A 'back and forth" offensive performance leads to a discouraging 34-14 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday evening. Daniel House provides his notes and more in his recap of the Vikings third preseason game.
Ponder decent, Cassel awful
Christian Ponder finished Sunday evening's game vs. the San Francisco 49ers with a few question marks. He failed to connect with Greg Jennings on a play-action 'go-route' to start the game, which proves the Vikings have the right idea from a schematic standpoint. Now, Ponder needs to connect on these type of throws, as the regular season quickly approaches. Despite all of this, Ponder finished the evening 17 of 23 for 167 yards with 2 touchdowns and an INT. Ponder struggled with pocket presence and needed to step up in the pocket on several occasions. He had "happy-feet" during several moments and needed to be more decisive. The offensive unit as a whole was out of sync from the start of the game. Ponder was sacked twice after Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt missed assignments. One of these, led to a fumble, which set the 49ers offense with beautiful field position and an early field goal from kicker Phil Dawson. Ponder's first three drives were three-and-outs on Sunday. He did improve as the game persisted and finally added a touchdown to Zach Line and a beautiful fade to wide receiver, Joe Webb in the endzone. He has made small strides, but needs more continuity with this offense before this season begins.
Matt Cassel was awful during every moment of his third Vikings appearance. He failed to connect with several open wide receivers and left balls high and low. His arm and accuracy was like a 'lose cannon.' One thing is certain, Cassel was not better than Ponder and may be slightly overvalued as a backup of this team.
Peterson enters for light showing
The much anticipated Adrian Peterson debut took place on Sunday, but the Vikings running back only saw two snaps, which were both play-action passes. He was dismissed after the Vikings first drive and is now on the shelf, until the Vikings open the regular season in Detroit on September 8th. This decision should please all Vikings fans, as he exited without injury and is ready to begin the 2013 season at 100% health. I wonder if it was even worth Peterson suiting up for this contest, but the coaching staff ultimately makes personnel decisions.
Patterson sees time with 1st O', Webb joins the party, Burton struggles
The Vikings didn't waste any time getting receiver Cordarrelle Patterson involved with the first-team offensive scheme. On his first snap, Patterson received a handoff from Ponder on an end-around run for a gain of 4 yards. Ponder then connected with Patterson again, which set up a third-and-one and later a Vikings punt after Toby Gerhart was stuffed for a four yard loss. The encouraging sign is the strides Patterson has made early in his NFL career. The Vikings are showing they would like to utilize him on certain packages, where his athleticism can shine bright.
Wide Receiver Joe Webb provided the Vikings a tough decision, using his 6-foot-4 frame to catch a redzone touchdown pass from Ponder in the third quarter.
Webb improved his case for the 53-man roster over receiver Stephen Burton, who has had a great preseason and training camp, but struggled on Sunday.
Burton forced a delay of game penalty in the third quarter when he didn't understand Ponder's signal at the line of scrimmage. Burton was also at the head of Ponder's lone interception. Ponder threw to Burton on a slant route, but Burton stopped his route and appeared as if he didn't know he was getting the ball. Christian threw the pass and it sailed over Burton's head and into the hands of 49ers defensive back, C.J. Spillman.
Offensive line concerns once again
This area perplexes me so much and causes me sleepless nights as I wonder why this group is having so many problems. Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt are getting blown by like a redwood tree in a severe thunderstorm. They both show little emotion for the game, which I hope just signals the seriousness of the preseason. If this carries over into the regular season, this team will have a long season. They both look very slow and are missing blocking assignments and protection schemes. How does this group go from blocking for a 2,000 yard rush last season, to ineffective the next season? This group has lacked consistency and discipline during every moment of the preseason. Matt Kalil may be the biggest disappointment out of the entire group. Not only have we seen Kalil get burned badly this preseason, but last night we saw him lose his cool by causing two 15-yard personal foul penalties for hits after the whistle had been blown.
Kalil has been rumored to be bothered by a knee injury during training camp and the preseason and I wonder if this could be some of the problem. Kalil will have exactly two weeks to rest any injuries before taking the field against the Lions for a Week 1 matchup on September 8th. I hope he is ready and the Vikings offensive line plays well enough for this team to have a chance this season.
