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Monday, September 12, 2011
Free Head Exam: Minnesota Vikings

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

After the Minnesota Vikings' 24-17 loss Sunday to the San Diego Chargers, here are three issues that merit further examination:
    Head Exam
    After falling to the Chargers in the opener, Minnesota takes its turn in the examination room.
  1. Quarterback Donovan McNabb told reporters that his passing production -- seven completions and 39 yards -- was "embarrassing." But it would be wrong and unfair to blame him alone for the Vikings' passing woes Sunday. McNabb was under pressure for a good portion of the game and, quite frankly, the passing offense is short on explosive playmakers outside of receiver Percy Harvin. McNabb isn't in a spot to get much help unless tailback Adrian Peterson starts averaging 150 yards per game or some gaudy number. That dynamic leaves me with a split thought on the immediate future of the position. On the one hand, it probably makes sense to leave rookie Christian Ponder out of this mess if the Vikings quarterback -- whoever he is -- will be put in such a tough situation. But part of me wonders if the Vikings would get any big-picture benefit out of treading water with McNabb, if it comes to that. You know what they say: If you're not moving forward, well, there is only one other way to go.
  2. I understand why coach Leslie Frazier wasn't willing to let Harvin take every kickoff Sunday, even after Harvin opened the game with a 103-yard return. I don't think it has as much to do about injury as it does priority. As Devin Hester demonstrated in recent years with the Chicago Bears, it's awfully difficult to be a full-time receiver and a dynamic returner at the same time. There are only so many things you can focus on during a given week, and Harvin is the Vikings' quasi-No. 1 receiver. But I will ask this: Would it make sense to use him as a full-time returner at least until the Vikings get more flow in their offense? At the moment, the team's best scoring opportunity could be Harvin as a returner or at least a catapult for excellent field position.
  3. I saw a portions of this game live while working in the Raymond James Stadium press box, and it seemed like every time I looked up at the screen, defensive end Brian Robison was making a play. He finished with three tackles, a half-sack and a tipped pass. One of his hits on quarterback Philip Rivers led to an Antoine Winfield interception. It's always interesting when a long-time backup gets a chance he probably thinks should have come a long time ago. The Viking gave Robison a genuine opportunity when they allowed Ray Edwards to depart via free agency. I'm sure he's determined to return the favor.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
Quarterback Joe Webb made his 2011 debut as a Wildcat quarterback, taking two unproductive snaps in third quarter. I'm hoping the Vikings have a more creative plan in store for Webb than a few Wildcat plays per game. His athletic skills make him a candidate to play receiver, perhaps return kickoffs and be a factor in any number of trick plays that could involve throwing the ball. But that type of role requires training and practice, neither of which the Vikings were able to devote while Webb took the No. 2 quarterback snaps during most of training camp. It's nice that they forced Ponder to earn that job, but I hope they didn't sacrifice a more dynamic role for Webb in the process. This is an offense that needs all the playmaking it can get.