Breaking down the tape from the Vikings' loss to the Bears
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Here's the tale of the tape from the Minnesota Vikings' 17-13 loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday, with grades on a scale of 0 to 5 in parentheses:
What a way for Christian Ponder (22 snaps) to go out. LE Israel Idonije chased down the rookie on a bootleg and slammed him onto the same hip that has been sore for a month. That makes two KOs and a benching in Ponder's last four starts -- not exactly a confidence booster for a player who often was beat up in college, too. At least he looked a little more confident standing in the pocket when he was on the field. A stationary dart for 11 yards on third-and-7 was on the money. But Ponder also missed low on one throw into the flat and behind on another, the latter leading to a tipped pick-six for CB Charles Tillman. He wobbled into a third-down sack in 3.8 seconds. He finished 4-of-10 passing for 28 yards and an 8.3 rating before giving way to backup Joe Webb (52), who started 7-of-8 passing for 93 yards and led a 71-yard drive for a field goal before the Bears figured him out. Idonije led the charge, staying at home time after time on bootlegs and counter action. MLB Brian Urlacher spent time on spy duty, occasionally green-dogging as the Bears rushed five or more 13 times on the day (38.2%). Two designed runs for loss left Webb with 2 yards on four carries. Fans roared each time Webb broke a couple of tackles in the backfield, but where did it get him? Only 10 of his last 24 passes (41.7%) were complete. A low throw to the flat led to an interception for LCB Tim Jennings. A high throw across the middle led to an interception CB D.J. Moore interception that ended it. The Vikings gained only six first downs while going scoreless in the second half. It's no surprise Webb's footwork is a mess when he's not getting any first-team reps during the week. Some of these problems are just fundamentals, though. The way Ponder's last pass bounced off his chest was a reminder why the Vikings are reluctant to use Webb at receiver. Two calls in the red zone -- a screen from Ponder on third-and-10, a sweep with Webb on third-and-4 -- and the on-and-off debacle on fourth-and-1 showed again that coaches have a long way to go before they trust either young quarterback to put the ball in the air when it counts.
Running backs (2½)
The Bears played single-safety looks on roughly half the snaps and kept dropping SS Craig Steltz into the box against HB Toby Gerhart (43 snaps), who had 67 yards on 15 carries (4.5 average) before dropping out with a knee injury. The blocking was almost perfect on the zone-left play he took for 24 yards early. Not so much on six carries (40%) that went for loss or no gain. The ball Tillman picked off in the flat was way behind him, but Gerhart still needs to make a better effort to catch it. He wasn't running particularly hard on the play either. The only other ball thrown his way went for a 3-yard gain. HB Lorenzo Booker (24) replaced Gerhart, lost 3 yards on two carries and caught three passes for 33 yards -- one Webb flipped on an extended play, the others underneath the Bears' soft zone on the final drive. That's probably it for him. FB Ryan D'Imperio (eight) hit his lead blocks in limited action. He could play with more power, though.
For the umpteenth time, Percy Harvin (56 snaps) was the one guy making plays. He turned the corner on an end-around for 13 yards. He cut back an inside-zone play for a 5-yard touchdown. He settled in the middle for a 17-yard catch. He ran the seam for gains of 21, 17 and 23 against zone coverage. He finished with 128 yards on 15 total touches, including 115 yards on 10 receptions (11.5 average) -- a number that would have been higher if not for all the misses to the flat. Harvin probably could have hauled in two of them, including the ball that ricocheted to Jennings, but he never should have had to go to the ground all day. It sure looked like Moore interfered with the corner that fell incomplete in the back of the end zone. The routes behind the line of scrimmage don't work as well against a disciplined, rallying defense. It's no surprise Devin Aromashodu (67) wasn't targeted until the Vikings' eighth drive, considering how much man-to-man defense the Bears were playing. Once Webb started extending plays, all Aromashodu had to do was settle in the zone to post 53 yards on three catches (17.7 average). Two "go" balls against Tillman yielded nothing, although Aromashodu appeared to have a step on the one Webb overthrew. He's replaceable. Greg Camarillo (34) ran a square-in against Tillman for a 9-yard gain on fourth-and-1 and otherwise was invisible. It just never worked out for him. Emmanuel Arceneaux (12) never gives up on a block. Steltz was too quick for him a couple of times, though.
