Christian Ponder returns.
What’s that? No applause?
Well, it’s understandable.
The Minnesota Vikings offense wasn’t anything to write home about with him in charge.
But did you get a glimpse of what it was like with Josh Freeman in Week 7? Freeman was hindered by dropped passes, but completing a mere 20 of 53 passes for 190 yards and an interception?
Sporting a 40.6 passer rating?
It was the worst ever, according to Pro Football Focus. Even with dropped passes, that’s disgusting.
And that miniature play card – which the Star Tribune reported on here – offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave has sported the past few weeks? That should enlarge to its full size this week with Ponder back under center.
The 2011 first-round pick has spent the most time within Musgrave’s offense and should know it better than any quarterback on this roster.
Now, that doesn’t mean the Minnesota offense will be fully functional. It really hasn’t been effective this season. At all.
Through seven weeks, Minnesota’s offense ranks toward the bottom of the league in most categories.
It ranks 25th in yards per game (316.3), 19th in points per game (22.0), 19th in rushing yards per game (102) and 24th in passing yards per game (214.3). Its eight interceptions are tied for the seventh most.
Wait a second wasn’t this offense supposed to be able to at least run the football?
Adrian Peterson! And that offensive line! Oh, the possibilities.
Well, Peterson has come back to Earth after his 2,097-yard campaign in 2012. Quite a bit.
And that dominant offensive line … well … it’s not so dominant anymore as the tackles and guards struggle through regressive campaigns. John Sullivan is the lone lineman almost playing up to his abilities.
With regression almost across the board, Peterson has suffered.
He has rushed for 511 yards on 115 attempts (4.4 yards per carry) with five touchdowns in six games. Peterson averaged 6.0 yards per carry last season.
It came out Thursday that the 2012 NFL MVP has battled a right hamstring injury over the past four or five weeks. According to that ESPN story, Peterson said it won’t force him to miss any time, but it’s something to monitor.
That is a crutch to explain Peterson’s average play in addition to line play.
In Week 7 the rushing struggles hit a season low in New York as Peterson carried the ball a measly 13 times for 28 yards.
For a team with that type of weapon at its disposal, 13 carries is an inappropriate use of All Day. And the 28 yards illustrates the severe struggles the offensive line and Peterson.
So, just to recap the ground game: poor offensive line play, mortal Adrian Peterson.
Just give Peterson the damn ball and let things happen. This is a rushing team. Quantity doesn’t guarantee quality, but Minnesota is a running team. There’s a reason Peterson was inked to a $96-millon contract.
The former Oklahoma Sooner is the heart and soul of the Vikings and their most dangerous offensive player.
Beyond your typical running play, throw Peterson the occasional halfback screen to change things up. It’s inexplicable why an offense with athletic linemen like Sullivan and Kalil and the game’s best running back run so few of them.
That said, the Packers boast one of the league’s best run defenses, ranking third in yards per game (79), which means a rushing attack that has been anemic all season is in for a tall task.
Johnny Jolly, Ryan Pickett B.J. Raji are 325-plus pound mammoths on the defensive line who aren’t easily moved. Their presence forces the entire offensive line to be on high alert and extra aggressive in the run game. And given the struggles of the offensive line, it puts the ground game that much further behind the 8-ball.
Then again, these same Packers allowed Peterson to rush for 199 yards the last time they were at the Metrodome.
If the offensive line can ever get its act together, even a mortal Peterson should run for 100 yards against a top-three rush defense.
On any given Sunday, anything is possible. Look for at least 85 yards from Peterson – more if he receives those 30 carries.
As for that passing game, Ponder’s return shouldn’t alter expectations too much.
The role of the passing game always has been to supplement whatever Peterson does on the ground. And that supplement has been pretty limited.
No Viking quarterback has thrown for more than 248 yards this season – an honor that belongs to Cassel who reached that mark in Week 4’s 34-27 win over Pittsburgh.
Ponder’s season high came in Week 1 when he tossed for 236 yards – he’s averaging 230.3 yards per game while completing 59 percent of his passes in three starts. He sports two touchdown passes to accompany five interceptions.
The former Florida State Seminole was drafted so highly, in part, because of his intelligence and accuracy on shorter throws – neither of which have been overly evident during his NFL career.
While the Packers have turned over a new stone as a run defense, their pass defense is still suspect and can be dissected.
Ponder told the media, including CBS Sports, he plans to play more “relaxed” because things can’t “get any worse” than the demotion he already suffered.
This game has the potential to get ugly quickly with the way Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense – injuries and all – can rack up points quickly.
That means Ponder and company will likely be playing from behind early and often, forcing the offense into more passing situations. That could result in more impressive yardage totals, or more turnovers – maybe both.
Summation: At this point, the Vikings have nothing to lose. At 1-5, there is no pressure. As Ponder said, it can’t get much worse.
The offense should have a renewed emphasis on the ground game, resulting in at least a 100-yard performance by Peterson – even against the No. 3 rushing defense and with a struggling offensive line.
But this is a rivalry game. The ground game will show up.
As for the passing game, look for Ponder to complete about 60 percent of his passes and throw for 250 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Jennings will have the touchdown reception off a long catch and run.
Overall, the offense will look better but still have the troubles it has been accustomed to in 2013.
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