It’s not that I don’t like the Vikings, but after years of watching them try in vain to supplant the Packers, Bears, and even the (lowly) Lions I realized something: there is something wrong with the organization as a whole.
It’s rare for a franchise to go to four superbowls and lose them all. It’s rare to have a perfect kicker miss in the NFC Championship. It’s rare for a team to have a great roster, good coaches, and yet still seemed destined to fail. And those are the good Minnesota teams.
The 2012 Minnesota Vikings are not a good team. In fact, if it wasn’t for Jared Allen and Adrian Peterson I sincerely doubt they would even be able to win a game. If you’re reading the national media then you’ll hear a similar prognosis for the Jaguars, only instead of a pass rushing defensive end they only have Maurice Jones-Drew – and he’s not starting this game.
If you watched the Jags preseason you know they have some secondary issues. The depth that was anticipated at the end of last season and during the offseason appears to have deteriorated beneath the feat of the team. Fortunately for the Jags, the linebackers and front four are very good. They may not get sacks, but they know what they’re doing.
For the Vikings, the secondary is equally weak. Further, if they couldn’t rush the passer their defense would be considered all together lackluster. I like some pieces for the Vikes, but they are far less complete than the Jags.
So, why will the Jags stomp the Vikings? Because when we get down to it, it comes down to two second-year quarterbacks: Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder.
I’ve made the comparisons before, but in case you missed it, here are the stat lines for the two quarterbacks as rookies:
Sure, Ponder threw for a whopping 3.9% better completion rate. Sure, Ponder threw for more touchdowns in less games. But that’s about the best shake that Ponder got. His team only won 20% of the games he started, he threw more than one interception per game, and he looked lost.
Gabbert doesn’t have beautiful numbers by measure, but he does have something that Ponder didn’t last year: the ability to protect the football. Despite constant pressure (40 sacks in 2011), Gabbert knew when to unload the ball, take sacks (maybe a few too many), and played it safe. He rarely displayed his strong arm, but as a rookie who was forced into starting duties I won’t hold that against him. The Jags won 28% of the games Gabbert started, he did not throw an interception regularly, but he also looked lost on the field.
Fast forward to the 2012 preseason.
Gabbert no longer looks like the lost rookie he was a year ago. He looks in control of his offense, is identifying coverages, and he understands what to do in certain situations which makes him considerably more calm than he was a year ago. Gabbert has taken control of the Jags in Maurice Jones-Drew’s absence and looks to lead the team for the foreseeable future.
Meanwhile, up Nord in Minnesota there, Ponder has looked less polished. Not that he hasn’t improved, but he is not make the strides that Gabbert has displayed thus far. Even with Adrian Peterson sidelined and recovering from injury, Ponder is not the leader of the offense that I’m certain the front office desired. While he has looked sharp against the Bills, his only touchdown pass came in that game and it has looked like the defense dictates his play more than he dictates the play of the defense.
The Vikings/Jags game may well come down to two second-year quarterbacks still struggling to get their feet under them. My money is on the guy in Black and Teal.
– Luke N. Sims
You can also find me on Twitter @LukeNSims