Monday, September 10, 2012

Trailing Clouds of Heaven: Part two (likes and dislikes)

I found myself nodding in agreement as I was reading Pacifist Viking's post-game analysis yesterday of the Vikings gloriously improbably 26-23 overtime win against Jacksonville.

Looking at the big picture for this team, how big is it for Christian Ponder to take a pretty hopeless situation – down by three with 20 seconds left and the ball on the Vikings 31 yard line – and get them in position to kick the tying field goal and then drive them down the field smartly in OT for another field goal that set up the 
win? How big is it for Blair Walsh to come through and kick a clutch 55-yard field goal with no time left to tie it in his first NFL regular season game? And how big is it for a very young team to bounce back from a gut punch like that scoring toss from Blaine Gabbert to Cecil Shorts and then win it? This is the kind of victory that can set the tone for a season.

So let's bask in the win. But let's also point out some good and bad in this game.

The good

- I think we can feel reasonably good that this year's Minnesota Vikings secondary is not last year's secondary. Yesterday we saw living, breathing defensive backs and safeties that actually made plays on the ball - batting down passes and tackling (for the most part) willingly and ably. We can be concerned that Chris Cook gave up that scoring pass to Shorts with 20 seconds left and that Gabbert frequently looked like a competent NFL quarterback. However, plays were made by this unit, and it's a very young group that's finding its way. We can expect improvement from guys like Cook, Josh Robinson, Harrison Smith and Mistral Raymond. That's something, at least.

- I think we can feel reasonably good about the pass protection we saw for Christian Ponder. That Ponder recovered from an extremely shaky start to the game is noteworthy, too, but I was really keying on how the reworked Vikings offensive line would do. For the most part I saw good blitz pickups, Ponder with plenty of time to throw, and holes for running backs to run through. I did not notice rookie left tackle Matt Kalil much, nor the guys he was blocking. I consider that a good thing. How do most left tackles get noticed? When they commit holding or false start penalties or when the guy they are supposed to block blows by them and sacks the quarterback. That did not happen to Kalil.

- I think we can feel reasonably good about tight end Kyle Rudolph as a legit pass catching threat. We heard all offseason that he and Ponder were working to develop the chemistry good pass catching combos typically have (think Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison, or even Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall). We heard about his huge catch radius and that he was recovered from a college leg injury that hurt his explosiveness in his rookie season. And we read that he was going to be a breakout player. But we couldn't be sure a guy who caught 26 passes last year could do it. Rudolph had five catches for 67 yards on Sunday - good, not great numbers - and he short-armed that one pass in the red zone in the fourth quarter at a key time. Still, I think Rudolph will be a guy good for four-to-six catches every game, a good safety outlet for Ponder, and a guy who can make a big play for you now and then.

- And I think we can feel very, very good about Adrian Peterson's play. 17 carries? 84 yards? Two touchdowns? After shredding his left knee eight months ago? I still think there were runs where Peterson lacked that Peterson-like gear we're used to seeing where he leaves guys behind. However, the performance was much more than any of us expected. AD looks good.

The bad

- Here is what I didn't like. As the Vikings were driving for a potential game-clinching touchdown. It's second and three from the Jacksonville 13 yard line and Percy Harvin isn't on the field. I can't fathom how you don't have your top receiving threat on the field in the opponent's red zone when you need a touchdown. You think Michael Jenkins or Devin Aromashodu are going to catch that touchdown pass for you? Do the Detroit Lions take Calvin Johnson off the field when they get inside the opponent's 20? This is a hobby horse I've been on since last season. And I'll continue to be on it until the Vikings stop taking Harvin off the field in situations like this.

- I didn't like the fact the Vikings couldn't find someone to make a play as a receiver inside the Jaguars 20. This wasn't unexpected, especially with Jerome Simpson out for the first three games, but I keep hoping somebody will surprise me. No one did in this one. The search continues.

- Did tight end John Carlson even play in this game? (Actually, I know he did because he was the intended target of an incomplete pass from Ponder deep in Jaguars territory in the first half). He hurt his knee in late July and he hasn't recovered from it. The Carlson signing isn't looking good right now.     


  1. I agree about the red zone receiving threats. That's not Harvin's game, and we need to see if Rudolph can develop into that type of threat. I'm afraid this year if the run isn't going inside the 10, we'll see a lot of field goals.

    I'll probably write about this Friday, but the snap count that the NFL now releases (and that Football Outsiders posts) is AWESOME. John Carlson played 18 snaps, or 31% of the offensive plays. And Rudolph was the only skill position player to play 100% of offensive snaps (Ponder and the entire o-line also did).

  2. Agree with your likes and dislikes, DC. I would add Greenway's game to the likes - he looked like the kind of player that can elevate the LB corps around him.

    1. Peter:

      I thought about adding Greenway, but obviously didn't. I thought in the first half he was kind of the guy we saw last year. But a lot of Vikings didn't have a good first half. The second half was much better. Hope it continues.