It wasn’t the best of times for Head Coach Leslie Frazier as he addressed the media after a lackluster performance in the Vikings’ preseason game against the Buffalo Bills. Frazier was obviously not pleased with the outcome of the game, but as usual, he took the time to politely answer questions without throwing his team under the bus.
I for one appreciate his eternal optimism and his unshakeable demeanor, and I can certainly see why players love to play for Coach Frazier. During the post game press conference, the even tempered coach even managed to crack a smile as he spoke about the game.
When Frazier was asked about how Christian Ponder looked, he said, “I thought he did some good things early. He was under duress right away but he battled and ended up making some plays. He had some drops that set him back a little but he didn’t lose his poise. He put together a nice drive that we had a chance in the red zone to get some points but came up short and had to settle for a field goal. But I thought for some extended time he did some good things.”
As I watched the replay of the game after hearing Frazier’s post game thoughts, I can somewhat agree that Ponder did some good things early. Unfortunately, the first three series were marred by some uncharacteristically bad plays by usually reliable performers. The first offensive play for the Vikings went 7 yards in the wrong direction as Matt Kalil whiffed on his attempt to block Jerry Hughes as he snuck inside and sacked Ponder. The second series was cut short when Kyle Rudolph dropped a 3rd down pass that would have kept the drive alive. Ponder would have started 3 for 3 on his early pass attempts if Rudolph would’ve made that catch. The third series started at the Bills 31 yard line after the Vikings intercepted a Kevin Klob pass. On that first down play, center John Sullivan miss timed a shot gun snap that sailed passed Ponder. To add insult to injury Blair Walsh missed on a 49 yard field goal attempt to end that drive. On the next series Ponder connected on a couple passes to Rudolph, just missed on a deep ball to Jarius Wright, got a good run from Toby Gerhart, and with the help of a couple defensive penalties, the Vikings got on the board with a 36 yard field goal.
Good defensive play gave the Vikings a 3-0 lead after the first quarter. Give Ponder credit for playing smart and not forcing the issue under heavy pressure in a hustle environment. That is what a good game manager does, right?
The turning point in the game (and for Ponder) happened with 11:23 left in the 2nd quarter. The Vikings were faced with a 2nd and 2 at their own 25 yard line. Operating from a no huddle shot gun formation Ponder miss-fired on a short screen to Greg Jennings that would’ve resulted in an easy first down. At that moment, I felt that the Vikings lost what little air that they had left in the tank. On 3rd down Ponder couldn’t connect with Cordarrelle Patterson on a short side line route, which ultimately marked the end of the night for the starting QB. A disappointing 5-12 passing for 53 yards wasn’t the progress plan Ponder had hoped to display.
Woulda coulda shoulda is my take away from Ponder’s night in Buffalo. If Rudolph makes his catch… or J Wright catches the long ball… or if Ponder would’ve hit Jennings in stride on that short screen, Ponder’s first half of play would’ve been acceptable.
Coach Frazier and Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave both think the Vikings have a lot of work to do on the fundaments and also in the passing game to get ready for the regular season. The problem is, it will not get any easier this week as the Vikings travel to San Francisco to take on a very solid 49er’s defense.
I don’t look for much to change this week. Preseason is preseason, and vanilla is the flavor of the month. I will say that it will be nice to see Adrian Peterson in the backfield for a few plays, and I also hope to see improvement in the fundaments and better accuracy and timing in the passing game from our starters.