Opinion: Culpepper Still Struggling

If Daunte Culpepper continues to struggle and lead the league in turnovers, it is high time the Vikings insert Todd Bouman so they can evaluate his future, too.

Two weeks ago, the Vikings and Daunte Culpepper appeared to right their ship by upsetting the Packers at the Metrodome. Much was made of the turnaround by the young quarterback, even though he had three turnovers in the game. He followed that against New England with a fumble on a play where he was never touched and some other costly mistakes. Let's look at the last two games for him and how his struggles have hurt the team.

Against Green Bay, Culpepper started well, throwing two touchdown passes early in the game. But at the end of the game he had completed only half of his passes, had two fumbles and threw two interceptions. One of the interceptions was on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half and didn't hurt the team; his second fumble was recovered by the Vikes and also didn't hurt the team. Nonetheless, he fumbled on two straight possessions in the third quarter, the first on third-and-and goal after the defense had given the Vikes the ball on the Packers 5-yard line, and the second on the ensuing drive when the defense held the Packers and set the Vikes up near midfield. The goal-line fumble was puzzling, as he fell on the ball and seemed like he had possession, but he never really controlled the ball. He also forced a pass to Randy Moss that could have been intercepted by two defenders; they both had a better shot at the ball than Moss.

Against the Patriots, the Vikings had an impressive drive to open the game but didn't score (how many times have you seen that this year?). Culpepper committed a costly intentional grounding penalty on the drive that pushed the team back into a long field goal attempt that was missed. Later, down 14-0, he scrambled on third-and-20 deep in his own territory and fumbled the ball away without being hit. The Patriots quickly scored to go up by 21 points. After that, he had Moss wide open on a deep pass play and missed him badly. Despite dominating the second half of the game with their no-huddle offense, the Vikings lost because of three turnovers (to be fair, only one by Daunte) and several missed opportunities.

I am not against Culpepper. I hope he turns his career around. Right now, though, he has turned the ball over more than any quarterback in the league, and doesn't seem to be slowing down in giving the ball away. Jimmy Johnson said on Fox recently that Culpepper is surrounded by a bad team and they are dragging him down, an opinion seemingly shared by some football analysts. I really have to wonder if these people watch Vikings games. The Vikings lead the league in rushing and lead the NFC in offensive yardage. They have an outstanding young running back in Michael Bennett, a Pro Bowl wide receiver in Randy Moss, a Pro Bowl center in Matt Birk and a Pro Bowl tight end in Byron Chamberlain. The offensive line has blocked very well in the running game and been respectable in pass protection. If this team had solid quarterback play, we would be talking about the chances of making the playoffs this year.

The Todd Bouman talk stopped after the Packers game, but I think it will come back. Watching Bouman play in his brief appearance three weeks ago brought some things to the surface. Bouman was decisive in his reads, and when receivers were covered he threw the ball where the receiver could still make a play. Culpepper holds the ball too long and doesn't give the receivers a chance to catch the ball in traffic. His deep throws have been well off the mark this year and he seems to have no touch on many of his throws. Most quarterbacks in the league manage to throw into tight coverage on occasion and throw it where their receiver can make a play, but Daunte hasn't been able to do this.

Is Bouman a true NFL starter? Who knows? One thing that is clear is that he's outplayed Culpepper when he's played over the last two seasons. But, since Culpepper is the "franchise" quarterback and Bouman was a late pick from a small school, the Vikings seem reluctant to find out if he is better than Culpepper or not. I don't understand why the Vikings are so afraid. Suppose Bouman comes in and outplays Daunte. The Vikings could decide which one they want to keep and trade the other one.

Recent history in the NFL has shown that you don't need a first-round draft pick at QB to win. The Vikings may have another Jeff Garcia or Kurt Warner sitting on their bench but are too stubborn to let the guy play in a season when their star QB is leading the league in turnovers. Unless the Vikings suddenly catch fire with Culpepper down the stretch, it is important that the team allows Bouman some time on the field to find out if he is a quality NFL starter or not. If they can't have a winning season, they need to at least evaluate the talent they have on the team.

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