Following are opinions from Mille Lacs County Times editor-sports editor Gary Larson, reporter Luther Dorr and former Times intern Logan Marxhausen. Note: This feature is written on Monday each week.
•Question: The Minnesota Vikings handled the Chicago Bears 21-14 Sunday at Mall of America Field despite the Bears having nearly 200 yards more in total offense. Adrian Peterson kept his big season going by running for 151 yards and two touchdowns but the Viking passing game gained just 91 yards as Christian Ponder completed 11 of 17 passes, the longest being 16 yards. What are your thoughts on the game and can the Vikings reach the playoffs with such a weak passing game?
-Dorr: Peterson continues to show that, without a doubt, he is the best running back in the game right now. When teams load up to stop him and he still has that kind of game, it’s impressive. And credit also has to go to the offensive line for that kind of yardage. Ponder completed 65 percent of the passes he threw and that’s not bad, including some key third-down passes for first downs in the final period when the Vikings were trying to get some time off the clock. The game plan was obviously to run Peterson as much as possible. A win is a win is a win, and if you had told most Viking fans the team would be 7-6 after 13 games, they’d have taken it. No, it’s not likely the Vikings will reach the playoffs if they throw for only 90 yards a game. It would help Ponder greatly if he had a receiver like the Bears’ Brandon Marshall.
-Marxhausen: The Vikings played a grueling game where they shut down the opposition exactly at the right time. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler only completed 50 percent of his passes, going 22 for 44. He had two interceptions, with one returned 56 yards by safety Harrison Smith for a touchdown. The Bears relied on the pass too heavily in the game, trying to expose the Vikings’ weakness, but failed to convert on many occasions whether it was bad pass by Cutler or a great defensive stop by the Vikings. The Vikings relied on the run against a great pass defense and Peterson thrived again. The playoffs are in sight for the Vikings even though they have the worst pass offense in the league. But, because they do not have the dual threat of a balanced run and pass offense, the Vikings won’t survive even if they make the playoffs. Peterson will do his part but can Ponder do his part in the offense to make the playoffs? If he continues like he has this season, then the Vikings will fall short of the playoffs.
-Larson: “Go Adrian Go” will be the Viking battle cry the rest of the way, starting this week at St. Louis, a game Minnesota could lose. As impressive as Peterson’s efforts have been, the Vikings won’t reach the playoffs if their passing game continues to flounder.
•Question: The Minnesota Twins added to their pitching prospects last week by trading outfielder Ben Revere to the Philadelphia Phillies for starter Vance Worley and potential starter Trevor May. Worley, 6-9 with a 4.20 ERA last year but 11-3 with a 3.01 ERA in 2011, is expected to move right into Minnesota’s rotation while May was 10-13 with a 4.87 ERA pitching in Class AA last year. Worley is 25 while May is 23. The Twins also picked up Ryan Pressly, 23, in the Rule 5 draft. Pressly was 7-5 last year in Class AA with a 5.38 ERA but finished the season with good performances in the bullpen. Many thought Revere would be the Twins’ center fielder after the team traded veteran Denard Span to Washington a week earlier for a touted pitching prospect. What do you think of general manager Terry Ryan’s moves and were you surprised that Revere was traded?
-Dorr: I think everyone was surprised that Revere was traded a few days after Span was traded, thus handing the center field job to Revere, or so we all thought. Span is probably more of a loss than Revere but an old axiom of baseball is that corner outfielders are hard to come by, while center fielders are easier to obtain. Who bats where in the order may be more of a problem. It sounds as though the Twins plan to fill the center field position from within. And, if that happens, there will likely be a rotation of sorts in center field. Getting the pitching that the Twins did was important, although two of the pitchers are minor leaguers who we’re told have that dreaded word “potential.” I don’t think Ryan is done yet, although he doesn’t have much talent with which to make a trade. I’m OK with the moves so far but more is needed and we’re told he has about $20 million to do so.
-Marxhausen: Terry Ryan is really shaking up the organization right now to solve the pitching problem the Twins are facing. The Twins did not have a lot of trade value on their team besides potentially good players like Ben Revere. Revere has established his quickness and speed as well as his great defensive work. Teams can overlook his inconsistent bat if the he has the ability to improve at such a young age and Revere has a lot of potential to grow as a professional. Ryan is looking for the future, but not the immediate future. Next season is going to look tough, but with better and more experienced pitching, closer games will be winnable. As tough as it is to hear, Ryan relies on the draft and their farm system to develop players and will improve as the year’s progress.
-Larson: I’m OK with trading Revere. Worley could help right away. It looks as though Ryan is adding as many bodies as he can but whether they can make a difference in 2013 and 2014 is doubtful.
•Question: Texas A&M freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel was awarded the Heisman Trophy Saturday, beating out Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o and Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein. Manziel became the first freshman to receive the Heisman Trophy. Who would you have voted for and do you think we’ll see a defensive player win the honor anytime soon?
-Dorr: I would have voted for Klein, the player I have seen the most of the three. I have yet to see Manziel play but I find it hard to think that a freshman should have gotten the award, an award I used to pay a lot of attention to but now don’t follow much. I saw Notre Dame play two or three times, for a few plays, this fall and didn’t notice Te’o, although he’s gotten lots of publicity. I suppose a defensive player could win. I remember when Alan Page of the Vikings was named the NFL’s most valuable player and it caused quite a stir.
-Marxhausen: Both Manziel and Te’o had great resumes coming into the Heisman watch. Manziel came in as a freshman and threw for 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns with only 8 interceptions, but also ran for 1,181 yards and 19 touchdowns. Not to mention he beat then No. 1 Alabama on the road in a monumental victory for the Aggies. Te’o had a very legitimate case to win the Heisman. Although Charles Woodson won the Heisman in 1997, he was used on special teams as a punt returner and he played offense as a tailback and receiver. Notre Dame finished undefeated with Te’o accumulating 101 tackles and seven interceptions. If Manziel did not have the great offensive year that he had, Te’o would have been the unanimous choice as Heisman winner. It is possible to see a defensive player win the Heisman as we have seen the in past, but with offense primarily looked at, it is tough to make a case at times. South Carolina has defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who is a monster on the defensive line and tallied 13 sacks, 21.5 tackles for a loss and 50 tackles. He will be in the running next season if he progresses at his young age.
-Larson: Halfway through the season it looked like Klein would receive the Heisman Trophy. Then Manziel caught fire. Kansas State’s late-season loss to Baylor (52-24) moved Klein out of the running while Texas A&M’s stunning victory (29-24 AT Alabama) behind Manziel’s performance made “Johnny Football” the odds-on favorite. Those who felt Te’o should have won can make a good case for that.
I don’t see a defensive player winning the Heisman in the near future. A defensive back who has a lot of interceptions and returns kickoffs and punts would be the most likely candidate.
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