Offensive formations and film observations: Week 12 vs. Packers
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Welcome to another installment of 'Offensive formations and film observations,' this one brought to you for the Minnesota Vikings-Green Bay Packers.
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 447 yards and 23 points in the tie, improving to 329.5 yards/game (20th) and slightly falling to 24.2 points/game (14th).
Running back Adrian Peterson appeared hampered by groin and hamstring ailments this season, but the NFL MVP returned to form on Sunday at Lambeau Field as he averaged 4.6 yards per carry on 32 attempts. Along with running back Toby Gerhart, the Vikings ran for a season-high 232 yards on the ground.
As the carries piled on Peterson, who finished two short of his career high, Gerhart subbed in and racked up 91 yards on eight carries that led to fourth-quarter and overtime field goals.
Quarterback Christian Ponder had a serviceable game on the stat sheet - finishing with a 103.9 passer rating and no turnovers for just the second time this season.
It was assumed Ponder had played his way out of the starting lineup when he was benched following two fourth-quarter interceptions in a loss at Seattle on Nov. 17. But the Vikings rolled with him again on Sunday to the tune of a 23-7 fourth-quarter lead.
After churning out 254 yards and 20 points in the first three quarters, the Vikings offense amassed just six points in the fourth quarter and overtime as the defense allowed 16 points in 11 minutes to end regulation.
Ponder played considerably better against a mediocre-at-best Packers defense. He had just nine incompletions, a couple from drops, but also had an interception dropped and made some questionable decisions when running from the pocket at times.
Ponder went 4-of-9 for 24 yards in the fourth quarter and overtime, but fell victim to a bobbled catch on the would-be, game-winning touchdown to receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. The endzone incompletion, tipped by Packers cornerback Davon House, on 3rd-and-14 forced the overtime field goal and 26-26 tie.
Receiver Greg Jennings, in his return to Green Bay, followed that up with a drop on 3rd-and-5 on the following drive, which led to a three-and-out and ended the Vikings' chances of breaking the overtime tie.
2 tight ends / 1 receiver / 1 fullback: 24 plays
Shotgun: 1 tight end / 3 receivers: 22 plays
2 tight ends / 2 receivers: 12 plays
1 tight end / 2 receivers / 1 fullback: 9 plays
1 tight end / 3 receivers: 4 plays
3 tight ends / 1 fullback: 3 plays
3 receivers / 1 fullback: 3 plays
Shotgun: 1 tight end / 4 receivers: 1 play
3 tight ends / 1 receiver: 1 play
Total plays: 79
1) Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave continues to run around 30 percent of the offensive plays out of shotgun formations, with most coming in passing situations. On Sunday, Ponder went 11-of-16 for 110 yards out of the gun - just a week after he threw two interceptions to six completions from those looks. Peterson added three carries for 34 yards from the shotgun, including a 15-yard run that caught the Packers off guard on 3rd-and-9 in overtime.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph sat out his third straight game with a broken foot, but that didn't stop the Vikings from using their only three healthy tight ends on various formations throughout the game. Tight end Rhett Ellison blocked exceptionally well from the tight end and fullback positions, also adding his first career touchdown catch in the third quarter. The Vikings took the 20-7 lead off Ellison's 12-yard catch, unaccounted for, after he leaked out of the run formation off play-action. Ellison's 42 snaps are a season high as he played more than fullback Jerome Felton (39) for the first time this season. However, both combined to lay blocks on Packers defenders to spring Peterson, untouched, for his one-yard score in the second quarter.
Tight end Chase Ford has caught one pass per game since Rudolph went down and his career-high 20-yard completion help set up Peterson's touchdown run. Tight end John Carlson continued to fill in for Rudolph and was targeted five times, which only trailed Patterson's 11 targets in the offense. Carlson continues to excel as a pass-catching option, but struggling in pass/run blocking when assigned to bigger bodies such as the Packers' Mike Neal. Neal, a converted outside linebacker from defensive end, is the same height, but weighs 30 pounds more than Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews. Neal finished with three tackles for a loss and a sack.
2) To all intents and purposes, the Vikings' 23-7 fourth-quarter lead should've been enough to seal the deal against the Packers' fourth quarterback of the season in Matt Flynn. Ponder played mistake-free football, short of a few slips and one dropped pick, and especially excelled against the Packers' blitz. According to Pro Football Focus, the Packers blitzed Ponder on 18 of 37 dropbacks [49%]. On those plays, Ponder completed 12-of-15 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown. Overall, Ponder found nine different receivers on 21 completions and could've easily won this game with a little more help from his defense and receivers.
Ponder's success against the blitz had to do, in part, with proper pass protection when needed, but also adequate pocket presence that comes and goes - as we'll point out shortly. Ponder was sacked six times - the most since he fractured a rib in a loss against the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 22. Three of those six sacks came out of shotgun as early pressure may have helped shorten Ponder's internal clock.
