Vikings v. Lions: Arif's Notes on the Game (Offense)

Leon Halip - Getty Images

As the Vikings advance to a 3-1 record, a few cracks have appeared. Arif takes a look at what went right (and wrong) with the Vikings offense in their 20-13 victory over the Lions

Last Sunday, the Vikings were the first team in 2012 to win a game without scoring a touchdown, a feat they haven't had the distinction of "earning" since a three-return performance against the New York Giants on November 13, 2005 (the very same game the announcers neglected to mention when they were discussing the Vikings' history with combined punt and kickoff returns).

More interestingly, the Vikings accomplished the rare triple crown of an interception return, kickoff return and a punt return all in the same game. Of course, by rare, I mean that it has never happened before or since (although two games have included a kickoff return TD, punt return TD and fumble return TD—one of them occurring the previous week... against the Detroit Lions).

Minnesota has the unique distinction of being the first team to win in the post-merger era to win without an offensive touchdown, and for right now, the last. It is an event that occurred 66 times since the league switched to 32 teams, or about once every 40 games.

The Vikings are unlikely to repeat the event that allowed them to put 20 points on the board without bigger contributions from the offense (something that has only occurred 14 times in post-merger history), so they'll need to find ways to generate offensive production.

The Vikings implemented a conservative strategy following their initial special teams touchdown, and were more productive in the first half (5.5 yards a play—7.5 with penalties) than the second (3.1 yards a play). Lets' take a look at the gameplan, which is partially responsible for the offensive disappointment.

Gameplan

Philosophy

The offensive philosophy was clear on the outset: ball control. This didn't just mean high-percentage plays with a commitment to the run, but also the willingness to sacrifice some of the more interesting wrinkles that could have been added to the offense (and some that already have been). Once again, playcalling was rarely situational, and was content with producing around six yards per successful play. Eschewing variance, the Vikings opted for consistent yardage gains, a strategy that backfired when faced with third and long.

After having scouted the coverage that the Lions offered—usually man coverage played off the line of scrimmage by 4-8 yards (seriously)—the Vikings didn't opt to play as many inside routes as I had hoped:

  • Hard slants off the release and soft slants that break four or five yards in;
  • Curl routes, so long as receivers continue to high point the ball;
  • Levels concepts, where receivers will run similar routes across the middle, but 8-12 yards distant from each other—this should make tight passing windows lower risk, because the underneath defenders will have to turn 180 degrees to make a play on the ball;
  • Picks and rubs from bunched formations, which should leave at least one cornerback out to dry if done properly.

While offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave did run a number of curl routes, I don't think they took advantage of the space Detroit was allowing in the middle of the field, with only five passes made beyond the line of scrimmage and between the hashes.

Against a defense that relies on closing speed to limit gains and a solid linebacking corps, the Vikings continued to play with passes behind the line of scrimmage and relying yards after the catch. Per reception, the Vikings' yard after the catch seem to be going down, starting with 7.5 yards after the catch per reception in Week 1, followed by gains of 5.2, 5.6 and 4.3 per reception in the following weeks. The Vikings may want to move away from this and produce gains in the air if their YAC per catch is approaching league average (4.6 YAC/Reception).

It was an ultimately conservative philosophy that would require relatively mistake-free play from the quarterback to produce points.

Playcalling

It should come as no surprise to most people that the playcalling seemed subpar to me. Once again, the Vikings didn't seem to adapt to the game at hand, especially on third down. Out of five plays that the Vikings found themselves facing third and short (3 yards or fewer), they passed four times. They converted their only run and only one of the passes. To be clear, I don't think passing on third and short is a universally bad call, but I do think it is a poor dominant strategy. A strong running game should be used in places where it can make an impact, and the ability to convert short third downs is one of the most important uses of a running game.

Between 2009 and 2011, running plays convert on third and short 64% of the time. Passing plays only do so 52% of the time. That's not an argument that teams should only run on third and short, but that it is optimal to run more than pass. At any rate, an even balance seems to be better than a heavy pass balance, and it bothers me.

