Craig: Rough start for Vikings' Jennings

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 11, 2013 - 12:45 AM

Other WRs on new teams were productive; the Vikings need to extend drives and target the ex-Packers star more as the season goes on.

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Greg Jennings (15) could not catch a pass that was thrown to far over Lions defensive back Darius Slay (30) during NFL action at Ford Field between the MInnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions Sunday September 8, 2013 in Detroit, MI. Detroit beat Minnesota 34-24.

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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Anquan Boldin switched Super Bowl teams, faced a returning division champion and opened with 13 catches for 208 yards and a touchdown.

Wes Welker traded Tom Brady for Peyton Manning, faced the reigning Super Bowl champs and opened with nine catches for 67 yards and two touchdowns.

Danny Amendola left St. Louis for Welker’s old job and helped Brady wiggle out of an upset in Buffalo with 10 catches, seven of them third-down conversions, including two on a last-minute, game-winning drive.

Greg Jennings went from Green Bay to the Vikings, opened against a Lions team that ended last year with eight consecutive losses and caught … three balls for 33 yards in a 10-point loss?

Don’t blame Jennings. More so than any other NFL player, receivers are at the mercy of everyone else around them, particularly the quarterback. That’s often the excuse used to explain why so many of them are so darn moody.

Jennings doesn’t appear to be a moody guy, at least not by NFL receiver standards. But his patience certainly will be tested. That $47.5 million he signed on for will buy a lot of things, but two things it can’t purchase are: 1, Green Bay’s offense; and 2, Aaron Rodgers and/or Brett Favre, the only QBs Jennings played with before teaming up with Christian Ponder.

“Obviously, there are some things we need to correct,” Jennings said after Sunday’s 34-24 loss at Ford Field. “It’s all about sustaining drives and getting first downs.”

Those are things Jennings knows a lot about. In his seven years in Green Bay, Jennings never had a season in which fewer than 61.1 percent of his passes went for first downs.

Sunday, Jennings had one first-down catch for 20 yards. On 10 third-down plays, Jennings was targeted only twice. One attempt was badly overthrown under pressure and the other was a 4-yard dump off on third-and-11.

“One of the reasons we acquired him was to help move the chains and also for his ability to run after the catch,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “There are some things that we can do a little bit different and we’ll look at that and try to have a better plan when we line up against Chicago this week.”

Frazier spent a large portion of his Monday news conference answering questions about offensive weapons that weren’t fired nearly enough. Of course, that’s going to happen when your team converts only two of 10 third-down situations, holds the ball for 23 minutes, 41 seconds and runs only 53 plays.

When it came to third-down conversions in Week 1, only the Browns (1-for-14) converted fewer than the Vikings. As far as number of plays, only the Panthers (49) and Chargers (51) ran fewer. And, yes, the Vikings’ total of 53 was exactly the number of plays that Chip Kelly’s hyper Eagles ran in the first half of Monday night’s game at Washington.

On the six third-down plays in which Jennings wasn’t the target and the Vikings didn’t convert, an argument could be made that three passes should have been directed Jennings’ way instead:

• On a third-and-11, Jennings was in the left slot. Ponder looked right, but ran from a collapsing pocket perhaps a split second too early before looking to Jennings on the left. Ponder gained 2 yards.

• On a third-and-5, Jennings was in the right slot. With a clean pocket, Ponder looked right, but stared down Jarius Wright, who had lined up wide right. Lions cornerback Bill Bentley jumped the route but dropped what should have been an easy pick-six.

• On a third-and-1 late in the game, Jennings was in the left slot. Ponder was sacked, but appeared to be looking at Jennings with just enough time to pull the trigger. Jennings was wide open 3 yards beyond the first down with room to run.

Jennings was asked after the game if the Lions did anything to try to limit his opportunities.

“Nope,” he said.

But Jennings didn’t seem upset. He has to understand that he’s kind of like Dorothy waking up in the Land of Oz. That wasn’t Kansas and this sure as heck isn’t Green Bay.

“These are things you learn from,” Jennings said. “It’s the first game of the season. It’s not our last game. Was this an important game? Absolutely. Is this a game where we put our heads down and throw in the towel? Absolutely not. You have to learn from the good games and the bad games.”

 

Mark Craig • mcraig@startribune.com

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