Misguided belief leads Vikings to turn to rookie Ponder

Mike Tyson once said, "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." The Vikings front office had a plan once the awful 2010 season ended -- they wanted to draft a quarterback for the future and sign a veteran quarterback so the rookie could learn from the sidelines. The Vikings believed they could be a playoff team because they had the right pieces in place.

Six weeks into the season, the Vikings have taken a 1-5 uppercut to the jaw and now their plan has been dramatically altered.

With veteran quarterback Donavan McNabb not playing well and the offense looking extremely predictable, the Vikings turn to rookie quarterback Christian Ponder. Now the Vikings need a new plan, as they try to develop their young quarterback.

Some might say that plan was bad from the start -- and I would agree. Signing McNabb after his horrible year in Washington, ignoring the horror stories about his lack of preparation for the game, was their first mistake. (Do you really want a young rookie to be tutored and mentored by a player who is not fully committed to preparation?) McNabb is at a point in his career that he does not seem to want to put in the time, willing to show up late for meetings and practice, and expects to just play well. He failed to really grasp the offense in Minnesota (as he did in Washington), having trouble spitting the plays out quickly -- which meant the play sheet on his arm got bigger and bigger. It did not take long before McNabb's lack of commitment was seen by the older players, causing them to understand that a move had to be made. One thing I have learned over my 20 years in the league is you can't fool the players, especially ones who have seen what it takes to be successful.

Blinded by their belief that they were a playoff team, the Vikings signed McNabb anyway. The prevailing thought was the new Vikings staff could overcome what happened in Washington, as McNabb now was coming back to an offense that he knew from his time in Philadelphia. Or at least the Vikings thought he would know. This logic was not realistic, but the pressure of trying to get a new stadium can make anyone think strangely. Asking for help with a new stadium while the team is in a rebuilding mode is not always the best policy, therefore it was convenient to believe as a team they were not rebuilding.

Now Ponder gets his chance to play and show whether he is the quarterback of the future. If he does show the skills, like Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, and energizes the fan base, the stadium issue might be resolved. But if Ponder struggles, which I fully expect, then the Vikings' future will be in trouble in more ways than one.

The front office will need to address many issues within the team in coming weeks. The Vikings have problems at outside wide receiver and the offensive line, and they need to find the right complement to Adrian Peterson. On defense, they are the perfect defense for when the opponent plays physically with two running backs. But when the game becomes a spread passing game -- which is what the NFL has become -- they lack speed at linebacker and at every position in the secondary. There is much work to do on both sides of the ball.

So the Vikings must alter their original plan and make a new one that is preparing for the future, not thinking playoffs.

