Vikings' problems go much deeper than a player or two
Now that the 2012 NFL regular season is over and the Minnesota Vikings have nowhere to play, the time seems right to take a look back at the blunders they made and pass some judgments. Everyone knows that hindsight is 20-20.
Right off the bat it is pretty obvious that just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong. If you would have told someone the Vikes would be 3-13 in 2011 after the 2009 season they would have laughed at you. Who could guess that when Brett Favre threw that stupid pass back across the field in the NFC championship game that the Vikes had walked under a ladder.
Once the Vikings could operate again after the last summer Donovan McNabb was quickly brought aboard as a very expensive temp because he was available. He had all the credentials for the job of quarterbacking the Vikes but they forgot to check under the hood. He had left a vital part of himself behind. McNabb did as well as he did in Philly because he was young, he could run and he could hit his receivers. McNabb was 35 and he had neither his old running skills nor his fire. He gave Minnesota three first halves of football against San Diego, Tampa Bay and Detroit and then took the rest of the game off. Coach Mike Shanahan benched McNabb in Washington because he thought he was lazy. At the time many thought it was a poor way to treat a former all-pro quarterback but now it seems Shanahan was right. Looking back, Leslie Frazier should have given Joe Webb or Christian Ponder the ball in the second half and taken his chances.
The 2011 season was more about politics than football. The Vikes kept sticking their billion-dollar stadium plans in the state legislature's face even with the bad economy. Never mind that Zygi Wilf is worth $1.3 billion -- the poor guy has to have a stadium where he can turn a profit. What about putting a winning team on the field? A Minnesota team that started the season 3-0 instead of 0-3 might have ended the season with a stadium lease in their pocket.
When McNabb had finally given the Vikes as much as they could take, they turned to Ponder, their No. 1 draft choice of 2011. The experts thought the coaching staff was feeding Ponder into the chopper but the rookie looked good in his first start against the Packers. Thanks to a lot of Packer mistakes the Vikings were actually in position to pull of what would have been the season's biggest upset. When Ponder started to play like a rookie they gave the ball to Webb, who also had some success moving the team and broke off a record-setting 65-yard touchdown run against Detroit.
Unless the Vikes draft another quarterback or sign a free agent in April it is going to be a Ponder-Webb battle for the starting job in August. They both have ability but they are both green. So which will be able to run the team for four quarters? If it turns out to be Webb, it means the Vikings invested a No. 1 draft pick in a backup while ignoring their offensive line and defensive secondary.
The offensive line's 2012 season started with Frazier giving Bryant McKinnie the gate the first week of training camp because he reported to camp too fat. Obesity is one of the nation's greatest problems but offensive linemen are supposed to be big. That is not what lost him his job. What doomed McKinnie was his history of irritating management and embarrassing the team. Like McNabb, McKinnie was not the star he had once been. He was everyone's favorite offensive tackle when the Vikes drafted him with the seventh pick of the first round in 2002 - a guy so big that defensive ends found themselves trying to circle a Purple Mt. Everest to get to the quarterback. It really looks like the Vikings should have sent McKinnie packing after the 2010 season or tried to package him into some draft deal. It takes time for an offensive line to jell so chances are the new guy would not have been dynamite right off, but by playing 20 games he could have given the Vikes better blocking than McKinnie's replacement - former sixth-rounder Charlie Johnson.
One of Minnesota's proudest boasts down through the years has been the fact that they come up with good receivers. Well what happened in 2011? Bernard Berrian and Michael Jenkins put together do not equal a Calvin Johnson or a Greg Jennings. Their offense in 2010 was terrible and yet they went into the 2011 season with two offensive threats -- Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin. They knew they would have to compete with three strong teams in their own division and they felt good with two weapons?
As badly as the Vikes need blocking and pass coverage people, Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon is going to be a helluva temptation for Minnesota in the first round of the 2012 draft. The guy caught 113 passes for 1,336 and 15 touchdowns in 2011. He led the Cowboys to a Fiesta Bowl victory with three touchdown grabs.
The Vikes could also stand to add a breakaway threat in the backfield. When Chester Taylor left the team after the 2009 season it was not seen as the end of the world because Peterson was so tough, but Taylor was a terrific backup and a player the Vikes should have kept.
The Vikings knew coming into the season that their defensive secondary was a weak spot. They were dead right. One of the smartest moves they could make this year would be to go after two new corners and two new safeties. Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin have had good seasons during their careers but teams passed on the Vikes at will this season. This has to change.
There are other spots that need attention on defense as well - linebacker and defensive tackle - but the defensive unit's sorry 31st place ranking will brighten considerably if and when the Vikings start scoring touchdowns again.
The Vikes started the season with a big fat question mark hanging over them. When they walked off the field last Sunday after losing their final game to Chicago 17-13, they could say that 10 of their 13 losses were by seven points or less. If the Vikes win half of those 10 games they go 8-8. Fix the problems, Zygi, and learn from the mistakes you made. Which brings us to Rick Spielman.
Spielman's promotion to general manager on Tuesday has some fans convinced that the Wilfs are secret stockholders in the Green Bay Packers. He was Minnesota's director of player personnel in 2009 when they reached the NFC championship game and he has been a big part of their 9-23 record the last two seasons. The idea of hiring a general manager is long overdue but is Spielman the right man for the job? He has been part of the problem. What the Vikes need is a GM that will be part of the solution.