Breaking down the tape from the Vikings' win over the Redskins
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Here's the tale of the tape from the Minnesota Vikings' 33-26 win over the Washington Redskins on Saturday, with grades on a scale of 0 to 5 in parentheses:
Boy, did Christian Ponder (36 snaps) take a beating. The helmet-to-helmet blast Redskins MLB London Fletcher delivered while NT Barry Cofield was swinging Ponder to the ground was just the knockout punch. SS Reed Doughty drew a flag for bloodying Ponder's nose on another vicious shot as the rookie slid. Even when Ponder had time in the pocket, he once again seemed anxious to scramble, which he did four times for 20 yards (5.0 average) and three first downs. Of course, it doesn't help when receivers aren't beating man coverage. Ponder completed 8 of 13 passes for 68 yards and a 75.2 rating. One was dropped. Only two of his completions traveled more than 5 yards beyond the line in the air, with a long gain of 14. The offense scored twice in six drives with Ponder on the field -- one set up by a short field and the other by a senseless offsides penalty on a punt. He made a poor decision to throw to the flat on third-and-8, leaving the Vikings with a field goal. He was pressured eight times and sacked once, on the play that left Ponder with a concussion and took him out of the game a play later. Trying to fight forward with defenders on either side doesn't show your toughness -- it just gets your clock cleaned. Joe Webb (26) played three snaps before Ponder departed, two of them as a receiver and a third under center on a counter-option that went for 16. The option was central to the Vikings offense once Webb took over with 10:40 to go in the third quarter and promptly led four scoring drives, three of them for touchdowns. He finished with five carries for 34 yards, including a 9-yard score off an option keeper. He threw only five passes, completing four for 84 yards. That included a 17-yard scoring strike on a corner and a 36-yard gain up the seam in the face of an empty blitz. The other three throws came off designed movement on Webb's third series, the last an 8-yard scoring strike to the flat on a sprint-out. Leslie Frazier didn't have much choice but to open the door on Webb as the quarterback of the future. It sure seems it'd be tough to sustain that type of offense through a season, though.
Running backs (3)
There wasn't much HB Adrian Peterson (26 snaps) could have done to save the knee. His left leg was planted when FS DeJon Gomes drilled it from the side, tearing two ligaments and sending Peterson into screams of agony. What a shame. To that point, Peterson was moving better than he did six days earlier on a high ankle sprain. He averaged 3.2 yards on 12 carries, including a 1-yard touchdown through LB Rocky McIntosh's arms. He spun out of S Oshiomogho Atogwe's tackle on a 20-yard run that was called on a penalty. He also caught two passes for 14 yards (7.0 average). Several times, Peterson cut back to hit a hole that wasn't there. A false start on fourth-and-1 led to a missed field goal. HB Toby Gerhart (28) came on and rumbled for a career-high 109 yards on 11 carries (9.9 average), including a 67-yard burst through a huge hole on a designed cutback that would have gone for six if he hadn't run out of gas. He broke four tackles. His balance in traffic seems to improve the more he gets the ball. HB Lorenzo Booker (two) gained 1 yard on two carries. FB Ryan D'Imperio (19) stuck ROLB Brian Orakpo on Gerhart's long run, couldn't handle a pass to his back shoulder in the flat and was OK overall. DT Letroy Guion (one) didn't hit anyone while leading on Peterson's score, but the threat of his 303 pounds hitting with a head of steam did the job.
It says a lot about the offense that OC Bill Musgrave called runs on third-and-6 and third-and-9 to Percy Harvin (37 snaps), who didn't come close to converting either. The Redskins kept running man blitzes on third down and the Vikings converted only three of 10 chances (30%), including a drag to Harvin for 9 against CB Josh Wilson and Webb's heave up the seam that Harvin pulled down over Wilson for 36. Harvin's the only guy who can be trusted to make a play without getting lost in a zone, even after going to the locker room briefly with a shoulder injury. Harvin finished with 39 yards on four carries (9.8 average) and 65 yards on five catches (13.0 average), including an 8-yard touchdown to the flat before Fletcher could cross the formation. He would have had another score if Ponder had led him on the drag. He didn't stand much chance of stopping Gomes on the play Peterson got injured. The rest of the receivers had three catches combined -- two of them by Devin Aromashodu (50), who stopped in the zone for 13 and beat Atogwe on a long cross for 23. His effort is always there in the blocking phase. Greg Camarillo (20) folded like a patio chair when Atogwe undercut him and somehow hung on for a 14-yard gain. Emmanuel Arceneaux (six) was open on that early third-and-8 and Ponder never looked his way.
