Some regression would have been natural for the Minnesota Vikings after they surprised even themselves by finishing 10-6 last season. Alas, "some regression" was not supposed to devolve into using three starting quarterbacks during a 1-5 start to the 2013 season. But that's the Vikings' reality as they prepare for their Sunday night home game against the Green Bay Packersin Week 8.
However, all is not lost. The Vikings do have some building blocks in place for the future. But as ESPN.com's Matt Williamson and Mike Sando explain, the issues facing Minnesota could justify a coaching change, at the least.
In addition, Williamson and Sando discuss Adrian Peterson's future and why the Josh Freeman"experiment" could be doomed even if it succeeds. They also recommend an ideal coaching candidate if the team does move on from the current staff.
Williamson: I don't think I'd fire GM Rick Spielman, but I might not bring back coach Leslie Frazier. There were 4-5 teams that had exceptional 2012 draft classes and I felt like the Vikings were one of them. They got a good left tackle, a starting safety and even a great kicker. They also had three first-round draft picks this year. So, from those two draft classes, there is a nucleus and the front office is finding young talent. They have generally done a good job of drafting except for the Christian Ponder selection. However, there has been a knee-jerk move or two, like forcing the Greg Jennings signing out of desperation.
Sando: The Vikings need their GM and head coach working in unison when it comes to the quarterback position. That would be easier with an offensive-minded head coach in place. I'd be inclined to keep Spielman and opt for a coach with an offensive background, but that wouldn't necessarily be fair. Spielman was the one who saddled Frazier with Ponder, after all. But justice isn't the priority here; making the Vikings better is the goal. Minnesota ranks tied with Oakland for 27th in winning percentage (.368, 14-24) since Frazier became the full-time head coach in 2011. That's not good. Frazier is a former defensive back, but when we look at the Vikings, they might be at their worst in the secondary. That's not good. Spielman overdrafted a quarterback who hasn't succeeded despite the presence of a dynamic ground game. That is not good, either. We could justify starting over at GM and coach, really.
Williamson: Frazier's teams on both sides of the ball have been as vanilla and easy to prepare for as any in the league. They don't throw much at you. I'm not putting this all on Frazier, but the most amazing thing about the Vikings, to me, is just how horrible they are in the play-action game even though they have Peterson. There is more to play-action than a great back -- Peyton Manning could sell it with me in the backfield -- but it's just unbelievable.
Sando: Since 2011, Ponder ranks 26th out of 33 qualifying quarterbacks in Total QBR out of play-action. He's at 47.4 with 13 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 6.5-yard average per attempt. The league averages for qualifying quarterbacks are 70.1 in QBR with 12 touchdowns, six picks and an 8.7-yard average per attempt. But we already know Ponder is not the answer. Next question.
Williamson: I would look for a quarterback guru even if Freeman returns. Freeman's mechanics are so bad. Someone needs to break him down and start over. They should keep Ponder as a really good No. 2 or maybe as someone you trade for a mid-round pick to a team that has a top QB and needs insurance.
Sando: 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman comes to mind as an ideal candidate from my perspective. He's been the driving force behind the most dynamic rushing offense in the NFL. I'm not sure anyone uses motion and formations more effectively in the run game. Jim Harbaugh is the face of the 49ers, but he's quick to credit Roman, and rightfully so. Roman is, to a large degree, the brains of that offense. He's also worked with a young quarterback in Colin Kaepernick, with mostly positive results. The Vikings' offense isn't missing much. They've got the running back, obviously. They're fine at tight end. They've got better options at wide receiver than the 49ers recently have had.
Williamson: Roman would be great. There are some similarities between the Vikings and 49ers, too. The Vikings have a masher at right tackle in Phil Loadholt. Johnathan Sullivan is better than the 49ers' center, Jonathan Goodwin. Matt Kalil becomes your Joe Staley at left tackle. Peterson is better than Frank Gore. At tight end, Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson are not Vernon Davis andVance McDonald, but you could do a lot worse. Get a top-five overall pick at quarterback, add an offensive lineman in free agency and everyone else is pretty much in place.
Williamson: It would have to be a contending team on the other end, and I don't see that team. How many teams need a running back? Not many. The Giants aren't going to do it. It's not like the Vikings would get a Herschel Walker-type haul. You keep Peterson around and hand the ball to him a lot with a rookie quarterback and hopefully develop the play-action game. Unfortunately, this is going to be Peterson's role late in his career -- the guy the rookie QB leans on.
Sando: Sounds like the Steven Jackson-Sam Bradford alliance from 2010 to 2012. Peterson earned his contract, but I'm afraid the Vikings are stuck with it. First off, Spielman and Frazier aren't in position to tank the season. Neither appears assured of returning at this point. I also don't see teams lining up to assume Peterson's contract. The deal is scheduled to count more than $14 million against the Vikings' salary cap in 2014. That's approaching top QB money, which is OK if the Vikings draft a quarterback under the affordable rookie-wage scale. They'll probably wind up with a top-10 pick in the draft. They also have an additional third-round choice from Seattle thanks to the Percy Harvin deal.
Williamson: Peterson is still great, but the best year of his career is going to be 2012. You could ask Jim Brown or Barry Sanders to duplicate that without a good quarterback and a great supporting cast, and it's not going to happen.
Williamson: Freeman is going to be a free agent after the season. If he plays well, he'll have options elsewhere and there's no guarantee the Vikings will keep him. They certainly aren't going to franchise him. There will be six or eight teams interested in signing him if Freeman plays well.
Sando: It's tough to imagine Freeman playing well after watching him complete 37.7 percent of his passes against the Giants on Monday night. What Peterson does isn't going to matter much without better play at QB. The Vikings are 7-0 since the start of last season when their Total QBR score exceeds 60 (50 is average on the 100-point scale). They are 4-11 in the other games.
Williamson: Freeman had the most discouraging performance on Monday night. His mechanics are a mess. He shifts his weight terribly, never appears comfortable and gets happy feet without pressure. The timing is going to be off with a new quarterback. The anticipatory throws will be difficult. But at some point, throwing the football as a quarterback is a sandlot situation, too. It's the same with Tom Brady. When Kenbrell Thompkins is running free with two steps and you see it, now you are just a thrower of the football. Brady doesn't do that anymore. On Monday night, Freeman was the worst in this regard. There was a fourth-and-10 late in the game and he almost threw it in the stands. Inexcusable.
Williamson: They have to focus on the defense, where they need a little bit of everything. It's time to move on from Jared Allen and Chad Greenway. Everson Griffen can be a good pass-rusher and he'll get additional opportunities from the outside when Allen is out of there. They drafted Sharrif Floyd and he can be a good three-technique defensive tackle for them, but they need a big, bulky guy -- a Phil Taylor-type player. The linebackers have been very average. The entire secondary is horrible except for Harrison Smith, and even he was struggling before he got hurt.
Sando: The defense won't look so bad if there's a quarterback putting points on the scoreboard. Again, the Vikings are 7-0 since the start of last season when their Total QBR score is 60 or higher. They need to upgrade the defense, of course, and that needs to be the priority -- after they've drafted a QB.