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Updated: September 16th, 2012 7:03pm
Notebook: Christian Ponder efficient but Vikings lack downfield threat

Notebook: Christian Ponder efficient but Vikings lack downfield threat

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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INDIANAPOLIS -- When Jerome Simpson's suspension ends on Sept. 24, he figures to get a warm welcome back to the Minnesota Vikings' lineup.

Christian Ponder didn't complete a pass for more than 20 yards in Sunday's 23-20 loss to Indianapolis, time and again finding no one open down the field on the relatively few occasions coordinator Bill Musgrave tried to dial up a deep ball.

"I think (the Colts') objective was to take away the deep ball and take away Percy (Harvin) and (Michael) Jenkins getting downfield," Ponder said. "That's why we kept running the ball. They were basically in two-deep all game."

Ponder finished with a highly efficient line -- 27-of-35 passing (77.1%) for 245 yards, two touchdowns and a 114.6 rating. But he also took four sacks, one of them resulting in a fumble, and was forced to scramble three other times as protection broke down.

"I need to keep doing a better job of stepping up in the pocket," Ponder said. "I knew that their pass rushers were obviously very good on the edges. I think I was hanging in there in the pocket too much. I just have to do a better job of finding them and creating windows and finding windows and just getting that ball out."

Ponder's fumble mindway through the second quarter was the game's only turnover and led to a field goal for the Colts, who gave up completions of 24 yards or more to five different players in a loss one week earlier at Chicago.

The Vikings did run the ball relatively efficiently, averaging 3.7 yards on 26 carries. But big plays were hard to come by there, too. Adrian Peterson's long run went for 6 yards and Toby Gerhart's for 8.

"We were running the ball well, so we wanted to get back to a short passing game and we had success doing that," coach Leslie Frazier said. "Then, the game changed in the second half, where we needed to get the ball downfield a little bit more and we were able to do that."

Not too far downfield, though. Harvin provided most of the offense at or behind the line of scrimmage, gaining 20 yards on one of his two carries and catching 12 passes for 104 yards (8.7 average).

Simpson's return may not fix what ails the offense, but it will better balance the speed on the perimeter.

Jenkins, who has been starting at split end in Simpson's absence, can't stretch a defense vertically. Devin Aromashodu and Stephen Burton aren't one-on-one matchup threats either.

Had Burton not caught a deflected pass for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, the final score -- and the Vikings' passing numbers -- would have looked even worse.

"We was able to move the ball, but for whatever reason, we just couldn't punch it in the end zone," Harvin said. "Last game, it was like that from the start, too. But we put it on tape what we can look like in the second half, when we're actually putting the ball in the end zone.

"I don't think it's been any team that's stopping us on a consistent basis. We've just got to find a way to come out the chute fast."

Quite a start

Burton's first NFL touchdown couldn't have come in stranger fashion. It couldn't have been much timelier either.

Down 20-6 with 5 minutes, 15 seconds to play, the Vikings were facing fourth-and-4 at the Colts' 7-yard line. Ponder tried to throw a quick pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph, but Indianapolis end Cory Redding got a piece of it at the line.

The ball fluttered in the direction of Rudolph, who couldn't bring it down in traffic, then ricocheted again into Burton's arms.

It was the first catch of the season for Burton, a seventh-round draft pick out of Division II West Texas A&M who spent most of last season on the practice squad.

"I thought that the ball was going to come to me," Burton said. "It didn't, unfortunately, but you don't give up on tipped balls. You don't give up on the play, and that's exactly what I didn't do and I ended up coming up with the grab."

Off the schneid

A seven-quarter sack drought for the Vikings' defensive line ended late in the fourth quarter, when backup Everson Griffen corralled Andrew Luck for a 22-yard loss.

But starting ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison were shut out again, despite facing a rookie quarterback behind a Colts line that opened the game without two starting linemen (left guard Joe Reitz and right tackle Winston Justice) and ended up moving right guard Mike McGlynn to center after Samson Satele dropped out.

"I had a couple free runs at (Luck)," Allen said. "The one I went for the ball, I didn't think he saw me and he cocked his shoulder back and all of a sudden he slide-stepped up. I guess I won't be going for the ball anymore. That's two this year already I missed for going for the ball.

