Here is Pacifist Viking's take on a glorious 30-7 win by the good guy Vikes over the bad guy Titans.
I just got to watch this game this evening, after spending the weekend away from home (and away from my NFL Sunday Ticket package) while visiting the inlaws for Canadian Thanksgiving. Here are some quick thoughts on the beatdown.
* When I read Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder had thrown his first two interceptions of the season and hit a couple of other Tennessee defenders in the hands, I worried I'd be watching some rerun from 2011. But I agree with PV that this was Ponder's second best game of the season. Lots of decisive, quick throws by Ponder with zip on them. He showed great touch on the deep throw to Percy Harvin and the TD toss to Kyle Rudolph. He also scrambled smartly and effectively. It was a nice bounceback back game in the air for Ponder and the Vikings after a ho-hum performance against Detroit. Minnesota can win – maybe even dominate – when Ponder plays like this.
* It also helps when Ponder isn't pressured at all – and he wasn't against the Titans. In the past three games Ponder's been sacked three times, and two of those – one by Detroit's Kyle Vanden Bosch and the other by the Titans Mike Martin – were scrambles where Ponder was (barely) caught from behind near the line of scrimmage. It's been a while since a Vikings quarterback has dropped pack to pass and I've felt this confident he wouldn't take a pounding. I'm starting to feel like that now. Left tackle Matt Kalil might have some work to do in the run game, but not when it comes to pass protection. I take it almost as a given that whomever he's blocking is going to post a donut in the sack and hurries column. And this is a unit that has had less than a year to play together. It's been an impressive turnaround for the Vikings offensive line.
* I like that the Vikings keep running those short screens, which are really long handoffs, to Percy Harvin. We've seen Detroit and now Tennessee really key on this play the past two weeks and they've snuffed out a few. But if you're split second late on reacting to it, those screens are almost an automatic first down with the way Harvin can make the first defender miss and then run over anyone else that gets in the way. Offenses can't get away from what they do best even if a defense tries to take it away from them. The Vikings aren't getting away from the screens to Harvin.
* Has the John Carlson experiment already been abandoned by Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave? It sure looked that way against the Titans, as I saw a lot more of #40 (Rhett Ellison) on the field than Carlson's #89. I haven't seen the snap count from the game yet, (Update: Ellison played 22 snaps, Carlson 20, as per Tom Pelissero's weekly game tape review) but my bet is Ellison played many more snaps than Carlson. That makes perfect sense because Carlson is not a blocker, whereas Ellison can do that. Where Carlson is supposed to be the better player is in the pass game. Unfortunately, he's got two catches for one yard so far in 2012. Ellison has two catches for 35 yards. Ellison's been the better player. He should keep Carlson on the sideline until the veteran tight end proves he doesn't belong there. (As an aside, couldn't the Vikings, out of respect for Jim Kleinssasser, have put a one year moratorium on the use of his #40? That feels like it would have been the right thing to do.)
* Aggression has been Harrison Smith's ally in an impressive start to his rookie season. You can see that aggression in the way he hits people, and in the way he breaks on pass plays. On Sunday that aggression got him kicked out of the game early in the second quarter when he pushed aside a referee during a brief scrum. Smith is an aggressive, feisty guy who won't back down from anyone. During training camp he and Harvin almost came to blows during a couple of altercations. I like that part of his game. However, I'm thinking future Viking opponents have noticed this and will, henceforth, be looking to use that aggression against Smith: to goad him into taking stupid penalties that cost the Vikings defense yards and maybe get him kicked out of another game or two. Smith has become too important a player to the Vikings improved secondary and defense to lose for any length of time. He's a smart guy who I think will figure this out quickly. But he'd best be ready to be the target of more post-play shenanigans from the opposition.