To read Pacifist Viking's thoughts on Minnesota's 36-22 victory over the St. Louis Rams, click here.
Been a little under the weather the past few days, so sorry for the lack of blogging on my part. I think I'm coming out of it, though.
Anyway .... I hear the word "sustainable" used a lot these days. Everyone wants the good times to go on forever and that certainly holds true for sports teams. So with the Minnesota Vikings sporting a surprising 8-6 record this season after going 9-23 the previous two, I'd like to examine whether this success – modest as it is – is sustainable.
The 2012 version of the Vikings are a strange team. They've managed to fashion an 8-6 record despite being very average-to-terrible in some key areas. The rushing defense is just OK – giving up 113.3 yards per game. It's pass defense is less than OK, 23rd in the NFL and surrendering 244.4 yards per game. The pass offense is the NFL's worst – averaging only 168.1 yards per game. And in the takeaway-giveaway differential, the Vikes are -3, good for 20th in the league.
Those stats look like something from a 6-8 team, rather than a 8-6 team, but the Vikings are where they are because they piled up wins early in the season thanks to a favorable schedule, they've taken care of business at home (6-1 record), are getting brilliant play from rookie placekicker Blair Walsh – both on field goals and kickoffs – and because running back Adrian Peterson is having a season for the ages.
On the whole, that doesn't sound very sustainable to me. You can't depend on your running back to average 6.3 yards per carry or your placekicker to miss only three field goals every year. Still, the people who run the franchise have done some things that sets the Vikings for a sustainable (and successful) future. For example, the club's general manager Rick Spielman has put together a young offensive line that features one of the league's best centers (John Sullivan), is rock solid at the tackle position with Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt, and has serviceable guards in Charlie Johnson and Brandon Fusco. And Johnson is the oldest of the bunch at 28. This is a young unit on the rise.
And even though the pass defense is currently ranked in the lower half of the league, it's also young (aside from Antoine Winfield) and improving. Chris Cook (25), Harrison Smith (23), Josh Robinson (21) and A.J. Jefferson (24) are a group of young defensive backs that could form the corps of a pretty good secondary in a year or two, which is critical in a league that is as pass happy as the NFL is.
In fact, the Vikings roster is stocked with all kinds of young talent, it's the fourth youngest in the NFL, which could potentially set the team up to be a championship contender for multiple seasons if the majority of that talent pans out.
But where the Vikings ability to sustain the success they've had this season breaks down in my view is with Christian Ponder. In last weeks' "National Friday League" post, Pacifist Viking wrote about the San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots dynasties. From 1981-1998, the 49ers won fewer than 10 games just once – and that was during the wonky, strike-shortened 1982 season when they went 3-6. As for New England, since 2001 Pats "worst" season was a 9-7 finish in 2002.
And if you look at the constants of both of those teams during those two time periods, what they had was Joe Montana, Steve Young and Tom Brady – great quarterbacks. No matter what went wrong on defense or special teams or how much their rosters might have turned over each year, the 49ers and the Patriots success was sustainable because they were going to get great quarterbacking every season and were going to be able to put up enough points each game to win a lot more than they'd lose.
It does not seem very likely that Ponder is another Montana, Young or Brady. He's currently on pace to throw for just 2,888 yards over a 16 game season where he has taken virtually every snap for the team. That total would put Ponder in this company of QBs (hat tip to @ArifHasanDN for finding this info), which includes 43 seasons where an NFL quarterback passed for less than 3,000 yards despite starting all 16 games. There are a few big names in there (Terry Bradshaw, Drew Bledsoe, Joe Theisman), but overall it's an unimpressive group.
So is the success the Vikings have had in 2012 sustainable? I'd say it isn't – not with the quality of quarterbacking the team is getting right now. The Vikings have bucked the odds in 2012. They are in the playoff hunt without a modern-day passing attack and with a quarterback whose impact on the game the Vikings coaching staff is doing everything in their power to minimize.
It's a style of football that's worked out surprisingly well for the Vikings this season. But it's not one that sets up the Vikings for sustainable success for the next decade - unless Ponder (or somebody else) improves the level of play the team is getting from the quarterback position significantly in the not-too-distant future.