Brian Hall’s Nov. 6 Vikings mailbag

Another last-minute loss has put the heat on Minnesota’s
coaches, particularly coordinators Bill Musgrave and Alan Williams, and the
play-calling.

Here’s this week’s Vikings’ mailbag:

Question: They need to clean house, in the front office
and coaching staff.This is terrible, they could lose there next four games.

— Tom Zampedri, Ogden,Utah

Answer: The “tricky” part of the Vikings
schedule is in the past; with the two road games to start the year, the trip to
London and the early bye. But Minnesota is definitely into the meat of their
schedule now. Turning things around from 1-7 will be tough facing the opponents
the Vikings have ahead.

Unfortunately, as Tom puts it, the next four games are tough
beginning Thursday at home against the Washington Redskins (3-5), who look to
be improving with Robert Griffin III looking sharper from his offseason knee
surgery. Consecutive road games follow at Seattle (8-1) and Green Bay (5-3),
though it looks like Aaron Rodgers is likely to be out for the Packers. A home game
against Chicago (5-3) finishes the stretch.

Minnesota, if it can show its own improvement, can be in any
game the rest of the season if Adrian Peterson is running well and the defense
can avoid late-game meltdowns. But the Vikings likely won’t be favored to win
many games the rest of the way. Minnesota finishes at Baltimore (3-5), at home
against Philadelphia (4-5), at Cincinnati (6-3) and at home against Detroit
(5-3). If the season unfolds as it looks right now, there will be house
cleaning down at the end.

Q: Why don’t we use more man caoverage defensive schemes,
it seems like there are soooo many holes on our zone coverage?  It was
nice to see Patterson get a few deep balls thrown in his direction, need more.

— Adam, Fargo, ND

A: Minnesota has long held its beliefs in the Cover-2
system with coach Leslie Frazier leading the way. The Cover-2 system has been
around a long time and has proven successful, but maybe is starting to find its
way out of the league. Fewer teams run the zone-style system, which relies on
the support of both safeties deep in coverage responsible for each half of the
field.

 

Frazier won’t abandon the style he has fostered over the
years, though the zone has been repeatedly beaten this year. Running the system
for so long, one wonders if the Vikings have the defensive backs to run more
man-to-man coverage. It looked as if Minnesota was going that way when they
drafted Xavier Rhodes in the first round of April’s draft, but none of the
cornerbacks have particularly shined this year. I believe the best teams have
found success using hybrid defenses and switching up coverages. The Vikings do
some of this, but it’s probably time to go away from their Cover-2 system
because it simply hasn’t been working.

Q: I know for sure after the season end these coaching
staff will not be back, what big name coach would you like to see taking over
next year as a fan? Bill C, John G, Tony D, Brian B, or others? Money is not an
issue for me as a real estate billionaire, I would pay the top$ for big name
coach to come and turn around this team.

— Zygi Wilf, NJ

A: Thanks for the email Zygi. While I have you, I
have a few questions for you. But first, it does look as if the coaching staff
won’t be back next season, even though general manager Rick Spielman expressed
100 percent commitment to Leslie Frazier last week. Two seasons out of three in
which you are challenging the franchise record for losses is not a good resume
builder.

Whether Spielman is retained might be the bigger question. I
believe, right now, he is likely safe and has the ear of ownership, er, you.
With Spielman in charge, a coach seeking power over personnel decisions might
not be willing to come to Minnesota. Or vice versa, Spielman might not be
willing to add a coach who wants power or will challenge Spielman’s authority.
I’m not sure about the willingness for Bill Cowher or Tony Dungy to coach
again. Dungy has said he doesn’t want to coach. Jon Gruden has expressed
interest in returning to coaching and he would certainly be the type to fire up
the Vikings’ fan base. But he would likely want some form of power over the
roster to come to Minnesota. Brian Billick is a big name in these parts, but
I’m not sure where he would stand in the pecking order for coaches.

Now, about my questions …

Q: How does Leslie keep Ponder in the game, when he
couldn’t throw the pass 55 yards?  Joe Webb could have thrown it into the
endzone from the starting point of that drive.  Ponder has proven he isn’t
a professional quarterback and should be released.  Save Ziggy soem money.

