Breaking down the tape from the Vikings' win over the Packers
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Here's the tale of the tape from the Minnesota Vikings' 37-34 over the Green Bay Packers, with grades on a scale of 0 to 5 in parentheses:
Week by week, Christian Ponder (69 snaps) is providing hope for the future -- and perhaps more important, the present. He completed 16 of 28 passes (57.1%) for 234 yards, three touchdowns and a career-high 120.2 rating. He was 9-of-13 on third down, with six conversions. He hit a receiver in stride 44 yards beyond the line of scrimmage off a double move, somehow fit in a 3-yard score across his body on third-and-goal and pumped open his target for 25 on third-and-11 late. He also scrambled twice for 16 yards, including an 8-yarder to set up a field goal on one of the third-down plays Packers ROLB Clay Matthews was spying to prevent exactly that. Ponder's footwork has been better and so has his accuracy, though he missed a corner that could have been a fourth TD and didn't put the ball in an ideal spot on a handful of other throws. The extra-man rushes DC Dom Capers sent 10 times in Ponder's 26 dropbacks (38.5%, not including bootlegs, sprint-outs, etc.) impacted a couple of them in the red zone, but Ponder also had completions of 17, 21 and 17 yards against those looks. He held the ball 4.3 seconds on the only sack. He got bailed out when he tried to throw over the middle with SS Morgan Burnett crashing into his elbow on a blitz, only to end up with a lucky completion. He comes close at times to being too eager to avoid sacks, trying to throw the ball away even when he might not be able to get it out of bounds. But it's tough to fault the way Ponder is playing right now, so the Vikings figure to keep giving him a little more each week.
Running backs (4½)
The Packers keyed on motion, repeatedly bringing a safety down to the strong side of the Vikings' formation to try to keep HB Adrian Peterson (58) from getting outside. So, Peterson gashed them on runs called between the tackles instead -- running for 199 yards and a touchdown on a career-high 34 carries (5.9 average), forcing 11 missed tackles and gaining 119 yards after contact (60%). He stiff-armed MLB Brad Jones on a lead play that went for 22 and broke though Hawk's arm tackle on another that gained 6 on fourth-and-1. He took a draw and ran through FS M.D. Jennings' ankle tackle at the goal line for a 7-yard touchdown. He set up Jennings on a seal-the-edge play that went for 28 on second-and-27. He exploded through a crease for 26 on yet another lead play to set up the winning field goal. And Peterson's only catch went for a 2-yard score when BLB A.J. Hawk couldn't chase to the flat. That's MVP stuff. He might have caught Eric Dickerson if he'd chosen better on several second-half cuts. He gave up one QB pressure in protection. A fumble correctly was overturned on replay, but Peterson can't let the ball get loose like that. FB Jerome Felton (33) was on the field for six of Peterson's seven "explosive" runs of 12 yards or more, flattened Hawk on one of them and split wide for his only catch, bouncing off LCB Tramon Williams' tackle for a 17-yard gain. HB Toby Gerhart (11) played mostly on third downs, followed his blocks to take a screen for 21 yards on third-and-11 and ran once for 2.
The Vikings had been waiting all day to take their shot to Jarius Wright (39 snaps). Burnett came down as usual over the motion man, leaving the Packers in a single-high look with RCB Sam Shields playing outside-leveraged coverage against Wright, who beat him with a hard step to the post before accelerating upfield for a 65-yard gain. Earlier, he outran Jones to the flat for an 8-yard touchdown after lining up at fullback and could have scored again if Ponder's throw to the corner hadn't forced him to dive at the sideline. Officials shouldn't have given Wright the catch on the tipped-ball play, but it went for a 17-yard gain anyway. Credit Michael Jenkins (48) with challenging Hawk and CB Casey Hayward to prevent the interception. He dived for a 3-yard touchdown behind Jennings in the scramble drill four plays after he almost laid out for a 12-yard score, only for the ball to come free. Hayward lost track of him on a double-move that went for 25 on third-and-11. Jenkins' blocking was solid, too, though Burnett gave him trouble on a couple plays and stopped Peterson once for no gain. Wright let Hayward inside to scuttle another play and had a drop. So did Jerome Simpson (39), who caught three other passes for 39 yards, all on third downs. Letting Williams jack him in the face converted another. Simpson's route-running was as precise as it has been all season, though he probably needed to be more aware on the back-shoulder throw that sailed past him. When Simpson departed for concussion evaluation, Devin Aromashodu (26) got some more time, wasn't targeted and sustained a couple good blocks against Williams.
