Breaking down the tape from the Vikings' loss to the Packers
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Here's the tale of the tape from the Minnesota Vikings' 45-7 loss to the Green Bay Packers, with grades on a scale of 0 to 5 in parentheses:
Packers DC Dom Capers pulled out all the stops to chase and confuse QB Christian Ponder (62 snaps), who looked truly flustered at times for the first time in his young career. Using 11 different combinations of blitzers and mixing man and zone coverage behind them, Capers sent 28 patterns (rushes involving inside linebackers or defensive backs) in Ponder's 36 dropbacks (77.8%), including the last nine in a row despite leading by 30-plus. MLB Desmond Bishop blitzed most frequently (13 times), followed by CB Charles Woodson (seven), BLB A.J. Hawk (seven), subpackage CB Jarrett Bush (six), FS Morgan Burnett (three) and CB Tramon Williams (one). The result was three sacks, 17 total QB pressures, three passes batted at the line and a 16-of-34 passing line (47.1%) that could have been worse if Ponder hadn't stuck several tough throws into traffic. A flat-footed strike up the seam for 33 on third-and-4 was as good as it got. Ponder made one terrible decision, turning a flea-flicker into an interception for Williams even though the Packers had the right defense to defend it. Woodson missed chances for two more interceptions -- one on a late crossing throw, the other when two players collided in pattern. A fumble caused by LOLB Clay Matthews' sack was recovered by a teammate. Ponder scrambled twice for 17 yards. It seemed like Capers was in the Vikings huddle with the way the Packers kept taking away bootlegs, screens and other manufactured plays. One of Ponder's three "explosive" completions and 38 of his 190 passing yards (20%) came on the final drive, after Green Bay had pulled several starters. The rookie has long way to go, but don't they all? Joe Webb (three) took a counter option for 6 yards on his lone snap under center and played two snaps at receiver, catching his first NFL pass for 9 yards on a long drag against Woodson on third-and-18.
Running backs (1½)
Staked to an early lead that forced the Vikings to play catch-up, Capers didn't have to worry as much about stopping HB Adrian Peterson (39 snaps), who carried 10 times for 46 yards (4.6 average) over the first five drives and four times for 5 yards (1.3 average) in six drives thereafter. Green Bay still played mostly single-safety coverage, dropping one into the box 32 times (51.6%). The Vikings caught them in a blitz once, opening a huge hole Peterson ran through for 13 yards on a lead draw play. But Woodson's slot blitzes disrupted the run game at times, too -- he dropped Peterson for a 6-yard loss on a zone-right run that never had a prayer. A similar play out of the same personnel group yielded an easy 3-yard touchdown run. The only pass thrown Peterson's way was a shovel he couldn't handle as Bishop drilled him. Ten chances at blitz pickup yielded a piece of a sack, two additional QB hits and four total pressures. Peterson can do better than that. Falling on Ponder's fumble made up for his failure to get a piece of Matthews after FB Ryan D'Imperio (eight) blocked air. So much for getting HB Toby Gerhart (seven) more involved. He saw the field four times before garbage time, and his only carry was wiped out by a penalty. HB Lorenzo Booker (10) closed things down, carrying twice for 12 yards, catching a pass for 9 and allowing one QB pressure in the fourth quarter. D'Imperio led OK in limited chances.
The Vikings' inability to get separation on the perimeter has never been more glaring. Devin Aromashodu (50 snaps) isn't a threat deep -- or anywhere else for that matter. Of five balls thrown his direction, Aromashodu had a clean chance to catch only one, and he couldn't keep his feet in bounds on the out-breaking route against subpackage CB Sam Shields. The flea-flicker was covered, a go route against Williams had no chance and two other balls were throwaways. Michael Jenkins (58) wasn't a whole lot better, although he did stop on Williams for a 19-yard catch early and added receptions of 8 and 22 yards on consecutive plays in the third quarter. At least Aromashodu sustains his blocks in the run game. Neither was any help in the scramble drill. Percy Harvin (32) has had better days, too. He had a team-high six receptions for 53 yards (8.7 average), including a throw to the flat he took for 8 on third-and-4, spinning out Woodson in the process. But Harvin also got caught shoving Williams in the back, wiping out a 32-yard gain, and tackled ROLB Erik Walden to draw a holding penalty. Harvin destroyed Woodson's tackle attempt on one of his three carries for 18 yards (6.0 average). He slipped on another that lost 1. One series ended with Harvin limping on the sideline -- a too-common occurrence as OC Bill Musgrave continues to devise ways to get the ball in his hands. Did the self-scout during the bye week really suggest Greg Camarillo (22) needed more snaps in the backfield? He played five there, had one blocking lapse and didn't catch any of the three balls thrown his way.
