Vikings coaches and front-office personnel are meeting this week to discuss the future of Chris Cook, the troubled cornerback who was suspended last week after being charged with felony domestic assault.
“We’re just seeing what direction we’re going to be heading in,” coach Leslie Frazier said Monday. “A lot of it has to do with what the league says. But we have a lot to talk about.”
Asked if it’s possible that Cook would be released, Frazier wouldn’t rule it out. And that’s saying something considering the 24-year-old Cook was the team’s top draft pick in 2010 and is, or was, considered a cornerstone piece in the team’s rebuilding process.
“We got a lot of things to talk about,” Frazier said. “A lot of things to talk about going forward.”
Cook is the team’s most promising young corner, by far, but the Vikings have had little choice but to take the hardest stance with him that’s permitted under the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).
The CBA allows teams to suspend players for a maximum of four games. The Vikings announced last week that they suspended Cook without pay. He was in jail for the Green Bay game on Oct. 23 and then suspended for Sunday’s game in Carolina.
Cook is losing about $26,000 per game that he’s suspended. As the Vikings work through their bye week self-evaluation, Cook could find himself released altogether.
–On the surface, it’s just one win over a bad team.
But the Vikings did more than improve their record to 2-6. They elevated their outlook for the future as they head into this week’s bye.
In his first NFL road start and second NFL start overall, rookie Christian Ponder has transformed the attitude of the team, not to mention its ability to finally convert third downs and prevent defenses from stacking the line of scrimmage to stuff All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson.
“I’m excited about the way Christian has taken over the leadership role of our team, and really not just with our offense but asking guys to kind of follow him,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “It just gives you a lot of hope for the future of our team.”
Veteran quarterback Donovan McNabb is holding steady in his belief that he still deserves to be the starting quarterback. But look no further than key third downs for evidence that Ponder is the quarterback who deserves to be starting.
In the five fourth quarters that McNabb played, he completed 4 of 12 passes with two conversions. In the three fourth quarters that Ponder has played, he has completed 10 of 14 passes with eight conversions. He’s also run for a first down on third-and-7.
McNabb converted one fourth-quarter third down of third-and-6 or longer. Ponder has converted eight fourth-quarter third downs of third-and-6 or longer.
So, essentially, it’s no contest as to which quarterback should be starting.
NFL Team Report – Minnesota Vikings – NOTES, QUOTES
–RB Adrian Peterson, who’s had his share of career days running the ball, had his finest day as a receiver in Sunday’s win over the Panthers. He had a career-high 76 yards and just his third career receiving touchdown on five catches.
That prompted defensive end Jared Allen to say what most fans already think.
“Adrian is a beast,” Allen said. “It’s a good thing I’m not a coach because between him and Percy (Harvin), they’d get the ball 99 percent of the time.
–Panthers K Olindo Mare went into Sunday’s game with an 85.6 percent career success rate on field goal attempts of between 30 and 39 yards. But with Carolina trailing 24-21 with 26 seconds left, Mare hooked a 31-yarder wide left.
“He hasn’t been missing, but you know what? Thank God,” said Allen. “Maybe He blew the wind a little bit for us.”
NFL Team Report – Minnesota Vikings – STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
–QB Christian Ponder has given the team a spark primarily because of his poise on third downs. Drives are lasting longer because he’s making things happen, whereas Donovan McNabb often sputtered and threw inaccurately. In the three fourth quarters Ponder has played, he’s accounted for nine third-down conversions. He’s converted eight with his arm – completing 10-of-14 passes – and one with his feet – a 12-yard run on third-and-7. McNabb, meanwhile, accounted for just two third-down conversions in the five fourth quarters he played this season.
–RB Adrian Peterson had a career-high 76 yards receiving on five catches on Sunday. With the Panthers showing the Vikings a rare two-high safety look, rookie QB Christian Ponder took the underneath routes to Peterson.
–RB Toby Gerhart was averaging 1.7 carries per game, but got five carries in Sunday’s win at Carolina. He had four carries for 27
yards in a second-half touchdown drive that also saw Peterson get four carries for 34 yards and a touchdown.
–TE Kyle Rudolph, the team’s second-round pick and best friend of first-round pick Christian Ponder, caught his first two passes from Ponder in Sunday’s win. They went for 15 yards, including a long of 13. The two of them are working to regain the nice rhythm they had in training camp.
–WR Percy Harvin is one of the team’s toughest players. At only 185 pounds, he’s also one of the most fearless. He had an outstanding game on Sunday despite some rib pain that he’s been battling since the preseason. Harvin’s highlight Sunday was an 11-yard catch on third-and-8 during the team’s game-winning drive. He caught the ball in the right flat and put a spin move on cornerback Chris Gamble that left Gamble clutching nothing but his helmet in disbelief afterward.
–WR Michael Jenkins isn’t a flashy player by any stretch, but he’s a good route runner with deceptive speed for his size. He had two catches for 30 yards, including a 24-yarder on Sunday.
