Breaking down the tape from the Vikings' loss to the Colts
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Here's the tale of the tape from the Minnesota Vikings' 23-20 loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, with grades on a scale of 0 to 5 in parentheses:
Christian Ponder (70 snaps) mostly was wise with the football on a day his receivers never seemed to be open. But his efficient line -- 27-of-35 passing (77.1%) for 245 yards, two touchdowns and a 114.6 rating -- would have looked a whole lot worse had the Colts exploited two of his worst decisions in the fourth quarter. MLB Kavell Conner dropped an interception around the Vikings' 35-yard line when Ponder tried to force a slant, rather than throwing to the open man in the flat. And the twice-tipped touchdown pass that kept the game alive on fourth-and-4 might have been an interception for WLB Jerrell Freeman had DE Cory Redding not redirected it at the line. In both cases, Ponder's intended receiver was surrounded and he never saw the linebacker jumping in front. Better defenses will make him pay for those. That only eight of his 39 throws (20.5%, including those wiped out by penalties) were targeted at least 14 yards downfield is a reflection not only of the trouble receivers had getting open, but the way protection broke down on numerous occasions. Not including two plays against the Colts' prevent defense in the final seconds, 10 of Ponder's 26 completions (38.5%) were caught behind the line of scrimmage and only four (15.4%) were caught at least 7 yards beyond it. Ponder bore partial responsibility for two of the four sacks, holding the ball for 5.5 and 5.6 seconds, respectively. The one that yielded his lost fumble was a protection breakdown that let two men through. Three scrambles netted only 7 yards (2.3 average). A third-down misfire before the half was more a timing issue than anything. Another third-down miss could have been placed better. Ponder otherwise was quite accurate, displaying touch to the boundaries and completing several off-balance passes, including the last touchdown. He sure would benefit from having even one more receiver capable of winning one-on-one.
Running backs (1½)
The cuts HB Adrian Peterson (44 snaps) made on third-and-1 early were probably his best since undergoing left knee reconstruction in December. But that 6-yard run was his longest on a day the Vikings largely got away from the run after halftime. Peterson finished with 60 yards on 16 carries (3.8 average), plus three receptions for 20 yards -- all of it on an arrow route against Freeman that converted on third-and-9 late. Peterson's burst still isn't totally there, but he didn't have a ton of room to work with either. If the Colts' new 3-4 front gave the Vikings trouble, imagine what San Francisco's will do. HB Toby Gerhart (24) was a bit player again, carrying five times for 15 yards (3.0 average) and taking two screens for 17. He's a steamroller when he gets in the open field. He seems to be pressing with some of his reads, though -- maybe because he's never sure when he'll touch the ball again. FB Jerome Felton (25) dropped out at one point with an apparently minor leg injury and wasn't nearly as effective as he was in the opener. He did get his man on the ground on a sweep that went for 20. Numerous other times, Felton just didn't finish. RB Matt Asiata (one) wasn't a factor.
It's no surprise Percy Harvin (54 snaps) accounted for almost all of this group's production. The Colts have so little respect for Michael Jenkins (63), Devin Aromashodu (30) and Stephen Burton (13) they doubled Harvin most of the day and almost perpetually lined up one safety about 8 yards off the line to help against the run, knowing they'd have time to shift into a two-deep look after the snap. Harvin did his damage anyway, catching 12 passes for 104 yards and gaining 20 yards on one of his two carries. (The other was actually a swing pass that traveled backwards and was snuffed out by FS Antoine Bethea for a 7-yard loss.) Harvin lined up in the backfield only three times but gave the run game a boost by holding the backside end with fake reverse action. The only real downfield shot Ponder took to Harvin was a post that yielded an offensive pass interference call, even though Bethea initiated the contact before looking for the ball. Six of Harvin's catches went for first downs, and CB Justin King grabbed him in the end zone for a seventh that set up the Vikings' last touchdown. He was fighting cramps for most of the second half. Jenkins caught five passes for 43 yards but couldn't pull down a fade to the pylon that RCB Jerraud Powers jarred loose late. He mostly blocked well. So did Aromashodu, who caught just one of three passes thrown his way for 19 yards. Burton's first NFL touchdown was gift-wrapped by the double tip. At least he stayed with the play. It's just tough to win in the NFL if you don't complete a pass longer than 20 yards. Jerome Simpson's suspension can't end soon enough.