Tight ends (2)
For the second consecutive week, rookie Kyle Rudolph (49 snaps) got more work than Visanthe Shiancoe (45), who had a fine day blocking but wasn't targeted after his drop on the opening series. Maybe Shiancoe felt the contact coming, but that would have been a big gain. Rudolph's 17-yard score on a corner against JLB Perry Riley was exactly the sort of mismatch he can create. How can he only be targeted twice in a game? He caught the other for 6 in the flat against LOLB Ryan Kerrigan and was up and down in the backside blocking game. Jimmy Kleinsasser (nine) nailed his block on Peterson's touchdown and missed Fletcher on a Booker run that lost 1. The unbalanced lines the Vikings mixed in were another new wrinkle from Musgrave.
Offensive linemen (2½)
NT Barry Cofield gave C John Sullivan (59 snaps) some trouble in pass protection, bulling him back for initial contact in 2.9 seconds on the sack that chased Ponder and registering another QB pressure. But Sullivan was a force in the run game, combining with RG Anthony Herrera (47) and RT Phil Loadholt (59) for huge push on a series of zone-right plays that had success early. A low snap might have thrown off the timing on third-and-8. LE Adam Carriker split Sullivan and Herrera once to drop Gerhart for no gain. The knee problems are obvious when Herrera tries to pull. He's OK driving, though. Rookie Brandon Fusco (12) filled in when Herrera dropped out with a lower-back injury, looked good kicking out on a power-toss play and took a dumb personal foul for jacking Riley near a pile. He needs to learn from that if he wants to start next season. Loadholt gave up one pressure to Carriker, had one of his better days run-blocking and took a tough holding penalty when he let DE Darrion Scott go a split-second too late as Peterson cut back a draw. LG Joe Berger (59) mugged up Fletcher on Gerhart's big run and otherwise was mediocre in the run game. He gave up two QB pressures. LT Charlie Johnson (59) was clean after Orakpo bulled him for a pressure on the opening series. He's so athletic for a big man -- he just doesn't have the length to be a long-term answer at tackle. The Redskins rushed five or more eight times in 15 dropbacks (53.3%), not including eight one-step throws, bootlegs and sprint-out passes.
Defensive linemen (3)
The Vikings made a conscious effort to free up RE Jared Allen (69 snaps), who didn't see as many chips once he came inside on a couple of T-E games early. He ended up with a sack, two additional hits and eight total QB pressures -- mostly against rookie LT Willie Smith, who didn't know what to do with Allen's bull rushes. But Allen sacked QB Rex Grossman only once, catching Smith peeking at an outside rush and countering in 2.8 seconds. The holding call on FB Darrel Young that wiped out WR Brandon Banks' 59-yard touchdown run wasn't as flagrant as one officials didn't call earlier on FB Mike Sellers, who appeared to tackle Allen at the point on a toss to HB Evan Royster that gained 28. The Redskins could have run that toss-stretch play all day -- and they almost did, racking up 141 yards on 24 carries (5.9 average) despite the absence of leading rusher HB Roy Helu. The Vikings' gap control was just atrocious. UT Kevin Williams (63) hit Grossman once and later sacked him in 2.6 seconds after shedding RG Chris Chester. There was no questioning Williams' motor, just his discipline at times. He got in on five tackles (two solo). LE Brian Robison (59) only got to Grossman once, but it was a big one -- strip/sack/recovery in 2.0 seconds when Sellers' pickup was thin behind a line slide. DT Letroy Guion (48) got a ton of work and didn't have much to show for it, with two solo tackles and a pressure against RT Jammal Brown that caused a throwaway. The Vikings need to find a nickel rusher who can give them more than that. Apparently, coaches don't think it's DL Christian Ballard (five), at least not yet. NT Fred Evans (12), DE Everson Griffen (11) and NT Remi Ayodele (eight) just picked up scraps, too. Griffen also picked off an in-breaking throw for WR Santana Moss on a zone drop.
