Brian Hall’s Dec. 5 Vikings mailbag

The Minnesota Vikings’ win on Sunday leads to a new perspective on the usual topics for our mailbag. Perspective is needed this season. Minnesota’s season isn’t as bad as it might seem, having given up the lead in the final minute four times this year. The record also isn’t good and the play leads to insight about the positions that need to be fixed going into next year.

Here are this week’s questions in our weekly Vikings mailbag:

Question: Hey Brian, I don’t know how you do it. I am a vikings fan of over 30 seasons, and a season ticket holder. I am used to the pessimism from Vikings fans but I have to get this off my chest.

11 months ago this team overachieved and made the playoffs, Spielman scored huge in the draft and after what he did last year in the draft expectations were through the roof. Now a few tough losses later (this team could easily be 6-5) and we are jumping off the ledge saying fire everyone, and get a big name head coach. Quick name a super bowl winning coach to win a super bowl with his next team. Shannahan, No. Holmgren, No. Ditka, No. Parcells, No. Name a head coach to win a title after being let go to soon, easy. Vermiel, Dungy, Bellicheck, Coughlin. What wins titles in this league? Longevity. Team with fewest head coaches Steelers with 3. Team with most Super Bowl titles Steelers 6. Shall we talk Viking QB cast offs to star with another team. Gannon, league MVP. Johnson Super Bowl winner. Both run out of MN by fans. Josh Freeman isn’t playing cause he SUCKS! Put in the tape from the Monday night game that isn’t not knowing an offense that is inaccuracy. In fact the most inaccurate game in history and it was just 3 percentage points below his season average, but yet Ponder has been throwing at a 70 percent rate in his last 3 starts. Slow down Vikings fans quit pretending your H.S. career makes you an expert and lets let it play out. Sustained winning will be worth it. Ponder is figuring it out and run him and Fraizer out of town and we will again watch former Vikings succeed elsewhere. Like the aforementioned Gannon, Johnson, Dungy, Tomlin, Billick etc.  And if I have to hear one more poor AD he deserves a Super Bowl Title need I remind you who fumbled it away in New Orleans. With a last place schedule and some more retooling of the defense, and Ponder will have the beloved Vikes back in the playoffs next year. Thanks Brian I feel much better. — Mike Hanson, West Chicago IL

Answer: They do exist (cue up M&M’s holiday commercial). Optimistic Vikings’ fans do exist. Thanks Mike for stepping on to the therapeutic coach. I only hope it helped you feel better about the current Vikings situation. I can’t say I agree with all of your points, but it is nice to hear a different perspective than what I usually receive in my mailbag.

Minnesota did likely overachieve last year in reaching the playoffs. It also helped that Adrian Peterson had a legendary season. Christian Ponder also took care of the ball when he needed to. Ponder might be improving, but I think we know what Ponder is after 35 career starts. And with a few changes, including defensively and at quarterback, the Vikings could be right back in the thick of the playoff hunt next year. Minnesota is the perfect example of the parity in the NFL and the ability to turn a team around — or fall apart — in just a season’s time.

Q: It was a great game against Chicago and so nice for the team to get the victory. Do you think Cassel will get to quarterback next week? I really had hoped that Ponder would be the franchise quarterback but he just isn’t. Another question do you think the Vikes will draft a quarterback? — Kathy B, Claire City SD

A: Coach Leslie Frazier didn’t make us wait. Cassel will indeed be starting on Sunday at Baltimore. Now, part of the reasoning may be Ponder’s current status with a concussion and not having passed the league-mandated testing. I believe we can say Ponder is not the team’s franchise quarterback. He has 35 starts and 36 games in the NFL, the better part of two-plus seasons to prove himself, and he hasn’t. At his best, Ponder has looked serviceable with the most important aspect being avoiding turnovers. At his worst, Ponder has lost many games for the Vikings. Injuries, ultimately, have to play a role in the decision at quarterback, as well.