— allent, rosemount

A: To be frank, Ponder’s Hail Mary throw at the end
of the Dallas game was an embarrassing way to end a disappointing game. In full
view of everyone watching, Ponder was tasked with getting the ball into the end
zone for a jump ball with receivers and couldn’t reach the end zone. The ball
ended up traveling 52 yards in the air and fell five yards short of the end
zone despite Ponder having the chance to sit in the pocket and step forward
into the throw.

Arm strength has never been Ponder’s best attribute and in
fairness, it’s not often that a quarterback will be required to throw such
passes. Though a therapeutic release of Ponder would make the fans happy,
Minnesota is not going to release Ponder, at least not during the season. He is
still under contract for next season, and if he was released he would still count
as substantial money against the salary cap as dead money. For better or worse,
Ponder will be around the rest of this season, and maybe even back next year.

Q: 1st ? Why aren’t we playing Cassel if he is the only
QB we’ve won a game with? Why isn’t Frazier’s job in jeopardy when some of his
calls aren’t what’s best for our team? Like the go for it call against Dallas
early in the game for a field goal…. And after Freeman did HORRIBLE why
didn’t he pull him for us to try and comeback in the 2nd half of the Green Bay?
I’ve have been a VIKES fan all my life and I’m not giving in but really he
needs to make wise choices too! Go Vikes see you on Dec.1 haven’t seen you lose
yet in the dome PLEASE don’t let me down =)

— Betty Kannegieter, DeSmet, South Dakota

A: If the Vikings win on Dec. 1 with Betty in
attendance (against the Bears), should they automatically bring her back for
the final two home games? This is one of my biggest issues with the quarterback
decisions, too. I wonder why Cassel isn’t getting more of a shot to be the
quarterback, especially if the team isn’t playing Freeman. I believe we’ve seen
enough of Ponder over the past three years to make an accurate evaluation, and
I think the team might have already done so as well.

Frazier and Spielman both say wins is the only thing that
matters right now, yet Cassel, the only quarterback to help the team to a win
this year, isn’t getting a chance. Wins would hurt the draft position for next
year, and the playoffs are all but a distant glimmer at this point. But if wins
are what matters, Cassel should at least get a chance. I understood why they
signed Freeman and wanted to get a look, but it’s not happening now with Ponder
starting. Spielman believes Freeman can be effectively evaluated in practices,
even if he doesn’t play in games. I disagree, but the Vikings are going to make
sure Freeman is ready before putting him back in the starting lineup.

When it comes down to it, it appears as if Minnesota will be
drafting its quarterback of the future next spring. So, if the team wants to
win games, what’s the harm of starting Cassel now, and maybe having Cassel as
the bridge to the quarterback the Vikings draft next April? I guess I don’t
know the answer to that and wonder.

Q: The Vikings did well with the no huddle.  
Why did they quit that in the second half?

— Kathy Balvin, Claire City, SD

 

A: Minnesota has done well in no-huddle situations,
particularly with Ponder at quarterback. Ponder seems to play his best when
he’s forced to react quickly and make quick decisions. I also believe Ponder
looks much better in the shotgun, not taking the time to turn his back to the
defense and able to see and diagnose quicker.

But the Vikings’ offense isn’t built around this method or
around Ponder and the quarterbacks. Minnesota is a run-first team and its best
asset is running back Adrian Peterson. Going no-huddle and shotgun takes away
some of the effectiveness of the running game and Peterson. Many times it also
takes fullback Jerome Felton off the field.

When the Vikings — and all NFL teams really — no-huddle
and shotgun situations are used to mainly pass the ball. It’s helped Ponder get
into a rhythm in games over the past few years, but Minnesota also needs to
control the ball and maintain time of possession with Peterson.

Q: I know our defense has been ravaged with injuries,
especially the secondary, but the defensive schemes that we seem to have would
not stop a high school offense…talent is not the issue, but can we get some
top notch coordinators in here please?

