For Christian Ponder and the Vikings it was a chance to prove they would be a better team in 2012 than most believe, after an overtime win over Jacksonville to start the season.
In the end it was a game beset with ugly penalties and mistakes, but both quarterbacks came up big in the final moments to lead their offenses on game-changing drives. First Ponder brought the Vikings back to tie with under a minute left, then Luck took advantage of some loose coverage to put Indianapolis in range of a Vinatieri winner.
Minnesota – Three Performances of Note
A few seasons ago the Minnesota Vikings offense was Adrian Peterson, and nothing else. Right now it’s Percy Harvin, and an assist from Peterson. Harvin played 54 of 70 snaps on offense and this time all that limited his playing time was his own ability to stay on the field–he went off with cramp late in the game a couple of times. Harvin is one of the most explosive weapons in football and the Vikings are relying on him to catch short passes and turn them into big gains, and move the chains for an offense that doesn’t show much ability to do it otherwise. There are few offensive skill players in the game you would take before Harvin right now, and the Vikings need to figure out a way of getting him some more help, because at the moment he is carrying the offense almost on his own.
Return of the D
The majority of the Vikings’ defense actually played very well in this game. It’s ironic really that in a game in which they were able to do so well, they were undone by a drive in which they couldn’t stop the Colts over 30 seconds at the end. On several occasions they stuffed Colts drives only to concede foolish penalties to keep the clock moving. Jared Allen (+1.2) was furious about a call on a late hit to Andrew Luck as he ran out of bounds, and, while it was very minimal contact, Luck was clearly heading to the sideline a dozen yards shy of the markers on 3rd and long, so the Viking had no reason to dive at him. Kevin Williams (+4.3) was exceptional against the run, on one occasion splitting a double team and making a stop 3 yards deep into the backfield. Linebackers Chad Greenway (+5.2) and Erin Henderson (+4.1) also had fine games, despite Henderson making a mess of his drop deep down the middle of the field for Reggie Wayne’s touchdown just before the half. Only some loose zone coverage undid what was otherwise an excellent showing from the D.
Once again Christian Ponder came out of the game looking very good statistically, and once again he comes away from it with a negative grade from PFF. In order to understand why this is you need to look at his entire game. The -1.4 grade comes firstly from the degree of difficulty of the throws, and the fact that most of the yardage is coming after the catch. Of Ponder’s 245 passing yards, only 104 of those were thrown in the air. That means that his average depth of target for his completions was a ridiculous 3.9 yards down field. The rest of the work was done by receivers after the catch.
The second issue Ponder has, which shows no real sign of improvement, is a horrible sense of awareness when he is running with the ball. At the college level he was a good enough athlete to take off and not have to worry about defenders chasing him down. At this level that doesn’t wash, and he doesn’t seem to have that clock in his head to alert him when he needs to get rid of the ball. Consequently he was the cause of one of the sacks he took, a regular trend in his play. He also threw one horrible pass that should have been an interception but was dropped by a defender. To his credit though he showed up biggest with the game on the line and led a game-tying drive, albeit getting a touch lucky with the scoring throw.
Indianapolis – Three Performances of Note
Move Over Reggie
After being targeted a ludicrous 18 times in the first game against the Bears, Reggie Wayne was thrown at only six times in this game. He caught all of them, for 71 yards and a touchdown, but the Vikings actually did a pretty good job of taking away Luck’s favored target. They did this at the expense of other receivers though, and Donnie Avery (+2.7) was the beneficiary. Avery was thrown at 10 times, and caught nine passes for 111 yards. When Luck threw at Avery he had a rating of 112.9, and it looks as if the WR’s career might be on the way back after it was derailed by injuries so early on. Between Wayne and Avery, the Colts seem to have a nice pair of receivers, and if they could get Austin Collie back healthy for a stretch they could field an impressive trio of receivers.
Jerraud Powers has had his ups and downs over the past few seasons but he was in excellent form in this game, and earned a +3.8 grade for his play. The corner was thrown at 10 times, and allowed seven receptions, but they went for just 66 yards (33 of which went to Percy Harvin). Powers also broke up a pair of passes and closed well on some plays to blow them up at, or even behind, the line of scrimmage. He earned himself four defensive stops from his nine tackles.
Fellow corner Vontae Davis (+0.8) also had a decent game. He may have allowed a reception on all four targets, but he limited the damage to just 39 yards and also came up quickly to make plays when they happened in front of him. The pair won’t get much easier tests than this, as the Vikings only really threatened with Harvin, but nonetheless they had excellent games and were big parts of the defensive success the Colts were able to have in some drives.
Bringing the Heat
Indianapolis may have been without Dwight Freeney to act as the main source of their pressure up front, but they made up for it by spreading the workload across multiple areas. Four different Colts were able to notch themselves a sack, and eight different defenders registered at least a pressure on the day. Predictably enough, Robert Mathis (+1.8) was probably the most dangerous pass-rusher–he beat Vikings RT Phil Loadholt badly on a couple of occasions– but Corey Redding (+4.1), Jerry Hughes (+2.2), Fili Moala (+0.8) and Jerrell Freeman (+1.3) all chipped in with multiple good plays rushing the passer.
The development of Hughes in particular in this new defensive scheme should be encouraging for Colts fans, especially those who labeled him a bust under their old defense where he seemed completely unable to generate any kind of pressure.
– Vikings rookie kicker Blair Walsh had another fine day, averaging 73.4 yards per kickoff and giving the Colts an average start of their own 19.2 yard line. He also made another 50+ yard field goal.
– Old hat Adam Vinatieri wasn’t to be outdone though, making all three of his field goals including the game-winner from over 50.
– Erin Henderson led the Vikings with nine tackles and an assist, seven of which were defensive stops.
PFF Game Ball
I wanted to give this to a member of the Colts, but in truth the best player in the game was Percy Harvin (+4.5), and the momentum shifted when he wasn’t on the field. He finished with 104 receiving yards, had a 50-yard kick return, and another 13 rushing yards as he moved the Vikings down the field every time he touched the ball.
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