I do believe Minnesota will draft a quarterback and draft one in the early rounds. The Vikings have to solidify the position for the long-term and find a franchise quarterback. So much changes when you believe there is a true franchise quarterback at the helm. Look at the Green Bay Packers’ situation without injured MVP Aaron Rodgers. A great quarterback can mask several deficiencies on a team. So, I think Minnesota needs to, and will, draft a quarterback in the early rounds next summer. There might be a chance that Cassel, or Ponder even, returns next season while the young quarterback is groomed.

Q: I think our offense would be helped with better guard play. Hard to run the ball between the tackles when your OG’s are being put on their butt 3 yards in your backfield.  Maintaining a pocket is a problem.  Am I wrong in thinking we need better OG play? — Norskie, Austin, MN

A: There have been breakdowns across the line this season, in run blocking and pass protection. Guards Charlie Johnson and Brandon Fusco have been maligned the past two seasons and are the targets with Matt Kalil, John Sullivan and Phil Loadholt the big names along the line.

However, Fusco actually grades out high, according to the website Pro Football Focus. After being graded at minus-11.9 last year, Fusco owns a grade of 12.9 this season. Johnson, who was a minus-16.6 last year by Pro Football Focus, is the lowest-rated Vikings’ offensive lineman this season at minus-4.7.

One of the biggest discrepancies actually comes at center, where Sullivan was coming off an offseason knee surgery and missed much of the offseason workouts and has also played through injuries during the season. After being one of the best centers in the league last year, according to Pro Football Focus, with a grade of 27.3, Sullivan is at 8.5 this season. Kalil has also struggled compared to his standout rookie season.

Q: I have been a big Audie Cole fan since we brought him in last year. With him taking advantage of the opportunity given to him; do you think it will cement him as our starting middle linebacker next season or will they look for a starter via free agency or the draft? — Adam, Bloomington

A: You’re going to get your wish. Frazier announced Cole will start Sunday at middle linebacker and the team is even moving Erin Henderson back to the weakside. While Frazier said the move would be re-evaluated after the game, it’s hard to believe the team would switch Henderson if this wasn’t a semi-permanent move.

Cole will get a chance to play his way into the role, but will have to prove it on the field. I’m sure the Vikings would be thrilled if he could prove worthy of keeping the job into next season. Rookie Michael Mauti is sure to get consideration, as well. There are no guarantees and Minnesota could look for a veteran to fill the spot, but Cole is being given a shot now. This is his audition. I also like what we’ve seen from Mauti, who is a prototypical middle linebacker, on special teams.

Q: If Leslie Frazier keeps starting Ponder saying, “he gives us the best chance to win,” yet the Vikes haven’t won with him, what does that say about his ability to evaluate talent? I wonder which coach would give the Vikings the best chance to win? — Peter Boyne, Alberta

A: Sticking with Ponder might not have been as much evaluating talent as it is Frazier’s loyalty to his players. I believe it’s very possible Minnesota has already made up its mind on Ponder’s future, but maybe the team just felt he was the best option between him, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman. The one issue many hadn’t brought up is just the fact that maybe Ponder was starting because he was the best of three weak options.

Now we’ve seen, time and again, Cassel indeed gives the Vikings the best chance to win. I’ve said for two months that I believed Cassel was the best quarterback of the group and he’s shown it when he’s had his chances. Cassel has been in control and poised in his chances. In Cassel’s two poor games, he’s faced the Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks, the league’s best two defenses. What we don’t know is how Frazier would have framed his choice this week if Ponder were healthy. Would he have stuck with Ponder and insisted he gave the team the “best chance to win?” It would have been a tougher sell after the way Cassel has played.

Cassel has thrown for 241 yards or more three times this season. Ponder hasn’t reached that mark at all this year and has only done so six times in his entire career. Cassel threw for 243 yards in the second half and overtime alone on Sunday. The “best chance to win,” at least among Minnesota’s three quarterbacks, seems pretty clear. Of course, we haven’t seen Freeman since his inauspicious debut.

Q: Why not take off the horn on the helmet and put the Viking man on the helmet you will win more game — Tim Nierenhausen, Pensacola fl

A: How will that help?