The First 15

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  1. Denver head coach John Fox said this week the Broncos would not change the offense to fit Tim Tebow, but rather Tebow will be expected to run the same offense as Orton was running. Can this be right? Or is Fox just messing with us as well as the Dolphins? Surely Miami does not buy Fox's rhetoric. Tebow needs an offense that can rely on his feet, his run skills, and his ability to make the opposition defend the old single wing. If Fox expects Tebow to drop back and wing it, he is not going to be happy with the results. Tebow will never be a 60 percent completion passer. For Tebow to be successful, he must make big plays with his feet and throw downfield on the move, like Ben Roethlisberger.
  1. Jarvis Moss, a 2007 first-round pick for the Broncos, has had a career resurgence in Oakland. Under Raiders defensive line coach Mike Waufle, Moss has played really well this year with numerous pressures and 1.5 sacks. He finally looks like the rusher the Broncos hoped he would be when they drafted him.
  1. If Carson Palmer starts this Sunday in Oakland against the Chiefs, the concern I would have if I were the Raiders is making sure Palmer gets through the game healthy. It's hard to come off the street in the middle of the season and play at a high level. Palmer is going to be rusty, obviously, but he must be careful moving around. The Raiders will need to rely on Darren McFadden and their run game, as well as let Palmer take some shots down the field. If Palmer throws more than 25 times, he runs the risk of being injured.
    UPDATE: Kyle Boller will start for the Raiders on Sunday, team sources told NFL.com's Steve Wyche on Friday.
  1. What good would firing Tony Sparano now do for the Dolphins? Interim coaches usually are charged with providing a spark and getting the team to play hard, but that hasn't been Miami's problem. The team has played hard, they just have not played well.
  1. When they gave up two second-round draft picks and a boatload of money, I am sure the Dolphins expected to see more from Brandon Marshall. But he has not been a big play wide receiver during his time in Miami, scoring just four touchdowns the past two years. I've watched this play over and over again and cannot figure out how he did not score on that play. No one pushed him out of bounds, or deterred his balance, but nonetheless Marshall failed to score. Marshall might be paid like a No. 1 receiver, but his play in Miami clearly indicates he is a No. 2.
  1. If I were in the Cowboys front office, as soon as I heard about the potential for a Carson Palmer trade that involved the Raiders giving up high picks, I would have called the Raiders and offered a third-rounder for running back Michael Bush. He is a free agent at the end of the season and the Raiders are loaded at running back with Darren McFadden and Taiwan Jones, so the deal might have been tempting for the Raiders to take. And the Cowboys would have gotten a power back, something they need badly. DeMarco Murray is now the feature back with Felix Jones going down, but in reality, Murray is not as good as Bush, nor as powerful. The 'Boys need a full-time power back that can complement Jones, and Bush would have been perfect for this year and many more to come.
  1. With all the problems at running back, I really feel the Lions need to be more of a balanced offense -- not in terms of running the ball more, but in letting Matthew Stafford play the game from under center. Putting Stafford under center allows him to have some easy throws which can help the play-action game and allow him to be located in different spots in the pocket. Right now the Lions are more run and shoot than they need to be. They should be like the old Colts with Peyton Manning in control, as he was not always in shotgun. Even Tom Brady and the Patriots offense is more effective when they work in more under-center plays.
  1. Saints tight end Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles both lead the team in pass receptions with 39 this year. This combination makes the Saints tough to defend in the middle of the field, but it puts more pressure on their wideouts to step up and make plays. The Bucs defense was not scared last week to play man coverage on the Saints on the outside. Now Sean Payton must scheme to get the ball outside. The wideouts are no longer special in New Orleans, including Marques Colston who is more of a jump ball receiver than a vertical threat.
  1. Speaking of the Payton, I hope he has a speedy recovery. Payton has always been an adaptable coach, going back to his time at the Eagles when the office space at the Vet was so crammed that he had to work out of a briefcase and cell phone in Jon Gruden's office. Payton never complained, just smiled and went about doing his job. I am sure he is doing the same right now in spite of the pain and inconvenience.
  1. Do you know who leads the Packers in sacks? No, not Clay Matthews. Inside 'backer Desmond Bishop and defensive end Jarius Wynn both have three while Matthews has two. Matthews has not been as dominant this season. He is still a good player with incredible passion and effort, but has not had the same results. One of the reasons teams can throw the ball on the Packers is they can block Matthews and not have to worry about another edge rusher. The only minor flaw in the Packers team has been their lack of great pressure on the quarterback.
  1. Another team that has not been creating turnovers this year that is normally a league leader is the Steelers. Turnovers happen from a combination of two things -- overall speed and QB pressure. Forcing the ball out early is always a direct correlation to interceptions. In both areas this year, the Steelers have fallen well short.
  1. The AFC South is up for grabs this week in Nashville as the Texans and Titans battle. Both teams have struggled to run the ball -- the Texans the past two weeks and the Titans all season. Titans coach Mike Munchak has been involved the past few weeks working on the run game as he realizes they must get their best player Chris Johnson more involved in impacting the game. The Texans are 27th in run defense on first down, which means if they don't handle Johnson on early downs, it will be hard to leave Nashville with a win.
  1. Antonio Gates is expected to play for the Chargers in New York this week against the Jets. The Chargers must have Gates if they are going to beat the Jets. The Jets have to be worried about defending the Chargers' run game as well as handle their outside passing game. We know Darrelle Revis takes Vincent Jackson, but can Antonio Cromartie handle Malcom Floyd? This will be a huge test for the Jets defense.
  1. All offseason the Redskins hoped that John Beck could be their starter at quarterback. Mike Shanahan loved Beck going back to his days in Denver when he ran the Broncos. Can Beck handle this job? Maybe for a short time, but my concern with smallish quarterbacks is how the pounding they take over the course of the season affects their arm strength. Beck might start out OK, but I have concerns if he can play well in December.
  1. I was really fortunate to work for Art Modell in Cleveland. This past week many in the NFL community said good-bye to Art's wonderful wife Pat who succumbed to her battle with cancer. My sincere condolences are extended.

Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi

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