Brian Hall’s Sept. 12 Vikings mailbag

Losing in the season opener at Detroit has increased the vitriol from Minnesota Vikings fans.
The targets of their criticisms lie mainly with the quarterback and offensive coordinator. Many of the questions in our weekly mailbag revolved around starting quarterback Christian Ponder and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. A few also pointed their anger at coach Leslie Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman.
The Vikings will say it’s only one week. One week, the first week in particular, being a 34-24 loss is enough to lead people to questions about the direction of the team.
Here’s the latest questions in our weekly mailbag: 
Question: When is the Vikings coaching staff going to realize that Ponder is NOT our quarterback answer and play Cassel?
— Jenny, Brookings, S.D.
Q: When will the Vikings end this experiment with Ponder and go out and found a decent talent for the position?
— Thomas Perry, Suffolk, Virg.
— mike boyce, Gresham, Ore.
Q: With how poorly Christian Ponder played against the Lions on Sunday how long until the coaching staff takes a long look at putting Matt Cassell in as the starter?
— Mike, St. Paul
Q: i have been a vikes fan back to joe kapp / went to super bowls/ never won one / why cant they get a franchise qb ? / ponder isnt it – t jack wasnt it / time to step up and realize their mistakes / reminds of jax jaguars- they suck – two coaches in two years- blew two high draft picks on blackmon & gabbert / throw me a life ring – vikes need help / give me a feel good reply
— Dave, Florida
Q: We have the 3rd or 4th highest payroll we ar you guy’s wasting time on Ponder, Ive been a Viking fan since the Joe Kapp day’s and don’t know how much longer I can wait on you guy’s.
— Hollingsworth, Memphis
Answer: Joe Kapp is still popular I guess. There’s only so many ways to answer the continuing questions you have regarding Ponder. No player fills our inbox with more questions than the inconsistent starting quarterback. Part of it comes with the territory of being the quarterback. A big part comes from Ponder’s struggles. But the status of Ponder, at least in the team’s eyes, remains status quo.
I can only say it so many times, but Ponder is Minnesota’s starter and will be for most, if not all, of this season. The Vikings are going to give Ponder every chance to sink or swim. If he fails, the team will move on in the offseason and try to find another answer at the quarterback position. If he succeeds — which means proving he can make big plays when necessary, lessen turnovers and be consistent — Minnesota will likely stick with their chosen franchise quarterback and the questions from fans will continue.
The Vikings added Matt Cassel as a backup and insurance policy. Cassel himself is coming off a couple of down seasons and was forced out in Kansas City. Remember, fans in K.C. actually applauded last season when Cassel left a game injured. Cassel has experience and has had good moments as a starting quarterback. But, aside from needing to decide on Ponder once and for all, maybe Ponder is the team’s best option for now, anyway.
Q: The vikings need to use all there receivers in the game. I dont understand the off coord thinking on a lot of the plays.
— Bob M, Duluth Minn.
Q: Is it too much to ask for the OC to be more creative with the weapons the Vikings have and how long can they stay with Ponder?
— Kevin L Comnick, Duluth, Minn.
Q: Musgrave does not seem to have a clue.  Why does he continue to go away from the game of run in run situations.  Who is his backup
— cory, lancaster, Calif.
Q: When are the viking’s organization going to realize that mustgrave needs to go? His play calling is atrocious,running up the middle over and over again when the box is loaded ,not smart football,also short passes with the box loaded never goes anywhere. So ponder shouldn’t take all the blame and can’t develop if they don’t let the passing game open up.
— Gary, Ariz. 
A: Ponder’s struggles coincide with Musgrave. The two have been linked since the beginning and could very well determine the future of each other. Musgrave, a former NFL quarterback, was noted for his work with quarterbacks before arriving in Minnesota to be the offensive coordinator. Ponder and Musgrave came in together in 2011. Musgrave’s play calling has received almost — I said almost — as much scrutiny as Ponder’s play.
Like Ponder, Musgrave has more options at his disposal this season with the acquisitions of Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson to go with MVP running back Adrian Peterson, Pro Bowl MVP tight end Kyle Rudolph, healthy options in receivers Jerome Simpson and tight end John Carlson and a return of all five starters along the offensive line. Musgrave might be in “prove-it” mode as much as Ponder.
Musgrave has had moments where his offensive mind has come through with good game plans and he used the unique talents of Percy Harvin in the past to turn Harvin into one of the most dynamic and versatile players in the game. Musgrave does need to take advantage of the talent on the team and should be able to do more with Patterson. And having the MVP in the backfield should make life easier. 

Q: As much of a question as a statement. Who really is at fault about Ponder? Speilman in my estimation is much like a friend of mine that has been married 4 times and still not successfully married. Speilman should not be allowed to pick any more quarterbacks. Please show me a QB that has been successful in the NFL that Spielman has been charmed with? Please don’t let him pick any more QB’s!
