What a difference a week makes. Last week's outing against the 49ers was pretty depressing. This week's play against the Bills was quite different. Why the difference? I'm not entirely sure. Certainly the addition of Kevin Williams helped to solidify the middle of a defensive line that got mauled in San Francisco last week. And Jared Allen's presence seemed to eliminate the problem of poor DE containment that occurred in San Fran too. At least that's the case for the 1st team defense. However, all aspects of the game improved.
I'm pretty sure that when they hand out game balls, they'll be giving at least two to Audie Cole. His first interception was a case of right place/right time. His second interception occurred when Cole broke on the ball once the QB had committed to the throw. Impressively, Cole also followed that up with a nice play against the Bill's running game. After Friday's performance, I wouldn't be surprised to see Cole jump up to the 2nd team defensive unit. I also wonder if he'll get some attention as a nickel package linebacker specialist. Yes, I know. Both "suggestions" reek of over enthusiasm for one stat packed preseason performance. Still, why not?
Here are my observations for Friday's game against the Bills:
From a game stats point of view, Christian Ponder had one of his best games. Ponder was 10 of 13 for 136 yards and a TD. Perhaps most importantly, the first team offense led by Ponder continued to put points on the board scoring 10 points on 3 drives. Ponder looked pretty sharp on the quick timing routes. He made a couple of attempts at deep throws connecting on one to Michael Jenkins. Despite the announcers going gaga over that throw, I was not overwhelmed by the placement of the throw. Had the defender turned to face the ball, he would have been in a better position to get the ball than Jenkins. However, I loved the fact that Ponder put the ball deep. He needs to do that, and he needs to do it more. And here's why...
Despite having a great stat sheet Friday, I was a little concerned to again see some of last year's tendencies. On the first drive, which was a statistically near-perfect drive, I noted the fact that Ponder's 37 yards to Harvin (including 15 yard penalty) and 34 yards to Simpson came on throws that when averaged together failed to get past the line of scrimmage. Harvin's catch was 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage and Simpson's was 3-4 yards past the line of scrimmage. Finishing the drive was a TD throw to Jerome Felton (fullback) and was another pass behind the line of scrimmage. Ponder finished the drive 3 for 3 for 53 yards and a TD. His average pass traveled minus one yard from the line of scrimmage.
So, why argue with success? My concern stems from the fact that last year defenses stopped concerning themselves with Ponder as a deep threat and crowded the short routes. That put them in a good position to stop Ponder by jumping routes and crowded zones looking for tipped balls. The offense grinding to a halt under Ponder in December was due to a bunch of Ponder-related factors. However, I think one of the biggest issues was that opposing teams stopped respecting the deep ball and started to focus nearly entirely on the underneath/outlet routes from Ponder.
One thing I liked seeing this past week when Ponder was on the field was Musgrave putting some designed rollouts into the playbook for Ponder. Last year I thought Ponder wasn't very good inside the pocket, but I thought he was terrific on the run. He seems to see more of the field when on the run and his accuracy on the run is very good. He also seems to put the ball down the field more when on the move. In addition, and somewhat ironically, I think when Ponder is on the move in a rollout situation, he plays more "settled down." Ponder rolled out twice in the second series with mixed results in my view. The first rollout represented a missed opportunity and reinforced one of my concerns from the prior week. On a flea flicker play, Ponder was forced to roll to his right when Kalil seemed to have stopped playing on the left side of the line. Ponder kept his eyes down field but appeared to have them focused on just one player. He missed Simpson coming across the right and wide open just underneath the wide receiver Ponder was focused on. It was a missed opportunity. However, on the very next play, Ponder did a great job on a designed roll out. He was looking for Rudolph initially but ended up throwing a nice pass to Simpson for 5 yards. The second drive ended badly in my opinion, with Ponder throwing an odd ball to Ellison or Rudolph or neither when faced with pressure. I think he panicked a bit and released a ball that he'd probably like to do over. The next play was an ugly out of bounds, uncatchable ball to Simpson in the end zone.
