Daniel House analyzes a terrible loss to the Cleveland Browns. How did it all go wrong and where do we go from here? He discusses of all of this and more in his game analysis.
Three weeks have passed and the same tune has been sung in each of the games for the Minnesota Vikings. Lapses in coaching, poor play on both sides of the ball, and turnovers have all contributed to the team starting 0-3. The Cleveland Browns beat the Minnesota Vikings with a 3rd string quarterback at the helm and without a running back who was traded to the Colts earlier in the week. The Vikings defense has produced turnovers over the past two games, but have allowed a plethora of yards. Brian Hoyer completed 30 of 54 passes for 321 yards and three touchdowns, in just his second career start. The defense has had two opportunities to win the game with minutes left and have allowed touchdowns on both occasions this year. The defense placed the Browns in several third and long situations and allowed them to convert each time. This can't happen when the Vikings are at home and have placed the offense in this situation.
The team was without cornerback Chris Cook, who suffered a groin pull during warmups, which is something we are used to. He can't stay healthy, make plays for this team, or lead, which means the Vikings should let him walk at the end of the season. Nonetheless, this placed inexperienced cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes, Marcus Sherels, Josh Robinson, and A.J. Jefferson in a huge role for today's game. Jefferson had a rough day and was burned on a double move by Josh Gordon in the first half. I was pleasantly surprised with Sherels' play at cornerback today. He made very nice tackles and give him credit, he played very well considering the circumstances. Robinson played well and made tackles, while being a big part of the Vikings nickel packages. This secondary has struggled given the schemes they have been placed in by the coaching staff. Several people I have talked to have indicated that in this league, the inability to get off the field on third down is based upon poor schemes by the coaching staff.
Jamarca Sanford was awful today and took terrible angles, while not doing his job over the top. Andrew Sendejo entered in the fourth and played well, but missed a critical tackle at the end of the game. The Vikings secondary struggled today, but can't be blamed entirely for all the errors that took place on the defensive side of the ball. The defensive line can't rush the quarterback and the only way we put pressure on a team is by bringing blitzes frequently. The Browns offensive line entered today's game with 11 sacks allowed in just two games. Today the Vikings recording three sacks, two of which came off of blitzes in which Erin Henderson reached the quarterback. The defensive line is filled with players who are in contract seasons and they haven't shown they are capable of lucrative contracts. The linebacker corps continues to struggle and continually rests pressure on the shoulder of the secondary. Chad Greenway missed a few tackles and was slow in pursuit today. Erin Henderson corralled an interception, but failed to play well in other moments today. Desmond Bishop hit the field and saw extended action, recording a beautiful tackle for loss in the fourth quarter. It all spins full circle to the scheme of this team. The Tampa-2 defense has worn out its welcome and I believe this team would greatly benefit with a switch to the 3-4 defense next year. I will talk more about this in a post later this week, but it seems logical for a team that is struggling in so many ways.
The offense was a key portion of a collaborative team loss versus the Cleveland Browns. The offensive line continues to struggle and forced Christian Ponder to run for his life, en route to six sacks. John Sullivan was smoked in the interior on several occasions and Phil Loadholt looked like he was tied to a redwood tree. This group went from blocking for a 2,000 yard rusher last year, to allowing sacks and Adrian Peterson to rush for under 100 yards and just 4 yards per carry today. This team won't win many ball games when Peterson doesn't rush well and Ponder is provided with a pocket that makes him even more anemic.
It is time to address the Christian Ponder avenue and my belief on his status as the starting quarterback of this team. My initial impressions say Ponder should be removed from his starting role as quickly as possible, but that has changed after this has marinated in my mind. Matt Cassel isn't a significant upgrade and I firmly believe he would have been mauled as much as Ponder was today. Coach Frazier has indicated there will be no change at quarterback and barring an injury, he will remain at the helm for now.
I'm not saying I like the move, but based upon indications from the coaching staff, Vikings fans will need to live with this. Ponder had a "Ponderesque" day and was extremely inconsistent once again. He made several great throws, but failed to connect on key third downs and overthrew Joe Webb in the endzone after he ran a beautiful route late in the game. In addition, he provided us with the "what are you doing, why would you throw the ball into triple coverage with a defensive lineman roaring at you" moments. Yes, he didn't get things done from a passing standpoint, but was great at running outside the pocket. He rushed for 46 yards and two touchdowns, which is something Matt Cassel couldn't bring to the table. No matter the circumstances of today's game, we witnessed that Ponder is not an elite quarterback and is a pure 'game manager' in this league. We will never witness Christian Ponder step into pressure and sling the ball into tight spaces in clutch spots. This team will eventually need to shake things up and it could lead to Matt Cassel entering when the team returns from London. Given the logistical complications, the Vikings aren't going to shake things up this week. The only reason the coaching staff would make a switch is to send the team a message, which may not be out of the realm. One thing is certain, today we realized Christian Ponder isn't the long term option as the quarterback of this team and that the front office will need to draft a quarterback who can not just manage the game, but be elite in this league.
I have dedicated an entire section to the coaching staff and how they are at somewhat at fault for the three losses to start the season. Don't get me wrong, Leslie Frazier is one of the nicest guys in the league, but he doesn't have the fiery personality to win games in this league. His coaching staff has left us scratching our heads through the first three weeks of the season. The Vikings defense has choked down the stretch in back-to-back weeks and has caused many of the struggles of this team. Bill Musgrave has displayed his inability to call games and Mike Priefer's special teams unit has been ripped at the seams this season. They allowed Devin Hester to run down their throat and let the Browns record a fake punt and field goal today. This is completely unacceptable and should not be tolerated. I think the coaches didn't have the players ready to play and let the "Browns are throwing in the towel" verbiage consume their preparation this week. They looked extremely unprepared for the Browns and were caught in the middle of the back roads. This coaching staff has placed all of their fate into the hands of Christian Ponder and together they are a collaborative wrecking ball. Leslie Frazier led this team to a 10-6 finish, but how many of the issues of this team were overshadowed by Adrian Peterson's superhuman 2012 season? As I said, if Ponder fails and puts this team in a black hole, Frazier, Musgrave, Williams, and Priefer will all fall deep into the ground with him.
This team has collaboratively lost three games to start this season, which places them in a tricky situation. It appears we will have a coaching controversy, a quarterback carnival, and a front office scramble in the coming months. In fact, we may even be scouting the NFL draft for a quarterback before the season has even started moving.
Hop on, it's going to be a bumpy ride.....