Minnesota Vikings vs. St. Louis Rams: Instant Grades, Analysis for Minnesota

Bill Hubbell@@billyhubbellContributor IDecember 16, 2012

Minnesota Vikings vs. St. Louis Rams: Instant Grades, Analysis for Minnesota

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    Final Score:

    Minnesota Vikings 36 St. Louis Rams 22

    The Vikings hold off the Rams late surge to win by two touchdowns.

    Stay with us for final grades and analysis.

    Minnesota Vikings 36 St. Louis Rams 22

    Vikings rookie kicker Blair Walsh ties an NFL record with his 8th field goal over 50-yards on the season, converting from 51 yards and extending the Vikings lead to 14 points.

    Adrian Peterson's 52-yard burst put the Vikings into field goal range.

    Minnesota Vikings 33 St. Louis Rams 22

    The St. Louis Rams do score quickly this time, aided by a crucial pass interference call against Josh Robinson.

    Bradford finishes it off with a 6-yard strike to tight end Lance Kendricks for the touchdown. He then converts the 2-point conversion try to Danny Amendola to pull the Rams within 11 points with just under eight minutes to play. The rout is off. 

    Minnesota Vikings 33 St. Louis Rams 14

    Steven Jackson goes over the 10,000 yard mark rushing and Sam Bradford caps off an 80-yard drive with a 6-yard touchdown throw to Danny Amendola.

    The drive ate a lot of clock and the Vikings defense didn't give up a quick-strike touchdown which is the only thing that could hurt them at this point in the game.

    End of the 3rd Quarter:

    Minnesota Vikings 33 St. Louis Rams 7

    The Vikings phenomenal rookie kicker Blair Walsh is good again, this time from 53-yards out and the Vikings are turning this game into a rout.

    Halftime Score:

    Minnesota Vikings 30 St. Louis Rams 7

    The Vikings add three points to their best quarter of the season, Blair Walsh hitting his third straight field goal, this one from 42-yards out to put the Vikings up by 23 points at halftime.

    Minnesota Vikings 27 St. Louis Rams 7

    After a three and out from the defense, the Vikings ride Adrian Peterson and a couple of nice, short completions into Rams territory and Blair Walsh caps it off with his second field goal, this one from 38-yards and the Vikings are threatening to run away with this one.

    Minnesota Vikings 24 St. Louis Rams 7

    Defensive ends aren't supposed to be able to do that.

    Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen drops deftly into coverage, spying Sam Bradford the entire play, and then picks him off and looks like the running back he was in high school, taking the ball 29-yards for a touchdown.

    Minnesota Vikings 17 St. Louis Rams 7

    The Vikings convert off the game's first turnover, getting a 50-yard field goal from rookie Blair Walsh after Kevin Williams pounced on a muffed snap by the Rams offense. Walsh's kick would have been good from 65-yards.

    Minnesota Vikings 14 St. Louis Rams 7

    Eight carries might be as long as you can hold Adrian Peterson down. 

    Peterson had just eight yards on eight carries in the first quarter. He now has nine carries for 90 yards.

    Like a ticking bomb, Peterson finally goes off, straight up the middle of the line following his blocker and then bouncing quickly to the left before dropping it into fifth-gear and outrunning the Rams secondary.

    Minnesota Vikings 7 St. Louis Rams 7

    Rookie Brian Quick makes an outstanding play going up and getting a ball in the end zone. Cornerback Josh Robinson was right with Quick, but doesn't have the size to go up with Quick, who out-jumped Robinson and made a nice catch for a 4-yard touchdown.

    End of First Quarter:

    Minnesota Vikings 7 St. Louis Rams 0

    The Minnesota Vikings draw first blood in St. Louis as quarterback Christian Ponder runs for a 5-yard touchdown on third and goal. Ponder was three for three on the first drive as the Rams have loaded the box to stop Adrian Peterson, who was stuffed for -3-yards on five carries.

    Game Preview:

    A year ago the Minnesota Vikings and the St. Louis Rams were jockeying for draft position, vying to see who could land the coveted second pick in the 2012 NFL draft that would either land Robert Griffin III, or the blue chip spot that would return a boat-load of high draft picks in a trade.

    Back then nobody in their right mind thought the December 2012 matchup between the two cellar dwellers could possibly have playoff implications tied to it.

    Such is life in the topsy-turvy, year-to-year world of the NFL. 

