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Vikings mulling game plans for Ponder and Webb

By Dan Wiederer, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

A snapshot look at the Vikings as they prepare for Sunday’s game at Mall of America Field against the Saints.

Players in the spotlight

Quarterbacks Christian Ponder and Joe Webb, both have the coaching staff scratching their heads for different reasons.

Ponder, the rookie starter, has committed seven turnovers the past two weeks, struggles that often lead to a noticeable confidence dip. Asked if Ponder’s errors against the Lions signified a step backward in his development, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier sighed. “I think time will tell,” he said.

Ponder has three weeks left this season to show he’s capable of making better decisions more consistently.

The coaches, meanwhile, also have three weeks to figure out how Webb can be used best going forward. On Sunday, Webb was brilliant in relief of Ponder. But his status as a backup quarterback has prevented the team from devoting more time to shaping Webb as a wide receiver. At season’s end, the Vikings might be wise to look at a full-time position change for Webb. In the words of receivers coach George Stewart: “He’s far too talented and dynamic to spend so much time on the sideline standing beside me.”

Most pressing question

Just how much should we make of the Vikings’ continued effort?

In the big picture, it’s of little consolation to fans or players. But despite a 2-11 record, the Vikings continue to play hard. Sunday’s loss in Detroit marked the fourth time in the past five games they’ve trailed by 17 points at halftime. Still, in three of those contests — against the Raiders, Falcons and Lions — the Vikings have staged second-half rallies to make things interesting.

“People have doubted how much we’re going to continue to fight,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said. “But at no point has this team shown any sign of folding it in and giving up.”

That no-quit mentality has been as impressive as it’s been odd. But how much is it really worth?

Keep an eye on …

The Vikings were minus-6 in the turnover battle on Sunday yet still had a chance to win. Ponder accounted for four turnovers and almost threw three other interceptions. Running back Lorenzo Booker also fumbled twice, losing one late in the first half that led to a Lions field goal. Booker also lost a fumble on a kickoff return late in the first half of the Vikings’ 27-21 Week 11 loss to Oakland. His other fumble Sunday came at the end of a 13-yard run, recovered by receiver Devin Aromashodu. Booker will be a free agent at season’s end and hasn’t done nearly enough this year as a running back or a return man to figure into the team’s plans going forward.

Scouting the Saints

No quarterback in the NFL has thrown for more yards this season than Drew Brees. Not MVP frontrunner Aaron Rodgers. Not golden boy Tom Brady. Nobody.

Brees has completed 70.9 percent of his passes (also an NFL best) for 4,368 yards and 21 touchdowns and needs to average 239 passing yards per game over the final three weeks to break Dan Marino’s single-season NFL record.

This weekend, he’ll face a Vikings defense that has allowed 2,035 passing yards and 20 touchdowns since last recording an interception. And yes, we keep revisiting those stats because they continue to rise. Brees’ favorite target: tight end Jimmy Graham, who ranks second in the NFL in catches (80) and fifth in yards (1,101).

True or false

The Vikings are on the verge of making history: True.

They’re 0-5 since the bye, marking the third-longest single-season losing skid in team history. The 1961 Vikings lost seven in a row. The ‘84 team, which finished a franchise worst 3-13, lost six in a row to close the year.

©2011 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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