Saturday, August 25, 2012

Vikings vs. Chargers Analysis

Nick Novak drained a 45 yard field
goal as time expired to defeat the
sloppy Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings were looking to improve upon last week's 36-14 preseason win over the Buffalo Bills, but took a step back in the process. The Vikings sloppy performance on Friday night vs. the San Diego Chargers resulted in a 12-10 loss on a last second field goal by Nick Novak.

This was by far one of the worst performances we have seen by quarterback Christian Ponder. Ponder had his shakiest performance in three preseason outings, completing 9 of 16 passes for 115 yards with a bad interception and taking five sacks. Before the interception Ponder was staring down Percy Harvin during the duration of the play. This is something that plagued Ponder during the entire 2011 season. In addition, Ponder held unto the ball too long and was very indecisive. The offensive line gave Ponder great time, he just couldn't make a decision quickly. Both of these attributes are aspects we hoped Ponder would improve upon over the offseason.

The Vikings displayed the concerns they have over the third running back spot, by giving Matt Asiata an extended look. Evidently the Vikings don't have complete confidence in Lex Hilliard or Jordan Todman at this time. Asiata ran for some very tough yardage and recorded 48 yards on 9 carries. He also fumbled on the five yard line during an excellent drive by the first team offense. This is something the Vikings won't be impressed with when they review film over the weekend.

Turnovers were a major issue during last night's game. Lex Hilliard, Derrick Coleman, and Asiata all recorded fumbles and Ponder added an interception. The third running back spot is wide open for someone to emerge as a good option. We saw Jordan Todman's first action of the preseason, which yielded little showing. He did rush for seven yards, but added a nice catch out of the backfield for 11 yards. Todman will most likely get an extended look in Thursday's preseason game vs. Houston.

I found one specific formation the Vikings ran to be very interesting. The Vikings went with six down offensive lineman, by bringing Patrick Brown in the game alongside Phil Loadholt. This play resulted in an 18 yard connection from Ponder to Rudolph. We only saw this formation during one play, but it resulted in a nice connection. I like the formation because it gives the offense a slight power advantage over the defense. I can't wait to see if this formation is used in the redzone during the season.

Jasper Brinkley's performance was just what the Vikings coaching staff has been waiting to see. The middle linebacker had four solo tackles, two sacks and three quarterback hits, resulting in his most productive play of the preseason. We finally saw some tenacity out of Brinkley, which had been missing over the first two games. Hopefully this trend continues into the first regular season game vs. Jacksonville.

The Vikings' starting defense looked impressive allowing only 87 yards and six first downs on 40 plays, but this was primarily versus the Charger's second team offense. Six players, three along the starting offensive line, and quarterback Phillip Rivers didn't see action in the contest. Jared Allen looked impressive, recording two sacks during his game action. He looks as dominate as he was during the 2011 season and is poised for great success in 2012.

Another aspect of the defense that many may not have noticed, was Everson Griffen's presence in the middle of the defense. On passing downs, the Vikings were placing Griffen in the middle. His speed and physical ability helped our pass rush and is something to watch for in the first regular season game. In addition, on running downs the Vikings swapped Griffen and Fred Evans at defense tackle. Griffen's pass rushing ability, combined with Fred Evans run stuffing ability, help keep the defense honest.

Injuries were a major issue in last night's game, which will make roster cuts on Monday very difficult for the coaching staff. The Vikings would like to play reserves on Thursday night vs. Houston, but may not have the personnel to due so without making several waiver claims on Monday. The positive fact is that the Vikings have had no major injuries to starters through the three preseason games they will play in, but the Vikings will have low depth going into the Houston game Thursday.

The injuries began at safety, where Harrison Smith and Jamarca Sanford both started and finished Friday's game because Mistral Raymond (lower back), Andrew Sendejo (ankle), Eric Frampton (groin) and Robert Blanton (hamstring) were unavailable. The Vikings are also short at tight end, where rookie Rhett Ellison was hit hard enough to receive a MRI on his knee and John Carlson still hasn't returned from his sprained MCL. It was nice to see Allen Reisner be effective during Ellison's absence. Resiner hauled in 4 passes for 47 yards and was the Vikings second leading receiver. Resiner has always been effective when he he saw action and is someone that could slide his way on the roster.

The injury bug also hit the cornerbacks where Josh Robinson (concussion) and Marcus Sherels (ankle) may not play against the Texans. This leaves the Vikings with low depth to play the reserves vs. Houston. Look for the Vikings to potentially claim several players, merely for depth during the last preseason game.

As mentioned, Harrison Smith played in the fourth quarter due to injuries, but he made a poor decision that kept the Charger's final drive alive. An unnecessary roughness penalty cost the Vikings the game and will probably burn a slight whole in his paycheck. Charger's receiver Mike Willie was hit very hard in the head area, which is something the league is enforcing more than ever.

In Coach Frazier's post game press conference he wasn't overly impressed either stating, "Yeah, he'll learn from that one, that was preseason, so he'll learn."

Replacement officiating was a key issue in last night's game as Wayne Elliot's crew had a rough night. An interception and a fumble, both very obvious in nature, were reviewed and overturned by the officials. In addition, the referees gave a ten yard infraction for an unnecessary roughness penalty, instead of the 15 yards which is in the rule book. I hope the NFL's resolves this issue so we don't have to watch games lost by the referees.

Overall, the Vikings looked less than stellar and have major work to be done before opening vs. Jacksonville on September 9th. The coaching staff and players will be working tirelessly to fix mistakes before it all becomes real during the regular season.

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