As the Vikings touch down in London for the perennial festival of football otherwise known as the International Series, Coach Leslie Frasier will have much to ponder (excuse the pun) before game day.
In game seven of Roger’s Goodell’s road towards what he hopes will be global domination, the Vikings are due to meet fellow strugglers the Pittsburgh Steelers, who like Minnesota went into 2013 with play-off aspirations, but find themselves staring into the abyss with an 0-3 record.
Having voluntarily given up the home - field advantage offered by the Mall of America Field, where the Vikings were an impressive 7-1 in 2012/13, they’ll require all the support they can get, if they are to prevent what would effectively be the end of their season, in the event of defeat to the equally desperate Steelers.
However with Wembley traditionally representing a carnival of colour representing all thirty-two teams, turning Wembley into purple fortress pay prove somewhat of a challenge, but with Coach Leslie Frazier’s promise to retain his struggling signal caller, perhaps the Vikings might be better off with a more sedate fan base?
The 63,672 in attendance for the Vikings' final home opener at the Metrodome weren’t shy in transforming the old and battered arena into a cacophony of dissatisfaction, even calling for backup quarterback Matt Cassel (Yes, THAT Matt Cassel) when Ponder, much to their collective ire, was left in the game during a rather porous third quarter.
Coach Frazier claimed after the game that Ponder (691-yards, 59.0 passer rating, and 2 touchdowns to 5 interceptions) would remain the starting quarterback, although he did appear to show more support than usual, although this is understandable given that there are indeed mitigating circumstances - one of which being a suspect offensive line, one that ranked 11th through 2012 - 13, (giving up 32 sacks and 64 hits on the Quarterback), but now sits 25th, having already allowed 10 sacks and 16 quarterback hits through the three games contested thus far.
"I've got to go back and look at it, see what's creating the inconsistency, why we're not executing as well as we need to in certain situations," Frazier opined. "We'll evaluate it, and make the decision that you have to make. But as we speak, I don't see [a QB change] happening."
Though, even in light of struggles brought about by a porous offensive line, it was glaringly apparent to all present that Ponder failed once again failed to remedy problems that good quarterbacks so often do during Minnesota’s surprising 31-27 loss to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
He followed a fairly competent, and largely, error-free second-half display at Soldier Field last week with an equally solid start to the Browns game, but his second-quarter pick proved somewhat injurious in leading to a Browns touchdown, and he also fumbled from the Cleveland 10 on the final play of the first half.
Things didn’t get a whole lot better from there on in, as after the half, Ponder went a pedestrian 10-for-20 for just 63 yards, and even conspired to miss a wide open Greg Jennings on a fourth-quarter throw could, and perhaps should, have put the Vikings out of sight.
"He got off to a good start, a good opening drive," Frazier said. "But you know, you've got to do it for four quarters, and he didn't do it today for four quarters."
One of the more unfathomable aspects of the Vikings’ start to 2013 is the current struggle being endured by an offensive line, which as mentioned previously, was the complete antithesis of what we’ve seen so far this year.
The group was one of the league's most reliable last season, with all five starters in the line-up for every game of the season. Therefore, it’s not entirely unreasonable to expect more of the same, if not better this campaign; especially following the retention of Adrian Peterson’s favourite blocker Phil Loadholt, but the group has struggled both to open holes for the aforementioned reigning League M.V.P, and to protect Ponder, who was sacked six times on Sunday.
"As individuals, all we have to judge is ourselves and how we played, that's all you can control,” remarked center John Sullivan. "So I look at myself and I have to do a better job of everything in the game."
Ponder said "it's impossible to not hear" the chants for Cassel, but said there's "no doubt" he'll remain the Vikings' starting quarterback.
"We want to win just as bad as the fans, and as bad as anyone else," Ponder said. "We're more disappointed than they are, and we have to give them something to cheer about."
Whilst Ponder hasn’t given the Vikings faithful much to cheer about of late, I’m not sure the introduction of Cassel will do much to quell concerns - with a 66.7 passer rating, 6 touchdowns to 12 interceptions , and 6 fumbles over 9 games played in 2012/13, it may well be a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’…
Should the Vikings stick with Ponder? What is the answer for them at QB?
image: © joe bielawa