Tight ends (1½)
OC Bill Musgrave's two-tight attack still hasn't come to fruition. Kyle Rudolph (70 snaps) never came off the field but was targeted only five times, catching three for 35 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown on a stutter route against Freeman late. He played 18 snaps detached from the formation, five in the backfield and the rest (67.1%) inline. At least one play was designed to hit Rudolph up the seam off a deep play-action fake, but the protection broke down too quickly. He dropped another pass that was tipped slightly on third down, got lucky Burton caught the touchdown after King jarred it from his hands and scuffled again in the blocking phase. On one run play gone nowhere, there was clear confusion between Rudolph and John Carlson (18), who is still trying to make up for time lost to a knee injury in camp. Carlson appeared to come open a couple times on short routes, but Ponder never threw his way. Rookie Rhett Ellison (eight) isn't getting enough movement at the point to justify more time. So far, this looks like last year -- a lot of talk about opportunities, with little to show for it.
Offensive linemen (2)
This isn't the way for RT Phil Loadholt (70 snaps) to earn a new contract. He hemorrhaged eight QB pressures, was called for two penalties (illegal formation, holding) and didn't have his best day in the run phase either. DT Fili Moala beat him with a slow spin move, allowing SLB Robert Mathis to sack Ponder in 2.9 seconds after getting the edge on LT Matt Kalil (70). Later, Redding threw Loadholt, forcing Ponder to break the pocket and scramble into a zero-yard sack. On the next play, the Colts were confused and had no players in a three-point stance -- which in turn confused the Vikings' protection. LG Charlie Johnson (70) missed Redding and Freeman came through untouched to strip Ponder in 3.1 seconds. Rush LB Jerry Hughes bulled Kalil to send Ponder scrambling into the other sack. Kalil otherwise held up well in protection but was up and down in the run game, faring better in space than at the point of attack, and took a ridiculous personal foul for blindsiding NT Martin Tevaseu after a play. The rookie will pay for that one. Johnson took a holding penalty. RG Brandon Fusco (70) wasn't as consistent in the run game, particularly at the second level, and Moala batted him aside for a pressure. The Vikings can live with that performance, though. C John Sullivan (70) held up pretty well on a bad ankle, though he did have some trouble with big NT Antonio Johnson and missed WLB Moise Fokou on a red-zone run to Peterson that lost a yard. The Colts rushed five or more 12 times in Ponder's 43 dropbacks (27.9%), while the Vikings used chips or extra protectors 17 times (39.5%). It sure doesn't get easier the next two weeks.
Defensive linemen (2½)
It was a day of near-misses for RE Jared Allen (65 snaps), who pressured Colts QB Andrew Luck six times but got the rookie on the ground only once -- out of bounds, drawing a personal foul that extended a drive. Allen didn't like the call, but he's smarter than that. LT Anthony Castonzo clubbed down Allen on the game's second play and didn't get much help in protection -- no surprise, since he was the only starting offensive lineman still standing at his normal position when it was over. Allen batted down one third-down pass, drew a holding penalty and was a mixed bag in the run game. The two snaps he sat out after the penalty were the only ones he missed all day. LE Brian Robison (62) didn't come out much either, saw plenty of double teams while working against backup RT Jeff Linkenbach, hit Luck's arm to thwart a third-down pass and set up the line's only sack with one of his three pressures. Wrapping up Luck in the end zone could have been a game-changer. Robison was awfully stout in the run game. So was UT Kevin Williams (49), who kept muddying things in the backfield by splitting double teams like the old days. He drew a holding penalty on LG Seth Olsen and notched four pressures, including the hit a split-second after Luck released his second touchdown pass. He got away with two apparent penalties in the first three plays, grabbing HB Donald Brown's facemask and whacking Luck in the head. DL Everson Griffen (36) got turns inside and out, finished off the sack in 4.9 seconds for a 22-yard loss, got another pressure with a wicked spin move on Olsen and knocked out C Samson Satele (knee) with his push on a run play. Taking an offsides penalty on the Colts' last non-spike snap was inexcusable, even if the Colts cost themselves 2 yards by accepting. NT Letroy Guion (31) mostly blended, save for his zone drop in the vicinity of TE Dwayne Allen's 3-yard TD catch. Is that really a call that's ever going to pay dividends? NT Fred Evans (eight) and DT Christian Ballard (13) each jumped offsides on his first snap. That's not a good way to get more turns. Evans did blow up one run against RG Trai Essex. DL D'Aundre Reed (four) got limited nickel rush opportunities.
