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: Ponder criticism is premature; clock management concerns more valid

Posted by: under Quarterbacks, Vikings, Bears, Lions, Packers, Leslie Frazier, Adrian Peterson, Chad Greenway, Leslie Frazier Updated: September 19, 2012 - 2:12 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: I get a kick out of people picking on Ponder. The kid has made good progress from last year. You have to learn to walk before you learn to run. This is a process and is working the way it should. Am I wrong?

I always try to take vociferous criticism of quarterbacks with a grain of salt. After all, often the most outspoken critics are folks who are just venting with little substance behind their reviews. But I will admit I was surprised by the heavy anti-Christian Ponder vibe that seemed to surface after Sunday’s loss in Indy, particularly after a performance in which he went 27-for-35 for 245 yards and two touchdowns.

Was it a perfect game? By no means. Ponder’s second quarter fumble was costly, leading to an Indianapolis field goal. Ponder also took four sacks and was maybe a tad too hesitant to throw the ball down field. But if you’re being realistic with your Ponder hopes for 2012, what you’re looking for is a guy who is:

  • a)      showing greater command of the offense—check
  • b)      not throwing a bunch of silly interceptions – check  
  • c)       able to bounce back from struggles and still play with confidence – check  

That Ponder has led six scoring drives in the fourth quarter or overtime the past two weeks is something that should be celebrated, a sign that he has the poise and resolve to keep the offense fighting. And after two weeks, Ponder is one of five starting quarterbacks – along with Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Alex Smith and Blaine Gabbert -- who has yet to throw a pick. So yes, there are signs of progress. This is the way it should work.

And we’ll gain an even greater of Ponder’s growth when he faces a standout NFL defense Sunday against the 49ers.

Question 2: Do you think Ponder will ever be better than Rodgers, Cutler or Stafford? Or do we have to wait until they retire for the Vikings’ QB to better than the Bears’, Pack’s or Lions’?

Wow. Those are some lofty goals. The Packers quarterback is the reigning MVP and still just 28 years old. Stafford threw for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns last year and is only 24.

Cutler would be the easiest to catch, particularly with his penchant for melting down when things start going haywire. The Bears quarterback sure seems to have a habit of checking out when things go awry and is stuck in the middle of melodrama in Chicago this week after his freak out at Lambeau Field last week. Ponder is wired differently than that and handles himself with a much greater measure of composure. But even with that said, he’s made 12 career starts now and has basically been a major contributor to just two wins to date. So let’s not raise the bar prematurely.

The real victory for the Vikings won’t necessarily be whether Ponder surpasses any of his quarterback brethren in the division with his productivity. But if he is still the Vikings’ starter when any one of those other three teams moves on from their present quarterback, that will be a huge, huge deal.

Question 3: What type of coverage was the secondary playing on Indianapolis’ last drive? And defensive tackling seemed to be an issue. Lots of missed opportunities during the game.

With 31 seconds left, the Colts took over at their own 20. On the first play, the Vikings d-line did a fantastic job of quickly caving the pocket and applying heat. But Andrew Luck spun away from trouble, rolled left and put a ridiculously sharp throw into the chest of Donnie Avery. The young quarterback simply made a play with a laser throw that hit Avery where he had settled between corner Chris Cook and safety Harrison Smith. The throw had such zip that Chad Greenway’s diving attempt to deflect it failed. It’s hard to fault the defense a whole lot there.

It’s the next snap that bothered me some. On first-and-10 from their own 40, the Vikings dialed up a safety blitz. But it looked like Harrison Smith may have showed it too early. The Colts did a great job of picking it up. Luck never had heat and had a chance to zero in on Reggie Wayne along the right sideline. I asked Leslie Frazier what the design of that coverage was on that play – it seemed like rookie corner Josh Robinson was giving Wayne way too much cushion – and here is what the Vikings coach had to say Monday: “We ran a zone pressure and we were in something like a 3-deep behind the zone pressure. I'd like for Josh to push it a little bit more. We think that would help him, but the pressure is what you're counting on. We didn't get enough pressure. They recognized it and they did a good job of blocking the pressure. [Josh] is under the gun a little bit in that situation.

