Brian Hall’s Sept. 19 Vikings mailbag

Without fail, the most pressing topic for fans in this week’s mailbag revolves around the Minnesota Vikings’ quarterback.
The same questions about Christian Ponder continue and likely aren’t going to end anytime soon. The answers, unfortunately, aren’t likely to change either. At least we can provide an outlet for you, the fans, to vent your frustration.
So, here goes with another round of our weekly Vikings’ mailbag.
Question: Too bad we didn’t get a win…Even though the whole team did better, including Ponder…I still think the coaching staff needs to rethink the whole Ponder thing! We are now in a huge hole…0-2 is big…how many do we have to lose before we go down a different road at quarterback?
— Jenny, Brookings, SD
Answer: This was another week of the “when will the Vikings move on from Ponder?” questions. Over half of the total submissions for the week wanted to know when Minnesota might bench Ponder and start backup Matt Cassel. The answer is truly, “I don’t know.” But I can also say I don’t see it happening soon.
A report Sunday from FOX Sports’ Jay Glazer said Ponder has a “shorter leash” than many believe, which could mean the Vikings are getting close to pulling the plug on Ponder if his struggles or inconsistencies continue. When they do, it’s probably it for Ponder as the team’s no-doubt starter. Ponder might have saved his job last week by turning around his play after he threw an interception returned for a touchdown.
With winnable games on the horizon as well, Ponder is likely the team’s starter for the foreseeable future. I don’t see Minnesota making the move to Cassel as long as the team is winning and Ponder is avoiding big mistakes. Coming into the season, I believed Ponder would get most of the season to prove himself. I still believe so, but as the reader points out, if Minnesota’s season starts to slip, there are no guarantees for Ponder.
Q: I grew up watching the Vikings be the kings of the screen and swing pass to their backs.  (Chuck Foreman, Robert Smith) Obviously Adrian Peterson is not getting nearly enough touches.  He needs 25-30/game for this team to have a chance.  Why is it that the offensive minds will not call a few screen or swing passes designed to get the ball to Adrian with a little room to operate. Clearly he can catch the ball.
— Jeff D., Minnetonka
A: Peterson is able to catch the ball and talk of him being more involved in the passing game has existed for years. But the Vikings do use him somewhat limited in the passing game. Backup Toby Gerhart is often in the game on third downs — though Peterson has played some on third downs lately — and has been used in the passing game.
Imagine Peterson getting the ball in space on screen plays. I believe the team should make more of a concerted effort to get Peterson the ball with short, designed passes or screens. Peterson did catch 40 passes last season, and is off to a similar pace this season with 2 ½ catches averaged per game, so maybe it’s a sign of his role ever developing.
Q: Do you think any other team in nfl would have ponder as their starting qb.
— Mike, Minneapolis
A: As bleak as the outlook sometimes appears in Minnesota, I’d have to say there are other teams that wouldn’t mind having Ponder as the starter. Ponder did help take the Vikings to the playoffs last season and has given glimpses of potential. I know some don’t want to believe because this is the era of passing numbers in a quarterback-driven league, but there are teams struggling to find quarterbacks.
Look at the opponent this weekend. The Cleveland Browns are starting third-stringer Brian Hoyer and aren’t declaring Brandon Weeden the automatic starter when he returns from injury. Weeden, 29, was drafted in the first round last year. Ponder’s 2011 draft class is also filled with other quarterbacks in prove-it scenarios. Tennessee’s Jake Locker and Jacksonville’s Blaine Gabbert — both drafted ahead of Ponder — haven’t proven themselves.
Ponder’s rough start this year has him ranked 29th in the league in quarterback rating at 67.0, above Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman — in a precarious situation himself, which includes missing the team photo – Weeden, New York Jets rookie Geno Smith and Gabbert. Last year, Ponder was 21st in quarterback rating. At the bottom of the list was Cassel.
Q: I did not like the play calling at all on the last offensive series for the vikes.  They threw when I felt they should have ran and then ran when they should have thrown.  I felt the play calling was better this game than last, but still leaves a lot to be desired.  Is Musgrave on the hot seat if the Vikings lose another game?
