Breaking down the tape from the Vikings' loss to the Raiders
Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports
Here's the tale of the tape from the Minnesota Vikings' 27-21 loss to the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, with grades on a scale of 0 to 5 in parentheses:
Christian Ponder was bound to have a day like this. The rookie completed 19 of 33 passes (57.6%) for 211 yards, including touchdowns of 26 yards on a throwback screen and 1 on a goal-line bootleg. But he seemed a beat behind at times, took five sacks and made three inexcusable decisions that turned into interceptions. FS Matt Giordano easily undercut a corner route Ponder tried to flatten out on third-and-5 from the Raiders' 21, costing the Vikings a field-goal attempt. DT Tommy Kelly caught the deflection when Ponder tried to throw across his body for a stationary receiver on first-and-10 from the Vikings' 20, setting up a Raiders field goal. CB Stanford Routt was in the right place when Ponder tried to strike at the pylon 5.7 seconds into the scramble drill from the Raiders' 5, costing the Vikings a fourth-and-goal try with about 8 minutes to play. None of those passes are going to be complete in the NFL, although it's tough to heap too much blame on Ponder for trying, given how rarely his receivers were beating Oakland's predominantly man coverage. His strike for 37 yards up the seam after the last pick was a positive sign. An out that went for 42 was a good read against combination coverage. Ponder missed an open receiver when the Raiders blew coverage on third-and-5 and almost threw a fourth pick with a late throw to the flat. Oakland started spying some after Ponder scrambled four times for 54 yards (13.5 average) in the first half. He still popped a 17-yarder late. At times, Ponder seemed to get off his spot too quickly, but that happens when you're under pressure 18 times in 45 designed pass plays (40%). One of the sacks was on Ponder for holding the ball all day. Three of the incompletions were drops. The Raiders rushed five or more on half of Ponder's dropbacks (11 of 22) over the first three quarters and 13 of 38 overall (34.2%). That'll keep happening until Ponder shows he can handle it -- and occasionally blow the top off.
Running backs (1½)
The Vikings' running game was hit-or-miss even before a high ankle sprain sent HB Adrian Peterson (16 snaps) to the locker room after six carries for 26 yards (4.3 average). Two of those carries went for negative yardage. Two others were "explosive" gains of 12 yards on draw plays -- the first for an untouched touchdown and the second ending with FS Michael Huff landing on Peterson's leg. HB Toby Gerhart (39) took Peterson's place and gained only 18 yards on seven carries (2.6 average). Take away Ponder's scrambles, and the Vikings averaged 3.6 yards on 18 designed run plays -- not good enough against the NFL's 31st-ranked defense in run efficiency, although it would be foolish to pin that all on the backs. Peterson probably should have gotten a piece of DT Desmond Bryant, who blasted Ponder for a sack in 1.5 seconds. Two plays later, Gerhart didn't block anyone as S Mike Mitchell got a free run -- the first of three pressures against him. A lone catch for 7 could have gone for more if Gerhart didn't run out of bounds. Wasn't he supposed to make up for his lack of wiggle with guts? HB Lorenzo Booker (two) still can't get on the field. FB Ryan D'Imperio (eight) worked the flat against MLB Rolando McClain for 6 on third-and-1, eliminated McClain on Peterson's score and didn't see the field again after OLB Quentin Groves pancaked his lead on first-and-goal late. DT Letroy Guion lined up at fullback on the last touchdown.
How much do the Raiders respect Percy Harvin (42 snaps)? On third-and-6, they played him in true bracket coverage, with Huff and SS Tyvon Branch both jamming Harvin at the line. That left CB Lito Sheppard playing underneath coverage against Devin Aromashodu (48), who snagged the out for his only catch, cut past Giordano and plodded for a 42-yard gain. Harvin accounted for half of the Vikings' catches by receivers (six for 73 yards), including the screen he took for a 26-yard score and a seam route from the backfield that went for 24 and might have gone the distance if Ponder hadn't underthrown it. Five carries went for only 21 yards (4.2 average), thanks to the holding penalty on Michael Jenkins (55) that wiped out a 35-yard score. It's no surprise Ponder tried to hit Harvin on the pivot route Branch broke up on fourth-and-8. Nobody else can make anything happen unless a zone turns them loose. Jenkins caught four of seven passes thrown his way for 30 yards, dropped another and drew a questionable pass-interference call on Sheppard. Aromashodu and Greg Camarillo (seven) each had a drop, too. Camarillo caught the other pass thrown to him for 4. Blocking was OK overall.
