Breaking down the tape from the Vikings' loss to the Redskins
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Here's the tale of the tape from the Minnesota Vikings' 38-26 loss to the Washington Redskins, with grades on a scale of 0 to 5 in parentheses:
If there's a bright side to the recent uptick in turnovers by Christian Ponder (84 snaps), it's that his errors continue to be physical, not mental ones. That he missed so many throws against the NFL's 31st-ranked pass defense was his downfall in this one, though. He finished 35-of-52 passing (67.3%) for 352 yards and an 83.2 rating, with touchdown throws of 9 and 1 yards as the Vikings tried to rally in the fourth quarter. Eleven of his incompletions were simply off target, many for open receivers with minimal pressure in his face. He continues to flush right at times instead of stepping up when the pocket holds and seemed flustered by some of the Redskins' adjustments on the snap. Case in point: they showed inside pressure on third-and-8, then dropped into Cover-3 that left a receiver wide open on a pivot route underneath. Ponder immediately jumped into the air as the awkward pass slipped out of his hand and sailed 7 yards too far to FS Madieu Williams, who dived for the interception and raced 24 yards for a touchdown. Even when Ponder was clicking, he uncorked some wild ones. There wasn't much he could do when a soft blitz pickup led to a fumble LB Lorenzo Alexander snared in midair, setting up another Redskins touchdown. The contact just came at the right time. The second interception came under duress and in desperation mode on third-and-goal. There are worse times to throw one up for grabs. DC Jim Haslett sent an extra rusher 15 times in Ponder's 52 dropbacks (28.8%), not including 10 designed bootlegs, sprint-outs and one-step screens. They Redskins sacked him four times, hit him seven more and finished with 15 total pressures. It's no surprise 28 of Ponder's 36 completed passes (77.8%, including a 2-point conversion) came within 5 yards of the scrimmage line. Even on the final drive, only one of his 14 targeted passes went more than 7 yards downfield. He did have eight "explosive" completions that gained 16 yards or more, including darts for 19 on an out and 20 on a cross. He scrambled four times for 13 yards (3.3 average). He still has only 16 NFL starts. There are going to be days like this.
Running backs (2½)
HB Adrian Peterson (70 snaps) blamed himself for not being aggressive enough in the first half, but it's not as if he was passing up big holes. If anything, Peterson did his line some favors in the early going, breaking two tackles on a zone-left run that went for 31 and another on the next play, a 5-yard run on first-and-goal. The other two first-down runs in the red zone were muddled before Peterson even touched the ball. One power-scheme run was so slow to develop SS Reed Doughty chased Peterson down from the backside before he could reach the line. Of Peterson's 79 rushing yards on 17 carries (4.6 average), 44 yards (55.7%) came after contact. He powered through MLB London Fletcher at the marker on third-and-1. He broke four tackles, plus another on one of his seven receptions for 50 yards (7.1 average). The Redskins did get Peterson running laterally at times, but that was far from the Vikings' biggest issue. Letting LB Perry Riley bump him back into Ponder on a blitz that yielded a fumble that couldn't have come at a worse time. Peterson's blitz pickup otherwise was solid. HB Toby Gerhart (14) is picking up scraps at this point, but he got the ball twice in the red zone -- a checkdown that came up short at the sideline on third-and-goal and a curious draw that gained only a yard on third-and-4. Gerhart didn't have another carry and finished with two receptions for 7. FB Jerome Felton (22) played a reduced role again, had his block defeated by ROLB Rob Jackson on a Peterson run that lost 2 in the red zone and otherwise was OK.
Percy Harvin (64 snaps) took a rougher beating than usual -- going to the sideline a handful of times, having a bloody knee dressed and at least once appearing doubled over in pain. But he kept getting back onto the field and finished with team highs in targets (14), receptions (11) and yards (133). He broke three tackles, drew a pass-interference penalty on mismatched LOLB Ryan Kerrigan and did his share in the blocking phase, too. Perhaps the Vikings would have let him touch the ball during one of the three red-zone messes early if Harvin hadn't been off the field for five of those nine snaps. OC Bill Musgrave dialed up one play-fake to him, only to leave two receivers in pattern, both double-teamed. Ponder throwing high over Devin Aromashodu (50) probably was the least disastrous result possible. Was there really a reason not to send Harvin on a "go" ball when the Redskins started singling him at the edge against the Vikings' two-tight sets? The way he accelerated past LCB DeAngelo Hall on the cross for 20 suggested there were more opportunities to exploit that matchup. The bobbled pitch on an end-around that lost a yard might have been on Ponder for getting the pitch up into Harvin's shoulder pads. His only other carry gained 2. Aromashodu settled at the sideline on a blown coverage for 13 and didn't touch the ball again, though he did draw a 27-yard pass interference penalty on CB Josh Wilson that set up the last touchdown. Michael Jenkins (73) played almost the entire game and saw 10 targets, catching six for 67 yards and a 9-yard touchdown on a quick out against Doughty, who couldn't keep him from stretching the ball across the pylon. Still no separation in the deep passing game, though. Stephen Burton (12) wasn't targeted but sustained well in the run game and even cracked back to extend a play on the perimeter. That's how you give yourself a chance to be up every Sunday.