Q: If the Vikings win out the rest of season, do you feel it’s the only way, to save Fraizer’s job. Do you agree, Matt Cassel is the answer to achieve that chance. The Vikings seem to play better him as their quarterback. — Mike, Minneapolis

A: I’m conflicted on Frazier’s status. A few weeks ago I was certain he’s probably in his last season coaching the Vikings and I still have to lean that way. Yet, the Vikings have won two of the past four games and tied another and while this season has slipped record-wise, the team has still played hard and been competitive, a feather in Frazier’s cap.

We’ve said it often, but Minnesota has given up the lead in the final minute of the game four times this season. Every team can play “what-if” but the Vikings have a strange case. Minnesota is essentially 2 minutes, 22 seconds — the total time left in the four games when they’ve allowed the lead in the final minute — from being 7-5 and tied for the lead in the NFC North. I wonder if the owners, the Wilfs, and/or general manager Rick Spielman will give Frazier another chance because the team is still fighting and Frazier has the respect of the locker room. At this point, I think the only way to save Frazier’s job is, as you put it, to win out or nearly win out.

Q: When is Freeman going to get his chance, the season is lost and we know what we have in Ponder and Cassell.  The Vikings need to see if Freeman will be worth signing for next year.  Does GM need to step in and make Frazier start him — Tim C, Council Bluffs, Iowa

A: Spielman, and Frazier for that matter, insist that the decision on starters is Frazier’s alone. If Cassel plays another good game on Sunday, it will be hard to take him out of the starter’s job. However, I do believe Freeman will eventually get a chance to start. If Cassel struggles Sunday, it opens the door for Freeman. I still think Freeman starts one or two games this season. Once the season is officially lost — the players and coaches are still holding on to faint playoff hopes — Freeman will get his chance to audition for next year. A start at Cincinnati would be tough, but I’ll predict Freeman will start on Dec. 22 on the road against the Bengals.

Q: With the season winding down for us how much smarter would it be to try new things such as getting Toby more touches and maybe try to keep him around for years to come for change of pace back for AP so hes not worn down too early? — AJ Poulos, Sioux Falls, SD

A: I touched on this a bit last week. I do feel, as the season winds down and the playoffs look out of touch, Toby Gerhart should be involved more to save the wear-and-tear on Adrian Peterson. Part of the problem is telling Peterson to sit. Peterson wants to play, no matter the team’s record. Look at last week, Frazier went in with the plan to get Gerhart involved, especially with Peterson playing through groin injury. Instead, Gerhart played little and Peterson set a career-high for carries.

I think the Vikings would love to have Gerhart back as the backup to Peterson, but it likely isn’t realistic. Gerhart will have chances in the offseason to go somewhere he will be more involved in the offense and probably make more money than Minnesota will want to pay a seldom-used backup. Gerhart has been a consummate professional in his time with the Vikings and has played well in his chances, but we’re probably looking at the last few games for Gerhart in Minnesota.

Question : I’m a big Chad Greenway fan but obviously he’s not 100% healthy. So, for an early Christmas gift can you please coach Frazier sit Erin, Chad, and Marvin and play the rookies:  Mauti, Hodges, and Mr. Cole. –Thao, Marshall MN

A: Again, it’s hard to sit some of the prideful players who are the core of the team. Players like Peterson or Greenway don’t want to sit. Greenway is the perfect example. He and Frazier admitted after Sunday’s game that Greenway has been playing with a broken wrist since October. In theory, it would make sense to sit some of the team’s older veterans, it just doesn’t work that way.

We are seeing more of Cole, which is a good thing. Cole and Mauti play the same position, so it’s hard to see both of them. Hodges hasn’t played as much lately, strictly on special teams when he does. With Henderson’s shift back to the outside, that puts Hodges further down the depth chart behind Mitchell and Larry Dean.

Q: Why not try flip-flopping Jared Allen from the left side to the right side of D line on different situations…different blockers on him may lead to better results… — Charlie, Detroit Lakes, Mn.