The last drive of Ponder's night didn't end well, but it included Ponder's deep ball to Jenkins. Like I said, I didn't think it was a great ball, but it was put down the field and allowed Jenkins to make a play on it which he did. And honestly, a good number of deep balls in the NFL are balls not thrown any better than this one. It got the job done and, like the flea flicker play, was important in making defenses remember that the Vikings are prepared to go deep with Ponder at the helm. I can't remember the distance of Ponder's two throws into the end zone on 2nd and goal and 3rd and goal on the second offensive series. However of the other throws Ponder made, only these two throws went more than 5 yards past the line of scrimmage - which kind of repeats the trend I mentioned that occurred last year.
I love Gerhart. He's very good and does a lot of things well. I acknowledge that I will be bringing on the pain for saying this again, but it's my post so I'm going to take editorial license and say something that I think most people will think is stupid. I prefer Gerhart on the field to Peterson. I personally wouldn't have re-signed Peterson to a mega deal for all kinds of reasons including: 1) the position Peterson plays; 2) the shelf life of a running back; 3) Peterson's inability to be an effective 3rd down back; 4) the fact that Peterson relies on his athleticism and quick speed as opposed to technique which will leave him more exposed to career decline in the face of age and injury; and 5) the fact we could have franchised his services and had him locked up for 2 years beyond the signing contract date if we'd so desired. So there, my cards are on the table.
The reason that I prefer Gerhart over Peterson on the field is that I think Gerhart is more versatile than Peterson, and I think his running style creates more stability on offensive. Peterson is a freak of nature who compensates for a lack of vision by creating runs that some people will remember for the rest of their lives. He's a living highlight reel. However, he also leaves his offense exposed to a huge number of very short and negative yardage plays. Peterson strikes me as a "feast or famine" style runner. He'll manage to get shut down for long stretches of the game and then will have an insanely awesome break out run. His stats for the day will look good, sometimes really good, but in the meantime the offense has sputtered and had difficulty sustaining drives due to a number of times when Peterson misses the hole or runs to the side seeking bigger yardage rather than lowering his shoulders and taking what's given. And that's essentially what I love about Gerhart. He's a big back who has speed and can shimmy right and left. However, when he's running his momentum is ALWAYS going down field (The 16 yard run by Gerhart against the Bills is a good example of that running style). Peterson often stops his own momentum trying to make someone miss. Gerhart jogs left and right or simply plows people over but is always keeping his pads headed up field. And even though he's 30 pounds heavier than Peterson (someone fact check this, because I'm too lazy at the moment to do it myself), he's better out of the backfield catching and running after the catch. And his backfield blocking is better too. Perhaps best of all, his reputation isn't as big as Peterson's, so coaches can call in the best play without needing to worry about what fans, the press and the owner's box will say if they don't feed Peterson the rock on 4th and 1, etc.
So, after all that, let me say that Gerhart had another very good game. He had 6.5 yards/carry against San Fran, and he had 5 yards/carry against Buffalo. He also had a nice 19 yard catch in the game on a 5 yard throw by Ponder. And the best part is the fact that the vast majority of his carries aren't 2 yards or less. If I were building a team from Vikings parts, the first back I would select off of the Vikings would be Gerhart.
Here are a few observations regarding the first team offensive line. I like what I see for the most part. It looks like Kalil will hold up to task of replacing Johnson. He's making mistakes, but I think those will pass in due time. Against the 49ers, he was beaten badly on a 1st series speed rush. Against Buffalo, he was fooled at the line when two defensive tackles switched their points of attack. Johnson took the new guy but Kalil failed to make the adjustment and Ponder ended up being sacked for a loss of 9 yards. Presumably it was a rookie mistake and will get ironed out with more experience on the line and working with Johnson. My only other gripe is the way that Sullivan got manhandled on the 3rd play of the game. The play also resulted in a sack after the pocket broke down as Sullivan got pushed 8 yards back from the line of scrimmage. A center being pushed 8 yards off of the line of scrimmage is the football equivalent of planning a road trip from Kansas City to Minneapolis but ending up in Detroit; it's a long way off and not a particularly nice place to end up.