Tight ends (2)
Kyle Rudolph (84 snaps) never left the field but wasn't targeted during the early red-zone woes either. Strange, given the ease with which he later freed himself on a stick-nod route for a two-point conversion and released his shadow block of JLB Keenan Robinson for a 1-yard touchdown. Then again, the Redskins appeared to have a safety following Rudolph at times and Ponder couldn't get the ball to him on a corner route on third-and-goal. Rudolph's numbers -- six catches for 56 yards (9.3 average) in 11 targets -- would look better if Ponder hadn't missed three throws when he was open. Rudolph also dropped two. The stutter on the other conversion attempt probably would have worked had Riley not wrapped an arm around Rudolph's waist. He got away with one false start and was flagged for another late, wiping out a Peterson touchdown run. He kept giving ground in the running game and probably had his worst performance in that phase since the opener. John Carlson (17) caught one pass for 7 yards, had another sail behind him and once again found himself in a timeshare with rookie Rhett Ellison (14), who turned a checkdown upfield for a 16-yard gain. Whatever the reason, Carlson just doesn't look like he has any juice.
Offensive linemen (2½)
It was only a matter of time before the Vikings started reducing snaps on RG Brandon Fusco (73 snaps), who admittedly has been feeling lost at times in his first season as an NFL starter. He was better at the point in this one but continued to miss at the second level, allowed four QB pressures and had a hand in a sack when he let Alexander knock RT Phil Loadholt (84) off Kerrigan and then take down Ponder in 3.3 seconds. Fusco looks somewhat tentative when he's pulling on power runs now, too. G Geoff Schwartz (11) didn't exactly seize the job in his first meaningful game action since 2010, though. He got decent push in the run game but looked a little slow trying to climb to the second level. More reps probably are the only cure for that. Loadholt gave up two additional pressures and repeatedly showed his power in the run game. If the season ended tomorrow, C John Sullivan (84) would belong in the Pro Bowl. About the only block he missed in the run game was a product of Riley holding his jersey, and the officials missed that one, too. Baker got him for a pressure on a bull rush. The illegal snap call looked correct. There appeared to be miscommunication on Alexander's second sack between LG Charlie Johnson (84) and LT Matt Kalil (84), who released him inside on a T-E game Johnson couldn't pick up. It was a deep play-action fake and Ponder was hit in just 2.4 seconds. The only other hit against Johnson came on the last play, with Jenkins getting a shot after LB Mario Addison took the edge on Kalil and forced Ponder to step up. Kalil gave up two other QB hits and an additional pressure. His run blocking was probably as good as it has been all season.
Defensive linemen (2)
RE Jared Allen (56 snaps) had four of this group's six pressures, including the lone sack against TE Logan Paulsen in 2.0 seconds on one of relatively few zone-read plays that weren't productive for the Redskins. QB Robert Griffin III only had 13 legitimate dropbacks, with the other 19 passing plays a mixture bubble screens, bootlegs, sprint-outs and option-style playfakes that slowed the Vikings' front all day. The Redskins didn't unveil anything new in the zone-read game -- they just did a lot more of it, to the tune of 22 in 42 plays (52.4%) from their third drive through the end of the third quarter. Even with two penalties and an awful drop by wide-open WR Dezmon Briscoe, those 22 plays netted 114 yards (5.2 average), five of them gaining 15 yards or more. Allen clubbed HB Alfred Morris for a 3-yard loss on the opening drive and got turned on Morris' 1-yard touchdown plunge. So did UT Kevin Williams (44), who shed a few blocks in the run game but was as invisible as he's been all season. LE Brian Robison (51) managed one pressure against RT Tyler Polumbus, drew a holding penalty on TE Fred Davis, got trapped inside with Williams on Griffin's third-and-11 scramble for 15 and still isn't what he was before he hurt the elbow. NT Letroy Guion (41) made a bunch of plays off blocks, including a key stop on a draw to Morris that otherwise would have gained a lot more than 4 yards. But he also got pancaked by RG Chris Chester on another inside handoff Morris took for 15, let LG Kory Lichtensteiger steer him out of his gap on Griffin's 7-yard touchdown run and had some trouble handling the Redskins' double teams. DL Everson Griffen (19) played less than usual, not because he missed some practice time after his mother's passing, but because the Vikings played so little nickel defense. He hit Griffin once and stopped a counter to RB Evan Royster for no gain on second-and-goal at the 1. DL Christian Ballard (15) had a stop. NT Fred Evans (eight) keeps playing less and less.