The Vikings seem content to call plays with passes behind the line of scrimmage with over ten yards to go on third down, something they were 0-for-3 on converting against the Lions.

There were, of course, some controversial calls by Musgrave, and I won't defend most of them. I will, however, defend the direct snap to Percy Harvin. Take a look at the gif of the play:

Vikings_vs

Seems dumb, right? Perhaps. But if so, Detroit was even stupider. It's more important to take a look at the stills to see why it could have been effective and what happened on the play.

Direct_snap_-_harvin1_medium

At the snap, Detroit is in a nickel formation. This is because the Vikings were running a no huddle after entering the first "02" personnel package of the season, with two tight ends and three wide receivers. An "obvious" pass tell, the Vikings had run it for two consecutive plays before this, the first of which was successful.

Detroit's pass defense is on the field, and they're not entirely sure what to do when the see the formation.

More importantly, Detroit (as a result of the no huddle) is playing their base nickel defense. They have one safety in the box, with every corner in off man coverage. One of the corners is eight yards off the line of scrimmage, covering Rudolph (a known red zone threat). The Vikings have never shown this personnel package before, and have also consequently never shown this formation with the package.

The defense has a single-high safety and only seven men in the box.

Direct_snap_-_harvin2_medium

Here, the Vikings have clearly signaled a run, as Fusco runs a trap to take out Hill and Sullivan neutralizes Suh. This takes advantage of Hill's overpursuit, who is removed from the play. Cliff Avril is intentionally left unblocked for a few reasons: 1) he's the backside end on a play running left 2) he will have to freeze in order to read the play, even if it seems obvious that a run up the middle is coming (his assignment will task him to attack Ponder on the first step, anyway) 3) blocking Justin Durant on the play is much more important, as he'll have more space and time to make the play. Loadholt shoots out to do so. Avril, as expected, is frozen.

Direct_snap_-_harvin4_medium

Matt Kalil and Charlie Johnson have found their assignments are in the process of making a lane.

Phil Loadholt is missing his block.

Direct_snap_-_harvin3_medium

Johnson and Kalil have made a lane. Tulloch is tackling Harvin. Later, Devin Aromashodu blocks Dwight Bentley (also known as "Bill" Bentley) out of the play, Kalil pushes around Erik Coleman and the only player left unassigned is new safety Ricardo Silva, who had signed to the team just that day from the practice squad. I am 100 percent confident that if Loadholt held his block, Harvin would have had a touchdown. From this look, play and formation, I would expect a touchdown the majority of the time.

The announcers kept saying that Detroit was clued into the fact that there's not much the Vikings could do with a direct snap to Harvin, and I thought the same. Not so. Had they been a bit more aware, Vanden Bosch and Avril would both play contain (instead of just Avril), while Hill would have tried to maintain his gap assignment instead of pursue. There would have been a zone or corners playing press man instead of off and eight men in the box as well. Seeing none of this, the play went forward as planned.

Plays like this are often packaged with an easy "kill" call if the Vikings see Detroit selling out for the run. Likely, Ponder would have audibled to a passing play while Harvin ran a route out of the backfield, while Sullivan snapped at an angle. Gimmicky, but not as awful as I initially thought. Detroit lined itself up to get beat on that play. I've talked to a couple of people who break down plays, including the person at Pro Football Focus who broke this game down, and they all seem to agree that the play was much less ill-conceived than we may have initially thought. "Blazer," this was not.

Overall, however, I was disappointed with the way Musgrave called plays. On 2nd and 6, on the second to last play of the second drive, Musgrave called a route that had 3 curls and two receivers in the flat. On the very next play (3rd and 2), Musgrave calls for a backside screen to Percy Harvin, with only one blocker sent his way. Why a screen to the backside? It gives defenders more time to diagnose the play. Why only one blocker (for people curious as to why Michael Jenkins didn't block Chris Houston, it's because it would have been an illegal pick, per Rule 8, Section 5, Article 2, lines (a) and (e)) sent from the line instead of two?

There is nothing in the play that's designed to allow for a read if it looks like it would be a bad decision to throw, either.

