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A Closer Look: Ponder In Command On 1st And 2nd Down

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 19, 2012 – 8:55 am

Everyone knows it’s important for an offense to convert 3rd downs. But what’s the key for an offense to register a high 3rd-down conversion rate? A good possession receiver would help. A versatile RB coming out of the backfield would be good, too.

But the real key to converting 3rd downs is to be good on 1st and 2nd down. Vikings QB Christian Ponder subscribes to that theory, anyway, which is why he and the Vikings offensive staff have put an increased focus on performing well on 1st and 2nd down. During a press conference over the offseason, Ponder stated that the offense had a goal of completing 75% of their passes on 1st and 2nd down. Then last week Ponder reiterated the goal to Mark Craig the Star Tribune.

“We want 75 percent completions on first and second downs,” the 2nd-year QB said. “That’s the number we’re shooting for. Obviously, we were in a lot of third-and-long situations a year ago, and we want to get out of that.”

Ponder put the theory to practice on Friday night against the Buffalo Bills. He was 8 of 10 for 128 yards with 1 TD on 1st and 2nd downs, an impressive display of passing that left the team and its fans optimistic about Ponder’s continued develop and the progression of the offense. Furthermore, Ponder connected with 7 different receivers on those 8 completions, and 5 of the 8 completions resulted in a 1st down or touchdown.

Granted, a 75% completion rate on 1st and 2nd down for a whole season is certainly an ambitious goal. Last year, Drew Brees set an NFL record for overall completion percentage at 71.2%, and he was 73.1% on 1st down and 70.4% on 2nd down. So if the guy who set an NFL record for overall completion percent wasn’t able to attain the goal, is it realistic for Ponder to do it in his first full year as a starter? Some may say no, but Vikings fans have to like that their QB as a high expectation of performance for himself and the team.

Ponder attained the goal on Friday night. Yes, it was a preseason game in which Ponder exited during the 2nd quarter. But it’s a sign that Ponder is progressing. And it’s a sign that the Vikings will be better on 3rd downs in 2012.


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Vikings Run Defense Back To Form vs. Buffalo

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 19, 2012 – 7:34 am

A lot changes from year-to-year in the NFL. But one thing you’ve been able to count on year-in and year-out in recent seasons is a stout Vikings run defense. The Vikings ranked #1 against the run from 2006-08 and have finished outside of the Top 10 just once since 2006.

But you wouldn’t have known that from watching the Vikings preseason opener last week in San Francisco. Thanks in some part to a 78-yard TD run by QB Colin Kaepernick but mostly to poor execution by Vikings defenders, the Vikings allowed 260 rushing yards and 1 TD on 42 carries against the 49ers, including 198 yards and a score on 21 carries in the 1st half. For a team used to stopping the run with the best of them and for a defensive-minded head coach who’s part architect of the Vikings vaunted rushing defense and was also a member of the 1985 Chicago Bears defense, that was unacceptable.

And so after a week of corrections in training camp and a renewed focus to stop the run, the Vikings defense responded big-time this past Friday night against the Buffalo Bills. The Vikings were stingy versus the run, permitting Bills runners just 68 total yards on 20 carries (3.4 yards per carry), with just 27 yards on 8 carries in the 1st half.

“Well, we talked a bit about how we want to play run defense and we wanted to see some improvement in that area,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said after the game. “We know with the new faces that we have on defense that it’s going to take a little bit of time; it’s going to be a process. We wanted to see improvement and we did.”

It’s difficult to gauge exactly when the Vikings starters left the game based on the play-by-play, but suffice it to say it was the Vikings first-team defense that did the most damage to Buffalo’s running game. In its first two offensive series on Friday night, the Bills offense had runs of 3, 1, -2 and -8 yards. On the third series, Buffalo gained 25 yards, but then the Vikings allowed just 8 total yards on the next two series.

Stopping the run with that type of effectiveness is crucial to the Vikings defense. Much of the talk this past offseason surrounding the Vikings defense was about improving against the pass. That’s all well and fine, but if teams can run the ball against you, then it doesn’t matter how good you are against the pass. Frazier and Co. certainly realize that.

“We’ve built our defense on being able to stop the run and getting up to the quarterback with our pass rushes,” Frazier explained. “We don’t have a chance if people can be balanced. We have to be able to defend the run, and tonight we did a much better job of it. We will have to continue to work on it and continue to improve in that area, but that’s something we want to be good at.”

On Friday night, the Vikings were very good at it.


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