Preseason Review: Film Breakdown Game One (First Half) (Offense)

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

I promised a lot and delivered only a little. Here's a breakdown of the offensive players in the first half of Week One of the preseason.

I've been breaking down the film of the preseason game, and so far I've only got the first half done. That's where the most interesting prospects are, so I'm not too upset. Hopefully, I can consistently get practice notes and the second half of the game up before the next preseason game.

Like the practices, I'll divide it by position groups.

Quarterbacks

Christian Ponder threw two passes. One of them was on a well-designed and run route by Jerome Simpson and was a fairly easy throw to make. He made it. The second was an interception that for some reason has caused some controversy. Before reading the Battle Red Blog's incredible breakdown of the play, these were my thoughts:

If the intent is to assign "blame" to the interception, there are a few factors that all have responsibility. The first is that Simpson was clearly the first read on the play. The reason that is important is because there was a tough passing window created by the linebacker in the underneath zone (good on him, by the way). Because Simpson was open, it was the correct read to throw it, but it was a tough throw.

Obviously, you want your quarterback to make difficult throws on a consistent basis, but this was no method to test consistency. I'm not even sure if Ponder is inconsistent at these sorts of throws given how rarely he threw tougher passing windows the previous year (whether by design or choice is up to however you feel about Christian Ponder).

Feeling out this throw is important, so it's a good thing he threw it-every result provides information that they can use and process.

There's a lot of chatter that Jerome Simpson may have slowed up in his route or was late out of his break. I didn't really see anything like that and I think that the broadcast's (which I turned off on the first two viewings of the pass, so I didn't even realize it) suggestion that it may have been a possibility led to a lot of people pointing the finger at Jerome for slowing down in the route. I've even seen suggestions that he had stopped fully!

Regardless, this is a timing thing that the preseason is designed to fix, although I had hoped a delayed slant like that already had timing. I'm not so willing to excuse the quality of the throw simply because it's the preseason, but neither am I going to hit the panic button.

To me, it was pretty clear that Simpson had an opportunity to reel in the catch. He only had one hand on the ball, but his positioning would have not made that too much of an impediment-both hands could have gotten to the ball.

That doesn't mean Ponder is completely absolved. The ball was wobbly and high, even knowing the linebacker was there. He made the pass much more difficult to catch than he could have or should have, and certainly that contributes to tipped balls as much as receiver ability.

Were I charting Christian Ponder's throws, I wouldn't mark this in the stat sheet as an INT (same as I would mark a dropped INT as one) but I would certainly mark this as an example of very bad ball placement.

After reading it, I'll keep my sympathy for Ponder's decision to make the throw but recognize that while the play as drawn up against the expected defense was fine, and the decision to throw it against the specific matchup that he saw made sense, he should have keyed the blitz better.

These things happen.

My ultimate conclusion is that there are the following to blame, in no particular order: Wade Phillips, Jerome Simpson, John Sullivan, Christian Ponder, Shiloh Keo, Earl Mitchell and Darryl Sharpton. The NFL is a complicated beast.

Interceptions aren't a huge worry of mine in regards to Ponder, although he helped himself with easier passes. One better measure of that than INT% is something called the "Bad Decision Rate," which KC Joyner defines thusly:

BDR is a metric that gauges how often a quarterback makes a mental error that leads to a turnover opportunity for the opposing team.

Overall, Ponder's BDR was 2.2 percent, tied for eighth best in the league. He didn't have a ton of tough throws, so you can imagine that it would artificially inflate his BDR, but his BDR on medium passes was 5.4 percent and on deep verticals was 2.5 percent.

Compare that to the following table:

Quarterback

BDR Medium

BDR Deep

Total BDR

Ryan Tannehill

4.9

3.6

2.1

Cam Newton

3.3

4.7

3.1

Blaine Gabbert

4.0

8.3

1.7

Andrew Luck

3.9

7.6

3.0

Russell Wilson

1.4

2.9

1.2

Robert Griffin III

0.0

2.5

1.2

Andy Dalton

5.1

5.9

2.5

Colin Kaepernick

4.7

5.7

2.2

There is a small sense that Ponder might be a liability in the medium passing game given what you see above, but that I think is less related to mental errors and more related to the consistency of arm velocity that you need in order to prevent interceptions on the out-routes and in tight passing windows

Matt Cassel was inconsistent but largely poor. It's easy enough to say that he was skittish in the pocket and too willing to move around against phantom pressure, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that he made a couple of very good decisions, including moving up in the pocket against edge pressure on the 18-yard throw to Patterson over the middle.

Twice, I saw Cassel overthrowing receivers that were wide open, although one of those was caught (and even had some decent yards after the catch). It's always an odd decision to do that, which I think implies that Cassel has a ceiling for his accuracy that isn't extraordinarily high.

