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Monday, December 5, 2011
Free Head Exam: Minnesota Vikings

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

After the Minnesota Vikings' 35-32 loss to the Denver Broncos, here are three issues that merit further examination:
    Head Exam
    Following their loss against the Broncos, the Vikings take a seat in the examination room.
  1. Coach Leslie Frazier has deserved some criticism this year, but let's cut him a break from demands that he should have allowed the Broncos to score once an interception gave them possession at the Vikings' 15-yard line. As the theory goes, the Vikings would have been better off giving the Broncos a 39-32 lead and then launching their own potential game-tying drive rather than letting the Broncos run off the rest of the clock and kick a short field goal to win. I checked with ESPN's analytics team to see if the Vikings would have increased their mathematical win probability with such an unorthodox move. The short answer from Alok Pattani was no, based on an ESPN model built off thousands of individual play results over the past decade. The Broncos had a 95.3 percent chance to win the game the moment they made the interception. Had the Vikings allowed an immediate touchdown, their chances of driving the field for a touchdown on their ensuing possession and ultimately winning the game in overtime was 2.5 percent. So statistically speaking, the Vikings had a better chance of stopping the Broncos' final possession, as they tried to do, than pulling off a non-traditional miracle.
  2. Frazier made a starling admission Monday at his weekly news conference when asked about struggling cornerback Cedric Griffin. In essence, Frazier said Griffin wouldn't be playing if the Vikings had a better option. Griffin is trying to come back from the second of two career ACL tears and has looked hesitant and a step slow all season. Frazier: "He's not the Cedric we saw before the second ACL injury and he's tried to battle through some things. But his confidence level has not been where it needs to be to able to play at a high level in our league. I'm sure it has a lot to do with coming off a second ACL. We're just so depleted depth-wise that we have to have him out there. I know he'd like to play better. I know he's trying to play better. It's been a tough year for him." That said, I would imagine that Griffin won't open training camp in 2012 as a starter.
  3. Quarterback Christian Ponder played most of Sunday's game with a hip pointer and is going to be limited, at best, in practice this week. Frazier said the team's medical staff is confident Ponder will be ready for Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions, but it's interesting to note that Frazier shot down the idea of newly-acquired backup Sage Rosenfels as a potential replacement if Ponder suffers a setback. Joe Webb would take whatever first-team snaps that Ponder doesn't this week. I'm fine with that. A 2-10 team might as well give young players every opportunity to gain experience provided they're equipped to give a credible performance.
And here is one issue that I still don't get:
Frazier told the truth Sunday when he expressed incredulity at how bad his defensive backs covered the Broncos' receivers. But given the situation, I'm not sure what anyone expects right now. The Vikings opened the game without a single defensive back who deserves to be part of their long-term plan. Antoine Winfield, Chris Cook, Husain Abdullah, Tyrell Johnson and Asher Allen -- five of their top seven Week 1 defensive backs -- were inactive for the game. Few teams have the depth to absorb that kind of attrition.