Harvin nets negative two yards on this play.

There are similar issues all over the place, including providing one yard passing options on third and long (the last play of the half—a screen on 3rd and 20 as well as the last play on the next drive). Naturally these options will remain open, but the chances of converting are low. There's no reason not to maximize opportunity by running as many routes as possible that can convert.

It makes sense to drive a conservative offense when ahead, not many people disagree with that. But, there is a danger of playing too safe and sputtering as a result. I think the Vikings offense should have played conservatively in light of their lead, but overcorrected and played far too conservatively—the top defenses in the country are limiting teams to 4.5 yards per play. The Vikings had 4.1 yards per play.

Formations

The only new development here is the introduction of the "02" personnel package. Again, this is a package that carries no running backs and is traditionally used by offenses committed to the passing game. With Harvin available, the Vikings offense has more options than teams traditionally would, and they were able to still keep the defense honest by running it twice out of the package. In the future, it might not be as easy to run out of the package (teams might not switch to a nickel set), but any audibles at the line will allow for 5 receiver sets against base packages, something that should be favorable for the Vikings.

Once more, a third of the packages were two tight end sets, and only one package utilized all three of the Vikings tight ends. Of the twelve third downs the Vikings found themselves in, only one was a two tight end package (3rd and inches), with the now familiar "11" package that contains three receivers and no lead blocker. The Vikings didn't see fit to deploy their full house formation, but seemed to include more of the traditional "I" formations when in two running back sets. Part of this may have had to do with how the Vikings called runs, which I'll discuss more when we hit the running backs.

The Players

Christian Ponder

I had a lot of problems with Christian Ponder's performance in the Detroit win. This is not the type of performance that sustainably leads to wins. Remember, as I've indicated above, the Vikings cannot consistently rely on special teams production to create their points. He only completed 16 passes that day, for 111 passing yards. His completion percentage was once again typically high (although it was a season low, at 61.5%), but his yards per attempt was abysmally low (4.3, second lowest in the league that week, only ahead of Mark Sanchez). In the past week, the Vikings' offensive efficiency fell six ranks from 15th to 21st, one of the largest changes in efficiency in the NFL. A large part of that has to do with the surprisingly anemic play of the offense.

This is both a result of very conservative playcalling (despite the inclusion of Jerome Simpson) as well as some poor decisions by Christian Ponder.

There weren't as many passing options deep as in other games (surprisingly), but they were open a bit more often than they were in say, the Colts game. Good examples of this came in the very first drive, where Jerome Simpson is streaking deep, eligible for a relatively easy inside pass on the third play. In Ponder's defense, Simpson is covered on at the time of the read, but breaks open when Ponder works through his progression.

Part of this is a chemistry/timing issue; Ponder doesn't quite know if Simpson can break it open and his mental clock is forcing him to go to the next read. Another issue that's related might be some pattern recognition errors, but it's hard to say. Less nitpicky are receivers open playside, when Ponder decides to check down or throw the ball away.

Examples of deep receivers open on the half of the field Ponder is looking at include the second play of the third drive, where both Harvin and Simpson are open on opposite sides of the field at the time of the throw. Harvin is playside and also the more difficult throw, but it's not necessarily a low percentage play. A well-placed throw would have set up for some good YAC, and even if the ball only reached the target instead of allowing YAC, it would have been good for 22 yards.

These examples actually exist in several places. Ponder failed to convert on third down on the third drive on a play that he ended up taking for a sack in the red zone. Both Peterson and Harvin are wide open, and Peterson would have walked in for a near sure touchdown. The most glaring and frustrating example of this is a play with 13:25 left in the fourth quarter—it encapsulates all of the issues that Ponder needs to work through.

As the play starts, Ponder begins a drift to the right, but scrambles before pressure arrives anyway. As he unnecessarily rolls out to his right, he exposes himself to more pressure and throws the ball away in the direction of a very well covered Kyle Rudolph—an infields pass had a high likelihood of being intercepted by Ricardo Silva. In the meantime, Jerome Simpson absolutely burned Chris Houston deep. He was open in the end zone as Ponder rolled out, and a touchdown here would have clinched the game.

