Breaking down the tape from the Vikings' loss to the Seahawks
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Here's the tale of the tape from the Minnesota Vikings' 30-20 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, with grades on a scale of 0 to 5 in parentheses:
Blame for the abysmal passing game doesn't fall exclusively on Christian Ponder (54 snaps), whose issues are being exacerbated by trouble elsewhere. One way or another, though, he has to be more productive than this. Ponder finished 11-of-22 passing for just 63 yards (2.9 per attempt). He didn't have a completion longer than 14 yards. He double-clutched and seemed to be waiting for receivers to come open, rather than anticipating his throws. He threw off-target eight times, although several were affected by pressure that kept caving the pocket. That also might explain why Ponder seemed overly eager on some occasions to take off running. Rhythm, timing and tempo is just lacking all around. Seattle followed the template, stressing the protection unit with wrapped blitzes and rushing five or more eight times in Ponder's 25 dropbacks (32%, not including five designed bootlegs, sprintouts, etc.). Three of four sacks came in 2.4 seconds or less -- tough ones to avoid with no one flashing in pattern before contact. Ponder was pressured a dozen times in all, took three other hits and came up limping at least twice. Admit it or not, the knee might be giving him trouble. The late interception wasn't a great throw, but the receiver didn't make a play on it either. The missed bubble screen wasn't going to be blocked up anyway. Another quick-release fade sailed out of bounds. A "go" ball came up short but was bailed out by pass interference. Five scrambles netted 23 yards (4.6 average). Sometimes, Ponder just needs to pull the trigger. But at this point, so much is going wrong there's not much reason to believe taking a chance will produce a positive result.
Running backs (4½)
A 74-yard run on the game's second play showed what sets apart HB Adrian Peterson (41 snaps) from everyone else. DT Alan Branch and OLB Leroy Hill had the seal-the-edge play dead in the backfield, but Peterson stiff-armed them both, then cut back inside to reach the open field. Only RCB Brandon Browner's hustle kept Peterson from going the distance. It didn't matter anyway -- Peterson cut back a zone play on second-and-goal and kept his legs moving for a 1-yard touchdown. That was just the start on a day six of his 17 carries (35.3%) for 182 yards (10.7 average) were "explosive" gains of 12 yards or more. The fact three drives stalled with three consecutive pass plays was a head-scratcher. Even with the Seahawks playing SS Kam Chancellor and/or FS Earl Thomas in the box on 74.1% of the Vikings' snaps, OC Bill Musgrave may regret giving Peterson only five chances after halftime in what long was a one-score game. Then again, three of those carries went for loss or no gain and the Vikings ran only 19 plays total the final 30 minutes. Peterson forced six mixed tackles and gained 100 yards after contract (54.9%). He scored again from 4 yards out on a zone play, moving a pile from the 2. He had a chance for another long gainer on a designed cutback play but stumbled in the backfield. He also led the Vikings with three receptions for 11 yards. If there's a recurring weakness in Peterson's game right now, it's pass blocking. He released out of the backfield instead of picking up MLB Bobby Wagner, who sacked Ponder in 2.3 seconds on a delayed blitz, and got stuck trying to block two men on another sack in 2.4 seconds. HB Toby Gerhart (13) caught a screen for 3 yards, slipped LE Red Bryant's tackle on a draw for 14 and didn't touch the ball again. FB Jerome Felton (17) stuck Hill on a lead play to Peterson that gained 24 and OLB Mike Morgan on a zone play for 12. He couldn't have been moving more slowly on a route Ponder overthrew into the flat. RB Matt Asiata (three) played three "F" snaps on the opening series.
All the guts in the world couldn't get Percy Harvin (34 snaps) going on this day. CB Marcus Trufant stripped him to set up Seattle's first score and it was downhill from there. Harvin finished with a season-low two catches for 10 yards and ran four times for 24 (6.0 average). He dropped out for several stretches because of trouble with his right hamstring, only to return and sprain his left ankle on a hit by Thomas, who might not have been there if Jerome Simpson (36) weren't so weak with his block. The Seahawks played a lot of press-man coverage and did a good job taking away the slides and screens the Vikings use to manufacture Harvin's touches. Harvin did draw a defensive pass interference penalty on Trufant, who was beaten by two steps on a rare "go" ball Ponder underthrew. Once the ankle gave out, so did Harvin's chances for making an impact. He stumbled as the ball zipped by his head on a third-and-5 drag late and was out of bounds even if he had the power to contest Browner's pick. The sideline blowup after Ponder misfired behind the bubble was Harvin's second in as many weeks, making obvious the tension that is rising behind closed doors. Simpson isn't helping matters with his inability to get separation and tendency to stop on his routes. How many times does he think waving his arms while the ball's in the air is going to draw a flag? Absorbing a big hit from Chancellor to hold on to a deep slant that gained 14 was about the only thing that went Simpson's way. Michael Jenkins (35) kept a touchdown drive going by making Trufant miss on a quick out he took for 7 to the sticks. He had no chance of getting out of bounds on the hitch before halftime once Ponder hesitated. Devin Aromashodu (13) was a nonfactor. How bad is it going to get if Harvin can't go this week?
