The Minnesota Vikings continued their march toward a top draft pick in 2014. This week, they were up against a productive but underperforming Dallas Cowboys team fresh off a stinging loss to the Detroit Lions.
The Vikings' quarterback for Week 9 was Christian Ponder, who may very well have been the best choice for the team if they wanted to win this game—not a goal every Vikings fan shares, given the value of a prime draft pick as well as the relatively useful opportunity to evaluate some of the younger players.
|Minnesota Vikings Grades|
|Positional Unit||1st-Half Grades||Final Game Grades|
|Week 9 against the Cowboys|
Final Game Analysis
Passing Offense: The passing offense dropped off in a big way in the second half. At times, poor pocket awareness was an issue, but pass protection was a critical failure as well. Christian Ponder's performance was shaky at best in the second half, and his play was plagued by inaccuracy and mistimed throws.
Receivers had a smaller chance of getting the ball in a position to make plays, despite the fact that Ponder's completion percentage was nearly identical through the two halves. The main issue was his inability to adjust to pressure, step up in the pocket and find ways to avoid big sacks or turnovers. The poor performance was capped by a pick-six on a floater, where he had to take a hit on the throw. Ending with an underthrown Hail Mary was the cherry on the miserable passing cake.
Running Offense: When the Vikings elected to run the ball, they continued to produce. A 52-yard run by Adrian Peterson was the shining moment of the Vikings' offensive performance, and perhaps it was easy to see coming, given how many times Peterson almost saw the open field on a number of runs.
Finishing at 5.6 yards per carry might seem deceptive, but many offensive coordinators will take 3.7 yards per carry for the chance at breakout runs at other times. Jerome Felton finally looked like his old self again in blocking, while the offensive line was inconsistent but performed better than expected. Surprising contributors like Chase Ford were important as well, and helped the running offense perform more consistently.
Passing Defense: The Vikings continued to put pressure on Tony Romo, although the defensive line was held up a little more after the second half because of the additional help the Cowboys assigned their offensive line. That in itself is effective because it takes plays out of the playbook for Dallas, but the secondary couldn't capitalize on it. Missed assignments only looked good because of additional dropped passes.
At times, it seemed like Rhodes was the only good performer in the secondary, although even he had issues before injury limited his participation. Tony Romo only finished with 6.6 yards per attempt, but the difference between pressured and unpressured snaps has been massive, especially after accounting for drops. A.J. Jefferson had a bright moment with his well-played interception, but it was not enough to account for a poor overall performance in the defensive backfield.
Run Defense: The Dallas rush was not an issue for the Vikings, who only had eight designed runs to wrestle with all day. The second half (three designed runs) looked much better than the first half, but it's a negligible notation at best. Overall the run defense was hot-and-cold, and blew up plays in the backfield as often as they allowed big runs, rarely displaying a consistent ability to stop Dallas in the run game. It was a largely irrelevant, if troubling, performance.
Special Teams: After Dallas decided to adjust and kick away from Cordarrelle Patterson, it was difficult for the Vikings to leverage their greatest advantage. Even when Patterson had his hands on the ball, things didn't go well, as he fumbled a return at the 5-yard line—a field position that inevitably led to a safety.
A missed extra point from Blair Walsh played a big role as well, as the Vikings could not play for the field goal, instead settling for a feeble Hail Mary, down by four points. The Vikings didn't punt as often as one would think, but it was largely disappointing.
Coaching: Atrocious play-calling and an inability to adjust were once again themes for the Vikings coaching staff. Once again, the offensive game plan and the executive decision-making were suspect, while the defensive coordinator, Alan Williams, may potentially be given a pass for all the injuries and new players—although soft coverage on the final drive could have been a key mistake.
The Cowboys scored their final touchdown with 35 seconds remaining on the clock, and the Vikings could have drained that on their previous drive by simply running the ball on first down. The decision to take a delay of game penalty and punt later in the drive is defensible if coaches are concerned about Walsh (which would make sense), but still demands answers.
Passing Offense: In a pleasant surprise for Vikings fans, Christian Ponder has been rolling—and not just to the left. It remains to be seen what effect Phil Loadholt's potential injury will have on pass protection (as well as the running game), but Christian Ponder has been decisive and accurate, stepping into throws instead of away from them.
His stat line (5.6 yards per attempt) may not look very impressive, but he has looked better today than he has in a long time. With that said, he's still quick to run despite open receivers and is benefiting from a terribly called game by Monte Kiffin, the Dallas defensive coordinator. Nevertheless, he's put forth a solid performance.
Running Offense: Adrian Peterson looks as good as ever, and would have even more yards were it not for a holding penalty and a terribly designed fourth-down play that saw him stuffed for no gain. Regardless, he's been breaking tackles and has shown slightly better vision than he has earlier this year despite another disappointing performance from Jerome Felton. Unfortunately, his blockers have had some big miscues and could be limiting Peterson.
Passing Defense: There have been two standout performances in the passing defense: the pass rush and the coverage unit. The pass rush has been stellar, not just with three sacks, but a number of pressures and quarterback hits. In addition, pressure has come from the interior as well as the edge, and Romo has not had many comfortable snaps in the pocket as a result. On the other hand, the Vikings secondary has been suspect at best and look better than the stats will show, benefiting from receiver drops rather than their own solid play.
Running Defense: This is difficult to grade. The Cowboys haven't gone to their running game often, despite experiencing success with it early in the game. Open holes, missed tackles and poor form have allowed DeMarco Murray to gash the Vikings on his carries, and Joseph Randle has had mixed success. The running defense has not played a significant role in this game, but has not performed well in its limited opportunities despite two highlight hits, one in the backfield.
Special Teams: Both special teams return units have been performing extremely well, and that may end up being the key to the Vikings' success as they enter the second half. Jeff Locke hasn't really been stellar, and he's continuing his up-and-down rookie year. That aside, what we've seen from the special teams so far has been great, and the Vikings are a threat to flip field position or even score whenever they have an opportunity to return.
Coaching: The decision to start off in the no-huddle offense was smart, but moving away from it was questionable at best. On offense, the Vikings continue to seem uninterested in converting 3rd-and-long, instead playing for field position. Odd play-calling seems too beholden to a script, rather than the evolving circumstances on the field and new play designs don't seem particularly effective either. On defense, the Vikings seem more a victim of poor performance and communication than poor play design, but they have still made a few bad calls.
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