Tight ends (3½)
Kyle Rudolph (62 snaps) caught only two of seven passes thrown his way for 20 yards, but this might have been his finest day as a blocker. He got to Hayward on the big screen and had a series of impressive turns against Matthews. Identical lead-left calls on fourth-and-1 and again on the Vikings' final offensive play succeeded because Rudolph sealed the edge. That more than made up for a couple of drops, along with the two receptions that moved the chains and the holding call Rudolph drew against S Jerron McMillan in the end zone. Rhett Ellison (18) might replace Felton in Hawk's nightmares. The rookie worked over the veteran on Peterson's first touchdown, took him out of the play on the 28-yard run and stonewalled him once more on the final series. Ellison's only catch went for 7 yards. John Carlson (11) didn't block particularly well in limited turns and wasn't targeted.
Offensive linemen (2½)
The ability of this group to stay on the field all season has been remarkable, and Sunday was no different. C John Sullivan (69 snaps) fell so hard one of his legs went numb, RT Phil Loadholt (69) came up lame after another play and both waved off their potential replacements. Sullivan cut Burnett and LG Charlie Johnson (69) took out Shields on the big screen. They also combined to get LE Ryan Pickett to the ground on fourth-and-1, with LT Matt Kalil (69) battling DE Mike Daniels at the edge. The only pressure against Sullivan came from DE Mike Neal, who walked him back before NT B.J. Raji came off RG Brandon Fusco (69) to force a throwaway. Johnson was clean in protection, took a false start, got smacked to his knees by Raji to scuttle a zone run for a 2-yard loss and probably needed to help Loadholt with his pull against Hawk on a power play that lost 2 more. Kalil let Matthews off the initial punch for the sack, but that play isn't really on him. He worked over Daniels on the Vikings' last play but scuffled at times in the run phase, with a hand in three runs for loss or no gain. So did Fusco, who had his hands full with Raji and Pickett all day. The Vikings kicked him out as much as they have all season. He surrendered a QB hit. A late snap from Sullivan appeared to contribute to the false start on Loadholt, who also was flagged for holding, gave up one pressure to LOLB Erik Walden on a counter, stood tall in the run game and took an idiotic taunting penalty for punching the ball out of Jennings' hands on the Vikings' sideline. That just can't happen.
Defensive linemen (4)
Something seems to have clicked for DL Everson Griffen (44 snaps), who returned to his rotational role and had another highly productive day. Playing 19 snaps inside and the rest at end, Griffen kept fighting against RG Josh Sitton to sack QB Aaron Rodgers in 3.4 seconds, took advantage of a slip to fall on Rodgers in 4.1 and got under RT Don Barclay's pads with a speed move for a third sack in 2.4 seconds. He added another QB hit and three additional pressures -- mostly against Barclay, who got plenty of help and figures to get even more next time. LE Brian Robison (39) leaned on his bad shoulder to beat Barclay for another sack in 3.5 seconds, knocking free the ball as Rodgers tried to throw for the game's only turnover. Robison had one other pressure and held up as well as can be expected against the run for a guy with braces on both arms. RE Jared Allen (64) kept coming on a slant against LG T.J. Lang for a sack in 3.6 seconds and hit Rodgers three other times. It's obvious Allen is gutting it out through some pain of his own. He can be better against the run. UT Kevin Williams (49) had one pressure against Sitton, batted down a pass and muddied some things in the run game. NT Letroy Guion (28) shed C Evan Dietrich-Smith for a saving tackle and otherwise blended. Ditto NT Fred Evans (17), who got put on skates once by Dietrich-Smith and LG T.J. Lang but somehow contributed to the stop anyway. DT Christian Ballard (17) got swamped on the toss-sweep to HB DuJuan Harris that gained 12 and only got near the quarterback on a goal-line throwaway after Rodgers broke the pocket. He's still so hit-and-miss.
