The St. Louis Rams hadn't allowed a running back to reach 100 yards since October. Christian Ponder hadn't had a passer rating above 60 since Nov. 11.
On Sunday, both of those trends were broken with an efficient performance that featured adjustments on offense and better mechanics from Ponder.
While Adrian Peterson had been ruling NFL running backs the past seven weeks with one 100-yard performance after another, he faced tough going in the first two possessions in St. Louis. After five carries he had minus-3 yards, including four consecutive runs for losses. After eight carries, he had only eight yards.
The Rams were routinely putting eight or nine defenders in the box. Only once in the first 15 plays did they have a more typical seven in the box. Eventually, however, the Rams' defensive aggressiveness calmed because, according to Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, Minnesota's passing game was more effective.
"I think what kind of helped us was some of the nakeds (bootlegs) that we ran early that got Christian on the perimeter a bit made them take a little bit off of what they were trying to do as far as bringing a lot of people to the line of scrimmage," Frazier said. "They had to step back at some point and say we need to play a little coverage. Once we got them in that mode, where every now and then they would play a little coverage as opposed to just getting a lot of people at the line of scrimmage, we were able to create some openings in their defense.
"But it was obvious their game plan was to just have a lot of people at the line of scrimmage to try to get penetration. Being able to run some of those boots and some of those crosses kind of helped us a little bit to loosen up some things."
Eventually, the running lanes opened up a bit after the Rams saw the Vikings having some success even when Peterson was stuffed. On the first drive, the Vikings used Ponder's athleticism and the threat of Peterson to help counteract a lack of success handing off to him. They used a play-action misdirection play to open the first offensive series with a 14-yard pass to Kyle Rudolph, and later used play-action again to pick up another first down with an 11-yard completion to Jerome Simpson. By the end of the drive, it was Ponder's feet that were picking up first downs and eventually a touchdown.
But as the game progressed, it was also clear that Ponder was more conscious of staying in the pocket and stepping into his throws, something that had been a major problem. The result was that nine of the Vikings' 18 first downs came via the passing game.
"We definitely went into it game-plan wise trying to find some ways to get some completions and what you saw (Sunday) was based on what we saw game-plan wise," Frazier said. "This week could be a little bit different based on what Houston does on defense, but this week that was the plan. We'll see what happens against Houston."
Thanks to runs of 82 and 52 yards, Peterson not only became the first running back to get over 100 yards against a Rams defense that hadn't allowed one in almost two months, he went for 212 yards.
Ponder, meanwhile, had only his second game since September without an interception and his first game since Nov. 11 with a rating above 60 – he finished completing 17 of 24 passes for 131 yards and an 83.9 rating, as well as running for a touchdown.
"He was very efficient passing the football, did a good job of controlling our offense and putting us in good plays, whether it was a run or a pass, and I thought he played a very good game," Frazier said.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Adjustments, footwork helped Vikings
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