"Missed out when I had a free run at him and he just was able to get the ball off. For me, those are plays that I look at -- whether they make a difference in the game, I don't know -- but those are plays that I've got to make."

Luck finished 20-of-31 passing (64.5%) for 224 yards, two touchdowns, a 107.5 rating and no interceptions, one week after throwing three picks to the Bears.

The No. 1 overall draft pick was sacked one other time, by linebacker Erin Henderson on a blitz. But Luck repeatedly found his way out of pressure -- even standing in long enough to toss a 30-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne before defensive tackle Kevin Williams clocked him.

"He was just raising up and throwing," Williams said. "I told somebody, if we was driving a jet, we wouldn't have gotten to him. He was throwing the ball quick."

Sherels' mistake

Harvin once again took the first chance on kickoff returns and returned the second 50 yards, setting the stage for a drive that ended in a field goal.

Marcus Sherels got one chance and blew it, bringing out the ball from 8 yards deep and getting tackled at the Vikings' 15-yard line just before halftime.

The Vikings proceeded to go three-and-out and then punt to the Colts, who drove for a touchdown that extended their lead to 17-6 entering the break.

"Not a good decision," special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said. "It was too high and too deep and (Sherels) didn't know where he was. Rhett Ellison even asked me, 'Should I have kept him in?' I said, 'Yeah.'

"We're trying to be aggressive, but sometimes, being aggressive there in that situation (isn't worth it). It's 5 yards, though. We're trying to take a chance. We'd been killing them on kickoff return and getting after them and had a big play earlier in the game."

Sherels also muffed a punt but recovered it.

More trouble for Raymond

The hydration problems safety Mistral Raymond thought were behind him knocked him out again on Sunday.

Jamarca Sanford had to take over for a stretch in the fourth quarter because Raymond, who beat out Sanford for the job in camp, was in the locker room getting intravenous fluids.

"It's frustrating for everybody, when people are depending on you and a thing so petty just continues to nag you," said Raymond, who dropped out of two games last season with cramps.

"One week it's this. One week it's that. It's never been my character. It's never been the way I've been. I've never had any problems with any injuries or any of that stuff. So, yeah, it's frustrating."

Health watch

Harvin also dropped out of the game at least twice because of cramps in his right calf but returned both times and downplayed the issue afterwards.

"I got tackled kind of funny on my calf muscle, so it just kept flaring up," Harvin said. "So, drinking fluids, pickle juice, all that. I was able to finish the game. I'm fine."

Linebacker Erin Henderson dropped out late with what Frazier said may have been an elbow problem, but he returned as well. So did fullback Jerome Felton, who had one of his legs checked out after coming off in the second quarter.

It appeared end Brian Robison may have injured his left arm while trying to corral Luck before Griffen finished off his sack.

Quick hits

• Peterson had 41 yards on eight first-half carries (5.1 average) but only 19 yards on eight carries (2.4 average) thereafter, one week after rushing for 84 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries in his first game back from left knee reconstruction. "I felt like I kind of got into a groove," Peterson said. "But coming out in the second half, we had to kind of switch it up a little bit."

• The Vikings unveiled a dime defense to combat the Colts' empty shotgun look, with Sherels as the extra slot cornerback and Chad Greenway the lone linebacker. "We wanted to have the ability," Frazier said, "to not only play zone by keeping a linebacker out there, but being able to play some man and match up and that's what we did on occasion and it helped us some."

• Rookie PK Blair Walsh's 51-yard field goal in the first quarter made him the first Viking since Fuad Reveiz in 1992 to convert from 50-plus in the team's first two games. Walsh also hit a 29-yard field goal and two extra points and had four touchbacks in five kickoffs.

• The Vikings would have tried a field goal from up to 65 yards had they gotten close enough for a game-trying attempt on their final drive. That would have required them to get from their 20-yard line to the Colts' 47 in less than 8 seconds, though -- next to impossible, barring a defensive penalty. "You're going to try it from 65 and in," Priefer said. "I think you have to with that kid's leg. Why not, right?"

• Colts TE Dwayne Allen drew a personal foul penalty in the first quarter for knocking Vikings MLB Jasper Brinkley's helmet off well after the play.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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