— Darin J, Kasson, MN

A: The defense had fared well against Dallas through
much of Sunday’s game, but the final drive showed another issue. Minnesota has
been beaten in two-minute situations on defense too many times this year. The
defense appears to get away from worked early and is not as aggressive. The
players see it too, and its why Brian Robison and Kevin Williams spoke out
after the game.

The coordinators, specifically offensive coordinator Bill
Musgrave and defensive coordinator Alan Williams, are getting heat, deservedly.
I still believe Frazier has the chance to be a strong head coach in the NFL
with his demeanor and approach, but he needs strong coordinators. Musgrave has
been the offensive coordinator for Frazier’s full tenure as the permanent head
coach. Williams might still be learning in just his second year on the job. Frazier
hasn’t shown the ability to find top-notch coordinators. Fred Pagac lasted one
year as the defensive coordinator before Williams was hired.

I had this discussion the other day: With how specialized
the NFL has become these days, I believe coaching in the NFL matters more than
any other sport. Simply put, at 1-7, the Vikings coaching staff needs to be
better.

Q: With less than 3 minutes left in the game and a 3
point lead, don’t you think aggressive defense, which would risk giving up a
long touchdown, but would allow our offense time to score, would be a better
strategy than the “bend, don’t break” defense which eats up clock?

— Dan, Arizona

A: I see your point. It’s certainly an interesting
thought. Stay aggressive on defense and hope for the best, or at least give
your offense more time to go back down the field. It’s a strategy we’ve seen at
times when offenses get close to the goal line. Teams have allowed opponents to
score, hoping they can go back down the field with the time left.

I don’t think the Vikings should have gotten away from what
worked on defense earlier in the game. And the “prevent” defense has
been a mess this year. But I’m not sure the offense can be completely trusted
to drive all the way down the field either in such a situation, especially when
its reliant so much on Peterson and the running game.

Q: The Vikings played exceptionally Well against the
cowboys. Both offensively and defensively. The Vikings secondary, even though
riddled with injuries played a much better game. Except for Christian Ponder’s
fumble in the end zone, his poor attempt at last second Hail Mary, he played
with poise. Too bad they didn’t the victory.

— Mike, Minneapolis

A: What’s that? Is that optimism on the behalf of
Ponder? Ponder still has a few fans left in Minnesota, and they have been vocal
at times. Ponder looked much better on Sunday, despite the two turnovers, than
he has the rest of the season. He was more in control of the offense and looked
more like the Ponder we saw at times last year. He completed a season-high 67.5
percent of his passes and tied a season-high with 236 yards passing and had two
total touchdowns.

Ponder gets the chance to start Thursday based on the short
week, but he also did enough to earn the start, for now. After 31 career
starts, I think we’re safe in saying we know what Ponder is. A game with 67.5
percent passing, 236 yards passing, one touchdown and one interception is
thought of as a “good” game for Ponder. That might tell you
everything we need to know about Ponder. Ponder isn’t the type of quarterback
to go out and win games for a team. His ceiling is likely limited in a league
in which it’s so important to have an elite quarterback.

Q: THREE FIRST ROUND PICKS AND NONE OF THEM GOOD ENOUGH
TO START.  IMPOSSIBLE.  EITHER THE GM OR THE COACH IS INCOMPETENT?

— LEROY FIFIELD,  SIOUX FALLS,SD

A: Eight games into the season now, this topic should
start drawing more concern. Sharrif Floyd, the first of the three first-round
picks, is behind Kevin Williams and will be limited to a rotational role this
season. That’s not surprising, nor should it be unexpected. Williams is still
an effective player. Floyd might start drawing more snaps per game, certainly,
but he won’t outright replace Williams. Floyd has also started to look much
better in his play, despite the sometimes limited snaps.

The biggest issues are cornerback Xavier Rhodes and receiver
Cordarrelle Patterson. Despite what the Vikings would want to admit, the
playoffs are out of question this season. They need to be looking more toward
developing players this year. Rhodes still plays a lot as the third cornerback
and has had some struggles in recent games. But he’s also outplayed Josh
Robinson for much of this season and appears to have more upside going forward
than Robinson. The coaching staff is adamant that Rhodes can only play the left
side. Last week, with Chris Cook out, Frazier still wasn’t sure who would start
in his place between Rhodes, Marcus Sherels and A.J. Jefferson. Rhodes did end
up getting the start, but it shouldn’t have been a question. Rhodes is the
first-round pick that needs to be on the field.