Carlson utilized more
John Carlson was a player we discussed in the preview before Sunday's game. I wondered whether he would be included in the scheme more than in the second preseason game vs. the Bills. Ponder found Carlson on multiple occasions and was a nice safety outlet when the wide receivers were covered up the field. He is a player that will be used frequently in the Vikings scheme. The key for Carlson is to stay healthy, which has been a huge problem in the past.
Kevin Williams takes low 'cheap-shot'
Nobody saw the Joe Looney cheap shot to Kevin Williams' knee coming, but it caused a huge collective sigh by Vikings fans. The offensive lineman unnecessarily took a low blow at Williams' knee, causing the defensive tackle to hit the ground in pain.
Williams will undergo an MRI on his injured knee Monday morning in the Twin Cities, but I'm concerned about the outlook for the Vikings at defensive tackle. With Williams injury last night, Sharrif Floyd having minor surgery on his knee, and the unknown status of Christian Ballard, the Vikings are down to fourth string nose tackle Chase Baker. Baker a practice squad member in 2012, is far from ready to take the reigns in the middle of the defense.
Williams was hit from the front, which could mean he suffered a hyperextension, but an MRI will prove there is no ligament damage. To see the terrible hit, which should result in a nice fine from the league office, click here.
Desmond Bishop impresses in first-team debut
Linebacker Desmond Bishop finally saw reps with the first team defense, leading the team with a nine tackles, (including 2 for loss) at outside linebacker. He was around the ball and was very good in gap containment. The main concern I had were several footwork missteps during occasions when he was too low or didn't get leverage laterally. This is a minor area, but I definitely believe Bishop solidified himself as a legitimate option among the Vikings linebacker corps. The more encouraging part, is Bishop is proving he recovered from the torn hamstring he suffered in Green Bay and so far has been durable in two games. I definitely believe he is penciled in as one of the Vikings linebackers on the 53-man roster.
Robinson shredded frequently
Josh Robinson struggled as the starting cornerback in the slot of the defense on Sunday. He is trying to fill the shoes of veteran Antoine Winfield, who left during free agency. Robinson was constantly caught out of position and couldn't seem to cover any type of route. He was caught trailing behind wide receiver Quinton Patton, who caught a touchdown pass in front of Robinson. He struggled in all schemes and couldn't convert in the nickel defense as well. Look for Robinson to be bumped from slot duties, back to his former responsibility in the nickel defense.
Blanton takes poor angle
Robert Blanton didn't help his cause after taking a poor angle on a 4-yard Jewel Hampton rushing touchdown. He was out of position in coverage twice and needed to be directed by Desmond Bishop during pre-snap reads. With Andrew Sendejo clicking at his heels, Blanton will need to prove he has what it takes, when he sees extended action in the final preseason game vs. Tennessee; or he may find himself searching for work. He is a developmental project, which would provide the only reason the Vikings would be comfortable giving him another chance to mold into a suitable safety.
Locke continues to 'dazzle'
As Viking fans watched Jeff Locke dazzle for the second week in a row, they coined the saying, "Lockedown," which references his ability to pin teams inside the 5-yard line. Locke recorded an average of 39.3 yards on four punts, dropping two inside the 20, while adding a long of 46 yards. One thing is certain, I'm not a bit concerned about Locke's ability to pin offense's deep in their own territory. He definitely has mastered the 'Aussie' punting style which adds a millennium of spin on balls and adds a interesting element to the special teams group.
Jarius Wright (concussion), Sharrif Floyd (knee), Christian Ballard (Personal), Marcus Sherels (Family Matter), and Jerome Felton (appendectomy), all missed Sunday's game.
Chris Cook suffered a groin injury after he was awkwardly rolled upon after he missed a tackle. The injury doesn't sound serious, but we will learn more today. As discussed Kevin Williams suffered a knee injury and is having an MRI this morning, which will determine the injury's extent. We will keep you posted when we hear the latest on these two injuries.
Don't worry about the prospects of the 2013 season over three preseason games. Yes, this game resulted in its fair share of miscues and sloppy play, but small strides are being made. With two divisional games to start the regular season, I firmly believe the Vikings are purposely playing "vanilla" in the preseason and aren't showing the actual formations and schemes that will be displayed in the regular season. With two weeks to prepare for normal play and minimal game planning from a schematic standpoint, there is no need to be concerned. The coaching staff is already preparing for the Detroit Lions to open the regular season. I won't judge the basis of the 2013 season off of a preseason campaign, which means little to how the regular season is structured.