A: Allen is what he is, he’s a blind-side pass rusher. He’s always rushed from the right side and has had success. Minnesota also has Brian Robison, a future core player on the team, on the left side, so a move would also affect Robison. I think the current alignment makes sense for both players, their roles and for the team. A move might also make Robison less effective.

Q: Do you think Adrian “All Day” Peterson will break 2000 again? — iv Williams, Denison,TX

A: I’ve learned never to question anything Peterson can do. But if you’re talking 2,000 yards this season, I don’t think even Peterson has that type of finish in him. Peterson is now leading the league in rushing again, with 1,208 yards this season. He’s 792 away from a second-straight 2,000-yard season and would have to average 198 yards a game the rest of the way. I just don’t see him getting there, though he should win the league rushing title for the third time in his seven-year career.

Peterson could accomplish something no other 2,000-yard rusher has. None of the other six running backs to run for 2,000 yards in a single season has led the league in rushing the following year. Barry Sanders, after rushing for 2,053 yards in 1997, had the best follow-up season with 1,491 rushing yards in 1998, his final season in the NFL. Peterson has a definite chance to surpass Sanders’ follow-up season. As for Peterson’s future, I could very well see him reaching 2,000 yards again.

Q: I hope that the Vikings don’t show any loyalty to Cook this off season and let him walk away.  With that said; what is looking to be deeper this year the draft to find another CB to line up across from Rhodes or through FA?  I would think FA, as part of the issue with the secondary I think is that we are really young and don’t have a lot of veteran leadership. — Adam, Bloomington

Q: How bad is this secondary seriously, I really don’t know how Chris Cook is still on this time after 4 year without interception and blown coverage giving up big TD/pass? — Omar, Mankato

A: Chris Cook’s future is in the next four games. He’s an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and he acknowledged after practice Wednesday he’s in a contract season. Cook has been limited to 31 games in four NFL seasons. He’s still waiting for his first interception. Injuries have been an issue and Cook admitted he hasn’t played up to his standard this season when he has been on the field.

Cook’s return isn’t guaranteed, but he might he come cheaply to the Vikings, who will still need depth at the position. For all the injuries and ineffectiveness that has been pointed out, other teams see it too and might not be knocking down Cook’s door in free agency.

If Cook comes back or not, they will need to add more cornerbacks. Xavier Rhodes is beginning to look the like the first-rounder they hoped they were drafting. But there’s little stability behind him. Josh Robinson struggled at the start of the season and is out with a fractured sternum and hasn’t proven himself as a starter. The Vikings do need some veteran leadership at cornerback too. Spielman doesn’t like to go crazy in free agency, but I can see him trying to find a cornerback on the free-agent market. It’s the one position Minnesota should look around in free agency. The Vikings probably need to draft another cornerback as well.

Q: Brian-Too bad about our tumbling draft position. Oh well. Hopefully another nail in the coffin of this coaching staff. In your opinion, which defensive players will be back ‘starting’ next season? I ask because I see the team going ‘all’ defense in the draft. Thanks. — Jimmy D., Lillydale

A: Good question. A starting defense for next year will have many of the familiar names, with some new sprinkled in. Right now, most of the Vikings’ money in 2014 is tied up on the offensive side. Here’s my best guess on the defense:

I think Sharrif Floyd will move into Kevin Williams’ starting spot as the 3-technique under tackle with Letroy Guion at nose tackle (in fairness, I’d like to see if the team could re-sign Williams and talk him into playing nose tackle full time). Robison will start at left end, and I predict Minnesota will re-sign Everson Griffen to replace Allen at right end.

The linebackers are a big unknown after Greenway on the strongside. For now, I’ll venture a guess that Cole or Mauti start at middle linebacker with Erin Henderson on the weakside in the final year of his contract.

Harrison Smith will be the leader in the secondary at one safety spot, likely paired again with Jamarca Sanford. I say Rhodes will be starting at one cornerback spot, with Josh Robinson at the other. Cornerback needs to be addressed.

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 for upcoming mailbags.

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