Sometimes Cassel's movements in the pocket don't make a lot of sense because the pocket looks clean, but they are often the right decision. Pressure would appear before being cleaned up, giving the appearance of a pocket that looked much cleaner than it was. Nevertheless, he still moved around too often, something the announcers attributed to a lack of confidence in a new line, all of whom were second-stringers.

In two instances, I saw Cassel make a bad decision to throw the ball directly at a lineman, and one of those times (a free DE bearing down on him) it could have easily ended in an INT.

Cassel was under a lot of pressure throughout the game, so I suppose I can understand not trusting the linemen, but it also makes it somewhat clear that he needs to develop a rhythm in order to feel pressure; he doesn't have a natural feel for pressure and sometimes will step up too much in response to pressure (allowing a lineman to hit him before he throws his interception).

He ended up throwing 8.7 adjusted net yards per attempt on 20 throws (one interception, one touchdown and 194 yards) but 143 of his yards were after the catch by my count. With only 51 air yards, he... fits perfectly in the offense, I suppose.

Wide receivers

I don't think Jerome Simpson surprised anybody with his play, which I functionally have already detailed. So, there you go.

Jennings was also a non-factor, but I will note that be seemed to be drifting in his routes (although because of the unusual placement of Kyle Rudolph on the double square-in concept, I'm not sure).

Cordarrelle Patterson correctly excited fans with how he did, starting with an excellent return. While it would be remiss not to detail the excellent blocking that went into it (later), it is proof that one of Patterson's strengths is his vision as a runner. Generally too willing to cut laterally, Patterson instead moved forward, instead tripping himself up when trying to avoid Randy Bullock on the run back. Nine times out of ten, that leads to a touchdown.

Patterson is responsible for 54 receiving yards (and 50 return yards), 14 of which were after the catch.

While he's doing better than expected outside the numbers, he still needs to display consistent boundary awareness. Cassel wasn't always doing him favors on the sideline, with the height of the ball and whatnot, but there are things Patterson could have done to improve his ability there.

He consistently created separation against Roc Carmichael (who in fairness has only been on the field for two games in his career, having been thrown at six times), shed tackles and found space. That doesn't mean that Patterson couldn't negotiate the sideline, however-his third catch was a good looking sideline grab in space.

Most importantly, Patterson was confident within his routes, attacked the ball and played like a more polished receiver than he gets credit for. There were some issues with route depth that re-appeared in the game, but he didn't revert nearly to a lot of the bad habits people (including myself) saw in his game just nine months ago.

He'll still need to work on positioning, as that had been an issue on some of the snaps he didn't see targets (and at least one where he did). He'll also want to make sure that he doesn't continue the drops issue that may have unfairly dogged him in college, after scoring the only drop of the Vikings corps that night.

It's pretty clear that Patterson can be a playmaker. He only grabbed 14 yards after the catch by my count (and six by PFF's). He still needs to find ways to work forward instead of laterally when he can, and he too often tries to reverse the field or find the perfect seam to move forward, sacrificing three yards for a chance at twenty. Too often, this sort of gamble doesn't pay off in the NFL, despite its relative assuredness as an investment in college.

There was evidence of this in the preseason game, but for the most part he avoided some of it. Still, with two broken tackles to only grab an extra two yards on his most interesting catch attempt, he still needs to turn his shiftiness into yards.

Jarius Wright's presence on the field was largely unfelt, despite 25 overall snaps. With only one target and one catch, it'd be easy to just gloss over what he did.

For the most part, there's not much I can add except to say that he looked throughout the game like he has in camp, but without the ball. He found himself open quite a bit, but he often wasn't the first read on the play, meaning he didn't end up with the looks for talent to match production.

He also made himself useful on Burton's big gain, taking out two potential pursuers by moving across the field and blocking behind Burton.

Stephen Burton had a good day, but on few catches in the first half. I have two targets for 59 yards and 37 yards after the catch in the first half (he also recorded a catch for eight yards in the second half). ProFootballFocus ended up giving him 40 total yards in YAC, which fits what I have. Obviously, almost all of his YAC and catch yardage comes from the catch-and-run on the 56 yard run to start off his night.

On that catch, Burton caught the ball 19 yards from the line of scrimmage and immediately reversed direction, perhaps sensing that the defensive back trailing him would overpursue in the same direction he was going in.

Burton doesn't usually have the type of stop-start ability or lateral agility to do that, but in man coverage it was easier to know the spacing of opponents and he was right to take the gamble that his cover man wouldn't keep up.

