Sunday, September 16, 2012

Coming Off the Ledge: Colts 23, Vikings 20

Vikings-Colts Box Score (ESPN).

Today the 2012 Minnesota Viking revealed their biggest weakness.

Don't be distracted by the awful second half penalties. They were awful, nearly cost the Vikes a chance at a comeback, and really might have cost the team the game.

Don't be distracted by the familiar defensive collapse. It was awful, and it points to what we've known about the questionable pass defense.

Don't be distracted by Andrew Luck's performance. The Viking pass rush was consistent, but Luck was better: he showed mobility and intelligence at avoiding taking what should have been sacks. He managed to make some spectacular plays.

And don't be distracted by the poetic and statistical balance that the Vikings lost today the way they beat the Jaguars a week ago. The data shows that if you keep playing games like this, you're going to win about half of them. A mediocre or bad team is going to play a lot of games like this.

Don't be distracted by what Christian Ponder did or did not do. For the second week in a row, Ponder helped the Vikings when they were down, and put the team in position to win games that they could have lost. He hasn't played great, but I don't think he's been the problem, either, and he has been clutch.

The Vikings biggest weakness this year is this:

They have no downfield passing game.

The Vikings' best receiver by far catches most of his passes around the line of scrimmage. And there is nobody else that can be relied on for deep passes. They can't stretch the defense and make defense account for the deep throw--so those defenses play tight to muck up the short passes. They don't have a real opportunity to take advantage of the the benefits of deep throws, like picking up pass interference penalties. There is just nobody currently on the Vikings that can beat cornerbacks and regularly make a play past 20 yards. Thus they struggle to move the ball consistently, and even when they get a good drive going, it too frequently stalls, as they don't have the big play potential down the field to gain big yardage on a single play to really advance the ball.

It is possible that Jerome Simpson is going to rescue the Vikings here: he's the speedy, athletic player who really has big play potential. He doesn't even have to be the first or second option to massively impact the game: if the Vikes throw deep to him even a few times, that could really aid the offense. But that's for later.

Right now, the Vikings have a dink and dunk offense that relies on pass catchers to gain yardage after they catch the ball. Just look at today's play-by-play (ESPN): almost all of Ponder's pass attempts are short.  In the second half, one pass finally got labeled "middle." No pass play is listed as "deep" until the fourth quarter, and in the fourth they got a total of three "deep" throws.

In all, Ponder had 33 pass attempts labeled "short," one "middle," and three "long" (that includes plays that didn't count due to penalties). I don't know that's Ponder's fault. I don't even know that it's the coaches' fault (though they must at least try go deep more frequently). It may simply be that they don't have the personnel for the deep pass right now. But that is a problem--the biggest problem the Vikings have right now.


  1. Agree 100%. Really hope Simpson coming back in two weeks can help the Vikings stretch the field. I have to go back and check out the coach's tape to see how good our receivers made their secondary look.

    1. Based on the tweets sent by Tom Pelissero and a couple of other Vikings beat writers, the receivers made the Colts look pretty good. They couldn't get open.

  2. I know the WRs are terrible, not counting Percy of course. But you don't put any of this on Ponder? If he isn't so awful early then he doesn't have to scramble late to bring them back. The series right before the half was pathetic.

    They didn't cost the Vikings, but in other games I watched the refs were unbelievably bad. This is getting to be a problem.

    1. ETR:

      Ponder's not blameless. The throw on the left sideline where he badly missed a wide open Harvin on third and long in their last drive before the first half sticks out. That would have given the Vikings a new set of downs and would have at least prevented the Colts from getting the ball back with so much time left. And part of his job description is to turn chicken shit into chicken salad.

      The biggest problem I see with him right now is pocket awareness. He doesn't step up into the pocket to avoid pressure or do those other subtle movements in the pocket that you see the good ones do to avoid sacks. He either doesn't recognize the pressure is coming at all, or he gets spooked early, gets flushed out of the pocket and then the play is screwed.

      But again, when you have nobody to throw to ....

      And the replacement refs had a bad Sunday all around it seems. That might be the tipping point for the NFL. I also think a lot of the players and coaches are overreacting to the calls/non calls because they know they are replacement refs.

  3. I was distracted by many of the things you say to not be distracted by. This article was a good, calming read. I do recall wondering outloud why they weren't even trying to stretch out Indy's defense in the first half, though. Screens and slants get pretty manageable for the other team's defense when they're 100% of the good guys' passing game.

    I'm hopeful for the future of the team because of Ponder's play so far. Good stuff for a 2nd year guy.

    Simpson could likely help. I'm curious to see - although the Vikings passing game ought to look better against Detroit a week after losing to the 49ers.

    I wish MN had traded Allen away during the offseason. I think Robison and Griffen would be a fine pair of DEs for a team not looking to win now. A good deep receiver would be nice for the team and for Ponder right about now. Aren't there rumors that Green Bay's Jennings could be on the market?

    1. Peter:

      There was some debate from Vikings beat writers about trading Allen prior to the draft. He's 30 and coming off a 22-sack season - his value will probably never be higher. And we were pretty sure the Vikings wouldn't be competing for a playoff spot until 2014. The extra draft picks would have accelerated the rebuilding effort. Alas, it did not happen.

      It could still happen, though, with the NFL moving back the trade deadline. If the Vikings are way out of it by then (very, very likely), they could deal veterans like KWill, Winfield and perhaps even Allen. But they'll be trading at 50 cents on the dollar by then. Not the best strategy.And NFL trades midseason are rare.