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Updated: November 15th, 2011 12:30am
Notebook: Christian Ponder stumbles in face of Packers' pressure

Notebook: Christian Ponder stumbles in face of Packers' pressure

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Christian Ponder's second crack at the Green Bay Packers wasn't nearly as encouraging as the first.

That might have said more about the state of the Minnesota Vikings offense than it did the progress of their rookie quarterback.

Ponder finished 16-of-34 passing for 190 yards, an interception and a 52.3 rating as Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers pummeled him with blitz after blitz in Green Bay's 45-7 rout.

"They brought a lot of pressure (Monday)," Ponder said. "They didn't really do anything different. They did exactly what we thought they were going to do."

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Packers blitzed 19 times in Ponder's 39 dropbacks (48.7%) -- their highest blitz percentage over the past four seasons.

Ponder, who had done a good job escaping the heat in his first two starts, was 5-of-17 passing for 52 yards against the blitzes. He was sacked three times, one of them causing a fumble that halfback Adrian Peterson recovered.

"A few times they dropped into deep coverage, and at times, (receivers) were covered," Ponder said. "But it goes back to I've got to learn to avoid pressure and hit that open guy."

The interception was Ponder's greatest mistake and came on a peculiar play call -- a flea-flicker on second-and-4 from the Vikings' 49-yard line.

Ponder handed off to Peterson, who flipped the ball back to the rookie. The Packers dropped into a quarters coverage with two deep safeties but Ponder threw deep for Devin Aromashodu anyway, and Tramon Williams easily picked off the underthrown ball.

"They had quarters out there and thought maybe we could get it out," Ponder said. "But two high safeties, I should have just ate it and made a play with my feet. Wasn't smart."

Another near-interception was overturned when the Vikings successfully challenged that cornerback Charles Woodson -- who intercepted Ponder twice in the teams' first meeting on Oct. 23 -- didn't keep the ball off the ground before gaining control. Woodson dropped a third ball he probably would have returned for a touchdown in the third quarter.

"I think he faced a defense that really stepped up and played very, very well," coach Leslie Frazier said of the Packers, who entered the weekend ranked 31st in pass defense.

"It really put a lot of pressure on our passing game and our running game, and it exposed some areas where we have to keep working to improve to close the gap on their defense and their defense."

Ponder's day didn't end well either. He got spiked on his non-throwing hand and underwent an X-ray that came back negative.

Same old story

One of the Vikings' focuses coming out of the bye was getting off to better starts. They had another bad one on Monday.

The offense went three-and-out, perhaps aided by unflagged pass interference by Erik Walden on Ponder's third-down incompletion for Visanthe Shiancoe.

Then, Randall Cobb fielded Chris Kluwe's punt outside the left hashes, made Jamarca Sanford and Kenny Onatolu miss in the hole and raced 80 yards for a touchdown.

"It's horrible," special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer said. "We crushed our team on special teams (Monday)."

The Vikings had made a point all week in practice of stopping the Packers' wall returns. Everson Griffen, who has been working as a gunner in recent weeks, did make Cobb go sideways but got run past the play.

"He needs more experience with that, because that's a tough play," Priefer said. "He's just got to keep leverage, and that's what we talk about all the time.

"The kid felt awful about it. He was blaming himself, and that's the type of guy he is. But it wasn't his fault totally."

Brain freeze

The Vikings' best scoring opportunity of the first half came in the first quarter, when they drove to the Packers' 29-yard line.

Ryan Longwell's 47-yard field goal barely crept over the crossbar. But Fred Evans was called for a false start, wiping away three points, and Longwell's retry from 52 yards into the wind came up short.

"We've got to make sure that we're concentrating in situations," Frazier said. "To have the number of penalties we had (Monday) in key situation against a good football team, it's hard to overcome."

That wasn't their only puzzling special-teams penalty. Eric Frampton was offside on the second half's opening kickoff.

"We work on that ad nauseam," Priefer said. "We should never be offsides."

In all, the Vikings finished with 10 penalties for 80 yards.

A mistake by the Packers' special teams set up the Vikings' lone touchdown. Cobb muffed a punt, and Ryan D'Imperio recovered at the Packers' 14 to set up Adrian Peterson's 3-yard touchdown run two plays later.

Playing keep-away

The Vikings once again schemed to keep cornerback Cedric Griffin away from the opponent's top receiver.