Tight ends (1½)
Visanthe Shiancoe (40 snaps) can't seem to catch a break. He split Burnett and SS Charlie Peprah up the seam for 33 on the third down early, then wasn't heard from again. Walden probably got away with holding him on the first of the Vikings' nine failed third-down attempts (in 14 chances, 35.7%). Another almost got picked off when Ponder threw late and behind on the shallow cross. Then there was the fourth-and-9 play on which Shiancoe and Jenkins collided -- one of several alarming confusions in pattern for a team coming off a bye. Woodson would have had a pick-six on that one if he hadn't tried to run before catching it. There's no questioning whether Shiancoe is competing, even if his sustain sometimes is subpar in the run game. A one-handed grab over Bishop only confirmed Kyle Rudolph (23) has an elite catch radius. The question is, can the rookie get separation consistently enough to be a factor week-in and week-out? Three receptions (for 37 yards) matched a career high. His blocking continues to improve, but he's still giving enough ground to stronger players that he can't be an every-down inline player yet. Jimmy Kleinsasser (18) continues see his snaps cut. He ate Walden's lunch a couple of times at the edge and took a holding penalty when Bush beat him with a slot blitz.
Offensive linemen (1½)
Matthews proved again that active, movement-type rushers are kryptonite for RT Phil Loadholt, who had a hand in two sacks and four total QB pressures. The first sack was a straight speed rush, with Matthews chasing down Ponder in 3.2 seconds. The second was an overload blitz that confused the protection, with Peterson getting caught behind Loadholt as Bishop and Williams sandwiched Ponder in 3.1 seconds. There were several times it appeared Loadholt could have picked up an outside blitz, too, but that depends on the call. He just looked sort of lost. The rest of the line actually held up OK. LT Charlie Johnson probably played his best all-around game. He could have gotten a better piece of Bishop on the flea-flicker and allowed one other QB pressure. LG Steve Hutchinson and C John Sullivan didn't allow any pressure and neutralized Packers NT B.J. Raji, who played 42 snaps and didn't even get in on a tackle. This probably was Hutchinson's best game, too. RG Joe Berger got bulled once by DE C.J. Wilson for a pressure and continued to hold up well in the run game. Musgrave used chips or extra protectors on 25 of Ponder's dropbacks (69.4%), but five blitzers who got home had free runs.
Defensive linemen (2)
Has anyone seen LE Brian Robison (55 snaps)? No sacks in four games is one thing, but RT Bryan Bulaga eliminated Robison all day, allowing a lone QB pressure on an inside move and winning in the run game, too. Maybe DL Everson Griffen (20) would be getting more snaps there already if he could stay onside. He took two neutral-zone infractions and had a third penalty declined late. Coaches love Griffen's motor, but he can be overly aggressive at times. RE Jared Allen (63) had five QB pressures -- four of them against LT Marshall Newhouse -- and a hand in all three sacks, although he only was credited with one. He fell on QB Aaron Rodgers after a fumble on the Packers' first play for what was scored a team sack. (The Vikings likely will request the NFL review the decision.) He finished off another sack after UT Kevin Williams (59) hit Rodgers in 2.8 seconds and later got the first piece of Rodgers in 2.4 seconds against LG T.J. Lang. Allen continues to fight in the run game, too -- he was in on seven tackles, including six solo and three for loss. Williams had four QB pressures, probably deserved half of Allen's sack and mostly held up OK in the run game. If starting DL Christian Ballard (31) was strictly a game-plan decision, why didn't NT Remi Ayodele (five) get on the field until there were 10 minutes, 30 seconds to go? Ballard held his own against RG Josh Sitton and C Scott Wells, spinning down HB James Starks for a 4-yard loss on one of his three tackles (two solo). The rookie also had as many pressures against Bulaga as Robison, but backup QB Matt Flynn escaped for a 3-yard touchdown. NT Fred Evans (14) had three solo tackles but let Starks drag him 8 yards on one of them. DT Letroy Guion (25) had one and got run over once by Starks, who had 63 of his team's 90 rushing yards on a day the Packers averaged 3.5 yards on 22 designed runs.
