Ponder, coaches evaluate preseason offense

The numbers in the third preseason game weren't flattering, but how did Christian Ponder perform throughout the preseason compared to last year and last preseason, and what are the issues he needs to work on? Ponder, Frazier and Musgrave all weigh in.

Even before the Vikings struggled to sustain drives in the biggest game of the preseason last Friday, players were warning not to put too much emphasis on preseason performances.

Most of the Vikings' first-team offense was on the field for the majority of the first half of the 12-10 loss to the San Diego Chargers, but six of the first seven drives ended in four plays or fewer – with four punts, a fumble, a missed field goal and an interception completing those seven drives.

"There's still a lot of things on film that we've got to work on and adjust and play better, but it's a good start," quarterback Christian Ponder said after coming off a much better performance the previous week. "We're playing well, but it's not good enough yet."

If 10-for-13 for 136 yards, a touchdown and a 135.4 passer rating was "not good enough" after the second week of preseason, then what did Ponder make of his performance Friday against the Chargers, when he got more extensive time and was 9-for-16 for 115 yards, an interception and a 52.9 passer rating?

"I think I got myself in trouble. We talked about it on the sidelines," he said. "I was getting back on the top of my drop and kind of just sitting there and that puts a lot of pressure on our tackles and I can do a better job of stepping up and moving forward. It was tough with the 3-4. In the middle they were kind of just standing up and not really rushing hard and I have to do a better job of finding windows to find guys. That's on me and I have to get better in the pocket and usually I don't do that."

Ponder took five sacks in the game, but if the 3-4 defense was a problem, he had better get ready. The Vikings will face that defensive scheme in six of their 16 games this year.

Still, head coach Leslie Frazier, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and several players this week expressed confidence in the offense despite the struggles in their most recent outing.

In three preseason games, Ponder has a cumulative 86.6 rating, completing 23 of 38 passes (a respectable 60.5 percent) for 331 yards and an 8.71 yards-per-attempt average on what essentially amounts to just over a full game of playing time.

Musgrave concentrated on the explosive plays the Vikings made when asked about his confidence in the offense.

"I think moving the ball down the field, doing well with our shots down the field. We had a couple passes where we hit Percy Harvin on a 40-yarder and missed a 54-yard touchdown one," he said. "We're doing a better job of achieving those chunks down the field. We did against Buffalo, as well, so we want to be able to do that which will complement our strong running game."

The Vikings spent the entire preseason without running back Adrian Peterson and tight end John Carlson, who are both expected to be integral parts of the offense during the regular season. In addition, they didn't play receiver Jerome Simpson much in the third preseason game as they prepared for his three-game suspension to start the season after violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.

Ponder's 40-yard completion to Harvin was the only pass he completed in the San Diego game that was longer than 20 yards, but Harvin dropped a likely 54-yard touchdown that he said he lost in the lights. In the preseason opener against the San Francisco 49ers, Ponder had a 52-yarder to Stephen Burton. Against the Buffalo Bills, Ponder struck with a 36-yarder to Harvin, a 35-yarder to Michael Jenkins and a 33-yarder to Jerome Simpson.

"Most teams want those big chunks. I think it makes sense," Musgrave said. "We don't want to take as many sacks as we did the (against San Diego), but I know we've acknowledged them, we've addressed the mistakes and I'm sure the whole offense shares the confidence that we can play better and we will play better."

Ponder took ownership of the sacks, but rookie left tackle Matt Kalil also said he needs to improve with his pass protection.

While Ponder's 86.6 passer rating in the preseason is better than his 70.1 rating during the regular season last year or his 79.5 rating against mostly second- and third-string defenses last preseason, he admits that preseason defenses aren't the same as what defensive coordinators concoct for the regular season.

"The looks that you see defensively are pretty vanilla. There's not a whole lot of pressure and obviously they're not scheming against you," Ponder said. "To prepare for a lot of different looks from defenses, I think that is the biggest adjustment (in the regular season)."

The Vikings will need to find a replacement for Simpson – Frazier said Michael Jenkins has best rapport with Ponder of the bigger receiving targets – but Musgrave isn't going give Ponder any false confidence. They review the film and try to be as objective as they can about what they see.

"Confidence only comes from one thing, that's demonstrated performance," Musgrave said. "Can't build anybody up, can't give them anything false or fabricated. When they do it, they gain confidence so we'll look forward to this season, our young quarterback, our young players, our old players gaining confidence from demonstrated performance."


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



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\r\n\r\n","mobileBody":"Even before the Vikings struggled to sustain drives in the biggest game of the preseason last Friday, players were warning not to put too much emphasis on preseason performances. Most of the Vikings' first-team offense was on the field for the majority of the first half of the 12-10 loss to the San Diego Chargers, but six of the first seven drives ended in four plays or fewer – with four punts, a fumble, a missed field goal and an interception completing those seven drives. \"There's still a lot of things on film that we've got to work on and adjust and play better, but it's a good start,\" quarterback Christian Ponder said after coming off a much better performance the previous week. \"We're playing well, but it's not good enough yet.\" If 10-for-13 for 136 yards, a touchdown and a 135.4 passer rating was \"not good enough\" after the second week of preseason, then what did Ponder make of his performance Friday against the Chargers, when he got more extensive time and was 9-for-16 for 115 yards, an interception and a 52.9 passer rating? \"I think I got myself in trouble. We talked about it on the sidelines,\" he said. \"I was getting back on the top of my drop and kind of just sitting there and that puts a lot of pressure on our tackles and I can do a better job of stepping up and moving forward. It was tough with the 3-4. In the middle they were kind of just standing up and not really rushing hard and I have to do a better job of finding windows to find guys. That's on me and I have to get better in the pocket and usually I don't do that.\" Ponder took five sacks in the game, but if the 3-4 defense was a problem, he had better get ready. The Vikings will face that defensive scheme in six of their 16 games this year. Still, head coach Leslie Frazier, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and several players this week expressed confidence in the offense despite the struggles in their most recent outing. In three preseason games, Ponder has a cumulative 86.6 rating, completing 23 of 38 passes (a respectable 60.5 percent) for 331 yards and an 8.71 yards-per-attempt average on what essentially amounts to just over a full game of playing time. Musgrave concentrated on the explosive plays the Vikings made when asked about his confidence in the offense. \"I think moving the ball down the field, doing well with our shots down the field. We had a couple passes where we hit Percy Harvin on a 40-yarder and missed a 54-yard touchdown one,\" he said. \"We're doing a better job of achieving those chunks down the field. We did against Buffalo, as well, so we want to be able to do that which will complement our strong running game.\" The Vikings spent the entire preseason without running back Adrian Peterson and tight end John Carlson, who are both expected to be integral parts of the offense during the regular season. In addition, they didn't play receiver Jerome Simpson much in the third preseason game as they prepared for his three-game suspension to start the season after violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. Ponder's 40-yard completion to Harvin was the only pass he completed in the San Diego game that was longer than 20 yards, but Harvin dropped a likely 54-yard touchdown that he said he lost in the lights. In the preseason opener against the San Francisco 49ers, Ponder had a 52-yarder to Stephen Burton. Against the Buffalo Bills, Ponder struck with a 36-yarder to Harvin, a 35-yarder to Michael Jenkins and a 33-yarder to Jerome Simpson. \"Most teams want those big chunks. 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