In some ways, he was a bit lucky and not just because the player covering him (Roc Carmichael again) fell down but because the CB didn't do a very good job after Burton telegraphed his route. Lining up outside the numbers, Burton is either running a fade or an in-breaking route (or a comeback, I suppose, but the alignment never affects that), and his fake at the break of the route doesn't imply that he'll move up and out. That means Carmichael should have immediately read an in-breaking route and simply did not-he was too reactive

That is to say that while Burton is improving his general route-running skills (and in particular, integrating his specific physical talents), he needs to be conscious of what he's already given away before he attempts to fake anything else. As a general rule, his moves at the stem are neither impressive nor unimpressive, but he's not getting separation against a corner with experience in the league (and Carmichael doesn't count).

The rest of the receivers did not get any action in the first half.

Tight Ends

Rudolph didn't do much and wasn't asked to do much. In for two snaps without being asked to block in the run game or receiving a catch, he got the Greg Jennings treatment (but ran a tighter route on that double square-in).

The first note that I have in the game for John Carlson was a note for his blocking on Toby Gerhart's six yard run in on the Vikings' second drive. It wasn't so much that he secured the block (he did enough, but it wasn't great), but he was the first player to get to his second-level assignment despite having the most awkward blocking angle. He did it after pushing the outside linebacker out of the play, so he functionally had two blocks.

He followed that with a catch against what looks like blown coverage, but in the process he maintained his route despite traffic in the middle. Carlson benefitted from Joe Mays' complete misread of the play (and delayed decision to blitz) but that doesn't mean Carlson didn't deserve his catch there, just that it had limited evaluation value.

Eight of Carlson's yard after the catch on this play contributed to his total of twelve yards in the first half. Twice I noted excellent run-blocking from Carlson, which would be a noted improvement in his game for sure. He still struggled in some snaps, however, and he needs to find ways to lock on more. Certainly the power is there, but the consistency of technique is not.

Rhett Ellison was great as well, although there were not too many snaps he had an impact in the first half. He played in a fullback and in-line role, although I think most notable was his excellent work as a return blocker, being one of the keys to Patterson's run-Tyrone McKenzie was about to lose his block in the hole that Patterson would inevitably choose, but Ellison's strong chip (and subsequent block further upfield) helped Patterson grab the yardage he needed.

Chase Ford and Colin Anderson did not make first half appearances, as far as I could tell.

Offensive Line

I initially thought I had missed Sullivan's role in the Ponder interception, but I have it in my first draft of the notes, simply marked as "Sullivan doesn't read the blitz." It's curious, because it demonstrates how complex a single play can be.

Other than that, the first team offensive line had no additional notes, which makes sense.

The second-team line got a lot of play. At left tackle was Kevin Murphy for a lot of snaps (he played on the right for quite some time as well). What I have on him isn't a lot (which is good for him), but in the first half I have two pressures given up by him. PFF says he gave up no pressures, but last year's game tracking for me made me realize that we have different definitions of pressure and pressure given up.

It's not so much that we see different things, but that the way they normalize for how quickly a quarterback throws and reduce blame for later pressures runs on a slightly different scale than mine. It works for them, and is consistent, but to me I think that Murphy's two pressures were somewhat worrisome.

If you want to see which two plays I credited Murphy with pressures, look at the sack (he didn't give it up) with 9:07 left in the first quarter as well as the 11 yard pass from Cassel (in shotgun) to Cordarrelle Patterson with 4:30 left in the second quarter (he plays RT).

In the second play, Joe Banyard picks up the free defensive lineman, so there's no risk of a sack, but that doesn't mean it was a good play by Murphy. In the first play, Brooks Reed ends up falling down and Cassel steps up. He holds on to the ball too long and it doesn't take long for Earl Mitchell to peel off Seth Olsen for the sack, who shouldn't be penalized for the play.

I asked Murphy about his good game.

"I still have things to work on technique-wise, for sure," he said, careful to minimize his performance. "Sometimes you go in the first game kind of apprehensive, and making sure you want to be assignment sound and kind of hold back a little bit. Over the next three games, I kind of want to unload a little more."

Last year, I wasn't too high on Murphy and specifically noted that he played far better in individual drills than he did in team drills or in games. Unsurprisingly, Murphy agrees he's been having a much better camp.

"[I] feel more confident going into the second camp. Last year, I checked in the team two days before training camp. I was kind of swamped," he said of the difference.

Murphy, right now, is the only player I feel good about in terms of tackle depth on this roster, and it's a very tentative feeling at that. Perhaps I'm too caught up in what I saw the year before, but I think the best option for the Vikings remains to kick Charlie Johnson out to one of the tackle spots and let Joe Berger handle the gap inside.

Murphy played on both sides of the line, so perhaps the best move is to actually have him play right tackle instead of Johnson, who has limited experience there.

