Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


Chat OT: Just how shaky was Ponder in Sunday's win over the Titans?

Posted by: under Vikings, NFC, Leslie Frazier, Vikings offense, Leslie Frazier Updated: October 10, 2012 - 10:49 AM

If you missed my live Vikings chat on Tuesday afternoon, you can check in here and read the back and forth in full. In addition, each week I will attempt to go overtime, bringing good questions I didn’t get around to answering on the chat here to the Access Vikings blog for discussion. Here are Tuesday’s leftovers.

Question 1: Christian Ponder called his interceptions against Tennessee bad throws but not bad decisions. He was happy about that. What do you see as the difference? And what about the interceptions that should have been that were clearly dropped?

Question 2: Does Ponder have enough arm strength to consistently complete downfield passes in tight windows. Or is he going to be a game manager, dink and dunk passer? Like an Alex Smith, Jeff Garcia type?

Let’s go throw by throw on the two Ponder interceptions and the two most notable near-picks.

2:00 to go in the first half. Vikings face third-and-6 from the Tennessee 18. From the shotgun, Ponder took the snap and zeroed in on tight end Kyle Rudolph, really never looking elsewhere. He tried to fire a bullet to Rudolph at the 9 along the right side of the field. Cornerback Ryan Mouton had the first opportunity to pick that pass off. Safety Jordan Babineaux had a shot at it as well. It was an ill-advised throw and almost cost the Vikings three points.

0:28 left in the first half. Vikings face second-and-11 from the Tennessee 24. Out of the shotgun again, Ponder gets a little bit of heat and looks at Michael Jenkins on an intermediate out route. But this throw is short and Mouton has it in his sights the whole way. If Mouton makes a clean break and catches the ball, this one could have very well been a pick six -- which would have produced a halftime score of 13-7. Once again, with the Vikings in field goal range, this was a bad pass that could have been costly.

0:24 left in the first half. Vikings face third-and-11 from the Tennessee 24. This time, the pocket collapses quickly on Ponder. He uses his agility to escape the initial pressure. But charging hard to his left, he throws across his body toward Rudolph down near the left sideline at the 5. The throw is high and behind Rudolph, who only gets the fingertips of his left hand on the ball, tipping it to Tennessee’s Alterraun Verner who knocked it into the awaiting arms of Robert Johnson. Ponder said after the game that he didn’t worry about that pick because, in his opinion, it wasn’t a bad decision, just a bad throw. But with a likely three points on the board, the risk-reward of making that throw – a tough throw to make on a sprint to the left – isn’t great. Furthermore, it looked as if Ponder might have room to run for five yards or so. At the very least, you throw that ball away and let Blair Walsh add the three points. In a close game, against a good opponent, that type of miscue could be deadly.

13:12 left in the third quarter. Vikings face third-and-12 from the Tennessee 48. Out of the shotgun, Ponder eyes Jerome Simpson, darting in toward the middle of the field 18 yards downfield. He tries to squeeze a throw in but Babineaux has it read the whole time and makes an easy pick. After the game, Ponder said again that he wasn’t worried about the decision as much as he was the throw. His initial thought was that if he had just waited another half-second, allowing Simpson to clear Babineaux a the throwing lane would have opened. But even if he had waited it looked like Johnson, the back-end safety, might have had a play on the ball then.

In a nutshell, in the span of eight passing attempts, Ponder threw two interceptions and two other near-picks. Yes, he finished 12-for-13 for 100 yards after that. But the Vikings became a little gun shy in asking Ponder to throw down the field after the two turnovers.

For now, for most of 2012, the Vikings offense will try to thrive on a bunch of high percentage short passes that don’t give Ponder too much rope with which to hang himself. Eventually, the young quarterback is going to have to find ways to make those down field throws more consistently, with better reads and better accuracy. So applaud his Year 2 growth because the turnovers haven’t come in bunches through five games. But understand that there are still leaps to be made for him to become a passer who opposing defenses fear.

