Offensive formations and film observations: Week 11 vs. Seahawks
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Welcome to another installment of 'Offensive formations and film observations,' this one brought to you for the Minnesota Vikings-Seattle Seahawks.
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.
The Minnesota Vikings offense produced 336 yards and 20 points in the loss, improving to 318 yards/game (26th) and slightly falling to 24 points/game (14th).
After quarterback Christian Ponder completed a career-high 81 percent of his passes in his first win of the season against the Washington Redskins, he took a predictable step back against the Seattle Seahawks at the most inopportune time.
Up against arguably the NFL's best defense, Ponder threw two fourth-quarter interceptions that sealed the Seahawks' victory after a scoreless third quarter carried the 24-13 halftime score into the final period. Six of the 13 points Ponder put up came off pass interference penalties by the Seahawks, while his 38-yard touchdown to receiver Jarius Wright kept them in striking distance until it all unraveled.
Ponder played through a recently dislocated shoulder in his non-throwing arm, but that shouldn't have hampered his throwing motion. He capped off his tumultuous second half with two interceptions that spanned 1:30 of game time and led to a 14-point swing.
After his sixth loss in seven starts this season, Ponder falls to 13-20 as a starter and may have played his way out of the starting role for good after this performance.
The Vikings put up their lowest point total since the Oct. 21 loss at the New York Giants, in which the offense was shutout for the only time this season. The 4.8 yards-per-play is also the lowest since the Giants' loss.
Despite returning right tackle Phil Loadholt and left guard Charlie Johnson from injury, the offensive line struggled run blocking against the Seahawks' single-high safety looks with at least eight in the box. Receiver Greg Jennings was a surprise scratch after coming up lame with an Achilles injury on game day, helping lead to Wright's start at the flanker role and first multi-touchdown game of his career.
Running back Adrian Peterson played through a groin injury that hampered him during the game, he admitted afterward. However, Peterson has rushed for more than 75 yards just once in the last six games and his injury, combined with loaded fronts and, at times, ineffective blocking, led to another subpar performance for the NFL MVP.
1 tight end / 1 fullback / 2 receivers: 17 plays
2 tight ends / 2 receivers: 17 plays
Shotgun 1 tight end / 3 receivers: 15 plays
2 tight ends / 1 fullback / 1 receiver: 11 plays
1 tight end / 3 receivers: 4 plays
Shotgun 5 receivers: 3 plays
3 tight end / 1 receiver: 2 plays
Double split pistol: 1 play
Total plays: 70
1) The Vikings' intermediate to deep passing game looked as inept as it has all season with Ponder behind center against a stout Seahawks defense. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave ran 19 of 70 plays [27%] out of the shotgun, which produced six catches on 16 attempts for 36 yards and two interceptions. Before being pulled after his fourth quarter pick-six, Ponder attempted just one pass farther than 20 yards downfield, which resulted in a 38-yard touchdown to Wright, who beat cornerback Richard Sherman on a double move off play action. Wright's score, his first of the season, tied the game at 10-10 and was set up by a 20-yard completion to tight end John Carlson, also off play-action and down the seam on the previous play.
Despite Ponder's back-to-back throws that combined for 58 yards and a touchdown on the second-half scoring drive, the Vikings called four straight runs against single-high safety looks. A 23-yard pass interference call on Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane resurrected their next drive on 3rd-and-5, but a muffed pitch to Peterson helped force a 3rd-and-16 and a subsequent 45-yard field goal by kicker Blair Walsh for the 17-13 deficit.
After Ponder's 38-yard touchdown pass, the third longest of his career, he failed to continue the roll and went 7-of-12 for 27 yards and two interceptions before he was benched. His longest completion after the score went for just 10 yards on a checkdown to fullback Jerome Felton in the second quarter.
Quarterback Matt Cassel was called into the fourth quarter for the second straight game and threw an interception on his third play. Cassel's lateral throw to receiver Cordarrelle Patterson was tipped by Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons and picked off for the third interception in 2:21 of game clock. The three picks, one for a touchdown, turned a 24-13 contest into a 41-13 blowout in just five Seahawks offensive snaps.
2) The Vikings' four turnovers are the most since the season-opening loss to the Detroit Lions. The Seahawks' late first-half touchdown helped put some distance on the Vikings, but a slew of interceptions ended the game before it was over. The Vikings' 22 turnovers, 13 from Ponder, ties for the second-most in the NFL along with the Cincinnati Bengals.
(Above) The Vikings didn't wait four plays before turning the ball over, the first one courtesy of defensive end Cliff Avril, who beat Loadholt around the edge to poke the ball out of Ponder's hand before he could get halfway through his throwing motion. The argument can certainly be made that Loadholt gave up the edge to Avril, but Ponder didn't do him any favors by failing to step up in a clear pocket.