— Tom Leeseberg, North Dakota
A: Musgrave is taking heat from the fans right now, but I don’t see him potentially being on the “hot seat.” That isn’t to say Musgrave doesn’t have room for improvement and there are maybe areas where coach Leslie Frazier wants to see more. One such part is the use of rookie receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. Patterson has seen 11 offensive snaps in two games. Frazier seemed upset about the usage of Patterson this week and said it would be “rectified” this week. The comment at least leaves some feeling Frazier sees things differently from Musgrave.
As for the third-and-goal near the end of the game, Minnesota had a unified voice on the decision to run Adrian Peterson. The team wanted to ensure it got the field goal from Blair Walsh, take time off the clock and make the Bears use a timeout. No one from the team has second-guessed that particular call this week, though you’d like to see the team go for a touchdown in that situation to ice the game. The Vikings believed Peterson would be successful.
Q: The Vikings have had plenty of good WR, RB and TE. Could we please have a QB that could possibly get them the ball and see what they can do with it….Ponder can not read a defense and makes decisions…..Lets play Cassel or pick up Tim Tebow…….
— Sherry Markel, Webster, South Dakota
A: One mailer also called for Minnesota to sign Vince Young. I have to admit, those weren’t the Ponder-related questions I expected to see this week. At Week 3 of the regular season, there’s a reason Tebow and Young are unsigned. Teams don’t believe they are better than what’s on their respective rosters. It’s been a few years since either made an impact in an NFL game.
As far as the thought that Ponder can’t get receivers the ball, I’m not sure Tebow or Young are the answer there either.
Q: marvin mitchell, looks terrible out there, when will bishop replace him? if not whats wrong with him?
— mike, superior
A: Frazier said Bishop is comfortable in the defense now and will see increased snaps this week. It doesn’t sound like a dramatic change, but more of a gradual uptick in time for Bishop. Mitchell hasn’t been on the field much either, as the Minnesota has been in its nickel defense a lot of times.
I believed at the end of the preseason Bishop was coming around and probably could offer more than Mitchell. Something must be holding back the coaches from letting Bishop have a more defined role. I wouldn’t say Mitchell has played bad, but you wonder how much more Bishop might be able to offer. The linebackers overall haven’t been a strong point and maybe more Bishop is the answer.
Q: I have always wanted to ask why do teams go to the prevent D down the stretch in the fourth when you are winning and time is running out, it seems to me that the only thing it prevents is the team getting a stop and winning the ballgame, it almost never works yet they do it every time.
— Winston Eaton, Sacramento, California
A: It’s the old “the only thing the prevent defense does is prevent you from winning.” It does seem strange how teams will be so relaxed, especially in situations like Sunday when the Bears only needed a touchdown to win. The prevent is designed to not give up big plays, but Chicago had plenty of time to use shorter plays to go downfield. Of course, it appears some miscommunication allowed the Bears to take advantage on Sunday.
Q: AP has been running good but not how I am sure he has expected and I think the fans expect a little more.  Is his “slow” start due to either the poor play of the offensive line so far or Felton not leading in front of him?
— Adam, Bloomington, MN
A: The loss of Felton might be hurting more than I believed it would. Rhett Ellison has been a capable blocker in his short career and helped spring Peterson free for his 78-yard touchdown run in Week 1. But rookie Zach Line had been more of a runner than blocker in college and doesn’t have the power Felton brings. Ellison also missed time last week because of a knee injury meaning Line played even more.
Peterson might not be hitting expectations, and is truly behind the pace for his 2,500-yard goal. Yet, Peterson is third in the league in rushing after two weeks, trailing Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy and Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin. Peterson is also ahead of his pace from two games last season when he was coming back from knee surgery. The offensive line has struggled at times, but did show improvement on Sunday. As did Peterson, notching 100 yards on 26 carries. Peterson certainly set high expectations after last season.
Q: When Robert Smith was playing they would go with four wideouts and run Robert to spread the defense. Why don’t they do more of that with AP? It would also open up the passing game….. just wondering
— Dave, Pierre,SD
A: This is a good thought, but Peterson did pretty well last season in the more traditional running formations. The Vikings have their offensive scheme and are a run-first team. The philosophy carried them to the playoffs last season and Peterson to a near-record season.
Q: huge fan !Why do we always kick to hester he always burns us?? Cant wait tell he retires .
