Percy Harvin on passing offense: Fundamentals have been killing us
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings players might have returned from a two-day break better rested Monday, but there seemed to be a bit of an edge at Winter Park.
Clearly, the Vikings' embarrassing 36-17 loss to Tampa Bay in a nationally televised game last Thursday night remained fresh in the minds of many. Especially when it came to those who play on the offensive side of the ball.
Wide receiver Jerome Simpson acknowledged he even believes there are those who are trying to divide the team. "Yeah," that's true, Simpson said. "It's like a lot of outside stuff, but we are going to stick together just like some brothers and just be the best team we can be."
Simpson likely was referring to media members who clearly have become skeptical that the 5-3 Vikings can continue to win games with a struggling passing game and a very difficult late-season schedule coming up.
But not all the issues impacting the Vikings on Monday were external.
Wide receiver Percy Harvin, who is among the most football-savvy players in the locker room, talked about what has ailed the passing game in recent weeks.
Quarterback Christian Ponder had perhaps his worst NFL start a week ago Sunday, throwing for only 58 yards and completing eight of 17 passes with a touchdown and two interceptions in a 21-14 victory over Arizona. Ponder then passed for 251 yards and completed 19 of 35 throws with a touchdown and an interception against Tampa Bay.
However, he was only 10 of 22 for 134 yards before the Buccaneers dropped into a prevent defense in the fourth quarter.
Harvin, who is tied for the NFL lead with 60 receptions, said offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave had taken the past few days, "to really evaluate our offense and what we could do better."
One thing the Vikings worked on was introducing new concepts to the same plays the team runs and moving the personnel around.
Musgrave's evaluation went well beyond addressing Ponder's poor play of late and also put a focus on what the wide receivers should be doing.
Much of that included a simple focus on fundamentals that have been lacking. Things such as route running, making sure receivers are getting the proper depth on their routes, focusing on Ponder looking on the right side of the read and ball security.
"It's been fundamentals that have been killing us," Harvin said. " ... It's definitely little tweaks. But those little tweaks, they end up (being) really big, especially in games like we just (had). We've got to hold onto the ball, so ball security will be a must going forward."
The Vikings lost two fumbles against the Buccaneers, with running back Adrian Peterson and Simpson being stripped of the ball. Tampa Bay turned the two miscues into 10 points.
It was no secret the Buccaneers felt the Vikings' vertical passing game was no threat, giving them the luxury of putting all their focus on Peterson. Ponder's longest completion went for 33 yards to Simpson but it was only one of two passes the veteran was able to catch.
Harvin said he can't identify exactly what is wrong with the passing game, but it's clear he has a good idea.
"I can't directly put my hand on it, but like I said, just going back to the fundamentals," he said. "If it's a 12-yard route, not cutting it short at 8 yards. That just throws off the timing of the quarterback, whether he has a 3- or 5-step drop. It's just fundamentals because the plays are there. We're looking on film, guys are open but we're not clicking at the same time."
Harvin did not hide his frustration late in the third quarter last Thursday when center John Sullivan and Ponder got crossed up on third down and Sullivan's snap hit Ponder and rolled away. The quarterback recovered but the Vikings had to punt and Harvin stormed angrily toward the sideline.
Harvin called that situation, "definitely," frustrating.
"That's one thing we just wanted to come into the season being a smarter football team and that killed us last year," he said of the Vikings 3-13 finish in 2011. "We looked like little kids at some points last year with the penalties.
"That's one thing, we wanted to make it tough to beat us. We're not giving the ball away, not committing penalties, we're going to be tough to beat. But when you give the ball over two or three times you make yourself easy to beat."
Harvin admits he's not the most patient person.
"Any time, any game-changer, when things aren't going right, I want to be that guy to fix it," he said. "So does two-eight (Peterson). Any ballplayer I hope has that attitude, so it just burns me to lose. So we're going to get it right and hopefully we'll be better. ...
"I'm sure glad we got the days off, so I can look back on what I can do better. Things that I may be missing. I'm sure everybody else has been doing the same thing. But we're in a good position. We don't want to just slip. Everybody just took these days to find out any extra or exactly what we're missing in our assignments."
Harvin remains confident the Vikings' 26th-ranked passing offense can improve.
"I know we can and then looking on film I think each week our plays are there," he said. "Our guys are open but, like I said, it just goes to sometimes our routes being short, just not timing up exactly with Christian, with his drop step. He's just missing us that one second or vice versa. We just have to somehow time it up with his drop, the exact same we're coming out of our break and the play is going to be there."