The Vikings spent the entire first quarter and 46 of 68 snaps overall (67.6%) in subpackage defense. That benched MLB E.J. Henderson (33 snaps) until coaches decided to let him rotate into the nickel defense. He responded OK, showing a little more burst than he has since the knee started acting up while making four solo stops. He couldn't scrape on Starks' 15-yard run. FB John Kuhn got him on the ground on a checkdown HB Ryan Grant took for 17. SLB Chad Greenway (68) is just so average right now. He led the Vikings with eight tackles (seven solo) but wasn't defeating blocks, didn't get home on any of his four blitzes and gave the Packers a late first down with a neutral-zone infraction. It's almost as if he's becoming tentative. Six of the 11 blitzes DC Fred Pagac sent in 38 dropbacks (28.9%) involved WLB Erin Henderson (48), who got home twice and had a coverage sack in 3.5 seconds wiped out by a penalty. He took the bulk of nickel mike snaps and blended in. OLB Kenny Onatolu (seven) finished out the game after Erin Henderson hurt a hamstring.
Defensive backs (½)
In any other situation, CB Cedric Griffin (68 snaps) might be out of a job, or at least out of the lineup. But the Vikings are so depleted in the secondary they're using a player who almost didn't make the roster as a shadow for the opponent's top receiver. The only mistake CB Asher Allen (58) made in his turns against WR Greg Jennings was a pass-interference penalty that cost the Vikings 20 yards on third-and-7. WR Donald Driver beat Allen for 22 yards on a back-shoulder play, a slant to Jennings was incomplete and WR Jordy Nelson got off Allen's jam for 12 on fourth-and-2. Begging for flags didn't do Allen any good. Returning from a four-game absence, CB Antoine Winfield (54) didn't play in the base defense initially, made five solo tackles and drew slot assignments against Jennings in nickel. He allowed five completions in seven targets, including a 31-yarder on a deep slant to TE Jermichael Finley, and departed with a season-ending clavicle injury. That probably means the Vikings will have to keep playing Griffin, who is painfully slow reacting to throws underneath his coverage. Rodgers threw at him five times and completed them all for 60 yards, including a one-step option route Nelson caught and embarrassed Griffin with a stiff-arm on his way to a 17-yard touchdown. Griffin stripped WR James Jones after another completion but the ball went out of bounds. The Vikings are so limited by their inability to hold up in even occasional man coverage. Then again, Rodgers also picked apart their zones while completing 23 of 30 passes (76.7%) for 250 yards, four touchdowns and a 140.3 rating. SS Jamarca Sanford (48) couldn't break soon enough on Jennings' 24-yard touchdown after Winfield released him and was the nearest man on the scramble play that ended in a 4-yard touchdown for Nelson. Sanford's press-man coverage wasn't bad on the perfectly thrown back-shoulder ball Rodgers completed to TE Jermichael Finley for 25 on fourth-and-5. An out to Nelson for 23 also was in Sanford's area. FS Husain Abdullah (30) gave up a 19-yard completion to WR Randall Cobb, made three solo tackles and departed at halftime with a concussion. That meant more work for Tyrell Johnson (47), who was in on four tackles (three solo) and got flagged for jamming Finley in the face on third-and-8. Rookie FS Mistral Raymond (13) would have finished the game in Sanford's place if he hadn't left with cramps. CB Marcus Sherels (two) handled the nickel after Winfield's exit. What a mess.
Not many 273-pound men can gun on punts. So, it's hard to put too much blame on Griffen for overpursuing the punt Cobb returned 80 yards for a momentum-grabbing touchdown. At least Griffen made Cobb cut sideways. P Chris Kluwe's 52-yard punt hung 4.3 seconds. Four players ended up on the ground, Sanford slipped in the hole, Onatolu missed an arm tackle at the 31 and Cobb was gone. Raymond was bearing down on Cobb when he muffed a punt later, and D'Imperio dived late into the pile for the recovery. If only Raymond hadn't lost contain on the ensuing kickoff, allowing Cobb to get to the sideline and run over Asher Allen to finish a 55-yard return. Evans' flinch wiped out PK Ryan Longwell's 47-yard field goal and Longwell came up short from 52 into the wind. That type of error is inexcusable. So is S Eric Frampton being offside on a kickoff. Kluwe grossed 43.8, netted 30.5 and averaged 4.27 seconds of hang time on six punts, three of them downed inside the 20. Sanford caught one on the fly at the 3. Longwell slipped on his re-kick after Frampton's penalty and averaged 3.2 seconds of hang time. Harvin was deep for the first kickoff and Booker for the rest, three of which he returned for an average of 16.7 yards. D'Imperio muffed a short kick and gained 6. Sherels averaged 6.5 yards on two punt returns.