Patterson’s offensive snaps have gone up from earlier in the
season, but he still trails the other receivers. Last week, Patterson played
the most snaps in a game he has all season with 26 (37 percent of the offensive
snaps). Yet he still trailed starters Greg Jennings (63 snaps) and Jerome
Simpson (46) and Jarius Wright (28). Patterson has shown his ability with the
ball in his hands. Minnesota simple needs to find ways to get him on the field
and utilize his talents.

Q: Why did we sign qb josh freeman if the Vikings thought
Christian ponder was starting qb this year. Did anybody see the packers game
last week. I Hope we don’t t-Jackson qb situation again when childress was our
head coach. I say give freeman a chance to be a qb of the future. If not see
what in the nfl draft. I Very disappointment this team does have talent their
record should be better than 1-7. I think the team has tanked for this year. I
do think we need a head coach to replace frazier. Look at k.c this 9-0 after a
2-14 record last. Andy reid the head coach of k.c chiefs.

— ted skoundrianos, orland park, il

A: As I mentioned above, I think coaching makes the
biggest difference in the NFL and Reid in Kansas City is a perfect example. The
Chiefs are also getting better quarterback play after trading for Alex Smith.
Coaching and quarterbacks are essential to sustained success in the NFL.

While the Vikings say Ponder has a chance to earn the
starting job the rest of the season, I do believe we will see Freeman at some
point. Minnesota erred in starting Freeman so quickly after he signed and I
think realized the mistake. Now, he is working with coaches extensively during
and after practice and likely will get another shot at starting once the team
feels he’s ready. If Ponder can stay consistent and the Vikings win, it would
be tough to take him out again. But I feel Freeman will start again for
Minnesota at some point this season.

Q: All Day ran all over the Boys, Ford with the big help
on the TD run to push/lift AP into the endzone! what assistants from winning
franchises or college programs that are going to be the hot assistants to get
instead of buying a used tire retread coach that has never developed a qb in
his career? Its SAD they gave up another WIN in the LAST 2MINS again!
— chris, Sioux Falls

A: I mentioned some of the possible coaching
candidates in our mailbag last week, but I’ll throw out some names again for
everyone to keep an eye on. Cincinnati, which leads the AFC North at 6-3, might
have two of the hottest candidates out there. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden
and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer could both be considered for head
coaching jobs in the offseason. Denver, which is 7-1, could see offensive
coordinator Adam Gase or defensive coordinator — and acting head coach — Jack
Del Rio plucked from its staff.

Other names could include San Francisco offensive
coordinator Greg Roman, Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, New
England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Indianapolis offensive
coordinator Pep Hamilton, Cleveland defensive coordinator Ray Horton and
Chicago defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.

Q: Brian, I cannot see this staff coming back next year
as constituted. I think Frazier has done good job of keeping the team playing
despite the simply awful play calling on both sides of the ball. Do you think
Frazier keeps his job and hires new coordinators? Or are him and his staff
completely gone?

— Gerry, Dayton

A: As I mentioned above, I agree with you regarding
Frazier and the coordinators. Unfortunately, at this point, I believe it will
be a clean sweep of the coaching staff after the season.

Q: With Coach Frazier’s job on the line and the D again
blowing a lead at the end and losing the game for this team; what are the
chances the Frazier dismisses Alan Williams and takes back the controls of the
D?  I know that players like Jared Allen weren’t happy when Williams was
hired because of his hockey style rotation of players on the line.

— Adam, Bloomington

A: I believe it’s very possible Frazier will take
more of a hands-on approach, especially defensively, as the season continues
and there are signs he has already started to do so. After Sunday’s game
Frazier did say he was more active on the head-set and was making sure the
coordinators had his input. He stopped short of saying he took over the
defensive play-calling, but you could tell he was trying to make his feelings
known. Frazier’s job is on the line, and while he trusts his coaches, he should
be dictating more about what he wants the team to be doing.