The Vikings went for broke on the game's pivotal play and came up empty-handed -- showing precisely why they were worried about blitzing Griffin in the first place. Royster stonewalled MLB Jasper Brinkley (58 snaps), leaving SLB Chad Greenway (58) in a traffic jam behind him, and Griffin exploded through the resulting hole for a 76-yard touchdown that took only 10.7 seconds from the moment he hit the top of his drop. Griffin had the option to throw hot on the play, too, but there was no point waiting once the blitz failed. That play all but sealed the decision and capped a trying day for Brinkley, who put a couple good licks on Morris -- including a saving stop at the 1-yard line -- but kept getting lost on the zone-read plays that played a role in the Redskins' 5.7-yard average on 32 carries. Greenway was typically active, had a QB hit against Paulsen, drew a holding call on TE Niles Paul and was called for holding Davis in coverage. WLB Erin Henderson (36) hit Griffin once, got turned by Davis on a third-and-2 keeper than went for 4, gave up a 15-yard completion to Davis in the flat and took a weak personal foul for a late hit on Griffin. The rookie sold it hard, but taking three extra steps before making contact with the quarterback is just silly.
Defensive backs (2)
Time and again, Griffin faked a shotgun handoff and found a receiver wide open underneath the Vikings' soft coverage. Eventually, they adjusted and had CB Chris Cook (58 snaps) press at the line -- but not before he'd given up completions of 15, 16, 14 and 17 yards, all on in-breaking routes. That'll happen all day if play-action sucks up the linebackers and the corners aren't getting reroutes. From a press technique, Cook drew an offensive pass interference penalty against Davis and broke up a slant. That's what he's built for. He was solid in run support, too, although getting vision sooner might have allowed him to contain Griffin's long touchdown. That's tough when he's staring down WR Joshua Morgan in man coverage at the snap. CB Antoine Winfield (57) is such a pleasure to watch when he's playing like this. He fired past Morgan on the Redskins' first snap to drop Morris for a 4-yard loss, whipped Paul's block to thrwart a bubble screen to WR Brandon Banks that lost 1 and only got thrown at once more after chasing Morgan from the far slot to make a diving interception at the sideline. If the Vikings had to do it over, they might play more nickel regardless of the Redskins' personnel, just to keep Winfield closer to the action. No. 3 CB Josh Robinson (22) was OK in limited turns, allowing three completions for 26 yards in four targets, with the other dropped. Redskins OC Kyle Shanahan had the right play design to rub him off WR Santana Moss on fourth-and-3. FS Harrison Smith (58) nearly had an interception on an early post to Morgan, got caught flatfooted on FB Darrel Young's 6-yard touchdown catch, missed two tackles and might get fined for horse-collaring Griffin. The last thing the rookie needs is a bad rep. SS Jamarca Sanford (57) forced another fumble that bounced out of bounds after defeating WR Leonard Hankerson's block and saved a potential touchdown by stopping Morris after Brinkley abandoned his gap inside. It's becoming tougher by the week to believe Mistral Raymond (ankle) really will return as the starter.
Rookie PK Blair Walsh is positively automatic. He connected on field goals from 20, 27, 27 and 37 yards, improving to 16-of-17 (94.1%) on the season. He also had seven touchbacks in as many kickoffs -- three into the front row and another off the crossbar. Take away his first kickoff, a sidewinder into the wind that bounced at the 3 and then through the end zone, and Walsh's average hang time was 4.0 seconds. P Chris Kluwe grossed 50.5, netted 50.5 and averaged 4.3 seconds of hang time on two punts -- including a 56-yarder that hung 4.7 before the half despite LS Cullen Loeffler's ankle-high snap. Harvin averaged 33.3 yards on three kick returns, with a long of 45 behind excellent blocking. Joe Berger's block of CB David Jones on a 35-yarder was phenomenal. Marcus Sherels emerged with one punt return for minus-2 yards and his head still attached despite Paul's mammoth hit that send his helmet flying.