If preseason games are meaningless – as some analysts say – there isn't much to fret about following Friday's 12-10 uglyfest that dropped the Minnesota Vikings to 1-2 in the exhibition games.
But the scowl the normally pokerfaced Leslie Frazier was wearing on the sideline during this game tells another tale. Here is what Frazier couldn't have been happy to see.
Christian Ponder regresses
I think most of us (and by us, I mean Viking fans) were guardedly optimistic after watching the first-team offense look fairly competent in its first two exhibition games. Against the Chargers, the unit looked miles away from competent.
This wasn't all on second-year quarterback Christian Ponder. However, it's hard not to get a little worried about the guy when in a game that's as close to "real" as you can get in the preseason, we saw some of the problems that plagued Ponder in his rookie year show up – like staring down wide receivers. And Ponder still hasn't shown the ability to take over a game with his throwing or to elevate the players around him like a franchise quarterback is supposed to.
One thing he must get better at is his movement in the pocket. From my seat on the couch, Ponder's problem is that he doesn't really move. Consistently against the Chargers, he'd drop back to pass, hit his spot and stay there as if his feet were nailed to the Metrodome turf. At least two of the five sacks he took could have been prevented if he had stepped up a stride or two in the pocket. Ponder recognizes this: he said as much in his sideline interview with Ben Leber during the game. So why can't he translate that knowledge to the field? Someone needs to hand him a DVD of Tom Brady in the pocket.
This year's wide receivers look a lot like last year's wide receivers
Ponder's life might be little easier if he had anyone he could count on to make a play among the Vikings wide receivers other than Percy Harvin. But with the Vikings choosing to not play Jerome Simpson Friday night, no one else stood out.
Michael Jenkins will catch a few passes every game because he's big, has good hands, and is a seasoned pro who knows how to run routes. He's just not a deep threat. Devin Aromashodu is just a guy. Ditto for Emmanuel Arceneaux. Rookie Jarius Wright hasn't shown anything so far. And where was Stephen Burton last night? Did he even play?
This is a long-winded way of saying that during Simpson's suspension, the Vikings will struggle to move the ball through the air because every WR besides Harvin will struggle to get open, create separation from opposing defensive backs and make plays. That's the way it was last year and I've seen little to make me believe it will be any different while Simpson is out (and it might not get much better when he's in. Simpson's a wild card in his own right).
The defense made Charlie Whitehurst look OK
I don't want to hear any praise for the Vikings defense because it only gave up six points while Charlie Whitehurst was playing QB for San Diego. The fact is it shouldn't have allowed any points with Whitehurst under center.
Make no mistake – Whitehurst is godawful. Check out his game logs from the previous two seasons with Seattle. He was run out of that town because of his poor play. Yet on the two series where the Chargers kicked field goals while he was in the game, the Vikings actually made Whitehurst look decent. So what happens when they face Matt Stafford in week three? Or even rookie Andrew Luck in week two? The performance was lackluster enough against a Chargers offense that was missing most of its starters that Vikings analyst (and company man) Pete Bercich repeatedly called out the unit for a lack of intensity, effort and overall poor play.
Blair Walsh misses from 45 yards
I know the rookie is
still eight-for-10 or whatever in the preseason, but on that first field
goal attempt, the ball was positioned right in the middle of the
field. Walsh didn't miss by much, but he did miss and inside the Dome, with
his leg, and on a team that might struggle to score points at times this year, that's a kick Walsh must make. I'm still worried he'll lose
his confidence like he did at Georgia last year.
There was lots more that was wrong with the Vikings against San Diego, but the aforementioned four issues stuck out the most for me. What about you, dear readers?
Let's end on a happy note
It wasn't all bad though.
We saw good work from linebackers Jasper Brinkley and Erin Henderson. Brinkley's two sacks draw attention, but I thought he had a very good all around game. He was at the bottom of a lot of piles and was just a lot more active than he had been the previous two games. Henderson looked solid, occupying blockers that allowed teammates like Brinkley to make plays, and he was consistently in the backfield disrupting Charger running plays.
Matt Asiata once again showed why he, not Lex Hilliard or Jordan Todman, should be the Vikings third running back when the season starts even if he's listed as a fullback. He hits the hole decisively, can pass block a little and catches the ball well out of the backfield. I don't even care that he fumbled at Chargers three yard line.
And reserve tight end Allen Reisner showed off his soft hands and run-after-the-catch skills by hauling in a team high four catches (for 47 yards). Maybe the Vikings should make him a wide receiver.
All the trimmings
You've probably heard the Vikes didn't waste any time making their first 15 cuts. For a detailed analysis on what those cuts mean to the Minnesota offense and defense, I suggest reading this post by The Daily Norseman's (and KAB guest columnist) Arif Hasan.