When you talk about the lack of consistency with the Vikings, it really starts at quarterback and the way the position has been played this season. Christian Ponder was the opening day starter but injuries forced him to sit several games while Matt Cassell and Josh Freeman took their turns at the wheel. Ponder was back in the starting lineup last week against the Packers and his play is what we have seen from him in the past.
Where Ponder has his issues is not on the athletic or physical side but mentally what he is able to see as a quarterback. He does not play with any instincts or awareness and that is what hurts his team the most in the game. There were several times where he had receivers open that appeared to be the primary targets but he failed to put the ball in their direction.
The player that the poor quarterback play has affected the most has been Adrian Peterson. Teams have figured out that loading the box is the best way to beat to get defenders in position to handle Peterson in the running game because the quarterbacks cannot make enough plays in the passing game to get the defenders out of the box. Peterson still has the ability to beat you with his legs and is powerful enough to run through those loaded boxes but it has become more difficult for him to have to fight that battle. What teams have done to also take Peterson out of the game, is build leads on them. Offensive coordinator, Bill Musgrave has been forced to have to throw more passes to try and get his team back in the game and this has hurt Peterson as well. Jerome Felton will line up as the fullback in front of Peterson and he does a nice job with his initial pop but truly lacks the sustain. Toby Gerhart is a tough runner that does a nice job of catch the ball.
I have always been a big fan of Greg Jennings when he was with the Packers but it is apparent that he misses Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback. You can see the frustration level on film when you watch him play for the balls that are thrown in his direction or the times where he runs a route perfectly not to be rewarded. Jennings will play in the slot in the Vikings three receivers package with the talented rookie Cordarrelle Patterson on his outside. I like what the Vikings are trying to do with Patterson in their offensive attack. He was an outstanding space player at Tennessee and Musgrave is trying to get him the ball quickly and allow him to be dynamic in the open field. Jerome Simpson has been solid this season and is 2nd on the club in receptions but Jennings and Patterson are the ones that scares me the most on the outside. Jarius Wright is in the mix as well.
The Vikings like to use multiple tight end sets with Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson and Rhett Ellison. As many problems as this Cowboys defense has had with tight ends, Rudolph can be a nightmare. At 6-6 and 258 pounds, he has wide receiver hands and rare speed for the position. Can catch in the open field or make the contested ones as well. Rudolph is what Jason Garrett would call quarterback friendly in the way he runs his routes and makes the secure catch.
This Vikings offensive line which I would have believed as a strength coming into this season has been anything but that. As a group, they have benefited from Adrian Peterson running the ball and they have been in the middle of the road when it comes to sacks per attempts but on tape, they have had their struggles. Their best player is left tackle Matt Kalil, who technique wise can be very sound but just like traits you see with his former USC teammate,
Jared Allen is the most dangerous player along the defensive line with his ability to not only rush the passer but handling the run to the outside as well. We all know the relentless nature of Allen and his non-stop motor. Tyron Smith is going to have to block him the entire time and by that I mean even after the whistle blows. There is no quit in Allen so this will be an all-day assignment for the young tackle. Kevin Williams is a veteran defensive tackle that can still get off the ball and be disruptive on the move. He plays with power and can push the pocket along with Letroy Guion. The best defensive combination for the Vikings is when they put Everson Griffen in the game next to Williams and rush them out of the nickel. Sharrif Floyd will also play inside at tackle and he is showing some quickness off the ball like he did at Florida. Has 1.5 sacks in the opportunities that he has got to play. Brian Robinson plays opposite Allen and are similar players in the regards to that relentless type of player.
The Vikings linebackers are a very aggressive group. Chad Greenway is their best overall player. He shows the ability to not only physically play the run but in the passing game, he is solid as well. Have seen him carry backs and tight ends down the field without any issues. Will also be used in this scheme as a blitzer. Really has a nose for the ball. Wrap up tackler. Marvin Mitchell is the weak side linebacker and I was impressed with him on tape how physical he was as a tackler.
Where the Vikings have struggled the most is in the secondary. They lost safety Harrison Smith to injury and they have tried to play a couple of different combinations. Andrew Sendejo, who was one time in Dallas, is a starter along with Jamarca Sanford. Mistral Raymond has also been in the mix. Sendejo is a very physical player and I have liked the way that he has played. At corner, Chris Cook and Josh Robinson has been the starters with Xavier Rhodes the nickel off the bench. With as much “11” personnel that the Cowboys have played, Robinson moves inside on the slot and Rhodes plays on the outside. When you watch this secondary play, they do a much better job of playing in man coverage than they do in the zone. Teams have targeted Robinson the majority of the time this season and I expect the Cowboys to do the same.