Notebook: Coach doesn't consider Christian Ponder a 'risk-taker'
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - Quarterback Christian Ponder threw two interceptions that resulted in 10 points for the Denver Broncos in their 35-32 victory Sunday over the Minnesota Vikings.
The Broncos first pick was returned for a touchdown by linebacker Mario Haggan in the first quarter and the second, by cornerback Andre Goodman, led to a game-winning 23-yard field goal by Matt Prater as time expired.
That gave Ponder eight picks in six starts. He is 1-5 and the Vikings are 2-10 overall.
While Vikings coach Leslie Frazier wants to see the interceptions decrease, he said he's encouraged by Ponder's development and isn't concerned the rookie is developing a gunslinger mentality.
"I don't think he is a gambler to the point where he's going to throw into coverage," Frazier said. "He has a good understanding of coverages. He has to just continue to see things and he'll get better. He's not a high risk-taker who will put the team in jeopardy.
"That hasn't been who he is. I think what's happening to him right now is just a matter of being a rookie more than it is being a guy who will gamble with the football."
Ponder completed 29 of 47 passes for a season-high 381 yards with three touchdowns. The yardage total established a franchise record for a Vikings rookie, breaking the mark set in 1961 by Fran Tarkenton.
"He actually thrived on some of the pressure situations he was placed in and made some good throws throughout the course of the game," Frazier said. "The one at the end of the game when we got in the two-minute situation, he'll learn from that as well.
"Eventually, he's going to take us down for a game-winning drive. That's going to happen. But we've got to go through some things. But that day is going to come."
Easier said than done
Frazier did little to hide his disgust with the performance of the team's defensive backs Sunday.
Frazier went so far as to say that some players might lose their jobs after quarterback Tim Tebow threw for 173 yards and two touchdowns in the second half. "We've got to identify somebody who can come back there and make a play for us when the ball's in the air," Frazier said.
On Monday, Frazier seemed far calmer in his approach to what would happen with the secondary.
Part of the reason is that there aren't many options when it comes to what can be done.
"We're really limited in what we can do change wise with the injuries that we've had in our secondary," Frazier said. "We were trying to mix and match, even (Sunday) we were making some changes during the course of the game.
"I know those guys are playing hard, we've just got to play smarter. ... If they can just execute the technique, we'll have a chance. When you don't execute the technique and we give up big plays like we did, that's what gets you a little upset with the way things went. We don't have a lot of changes that we can actually make."
The Vikings were missing two of their four starters in the secondary from Week 1 on Sunday.
Free safety Husain Abudullah has been placed on injured reserve because of a concussion. Left cornerback Antoine Winfield is out for the season after undergoing surgery on a broken collarbone and his replacement, Asher Allen, was sidelined because of a shoulder injury.
Rookie Mistral Raymond started in place of Abdullah and Benny Sapp, signed as a free agent last month, started at the left corner. Rookie Brandon Burton also saw his first action at cornerback, playing in Winfield's spot.
And this doesn't include the fact backup safety Tyrell Johnson also has been put on injured reserve because of a hamstring injury. Free-agent safeties Jarrad Page and Andrew Sendejo were signed last week.
One thing that frustrated Frazier was the fact the Vikings were playing a basic coverage when they had the lead but couldn't even do that correctly. Missed tackles also were a major irritant.
Frazier indicated that defensive coordinator Fred Pagac might simplify things even more as the Vikings prepare to play the Lions on Sunday in Detroit.
The Lions have the fifth-ranked passing attack in the NFL and Calvin Johnson is third in the league with 69 receptions for 1,092 yards and 12 touchdowns.
"We're going to look at a number of things," Frazier said. "This team we're playing this coming Sunday has a prolific passing attack and an outstanding wide receiver, so if we think it was hard Sunday, it could be much, much worse. So we've got to look at some things and try to figure out how we can help our guys. We'll try and come out with something."
Page in the mix
Page, a six-year veteran who started five games for the Philadelphia Eagles this season before being let go, was used by the Vikings on special teams Sunday.
Frazier said Page, "did some real good things," on special teams but admitted it would be a stretch to put him into a starting role at safety as early as Sunday.
However, that doesn't mean he couldn't see some playing time. Much of that will depend on how Page does in practice this week.
"We'll look at it some more and just see what the game plan is going to be and just see how it might fit, and where he is," Frazier said. "It's not complicated what we're trying to do, especially with the changes we've made. So we'll see what he can grasp and see where he can play."
Page can be used at either free or strong safety but will work primarily at free safety for now.
Blame the second level
The Broncos had only 35 yards rushing in the first half Sunday, but that changed drastically in the final 30 minutes.
Denver established its ground game on its opening drive of the half as running back Willis McGahee had runs of 11, 14 and 9 yards on consecutive carries. The Broncos eventually scored on the drive to pull within one point of the Vikings. They had 115 yards on the ground in the half.
While it appeared the Broncos were having success going right at the Vikings defensive tackles, Frazier said the concern actually was behind the line.
"When the ball gets to the second level, you have to be able to tackle the runner," he said. "We had the ball get to the second level a couple of times and it got out on us. Tackling in the back end was a little bit of an issue in some of the things we did at one of our front positions.
"Yeah, it's a concern. Other people are going to see it on tape in these final four games and say, 'OK, let's try to exploit that.' We'll have to get it fixed before we face Detroit."
• Frazier on whether owner Zygi Wilf has communicated to him that he will be back as coach next season: "Nah. I'm really thinking more about Detroit than 2012."
• Right guard Anthony Herrera returned Sunday after missing four games because of a knee injury. "He played well," Frazier said. "He had some moments where he struggled a little bit then he really got his legs under him and played extremely well. It was great having him out there. He gives us some leadership, brings some intensity to our offensive line."
• Running back Adrian Peterson, who has missed the past two games because of a high ankle sprain, took to Twitter on Monday to assure everyone he will be back this season. "(To) all my concerned fans out there!" Peterson wrote, "No, I'm not sitting out the rest of the season. As soon as I'm ready to roll I'll be back." Peterson has never missed more than two games since entering the NFL in 2007 and he has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his four years. He is currently at 872 yards with 11 touchdowns this season.