MINNEAPOLIS -- Assuming Teddy Bridgewater makes his return this week, it's difficult to place much lasting significance on the Minnesota Vikings' offensive performance in a 42-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night. The Vikings' productivity was stultified to such a great degree by quarterback Christian Ponder that some of the Vikings' problems might get better just with a change at quarterback.
Ponder said he felt confident about the Vikings' game plan on Thursday, but the performance he gave that night looked all too similar to his worst games as a starter. He missed a handful of easy throws, delivered late to his receivers and again was too quick to leave the pocket at the first sign of pressure -- even taking off on one second-quarter play when the closest defender to him was being blocked by running back Matt Asiata and tackle Matt Kalil. Ponder hit just 12 of his 25 passes targeted for receivers, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and he averaged just 5.2 yards per attempt on those completions, taking away any semblance of the deep passing game the Vikings established under Bridgewater the week before.
The Vikings, though, showed some other issues on offense that they'll have to resolve no matter who they have at quarterback. We'll take a look at a few of those issues after a film review of Thursday's game:
Ponder was pressured on 19 of his 59 dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and hit just three of his 12 passes in those situations. The quarterback contributed to some of the pressures by holding the ball too long, but the Packers' frequent blitz packages (on 25 of 53 dropbacks) caused issues for the Vikings' offensive line. The Vikings' interior linemen had plenty of trouble with Packers defensive tackle Mike Daniels, who has emerged into a disruptive force in his third season. Daniels was credited with 1.5 sacks, and one came after Clay Matthews' initial pressure around Kalil opened up room for the tackle. Daniels and former Vikings tackle Letroy Guion -- who said he wanted to prove something to his old team -- combined for three of the Packers' six sacks, and the Packers got pressure from other sources, too; defensive end Datone Jones beat Phil Loadholt to trigger a holding penalty on the Vikings' first drive, and cornerback Casey Hayward drilled Ponder after getting by Loadholt untouched on a blitz.
Cordarrelle Patterson was targeted just four times, catching two passes for eight yards. Patterson might have been able to turn a six-yard screen into a big gain had Greg Jennings been able to hold his block a split-second longer, and he was open on a crossing route on the aforementioned play where Ponder took off while Kalil and Asiata blocked a defender. Both Patterson and Jennings were open downfield several times, but Patterson still had trouble getting off press coverage, particularly when Tramon Williams jammed him, and the Vikings only involved him in the running game once, faking a handoff to him on their first play.
Eighty-four of the Vikings' 111 rushing yards came in the shotgun, as the Packers loaded up against the run when the Vikings put Ponder under center or had fullback Jerome Felton on the field. The Vikings were able to resolve the problem by motioning Felton in from a wideout position several times, and they also found some success on shotgun draw plays, running eight of them for 50 yards. Especially as Bridgewater returns, shotgun runs will likely be a big part of the offense.