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Article: Who’s Trending, Worth Defending or Might Be Ending—Week 1

teddy bridgewater kyle rudolph mike simmer matt cassel anthony barr
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#1 Joe Oberle

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Posted 18 August 2014 - 11:16 PM

In 2011, Minnesota Vikings defensive end Brian Robison was speaking in the locker room to a large group of reporters with microphones and cameras, trying to explain his actions in a recent game when he kicked Packers offensive lineman T.J. Lang in (for lack of a better term) his jockstrap.When Robison had returned to the locker room after the game, he found the Twitter feed on his phone lit up “with about 500 messages from angry Packers fans,” he explained with some lament.

Relatively new to the world of Twitter myself, I was eager to demonstrate my fledgling understanding of this brave new digi-sphere and promptly blurted out, “So, you’re trending!”

The entire assemblage of reporters laughed out loud [they LOL’ed, as it were] as Robison turned a withering glance my way and said, “Uh, yeah. I guess so.”

It is with that memory in mind—one that defines both the yin and yang of the term “trending”—that we introduce this new column called: “Trending—Worth Defending—Might be Ending.” Each week following the Vikings game, we will examine players or situations (good or bad) that are trending—i.e. those people are talking about. We will also single out players and performances that are worth defending because they may not be indicative of future results, or may have flown under the radar. And finally we will look at players whose current situation might, or should be, ending—as in a starting role, a roster spot or their time in the limelight (Robison couldn’t wait for wait for his 15 minutes of infamy to end.)

You may agree or disagree with the designations—certainly chime in with comments on either. Or offer your own candidates for the roles, there is plenty of TDE to go around. Join in.

Trending

In the category of low hanging fruit, we pluck Teddy Bridgewater off the trending tree following the Vikings’ dramatic 30-28 win over the Arizona Cardinals in preseason game No. 2. Bridgewater--with a stat line of 16-for-20 passing for 177 yards, two touchdowns and a 136.9 passer rating, plus leading the team on a final winning drive with just over a minute remaining in the game--brought the drama, and the Vikings fans who hung around for the final gun were treated to an exciting glimpse of the future.

Bridgewater looked in command and decisive throughout his performance, and on the final drive he went 6-for-7 passing—topping it off with a 2-yard fade into the corner of the endzone for the winning touchdown.

Earlier in the game, Bridgewater made that same pass to Jerome Simpson but threw it to the wrong shoulder (which Simpson conveniently pointed out)—he corrected the throw to Rodney Smith for the final score. That small detail in itself--Bridgewater’s ability to be coached and make adjustments--justifies the chatter surrounding him since the game, as plenty of fans want to reopen the quarterback completion that appeared closed after the first preseason game. Though the Teddy watch had settled down a bit this past week, the meter is spiking for him now.

The Vikings offensive line looks to be trending in the right direction. After a moribund performance in 2013, the line was instrumental in the victory over Arizona. They opened holes late to boost the rushing numbers and formed solid pockets that quarterback Matt Cassel expertly moved up in to complete passes or run through for first downs. The line, as my colleague Arif Hasan pointed out in his game review, did have some issues (the running game started slow even though the Cardinals were missing some first team defenders) but they still took a positive step forward. Head coach Mike Zimmer said they played “very good.”

“One of the things I asked about is last week, which I was proud of, is we have to pass protect better, which I thought we did, and they blitzed a lot of in the ballgame,” Zimmer said. “We had to rush better and I thought we did that in the ballgame. That part was good to see, but I thought the offensive line played well.”

Any step ahead is a good step, as the O-line is the motor that will make the offense go this season. A good year out of the line could make the offense explosive and have some opponents playing catch-up this season against the Vikings.

According to Zimmer, after tight end Kyle Rudolph scored a touchdown on a crossing route, he told Zimmer, “that guy you have up in the booth is a genius!” Rudolph must feel like he has died and gone to heaven after signing a big new contract and having “the genius” Norv Turner calling plays for him. If this game is any indication (four catches for 89 yards and a touchdown), Rudolph is going to have the big season everyone is predicting for him. He dropped 15 pounds, came into camp a little quicker and must have a few plays drawn up for him—presumably more than on Bill Musgrave’s wallet size menu sheet from last year.

On the touchdown, Greg Jennings pulled some coverage to the right, and Rudolph raced left across the middle after beating coverage, grabbed the pass in stride, picked up a great block from Jerick McKinnon and raced untouched to the endzone for a 51-yard score—perhaps the easiest of his career. Expect to see that happen more often this season, and for Turner’s offense to be trending soon.

