Offensive formations and film observations: Week 3 vs. Browns
Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports
Welcome to the first installment of 'Offensive formations and film observations,' this one brought to you for the Minnesota Vikings-Cleveland Browns.
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 Vikings offense produced 329 yards and 27 points in the loss, hitting their points average on the nose at 27 (7th in NFL) and bringing their average yards down a bit to 336 (19th).
With a better conversion rate on third down than previous games (8-of-17), the Vikings ran more plays (79) than the past two contests, which averaged 58.5. The playbook seemed to open a bit more in Week 3, but the Vikings averaged just 4.2 yards per play. Running back Adrian Peterson was held to 3.5-yards per carry on 25 attempts.
Shotgun 1 tight end / 3 wide receivers: 31 plays
2 tight ends / 2 wide receivers: 16 plays
2 tight ends / 1 fullback / 1 wide receiver: 14 plays
1 tight end / 1 fullback / 2 wide receivers: 11 plays
1 tight end / 3 wide receivers: 2 plays
3 tight ends / 1 fullback: 1 play
Shotgun 4 wide receivers: 1 play
Shotgun 2 tight ends / 2 wide receivers: 1 play
Shotgun 2 tight ends / 3 wide receivers : 1 play
Double-split pistol, 1 tight end / 1 fullback / 2 receivers: 1 play
Total plays: 79
- Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave ran out of the shotgun on 34 of 79 plays [43%], 11 of those came on consecutive plays to end the first half when faced with a short clock and long distance. The Vikings went five-wide on a handful of occasions, never using more than four receivers. Tight end Kyle Rudolph continues to line up nearly everywhere in the offense, but hasn't been targeted downfield much -- averaging 5.6 yards on his five catches on Sunday. Quarterback Christian Ponder ran for a touchdown when Musgrave spread the defense on the goal line in the third quarter, splitting Rudolph and tight end John Carlson wide with three receivers to convert the eight-yard scamper.
- On first downs, the Vikings ran 12 runs and 16 pass plays. The final five first-down plays of the first half were passes as they faced a 1st-and-25 from coach Leslie Frazier's unsportsmanlike conduct flag [which afterwards official Bill Leavy said he was mistaken for penalizing the Vikings the yardage] then the Vikings faced limited time after safety Harrison Smith's interception with less than a minute left until halftime. Ponder overthrew multiple receivers on first downs in the second half, including consecutive misfires to Simpson and one in the dirt to fullback Zach Line. Receiver Cordarrelle Patterson was more involved in the offense, playing 19 snaps, including a handoff on an end-around in the fourth quarter that went for no gain. He was targeted downfield twice early in the game, impressively contorting his body to grab a 37-yard pass off his back shoulder in the first quarter.
- Ponder showed flashes again on Sunday, but was primarily inconsistent. Ponder's five rushes for 46 yards, second-most in his career, went for two touchdowns. He completed a NFL-quarterback-type throw in the face of pressure to receiver Jarius Wright on an out route for 11 yards in the first half. However, he strong-armed multiple passes, overthrowing tight end Kyle Rudolph and receivers Greg Jennings and Jerome Simpson on multiple occasions. The most egregious came in the third quarter when Simpson was wide open on a deep crossing route, but Ponder overshot everyone, including the Browns' safety. Ponder threw late multiple times, once to tight end John Carlson while he was open in the endzone, allowing Browns' cornerback Buster Skrine to close in on him on the team's first drive. Ponder was also late to receiver Jerome Simpson on a crossing route in the first half, which ended as his only interception of the day. Ponder also threw a little too far out in front of receiver Joe Webb on an end-zone corner route in the third quarter.
He's consistently exhibited these traits in 2013: a tendency to check down earlier than always necessary, a knack for running the football and an unwavering inaccuracy, no matter the locale. We're not seeing the progression from Ponder you would've hoped for in his third year, though you can still be sucked in by brief flashes when he hits on a pass or scrambles for a touchdown run.
- For the second consecutive week, the Vikings defense forced four turnovers...and lost. On consecutive drives, the defense picked off Browns' quarterback Brian Hoyer and the Vikings offense gave it right back with fumbles by Ponder and Peterson. The offense produced just 10 points off the four turnovers.
-Rookie fullback Zach Line played just 25 snaps, 14 in run-blocking situations. For the most part, Line remained transparent, but he was overpowered on a few occasions. Line was blown up by a Browns defensive end on running back Adrian Peterson's first negative carry of the game. The play design appeared to call for Line to block the DE, who came free off the edge. That should be a decent play call for returning Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton, but not for the rookie half-back-turned-fullback. The Vikings used defensive tackle Letroy Guion at fullback on Peterson's two-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
Game ball: Not too many players prevailed on Sunday, but receiver Jarius Wright caught three of the four passes thrown his way for 34 yards, including a leaping grab to set up the Vikings' first touchdown. If the ball would've been placed a little lower, Wright could've caught in stride and most likely score. The receiving corps has gone without a touchdown through the first three games, but that's not primarily their fault. That falls back on the quarterback and the offensive line.
Goat(s): The offensive line. The Vikings have surrendered 10 sacks this season, six came on Sunday. Ponder's sack-fumble to end first half was all on right tackle Phil Loadholt, who let his defender back up from the turf. Center John Sullivan was on the hook for two sacks in the first half. Sullivan picked up his play a bit in the final half, but consistently struggled with stunts and sticking to a block. Back-to-back sacks ended the Vikings' first drive in the second half, one up the middle from guard Charlie Johnson's gap and the other from Loadholt's side that caused the fumble. As a whole, the offensive line hasn't played poorly this season, but they've consistently had one player miss an assignment. There's rarely been a total failure on a play, but each guy has yet to put out a solid performance for all four quarters. Fittingly, the game ended on a sack from guard Brandon Fusco's gap, but Ponder stepped up right into the defender as he was trying to target the endzone.