Cardinals vs Vikings: Final Report Card, Player Grades for Minnesota
It was an ugly game for both teams, but ultimately the Vikings eked out the victory, using their dominant ground game to set the pace of the game and grind out yards.
Naturally there were some stellar performances by the Minnesota Vikings, including along the defense, but a sputtering offense disappointed Vikings fans, despite the win.
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Christian Ponder: D+
Christian Ponder was not given too many opportunities to make plays in the second half, either as a result of play design or too much pressure. Still, eight for 17 is still very poor, and quarterbacks with more than 15 attempts should still be able to break 100 yards passing—Ponder only had 58. Add the two interceptions on bad throws, and Ponder's outing was overall quite poor. The only leniency he gets is that most of his throws were the result of extremely poor pass protection. He also was the victim of poor playcalling.
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Adrian Peterson ended with one of the best running back performances of the week (and in shades of 2008, was competing with Chris Johnson for that title), and was critical to the Vikings win. Averaging 6.7 yards per play, Peterson ran roughshod over the beleaguered Cardinals defense and rarely made a mistake.
Despite a dropped pass and a pressure or two given up in pass protection (suddenly a rare occurrence for an improved part of his game), Peterson was the premier player on the field.
Jerome Felton: B+
Another great blocking performance by Felton, who really burst on to the scene as a blocking fullback in a big way in Week 1. He led the way for Peterson on a number of plays, but not enough to warrant serious consideration for a higher grade. He was good at taking on some of Arizona's best tacklers and was a big part of breaking open the run game.
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The defense gave up 356 total yards, which isn't bad all things considering. They still allowed a backup to a backup run for over a 100 yards, with a number of big gains that gathered a number of first downs. Again, the Vikings seemed OK with giving up a late touchdown, which was a risky proposition, given the chance for an onside kick to follow. The pick six from Harrison Smith and the sacks are a big part of the reason the Vikings were able to come away with a win.
Jared Allen came alive in the second half, with an impressive sack after being held on third down. Robison followed suit, adding a pair of his own, and Kevin Williams got into the game as well. While the defense has given up a few yards, they still have been able to force Arizona out of scoring position, save for the last one within the two minute warning. It's an impressive showing given that they weren't given much help by the offense.
The half started off with a pick-six for rookie Vikings safety Harrison Smith, a good way to wash out the taste of the end of the first half. While still allowing Stephens-Howling some surprising runs, they've remained stout. The consecutive penalties are certainly frustrating, but a set of impressive stops—including one on fourth down—has helped the defense keep points off the board. While still allowing the Cardinals to make good gains, they've still been able to keep points off the board
Harrison Smith needs to wrap up more against running backs, as he and the rest of the Minnesota defense were able to lay the wood but not stop the runner, allowing Stephens-Howling into the end zone early into the quarter. Perhaps the low/highlight of the quarter may be the Vikings stop on third down with only ten men on the field. Aside from the first score, they've been great, although helped by poor throwing. It's difficult to blame the defense for the score, as it was an offensive turnover that was the larger problem.
The defense has not been playing as advertised, and allowed LaRod Stephens-Howling too much room on some bigger plays. While a 4.1 yards per carry isn't something to brag about, Stephens-Howling has broken some big, damaging runs. It was hard for the defense to get off the field until a good play by Robison for the strip sack.
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There wasn't too much notable about the special teams, excepting the abysmal first quarter performance, with a poor punt and an illegal block in the back killing a kick return touchdown to start the game. After that, they were performing quite well, except in punt return blocking. The special teams play was important in the field position battle, but they didn't feature too much one way or the other.
The special teams look to be regressing a bit, as Sherels hasn't gotten much room for his punt returns for quite some time now. On the other side of that, Kluwe's punts have been much better in the second half than the first, and the coverage unit has been making plays. What really tested the unit was the onside kick with 1:48 left, and the Vikings performed admirably in response.
The special teams have been performing well again, with Walsh booming kicks out of the endzone on kickoffs, while Kluwe made up for his previous performance with excellent punts—both for distance and hang time. They haven't done as well making sure that Sherels has time to run, so there are some problems, but not any that are cause for concern.
Better work by special teams to give Harvin and Sherels space to work with has helped the Vikings gain field position without having to worry as much about their inconsistent offensive performance. Kluwe punted more to his level, and the coverage units have been quite good.
There wasn't much for the special teams to do here, but the illegal block in the back to take away a 103 yard TD run, coupled with a very poor punt by Kluwe bodes poorly for the game.
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It's easy to blame the coaching for the pedantic offensive performance, but it's just as important to give credit to the defensive playcalling and coaches for a sound game. While the offensive playcalling was once again blind to context, many of the actual plays were designed well. It's difficult to determine who gets blame when a play breaks down, but it's not entirely Musgrave's fault that the offensive line could not protect Christian Ponder. The depth of routes was a serious problem, but the pieces on the field sometimes could not genuinely outperform who they were lined up against.
It's difficult to understand exactly why the offense kept throwing the ball in the fourth quarter with a two-possession lead to protect, particularly when Adrian Peterson had been averaging above eight yards a carry. While it makes sense to save the playmakers from having to work too much with a Thursday Night Football game coming up, the play design is still baffling—there's something to be said about winning the game at hand, too. That said, Alan Williams has kept the defense in multiple sets, making them unpredictable, even late in the fourth. The gameplanning by Williams paid off in the form of late game sacks.
For the most part, the Vikings hadn't made any effective adjustments to take advantage of some of the miscues by the Cardinals, and they've taken out playmakers when they might matter most. The gameplanning and playcalling have not been context-sensitive or responsive. The defensive playcalling has been fine, but the offense has sputtered for more than just bad quarterback play. Play design hasn't really been a problem for the Vikings, but the choices the coaches make are baffling.
Again the victim of execution errors, this time largely by the offensive line and Christian Ponder, the playcalling has neither been extraordinary nor damaging. Responsible for the odd ten men on the field issue, the Vikings have been sloppy—a problem largely attributable to the coaching staff. Neverthless, the players haven't allowed momentum-changing plays to get them down, and they've been able to control their own narrative.
The defensive and offensive errors had largely been due to execution errors rather than play design, and only a confusing short play on third and twelve marred an otherwise good performance by the coaching staff.
Better work by special teams to give Harvin and Sherels space to work with has helped the Vikings gain field position without having to worry as much about their inconsistent offensive performance.