The Vikings played almost exclusively man coverage in the first quarter and had a surprising level of success. Once they dropped into their two-deep zones again, though, Grossman got some rhythm. It's tough to ask a guy like SLB Chad Greenway (69 snaps) to stop receivers dragging across his face all day. WR Donte Stallworth's 19-yard catch and run was a prime example, with players trying to communicate assignments as the ball was snapped. Greenway covered up well overall, breaking up one in-cut to Paulsen. He also took an offsides penalty, got a QB pressure on one of his three blitzes and was in on 16 tackles (four solo). MLB E.J. Henderson (68) had another active day -- recording 11 solo tackles, missing two and getting in Moss' pocket on a third-and-goal throw that sailed incomplete. WLB Erin Henderson (24) probably played his worst game. Where exactly was he going on that toss Royster popped for 28? He finished with four tackles (three solo).
Defensive backs (2½)
Where has this RCB Cedric Griffin (69 snaps) been? He returned to the lineup after a 1¾-week benching, played press coverage like the old days and gave up only two short completions on slants. WR Anthony Armstrong did work him over on the end-around that got called back, and WR Jabar Gaffney was open on the go ball Grossman overthrew behind Griffin in Cover-2 on the final drive. At least coaches can work with this. On the other hand, LCB Benny Sapp (69) just looked lazy. He gave up a 20-yard completion early to Moss on an in-cut, blew tackles on two catch-and-runs that went for 17 each and stood flat-footed as Stallworth ran the slant for a 5-yard touchdown and FS Mistral Raymond (69) tried in vein to get him on the ground. In one red-zone sequence, Grossman completion three consecutive option throws to Stallworth on designed run plays -- two of them against Sapp, who couldn't stop the 6-yarder or the 4-yard touchdown Stallworth hauled in one-handed. CB Marcus Sherels (45) got all the nickel work and was better in man than zone, breaking up a square-in to Moss to halt the Redskins' first drive and failing to get a reroute on a seam throw to WR Terrence Austin for 18. He missed one tackle. Sapp ended up waving his arms at CB Brandon Burton (one) to get the rookie lined up in a rare snap of dime. SS Jamarca Sanford (64) dropped a would-be interception, dinged his shoulder twice, got in on six tackles (three solo) and registered two QB pressures on the extra-man rushes the Vikings deployed only 10 times in Grossman's 41 dropbacks (24.4%). Grossman ended the Vikings' 39-quarter interception drought by drilling Raymond between the numbers on a high seam throw to Moss, who was running free in the zone. Raymond briefly went to the locker room after hurting his left shoulder trying to tackle Stallworth on the touchdown but didn't miss a play. He needs to bulk up in the offseason. Batting down the Hail Mary was a veteran move.
LS Matt Katula can't be blamed for PK Ryan Longwell taking a divot on the extra point that shanked wide right. Continued wayward snaps seem to be messing up the timing of the operation, though. At least two were off-target, but P Chris Kluwe just keeps bailing him out. Longwell had a brutal day. Besides the extra point, he came up short and right on a 49-yard field-goal attempt into a slight wind and bounced a side-winding kickoff out of bounds after the Vikings' first touchdown. Longwell's other six kickoffs were OK -- three touchbacks and an average hang time of 3.63 seconds. He had no trouble on field goals from 36 and 23 yards and three other extra points. Banks got out of the gate once for 43 yards when Burton and Sherels got stacked at the edge. Burton struggled in the blocking phase and took a holding penalty. Kluwe grossed 44.3, netted 39.7 and averaged 4.3 seconds of hang time on three punts with one downed inside the 20, not including the one called back by a penalty. Sherels returned one punt for 4 yards and four kickoffs for a 24.5 average. Harvin's kick returns yielded only 15.7 yards on three chances.