That being said, Ponder's substantially reduced his issues with phantom pressure. It hasn't gone away, but neither has it been a defining feature of his game. The increased arm strength we've seen in the preseason hasn't really appeared, mostly because we've neither seen passes go into tight windows or necessarily fly too far.

As for how I've graded his plays, there hasn't been an extraordinary change in what I've graded as "bad"—a high, but not damnably high 11 plays were graded as poor, but the problem was that only three plays turned out positive. Many of the "bad " grades are relatively minor, like the need for slightly better reads or more accuracy, so it's not as bad as it may seem. The plays I've had huge issues with I've already detailed.

If I were to pick one more area of improvement, it's that I would like him, along with Musgrave, to develop a sense for context. I was impressed with his ability to make plays on third down, and he seemed to have a great sense for where the down markers were, but I'm not getting that feeling too much this season, particularly his performance in the Lions game, where he sometimes dumped passes off that had no chance of converting and grabbing the completion instead.

Wide Receivers

Not a bad day for the receivers overall, even though Percy Harvin was limited to 22 yards in the air. He was only targeted four times and hauled it in on three of those attempts. He was open for more than that, but seemed to have no longer been the hot read on most plays. Two of his targets were disastrous predelegated reads, including one near interception for Cliff Avril. Harvin also rushed three times, but only for a total of 12 yards. These were rushes of -3, 1 and 14 yards, so that average doesn't tell the entire story. He's still as explosive as ever, and didn't seem to have too many problems getting open, but looked to just be a less important part of the offense.

Naturally, his special teams performance was spectacular, but that's for another day. More important for offensive snaps than his receptions or rushes was the willingness to take defenders head on on running plays and block. Harvin is extremely strong for his size, and took CBs out of the play when blocking. It was good to see.

Jerome Simpson must have enjoyed his first outing as a Viking—he was the target of 3 plays and hauled in every one of them (and one he was not a target of) for a 50 yard performance. He was enthusiastic, aggressive and fast, something that fans are happy to see after stultifying performances from other members of the receiving corps in other games. Unlike Jenkins and Aromashodu, Simpson does dirty work without complaint, willing to hold blocks as long as need be on running plays or sacrifice his body for other receivers on passing plays.

Some are willing to give credit to Simpson for some pass interference calls, but I'm not really in that camp. Dwight Bentley is really just that bad. He committed two other pass interference calls against Tennessee and was clearly making stupid plays against Jerome Simpson, who I'm not confident would have been in a good place to catch either ball (probably a function of Ponder's ball placement and their chemistry than any real fault of Simpson's). He did sell the first PI call well, but ultimately isn't getting much more credit (from me, anyway) than his 50 yard performance. For the record, I thought it was a good performance, but simply being in the vicinity of someone else's stupidity isn't worth a whole hell of a lot.

The clear third receiver is Michael Jenkins, who was in for 32 snaps. I didn't write too many notes on him, so there's a good risk I'm projecting my previous biases about him when I say this, but I still do not believe he can execute the route tree at an appropriate speed against most NFL teams. The Lions were not a huge problem for him, I suspect because he didn't have to generate power at the release with all of the off coverage and because the secondary was also simply poor. That said, I criticized Jenkins for his poor run blocking against San Francisco and should take care to point out that I thought he did a better job here in that capacity.

More of a standout in that respect was Devin Aromashodu, who was on the field for five snaps and was still able to catch my eye for good run blocking on more than one play. There's not really much more to say about him, given his low snap count and lack of targets.

Stephen Burton did not see the field.

Running Backs

There's no question that the running game was fantastic, highlighted of course, by an improving Adrian Peterson. With the assistance (occasionally) of lead blocker Jerome Felton, Peterson was able to generate 102 yards, with an astonishing 79 of the yards coming after contact. Most running backs coming back from knee surgery will suffer a serious dropoff in their play, generally due to hesitation.