— Kevin Vaudt, Albuquerque
A: Ponder is really Spielman’s first shot at selecting a franchise quarterback. Spielman shared the personnel decisions with former coach Brad Childress in the past and using a second-round pick on Tarvaris Jackson is largely believed to have been Childress’ call. Previously, Spielman was in Miami, where I believe Dave Wannstedt also had a say in personnel matters, though the Dolphins’ quarterbacks at the time leave a lot to be desired too.
So, Ponder is really Spielman’s biggest swing at the quarterback position. Spielman had full authority and chose to take Ponder with the 12th pick in the 2011 draft. While the team holds out hope for Ponder based mostly on his play at the end of last season, the success of the pick is still in doubt. Spielman likes to say true evaluations on players can’t be made until after the third season. He’s going to have a big decisions on his hands after this year, Ponder’s third in the league.
Q: Is there any reason why we can’t run a screen or a slant pattern?  Other teams seem very comfortable doing it, to me it’s not a difficult play to learn, but for some reason we just can’t get that one in the playbook.  I’d like to see the Vikings watch some other teams tape and inject some of what they all successfully do (not Jacksonville) and try to get something going. one more thing, all successful teams have a rifle arm at QB, we have one deactivated, why not give him a try vs using our pop-gun…
— Kevin, Rochester, Minn.
A: The wide receiver screen used to be a big weapon for Minnesota when it had Harvin. Maybe Patterson is the type of receiver that can replicate some of those same items. His only catch Sunday was a 10-yarder on a receiver screen. That said, the Vikings don’t use a lot of screens or slant patterns in the game play. Most of the screens to running backs Minnesota has used in the recent past usually come on long third-downs and with the pass going to Toby Gerhart instead of Peterson. I think the Vikings could use more of Peterson in the passing games, especially with screens. 
The slant is used occasionally and is more of the traditional West Coast origination with short, quick passes. It’s the type of play that could likely get Ponder in a rhythm early. A lot depends on the receivers beating cornerbacks off the line and now Minnesota believes it has a few good receiving options on the outside. The pass to Simpson on Sunday which ended in an interception, was a quick slant. The pass was a bit high and bounced off of Simpson’s hands. 
The Vikings do have a quarterback with a big arm, McLeod Bethel-Thompson, as the third quarterback. But they probably don’t feel as if Bethel-Thompson is ready for NFL game action and continue to develop him. While Ponder isn’t blessed with one of the strongest arms in the league, it’s not the zip or length on his passes right now that is causing trouble, it’s accuracy and reading the play.
Q: Out of all the deficiencies that the Vikings showed in the first game as fans which ones should concern us the most? The Least?
— Chris Johnson, Minneapolis
A: Good question and an opportunity to break off from Ponder and the passing game. The offensive line has to be a concern after a tough preseason and getting beat repeatedly in the opener in the run and pass blocking. But I believe the Vikings have quality players along the line and the experience and fact they’ve played together for 17 straight games will allow the offensive line to improve. So, of all the concerns, I might be least worried about the offensive line.
I think the run defense also gets better with Kevin Williams expected to return this week, but the way Detroit had success inside Sunday is worrisome. Erin Henderson, starting at middle linebacker in a regular-season game for the first time in his career, had a tough time shedding blockers or over-running the play. The Lions often had big lanes in the middle, with the offensive line handling Minnesota’s inside players Letroy Guion, Sharrif Floyd and Fred Evans. While the preseason concern defensively was on the outside with the cornerbacks, the middle of the defense was exposed Sunday. The tackles, linebackers and safeties all need to step up, knowing teams will try to duplicate Detroit’s success, especially on the quick passing game in the middle of the field.
Q: The off. line cannot open holes for AP, nor protect Ponder, the def. line cannot stop the run or put pressure on the QB. Where do we go from here? Who is calling the plays? Don’t let Ponder run left.
— Mark L, Moorhead
Q: Brian, can now say absoutly no faith what soever with ponder. try to install that into the QB so that way he can “build” confidence but we all see how bad he gets under pressure!! When were loosing like that and knowingly theres noooo way to come back and get a WIN, why not then just try and see how Cassel will play with limited time???? With the line being as sluggish as they were in preseason and now REALLY showing up on GAMEDAY why is this happening and esp with the play of KALIL? when do players get held accountable for their mistakes?; ie Def and their flags to get off the field! Good to see Simpson atleast contribute and nice catch by Jennings with a POOR throw from ponder.
— Aj Poulos, Sioux Falls, S.D.
A: We’ve already tackled the Ponder and Cassel, so I’ll focus on the offensive line. No doubt a lot of Sunday’s trouble offensively can be traced to the play of the offensive line. Ponder didn’t have a lot of time in the pocket and Peterson didn’t have many holes to run through after his first carry.