Tight ends (1½)
Visanthe Shiancoe (40 snaps) spent all but one of the Vikings' last 10 plays on the sideline. His body language made it obvious he wasn't pleased. Tight ends coach Jimmie Johnson just shrugged, held up his hands and rolled on with Kyle Rudolph (55), whose increased action over the past three weeks once again didn't equate to much production (four targets, three catches, 15 yards). Dropping a drag to squash the opening series was a rare receiving mistake by the sure-handed rookie. Ponder's pass was a little behind, but that's a play Rudolph needs to make. He had a rough day blocking, too. Jennings beat him to disrupt an option keeper that lost 3 and RE Julius Peppers shoved him back to slow a kickout block on a toss to Gerhart for minus-1. Shiancoe wasn't even targeted on his way to a third straight game without a catch -- his longest drought since 2005. He also leaned into a false start and let Idonije beat him inside to drop Gerhart for a 5-yard loss. If this was the end, it was a bitter one. Kleinsasser (13) barely saw the field in his last NFL game. Good night and good luck.
Offensive linemen (1½)
Give RG Anthony Herrera credit for battling at less than 100%, but that's about it. He took a false start on the Vikings' second snap and it was downhill from here. Herrera gave up five QB pressures, including the initial rush to DL Henry Melton that led to the sack of Ponder. He allowed all sorts of penetration in the run game, too, with a hand in two runs for loss or no gain. The only time he looked comfortable was when he was riding C John Sullivan on combo blocks. Someone else should be in that spot next season. Sullivan was less consistent than usual. He worked over NT Matt Toeaina plenty, including on Gerhart's long run. He also failed twice to pick off linebackers on runs that went nowhere and took a questionable holding call against DT Amobi Okoye in pass protection. RT Phil Loadholt caved once against Idonije to erase a draw play, drove back FS Major Wright into the end zone on Harvin's touchdown, gave up two QB pressures and was OK overall. LT Charlie Johnson was clean for seven drives and then came unglued against Peppers, who got a piece of one sack in 3.1 seconds, would have had another if not for Webb's slippery hips and hit Webb one more time with a bull rush late. Johnson also gave up QB pressures to Melton and DE Chauncey Davis and missed nickel CB Corey Graham on the Webb sweep that lost 10. Good thing this was probably Johnson's last game at tackle. LG Joe Berger picked off Urlacher on Gerhart's long run, let WLB Lance Briggs into the backfield on an end-around to Harvin that lost 9 and mostly was solid in pass protection, surrendering one QB pressure. It's just tough to buy him as more than a three-position backup.
Defensive linemen (4)
RE Jared Allen (53 snaps) praised DC Fred Pagac for a game plan that got him within a half-sack of Michael Strahan's single-season record. In many ways, Pagac just did what teams have done to the Vikings all season -- play predominantly single-safety coverage and attack with man blitzes, daring a struggling quarterback with a mediocre line and depleted perimeter weapons to make plays down the field. Pagac sent extra-man blitz patterns 13 times in QB Josh McCown's 33 dropbacks (39.4%) and three of them stretched the protection to set up sacks for Allen, who used every move in his arsenal to ruin LT J'Marcus Webb's day. A straight speed rush yielded the first sack in 2.3 seconds, a powerful inside counter the second in 2.6 seconds and another speed rush the third in 2.4 seconds. Allen also got a piece of a fourth sack early with pure hustle, set up another with one of his three additional QB pressures and was disruptive in the run game. It's a pleasure to watch when he's rolling like this. The Bears triple-teamed Allen on one snap and only used a straight five-man protection eight times (24.4%). Allen did open the gate for McCown's 28-yard scramble, but that'll happen when you're selling out for the rush. LE Brian Robison (45) probably had his best game of the season on the other side. He double-moved RT Lance Louis for a strip-sack in 2.3 seconds, hit McCown three other times, finished with eight total pressures and drew a holding penalty. Failing to tackle HB Kahlil Bell on the late third-and-7 run was costly. UT Kevin Williams (52) came free on a long loop for a sack in 2.8 seconds, added two more QB pressures and destroyed a draw to HB Armando Allen that lost 4 yards. Even DT Letroy Guion (35) -- a de facto starter with NTs Remi Ayodele (13) and Fred Evans (11) afterthoughts in the rotation -- got into the act, hitting McCown once to force an incompletion and hustling to recover an early fumble. He just wasn't what the Vikings hoped he'd be in a contract year. DL Christian Ballard (14) had two solo tackles in limited action. The Vikings didn't use their 3-3 nickel package, so DL Everson Griffen (nine) was mostly a bystander.