On the second play of the fourth quarter, Ponder delivered this checkdown to Peterson that ended up as his first interception to linebacker Bobby Wagner. Wagner had dropped the sure pick from Ponder on the previous drive after he telegraphed a pass to receiver Joe Webb. This time, Wagner looked to be the intended receiver as Ponder's throw was off target, too far to the right, as Peterson drifted left. Even if completed, Peterson is blanketed by two linebackers.
For what it's worth, Patterson appeared to get tugged 10 yards downfield by Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell, who was replacing the injured Brandon Browner. Hypothetically, the defensive interference had a higher chance of being called if Ponder threw Patterson's way on the play instead of the checkdown.
Three offensive snaps later, Ponder telegraphed this hook route to Patterson. A similar play resulted in a 15-yard gain in the first quarter, but Seahawks cornerback Walter Thurmond grabbed the interception this time around. Thurmond sits in a zone on Wright's route. You can see him just under the '30' yardage field marker. Thurmond doesn't fall for Wright's double move and jumps Patterson's hook, which was Ponder's one and only read on the play.
3) Running back Toby Gerhart gained more yards (67) than Peterson (65), despite having 14 fewer carries against Seahawks reserves. Peterson's longest runs of eight and 13 yards didn't come until his 17th and 19th carries, respectively. The Seahawks consistently loaded eighth and nine men in the box to stop Peterson, which resulted in a few big gains off play action. But playing through a groin injury, he failed to break a long run and averaged fewer than four yards per carry for the fifth time in 10 games this season.
According to ProFootballFocus.com, Peterson broke just one tackle in the game, which seems like a definitive sign of his injury. However, the offensive line, specifically left tackle Matt Kalil and Loadholt, struggled to stop the Seahawks' edge pressure as they held Peterson to around two yards per carry outside of the tackles. Seahawks defensive end Red Bryant gave both Kalil and Loadholt fits as he consistently disrupted the line of scrimmage. Both Kalil and Loadholt were flagged for false starts, which extends CentruyLink Field's league-leading false start counter with 129 since 2005.
Linebacker Bobby Wagner and defensive tackle Tony McDaniel combined for 11 'stops' in the run game, which can loosely be categorized as tackles no farther than three-to-four yard gains. The gap between center John Sullivan and guard Charlie Johnson was typically abused by the Seahawks' front as McDaniel and defensive tackles Brandon Mebane and Jordan Hill worked their way through double teams and single blocks. Guard Brandon Fusco has quietly put together a decent season after being one of the weak links last season. Fusco laid the block that helped spring running back Toby Gerhart for a 32-yard gain, his longest run since 2011.
4) The Vikings converted 5-of-14 third downs [36%]. Ponder went 4-for-11 before he was pulled, not including three conversions from Seahawks penalties. Ponder converted two third downs through the air on nine attempts, which included a 15-yard completion to Patterson and a 10-yarder to Wright. However, he accounted for two turnovers, the sack-fumble and pick-six, on third down.
5) Peterson's first 16 carries accounted for just 40 yards as the Vikings used multiple tight end sets on 30 of 70 plays [43%], despite starter Kyle Rudolph still recovering from a broken foot. The Vikings' three available tight ends were all on the field at least twice in run-heavy formations as they found more success crash blocking the Seahawks defensive linemen. However, even when Peterson reached the second level, he could not break from a sure-tackling defense that held him in check.
Tight end John Carlson made his return to Seattle for the first time since he joined Minnesota two seasons ago. Since Rudolph's injury, Carlson has stepped into the pass-catching tight end role and thrived, grabbing receptions of 15-, 20- and 30-yards on Sunday against zone coverages.
Receiver Cordarrelle Patterson took receiver Jerome Simpson's place on Sunday for his first career start and led the team with nine targets. Two of the Vikings' three interceptions were targeted at Patterson, but neither were his fault. Ponder telegraphed the pick-six to the rookie and Cassel's pass to Patterson was tipped for an interception in the fourth quarter. He played a career high 46 snaps and caught three passes for 28 yards.
Game Ball: Jarius Wright. In his second year, Wright got the start thanks to an inactive Jennings and thrived with the few opportunities that came his way. He caught three of four targets for a team-high 23 yards per reception and two touchdowns. His head fake on cornerback Richard Sherman lulled the defender to sleep for a split second as he caught a 38-yard touchdown from Ponder off play action in the second quarter. Sunday was Wright's first scores of the season and his first multi-touchdown game of his career. He also tied Jennings' touchdown total from the flanker, or 'Z' receiver position in one outing.
Goat(s): Ponder. Read through points 1 and 2 again, but Ponder failed to maintain any momentum following his second-quarter touchdown pass as he fell victim to inaccuracy on his first interception, and no read progression on his second. Even the opening sack-fumble can partially fall on Ponder as he had a clear pocket to step up in to help his struggling right tackle.