    Not only are the Vikings (7-6) and the Rams (6-6-1) fighting for their playoff lives in the NFC, but the team that beat them both out in the "Suck for Luck" push at the end of last season, the Indianapolis Colts, are 9-4 and right in the thick of the AFC playoff race.

    Sunday's matchup is essentially an elimination game for the Vikings and Rams, with the loser all but eliminated from the playoff hunt. It won't be an easy task for Minnesota, road games never are, as the purple are just 1-5 away from Minneapolis this year and 3-11 over the past two seasons.

    The Rams are hot, having won three in a row, including a season-saving overtime win over the 49ers in their last home outing.

    For the Vikings, once again opportunity is at hand. The Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis provides a controlled environment in which Minnesota is clearly a better football team. Playoff contenders Washington and Seattle are also both on the road and the Cowboys face the Steelers at home, so this weekend might shake out the playoff picture a little bit.

    For Minnesota it's pretty simple, win and you're still alive.

    You can see the game on FOX at 1pm ET and stay with us all day long for instant grades and analysis, followed by final grades after the game.

Vikings Quarterback Christian Ponder: B

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    4th Quarter Grade: B

    Ponder does all that's asked of him, which isn't much. He completes two throws and hands the ball off. 

    3rd Quarter Grade: C

    Nothing really boneheaded out of Ponder, although he just dodged two big errors. He fumbled the ball on a sack that certainly wasn't his fault as Adrian Peterson completely whiffed his block. The ball went out of bounds or it could have been taken back for a touchdown.

    Ponder made a terrible throw on a third down play, throwing it right into the arms of Trumaine Johnson, who simply dropped it.

    Passed for just 31 yards on the quarter, but avoided any crucial mistakes.

    2nd Quarter Grade: B-

    Ponder finished a very efficient first half 11 of 16 for just 85 yards, but he didn't make any mental errors in his best half in quite a while.

    The clock management at the end of the half was brutal, but no major mistakes led to a field goal, which was big in extending the lead to over three touchdowns.

    Ponder took a sack when he failed to see John Carlson open 12 yards down the field. He still has to do a better job of surveying the field quicker and making sharp throws. Taking the sack was better than throwing into coverage as he protected the ball and secured the three points. 

    1st Quarter Grade: A

    Christian Ponder goes four for five on the quarter for 45 yards and runs for a 5-yard touchdown to stake the Vikings to a 7-0 lead. 

    Ponder spiked the ball with a bit of zest, which was nice to see, you could see him getting a lot of frustration out of his system. 

    Preview: Christian Ponder

    Vikings fans would love to be able to look forward to seeing Christian Ponder help his team win games down the stretch and get Minnesota into the playoffs. 

    The truth is, right now the purple faithful are just hoping Ponder doesn't lose them games.

    If Ponder's play over the last two months actually falls under the category of "growing pains" then the young man is going to end up being 100 feet tall.

    The Vikings are dead last in the NFL in passing, averaging 173 yard per game, and Ponder has only averaged 137 yards passing over his last seven games. Adrian Peterson has averaged 157 yards rushing over those same seven games.

    Ponder has averaged 5.03 yards per attempt over the last seven games. John Skelton is the only quarterback in the NFL averaging under six yards per attempt on the season, and he's averaging 5.63.

    QBR is the advanced metric that measures NFL quarterbacks on a 100-point scale. For some perspective, the Eagles Nick Foles' QBR since taking over for Michael Vick is 48.1. Blaine Gabbert finished up his dismal season for the Jaguars with a QBR of 40.9.

    Over the last eight games Christian Ponder's QBR is 26.1.

    It's been a frustrating season for everyone watching Ponder, who had a QBR of 69.1 through the first five games. There's no doubt it's been a combination of things that have sent Ponder completely over the quarterback cliff, but at some point he has take ownership of the position. 

    Sunday provides another opportunity, both for the team and for the quarterback.

Vikings Offense: C

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    4th Quarter Grade: B

    Once again, it's Adrian Peterson to the rescue. 

    With the game close enough for some Vikings fans to begin sweating, Peterson ripped off a 52-yard run to get into field goal territory and ice the game.

    Not a hole lot else happened on offense, but they didn't need it to to secure the win.

    3rd Quarter Grade: C

    It's really tough to have 10-play drives that only net you 25 yards, but the Vikings did it on their second possession of the quarter. Controlling the ball and chewing up clock was exactly what the doctor ordered. Crazier things have happened, but the field goal all but iced the game for Minnesota.