Worth Defending

Before we designate Bridgewater the opening day starter (as his performance on Saturday is prompting many to do), we need to tap on the brakes, remove the purple blinders and remember that while his performance was much improved and gives hope for the future, he is not the starting quarterback of the present, nor should he be. His two scoring drives came against the defensive reserves of the Cardinals. If he is going to become the quarterback of the future, such a performance should have been right in his wheelhouse.

In fact, after the game, Bridgewater told KFAN sideline reporter Greg Coleman that he definitely benefitted from being on the sideline early to watch what Arizona was throwing at the Vikings defensively. That’s a great quote—he sees the value in learning and demonstrated the ability to do it. He entered the game in the second half and played loosely—not “overthinking” as his head coach has accused him of earlier in the week. The future is starting to look more secure with Teddy.

But the present is left to Matt Cassel, who had another decent performance—12-for-16, 153 yards, a touchdown pass and a 125.3 quarterback rating. He tacked on three rushes for 30 yards, including a 23-yarder to put the team in scoring position. It must be noted that his first drive against the top Cardinals defense sputtered after he overthrew Cordarrelle Patterson, and that he and the first team offense played much longer in the game than the Cardinals’ first teamers. Still, he looked sharp for the second straight game and remains the quarterback to start the season against a very tough schedule the opening month. If the Vikings can’t come out of that stretch at least 2-3, then you can start looking to the future and warm up your throats for the “Teddy, Teddy!” chants.

While running back Adrian Peterson twitches on the sideline, waiting in increasing frustration to get into some game action, Peterson’s backups are involved in an intense battle for roster spots. Incumbent Matt Asiata has played okay, scoring a tough goal line touchdown in game one, but carried 10 times for 19 yards in game two—a mere 1.9 yards per carry. He had better watch out, as three players are moving up behind him and coming on strong.

McKinnon had a good game the first week and as a third-round pick in the recent draft is surely going to stick. In addition to his speed and ability to set up his blockers when he runs, he has been great in pass protection—something that has always been hit and miss with Peterson. Joe Banyard played well against the Cardinals, rushing six times for 64 yards (10.7 yards per rush), and he and McKinnon set up the offense with short fields thanks to their kick returns—McKinnon had three for 82 yards and Banyard had two for 59 yards. Their versatility can only help them.

Meanwhile, Dominque Williams rushed only three times for seven yards, but his blitz pickups on the final pivotal drive made him stand out. (Were you watching, Adrian?) On at least five pass plays (including the touchdown pass), he made the right decision and found the biggest blitz threat, vaulted across the line to make the pick up and gave Bridgewater that extra second he needed to hit receivers in stride--the dramatic win depended on it. The skill might not be enough to earn Williams a roster spot, but it is something that has been in short commodity in the Vikings backfield in recent years—it certainly deserves to be noticed. And Zimmer did:

“With Banyard and Williams, they both played well the other night,” he said. “It gets you starting to think about your 53 (man roster) and how many running backs you can keep. If they can continue to do well then that sure does help their cause.”

We’re not ready to proclaim that the Vikings defense is returning to former glory (far from it), but we are seeing some improvements that should give fans hope. As many have rightly pointed to the quarterback play last year as a major reason for the 5-10-1 season, it says here the defense was every bit as culpable, if not more. Last in points given up in 2013 and second-to-last in yardage allowed is not going to get it done. That provides plenty of room for improvement, however. There is still concern about the current linebacker situation. The Vikings need Anthony Barr to become a playmaker on defense—to the point of getting rookie of the year consideration—and the word is that he has the ability. But the other starters will have to play better in coverage.

The good news is that Everson Griffen may just be the guy the Vikings paid for when the resigned him. He can close when chasing down a quarterback and looked good disrupting Arizona signal callers Saturday. When Linval Joseph returns to the middle, he will join an improved Sharrif Floyd and Brian Robison to become a potentially decent front line.

In addition, although the cornerbacks didn’t make a lot of plays on Saturday against the Cardinals, they were in position to do so, and that was an upgrade from what we have seen in the past. The coaching staff is teaching and stressing fundamentals in practice, and that may pay dividends when the regular season rolls around.

Another person learning on the job appears to be defensive coordinator George Edwards. At one point in the game, it looked as though Edwards was signaling in the plays as head coach Zimmer held the play card in front of his microphone and appeared to be calling the defensive schemes. Given Zimmer’s reputation as a defensive coach (he turned around Cincinnati’s defense pretty quickly), that is a good idea until everyone is on the same page with his defense. Improvement is good no matter how small the steps taken, but the defense needs to take them faster.

Might Be Ending

Speaking of low hanging fruit, Christian Ponder’s career as a Viking has withered on the vine and appears ready to fall on the ground and rot. His reps at the end of training camp all but dried up, and in the second preseason game he never got on the field.