But Minnesota has the players to solve the problems. Center John Sullivan is underrated and has developed into one of the league’s better centers. The Vikings are also strong on the outside with left tackle Matt Kalil and right tackle Phil Loadholt. Kalil had some technical mistakes, which have been an issue since the preseason, that he understands and is working to correct. Kalil said he isn’t panicking over Sunday’s game. Right guard Brandon Fusco had a tough game Sunday and might be the one person along the offensive line that really needs to prove he deserves to stay in the lineup.
Q: What is the percentage of a chance that you will win against the Bears?
— Chrystal Wenning, St.Cloud
A: A win Sunday, as important as it might be for Minnesota, is a tall order. The Bears have a new coach and new offensive system, but they’re still the Bears with a standout defense. The Vikings have lost five in a row and 11 of the last 12 at Chicago. In many cases, past records can be thrown out each season because of the changing variables. In this case, there is clearly something about Minnesota trying to win in Chicago.
The Bears have talented offensive players in quarterback Jay Cutler, running back Matt Forte, tight end Martellus Bennett and receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery to run the offense designed by new coach Marc Trestman. While middle linebacker Brian Urlacher is gone, the defense still has defensive end Julius Pepperson, linebacker Lance Briggs, cornerback Charles Tillman and others.  The Vikings should come out motivated after Sunday’s loss, but I can’t place a high percentage on getting a win in Chicago, maybe 25 percent.
Q: Where the heck was Desmond Bishop?What is wrong with Leslie Frazier is he that stubborn,Marvin Mitchell had zero tackles and Erin Henderson missed more tackles than he made and was always out of position. Linebacker play was terrible!
— Dennis Sheets, Youngstown, Ohio
A: Bishop was active Sunday but didn’t play at all. His situation is interesting and one to watch. Part of the lack of play Sunday was because Minnesota stuck in its nickel defense for much of the game. Even Marvin Mitchell only played 15 defensive snaps and Bishop doesn’t play on special teams for the Vikings. Henderson was spending his first regular season game in the middle, so maybe there was a first-game, feeling-out process.
But I believe Bishop has shown he’s healthy and should start receiving more time in Minnesota’s base defense. Bishop is an instinctive player and you can see his ability to be around the ball on game days. Perhaps Sunday, where the Vikings likely won’t be in the nickel defense as much against Chicago, which will run more traditional sets with a fullback and second tight end.

Q: I hope they don’t waste as much time with christian ponder as they did with trevaris jackson and why is leslie fraizer still the coach or the coach in the first place as he seems so inept and unconcerned on the sidelines, was he forced on the vikings as part of the you must interview minortiy coaches and then hired if he doesn’t crap himself.
— Shane, Mesa, Ariz.
Q: the vikes seem so far behind the curve compared to most other coaching the main problem?,seems like that to me.defense wasn,t good,but,3 and outs could hurt the best defense.if so what do we do?
— Tom turnberg, grants pass, Ore.
A: I won’t touch on the minority aspect of Frazier’s hire. Frazier was well respected before getting the head coaching job and had interviewed for head coaching positions several times before. If he didn’t get the job in Minnesota, it’s very possible another team would have given Frazier a chance.
I believe Frazier has what it takes to be a successful NFL head coach. He has a good temperament, solid, consistent message and has shown the ability to ride the peaks and valleys of an NFL season. Players respect Frazier and he’s helped turn the Vikings’ locker room into a stable atmosphere. Frazier might still be coming along as a game-day coach. With Frazier as the leader of the team, Minnesota just needs to prove it has the strong offensive and defensive Xs and Os type of coaches to help.
Q: I saw no pass rush against Detroit, why don’t the Vikings blitz more and not let the QB just look over the field and destroy us?
— Alan Tiseth, Chatham, Ill.
A: The pass rush was negated by Detroit’s ability to hit on quick, short passes. The Vikings will need to figure out a way to solve the screen game used by the Lions, because other teams are sure to mimic the game plan to slow Minnesota’s pass rush. Detroit was effective with getting the ball out of quarterback Matthew Stafford’s quickly, which led to Jared Allen, Brian Robison, Everson Griffen and others to be on their heels a bit. The Vikings didn’t have much of a pass rush Sunday, but Stafford wasn’t standing in the pocket for long periods of time just waiting for receivers to come open downfield.
Q: Would any team take Adrian Peterson if they had to take Ponder also?
— Simon, Florida
A: Well, this is a different way to look at it. I’ll just respond by saying, I don’t think Minnesota is looking to get rid of Peterson in any way, no matter the circumstances.
Thank you for your submissions.  Hope to hear more from everyone in the future. Let us know if you like this feature and be sure to check starting Sunday to submit a question next week’s Thursday mailbag.

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