Rookie quarterbacks met this week as starters when Minnesota traveled to Carolina to take on the Panthers. Cam Newton, the number one overall pick in April’s draft, met Christian Ponder, the Vikings’ 12th overall pick in an intriguing encounter.
Ponder’s Vikings somehow emerged with the win, but that does anything but tell the tale of the quarterback battle in this game. Newton continued to blaze a path towards rookie records while Ponder did just enough to avoid losing the game, relying heavily on the turnovers generated by the Vikings’ D and special teams, not to mention the skills of Adrian Peterson.
In the end the Panthers have to be extremely happy with their franchise quarterback and though we have seen good things from Ponder, we are still be some way short of sold on his long-term prospects. Let’s break down some of the other key performances.
Minnesota: Three Performances of Note
Peterson the receiver?
Adrian Peterson (+4.0) is no stranger to this kind of grade, but what is unusual for him is to find it so evenly split between rushing and receiving. Though the Vikings were somehow unable to get a consistent running game going up the middle on one of the league’s softest interiors, they were able to feed Peterson the ball over the middle behind the line of scrimmage and let him to damage in space. He gained 83 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries in the run game, but also added 76 yards on five receptions in the pass game, as well as a receiving touchdown. Peterson is the kind of dynamic threat with the ball in his hands that should be given as many touches as possible, and defenses are not going to enjoy seeing him become a receiving threat as well.
The end of the Williams era?
The Vikings’ had built themselves one of the most impressive defenses in the NFL atop the foundations of the Williams Wall. Pat Williams has been let go and the Vikings have yet to find a suitable replacement for his spot. Kevin Williams (-3.1) has not looked at his best this season on his own. Whether this is down to not having Pat Williams beside him, due to some rust after a lockout affected off-season and a 2-game suspension, or simply a great player reaching that age of potential decline is up for debate, but it is a worrying sight for Vikings fans. Once one of the more explosive pass-rushers from the defensive tackle spot, Williams generated just a single pressure in this game from 39 rushes, and was sealed inside on run plays multiple times. Even when he made a good play against his blocker such as that on 3rd down and 3 at 11.13 to go in the 2nd quarter, he was dragged for 3 yards after contact by Jonathan Stewart for the first down.
Ponder-ous in the pocket?
People often talk about the speed of the NFL game being different to that of the college game. Christian Ponder (-1.4) talked during the week about that being something of a myth, and that really the difference is the volume of information you need to process in the same amount of time, rather than things moving faster. Maybe he needs to readdress that opinion after being to blame for three of the Panthers’ sacks in this game and a further knock-down. Ponder all too often broke the pocket and found himself unable to outrun the pursuit from the Panthers. Being a pretty good athlete may have been able to cut it at Florida State, but this is the NFL where everybody is a pretty good athlete. It’s time to develop a Plan B.
Carolina: Three Performances of Note
It’s amazing to think that people were pretty scathing about this year’s quarterback draft class. Cam Newton (+7.1) was seen by many as a raw, limited quarterback who was far more of an athlete than he was an NFL signal caller. Well he’s busy making a lot of people look quite foolish at the moment. He will still occasionally air-mail a ball well wide or over his intended receiver, and will occasionally try and fit the ball into a window that simply isn’t there, but those are minor blemishes compared to what he brings to the table. He has the kind of athleticism that will get him out of a lot of trouble and the arm to make plays afterwards. Late in the game, with the Panthers driving to try and tie or take the lead, Newton ran from the pocket and made Asher Allen look completely foolish with the angle he took to try and tackle the Panthers QB. Newton is a far better athlete than Allen gave him credit for and he ran clean around the outside of him.
Not in Greg Hardy’s house
You’ll occasionally see a pass-rusher who isn’t having a good day back off and start looking for batted passes at the line. They know they’re not getting to the quarterback, so they try and get in the throwing lanes and do damage there. You rarely see a player having the kind of day Greg Hardy (+5.6) had. Hardy got a hit and three more pressures in the game, but also batted down a pair of passes at the line, proving a nuisance in all areas for the Vikings to deal with. Hardy teamed up with Charles Johnson (+4.1) to force pressure around the Vikings offensive tackles on more plays than Christian Ponder would have liked and they were both pretty unfortunate to wind up on the losing side of the game.
Containing Peterson means the defensive tackles finally showed up, right?
Ummmm…no. Somehow the Vikings weren’t able to grasp what most other teams have found rather self-evident, that the Panthers cannot stop runs up the gut, and their defensive tackles cannot anchor at the point of attack. This game saw them roll in Ronald Fields (-3.4) and Andre Neblitt (-1.5) as well as the usual duo of Sione Fua (-1.2) and Terrell McClain (-0.8) and not one of them graded positively. Despite what they were able to achieve I get the impression that the Vikings could have run the ball up the middle all day long if they had just committed to that cause and got on with it, rather than trying to outsmart themselves and run to the outside. Nine of the 33 Viking rush attempts went right up the gut either side of the center. That number should have been higher.
– Erin Henderson (68 snaps) played more than twice as much as big brother E.J. (29) as the Vikings continue to limit E.J.’s workload to give him a chance to heal from injury.
– Remi Ayodele was again completely blanked on the stat-sheet. He was given an assist from the scorers, but that tackle was made by E.J. before Ayodele got near it, so he doesn’t get the stat from us.
– Chris Gamble was only thrown at twice, yielding just one catch for six yards.
PFF Game Ball
Adrian Peterson. Already the best runner in the NFL, Peterson might be experimenting with adding receiving to his arsenal.
Follow our main feed on Twitter: @ProFootbalFocus