was five yards short of his intended target, who stood eight yards away.

McNabb also hit Devin Aromashodu, a free-agent wideout who appears to have fully supplanted split end Bernard Berrian, on a 60-yard route, but it was Aromashodu who gained at least 40 of the yards after the catch. McNabb's rushing TD was the play of a crafty veteran, but he offsets those kinds of plays with too many incomplete passes; on the season, he has completed a mere 56.8 percent of his passes and for 6.43 yards per attempt, both his lowest numbers since the early 2000s.

The naked truth is that Ponder is almost certain to struggle. He looked slow to diagnose in the preseason and appeared to be a player who needed more reps and more time to absorb the offense. But the on-the-job training has to start sometime, and it was none more evident than in the Vikings' blowout win — one that McNabb made few major contributions to — that a change has to come at some point.

It wouldn't be a season saver, not at 1-4 with other holes on the football team. But it would give the Vikings the chance to find out what they have. They are not likely to be in line for the first pick in the draft, and thus in a position to take Stanford's Andrew Luck, but you never know. The Panthers are mighty glad that Jimmy Clausen played last year and showed that he was not a franchise changer. That allowed them to pick Cam Newton, who has been tremendous as a rookie.