Friday, October 3, 2014

Notebook: An Ugly Night at Lambeau

The Minnesota offense couldn't move the ball and it showed in the Vikings 42-10 blowout loss to the Green Bay Packers. 

Updated: October 3rd, 2014 1:10pm

By: Daniel House

The Vikings were forced to start quarterback Christian Ponder during a short week and a primetime matchup on Thursday Night Football. It is hard to believe the outcome would have gone the same way had Teddy Bridgewater been able to play, but here was plenty of blame to go around. However, an anemic offensive performance placed a heavy strain on other position groups. The defense settled in after allowing Eddie Lacy to run for two long run, which set up an 8-yard touchdown from Aaron Rodgers to Randall Cobb. On the next series, Harrison Smith was biting hard towards the hint of an out pattern, but Jordy Nelson broke off his route and Rodgers found him over the top for a 66-yard touchdown.

On the next offensive possession, Christian Ponder was intercepted by Packers defensive lineman Julius Peppers, who returned the pass for a 49-yard touchdown. Ponder added another interception on the next drive and the Vikings offense was stuck under 100 yards passing at the start of the fourth quarter. Ponder did add a rushing touchdown at the start of the fourth quarter and aside from a 26-yard field goal, the Minnesota offense was unable to move the ball.

I let you take a look inside of the my notebook and tell you where everything went wrong in last night's game.

Ponder can't get it done

Christian Ponder is a third-string quarterback, and it is just about that simple. The Vikings offense couldn't move the ball and Ponder was unable to make the throws down the field. Receivers were gaining separation, but Ponder didn't step up the pocket and make the throws. Nothing has changed since he was last on the field and his inability to step up in the pocket is his worst attribute. The only pass he has success completing is a play-action designed roll-out to the tight end. It is extremely hard to find rhythm on offense when passes can't be made vertically up the field. Running the football becomes difficult and sustaining drives is nearly impossible. Field position was an issue and when you pair this with turnovers, winning football games is not even in the picture. Teddy Bridgewater will be back next week when the team squares off with the Lions, which will help take a strain off other positions. The next five games will be critical for this team and with Bridgewater at the helm, the Vikings can open up the playbook and not be a one-dimensional ballclub.

Asiata pounds the ball 

There isn't much you can do on offense when you are unable to move the ball up the field on third-down. Asiata carried the ball 15 times for 72 yards and he was continually pounding the ball for a five yards per carry average. The most critical mistake came late in the second quarter, when Asiata fumbled a pass as the Vikings were beginning to cross the 50-yard line for the first time in the game. Jerick McKinnon was used on just 10 carries and was rather nonexistent, picking up just 24 yards on the ground. Again, it is very difficult to establish the run game when the offense can't get in a flow and pass the ball for first downs.

Wright targeted heavily, Patterson nonexistent 

Jarius Wright was targeted a team-high eight times in last night's game, but he was only successfully found three times. When the coverage opened in the second half, Christian Ponder was finally able to find Greg Jennings.

Jennings was notably frustrated after the game about not seeing more passes in the offense.

"That's the one thing that always sucks about playing receiver; you can't throw yourself the ball," Jennings said.

Cordarrelle Patterson left the game in the second half with a hip injury, but was nonexistent up until that point. He was targeted just four times through the air and notched two catches for eight receiving yards. Patterson is one of the biggest weapons on this team and hasn't been used in the offensive gameplan much over the last two weeks. Of course, it is difficult to gauge how much of this could be attributed to Christian Ponder running the offense. Nonetheless, he wasn't used out of the backfield in a big role, but his injury could have been more of an issue than we first thought.

Chase Ford is the safety valve

Christian Ponder loves to roll out of the pocket and get into danger, instead of stepping up and making throws against the pressure. Last night, he consistently was rolling to his left and and hit tight end Chase Ford for three catches and 31 yards receiving. He nicely barreled a defender and showed some toughness heading up the sidelines. He moved the chains twice and was about the only way the Vikings offense could pick up a first down in the passing game.

