Thursday, November 8, 2012

National Friday League, Week 10

Saying Farewell to Thunderdome (in lieu of a Vikings-Lions Preview)
Here's a thing to start thinking about: this is the last Vikings-Lions game ever to be played in the Metrodome

The Vikings have only three more games ever to be played in the Metrodome. Those games are against the Lions, the Bears, and the Packers, those long-time NFC Central and NFC North foes. And then that's it. Just memories.

The Vikings have been trying to replace the Metrodome for so long you might have forgotten that it is a building that has provided us with some memories. Memories that...  Memories that... Hmm. A lot of those memories have sucked, actually. Lots of good ones too, but a team that went to four Super Bowls in its first 17 years of existence never made it to the Super Bowl in its entire Metrodome era.

Still I sort of love the building. I usually get to games very early (much to the chagrin of some of the people I've attended with), and I've wandered all over the place, inside and out. I've watched games from close seats (I saw an Antoine Winfield special--sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery, touchdown--from a few seats behind the end zone), and I've watched games from very far back (during my year of season tickets, I sat with my back to the wall). I've seen some of the best players in NFL history. I've seen records broken.

The Dome has been an iconic building for Minnesota. I'll miss it. And I want the Vikes to get some more Ws there.

It's uncanny how much Adrian Peterson runs like Gale Sayers
Adrian Peterson's open field running reminds me of all those old slow motion highlights of Gale Sayers. His vision and instincts about where to cut to find space are remarkable. When he gets around the edge, he often sees space back in the middle of the field and cuts back. He may have lost some of his speed, but none of his agility, his vision, or his football instincts. In the open field, defenders just don't know what he's going to do, and aren't quick enough to stop him when they figure it out.

I'm serious, kids: watch this video and tell me you don't think you're seeing Adrian Peterson.

Free Joe Webb
There were several good responses to my argument to FREE JOE WEBB, which ultimately boil down to the Vikings' need to play out Ponder for the season as planned, make him prove his unworthiness for the position, so that the Vikes can reassess the position in the offseason. I think it is a good argument. But still, I say FREE JOE WEBB.

My basic contention is this: in a game that Adrian Peterson dominated but the Vikings still needed a passing game, Christian Ponder threw for 63 yards, showed no pocket presence, and looked unable or unwilling to stand in the pocket for a moment--and this game was not an aberration. He played like he played in the majority of games this season. He has now stunk in four straight games. Is it a necessity to let him play out the season to know what he can do? Because right now, he can't play.

I think it's entirely possible that Ponder could turn out something like Rich Gannon, somebody who later in his career could get into the right situation and be a good NFL quarterback. He has some of the tools. But right now, he doesn't, and I don't see how he'll show those tools this season. He'll be playing out the season just to show what we've already seen.

Ponder has had two good games this season (San Francisco and Tennessee), with some nice clutch play in one more (Jacksonville). The rest of the time he's looked largely inept. Have those (let's say) two and a half games out of nine justified his continuing play?  In my view, they haven't.

But I'm an erratic, emotional fan. It's not my job to make reasonable decisions about the Vikings' long-term or short-term strategic planning. The entirely reasonable thing to do is for them to play out Christian Ponder for the year. I didn't apply for a position with the Vikings that requires me to be reasonable. The prospect of watching more 63 yard passing games from a QB that looks ready to bail on a play at the slightest sign of a pass rush for seven more games this season makes me frustrated and bored. As a fan, I can rant against the team's decisions that will leave me frustrated and bored!

The long-term approach to QB
Since Daunte Culpepper's reign, the Vikings have largely gotten burned with short-term veteran fixes at the QB position. Occasionally it has worked OK or great for a little while before flaming out (Brad Johnson, Brett Favre), and occasionally it has immediately flamed out (Donovan McNabb). This left the Vikings over-committed to drafting a young QB to commit to and build around. They are trying it with Christian Ponder.

I have a small worry and a big worry about this. The small one is that after being burned with the veteran QBs, the Vikes might stick with their young fix for longer than they should. OK, that happens sometimes. But here's my big worry.

Finding a quality starting quarterback in the NFL is hard. There are not 32 good quarterbacks alive right now: there may not be 15. It takes a combination of luck, scouting, and strategy to get a quarterback that is even decent as your team's starter. Sometimes teams get lucky by getting an early draft pick during a season with a can't-miss prospect (Andrew Luck, Matt Ryan). Sometimes teams have a combination of luck and smarts when a good veteran becomes available as a free agent (Peyton Manning, Drew Brees). Sometimes team have a combination of luck and smarts when they have an unheralded prospect emerge from the depth chart to stardom (Tom Brady, Tony Romo). And often teams don't have luck or smarts, but end up with a QB that is good enough to keep them competitive for the most part (Joe Flacco).

There's no one way to find a competent starting quarterback, and there's no one way to find an elite starting quarterback. I hope the string of Brad Johnson, Gus Frerotte, Brett Favre (it worked for a year!), and Donovan McNabb doesn't give the team long-term creeps about trying to sign a veteran quarterback. If Ponder does indeed flame out, the answer may not be to go into the 2013 draft trying to find another first-round QB to try build around--that seems like a strategy that really will waste the prime of one of the NFL's greatest running backs of all-time. If the possibility of acquiring another veteran QB--not a 39 year old, sure, but maybe a 31 year old--makes itself clear (even Joe Flacco!*), the Vikes should still try it.

Getting a quarterback is hard. It might take a bunch of failures before you get it right, and you might have to compromise on competent while you wait for (or try to get) elite.

*Go buy gin now.

Other Interesting Games
Week 10 Games

This is not a terrific week for interesting games: only once will teams with winning records play each other this week (Texans and Bears, both 7-1, Sunday night so we can see it). Of course this is one reason to play fantasy football: all the games are interesting. Monday Night the 5-3 Steelers are going to pummel the 1-7 Chiefs (who are way worse than their record), but I'm starting Mike Wallace and the Steeler D (I picked them up just to play against the Chiefs!), so I'll be watching with great excitement.

The Commercial Life
Do you ever notice that cell phone commercial where that guy is looking at his phone, and it keeps flashing him to all these different locations, and no matter where he is, what's around him, what sort of interesting or beautiful or interesting settings he finds himself in, he's just staring at his phone. His whole life is going on, and he's staring at a little electronic thing in his hand. This is how they sell phones to us now?!? Get our phone, so you can ignore the world and miss all the cool things you're doing?

Kick Ass Links
Our punter celebrates (as do I) (Slate, City Pages).

How the sports media--which generally embraces or at least understands advanced statistical analysis--is ahead of the political media (The New Republic).

Have a good one, suckers. Except Lion fans.

1 comment:

  1. PV:

    As I've written this week, I would like to see Webb involved in the offense somehow on Sunday, just not as the starter. Design a few plays that you can bring him in to run and then let him do his scramble and maybe pass thing. Get the Lions defense thinking. Force them to adjust to something they weren't expecting. Be innovative with Webb and try to create a few explosive plays with him. But no Blazer package, please.