–LB Chad Greenway had a game-high 13 tackles against the Panthers. He’s an active player with enough speed and instincts to close quickly. He showed that when he stopped quarterback Cam Newton for a 5-yard gain on third-and-7 with less than 30 seconds left in the game. That forced the Panthers to try a 31-yard field goal, which Olindo Mare missed.
–FS Husain Abdullah notched his first sack of the season on a nice blitz. But he also gave up a 39-yard touchdown pass to tight end Greg Olsen. Abdullah came up to jam Olsen at the line of scrimmage. But he missed the jam and never recovered.
–DE Everson Griffen has become one of the team’s best special teams players. He’s freakishly fast for his 273-pound body, and is fearless running down the field. The Vikings use him as one of their gunners on the punt coverage teams. Sunday, he had two more special teams tackles and a forced fumble.
–DE Jared Allen extended his team record for consecutive games with a sack to 10. He has a league-high 12.5 through eight games and is on pace for 25 sacks. The NFL record is 22.5 by Michael Strahan in 2001. Strahan had 14 sacks through eight games that season.
–LB E.J. Henderson had his first sack of the season and a forced fumble on Carolina’s first snap of the game. The turnover led to the Vikings’ first touchdown and a 7-0 lead. The Vikings are hoping the bye week allows Henderson to get some much-needed rest for his troublesome left knee. The balky knee has kept Henderson from playing much in the nickel defense this season.
REPORT CARD VS. PANTHERS
PASSING OFFENSE: B — The Vikings are a different team with rookie Christian Ponder at quarterback. He’s more mobile, faster and more aggressive with downfield passes than veteran Donovan McNabb was. Ponder’s influence has been felt especially on third downs. While McNabb struggled on third down before being benched, Ponder has been exceptional, especially considering his lack of experience. In Sunday’s 24-21 win over the Panthers, Ponder was 4 of 6 passing with four conversions on third-and-10 or longer. Ponder also had the poise to take what the defense gave him. With the Vikings facing more double-high safeties, Ponder knew to dump the ball off to Adrian Peterson. Peterson had five catches for a career-high 76 yards and his third career receiving touchdown.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B — Peterson was contained in the first half, rushing eight times for 14 yards. But he pounded out 72 yards on 13 second-half carries as the Vikings finished with 132 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries (4.0). Receiver Percy Harvin continued to be a surprise threat to run at all of 185 pounds. Despite sore ribs, Harvin ran twice between the tackles on a two-play, 16-yard touchdown drive. His 10-yard burst up the middle gave theVikings a 7-0 lead. Also more in the mix than of late was backup running back Toby Gerhart. Entering the game with an average of 1.7 carries per game, Harvin had five carries for 26 yards. He had four carries for 27 yards during a 12-play, 90-yard drive that tied the game at 21-21 late in the third quarter. He and Peterson wore down the Panthers’ defense with a heavy dose of power runs.
PASS DEFENSE: C — The pass rush got to quarterback Cam Newton twice on strip-sacks that led to a pair of Vikings touchdowns. The secondary, however, struggled because cornerback Antoine Winfield was out with a neck injury and the backup, Chris Cook, was suspended because of a felony domestic assault charge. Newton completed 22 of 35 passes for 290 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 117.6 passer rating. Asher Allen, a little-used dime back a month ago, found himself shadowing Panthers’ No. 1 receiver Steve Smith. He held his own despite Smith’s seven catches for 100 yards and a touchdown.
RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus — The Vikings have struggled against the run at key points this season. They did a nice job Sunday against Jonathan Stewart (3.8 yards on 13 carries) and DeAngelo Williams (3.7 on seven carries). However, the Vikings, like a lot of teams, didn’t contain Newton’s scrambling ability. Newton had six carries for 53 yards for an 8.8-yard average.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B — With Lorenzo Booker (concussion) sidelined and Percy Harvin nursing sore ribs, the kickoff return duties went to PR Marcus Sherels. He responded by taking his NFL debut kickoff return 78 yards deep into Panthers territory. Sherels, however, had three punt returns for only two yards. He lost yardage on two of his returns. Kicker Ryan Longwell missed a 31-yard field goal wide left. It’s the third miss of 43 yards or shorter for Longwell in the past three weeks. After seasons of rock-solid place-kicking, Longwell has given the team cause for concern the past four weeks.
COACHING: B — The coaches deserve credit for having Ponder prepared well enough to notch his first win in his NFL road debut. His success on third down and his 102.7 passer rating shows there’s reason to be excited about the team’s future. Of course, coach Leslie Frazier also has to be questioned about waiting until the team was 1-5 before promoting Ponder ahead of the ineffective McNabb. Ponder knew enough to take what the defense gave him. On Sunday, the defense gave him the check down to Peterson. With two deep safeties, Peterson caught five passes for a career-high 76 yards and a touchdown. Defensively, the Vikings did a nice job blitzing Newton early on and then backing off when it was necessary. The defense stripped Newton of the ball twice, recovered both fumbles and turned them into 14 points.