This would not complicate the schemes too much, despite the fact that the right tackles have weighed 20 more pounds than the left tackles in camp-Kevin claims there are no schematic differences he's been made aware of.

His desire to "unload a little more" I think speaks to the deficiency in the run game he's shown so far, where he hasn't been finishing blocks or driving downfield with authority. More importantly, I believe two of his missed blocks in the run game led to tackles.

Jeff Baca was better at pass protection than run blocking, but he wasn't particularly adept as far as I saw, anyway. Baca blew a few blocks, once because of misdiagnosis and another two times because of technique. A bigger problem was his run and screen blocking, where he was a little awkward and late to his assignment.

That's not to say he was a disaster-he looked better to me than many others-but to demonstrate how far behind he is at this point in his career.

A lot of bad stuff was happening near Seth Olsen, and I tried my best to separate what could reasonably called his assignment and what was the product of poor talent and perhaps scheme around him.

Like all line play, it's difficult to figure out what's going on without the protection calls, but it looks like he was put in a difficult spot more often than not. He found himself blocking two separate players at one point (I believe because of a misdiagnosis by Baca). The next play, he allowed the sack that moved the offense back four yards prior to the big Stephen Burton play.

Later, it looks like Olsen mis-read a blitz that played a part in Cassel's overthrow of Cordarrelle Patterson before Walsh's field goal from 22 yards out. There wasn't much to add in terms of run-blocking from Olsen, which at least implies he did a decent job, but it's difficult to draw attention for good or bad play in a zone-blocking system when the running back doesn't choose a particular gap.

There was one instance where Asiata had a difficult decision to make because of Olsen's block, and Olsen let the defender move across him to make the play. At another point, the line may have miscommunicated again because either Olsen falls down pulling across the line (he played right guard while Baca played center on the snap) or he crashes down while Baca drive blocks forward.

If it's the second, Baca or Olsen may have confused the play call, which would be very, very unusual. Especially for the center, who calls out the odd/even or Mike blocking assignments. More likely than not, this is a mistake on Olsen's part than Baca's, but I cannot claim certainty.

As a special-teamer, I noticed a good tackle from Seth Olsen to prevent a punt return (Adam Thielen may have had the ability to get in the play, but was blocked in the back with no call).

Without any snaps from Joe Berger, Travis Bond took quite a number of snaps, this time at right guard. This was not a good move.

At first, I recorded some good plays by Bond-a good set of blocks in the run game, along with some pulling blocks that I thought would be a weakness of his, but then he was responsible for more than one tackle for loss, giving up blocks in the run game from the end of the second drive on.

There are points where he allows significant pressure fairly quickly, and points where he is responsible for bizarre missteps. On a screen pass, Bond pushes a defender towards Matt Cassel. Soon after, he trips Zach Line by falling down. Naturally, this meant he didn't just miss his block, but forced Line to miss his.

He gave up a number of pressures in the pass game, although much of it is clouded by the fact that many of his pressures were given up at the same time as others.

His second half performance was probably worse, but I did not log it closely yet (if I ever am to).

At right tackle, Brandon Keith had a fine game. He generated a lot of push in the run game and didn't really miss any running assignments. Several times the play of the rest of the offensive line made his job either irrelevant or more difficult. In fact, there have even be instances where the rest of the line's blocking meant he had no one to block.

That's usually the result of misdiagnosis or not playing assignments, because you obviously don't want a tackle pushed completely out of the play while there are others to block. This could create worries when calling out blitz protection, too.

Regardless, he's been more solid than you'd expect. There were three instances I marked pressure and one instance you could argue he gave up pressure, but Matt Cassel simply held on to the ball for too long. Twice in runs he didn't finish his block like he should have and one of those times it led to a tackle for loss.

Running Backs

Toby Gerhart didn't get anything his blocking didn't already give him (no yards after contact), but he demonstrated decent vision despite an offensive line that wouldn't get him enough push to show good tape. He was not called on to pass protect  in a serious way.

Matt Asiata had a fine game, despite his low average. There was a chance that he ran the wrong route once. Like Gerhart, he was not blessed with a ton of good run blocking. At the same time, he also had low yards after contact (two). He had one good blitz pickup as well.

Joe Banyard had three runs for five yards, but he actually had nine total yards after contact due to being hit in the backfield. He was decently elusive, but obviously didn't get a lot going for himself in the first half. In pass protection, he didn't give anything up.

There just wasn't enough from the running backs to really evaluate what happened for them. It makes sense, because the Vikings didn't really focus on the running game for obvious reasons, something Frazier well acknowledged.

Will I do the defense or the second half? With the Buffalo game coming up, probably not.

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