(Above) On back-to-back drives in the second quarter, Ponder found receiver Jerome Simpson for leaping grabs of 31 and 23 yards from two different looks. The first came from the shotgun, while the second off play action from under center. Above, Ponder completes this pass for 31 yards as he stood firmly in the pocket when the Packers rushed six defenders. Ponder reads man coverage and puts the ball high enough for Simpson to make a timely leap and catch. This type of play is often there for the Vikings offense, but Ponder continued his inconsistency with read progression as the game transpired.
The Vikings got the ball back with a 23-20 lead and 3:24 left in the game. After a bobbled snap forced a 3rd-and-11 from their own 20-yard line, Ponder looks right - sees Patterson is double covered and takes off running to his left despite a clear pocket. Carlson, Simpson and Peterson are all options in the middle and left side of the field, but Matthews and Neal break off their blocks to get Ponder for a 'sack,' or loss of one yard after his rushing attempt. No incompletion meant the Packers had to use their final timeout, but, at the very least, a little awareness could've gone a long way in grabbing a potentially game-winning first down.
With 21 seconds left in the fourth quarter, tied 23-23, Ponder takes his third and final rushing attempt at an inopportune time. On 2nd-and-10 from the MIN 41, Ponder takes off to run instead of opting for the checkdown to Peterson or a deeper option to Simpson down the left sideline on a similar play as mentioned above. Ponder runs for three yards and the Vikings have to use their final timeout with 14 seconds left. On the play prior, Ponder hit receiver Jarius Wright on a substantial read that would've put the Vikings in Packers territory - but Wright dropped the pass on his only target all game.
3) The Vikings' pass blocking left a lot to be desired on Sunday, but their run blocking against loaded fronts proved successful as they gained a season-high 232 rushing yards. Discounting Ponder's three rushing attempts for -5 yards, the Vikings averaged 5.9 yards per rush on 40 attempts. Peterson's season-high 146 yards came off at least four broken tackles, just a week after he could break only one at Seattle. Gerhart stepped in late in the game and churned out much-needed yardage to directly result in the Vikings' only six points of the fourth quarter and overtime.
Peterson did what he normally does - break through eight-man fronts and run out gains of 15-, 17- and 22-yards on the day. But the Packers didn't give such looks to Gerhart until he forced them. Gerhart's first carry, which came with four minutes left in the third quarter, went for 15 yards as the Packers played two-deep safeties. The Packers crept up on Gerhart eventually, but he still averaged 11.4 yards per carry and now has 158 yards on 10 attempts in the past two games.
Receiver Cordarrelle Patterson continues to be a focal point of the offense since Simpson's drunken driving arrest earlier this month. In the two games since, Patterson has been targeted on 20 of the team's 65 pass attempts [31%], which is a ridiculously high percentage. However, he hasn't stretched the field. Discounting Patterson's 21-yard gain on a bubble screen at the end of Sunday's overtime (vs. soft coverage), he has 10 catches on 19 targets for 61 yards [6.1ypc] in the past two games. Patterson added four kick returns for a combined 180 yards at Lambeau Field and had one shot to be the hero on Sunday. Ponder found him in the endzone on 3rd-and-14 in overtime, but the pass was tipped and Patterson couldn't secure the ball until he was out of bounds.
4) The Vikings converted 6-of-16 third-down attempts [38%], which fell just short of their 40-percent average on the season [11th in NFL]. It wasn't third downs that plagued the Vikings as much as redzone offense. The Vikings had five drives end inside the Packers' 20-yard line, but came away with three field goals to two touchdowns.
5) Tackles Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt struggled as they were often left on islands to cover outside linebackers Clay Matthews and Mike Neal in pass protection. The pair combined with Packers' ends Mike Daniels and C.J. Wilson to account for nine of the Vikings' 12 hurries allowed. Guards Brandon Fusco and Charlie Johnson each allowed a sack, but were effective blockers when assigned to pull on off-tackle runs. Loadholt consistently moved bodies in the run game as the Vikings averaged 5.3 yards per carry off 15 rushing attempts off the right tackle and end - as opposed to 3.0 yards per carry toward Matthews and the left side.
Fusco was flagged for a false start that helped force a three-and-out to open the second half.
Game ball: Tight end Rhett Ellison and center John Sullivan were the steadiest blockers on Sunday. Sullivan consistently sealed off Packers' linebackers in the second level, which helped allow the Vikings gain a season-high 5.4 yards per carry. Ellison's season-high 42 snaps came mostly in run support, but he also grabbed his first career touchdown. Ellison had no receptions this season and just seven on his career before Sunday. Honorable mention to fullback Jerome Felton, who struggled sticking to blocks to open the game, but sprung Gerhart for some big gains later on.
Goat(s): Receivers Jarius Wright and Greg Jennings each had critical drops at the end of regulation and overtime. Jennings was targeted just three times, which may help explain the ice-block hands he used to drop a first-down pass in overtime on 3rd-and-5. Receiver Jarius Wright dropped his only target of the game with less than a minute left in the fourth quarter. Ponder hit Wright down the seam in man coverage, but couldn't bring it in for the big gain. Shortly following both drops, the Vikings punted with nine seconds left in regulation and two minutes left in overtime, respectively.