Monday Morning Mailbag

Posted Nov 19, 2012

Do you have a comment or question? Send it to the Mailbag! Every Monday during the season we’ll post several comments and/or questions as part of the Monday Morning Mailbag feature. Although we can’t post every comment or question, we will reply to every question submitted.

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As we hit a crucial pair of back-to-back games against the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers, I don't see such a big difference between the Vikings and these two teams. That gives me cause for optimism. The whole division is tough, but I think the Vikings will get a road win against at least one of these teams and have a decent shot at both of them. Do you see any reason why we shouldn't consider these match-ups pretty even?
-- Brad L.
Schenectady, NY

The margin between victory and defeat in the NFL is razor thin, especially in games between familiar division foes such as Vikings-Bears and Vikings-Packers. In my mind, these matchups are even and Vikings fans should enter this final six-game stretch with optimism about their young team.

As you look at the Vikings remaining schedule, you see a bunch of games against tough opponents, specifically the four games against Chicago and Green Bay. But let’s also keep in mind that those teams are looking at their schedules, too, and I don’t think they see the Vikings as a cupcake opponent, either. So we’re in for some late-season drama and I’m excited to see this Vikings team make a push for the playoffs down the stretch. To make that push, though, the Vikings will have to find a way to win tough games on the road. That’s a tall task, but it’s a task I think this group of players can tackle.

A lot of talk about Adrian Peterson recently because of his amazing recovery and even more amazing performance to date. When do the MVP chants start? Would you consider him a front runner for that award right now? Thanks for your insight. SKOL!
-- Josh M.
Canton, SD

The MVP chants should start now. Peterson has been the heart and soul of the Vikings offense since he was drafted in 2007, and he’s in the midst of his best season to date while coming back from a severe knee injury. He’s the NFL’s rushing leader though 10 games by 123 yards (Marshawn Lynch), is on pace for over 1,800 yards and is averaging an insane 5.8 yards per carry. Over the last four games, Peterson is averaging 157.2 rushing yards per game, and if he continues that pace or remains close to it, he’ll top 2,000 rushing yards. On top of all that, he’s on pace for a career high in receptions, as well.

I’m not saying Peterson should be the run-away winner of the MVP award, but I am saying he’s a legitimate candidate for the award at this point in the season.

Do you think Christian Ponder will finish the year playing like he did in the Lions game? Or will he continue to be up and down from week-to-week?
-- Andy
Columbia, MO

Because he has just 20 career starts under his belt, I anticipate Ponder will continue experiencing some ups and some downs. It’s only fair to allow that for a young quarterback. At the same time, the key for a young quarterback is to keep improving on a game-by-game basis. You can live with some mistakes as long as you’re also noticing improvement. That’s what we’ve seen so far with Ponder, and I anticipate that he’ll continue to improve as the season progresses.

Andy pointed out the Lions game, and that’s the perfect type of performance to have from Ponder – 24 of 32 (75%) for 221 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. With the running game and defense the Vikings have displayed for much of the season, they won’t lose many games when Ponder has that kind of performance.

Do you think we are under-using RB Toby Gerhart this season? He was a player who produced big-time while Adrian Peterson was out with his knee injury.
-- Judah B.

Gerhart did indeed play well late last season after Peterson went down with his knee injury, and let’s also keep in mind that he played well earlier that season when he filled in for Peterson while he was dealing with an ankle injury. Last season, Gerhart averaged 4.9 yards per carry on 109 attempts.

With that said, I can’t agree that Gerhart is under-used by the Vikings. While I’d like to get him more involved, I also recognize that he does play a role in this offense right now. Additionally, I wouldn’t recommend taking any snaps away from Peterson right now. He has four straight 100-yard games, and the Vikings should keep feeding the beast.

Gerhart’s value to this team lies in his ability to be a 3rd-down weapon (pass blocking, pass receiving) and in providing great depth behind Peterson. With Peterson on the roster, the Vikings have built their offense around a powerful and productive rushing attack. If you’re going to build your offense around the running game, you better have a good stable of running backs – not just one good running back, but a stable of them. And the Vikings have one of the best running back duos in the NFL with Gerhart in the fold, so from that standpoint Gerhart has tremendous value and is not being under-used.

What are the keys to scoring points on the Bears defense?
-- David S.
Burnsville, MN

If I knew the answer to that, I’d be making a lot of money as an offensive coordinator for some NFL team. No one has been able to figure out how to score on this year’s Bears defense, as they’ve allowed just 14.8 points per game, second-best in the NFL behind San Francisco. But I believe the Vikings offense can solve the riddle that is the Bears defense.

To do so, I’d like to see the Vikings lean heavily on Adrian Peterson. Certainly Chicago will make stopping Peterson their top defensive priority, but I’d run it a ton until Chicago proved they could stop it. It will also be important for the Vikings to focus on winning the field position battle. It’s hard enough to move the ball against this Bears defense, but trying to do it while backed up deep in your own territory can turn into a flat-out disaster. Touchbacks for Blair Walsh and precise punting from Chris Kluwe can go a long way toward winning the field position battle and, in effect, giving the Vikings offense its best chance at keeping the Bears defense off-balance and moving the ball down the field.

Finally, it’s also important to keep TE Kyle Rudolph involved. In last week’s win over Detroit, Rudolph reemerged in the Vikings passing attack with seven receptions for 64 yards with one touchdown. It’s not a coincidence, in my mind, that Ponder’s big bounce-back performance after a few substandard weeks occurred in combination with Rudolph’s reemergence.

Do you expect Jarius Wright to play against the Bears?
-- Jose

I am interested in seeing Wright active on game day going forward. Granted, the coaches know far more about who gives the team a better chance to win versus a given opponent than I do, but I’m curious to see the Vikings offense operate with Wright joining the regular cast of characters. We have to keep in mind that Jarius had just one catch after that first drive, so it’s not as if he’s lighting the world on fire (yet). But it was exciting to see some pop in passing game even without Harvin in the mix, and Wright was a big reason behind the success of the passing game versus Detroit last week. My guess is Wright will be active (pending health) in some or all of the Vikings remaining games.

The last time the Vikings played the Bears, Jared Allen recorded 3.5 sacks. What are the chances he can replicate this feat?
-- Jeremie O.
Harrisburg, SD

I’ve learned to never bet against Jared Allen, so it won’t surprise me if he does replicate that performance. Keep in mind, only four teams have allowed more sacks than the Bears (28), and no team has registered more sacks than the Vikings since the start of last season. Plus, Allen is having yet another good season with 7.0 sacks through 10 games. Can he collect 3.5 sacks against the Bears on Sunday? I’m not sure, but it’s certainly possible and it would go a long way toward the Vikings pulling off the upset at Soldier Field.