Tight ends (1½)
Visanthe Shiancoe (49 snaps) was practically invisible until Ponder hit him for 37 up the seam late. He absorbed a big hit after releasing to the flat for 5, couldn't stop Branch from batting down another throw the flat, gave up a pressure to OLB Kamerion Wimbley when he appeared to be releasing for a screen and took a false start. The use of chips or extra blockers on 20 of Ponder's 38 dropbacks (52.6%) limited opportunities in pattern to a degree. Jimmy Kleinsasser (26) got more time as the game went on, allowing OC Bill Musgrave to slide the line at times. He surrendered two pressures to Wimbley, played 14 snaps (53.8%) in the backfield and had the only pass thrown his way deflected. Kyle Rudolph (27) couldn't turn his first catch upfield at the sticks, drew a strange personal foul call on OLB Aaron Curry after his second, wiped out a 15-yard catch with an illegal shift and feigned a backside cutoff block to come free for a 1-yard score.
Offensive linemen (1)
One week after having his best game of the season, LG Steve Hutchinson probably had his worst. Bryant swam past him for a sack in 2.4 seconds and got a second QB pressure with a bull rush. DT Richard Seymour beat him for another hit on Ponder. Hutchinson was even worse in the run game, caving when tested with power and stumbling when asked to kick out or slip to the second level on zone plays. He had a hand in two runs for loss, taking a holding penalty against Wimbley on one of them. Hutchinson did set good blocks on the Peterson and Harvin touchdowns. Consistency just appears beyond him. LT Charlie Johnson took a step back, too. He false started on the first scrimmage play, surrendered four QB pressures, took a holding penalty that was declined and ruined two run plays, the latter on a draw to Harvin that lost 2 on third-and-3 when Wimbley beat him inside. At least Johnson hustled to stop Giordano after the first interception. So did RT Phil Loadholt, who played one of his better games, although he had a hand in two runs for loss as well. This was about as well as he can protect. Loadholt probably could have been called for the false start that was tagged on RG Joe Berger, who had all sorts of trouble in the worst of his four starts. Kelly ripped him for a sack in 3.0 seconds, set up another sack Sheppard finished off in 3.6 seconds with an outside rush and beat Berger outside again for a third hit on Ponder against max protection. That just can't happen. The mess everywhere else is distracting from C John Sullivan's breakthrough season. He once again stuck his combo blocks all day and had no trouble handling inside rushes. Don't look now, but he might be setting himself up for a contract extension.
Defensive linemen (2)
RE Jared Allen (71 snaps) was pedestrian and so was the Vikings' pass rush -- at least in the first half, when this group pressured Raiders QB Carson Palmer only once while he completed 11 of 14 passes (78.6%) for 109 yards, a touchdown and a 122.9 rating. In the second half, Palmer threw for only 55 yards on 6-of-9 passing, went fetal for a touch-sack by LE Brian Robison (66) in 3.0 seconds off a bootleg and stepped into UT Kevin Williams (65) for a coverage sack in 3.8 seconds. Allen saw a lot of chips, never even registered a pressure or solo tackle against LT Jared Veldheer and got steered wide by TE Kevin Boss on the lead play HB Michael Bush took for 28. He did contain well and held up fine on some zone drops. So did Robison, who had one legitimate QB pressure off a T-E game, got in on four tackles (two solo) and dived on the ball after DL Christian Ballard (19) stripped Bush late. As usual, NT Remi Ayodele (17) was quiet in his return to the starting lineup and NT Fred Evans (27) was inconsistent -- defeating backup LG Stephon Heyer's block to drop FB Marcel Reece for a 6-yard loss and hitting Palmer off a stunt on consecutive plays, then getting doubled to the ground several times. That didn't stop Williams from having a productive day against the run. He was in on eight tackles, including three solo stops for loss, and submarined the first of Palmer's two sneaks at the goal line. Williams just kept penetrating against every member of the Raiders' interior, getting busted once for defensive holding when he fell down with a fistful of RG Cooper Carlisle's jersey. The Vikings need his motor to run like this every week. Of course, it's tough to hand out too much credit on a day the Raiders rushed for 162 yards on 41 carries (4.0 average). Guion (12) took another offsides penalty. DE Everson Griffen (seven) hit Palmer once with a spin move against Veldheer and got in on two tackles (one solo) in limited action.