At least MLB E.J. Henderson (54 snaps) finished strong. The last game of a season marred by knee trouble and struggles in space was vintage -- seven tackles (six solo), two forced fumbles the Vikings recovered and a downhill mentality for shooting gaps all day. He did miss two tackles and wasn't asked to do much in coverage, but if he's in the NFL next season, it's as a two-down guy anyway. Pagac blitzed Henderson and SLB Chad Greenway (58) six times each. Greenway slipped HB Kahlil Bell's pickup for a sack in 3.2 seconds after Allen's edge rush compressed the pocket, hit McCown again later and got in on eight tackles (six solo). An apparent protection miscue left WLB Erin Henderson (15) unblocked off the edge for the sack he shared with Allen in 2.6 seconds. The market for his services is one of the many unknowns entering this offseason.
Defensive backs (2½)
A diving interception by CB Cedric Griffin (58 snaps) capped a surprisingly serviceable day in man-to-man coverage for the Vikings, whose biggest miscue came from one last zone breakdown. It appeared they were playing Cover-3 on WR Roy Williams' 22-yard touchdown, meaning CB Asher Allen (58) needed to flip his hips and run while FS Mistral Raymond (58) covered the flat. Instead, Allen played the out like a banjo and Raymond was flat-footed as Williams ran by. Miscommunication plagued them all season. McCown completed 15-of-25 passes for 160 yards but only four to receivers -- two for 13 yards against Griffin, two for 31 against Allen -- when the Vikings were in man. Allen also took a holding penalty against Williams that was declined and didn't play as well as Griffin, who actually might have something left if he does what he's told. He sure doesn't seem to have any interest in doing it in Minnesota, though. CB Benny Sapp (43) took all the nickel and was OK. CB Marcus Sherels (four) was the dime. The Vikings appeared to use single-safety concepts on a remarkable 37 of 57 non-kneeldown snaps (64.9%), with SS Jamarca Sanford spending substantial time at the line of scrimmage and Raymond in coverage. Sanford almost had two interceptions, snatched Bell's fumble near the sideline and got in on four tackles (two solo) in his most productive performance all season. Raymond had one solo tackle and three assists. This group should look a whole lot different come September.
Mike Priefer's head might have exploded if the Vikings hadn't done such a fantastic job bottling up Devin Hester, who averaged 2.0 yards on two punt returns and just 11.0 yards on two kick returns. Griffen drilled Hester on a fair catch for a 15-yard penalty, then was offside on the Vikings' first kickoff -- wiping out FS Eric Frampton's tackle of Hester at the Bears 3-yard line. Even coach Leslie Frazier was fired up after that one. The place-kicking operation was a mess, too, thanks in part to LS Matt Katula's continued struggles. His snap was a little wide on the 48-yard attempt Peppers blocked -- the ball still appeared to be moving as PK Ryan Longwell kicked it -- and P Chris Kluwe was lucky just to catch the high, inside snap on what would have been a 41-yard attempt late. Kluwe couldn't get the ball down, and Longwell ended up getting popped after picking it up. Longwell hit two field-goal attempts from 26 yards and his only extra-point attempt. He had one touchback in five kickoffs (including the one called back on Griffen's penalty) and averaged 3.86 seconds of hang time. Kluwe grossed 46.0, netted 45.3 and averaged 4.52 seconds of hang time on six punts, with two inside the 20. Sherels averaged 29.0 yards on two kick returns and didn't return a punt. Even with one wiped out, Frampton had two tackles.