Review, reaction shows depth of problems
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Review, reaction shows depth of problems

Christian Ponder has been a sore point in the Vikings' passing game, but he isn't the only thorn causing irritation. We review the numerous aspects of the passing offense that went wrong, patched together with reaction from Leslie Frazier and others.

The easy answer to the Vikings' struggles Sunday in Seattle could fall at the feet of QB Christian Ponder. He was certainly one of the major factors, but there was so much more.

Here are several of the things that went wrong in a passing game that netted 44 yards Sunday against the Seahawks.

Ponder's accuracy – While Russell Wilson was plagued by dropped passes early in the game, the Vikings' passing game was initially stymied by Ponder's inaccuracy. It started in the second series, when his first-down pass for TE Kyle Rudolph was low (one of two targets for the team's best pass-catching tight end) and continued into the next series when he threw behind Devin Aromashodu while Ponder was rolling out. Another pass in the Vikings' third series when he threw over the head of Percy Harvin and out of bounds continued the early inaccuracy.

"Aromashodu, I think that ball was slightly deflected and ended up getting behind the receiver. On the bubble screen (to Harvin), that's one he completes you'd like to say 10 out of 10 times but not that time," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "He's completed that with high accuracy throughout the season. For whatever reason that ball sailed on him. Gotta get your feet set, gotta make that throw. He's made that throw."

Ponder getting flummoxed – The first Ponder issue – his accuracy – lays solely on him. He also doesn't appear comfortable in the pocket, something that Frazier admitted. While there was an emphasis for Ponder to step up in the pocket instead of bailing backwards and to his left or right, he appeared ready to run Sunday, even when the pressure wasn't on him.

"There are times where he needs to stay in the pocket a little bit longer and needs to be patient," Frazier said. "There are other times where he does exactly what we've asked him to do. But there are times where for whatever reason he'll pull it down a second too soon and we've got to work through that, give those routes a chance to uncover."

Part of the issue could be Ponder getting sacked 14 times in the last four games.

"If you get a lot of pressure usually that will create (happy feet). You'll start seeing things when they're not true. But we haven't had consistent pressure," Frazier said. "We have had moments where there has been pressure, but we've got to help him. We've got to figure out what's creating that when it does happen and help him to get past that."

As it turned out, Ponder ran five times, the second-highest total of the season for him, for 23 yards, but his longest run was eight yards.

In short, previous pressure appears to have Ponder ready to bail even when he would be safe to stay and further survey the field.

Protecting Ponder – Perhaps one of the reasons Ponder was feeling pressure when it wasn't always present was because it has been an issue in recent games. The Arizona Cardinals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers blitzed Ponder more often than most, but the Seattle Seahawks mixed up their pass rushes on him.

Of the 31 times Ponder dropped back to pass, the Seahawks sent five pass rushers six times and six of them once. Other than that, they rushed four defenders 19 times and even rushed three on five occasions.

"They had, I think, maybe one pressure that they were able to get a sack on. One, maybe two. We had good enough protection on one of them," Frazier said. "Christian stepped up and I think a defensive back fell off and they end up getting a tackle. For the most part we did a good job against the pressures that they brought yesterday. I don't think it was a major issue for us. We just didn't find a way to complete the ball on a consistent basis and convert some third downs to keep the chains moving, especially in the second half. So, the pressures weren't a major factor yesterday."

Of the four sacks Ponder took, two of them came with five pass rushers and one with six. Guard Charlie Johnson admitted that the Seahawks were more down-and-distance specific in their blitzes, and three of four sacks Ponder took came on third down (the other came on first down).

Mixing the schemes – While offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave has installed some creative plays to get Harvin the ball in space, defenses appear to be catching up to the bubble screens. Both Harvin and Frazier seemed to admit as much.

"Yeah, they're calling it out a lot more, especially these last two games. We'll have to dial some different things up, see if we can get something else going," Harvin said.

"They're putting different people out there. Instead of blocking defensive backs, Mike Jenkins and some of the other receivers are having to block safeties dropping down, linebackers dropping down. Teams are starting to get creative in how they're trying to defend it, so we've just got to try to move people around and see if we can disguise it a little bit."

The Vikings took a couple days to self-scout after their Thursday night game, but a full week off after the Detroit game should be filled with self-scout sessions.

"Just being able to see how people have adjusted to some of the things we had success with early in the season, now we've got to offset some of the things that we're seeing that are beginning to pop up," Frazier said. "It's not complicated, but we've just got to do a better job of figuring out ways to offset what people are doing that takes some of our strengths away. We need to get it done."

Getting the routes right – Against Tampa Bay, there was an obvious miscommunication between Ponder and Jerome Simpson when Ponder through Simpson would stop short and the receiver keep running. This week against Seattle, Ponder threw a near interception in which he either through Simpson was going to continue on a straight go route and Simpson start to run a post, or Simpson was simply pushed off his route too easily. Either way, those two don't seem to be in sync consistently enough.

Clutch times call for clutch players – The Vikings have been criticized for not having Harvin on the field in the red zone, and their final drive of the first half was questioned Sunday. But what might have been an issue more than play-calling on that drive was the personnel packages that were used.

The Vikings got the ball with 38 seconds left at their own 39-yard line and were hoping to drive into field goal position. To that point, Adrian Peterson had 144 yards rushing and was easily the most productive player for them. But on all five plays to end the half Peterson was on the sideline. Instead, Toby Gerhart was in the backfield. He picked up one first down with a 14-yard run on third-and-9, but Peterson's additional speed might have been able to gain even more on that play, and his presence on the field likely would have altered Seattle's defensive approach. Despite have all three timeouts, the Vikings weren't able to get in position to have Blair Walsh attempt a game-tying field goal.

At this point, everything in the passing game needs to be examined and Frazier said protection, route-running and scheme are all under review.

"We've got to peel it back a little and figure what we need to do to take advantage of what we are going to see probably for a while until we show we can consistently complete passes."

Still, Frazier said he thinks Ponder still has enough confidence to perform, and Frazier will continue to stick by the second-year quarterback during a developmental rough patch.

"I haven't really thought about pulling him from a game or taking him out for a series or anything like that," Frazier said.

All other potential fixes, however, seem to be on the table for discussion.


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.