Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave has been in the crosshairs for questionable formations and head-scratching snap counts, but he received some praise Monday from Sports Illustrated columnist Peter King, who named Musgrave a co-coach of the week for his ingenuity in placing Cordarrelle Patterson in the backfield with fullback Jerome Felton in front of him. With Toby Gerhart lined up wide left, Patterson took a handoff, eluded two tacklers and spun his way into the end zone from 33 yards out.
Musgrave deserves some credit for that, although Patterson's history of rushing success at Tennessee might make observers ask: What took you so long?
But there was an air of predictability, too, in some of the things the Vikings did Sunday against the Chicago Bears and it cost them.
Their first three drives all ended with third-down sacks of quarterback Christian Ponder. In all three cases, Ponder was lined up in the shotgun, perhaps giving away any threat of a run.
On the first one, the Bears sent six rushers after Ponder, loading up the left side of the offensive line with more than it could handle – three blockers for four defenders. Julius Peppers stunted inside and brought down Ponder for a 9-yard loss.
On the second one, Ponder was in the shotgun again. The Bears sent five rushers, and cornerback Isaiah Frey and defensive tackle Stephen Paea shared the sack.
On the third one, the Bears didn't blitz, but Ponder held onto the ball and stepped into the path of Peppers for the third consecutive third-down sack.
"I think we have to give some credit to the Chicago defense. They're a good defense and they got pressure on us early and we weren't able to pick some of that stuff up," said Matt Cassel who relieved a concussed Ponder late in the first half. "But Christian did a good job of taking care of the ball. And, again, he took a few hits early on and it goes hand-in-hand and everybody's got to do their job."
Ponder didn't take a sack the rest of the first half, but he also didn't convert any third downs. The Vikings finished the half 0 for 5 on third downs.
They weren't great the rest of the way, but they did convert 4 of 12 third downs in the second half and overtime. Cassel took two sacks in the approximately 43 minutes of play he had, including another third down in the shotgun.
"I don't know exactly (what changed) from a play-calling standpoint. We weren't able to get into much of a rhythm in that first half," Cassel said. "But at the same time, we were able to get into a little bit more of a rhythm and run the ball effectively, and that sets up play-action passes we did effectively in the second half."
Frazier said Ponder's sacks weren't a product of him hanging onto the ball too long.
"Not in those cases. We missed some assignments. Some things that we've got to get corrected," Frazier said.
Still, Ponder has taken 11 sacks in the last three games and hasn't finished two of those contests. Cassel added two more Sunday, making it 13 sacks for the Vikings in the last three weeks.
"It's a concern. Any time your quarterback is getting hit, it causes problems for him where if he's not careful he's going to start getting happy feet and not going through his progressions," Frazier said. "So it's important that we protect the quarterback and keep those hits off of him. So we've got to do some things to clean that up.
BACK TO LINEBACKERS
While Erin Henderson was active for the Bears game, he didn't play at all. Audie Cole made his second straight start at middle linebacker and played all 66 defensive snaps.
"Just liked the way Audie was playing and the way our defense as a whole was playing," Frazier said. "Even though we gave up some yards, did a great job of keeping the points down, great job on third down. Just liked the way he was leading out there. Erin was ready to go, but liked the way that Audie was playing."
Frazier declined to say whether Cole would continue to start or whether Henderson could be moved back to weakside linebacker, where he has started the previous three seasons.
"It's something to definitely consider going forward," Frazier said.
Henderson was arrested Nov. 19 for probable cause driving while intoxicated and possession of a controlled substance.
"The primary message: poise, composure," Frazier said. "You have to be able to do that. … You're going to beat sometimes in the NFL as a corner. The best do, so you've got to be able to handle it the right way and there is a way to handle it. He knows that. Ordinarily he does handle things a lot better. But just got to get that point across."
"My initial reaction was that it wasn't. But I need to see the TV copy and maybe it'll show me something different," he said.
"It was a good call. He held onto the facemask. Maybe if he lets it go, they might not call it," Frazier said. "But he held on to that facemask too long. It was a good call, right call."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.