Tight ends (1½)
Kyle Rudolph (54 snaps) was in pattern 22 times and was targeted only twice. One came in low and glanced off his hands. The other was affected by a hit on Ponder, leaving Rudolph shut out for the second time in three games. Seattle used a formula he has seen before -- match him against a safety (mostly Chancellor) in man coverage or pass him between linebackers in zone. Rudolph's not fast or sudden enough to pose a big-play threat, and he rarely seems to run a route deeper than 10 yards. The seam might be there now and then if the Vikings could ever force a defense to play two-deep coverage. Rudolph had a tough assignment in the blocking phase, too. S Jeron Johnson played off him for a sack in 3.5 seconds and Bryant worked him back to wreck a toss play. Rhett Ellison (13) mostly was asked to handle backside cutoff blocks and held up well. He got the most out of his only catch against Thomas, gaining 4. Allen Reisner (seven) settled into the zone for a 13-yard reception and couldn't get a piece of Trufant on the first half's final play.
Offensive linemen (2½)
It's getting to the point the Vikings may have to consider taking more than a couple series a game away from RG Brandon Fusco (37 snaps), who continues to get overpowered at the point and look lost in space. Even when he was pulling in front of Peterson's long run, Fusco let Hill run past him and didn't finish the block he did set. He got caught reaching against DE Bruce Irvin as the pocket closed on the first sack, caved against Irvin on another hit and got bulled by DE Greg Scruggs for a sack in 2.4 seconds. That Geoff Schwartz (21) looks stronger each week in limited turns is one more reason to consider making the switch. Splitting snaps doesn't seem like a long-term solution at a repetition-based position anyway. Schwartz played four snaps at tight end in the jumbo package and the rest over two series at right guard. He got movement on both of Peterson's touchdown runs, gave up one pressure to RE Chris Clemons on a T-E game and wasn't close to being open on a rare tackle-eligible pattern in the end zone. RT Phil Loadholt (54) got walked back on Peterson's big run, didn't block anyone on one of the sacks because he thought Wagner was coming on a delay and otherwise was OK. C John Sullivan (54) was at his best walling off defenders on some of the lead plays and draws that hurt the Seahawks inside. DT Brandon Mebane came off him for one late hit on Ponder. Clemons had pressures against Sullivan and LG Charlie Johnson (54), who also gave up a pressure to Bryant, got pieces of two defenders on Peterson's 28-yard run and was solid overall. LT Matt Kalil (54) was near perfect in protection and probably had his best day in the run game, too. He baited Browner into taking a curious unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, too. If Kalil can bring that attitude and physicality every week, the Vikings will have a star on the blind side.
Defensive linemen (1)
Turf toe notwithstanding, NT Letroy Guion (44 snaps) is becoming a major liability in the middle. Time and again, the Seahawks railroaded him out of his gap -- many times with single blocks -- on a day they rushed for 195 yards on 45 carries (4.3 average). Guion isn't anchoring, isn't penetrating, isn't shedding blocks and really only is making plays when he can avoid contact down the line on the snap. He got his only QB pressure by coming free off a game and took an illegal use of hands penalty against backup C Lemuel Jeanpierre. That just won't cut it at a position that's a lynchpin in the Vikings' scheme. NT Fred Evans (20) isn't built to play a ton of snaps, but his knack for getting into the backfield and ability to make plays off blocks might make him worth a longer look. Evans did get walled off by Jeanpierre on HB Marshawn Lynch's 23-yard run but otherwise was OK. The Vikings need more from RE Jared Allen (70), too. LT Russell Okung shut him down with little help. Allen got two pressures when the protection call left him unblocked and piece of a sack in 3.2 seconds by defeating FB Michael Robinson's cut. Even his two late stops on Lynch didn't come at Okung's expense. The Vikings should have been taking more snaps off him from the start, and now, they might be paying the price. LE Brian Robison (63) beat RT Breno Giacomini with a speed rush for the other half of the sack, had two additional pressures, batted down a pass, helped clog the playside on Robinson's failed dive, was too tentative against some backside cutoffs and took one of three costly offsides penalties. The other two were on DL Everson Griffen (28), who had three pressures and delivered a massive hit on WR Golden Tate a little too late at the goal line. UT Kevin Williams (53) spun out against some doubles, penetrated for two stops in the backfield and couldn't submarine QB Russell Wilson's late fourth-and-1 sneak. He had one QB pressure. So did DT Christian Ballard (22), who also had some positive turns against the run. Consistency remains elusive with him.