There were more rumblings about the defensive line rotation
recently, with some players saying it’s hard to get in a rhythm and maintain
consistency with the pieces constantly changing along the defensive line. It is
one of the deepest spots on the roster and the older could use rest in a
rotation basis, but the coaches probably need to shrink the rotation a bit as
well.

Q: Both Jaguars & TB needed QB  likely to take
Bridgewater & and Mariota, is there any other Franchise QB available for
Vikings or if we happened to get #1 pick, is there any question not to take
Bridgewater? Also, what your thought on both CB Cook and Robinson being gone
after season end?

— Omar, Mankato

A: In the competition for the top-overall draft pick,
Minnesota is currently third. Jacksonville and Tampa Bay are both 0-8 and one
game “ahead” of the 1-7 Vikings. There’s a long way to go in the
draft process and the quarterbacks will be scrutinized heavily leading up to
the draft, but Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater is the biggest name right now.

The Jaguars, who also thought they were drafting a franchise
quarterback in 2011 like Minnesota, will likely be looking for a quarterback.
Blaine Gabbert, drafted two spots ahead of Ponder, hasn’t panned out and Chad
Henne isn’t the answer. The Buccaneers released Freeman, once thought to be
their franchise quarterback, but had rookie Mike Glennon take over. Glennon was
a third-round draft choice this year. If they decide he’s not a long-term
answer, maybe they still take a quarterback believing they can’t pass on the
talent. But maybe Glennon shows Tampa Bay something and the Buccaneers stick
with him and address another position, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon
Clowney perhaps.

Marcus Mariota, quarterback from Oregon, is quickly gaining
steam too. The belief is the draft will be very deep at quarterback and maybe
as many as five or six are taken in the first round this year, based on talent
and the need of NFL teams. The other quarterbacks are UCLA’s Brett Hundley,
Texas A&M’s Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, Clemson’s Tajh Boyd,
LSU’s Zach Mettenberger and Fresno State’s Derek Carr.

Q: With the season now over why don’t the Vikings play
their three young linebackers to see what they have for next year?

— Kyle, San Antonio

A: Minnesota drafted two Penn State linebackers last
year, Gerald Hodges in the fourth round and Michael Mauti in the seventh round.
Mauti slipped, mostly, because of concerns with his knees. He was coming off
his third ACL tear in college. Mauti has recovered and has looked good while
playing special teams this season. He’s been active for six games and has been
credited with one tackle. However, Mauti plays middle linebacker and Minnesota
is still committed to Erin Henderson in the middle. Henderson is signed through
next season.

Coaches have said Hodges has started to pick up his game in
recent weeks. He’s been active for three games and has three tackles, playing
special teams. Hodges has the likeliest chance to break through for more
playing time the rest of the season just based on being an outside linebacker.
Marvin Mitchell has been starting, but he likely isn’t the future at the
weakside linebacker spot. He’ll be a free agent at the end of the season. It’s
time for Minnesota to be in development mode, and Hodges is one player who
could benefit.

Q: When will our owner get smart and listen to fans that
we do not want this coaching staff that we have now. There are no leaders on
this team. When will Frazier stop going to useless ponder and go with a QB that
has won a game like Matt. Both Ponder and Freeman are useless we need a
franchise QB we need real leaders otherwise we might as well end up in LA and
our owner should just sell the team.

— Timothy Cammers, Elkhorn, Wisconsin

A: There were a few questions this week about the
ownership needing to step in and start making changes. Some were calling for
accountability from the ownership. As I’ve stated before, I don’t believe a
coaching change will happen in-season. It’s rare and not necessarily
productive. It might not appease fans wanting immediate change, but it’s the
truth.

The only thing I can say is there will be accountability
after the season and changes are sure to be made. Minnesota will try to find
its franchise quarterback. Whether they have the right people to evaluate the
position, is another consideration. There will likely be new coaches, new
play-callers, some new players and more than likely a new quarterback. Change
is coming, it’s just not coming fast enough for the fans.

Thank you for your submissions. Sorry we’re not able to
answer each question individually. I’ve tried to hit as many different topics
as possible. I hope we continue to hear from you in the future. Be sure to
check FOXSportsNorth.com for upcoming mailbags.

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