— pj, iowa
A: Special teams coach Mike Priefer is probably wondering the same thing. Priefer said the Vikings had breakdowns in coverage teams. He said he also usually has a few new wrinkles for facing Hester and his changes weren’t a factor Sunday. The punt team did a good job of keeping Hester out of the game, but the kickoff return coverage had too many mistakes. Priefer felt Blair Walsh did a good job kicking off. Priefer said the heavy air kept the ball from traveling as far as they’d want, but Walsh’s hang-time was good. Hester is one of the best returners in league history for a reason.
Q: I believe Ponder has started about 28 games in his NFL career, and I am just curious how many 300+ yards did he has so far in his career? This is a QB driven league and it appears like most QB’s in the the league are easily throwing for 300 a game even the rookies.
— Omar, Mankato
A: Ponder has now played 29 games with 28 starts in his career. While passing yardage continues to soar, Ponder is grounded, somewhat, because of Minnesota’s run-first attack. It’s hard to fault the Vikings when they employ the league’s best running back. But in his career, Ponder has two 300-yard games. 
Of course, Minnesota’s success when Ponder has had to throw for 300 yards probably explains some of that. Ponder threw for a career-high 381 yards in a 35-32 loss to Denver in his rookie season, his sixth career start. Last season, Ponder had 352 yards passing in a 38-26 loss at Washington.
Q: Why can’t the Vikings open up running lanes for Adrian Peterson like Seattle does for Marshawn Lynch?  We don’t seem to have very dynamic offensive or defensive schemes.
— Todd, Lompoc, CA
A: The Vikings aren’t doing anything different from last year when Peterson had over 2,000 yards rushing. Yes, the offensive line has struggled at times, but the offense has worked well for Peterson in the past. There’s no reason to think Peterson won’t get his yards again this season.
Q: Are the Vikings looking for a quarterback in next season’s draft? Could somebody throw a bug in the brasses ear and have them look at the Quarterback at Northern Illinois University (Jordan Lynch)-probably could get him for a steal in the draft and he is much better than “Big Ben” was in college before Pittsburgh got him (same conference, Mid-American).
— Tom Steinkamp, Belvidere, IL
A: I guess it’s never too early to start looking at the draft. I wouldn’t be surprised if Minnesota looks to draft a quarterback next year, even if the organization decides to stick by Ponder. Cassel is a short-term option and third-stringer McLeod Bethel-Thompson is still in the development stage of his career. I’m sure the team’s scouting staff has a look out at the top options as well as some of the under-the-radar players like Lynch.
It’s not often that “steal” quarterbacks, those drafted in late rounds, ever materialize into NFL starters. Only five starters through the first two weeks this season have been drafted in the third round or later in the draft. Tom Brady (sixth round) is the shining example of a late pick turning into a franchise quarterback. But Brady is joined by Tony Romo (undrafted), Terrelle Pryor (supplemental), Matt Schaub (third round) Russell Wilson (third round) as starters selected after the second round. Brian Hoyer (undrafted) will make it five on Sunday.
Q: does anyone in the Viking organization understand that success is the absence of excuses?
— joseph Orlando, California
A: Interesting. I’ll have to think about that one. 
Q: Wow why are viking fans so hateful towards ponder? It shows how little people really no about football. Ponder only has a year and a half under his belt with nfl expirience. He needs time to really develope his craft and with mustgrave’s aweful play calling with tons of short passes and check downs,its going to be harder to develope ponder until he gets more chances to go down field. Yes we all agree he needs improvement,but give him a chance for god sakes because he has all the tools to be a very good qb. Ponder is very intelligent and really athletic with a descent arm. The chicago he made some nice throws when they finally start calling plays down field. So arm chair qb’s give the man a chance and show that your a true viking’s fan and support team through good and bad.
— gary m, az
A: Thought we’d end with a little positivity this week. Ponder wasn’t thrown into the best of situations when he was a rookie and he’s been playing catch up since. But in his third season, with two full offseasons and three years in the same offense, Ponder won’t have many more excuses soon. Ponder does have attributes that could help him turn into a quality starting quarterback. Now he needs to harness everything and prove it this year.
Thank you for your submissions. Sorry we weren’t able to get to everyone, but I believe this covers a lot of the hot topics. Hope to hear more from everyone in the future. Let us know if you like this feature and be sure to check for upcoming mailbags.

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