While Peterson hasn't matched his yards per carry from the year before (by half a yard), he's forcing more missed tackles per carry, something we saw in full effect against Detroit. While Tom Pelissero says Peterson broke 10 tackles, the more strict Pro Football Focus gave Peterson credit for 5 missed tackles. They are slightly different metrics with different criteria, but they both say the same thing: Peterson was wickedly difficult to tackle. While I didn't engage in any "missed tackle" counts, I did come away with being repeatedly impressed with what Peterson did. Not only did he consistently fight for extra yardage, he had a tangible impact on the game by changing how the Lions lined up on the field.

The play action pass was a big feature of the offense, and the linebackers bit nearly every time.

That said, there were a few things Peterson could do to improve. The most obvious issue with his game so far is that he's still not always reading blocks correctly. There are a few minor examples here or there that could have netted Peterson a few more yards, but the prime example was with 9:24 left in the third quarter, where he and Felton go on either side of a John Sullivan block of Nick Fairley. While this is the correct hat and jersey read for a run without a lead blocker (that is, he makes sure the center is between him and the closest tackler, Fairley), Peterson might have been able to rush for a huge gain had he followed Felton instead, given that he ran right into DeAndre Levy as a result of his choice to go right of center rather than left.

Once again, the blocking was generally solid on the play, but the fullback's responsibility was to take out the linebacker (the other two blitzed), which he can't do if Peterson runs in a different direction. The only unblocked player was on the left side of the field, not up it, so Peterson might have been able to crush a 76 yard touchdown (assuming Simpson held his block). Regardless, we would have seen it on Sportscenter. I actually saw him following his blockers better in 2011 than I have so far this season, so it might be a conscious focus issue.

Peterson's going to break one out soon. He doesn't think he's at 100% yet, and part of that might be because his right leg is larger than his left. This might be why the Vikings didn't run sweeps or pitches to the outside in their running, choosing to run Peterson up the gut (whether or not he bounced out, however, seemed up to him), which could explain the increased use of the "I" formation.

The Vikings mixed up their running schemes, sometimes with complex man blocking manuevers, and sometimes with zone blocking, one cut schemes. Felton's presence in the formation seemed to be a good indicator of whether or not the run would be a zone-read run (where he would be a lead blocker) or a man blocking run. Like I had hoped, the Vikings used this variety to shut down and take advantage of a strong interior line:

The Vikings can engage in some relatively complex blocking calls on the run, despite the young members on the line. While not nearly as sophisticated as the 49ers running offense, the new combination of man- and zone-blocking schemes has confused some opponents.

Each week, the communication between Vikings linemen has been improving, so on zone running plays, they can get to the second level and isolate the linebackers to secure big gains.

...

The Vikings should emphasize their unpredictability in the running game by playing with different run-blocking schemes under the same formation. More than anything, this will help move the chains in tough situations.

While I had expected this combination of schemes to confuse opponents, I did not expect it to be nearly as sophisticated as it was. Fantastic work by Jeff Davidson, the second year offensive line coach.

Jerome Felton had a great day, too. As a lead blocker, he held on to linebackers well and rarely gave up a play. I reiterate that he might end up being the best lead blocker in the country, although this game was merely good, not stellar. While generally on point, I found three errors on his part. The first was in the third quarter (9:24), where Felton embarrassingly lets a defensive back get the better of him. The second time was one drive later (4:22), where he can't lock on to DeAndre Levy (who ends up being irrelevant due to an earlier tackle). Finally, as a pass protector, he allowed a hurry on the second to last drive.

With only three minor mistakes in 24 snaps, Felton is shaping up to be quite the investment. Barring a good showing by Simpson, he could be the best free agency acquisition of 2012.

Toby Gerhart ran the ball three times for eight yards, but that doesn't quite tell the whole story. Gerhart might be in the doghouse to many after his 2/3 fumble performance in San Francisco, but he showed some serious Adrian Peterson style running early in the fourth quarter on 3rd and inches. While some might excuse his great stats from 2011 as a statistical anomaly, I'm willing to bet that 2012 is an aberrant season, not the other way around.