    2nd Quarter Grade: A

    The Rams learned, like everyone eventually does, that you can't keep Adrian Peterson down forever. 

    Held to just eight yards in the first quarter, Peterson was over 100 yards by the half, including another scintillating 82-yard touchdown run that completely tipped the game momentum in the Vikings favor.

    Peterson has now gone over 100 yards in eight straight games, heading into the locker room with 119 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.

    Also some encouraging signs of life from Ponder, Carlson and Simpson.

    1st Quarter Grade: B

    Well once again the Vikings are forced to rely on their passing game as the running game is completely getting stuffed. HA.

    Adrian Peterson has just eight yards on eight carries, but Ponder has his best quarter in two months and move the Vikings down the field for a touchdown.

    Catches made by Jerome Simpson, John Carlson and Stephen Burton!

    Preview: Vikings Offense

    No matter what the fate of the 2012 Minnesota Vikings ends up being, fans of the team will always have this: Over the last seven games and counting, Adrian Peterson has played NFL football as well as it's ever been played.

    Though they are all still in reach, Peterson may not break Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing mark or win the league MVP award, but the fact that he's threatening to do both is astonishing considering his left knee was undergoing complete reconstructive surgery in January.

    Peterson's recent rampage is all the more remarkable considering he's on the worst passing offense in the NFL and teams are filling the box, knowing that No. 28 is the only thing on the Vikings offense that can hurt them.

    The Vikings haven't had a receiver get as many as 70 yards in five straight games.

    Over the last seven games, when the Vikings pass offense has been about as effective as your favorite lingerie team's, Peterson has averaged 7.2 yards per carry. That's a video game number. That's the eighth-grader with a mustache running through 140-pounders who don't know where their elbow pads go.

    Peterson left, Peterson right, Peterson up the middle. If Christian Ponder can complete 15 passes to guys wearing white, well that would be great, but nobody's counting on it.

Vikings Defense: C

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    4th Quarter Grade: C

    The Vikings defense gave up 15 points in the quarter and a ton of passing yards to Sam Bradford, but they still made enough plays to secure the win.

    A dumb pass interference penalty on Josh Robinson helped set up one of the Rams touchdowns.

    The Vikings were able to bend and not break on defense in the fourth because they had played so well in the previous two quarters.

    3rd Quarter Grade: A

    Completely suffocated the Rams offense. Chad Greenway chalked up the defenses fourth sack of the game. Could have had an A+ if they would have stopped the Rams on fourth down.

    2nd Quarter Grade: A+

    After giving up a nine play, 73-yard drive, the Vikings defense started to make some big plays.

    First, Kevin Williams pounced on a poor snap exchange by the Rams that set up a Vikings field goal. Then Everson Griffen showed off all that athletic ability we're always hearing about, stepping in front of a Sam Bradford throw after dropping into coverage and then looked like an athletic linebacker taking the ball back 29-yards for a score.

    With a 17-point lead, the Vikings defensive line is starting to lick their chops and hone in on Sam Bradford. Erin Henderson and Christian Ballard came up with big sacks that derailed any momentum the Rams offense was building.

    1st Quarter Grade: B

    Once again, the Vikings defense is giving up yards, but making plays when they have to. Steven Jackson has gouged them for a couple of nice runs and Sam Bradford is finding some open receivers underneath.

    The Vikings bend but don't break in putting up a goose egg.

    Preview: Vikings Defense

    Only two quarterbacks have been sacked more than the Rams Sam Bradford in 2012. Steven Jackson is averaging under four yards per carry.

    Those numbers have to have the Vikings defense salivating as they head to St. Louis to take on the Rams in a must-win game on Sunday.

    Though the Vikings are only 2-2 over their last four games, the defense has put together their best stretch of play in the last three seasons. Unlike most years, Minnesota is getting solid contributions from all three parts of the defense, and the young secondary seems to be getting better every game.

    Last Sunday's win over the Bears was spearheaded by interception returns from two rookies, Harrison Smith and Josh Robinson. Smith took his 56 yards for a touchdown and Robinson brought his back 44 yards inside the Bears five-yard line to set up a simple score.

    Jasper Brinkley and Erin Henderson have played the best football of their careers over the last month and combine with Chad Greenway to form a solid linebacking group.

    The front line is beat up, but the shuffling in of Fred Evans, Everson Griffen and Christian Ballard has provided the Vikings with balance and depth at the line of scrimmage.

