Vikings' passing game is one of few risks, rewards

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 20, 2012 - 6:58 AM

Christian Ponder's completion rate leads the NFL, but throwing only short, safe passes without mixing in many deep balls hasn't stretched the field.

Jerome Simpson was minding his own business Wednesday, headed from his locker to the cafeteria at Winter Park, when a wave of reporters walled around him before he could slip free. Simpson has been suspended for the Vikings' first two games, a league-issued punishment stemming from his March acquittal on drug charges.

And the charismatic receiver with the track-star speed will be stuck at home again Sunday when the Vikings host San Francisco.

"Shoot, man, it gets frustrating," Simpson said. "I get so riled up watching these games. I want to help so bad. And I know I can help."

Suddenly Simpson's absence from the passing attack seems as debilitating as ever. And his return for Week 4, now only five days away, has the masses intrigued.

Might he be the shot of prune juice the Vikings need to loosen up their passing attack?

"It's kind of hard to say," Simpson said with a shrug. "But I hope that I can bring a presence here that can be a big help."

Without question, the Vikings believe Simpson has the quickness and athleticism to provide the offense with the vertical threat it so badly needs. Yet, again in Week 3, they will be without him. And after struggling to get anything done down the field last weekend in Indianapolis, things certainly won't get easier when the 49ers' miserly defense visits Sunday.

Consider this data:

• In Week 1, Chicago torched Indianapolis seven times for completions of 20 yards or longer, with Jay Cutler taking shot after shot after shot at attacking an ordinary Colts secondary.

• In Week 2, the Vikings completed only one ball thrown more than 15 yards down the field against Indianapolis. That came with 4 seconds left with virtually no one covering Devin Aromashodu on his game-ending 19-yard catch.

• And the 49ers? Well, for the first three quarters Sunday at home, they stopped Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford from completing a single pass of more than 12 yards. Heading into the fourth quarter of that 27-19 San Francisco victory, Stafford was 11-for-20 for only 89 yards.

Risk management

So just how much hope do the Vikings really have this week, with Simpson still out and quarterback Christian Ponder still being asked to be careful with his throws? Oh, and wouldn't now be a good time to mention that excessive risk-taking isn't always wise against a 49ers defense that tied Green Bay with an NFL-best 38 takeaways last season?

The Vikings called 44 passing plays against Indianapolis. Ponder was sacked four times, scrambled for short gains on three other occasions and had two passing attempts negated by penalties. The second-year quarterback finished a steady 27-for-35 for 245 yards and two touchdowns without an interception.

Most of his passes were of the high-percentage variety -- Ponder's .758 completion percentage through two games leads the NFL.

"It's a big deal," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "The hard work that he put in during the offseason, honing in on where the ball should go and what spot the ball should be placed at, it's paying off."

But might the Vikings be better off taking a few more chances? Ponder's two longest completions in Indianapolis were a pair of 20-yarders. One was a quick-hitter to Percy Harvin. The other was a dump to Adrian Peterson near the line of scrimmage.

"On pretty much every play there are options to go downfield," Ponder said Wednesday. "If we get a certain look from a defense, we will take a shot. But right now we're not getting those certain looks. ... We aren't going to force things downfield. And we're just going to take what the defense gives us."

Deep impact

Michael Jenkins had five catches for 48 yards last week but couldn't come down with the only deep ball thrown to him, a fourth-quarter bomb toward the end zone in which he didn't use his body well enough to prevent cornerback Jerraud Powers from knocking it down.

"It was a tough play," Jenkins said. "I had my hands on it. But he made a play, too."

Jenkins was asked whether the Vikings had a general philosophy on when to take shots and when to be more calculated with the deep-ball gambles.

"That's not really up to us," he said. "That's up to [offensive coordinator Bill] Musgrave and the coaches for when they want to attack. We're always going to try to make the most out of every play. But it's their job to dictate what happens."

Added Aromashodu: "There may be some [opportunities] out there. But we can only go with what's been called."

It all circles back to a major challenge for an eager offense now readying to face one of the NFL's best defenses.

Said Frazier: "You'd like to get some explosives [plays for more than 20 yards]. We talk about it all the time."

No wonder Simpson is getting so antsy.

  • VIKINGS WEEK 3

    Up next: Noon Sunday vs. San Francisco • Mall of America Field • TV: Ch. 9 (100.3-FM, 1130-AM)

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