WLB Erin Henderson (64 snaps) got all the nickel mike reps again and might have the Vikings reconsidering the plan there again. Why exactly did he think he could release WR Greg Jennings on second-and-goal from the 5? The Vikings were in man coverage, as they almost always are in that area of the field, and Henderson inexplicably stared at Rodgers instead of following his assignment. Couple that with drawing a holding penalty for putting TE Jermichael Finley in a headlock on third-and-goal earlier, and Henderson's productivity against the run almost doesn't matter. MLB Jasper Brinkley (14) barely saw the field because the Vikings only played 10 snaps of base defense. That was enough time for him to take a silly personal foul for dropping a shoulder into Rodgers after a throwaway. DC Alan Williams rushed five or more 13 times in Rodgers' 42 dropbacks (31%) and the only pressure for this group came from SLB Chad Greenway (64), who caved one play through TE Tom Crabtree's block and otherwise was unusually quiet against the run. He got all turned around on the hot slant to Jennings that went for 45, although it's fair to say there was chaos throughout the coverage by that point.
Defensive backs (1)
If there were any doubt about the impact CB Antoine Winfield (18 snaps) has on the Vikings defense, this erased it. Rodgers repeatedly targeted CB Marcus Sherels (32), who replaced Winfield as the nickel and had almost every ball thrown to his side the rest of the way. Sherels ended up surrendering 123 yards on six completions, including a go ball to WR Jordy Nelson that went for 73. Sherels always competes, but he's no match for the way Rodgers can attack the middle of the field. Before Winfield's broken hand swelled up, the Vikings deployed their nickel defense against some of the Packers' two-tight sets to pit him against Finley. He didn't look like himself, though, getting turned around on a deep slant to Jennings for 20 and giving Jennings too clean a release on the 3-yard touchdown. SS Mistral Raymond (36) needs to keep his feet and make some effort to plaster there, though. Raymond also slipped on the out Jennings turned back upfield for 8 yards on third-and-7, hesitating long enough for the window to open and then overrunning the tackle. The shoulder Raymond threw in to WR James Jones on the 8-yard touchdown was pretty weak, too. He still got more time than SS Jamarca Sanford (31), who collided with Greenway on Jennings' long catch-and-run and won the pileup for the fumble Robison forced. FS Harrison Smith (61) let Jones sit down against one of the heavily disguised zones the Vikings ran, then turn upfield for a 30-yard gain sprung by Finley's obliteration of CB Chris Cook (63). Too bad a form tackle on Harris left Smith with a shoulder stinger -- he's been improving in that area. Cook allowed two completions in four targets, including a one-step route Jones took for an 8-yard touchdown and a hitch Jones caught at the sticks on third-and-5. Why the cushion in that situation? Cook doesn't seem as aggressive in run support as he was before breaking his arm either. At least he wasn't eaten up like CB A.J. Jefferson (49), who gave up six completions for 67 yards and a touchdown in seven targets, taking a 16-yard pass interference penalty against Nelson on the other. He also was called for interference on fourth-and-1 against WR Jarrett Boykin, who caught Rodgers' back-shoulder throw anyway. At times, he just doesn't seem to judge the ball well in the air. He did make one good stop off Jones' block. The only other option is CB Josh Robinson (14), who got some run when Jefferson came off with an ankle tweak and gave up two third-down completions, the latter for 11 yards and a conversion. Good luck in the rubber match.
LS Cullen Loeffler might have made the most important tackle on a rare off day for the Vikings' coverage units, making a sprawling takedown of Jeremy Ross after a 32-yard punt return. Sherels missed at the point, Larry Dean and Marvin Mitchell stooged themselves and P Chris Kluwe did just enough to slow up Ross, who also had a 44-yard kick return through a crease that may have been abandoned by Ellison. Four of PK Blair Walsh's other six kickoffs went for touchbacks, with an average hang time of 3.89 seconds. He hit four extra points and three field goals, including a 54-yarder early and the winner from 29. Kluwe grossed 49.3, netted 35.7 and averaged 4.27 seconds of hang time on three punts. Ellison took consecutive penalties for a false start and a blatant facemask against LB Robert Francois. Sherels returned two punt returns for an 18.0 average and four kickoffs for 31.0, including a 41-yarder. Robinson took over on kickoffs temporarily when Sherels entered on defense and had returns of 23 and 24 yards. Raymond shortened one with a holding penalty for grabbing Jarrett Bush near the shoulder pad.