Matt Asiata was on the field for two snaps, I guess. That's cool.

Offensive Line

This is the best run blocking I've seen by the line so far, and it's not just that they were up against weak opponents. Yes, Detroit isn't known for their crushing run stuffing, but Adrian Peterson managed 4.9 yards per carry against a defense that gave up only 3.9 yards per carry against other teams (including the Titans).

Interestingly, Matt Kalil was the only lineman whose run blocking was not up to that standard. He actually does pretty well in my opinion in both pass protection and run blocking (including a great block on Harvin's direct snap) until about the fourth drive when he (and what looks like the rest of the line) gets beat (him by Kyle Vanden Bosch, the others by Suh and Avril) to allow the defensive end into the backfield. It's irrelevant as Suh and Avril get the sack, but it would have been a sack even if both of the other linemen were blocked.

In the run game, he starts breaking down midway through the third quarter, giving up some tackles via missed blocks. On one of these blocks, he gets turned around and falls, while he gets saved on another run in the quarter by Peterson's excellent play. There's at least one other poor effort in the run game, but he does well overall. He is a much better pass protector than run blocker right now, but it doesn't look like it would be fair to characterize his run game as a "weakness." It's simply not a strength.

Anyone following Charlie Johnson, however, would be hard pressed to find a weakness or strength. It seems to change every game. This time, Johnson excelled both as a pass protector and run blocker, and had a good game despite a false start. A quarterback hit could be attributed to him on a play in the third quarter (5:50), but it's hard to say. Personally, given the zone pass protection scheme that the Vikings have, I would say it's his fault that Avril gets a clean line to Ponder off of a twist, but others might be inclined to blame John Sullivan, which would be fair.

I noticed only one miscue in the run game, and it wasn't a huge deal; Johnson simply fell down when blocking nobody. He gets back up and gives a meaningless block to the backside end. It's just a case of something that happens to everybody. By contrast, he did a fantastic job on the play right after he was called for a false start by doubling on a block, then turning around 180 degrees and taking Tulloch out of the play. It springs Peterson open for a run of 18 yards.

John Sullivan finally showed up after two poor performances and one mediocre game. The best compliment I could give him is that I wrote the least about him. Other than having to potentially pick up Avril on the twist (a play where he and Fusco are doubling on Suh), he didn't give up a single hit, hurry or sack. There are some ticky-tacky things about his performance in the run game that I would mention, but nothing big. In the first live ball play of the second drive, he doesn't peel off of his double team quickly enough to secure a good running lane for Peterson, which may have had a cascade effect on who Felton would block on the play (and who ends up contacting Peterson first).

Four plays later, he and Brandon Fusco have their hands tied with Fusco and can't really secure space for AP, who magically finds four yards out of nothing. Later, in the second half, I have one more note about him, which is just a note about hopefully pushing forward more. Otherwise, he had a textbook blocking game.

Alongside him was Brandon Fusco, who had a mixed game. On par at run blocking with the rest of the line, his only big mistake was a relatively complicated play, where he lets Phil Loadholt wham Suh (and he does so with precision and power) and has to move forward to take out a linebacker as soon as his field of vision clears. Stopping and starting is not the same for linemen as it is for skill players, so it's interesting to see it applied. Nevertheless, Fusco fails to pick up Durant, who stops Peterson behind the line of scrimmage (3:01 left in the 3rd).

By contrast, he and Loadholt pull the same move earlier in the quarter (10:10) and execute it to perfection, to allow Peterson a seven yard gain on 2nd and 3. I do like that from the first play on, the Vikings had him take Suh on one on one, where he made it impossible for Suh to make plays in the running game. Suh's only tackle as a run defender came in a one on one battle with Sullivan (one where Adrian Peterson makes the wrong run read—Suh is bottled up from making plays on the right side of the field).

Fusco was not nearly as pristine as a pass blocker, and gave up a sack and a hurry by my count, and also generally displayed poorer footwork than usual. The sack he gave up was the ten yard monstrosity that Loadholt and Kalil also gave up; don't really know what happened there. Honestly, Sullivan is the only one who ends up making a block on anyone that play (1:19 left in the 2nd quarter).