Offensive Line struggles 

It's hard to pin all of the blame onto the offensive line, but they still didn't perform up to expectation levels last night. Christian Ponder playing quarterback forced them to block an extra amount of time and it didn't alleviate the workload on their shoulders at all. Nonetheless, they still were beaten badly at times and Matt Kalil couldn't handle Clay Matthews' stunts and tricks. Phil Loadholt also was having issues controlling the pocket and it appeared there were issues coming off the edge quite often last night. Again, you can't blame them for the whole scope of the project, but this performance level has become a reoccurring trend over the first few weeks of the season.

The Defensive Line is tough to figure out

The Vikings defensive line appeared it would be a strength of this team in training camp and the off-season. However, early in the season, they haven't met the expectation level many were expecting. Gap integrity was a major issue during portions of the game and Eddie Lacy was barreling through monstrous holes. Linval Joseph missed two tackles in the backfield and wasn't getting a good push up the middle. The Vikings front-four was dominated by the Packers interior offensive line during several portions of the game. Everson Griffen jumped offside twice and missed two more tackles during the game. He hasn't been playing up to the expectation levels of his newly signed contract extension. Early in the game, they performed much better when they were able to stack the box and apply more pressures. They did manage to sack Rodgers twice, but by the second half, he had plenty of time in the pocket. This could be attributed to being on the field for an extended amount of time, but interior leverage and consistency off the edge have been two issues that appeared during early weeks of the season.

The Linebackers played average 

I counted three times that linebacker Gerald Hodges was unable to commit to the run and fill his gaps. This led to several big runs where Eddie Lacy hit the second level and was trucking defenders. He is playing rather well at times in pass coverage, but his alignments in the running game, left little to be desired. On a positive note, Anthony Barr played phenomenally well at points of this game. He shut the door on screen passes that have led to big plays in the past and added two quarterback hurries in the second half. Barr has a big motor and his athleticism is off the charts among other linebackers in the league. The encouraging sign is not only how well he rushes the passer, but the way he can drop into coverage and make solid tackles. This group is much improved in pass coverage, but they need to get in the their gaps and work to align downhill to stop the run.

Rhodes plays well in secondary

Cornerback Xavier Rhodes added a spectacular deflection of a Aaron Rodgers pass to Jordy Nelson early in game. He wasn't in the correct position at the time, but the play was simply an example of how well his ball skills have developed. Rhodes needs to work on getting his head around to make some of these plays, but his alignment is much improved from the first three weeks of the season. Captain Munnerlyn was beaten for an 8-yard Randall Cobb touchdown in the corner of the end zone, but aside from that, he wasn't necessarily 'destroyed' the rest of the night. Aaron Rodgers threw for just 164 yards, but didn't need to do much more when he was awarded a short-field on multiple occasions last night. Rodgers didn't carve up the Vikings secondary, but consistency is still an issue for this group.

Smith adds another interception

Safety Harrison Smith notched his third interception of the season and is making his case to be a pro-bowl selection at his position. He continually is making plays in run support and can break down and make some brilliant open field tackles. More importantly, he is making the tough tackles in space when the quarterback throws a check-down pass to the running back or a tight end. Smith did make one mistake early in the game, when he bit hard on the hint of an out pattern, which led to a 66-yard touchdown pass early in the game. Aside from that, Harrison Smith is the best defensive player the Vikings have on the field and he is making the tough plays that others cannot make.

Locke gets his work done

Due to an anemic offensive performance, punter Jeff Locke booted a whopping seven punts. He accumulated a net average of 43.5 and did the best he could to keep field position manageable for the defense. He could be considered one of the three brightspots I managed to find in this game.

What’s Next?

The Vikings will head back to the University of Minnesota to take on the Detroit Lions next week at noon.

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