Offensive formations and film observations: Week 8 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 Vikings offense produced 243 yards and 24 points in the loss, dropping their yards average to 306 per game (30th) and two garbage-time touchdowns raised their points average to 23.3 per game (16th).
A week after quarterback Josh Freeman was shutout by the New York Giants, the Vikings called upon Christian Ponder once again to continue their reign of offensive ineptitude. For the second straight week, the Vikings offense produced just one drive of 10-plus plays, while the Packers put up scoring drives of 14-, 15- and 17-plays that kept the ball in their hands.
Because of those lengthy Packers drives, Ponder held the ball for a combined eight plays in the first and third quarters. The Vikings made the most of their season-low 19:06 time of possession in garbage time, as receiver Cordarrelle Patterson's 51-yard kickoff return and a Packers' pass interference call on fourth down helped set up two late touchdown drives. Otherwise, the score would've looked something like 41-17.
Running back Adrian Peterson had 13 carries for 60 yards and now has just 36 carries for 150 yards across his last three games.
The Vikings' longest play, a 19-yard touchdown run by Ponder in the final minutes, is a season low.
Shotgun 1 tight end / 3 receivers: 21 plays
1 tight end / 2 receivers / 1 fullback: 7 plays
1 tight end / 3 receivers: 7 plays
2 tight ends / 2 receivers: 4 plays
1 fullback / 3 receivers: 2 plays
1 tight end / 2 receivers / 2 running backs: 2 plays
Total: 43 plays
1) With Ponder back under center, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave ran out of the shotgun on 21 of 43 plays [49%], which is much lower than the 60%-70% rates for Freeman or Matt Cassel the past few weeks. Musgrave called for Ponder to dropback on 29 of 43 plays [67%], but Ponder targeted his receivers just 20 times as he'd prematurely run or throw the ball away. Despite limited attempts, there were a handful of plays where receivers waved their arms as they were left open. In his 30th start, Ponder still didn't see the field well and looked as uncomfortable as he ever has in the pocket.
2) The Vikings offensive faults on Sunday night can't solely be placed on the coaching staff, as Ponder continued the terrible stretch of quarterback play. It's not that Ponder whiffed on throws, he just didn't pull the trigger. For example: On 2nd-and-6 from midfield in the second quarter, the Packers rushed six as the Vikings kept six in pass protection. Ponder's play-action to Peterson draws the linebackers as receiver Greg Jennings comes free on a post route. The pressure is picked up well, but, unexplainably, Ponder rolls out right where he has literally no receiving options and throws it away. Once again, Jennings is left exerting more energy in his arm motions than route running.
Another example came on one of the Vikings' 22 second-quarter plays: On 3rd-and-8, Musgrave spreads the offense out four-wide and Ponder has decent pass protection, but overlooks an open Patterson on the left, Peterson checkdown in the middle and Jarius Wright clear down the seam as he scrambles for four yards instead to force a punt. Miscommunication came into play once in the second quarter, when Jennings took off on a slant route and Ponder threw to where he had been standing for one of his seven incompletions.
Musgrave had three receivers on the field for 30-of-43 plays [70%], but Ponder pulled the trigger on just 20 of the 29 pass plays. His longest completion, an 18-yard crossing route to Jerome Simpson, came with just six minutes left in the game with Toby Gerhart already in for Peterson.
3) The Vikings offensive line allowed three sacks and committed three penalties as their guard play from Charlie Johnson and Brandon Fusco continues to be the weakness. Fusco allowed the third sack as he failed to pick up a blitzing linebacker. Packers' defensive end Mike Daniels and defensive tackle Johnny Jolly worked Johnson most of the night, with Daniels bringing down Ponder once in the third quarter on a 3rd-and-9 after rushing just four linemen. Ponder should be at fault for the first sack, as protection held up and he had open receivers, but held onto the ball too long for the six-yard loss in the second quarter.
Left tackle Matt Kalil and Fusco were flagged for false starts. Fusco's false start prevented the Vikings from running Musgrave's wildcat formation with Joe Webb in shotgun and Ponder split out right. The five-yard penalty forced a 2nd-and-12, which two plays later resulted in a 36-yard Blair Walsh field goal and the 10-10 tie in the second quarter. Fusco was also called for a holding penalty, in which afterward he can be heard yelling in the ref's microphone, on Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji in the third quarter, helping force the three-and-out and end their only drive of that quarter. Center John Sullivan whiffed on a few defensive tackle stunts as he allowed two quarterback pressures.
4) Ponder's best throw of the night came on a 3rd-and-10 in the second quarter, when he hit tight end Kyle Rudolph's back shoulder on a seam route for 17 yards. However, that was just one of the Vikings' two third-down conversions as they went 2-for-8 [25%] and were forced to punt four times. Down just 24-17 at halftime, the Vikings had a fighting chance until their offense produced two three-and-outs that took up just 3:09 of clock to open the second half. The Packers' consistent third-down conversions and clock control meant the Vikings didn't get the ball back again until 6:10 left in the game.
5) Peterson's 13 carries ties the most he's had in the past three games as he hasn't gained more than 62 yards rushing in that stretch. Musgrave called runs on six of the first 10 plays, but had Ponder hand the ball off to Peterson just seven times in the next 33 snaps. Peterson did not play in the final two drives that began at 6:10 left in the fourth quarter.
Vikings receivers didn't have much of a night, as they caught just four passes for 53 yards as a group. Ponder went 4-of-9 to his receiving corps and 10-of-11 to his tight ends and running backs.
One interesting note: Ponder's longest completion of his career continues to be the 72-yarder to a wide-open Michael Jenkins on the first throw of his first start on Oct. 23, 2011.
Game ball: Patterson. Cordarrelle Patterson's returns of 109- and 51-yards accounted for two of the Vikings' four touchdowns as the latter put Ponder in position for a five-play, 58-yard scoring drive that ended with Gerhart's 13-yard touchdown run on a soft defense late in the fourth quarter. Patterson led his position group with two catches for 26 yards, including a spectacular 17-yard grab near the sideline on their touchdown drive to end the first half. Ponder went to him again on the next play, but overthrew him. Patterson also drew a 44-yard pass interference call on their final drive, that really shouldn't have been called, but he gets credited for it nonetheless. The rookie continues to show his fast-twitch, dynamic ability is enough to make NFL defenses and special teams miss.
Patterson's 109-yard return for a touchdown on the opening kickoff sets the NFL record for longest kickoff return in league history and ties Antonio Cromartie's record for longest play in NFL history. The other 109-yard play also happened at the Metrodome, when Cromartie, then a San Diego Charger, returned a missed field goal 109 yards for a touchdown in a 2007 game against the Vikings. Patterson had returns of 109-, 51- and 30-yards on Sunday night and now easily leads all NFL return men with 39.1-yards-per-return, second is the Dallas Cowboys' Dwayne Harris with 35.7-per-return.
Goat(s): Interior line + Ponder. Christian Ponder's successes have typically come when he doesn't have to overcome much. But on Sunday night, the three interior offensive linemen allowed just enough pressure that Ponder felt under fire and uncomfortable. Ponder is as much to blame, since Freeman had enough poise to at least make (and overthrow) the passes that were available to him in his only start a week ago. But Ponder continues to make one read, then look to run. He doesn't have the read progression you want to see from a third-year quarterback, nor does he have the ability to stand in the pocket in the face of pressure. The result: two passing touchdowns across four starts in 2013, none to wide receivers.