Blitzing MLB Jasper Brinkley (75 snaps) continues to do more harm than good. None of his six rushes came close to getting home on a day the Vikings sent eight extra-man pressures in 27 dropbacks (29.6%) by Wilson, who had plenty of clean pockets and kept finding ways to extend the play when he didn't. Wilson was 3-of-5 passing with a touchdown and two drops against the blitz and 16-of-24 for 173 yards and three scores overall. One of those touchdowns came on third-and-9 from the 11-yard line against Brinkley, who had little chance of plastering WR Sidney Rice for 4.5 seconds. Brinkley also gave up a 7-yard completion to Rice, missed two tackles and twice failed to pick up Robinson on play-action passes into the flat that went for first downs. His strength never has been in space, but he's not playing fast or physical downhill either. At least SLB Chad Greenway (75) defeated some blocks and had some chances in the backfield, even if he missed them. He kept cleaning up downfield, got pumped out of his shoes on Wilson's 13-yard scramble and took an illegal contact penalty. Rice mugged up WLB Erin Henderson (44) way too easily on those bubble screens, and C Max Unger cracked him to the ground on a screen to Lynch that gained 23.
Defensive backs (2)
The Vikings opted to play CB A.J. Jefferson (75 snaps) in the base defense instead of rookie CB Josh Robinson (31), and the decision probably worked out as well as it could, given that Jefferson is best suited for a dime role. There wasn't much Jefferson could do in man coverage to stop Wilson's perfect 6-yard touchdown throw for Tate along the endline. Wilson threw Jefferson's way downfield only one other time, on a corner that went through Tate's hands. Wilson also caught Jefferson bailing on one of the bubble screens and again in a slot blitz on the screen Tate took past SS Jamarca Sanford (75) and over Robinson for an 11-yard score. Jefferson took an illegal contact penalty, too. Robinson gave up completions of 23 and 13 yards to Rice on in-breaking routes and got the worse end of a collision with Lynch that left him wobbly. CB Antoine Winfield (75) pressed Rice when given the chance and gave up two completions in three targets for 12 yards, including an out to Tate that gained 6 on third-and-5. It's no surprise Winfield let TE Zach Miller go after Wilson threw the screen to Rice, only for Rice to throw it again for a 25-yard pickup before Sanford could get there. Winfield's productivity has dipped in run support, although it's tough to pinpoint why. The Vikings played a lot of single-high concepts to try to combat Lynch. Sanford had a QB pressure, got inside WR Charly Martin to stop Michael Robinson on third-and-1 and was solid in run support all day. If there's one thing coaches must address with SS Harrison Smith (75) in the offseason, it's tackling technique. He made a weak attempt as Lynch plunged in for a 3-yard touchdown and also failed to wrap up on a draw that gained 7. Throwing a shoulder into people just doesn't work in the NFL. Miller ran the seam in front of Smith for a 22-yard gain.
Rookie PK Blair Walsh is simply unflappable. He hit two extra points, a 36-yard field goal and a 55-yarder that had plenty of leg, though it may have come after the play clock expired. Five kickoffs averaged 3.64 seconds of hang time and yielded four touchbacks, the other a line drive that hung 3.1 and led to a gang tackle of Leon Washington after a 19-yard return. P Chris Kluwe bounced back -- grossing 48.3 yards, netting 41.3 and averaging 4.3 seconds of hang time, with a long of 57. LS Cullen Loeffler had no trouble either. Kevin Williams got great push to block one of Steven Hauschka's extra points. Harvin's only kick return went for 39 yards. Marcus Sherels returned another for 24 while Harvin was getting his hamstring worked on and Felton returned another for 16. Sherels gained 1 yard total on three punt returns, with Jefferson flagged for holding to negate one of them.