Kyle Rudolph's last play Sunday helped Christian Ponder end a negative streak.
The Ponder-to-Rudolph 31-yard touchdown pass was the first time since Dec. 4, 2011 that Ponder threw a touchdown of more than 20 yards. His streak of 601 passes from outside his opponents' 20-yard line with a touchdown was the longest in NFL history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
"I think that first of all we're calling certain plays to get the ball out of our hand quick and we're good at certain routes. And there are times where a lot of plays we have options to go deep it's just being taken away," Ponder said. "I remember specific game plans where we thought they would play one way and give us an option to play a deep post or something and they didn't cooperate and they took it away. We're calling plays to get it (deep). They just haven't been working out for us."
Ponder has 11 pass plays this season that have gone for more than 20 yards, but only two of those have been passes of 20 yards or more in the air, according to Pro Football Focus. The two longest pass plays (pass and run after the catch) belong to Matt Cassel – a 70-yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings and a 51-yard completion to Jerome Simpson, both against Pittsburgh.
For the season, Ponder had 1,072 yards pass, completing 62 percent of his passes for three touchdowns, six interceptions and a 72.5 rating. He has a 6.8-yard average per attempt; Cassel is at 7.1 and Freeman at 3.6 in his one game.
According to Pro Football Focus, Ponder has only 590 yards in the air, the rest of his passing yardage coming after the catch. That's 30th in the NFL (to be fair, he also has only five starts).
He has attempted 20 passes that traveled 20 yards or more in the air, completing seven of them this season for 228 yards. His completion percent of 35 on deep passes is tied for 25th.
So, why has the deep passing game struggled so much this year?
"There are a number of factors," head coach Leslie Frazier said. "I think we're better throwing the ball down the field now than we were a year ago. We can obviously be even better. We have a lot of football to be played and we'll continue to work on that. But I think we've gotten better. But part of it is protection. Part of it is getting our receivers and quarterback comfortable with one another. Part of it is just continuing to run the football as well as we can. We've had some struggles the last couple weeks for different reasons but we got back on track against Dallas and hopefully we can build on that and we can get some shots down the field in the future."
Ponder had opportunities in Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys. The most infamous was a shot to Jennings on a flag route at the 15-yard line. He overthrew an open Jennings by a couple yards, enough that the receiver didn't even attempt to catch it. That came with 4½ minutes left in the game when the Vikings might have tried to run the ball to have Dallas use their timeouts and stick with Adrian Peterson, who was having his most effective game of the season.
"It was there. You see Greg. He has a step and there's a chance for a big play," Frazier said. "The guy grabs him initially, the back of his jersey, and rides him and then gets in front but we were just a hair off on that play. Would've been a huge play. Really would have put a dagger in it for us and got us where we needed to be. Didn't work out for us on that occasion."
Frazier said the team wanted to stay aggressive. But, in fact, they had tried to hit Jennings on a deep post route at the beginning of the previous series. That pass traveled 20 yards in the air and it was one that Jennings could have had. He got both hands on it, despite it being slightly high, and wasn't able to hang on as CB Orlando Scandrick contested it.
"You want to stay aggressive," Frazier said. "We had a mindset going into that ballgame that we were going to be aggressive in plus territory and we understand how we want to play the four-minute situation. … In that situation, we knew exactly what they were going to be in on defense. We had the perfect call, we had the perfect formation to identify what they were doing and then it's just a matter of our being able to execute our assignment. But we have confidence that Christian can make those plays. We have confidence that our offensive line can get blocked up and that our receivers can get open.
"In order for us to one day become a championship team, you have to be able to execute in those situations and we weren't able to get it done(Sunday)."
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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