On the defensive side of the ball, I liked what I saw from the defense overall. The first team defense did a nice job of containing the Bills. Buffalo had a total of 6 yards after the first two drives. The people you'd expect to show up and play well seemed to do that - though I'll admit I didn't spend any time dissecting our defensive play. Harrison Smith showed nice feel for the game when he blocked a pass on a blitz during the second defensive series. Things were going pretty well until Carr (CB) missed a tackle that ultimately ended up going for a TD. Carr's had a rough preseason, or at least a preseason that's been notable for him getting burned for TDs. Mistrael Raymond had his best game as a pro against the Bills last week. He was in good position and ended up making a number of plays. Josh Robinson looks like he'll fit right into the Vikings defensive secondary; he dropped an interception last week.
This post is already getting pretty long, so I'm going wrap up with my view of Webb's performance. After all, if someone's reading this post, it's a pretty good bet that they expect to hear me say something about Joe Webb. In that respect, it sort of reminds me of hearing Bo Derek once say something to the effect, "Of course I'll be naked in the upcoming movie. People expect that." Bo Derek and I don't want to disappoint.
Joe Webb ended up 7 of 14 for 73 yards with another 64 yards rushing and no TDs. There is no doubt that Joe Webb and Christian Ponder are very different sorts of QBs. In my opinion, Ponder is better throwing on the move. Webb is better from inside of the pocket. Ponder lives and dies on a heavy dose of short throws. Webb is pretty consistently looking to launch the ball down the field. Ponder is gifted with good mobility. Webb absolutely kills people when he runs.
I like Webb's style very much. As I mentioned previously, I think Webb has some trouble from time to time with timing routes, but given his limited time working with his receivers, I think that's to be expected. I also am a bit nervous with the "chances he takes" when getting flushed from the pocket or sometimes when putting the ball in the air. HOWEVER, I have to admit, I can't remember a single time Webb has been burned by running too deep into backfield. Eventually it'll happen, but offset against all of the "miracles" he's manufactured out of nothing in those situations, I guess that's an acceptable trade. And the "chances" he's taken when putting the ball in the air, doesn't seem to be showing up in the stat sheet. He had one legit interception last year on the closing drive with time running out when he let a pass sail on him. The other interception last year was the fluke that Harvin pulled from the turf only to see if go up over his head into the hands of a defender.
Webb had seven incompletions against the Bills last week. There was a short hop throw that was cringe worthy. There was a throw behind Aromashodu that was dropped - could be that placement of the ball was impacted by the positioning for a linebacker on the play, but I didn't have a good angle on the play to see one way or the other. There was a bad snap in which Webb got the throw off but couldn't make the completion. And then there were three throws to Aromashodu that are listed as incompletes, but at least 2 of the 3 if not all 3 were very nice passes. The first that I can recall was a beautifully thrown deep ball to Aromashodu. Aromashodu came down out of bounds, but there was incidental contact on the play that in my opinion knocked Aromashodu out of bounds. (Unfortunately, the next pass was a nice, mid 20 yard throw to Stephen Burton who promptly fumbled the ball and ended the drive). There was another deep ball to Aromashodu that had contact and was dropped. And there was a throw to the end zone 3rd and 11 (after a -1 yard Asiata run and a dump off screen on a blitz for no gain), to Aromashodu in which the refs looked like substitute hacks by not calling pass interference. Aromashodu was driven off the ball by a DB that never turned to the ball (or at least that's the way I remember it). Instead of a TD or 1st and 10 on the 1, the Vikings had to kick a field goal.
All in all, I liked what I saw from Webb. He wasn't great, but he was still electric at times and was pretty solid in my opinion. The things I liked about him last year are still in evidence, and I look forward to seeing what happens in the 3rd and 4th games of pre-season.
So that's it. I kind of felt like I rushed a bit here at the end, but I'm kind of short on time this week and wanted to do Troy18W a solid by getting this cannon fodder out there before this week has already gone. And besides, when Bo Derek did her thing on the silver screen, she didn't always linger either.