Question 4: Regarding coaching complaint specifics: There is simply no sense of urgency at any time with this team. They have been ultra patient on offense with a dink and dunk passing game and a "lite" rushing game. I'd like to see more shots taken down the field -- like they've done late in the last two games. I want to see more rushing plays where Peterson gets ball at full speed instead of the delayed handoffs.  … Since the Denny Green era it seems we've been poor at clock management. It worked out in Week 1 but I would argue we could have picked up the pace some against Indy in the fourth quarter.

Question 5: Specifically on coaching flaws - Clock management. Regardless of the opportunity to win, the clock management in the fourth quarter as far as taking our sweet time to huddle, walking around slowly, and the general lack of hustle when down by two touchdowns was very poor coaching. Why doesn't Coach Frazier understand basic clock management?

Question 6: On the final drive why did we not use more of the clock? I thought we used the clock poorly. Nothing like getting beat by a rookie QB!

Oh, so I’m getting the impression there was some aggravation with the Vikings’ clock management late in Sunday’s game. This is justifiable.

The Vikings were down 20-6 when they got the ball with 10:10 to play. They needed to score two touchdowns to tie the game with a quick defensive stop sandwiched in between. And they had only managed to come away with two field goals from their first seven drives. So why was there such a lack of urgency?

It took the Vikings more than 5 minutes to march 54 yards for their first TD of the day.

Immediately after the game, I asked Christian Ponder how he manages the clock, trying to recognize the need to hurry without letting that hurry become rushed panic.

“Knowing you just have to score,” he said. “And if you don’t score, then the hurrying up doesn’t really mean anything. So we knew we had to score and execute and play well. If you start rushing things, you’re not going to perform well. We know there was a sense of urgency but we kept calm and we executed.”

Left guard Charlie Johnson offered this synopsis Monday afternoon: “It’s tough. A lot of times you can kind of get in a panic if you start rushing. It’s in the back of your mind that that may be only chance you have to get that touchdown. But Sunday, honestly we never felt like things were moving too slow. Nobody on the offense felt that. We were more zeroed in on making sure we did what we had to do to get the ball in the end zone.”

Still, even though the Vikings managed to tie the game with 31 seconds left, their plodding pace really gave them no margin for error and didn’t seem to be the best approach. We’ll see how they manage the clock going forward.

As for leaving the Colts too much time at the end of regulation? When you need a touchdown to tie, you score when you can score. The Vikings got first-and-goal on a 20-yard catch by Adrian Peterson with 1:20 left, then got another first down two plays later thanks to a defensive holding penalty against Justin King. Kyle Rudolph’s game-tying touchdown catch with 31 seconds left came on second down. Had that fallen incomplete, the Vikings still would have had time to get two more snaps off.

Question 7: Seems like our LBs may be one of the biggest problems, if not the biggest with our defense. Seems like the only time I hear their name during the game is when they get burned, miss tackles etc. Greenway not worth the money we paid him. Thoughts?

From the opening of training camp, we’ve identified the linebacking corps as a potential problem area with the Vikings lacking much quality depth. There were preseason worries about Jasper Brinkley’s ability to handle middle linebacker responsibilities. But so far Brinkley has been OK. He certainly hasn’t hurt the defensive effort.

Erin Henderson made the most costly mistake Sunday with his failure in coverage on Wayne’s 30-yard touchdown catch just before halftime. Mark Craig documents that error here. It was a damaging moment for certain. But Henderson was pretty good the rest of the day. He had a team-best 12 tackles and now leads the Vikings with two sacks. In the second quarter, he delivered a clutch stuff on a third-and-1 run by Colts tight end Dwayne Allen. Henderson had three tackles for loss in the game.

As for Greenway, he seems to be playing much better through two weeks than he did for long stretches a year ago. I don’t think he’ll ever have enough speed and athleticism to be a factor covering really good tight ends. But he is making plays. The most memorable from Sunday was a near safety on Colts back Donald Brown late in the third quarter when Indianapolis was pinned at its own 2.

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