Vikes deserve praise, but NFC team still has a lot to prove
It may be hard for some of us to recognize that purple and gold football team playing on television each Sunday, but they are the 2012 version of the Minnesota Vikings.
The National Football League team has just reeled off back-to-back victories over San Francisco and Detroit, two National Football Conference playoff teams last year who happen to have some pretty fair talent back. They are tied with Chicago for first place in the NFC North with a 3-1 record. Yes, that is right, first place.
Give Leslie Frazier and his staff credit for some pretty decent off-season moves, starting with a good draft back in April.
The Vikings drew the third choice in the draft after a 3-13 season in 2011, and they grabbed Matt Kalil from USC to play left tackle. There was speculation they would go for a quarterback, wide receiver or cornerback instead of Kalil ,but their decision to take the 6-7, 308-pounder from USC has been a dandy so far. Quarterback Christian Ponder has gained some peace of mind with Kalil protecting his back on passing plays and has only been sacked eight times in four games. Give the rest of Minnesota's revamped O-Line a big assist. Eighteen NFL quarterbacks have been sacked nine times or more so far this season. The fact Ponder has not been picked off in 123 attempts is also a plus.
Adrian Peterson has been running hard and Percy Harvin has been great at both wideout and kick return. No defense in football looks forward to facing these two guys. Peterson racked up 102 yards against Detroit, and that is far from the best he can do. Harvin's 105-yard kickoff return on the first play of the Detroit game gave the Vikes exactly what they needed to beat the Lions - a huge shot of adrenalin. Later, it was gifted Marcus Sherels who gave the Vikings six on a 77-yard punt return.
The jury is still out on the rest of Minnesota's offense. Kyle Rudolph is making a place for himself at tight end, but what about a contribution from our other tight end - $4.2 million pickup John Carlson? Jerome Simpson and Devin Aromashohu look like gifted receivers, but when are they going to put TDs on the scoreboard?
Harrison Smith and Josh Robinson are two impressive newcomers in Minnesota's secondary. Smith has three qualities every safety must have: smarts, courage and tackling ability. The rookie was tied for fourth on the team in stops with 22 after the Detroit game. I saw the 5-10 Robinson battling Detroit superstar Calvin Johnson in a first quarter goal line stand. The 6-5 Johnson, who caught 10 passes for 164 yards and one touchdown a week earlier, caught five passes for only 54 yards in the loss to Minnesota. Robinson has one other distinction for the Vikes, but it is not a shining one. He has Minnesota's only interception.
Another rookie playing above his pay grade is kicker Blair Walsh. This was a surprising choice by the Vikings in the NFL draft. A kicker is usually the last player the Vikes worry about when they gear up for an NFL season. Walsh not only tied the season-opening game with Jacksonville on a 55-yard field goal, he also booted a 38-yarder in overtime to win the game. Walsh has only muffed one field goal in the first four games and has booted all of his extra points.
Three-quarters of the 2012 season remains for Minnesota, so it would be a good idea to keep one foot on the floor. Despite the surprising 3-1 start, this is a rebuilding year. How fast the Vikings rebuild will be dictated by the success they have on the field. Are Green Bay and Detroit going to flop around in the nets for the rest of the season? Do not bet the franchise. It would satisfy most of us if the Vikes would keep improving, win most of their home games and notch some more victories in the tough NFC North. It would be gigantic if the wins added up to a playoff trip.