The Vikings' inability to get to Palmer in the first half was more confounding because DC Fred Pagac sent eight blitz patterns in Palmer's first 18 dropbacks (44.4%) -- seven of them involving MLB E.J. Henderson (71 snaps), who didn't get home until he shed Bush for a sack in 2.7 seconds late in the fourth quarter. SLB Chad Greenway (71) cleaned up for a coverage sack in 3.7 seconds early and WLB Kenny Onatolu beat Heyer once for a hit. That was it in the pass rush for this group on a day Pagac rushed more than four 13 times in Palmer's 29 dropbacks (44.8%). Greenway registered 15 tackles (seven solo) but also missed four, including a crucial one at the edge on an inside handoff Reece took for 20. He couldn't get enough depth to stop the deep slant to TE Brandon Myers for 21. He broke late and then overran the drag WR Darrius Heyward-Bey cut back for 9 on third-and-8. At least Greenway played with some energy. Henderson also had a little more juice in his return to a full-time role, making seven solo stops and two for loss. He's so good when he goes downhill with abandon, but can the knee withstand this kind of workload? Onatolu wasn't half-bad in his first meaningful NFL action on defense. He had one solo tackle and mostly took on Reece's leads well, although he looked tentative at times and got stood up on Bush's 2-yard touchdown run. He's lucky he got off the field in time to avoid a 12th-man penalty on third-and-4 out of a late timeout. It won't be a difficult choice to hand the job back to Erin Henderson once the hamstring's healthy.
Defensive backs (1½)
Considering their personnel shortages, it was surprising to see the Vikings play so much man coverage in the first half. CB Asher Allen (71) once again found himself in a shadow situation -- this time against WR Denarius Moore, who had only one catch for 14 yards in 56 snaps. Allen also took a holding penalty that was declined, misplayed an 11-yard touchdown on a pump-fade to third-string WR Chaz Schilens and let Heyward-Bey get the inside for 20. He's doing all he can, really. CB Cedric Griffin (71) played the other side, gave up three catches for 19 yards in four targets -- a 31-yard in to Heyward-Bey against outside-leveraged zone coverage was called back -- and took two penalties, for offsides and illegal contact. His tackle on third-and-8 forced a field-goal attempt and put Heyward on a stretcher, with an assist from E.J. Henderson's thigh. The Raiders played so much base and two-tight personnel there wasn't much work for new nickel CB Benny Sapp (22), who opened his return by dumping Bush for loss on a slot blitz and wasn't targeted all day. SS Jamarca Sanford (71) was in on six tackles (three solo), got home on one of his two blitzes and wasn't really tested in coverage. Neither was FS Tyrell Johnson (61), who gave up a slant to TE Kevin Boss for 9 and got blasted at the goal line on Bush's touchdown. He was in on seven tackles (five solo) and missed two. Rookie FS Mistral Raymond (10) rotated a little with Johnson and popped Palmer as the unaccounted man on a zero blitz. Husain Abdullah should be back this week, but it might be time to give Raymond a longer look.
Coordinator Mike Priefer unloaded on S Eric Frampton and CB Marcus Sherels after they got stacked on HB Taiwan Jones' 46-yard kick return early, and things only got worse from there. P Chris Kluwe dropped the ball on what would have been a 49-yard field goal attempt late in the first half. Then, after the Raiders converted that turnover to a touchdown, Booker fumbled the ensuing kickoff and CB DeMarcus Van Dyke recovered to set up another. Booker was trying to hurdle Griffen, whom Groves had knocked to the ground, but that's no excuse. Squeeze the damn ball. Later, Kluwe booted a low punt with 3.5 seconds of hang time to the numbers and Frampton blew an ankle tackle to let Moore out for a 34-yard return. Camarillo saved a touchdown. It appeared Raymond lost contain on CB Bryan McCann's 36-yard return to cap the special-teams debacle. Guion's block of PK Sebastian Janikowski's 39-yard field-goal attempt and Sherels' 35-yard kick return were bright spots. Kluwe's other two punts were downed inside the 20. He grossed 44.3, netted 33.0 and averaged 4.1 seconds of hang time. PK Ryan Longwell converted three extra-point attempts. Four kickoffs hung an average of 3.8 seconds, and all four reached the end zone. LS Cullen Loeffler held up OK with his sore rotator cuff. Six different players had tackles.