It is not a revelation here to pronounce that his days in Minnesota are ending. In fact, Ponder knows it himself and told USA Today that he would be open to a trade. We’re not sure that the market for him is too high right now (the rest of the league can see the situation); perhaps the Vikings will keep him around and see if the market improves during the season when quarterbacks are bitten by the injury bug. But keeping a third quarterback on the roster may be a luxury the Vikings don’t have with the questions/injuries in the secondary and players such as Jerome Simpson muddling up the wide receiver unit.

Speaking of Simpson, his reps in games have dwindled in the preseason as the rumors persist that he may face a six-game suspension resulting from a recent DUI arrest. If that is indeed the punishment, it puts the Vikings in a tough situation. Simpson improved last season after a down-year due to injury in 2012 and he was looking to solidify his spot on an improving wide receiving corps. His speed on the outside is relatively unique on the squad, and something OC Turner prizes.

But, as they say about injuries, “you can’t make the club in the tub,” and as I say about Simpson, “you can’t catch a pass when you can’t pass the blood test.” Okay, it’s not as catchy, but the point is that in three seasons (if he’s suspended for six), Simpson will have missed nine games due to legal issues—it becomes a matter of trust. The Vikings like his skill set and don’t necessarily have a replacement for them, but can they trust he will be on the field to display them. I’m not sure things are yet ending for Simpson in Minnesota, but my guess is that the coaches will have their eye on the waiver wires as cut-down days arrive. We’ll have to wait and see how things come out in the wash.

And speaking of laundry, we’ve seen plenty--particular of the little yellow variety. As a result of the NFL’s crackdown on illegal contact, the preseason is only half over and many fans’ patience are completely gone. The games have slowed to a crawl, as the refs called so many defensive holding, pass interference and illegal contact penalties that it brings to mind the aversion therapy used on the protagonist Alex in the movie “A Clockwork Orange.” The fans displeasure is rising to the point of their disgust for the replacement refs in 2010—and we don’t want to go there again.

Certainly no one likes to see receivers mugged and their favorite teams (or fantasy teams) jobbed of a score because one team is more aggressive and referees are “letting them play.” But this is football, and a certain amount of contact is required—and offenses have received plenty of beneficial rule changes in the past. It would probably just be better if the refs made sure to call the blatant penalties rather than grinding these games to a halt with ticky-tack fouls, so we can watch more herds of zebras huddling together for protection.

Conventional wisdom holds that this is a calculated overemphasis to demonstrate to players what the refs want to see as legal pass defense and that once the regular season starts, the refs will clean up the flags, fold them and keep them in their pocket until there is legitimate illegal contact. We can only hope that day comes soon and laundry day is over.

*UPDATE--Jerome Simpson was in New York on Aug. 18 to appeal what is reportedly a 3-game suspension for his DUI arrest.

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#2 Seth Stohs

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Posted 18 August 2014 - 11:57 PM

I love the title, and I like the premise of this article... I'm very curious what will happen with Jerome Simpson. I'm also curious how they'll get rid of Christian Ponder. Frankly, I think the handling of that situation has been ridiculous. I think the fan response to Ponder has been pretty sad. Yes, he proved not to be worthy of the #12 overall pick, but he played hard, and he won a bunch of games, but he didn't draft himself. I'd like to see it end a little more classy than the last 9 months or more have been.


#3 Jeff

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Posted 19 August 2014 - 06:41 AM

Seth-now that we have Teddy I think it's time for fans to cut Ponder some slack. I mean the writing was on the wall after last season, but picking Teddy sealed his fate that unless by injury he won't be starting anytime soon. I still wouldn't mind him staying on roster, the deeper you are at QB, the better!

#4 Joe Oberle

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Posted 19 August 2014 - 07:36 AM

Ponder has really been treated poorly, from the nasty treatment he has received on social media to the booing he got at The Bank last week against the Raiders. He became the poster child for everything that's gone wrong with the Vikings since Favre left. But it wasn't all him--a terrible defense mentioned above, a coaching staff that is now gone and, like Seth said, a personnel department that hasn't hit on every pick--but Ponder has taken the brunt of it. Ponder is not a starting quarterback, but he also isn't as bad as he has been made out to be. I hope he surfaces elsewhere and has a decent career. He has been through it all and dealt with it like a pro. Johnny Manziel last night? Not so much.


#5 Seth Stohs

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Posted 19 August 2014 - 09:37 AM

He wasn't a great QB, but if not for how many last minute drives against the Vikings Defense, the Vikings could have won 3-4 more games last year. 




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