NFL Week 4: The Vikings make some noise
The biggest surprises of the 2012 NFL season have been the Vikings and the Cardinals. The Cardinals blueprint is predicated by a dominant and relentless defence that is founded on an absurd base 2-4-5 scheme.
Dating back to November six last year, the Cardinals have been quietly dominant with a 9-2 record.
The Vikings success is just as surprising.
Picked by many (including myself) to be one of the worst teams in the NFL, the Vikings are 3-1 with victories over the Detroit and San Francisco, two 2011 playoff teams. So what is at the basis of Minnesota’s 2012 success?
Highly drafted quarterback Christian Ponder struggled significantly in 2011 appearing unable to handle the speed of the professional game.
In 2012, he has shown flashes of brilliance looking like a young Rich Gannon in his efficient display against the 49ers. Although his stats look unexceptional, he only averages 206 yards thrown per game, there are two statistics that are the key to understanding how the Vikings are winning games.
Firstly, his very high 68.3% completion rate and zero turnovers. Ponder is moving the chains and not making mistakes, relying on Adrian Peterson to dominate, defence to hold steady and special teams.
The Vikings have been a surprise, particularly in their victory over 49ers but relying upon two special teams touchdowns to beat an average Detroit team seems a very unreliable method to win games.
The Vikings aren’t the worst team in the NFL as looked a very distinct possibility at the start of the season, but they also don’t seem to be playoff caliber yet. Most importantly for Vikings fans, Ponder looks to be a very good quarterback prospect and will most likely be the answer in years to come.
In other games, New Orleans showed signs that 2012 might not be a lost season in their narrow loss to Green Bay. Drew Brees was at his best throwing for 446 yards and three touchdowns but unable to pull out the victory. The key to the Saints rejuvenated offensive effectiveness was the play of the Saints offensive line that finally allowed Brees time in the pocket to dice the Packers secondary.
Although the Saints look to have returned to normal on offense, their defence is still represents serious concerns. Not only did Aaron Rodgers throw for 319 yards and four touchdowns, the Packers as a whole rushed for over 100 yards.
The Saints were unable to generate a pass rush with Rodgers not being sacked at all after Rodgers was sacked eight times last week. Although the Saints can blame this loss on umpiring, their inability to force stops upon the Packers is the root of their poor start.
The remaining unbeaten teams stayed unbeaten with mixed performances. Houston is looking as good as any team in the league but they are yet to really be tested.
Atlanta and Arizona were lucky to escape weak opponents with Atlanta winning 30-28 thanks to a field goal with five seconds left. Arizona struggled to contain Miami and the 400 yards passing by Ryan Tannehill raises some questions about the quality of the Cardinals defence, they eventually came out victorious in overtime 23-20.
The Texans seem a class above the league alongside the 49ers and Ravens with the Falcons and Cardinals trailing close. Next week the Texans will be itching to make a statement to the league with an appearance on Monday Night Football against the awful Jets.
Most importantly, the most anticipated moment of the 2012 season has dawned, the calls for Mark Sanchez to be benched in favour of Tim Tebow will start this week thanks to the Jets abysmal offensive output against the 49ers. Sanchez again had a completion percentage under 50% averaging only 3.6 per pass attempt.
The running game was no better with the Jets only running for 45 yards on 17 carries for the entire game. The Jets offensive output was only 145 yards despite running 50 plays. Despite their excellent performance in their opener against the Bills, the Jets offense is as bad as any in the entire NFL.
The prospect of the Jets facing the league’s best Texans on Monday Night Football seems positively macabre. Although the 49ers returned to their dominating best in response to suffering their opening loss the Jets are the train wreck that everyone thought they would be.
Aside from the Patriots, the AFC East is probably the worst division in the NFL and New England will likely be the only team with a winning record.
Performances of the Week:
Bryan Hartline (MIA) 12 Catches, 253 Yards one touchdown: For a team that was written off as having zero receiving threats, Hartline produced one of the most impressive receiving performances as will be seen this season. Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill leaned heavily upon Hartline and the pair almost combined to pull the upset over the unbeaten Cardinals.
Drew Brees (NO) 35/54, 446 yards 4 touchdowns: Brees had a welcome return to form but the notable aspect of his performance was that his first touchdown tied Johnny Unitas’ iconic 47 consecutive game touchdown streak. To put this in perspective, the next closest is Brett Favre and Tom Brady (active) with 36.
Dan Marino could only manage 30, Peyton Manning only 27. This is an incredibly difficult record to approach and Brees’ consistency to even approach this is something to behold.
LeSean McCoy (PHI) 23 Carries, 123 Yards: McCoy seemed to constantly pose a threat to break free for long gains against quite a good Giants defence. McCoy backed up his trash talking of Osi Umenyiora during the week in a running performance that laid the foundation of the Eagles win.
The Eagles constantly set themselves back in games whether it be due to turnovers or poor defence but McCoy provides them with the consistency that can almost make up for their mistakes.