    The Vikings offense is always a question mark, so continued solid play from the defense is crucial to a Vikings win.

Vikings Special Teams: A+

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    4th Quarter Grade: A+

    Blair Walsh caps off a perfect day with a 51-yard field goal that tied an NFL record as it was his eighth field goal of the year over 50 yards.

    3rd Quarter Grade: A+

    Blair Walsh made his fourth straight field goal of the game, from 53-yards out. It was Walsh's seventh field goal from beyond 50 yards, setting a new Vikings record for a season.

    2nd Quarter Grade: A+

    Blair Walsh boomed field goals from 50, 38 and 42 yards that all would have been good from 60 yards and added three more touchbacks to his team record total. When the Rams did get a chance to return a kickoff, the coverage unit stopped them cold at the 14-yard line.

    We'll forgive Marcus Sherels for a dumb decision to take the ball out from seven yards deep in his end zone and not making it out to the 20.

    1st Quarter Grade: A

    The Vikings special teams continue to shine. The game opened with the kickoff team pinning the Rams at their own 11-yard line, which gave the Vikings momentum right out of the gate. After the defense forced a Rams punt, Marcus Sherels came up with a nice return that gave the Vikings offense the ball at the Rams 45.

    Chris Kluwe pitched in with a nice punt late in the quarter, a 49-yarder at the coverage squad held Danny Amendola to a 2-yard return.

    Preview: Vikings Special Teams

    Vikings punter Chris Kluwe has had a pretty active season off the field, most recently picking up a $5,250 fine for taping a "Vote Ray Guy" over his Hall of Fame 50th Anniversary patch on his uniform.

    Kluwe can pick up all the fines he wants as long as he continues to punt like he did against the Bears last week, when he pinned the Bears inside their own 20-yard line four different times.

    Blair Walsh continues to have an excellent rookie season, converting 24 of 27 field-goal tries and adding on to his team record for touchbacks on kickoffs.

    Marcus Sherels will handle both the kick and punt return duties on Sunday with kick returner A.J. Jefferson coming off a slight concussion.

    Minnesota's special teams played a huge roll in dominating the Bears in field position last week, they'll need another great performance from them on Sunday against the Rams.

Vikings Coaches: B

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    4th Quarter Grade: B

    The Vikings took the air out of the ball in the fourth quarter and secured the win. It might have been nice to see if Ponder could have gained some yards in the air after Peterson's 52-yard burst, but with Blair Walsh on your team, it was probably wise to just take the three points and secure the victory.

    3rd Quarter Grade: A

    The offense chewed up clock and the defense continued to suffocate the Rams offense.

    A good challenge by Frazier on a Ponder fumble, that wasn't upheld, but it was certainly worth a look and they had nothing to lose at that point.

    2nd Quarter Grade: A

    Mixing the run and the pass beautifully, the Vikings coaches can take a lot of credit for their scheme against the Rams.

    Defensively, the Vikings have once again given up some underneath routes, but continue to make stops when they have to.

    The defense and Adrian Peterson grabbed the momentum of the game, and the Vikings didn't do anything stupid to give it back. 

    Taking a couple of downfield shots kept the Rams from continuing to fill up the box.

    1st Quarter Grade: B

    The Vikings obviously want to ram Adrian Peterson down the Rams throat, but do a nice job of giving Christian Ponder some short routes to hit when the Rams are bottling up Peterson.

    Preview: Vikings Coaches

    With the Vikings pass offense about as active as a Myspace account, the coaches have had to adjust to an ever-shrinking playbook.

    It's a tough spot the Vikings coaches find themselves in. Obviously, they're trying to win football games right now and the best, or perhaps only way to do that right now is to keep handing the ball to Adrian Peterson.

    At the same time, the Vikings are desperately trying to evaluate second-year quarterback Christian Ponder, to see if he can become a viable NFL starter, because right now he isn't.

    In a perfect world the Vikings can jump out to a quick lead like they did last Sunday, and then only pass enough to keep the Rams defense slightly honest. If not, and the game is up for grabs and Christian Ponder continues to struggle as he has for two months, the coaches will be faced with decisions that could impact not only this season, but careers.

    Obviously the hope is that Ponder plays well and the Vikings win. If Ponder struggles and the Vikings fall behind, the Minnesota coaching staff will have their feet to the fire like they never have before. Their decisions could impact both this season and the near future of Vikings football.