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Updated: August 24th, 2013 2:57pm
Zulgad: Seeing something, anything, from passing game would be nice

Zulgad: Seeing something, anything, from passing game would be nice

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

There has been great debate in recent days on the "Judd & Dubay" show on 1500 ESPN about the importance of the performances during the NFL's preseason.

My radio partner, Jeff Dubay, refuses to get worked up about the fact that Christian Ponder and the Vikings' first-team offense have been, to put it kindly, underwhelming in the opening two exhibition games.

The contention from this corner has been that just a little bit of success would be nice to see. Ponder and a retooled receiving corps had an opportunity to prove that after an offseason of camps, not to mention numerous practices in Mankato, that some chemistry had developed.

Yes, running back Adrian Peterson did not play in the first two games, but that was a good thing. There is no reason to play Peterson in a preseason game, and this was the Vikings turning over the offensive keys to Ponder and saying, "Show us something ... anything."

The results? We've seen nothing. Zip. Zero.

The first-team offense was in for two plays in the opener against Houston, with Ponder completing a 15-yard pass to Jerome Simpson before a poorly thrown ball in Simpson's direction was tipped by the receiver and then intercepted.

Last Friday night in Buffalo, the No. 1 offense was on the field longer but continued to sputter. The unit played into the second quarter (five total series), but the Vikings finished with only four first downs, 74 yards and three points in the opening 30 minutes.

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier seemed less than thrilled that the Bills' defense entered the exhibition with an actual game plan, giving the offense looks it wasn't expecting, but this couldn't completely explain away the lack of continuity we saw.

Ponder finished five of 12 for 53 yards and was sacked twice, including on the first play from scrimmage. Tight end Kyle Rudolph didn't help matters by dropping a pass on a third-and-2 that would have resulted in a first down.

Those in attendance at the Vikings' practices on Wednesday and Thursday at Winter Park also saw an offense that looked as if it would need another all-world season from Peterson in order to have success.

This brings us to Sunday night's third preseason game in San Francisco and how much stock we should put into it.

Peterson is likely to play a couple of series - personally, I see no need for this but that's another topic - in order to get warmed up for the regular-season opener on Sept. 8 in Detroit.

We know Peterson will be great again, if he stays healthy. We also know that means he can cover up for ineptitude from other areas of the offense.

But if the Vikings are ever going to get defenders to move away from the line of scrimmage and respect the passing game, Ponder is going to have to prove that he can give this offense a vertical look at times.

Peterson has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in five of his six seasons, but the only time opposing teams couldn't bring a plethora of men into the box to stop him was in 2009. That was because Brett Favre and Sidney Rice developed such good chemistry that teams had to respect the passing game. The Vikings made a run to the NFC title game that season.

This is not to say that Ponder will be expected to complete 50-yard passes to Cordarrelle Patterson, Greg Jennings and Jerome Simpson as many of the starters play into the third quarter on Sunday.

But one successful deep shot would be nice.

It also wouldn't be a bad thing to see Ponder and Jennings show that they are on the same page. Jennings was targeted three times in the loss at Buffalo, but caught only one pass for 5 yards.

One suspects that Jennings might not be very patient if the passing game continues to look ragged.

This will be the last time that the first-team offense gets on the field for a game before the opener at Ford Field; backups will be expected to get all of the work in the Vikings' exhibition finale on Thursday against Tennessee at the Metrodome.

That means that if Ponder and the passing game show nothing on Sunday, all faith will have to be put into the fact that the quarterback closed the 2012 regular season with three strong performances.

Vikings fans are almost certain not to rest easy during that two-week period before the Detroit game, if that's the case. Vikings executives are likely to be a bit on edge as well.

Dubay is right in that many elements of the preseason mean nothing, and there is no reason to think the Vikings' offense will be hitting on all cylinders against the 49ers.

But just seeing something, anything, from the passing attack would be nice. It also would allow many to breathe a little bit easier as we wait for the regular season to arrive.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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