Phil Loadholt was inconsistent, as per usual, but didn't give up a sack other than the circus the Lions were running late in the second quarter. He gave up some pressure, but nothing too terrible over the course of the game. The bigger problem with his pass protection is not the degree of pressure he gives up, but how often he did it. I counted at least three pressures in the game.

I already mentioned his whiff on the direct snap to Harvin, but he does something nearly identical on the second to last play of the third quarter, where he shoots out to stop Justin Durant and utterly fails.

Still, his ability to take Suh out of the game through those wham blocks is great, and takes more technical skill than I thought Loadholt had. If I had only seen his film from this game and was asked if he could block Durant on that a direct snap, I would say yes, 85% of the time. Loadholt was on point for most of the game as a run blocker, but had oddly uncharacteristic (given the rest of the game) misses. But, it's not unusual for Loadholt to be unusual.

Tight Ends

The tight ends must have heard about me ripping into them, because they really stepped up their run blocking game. Kyle Rudolph went from being the worst run blocker on the team by far in Week 1 to the best run blocker Week 4. They do not look like the same person at all. From the first snap, he helps break Peterson out for a 12 yard gain, making DeAndre Levy irrelevant. He does it again about a dozen plays later. And again even later. My notebook has at least four or five short spots where I simply wrote "Good block—#[X]" for him and it was refreshing to see. He's not just taking defensive backs out, but he's taking on linebackers and winning.

I still wrote down some points where Rudolph could have done better, but even those plays are question marks instead of bad grades. With 12"07 left in the first half, he and John Carlson double up on Avril, and this could just be a scheme problem—Rudolph was in a position to make a better block.

In pass protection, Rudolph gives up a quarterback hit to Cliff Avril, but I'm also not entirely sure why Avril is solely his responsibility on the play—there is some sort of stupid triple team on Suh (who was not all that threatening that day) that had Loadholt crashing down while Rudolph was on an island. It's a mistake by him, but an understandable one. I don't know whose fault this is, but I suspect it's Musgrave's.

In a strange turn of events, Rudolph, while somewhat of a dominant blocker, was very quiet in the passing game. He only had two catches for eight yards. He ran as many pass routes as before, but the only explanation I have is that the team visited the red zone once (as far as I can remember), and a good portion of Rudolph's catches occur within thirty yards of the opposing team's end zone. His silence here was a bit disappointing.

John Carlson took 14 snaps, and I didn't write down a single word for him. He must have had a mistake-free day as a blocker, but he only did that eight times, so it's hard to give him credit. He caught his first pass of the game, which was for a negative yard. It sounds more embarrassing than it is, but that's not saying much. He should never have been thrown to, and it looked like another predelegated pass play that surely would not have been made if Ponder had given himself time (or Musgrave had written up a play that allowed a read, I'm not sure who's to blame here), because there is no question Levy was going to blow that up.

His absence is more telling than anything else. Rhett Ellison got more ink on my notebook.

Speaking of which, Rhett Ellison also had a quiet game, and he was only in for 10 snaps. He did an adequate job, and looks to be taking snaps as a lead blocker on occasion. He isn't really playing like the #40 we all know, but hasn't really been an embarrassment to the number, either. His best play was a weird and quick block on Nick Fairley with 2:16 left in the third quarter. "Block" is a strong word here, though, as Fairley still has a tiny bit of time to get to Peterson, who is simply too fast to allow Fairley the angle.

So, there you have it. Another long, hard to digest write-up of the individual performances in the game.

I'm going to change Offensive Rookie of the game to Offensive "Underclassman" of the game, simply so I can expand the eligible players beyond Kalil and include the second year players, like Fusco, Rudolph and Ponder.

Most Valuable Offensive Player: Adrian Peterson
Offensive "Underclassman" of the Game: Matt Kalil (despite my best efforts to expand the award winners)
Unseen Player of the Game: John Sullivan
Honorable Mention: Kyle Rudolph

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