If not for letting WR Reggie Wayne's 30-yard touchdown, this would have qualified as a banner day for WLB Erin Henderson (57 snaps), who was in on 13 tackles (three for loss) and followed Reed on a blitz to sack Luck in 2.4 seconds. He shed Satele for a stop on the Colts' first play and was rolling from there in the run game, where Indianapolis averaged only 2.8 yards on 30 carries. He beat Castonzo inside to derail Dwayne Allen's dive on third-and-1 in the red zone, too. Henderson's instincts have a habit of biting him at bad times, though, and that appeared to be the case on Wayne's score. He had decent depth on his Tampa-2 drop but hesitated long enough at the top for Wayne to fly past. Henderson also got juked at the sticks by Luck early and missed a couple snaps with an elbow issue late. LB Tyrone McKenzie (two) filled in with the base defense and MLB Jasper Brinkley (27) in the nickel. Brinkley's most notable contribution was baiting Allen into a personal foul for ripping off his helmet. He forced Brown to cut on first-and-goal into the arms of SLB Chad Greenway (67), who was in on 11 tackles, registered three pressures and almost got a sack by running over RB Vick Ballard on one of the four-man zone pressures DC Alan Williams mixed in along with 10 extra-man rushes in Luck's 33 dropbacks (30.3%). The Colts helped the undermanned line with chips or extra blockers 19 times (57.6%). Greenway nearly dropped Brown for a safety and might have gotten away with illegal contact on Moore's third-down wheel route. Defenders seemed to get the benefit of the doubt on those plays all day.
Defensive backs (1½)
For the second straight week, a young quarterback put a lot of balls in the air and the Vikings couldn't come up with a single takeaway. CB Antoine Winfield (67 snaps) was close once, jumping an in-breaking route by WR Kris Adams -- which would have made up for WR Donnie Avery beating him for 41 on a post-corner route early. Winfield stumbled on that play, but putting him in a deep footrace in man coverage generally isn't a good idea. The other five balls thrown Winfield's way yielded three completions for just 6 yards. He was his usual slashing self in the run game and got in on nine tackles, including one for loss when he sniffed out a bubble screen to Avery. CB Chris Cook (67) had decent coverage on a third-down slant to Avery for 8 and didn't really break on the first of Luck's consecutive 20-yard completions late. CB Josh Robinson (40) needed to make a play on the other, but he wasn't within 5 yards when Wayne pulled it in. Avery caught the slant for 7 against Robinson on the next play, which the Colts wiped out by accepting Griffen's penalty. The Vikings unveiled a dime package with CB Marcus Sherels (eight) as the extra slot man to combat the Colts' spread. It mostly was successful, with Luck completing 2 of 6 passes for 20 yards -- the long a bubble screen to WR T.Y. Hilton for 15 in front of Sherels -- and taking a sack. FS Harrison Smith (67) hesitated on Wayne's touchdown, too, but it's Henderson's play to make and SS Mistral Raymond (63) probably was closer anyway. Smith was the nearest man on three completions for 34 yards, got in on nine tackles and had his blitz upended by Moore on the Wayne catch late, giving Luck 2.6 seconds to get the ball out. That rush needs to get home. Smith or Raymond was down on 32 snaps (47.8%) as the Vikings continued to mix in single-high looks liberally. Raymond continues to look overwhelmed when someone comes at him with a head of steam. Dropping out because of dehydration followed a pattern and gave some work to S Jamarca Sanford (four).
PK Blair Walsh continues to get the job done -- hitting 51- and 29-yard field goals, plus two extra points, and putting four of his five kickoffs through the end zone. What a weapon. The kickoffs averaged 4.08 seconds of hang time, including 4.2 on the one Hilton took out from 3 yards deep and only reached the 16. P Chris Kluwe uncorked a couple of low liners with no repercussions -- 48.0 gross, 45.3 net, 4.25 seconds of hang time, only one return for 11 yards. He corralled one wayward snap by LS Cullen Loeffler, who otherwise was fine. The roughing the kicker penalty was close but appeared correct -- Andrew Sendejo's left shoulder pad clipped P Pat McAfee's left knee was McAfee was in the air. That'll usually get called, with or without the hard sell. Ballard's block in the back appeared borderline. Sanford beat Joe Lefeged off the line to down one punt at the 2 and had a tackle. Harvin picked up good blocks by Asiata and Ellison on his 50-yard kickoff return and took another for 28. Sherels made a poor decision to bring out another from 8 yards deep and got tackled at the 15, setting the stage for the Colts to get the ball back and score before the half. He just doesn't seem to know where he is sometimes. He also muffed one of the five punts he returned for a 10.2-yard average. Larry Dean was right to question officials after they blew dead a punt that was still rolling. Does it get simpler than that?