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The Morning After: Five Observations From The Vikings 34-24 Loss In Detroit

(Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

By: Aj Mansour | KFAN.com
@AjKFAN

Minneapolis, MN – Week one has come and gone for the Minnesota Vikings who fell to the Detroit Lions in their opening game by a score of 34-24. In reality, it felt more like a twenty point beat down that at the hands of an equally undisciplined, severely flawed team. It’s probably safe to say that if the Lions weren’t the Lions, it would have been about a twenty point game.

It was a full-forced failure for the Vikings who crumbled in all three facets of the game. Offensively, Minnesota appeared as if they have never played together. Defensively, they looked as if they had never played football. On special teams, the Vikings looked as if the game may have been too big for them. At any rate, from the front of the plane to the back, the mood on the flight home from Michigan last night could not have been a cheery one.

A lot can be learned from a game like yesterday’s and a lot can be realized. After sleeping on it, here are five things that I learned from Minnesota’s 34-24 week one loss to Detroit…

How long is the leash…
It’s kind of surprising to think that all those good feelings that quarterback Christian Ponder left us with last December can come and go so quickly at the hands of a 236 yard, one touchdown performance. Well, box scores can be misleading, especially when I leave out that little part about the three interceptions that Ponder also threw.

It was a 63.1 passer rating sort of day for Christian Ponder and for those of us who were watching, it was surprising that his rating was that high. It’s plagued him for three years now so shame on me for thinking he was past it, but Ponder was errant, careless and down right irresponsible with the football in his hands yesterday afternoon. Admittedly it wasn’t all his fault but as the quarterback of this team, the Vikings go the way that Christian Ponder goes and yesterday that was straight down the drain.

It’s a worst case scenario in a knee-jerk world, but nobody wanted to be talking about how long Christian Ponder’s leash is after week one! But alas, here we are. The futility can only go on for so long and general manager Rick Spielman along with head coach Leslie Frazier cannot afford to let next year’s draft go by without a proven quarterback in Christian Ponder or a new young star in Bridgewater, Manziel, et al.

I think we can all agree that Christian Ponder is a nice guy and that in a perfect world we would all be rooting for him. But at the end of the day, when his performances turn a state full of “Minnesota Nice” into full lines at the anger management clinic, something needs to change.

Give Ponder two more games to figure this out (@ Chicago, vs Cleveland) and if it doesn’t happen, brace yourself for seeing Matt Cassel under center at Wembley Stadium in London.

When does an All-Pro become a liability…
I mentioned in the paragraph above that yesterday wasn’t all on Ponder. Sunday, the Vikings first wave of defense on the offensive side of the ball struggled mightily anchored by a poor performance from their All-Pro left tackle Matt Kalil.

We saw Kalil struggle a bit during the preseason and just wrote it off as him shaking off some of the offseason rust. Well it’s been three games now that we’ve seen Kalil struggle including one regular season game against a divisional opponent. Maybe the more concerning part, yesterday’s butt whooping came at the hands of a rookie defensive end in Ezekial “Ziggy” Ansah.

It’s hard to put your finger on exactly what it is that’s going wrong for Kalil, but we can all agree that it’s never a good thing to see your starting left tackle, the protector of the blind side, spinning like a stadium turn style most of the afternoon.

Kalil didn’t show up on the injury report at all last week but you almost have to wonder if there is something nagging that has gone undisclosed. Looking back to training camp, there was a brief issue with his knee that arose and dissipated almost as quickly. But there has to be something. Players don’t just go from dominating and getting an All-Pro nod in their rookie season to getting burned on every other play? It’s concerning to say the least for the Vikings.

Did the Vikings get too greedy with past draft success in the special teams…
I’ll start by saying that my argument would have been a whole lot better if former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe wouldn’t have spent his week one on the couch painting his Warhammer figurines, but did the Vikings bite off a little more than they could chew with Jeff Locke?

Just after the 2012 NFL Draft, the Vikings caught a little flack for drafting a troubled kicker out of Georgia in the sixth round when you already had a proven veteran on your team. Walsh went on to set multiple records and kick the Vikings into the playoffs, in turn silencing all the critics. Because of the way that all worked out, when the Vikings drafted a punter in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft, we all gave them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe we were wrong for doing so.

We saw a bit of it coming through his preseason performances, but in his first game in the NFL, rookie punter Jeff Locke booted punts of 36 yards, 40 yards, 42 yards, 39 yards and 54 yards. Take away the one kick that went 50+ and Locke would have averaged only 39.25 yards per punt. With the one decent kick, his actual average was 42.2 yards but what really hurt the Vikings is that his net average was only 34.8 yards per punt.

Locke struggled with hang time, he struggled with placement and he struggled with distance, all this coming inside the comfy confines of the windless, 73 degree environment of Ford Field. If it wasn’t bad enough that Christian and the offense were turning the ball over often, Locke was setting up a dynamic Lions offense with a short field on a pretty regular basis. We’ve seen the kid boot that ball before, so there’s got to be something funky going on upstairs with his confidence or the nerves of his first game. Either way, that needs to change if the Vikings are looking to win the field position battles.

“The Juice” is who he says he is…
All last season and through this past off season we heard wide receivers coach George Stewart telling us that Jerome Simpson was on the cusp of a big year. Jerome, who spent most of the 2012 season either suspended or hurt, was never able to figure it out with the Vikings a year ago. Healthy for the first time since donning the purple, Simpson showed what he is capable of yesterday.

Targeted eight times by Christian Ponder, Simpson reeled in all but on of the passes (the one was tipped on his hands and intercepted) for a grand total of 140 yards! That total is good for the second best performance in Jerome’s young career (had 152 against Baltimore on 11/20/2011) and is already more than half way to his season long production with Minnesota a year ago.

Jerome showed his ability to not only come up with the deep ball (he had a sick diving catch that went for 47 yards), but maybe more importantly he showed that he can be a reliable threat on important third down situations.

Harrison Smith may be the lone shining light in the secondary…or the entire defense…
The jury is still out on rookies Xavier Rhodes and Sharrif Floyd who both played decent on Sunday, but a couple things were evident throughout the entirety of yesterday’s ugly loss. Harrison Smith is a good football player, Harrison Smith is a tough football player and opponents will remember being hit by Harrison Smith.

We saw it in Detroit last year when Smith knocked Calvin Johnson silly and threw the star receiver off his game the rest of the day and we saw it again yesterday at Ford Field.

Smith finished the day with only 7 tackles (10 combined), but his impact was bigger than that. While it appeared the rest of the Vikings defense was comfortable with their roles of chasing Lions all over the field, Smith was out with a vengeance and would regularly be seen ball-hawking errant passes and knocking helmets off the heads of Lions with the ball.

Much like he did last year, Smith shook up Calvin Johnson by knocking his helmet off in the third quarter yesterday and then stuck Reggie Bush on a dump off pass with a hit that we could feel back here in Minnesota. Harrison is a stud and when the rest of the defense shakes the cobwebs off, this Vikings secondary could be something special.

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