Offensive formations and film observations: Week 10 vs. Washington
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Welcome to another installment of 'Offensive formations and film observations,' this one brought to you for the Minnesota Vikings-Washington Redskins.
Every Tuesday after a game, we'll take a look at what the Vikings offense looked like, bring you five key takeaways from film study and hand out a proverbial game ball and name the goat(s). Every Wednesday, we'll provide you with a similar breakdown and analysis from the defensive side of the ball. Because the Vikings played on Thursday night, this week will be Sunday-Monday.
The Vikings offense produced 307 yards and 34 points in the win, improving to 24.4 points/game and slightly falling to 316 yards/game.
With tight end Kyle Rudolph sidelined by a fractured foot, quarterback Christian Ponder found a new go-to target in tight end John Carlson. After signing with the Vikings before last season, Carlson suffered a sprained knee in training camp followed by an in-season concussion. He finished with just eight catches for 43 yards and no touchdowns.
In both Ponder and Carlson's first games as Vikings players without Rudolph, the pair connected for seven catches, 98 yards and Carlson's first touchdown in 23 games in Minnesota. The Redskins' defense didn't seem to respect Carlson on routes in the same way defenders do Rudolph, which may change with more tape on Carlson. However, Rudolph's injury didn't spring Carlson's ability to catch downfield. Carlson would be a nice complement to Rudolph in the intermediate passing game, should the scheme allow it.
The offense set a season-high in efficiency on Thursday night, despite one of the more difficult turnarounds in sports in regard to the depth of game planning and physical recovery needed in the NFL from week to week. With three days in between Week 9 and Week 10, the Vikings dressed just 44 players against the Redskins as they had more injuries (9) than inactive spots (7). Ponder set a career high with 81 completion percentage as he missed on just four throws. His 8.3 yards-per-pass are the most since the season opener as the offense converted 60 percent of third-down attempts, a season high.
Missing the entire fourth quarter after dislocating his shoulder on a 14-yard run near the goal line, Ponder tied his season low in passing attempts with 21. But he set season highs in touchdown passes (2) and quarterback rating (113.1).
Running back Adrian Peterson gained just 75 yards off 20 carries, but his yardage was tough to come by as the Redskins sold heavily into the run game - making Ponder's play-action that much more effective.
1 tight end / 2 receivers / 1 fullback: 16 plays
Shotgun 1 tight end / 3 receivers: 11 plays
2 tight ends / 2 receivers: 10 plays
2 tight ends / 1 receiver / 1 fullback: 6 plays
Shotgun 5 receivers: 4 plays
Shotgun 4 receivers: 3 plays
2 tight ends / 1 OL / 1 fullback: 1 play
Total: 51 plays
1) The Vikings' playbook appeared to open a little wider on Thursday, just four days after they debuted a shotgun, five receiver set at Dallas. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave put four or five receivers on the field at least seven times in 51 plays [14%]. Ponder's best game of the season played off a game plan that allowed him to flourish in the intermediate passing game. He attempted at least four passes 20-plus yards downfield, one went for an interception on the fourth play of the game and one other could have been his best throw of the season. On 3rd and 12, Ponder ran around Peterson's block and rolled right. Typically, Ponder looks to run in these situations. But, on the run, he delivered a 28-yard dart to receiver Jarius Wright, who was emphatically waving his arms along the sideline. The other two were off play-action, including a double move by Carlson for 21 yards and a 20-yard gain to receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. Patterson caught his first touchdown, also Ponder's first to a receiver this season, on a long drag route in the first quarter. Ponder took a few hits on Thursday as the Vikings gained an additional 15 yards on Carlson's 21-yard catch after Redskins defensive end Chris Baker was flagged for roughing the passer.
Aside from the interception, Ponder's four incompletions also included a batted pass by Redskins defensive end Ryan Kerrigan that should've been intercepted, one too wide for Patterson and a misfire caused by receiver Jerome Simpson's slip on a route. He did not play after dislocating his shoulder on a 14-yard run that was initially ruled a touchdown.
Quarterback Matt Cassel took over for Ponder at the one-yard line, handing off to Peterson for the 28-27 lead on the next play. Cassel commanded two drives in the fourth quarter, both ending with field goals. Ponder is now 1-5 as a starter this season after the defense held the Redskins scoreless for the final 24:22 of play.