Question 3: It has been assumed that rookie safety Harrison Smith wasn't suspended by the NFL because of the aggressive nature of the ref’s actions - going up high on Smith and grabbing his shoulder. Any truth to that assessment?

Straight from the league office, Ray Anderson, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, determined that the ejection was sufficient discipline for Smith, who was obviously too physical in separating himself from back judge Steve Freeman. Also worth noting on that front: Smith was ejected with 11:24 left in the second quarter, missing more than two-thirds of Sunday’s game. So the league treated that as a bit of a mini-suspension as well.

In a league where punishments are often very harsh, I was surprised that Smith didn’t get at least a one-game suspension. I was shocked there wasn’t even a fine.

Question 4: It sounded like Leslie Frazier was a bit taken aback with the short notice on the Jerome Simpson leg numbness on Sunday ... Was Frazier upset he didn't find out earlier, with the game plan being impacted in what he seemed to categorize as a big change from what they planned to do with Jerome?

Upset is not the right word. Because it’s not as if Simpson was hiding anything with his leg injury. He simply hadn’t experienced any of the leg weakness and numbness that bothered him until Sunday morning. So it simply left the Vikings in an unfortunate scramble.

Yes, the Vikings offense had plans to turn Simpson loose against a weak Tennessee defense. And yes, having to deviate from that plan with such little notice was frustrating. But it was just an oddly-timed thing that no one could have foreseen.

The good news right now is that Simpson's injury, which is related to a back issue, does not appear to be serious. He may not practice Wednesday but isn't expected to miss much, if any, game action at this point.

Question 5: At AP's current pace, do you think he will make the Pro Bowl?

Let the record reflect that October 10 is the first day the Peterson to Honolulu campaign rhetoric begins. For perspective Peterson has gone to the Pro Bowl four times.

-- 2007 season: 1,341 rushing yards, 268 receiving yards, 13 TDs

-- 2008: 1,760 rushing yards, 125 receiving, 10 TDs

-- 2009: 1,383 rushing yards, 436 receiving, 18 TDs

-- 2010: 1,298 rushing yards, 341 receiving, 13 TDs

-- This year’s pace: 1,344 rushing yards, 253 receiving yards, 6 TDs

Currently, the NFC backs with more rushing yards than Peterson’s 420: Washington’s Alfred Morris (491), Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy (437) and San Francisco’s Frank Gore (432).

Sort that equation out and draw your own conclusions.

Question 6: Some people have mentioned that our win against SF was a fluke and that the 49ers didn't show up for that game. I think we fought tough and held up strong throughout that game. We weren't given anything. That was a credible win in my opinion... what do you think?

Let’s say San Fran did fall into the trap of overlooking the Vikings after tough games to open the season against Green Bay and Detroit and with a high-profile game against the Jets on the radar for Week 4. The Vikings still had to play a physical brand of football. And even if that win did get a “fluke” label, the Vikings backed it up with very impressive efforts in convincing wins over Detroit and Tennessee. At some point, the labels on wins don’t matter. Victories are victories in the NFL and that Week 3 performance was a huge confidence springboard for this team. Enough said.

Question 7: Audie Cole was so good in preseason and now we only see him on special teams. Why can't he get into the rotation on the defense?

Remember that Cole saw a lot of his preseason action against guys who are no longer on NFL rosters. That’s the nature of a preseason in which teams start with 90 players and then trim down to 53. Cole’s impressive preseason effort earned him a spot on the roster. But the climb to become a starter is much, much steeper. Also, there’s only room for three starting linebackers. And the Vikings' pecking order there is pretty obvious: Greenway, Brinkley, Erin Henderson. And against Tennessee on Sunday, the Vikings only played three linebackers for 20 of their 70 defensive snaps, in the nickel for much of the game.

Cole is nowhere near developed enough to challenge Brinkley for playing time at middle linebacker. Marvin Mitchell is Erin Henderson’s primary back-up at weakside linebacker. For now, Cole is a special teams cog and nothing more.

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