They didn't shadow Greg Jennings to the extent they did with Carolina's Steve Smith in their previous game. But they aligned their corners based on which side Jennings was on, using Asher Allen against him outside and Antoine Winfield against him in the slot.

"We wanted to match Asher on Greg Jennings whenever we could," Frazier said. "We felt for the most part it was effective for us."

Jennings scored the Packers' first offensive touchdown from 24 yards on a deep slant against a zone coverage that left Sanford trying to break on Aaron Rodgers' bullet throw after Winfield released Jennings off the line.

They played more man/Cover-1 in the second quarter, with mixed results. Sanford was in press coverage on Jermichael Finley when the Packers tight end beat him up the seam for 25 yards on fourth-and-5, setting up a field goal that made it 17-0 with 12:04 left in the half.

"They're a team that doesn't really make that many mistakes, and they capitalize on (opponents') mistakes," Allen said. "Whenever you have a team like that, playing that well in all three phases, it'll be a tough team to beat. But I think we'll look at the film and see that we really shot ourselves in the foot early."

On the opening drive of the third quarter, Jordy Nelson shook Allen's jam to convert on fourth-and-2. Then, two plays later, Nelson scored a 17-yard touchdown by running over Griffin after Rodgers hit him on the one-step option behind a designed running play.

Late in the third quarter, the Vikings unveiled a three-safety dime alignment, burned a timeout because they had 12 men on the field and then watched Allen take a pass-interference penalty for grabbing Jennings on a go route.

Rodgers finished 23-of-30 passing for 250 yards with four touchdown throws and a 140.3 passer rating. The Packers converted seven of 13 third downs (53.8%).

"Anybody can be stopped," end Jared Allen said. "We were hitting him. It comes back to guys doing their job. We've got to cover guys. We've got to get to him. We've got to capitalize on third-and-long. I don't think we got off the field on third down to save our lives (Monday).

"(Rodgers is) in the zone right now. He's a heck of a player, so hats off to them. I hope they win it all now."

Marcus Sherels finished the game as the nickel cornerback after Winfield suffered a fractured clavicle that likely will end his season.

Allen adds to total

Jared Allen was credited with one sack, increasing his NFL-leading season total to 13½. And he might get a piece of another once the game tape is reviewed.

Allen initially was credited with a sack in the first quarter when Rodgers recovered his own fumble and Allen dived on top of him. But it was changed to a fumble recovery and tackle.

The sack Allen did get credit for came on first-and-goal in the second quarter. He appeared to get a piece of another sack later that was credited to blitzing cornerback Antoine Winfield, who finished off Rodgers after Allen spun him in the pocket.

Lineup changes

Remi Ayodele's stint as the Vikings' starting nose tackle may be over after eight games.

Rookie Christian Ballard started in his place and Ayodele didn't even get on the field until late in the second half. Frazier said the move was strategic, though.

"Knowing that they're going to throw the ball as much as they do, we just tried to get another guy on the field who could give us a little more from a pass-rush standpoint," Frazier said. "We felt like we'd be able to hold up fairly well against their run game."

The Packers ran 31 times for 90 yards (2.9 average).

Sanford and Husain Abdullah started at safety as usual. But injuries forced the Vikings to try four combinations at one of their many problem positions.

Tyrell Johnson worked in with Abdullah late in the first quarter. Sanford and Johnson opened the second half together after Abdullah suffered a concussion. Rookie sixth-round draft pick Mistral Raymond made his debut on defense alongside Johnson on the next series, only to end up in the locker room with cramps.

Option attack

The Vikings used their Blazer package for one snap in the first quarter, with Joe Webb under center and Ponder lined up in the right slot.

The counter option Webb ran was straight out of a college playbook -- and the most successful in his limited snaps this season. The Packers defended the pitch to Adrian Peterson, so Webb cut inside and gained 6 yards.

Later, Webb played a snap at receiver and came open for a 9-yard reception, his first NFL catch.

Quick hits

• Monday's game was the second and final nighttime kickoff on the Vikings' schedule. All of their remaining games are scheduled to begin at noon except for a 3:05 p.m. start against Denver on Dec. 4 at the Metrodome. The Vikings' only remaining outdoor game is on Dec. 24 at Washington.

• MLB E.J. Henderson played some in the nickel for the first time since Oct. 16. However, OLB Erin Henderson continued to take the majority of nickel "mike" reps.

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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