2) Ponder went 7-of-8 for 89 yards and a touchdown in the second half, his only incompletion being a blown receiver screen to Patterson that ended up in the arms of Kerrigan. The trio of plays beginning with that would-be interception is an interesting scope of Ponder's play as a whole.
On this 2nd and 12 play, Ponder executes the play design despite Kerrigan already having position in between him and Patterson. The ball is still in Ponder's hand in this shot and he gets away with one as Kerrigan drops the pick. Poor decision making from the quarterback has cost the Vikings in the past, but the Redskins only capitalized on the earlier attempt to Jennings.
Set up for a 3rd and 12, many fans have seen this movie before. Except in the Week 10 version, Ponder throws it to Wright, the receiver along the sideline with his arms in the air. Typically, Ponder runs for the first down, which may explain Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall's position on this play. Hall doesn't seem to bother looking for a receiver, instead creeping up to the first-down marker in case Ponder runs. Wright is rewarded for leaping out of his 5-foot-10-inch frame to attract the quarterback's attention as the Vikings completed the pass for a 28-yard gain.
On the next play, Ponder has multiple options to throw to, but ultimately runs for a 14-yard gain and a dislocated shoulder courtesy of Hall. Hall, who suffered a concussion on the play, also did not return to the game. Ponder has the proven ability to outrun defenders and make big plays with his feet, but he's had trouble toeing the line as he's ran with open receivers before. This play is no different. Even though he gains 14 yards, he has options in Carlson and Simpson that would've net him half the yardage and the ability to see the next play. There wasn't much of a dropoff, if any, at quarterback play with Cassel in the game for the fourth quarter. But Ponder likely needs to continue a roll like Thursday's should they stick with him longterm. In hindsight, throwing on this play would've helped that cause.
3) Peterson's first four runs combined for just one yard before he ripped off an 18-yard touchdown run on their second drive in the first quarter. He found a hole in between center John Sullivan and right guard Brandon Fusco before outrunning everyone to the corner of the endzone. It was tough sledding for Peterson throughout the game as 12 of his 20 carries went for three yards or less. The Redskins stacked eight men in the box as their linebackers continually bit on play-action. Carlson's 28-yard touchdown, his first as a Viking, was a direct result of play action as he had 10 yards around him when he made the completion on a crossing route before running another 10-plus yards into the endzone. Peterson broke four tackles on a remarkable run in the fourth quarter that converted a 2nd-and-13. Peterson leads the NFL in yards after contact per attempt with a 3.31-yard average per attempt, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
4) The Vikings as a whole went 6-of-10 on third downs, but Ponder went four-of-six before exiting. His two misses on third down included the interception, attempted to Jennings, and an out route in which Simpson appears to slip before getting a chance at the reception. On 24 first-down attempts, the Vikings called 13 pass plays and 11 runs.
5) Left tackle Matt Kalil had tough goings early as he allowed one pressure and a sack on Ponder's first two dropbacks to defensive end Brian Orakpo. Kalil was also tripped up and thrown into Peterson's path on the running back's first carry that went for just one yard. As a whole, the Vikings offensive line only allowed one sack on 30 combined dropbacks by both quarterbacks. Both reserve linemen J'Marcus Webb and Joe Berger held up well in pass protection as the Vikings have also experimented with motioning receiver Joe Webb into the backfield for protection purposes.
Rookie guard Jeff Baca saw his first snap of the season on offense when they added him as an extra lineman on Peterson's one-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
Game Ball: Ponder. This is no slight to Peterson, who could've easily been in this spot again for managing to gain 75 yards against tough looks. Ponder played his most complete game of the season, but that is in context of his otherwise poor performances this season. He completed his first touchdown to a receiver, the two-yard drag route to Patterson, while setting a season-high in quarterback rating (113.1). However, he beat that mark three times last season.
Goat(s): Matt Kalil. While playing alongside two backup linemen, Kalil managed to stick out the most. Aside from his early struggles, Kalil was also flagged for illegal use of the hands on 3rd and 6 in the fourth quarter, which was declined after Cassel's throwaway. Overall, the line played well and so did Kalil for most of the game, but his second-year inconsistencies are unexpected from a rookie Pro Bowler. Sullivan and Berger also allowed a few tackles for losses on Peterson in run blocking.