If only it were as simple as handing Adrian Peterson the ball and piggybacking him down the field. But it’s not. ¶ A year ago, Peterson rushed for 409 yards in two regular-season games against the Packers. The Vikings lost the first one with Peterson rushing for 210 yards. In the rematch, Peterson went for 199, but the Vikings still needed a last-second field goal and the best game of quarterback Christian Ponder’s young career to win by three points. ¶ Translation: Even “Purple Jesus” needs help parting 11 NFL defenders.
Here are three things that will help the Vikings improve upon last year’s 31st-ranked passing attack and provide the kind of balance that could make Peterson even harder to handle than the guy who ran for 2,097 yards en route to last year’s NFL Most Valuable Player award:
Speedy transition for Jennings
Receiver Greg Jennings spent the past eight seasons catching 425 passes from two Hall of Fame-bound quarterbacks with rocket arms who knew the ins and outs of his exceptional but unusual route-running skills. The question now is how quickly Ponder, who doesn’t have that kind of arm strength and isn’t Canton-bound, can get in sync with Jennings.
“Greg is not a typical route runner,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “He does a lot of stemming in his routes. If he wants to run an out route, he is not going to just run straight up the field and break out, but he is going to stem the defensive back inside, and try to get his hips turned, get his feet out of whack, and then he will break outside.
“When he releases from press coverages, he is not a guy that is just going to release to you, but he does a lot of shaking at the line of scrimmage. For a quarterback, you need to adjust to how he runs routes, and how effective he is at getting it done, because you don’t want to change what Greg has done to this point.”
Jennings has been complimentary of Ponder but has mentioned on a few occasions that the young QB still needs to learn how to trust his receivers. Jennings is a difficult receiver to learn, and he and Ponder haven’t gotten much preseason work together. So this obviously will be an area to keep an eye on early in the season.
Tapping Patterson’s athleticism
Jennings never was a one-man receiving corps in Green Bay. The Packers’ knack for acquiring waves of excellent wideouts rivals their ability to spot future Hall of Fame quarterbacks that others have overlooked.
In other words, Jennings needs other receivers to help distract the defense. A bounce-back year from Jerome Simpson or a breakout year from Jarius Wright would be nice. But the most explosive scenario could be rookie first-round draft pick Cordarrelle Patterson immediately living up to his status as the most physically gifted receiver on the roster.
“You don’t teach that kind of talent,” Jennings said. “He has it. He has the skill set. He knows what he can do out there. It’s just a matter of being in football shape and making sure he does it every play, not just one play here and one play there.”
Patterson has unusual speed considering it comes in a 6-2, 220-pound package. But it’s his raw route-running that’s in question and could limit his effectiveness as an every-down receiver this season.
“Cordarrelle is not a bad route-runner at all,” Jennings said. “I think he just has to learn how to control his speed and use it. He’s a young guy. His talent is going to do a lot for him. But it’s using that talent and kind of honing it the right way to where he can be a heck of a player in this league. I’m sure he will be. But I’m talking about right now. He could be a dynamic player for us right now.”
Sharpening Ponder’s accuracy
For a variety of reasons, not all of them his fault, Ponder hasn’t been an accurate passer since he completed 68.8 percent of his passes as a junior at Florida State.
His .618 career college completion percentage, which isn’t good enough at the NFL level, was a topic of discussion at Winter Park before the Vikings selected Ponder 12th overall in the 2011 draft.
“When we were searching for a quarterback, we were trying to answer that question of whether a guy can improve his accuracy,” Frazier said. “We think that there are some things that you can do to help a guy improve his accuracy, but if there is one characteristic that can be a flaw when you are trying to develop a quarterback, it is the lack of accuracy.”
Ponder’s completion percentage in 27 NFL games: .592.
“We’re always working on footwork because that kind of dictates the timing and how you want to be on balance when you throw the ball,” offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. “Once you get to the NFL, your throwing motion is what it is. But footwork and working on the mental processing, seeing what you see and eventually being able to digest it and make a real quick decision, helps the accuracy.”
Having the league MVP in the backfield helps. So does a savvy route runner such as Jennings, two big receiving tight ends in Kyle Rudolph and a finally-healthy John Carlson, and a dynamic run-after-the-catch guy in Patterson.
“That’s the whole game; the quarterback as the distributor cap,” Musgrave said. “He doesn’t have to do it all himself. He just needs to put it the right spot so the other guys have a chance to make a play.”