Sunday slant: Coordinator questions to solve

Bill Musgrave (Jon Dahlin/Viking Update)

The Vikings' bad all-around performance in Detroit left numerous questions on offense and defense. It's up to the coordinators to make the right adjustments this week or face increased scrutiny.

The starting quarterback and offensive coordinator are two fan favorites to throw eggs at in any NFL city.

Christian Ponder has already been sliced apart and dissected, not only for his three-interception performance in last Sunday's regular-season opener, but for a lackluster preseason and inconsistent 2012 that left coaches optimistic and fans scratching their heads.

But what about the coordinators, both offensive and defensive, for the Vikings? They can share in the critique of all that went wrong last Sunday, and there was plenty to keep the post-game whine lines filled with vile bile.

Offense often gets the first blame, and that's the case here. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave had several questions to answer last week in the wake of the 34-24 loss to the Lions. Where was exciting rookie receiver Cordarrelle Pattterson, who played only five snaps? What's up with Ponder? And how come Adrian Peterson only gained 15 yards on his last 17 carries?

Musgrave's answers to Patterson inquiries left much to be desired. He said there isn't anything Patterson needs to do to earn more playing time, said he will be involved in two-receiver sets as well as three, and said there just weren't enough plays to really get him involved. But Patterson could be part of the solution to generating more offensive plays if he is given the ball and allowed to use his elusive skills.

Strike one.

When it comes to Ponder, Musgrave admitted the quarterback "definitely was put in some tough positions and that's part of the art of quarterbacking."

Ponder most definitely deserves criticism, too, and admitted to some dumb mistakes, but rolling him to his left simply wasn't effective. Eventually, Ponder will either get it – the hot seat is getting hotter – or take a seat. But allowing him to take advantage of eight- and sometime nine-man boxes has to invoke the evolution of the passing game this year.

Strike two.

As for Peterson, equal parts blame and explanation need to be part of the answer and I don't see that falling exclusively on Musgrave. The offensive line did Peterson and Ponder no favors. So far, in limited preseason action and in the regular-season opener, Matt Kalil has struggled at left tackle, and the defensive tackle combination of Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh not only won the battle of the bulge in the middle, they also confused the interior line with the occasional undetected stunt. Ponder was sacked three times. Peterson was dropped for negative yardage on five rushing attempts.

"I think the defensive front proved tough to block. We did miss some blocks. We had some negative runs, which is uncharacteristic," Musgrave said. "Usually when we run it with Adrian once, twice, three times in a row we end up in third-and-manageable or we have ourselves a first down. On Sunday in Detroit when we would run it, we ended up with minus yardage and that's uncharacteristic for us."

Peterson's ineffectiveness after his opening 78-yard touchdown was a failure, but the only blame Musgrave should bear there is the formations he employed that brought receivers closer to the tackles and thereby brought an extra defender in the box. That's on him. The lack of blocking is on the linemen themselves.

He fouled that one off and avoided the strikeout. The rest of his at-bat could be decided against the Bears.

On defense, coordinator Alan Williams faces a similar challenge to the one he had in Detroit. The Vikings knew Matthew Stafford was going to get rid of the ball quickly and he did. That's been the storyline time after time when the Vikings face the Lions.

Stafford had a 75 completion percentage (15 of 20) for 210 yards when getting rid of the ball in 2.5 seconds or less, according to ESPN Stats and Info. Bears QB Jay Cutler completed 69 percent (11 of 16) for 68 yards in passes he got rid of in 2.5 seconds or less last Sunday.

Quicker passes have been an emphasis for the Bears under their new offensive-minded head coach, Marc Trestman.

"He gets rid of the ball, whether it be the ones that are down the field or the quick-rhythm, three-step plays," Williams said of Cutler. "He does an unbelievable job of getting the ball out of his hands, and when you're close and even when you have a hand on him, he's Houdini. He escapes and gets out of there and runs the ball as well. He's a formidable opponent."

But the stats say Cutler has even more time in the pocket than Stafford.

Last year, Ponder and Stafford had the least time in the pocket among NFC North quarterbacks, according to ESPN. Ponder had 2.61 seconds and Stafford 2.62. Cutler had 2.74 and Aaron Rodgers had 2.82.

But Stafford was only sacked on 3.8 percent of his drop-backs. Ponder was next at 5.8, then Cutler at 7.7 and Rodgers at 8 percent.

"We don't want a lot of long drops and long routes down the field," Cutler said of Trestman's offense. "We want to get rid of it pretty quickly and let those guys on the outside do their work."

Last week, Jared Allen had the Vikings' only sack, but the Bears signed Jermon Bushrod to play left tackle. In three games against Bushrod, Allen has no sacks.

Williams' defense was gashed several different ways Sunday in Detroit, but getting pressure on Cutler this week may be the most important key to making sure Brandon Marshall doesn't get loose deep with a game-winning reception.

QUICK SLANTS

  • If the NFL was looking to minimize kickoff returns under the umbrella of player safety, they are succeeding. Look no further than the Vikings-Lions game as evidence that one of the most exciting plays in the game is dying. All five of Blair Walsh's kickoff went for touchbacks. On the other end, the first five Lions kickoffs were also touchbacks, but Patterson finally had enough and returned the final two from 8 yards deep in the end zone. Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said Patterson didn't get frustrated but remained "locked in."

    "We like a guy like him because he's a game-changer in our opinion," Priefer said. "That's one of the reasons why we drafted him – he's a pretty special guy, so hopefully we'll get him some more opportunities this week."

    Or maybe not. All of Chicago's kickoffs were touchbacks last Sunday.

    "That's the NFL. That's the way the league has changed in terms of limiting the amount of kickoff returns," Priefer said. "That doesn't mean I have to like it."

  • Kalil knows he has struggled lately protecting Ponder, but is confident he will turn it around.

    "I know what I need to fix. I've got my mind straight," he said. "I'm not freaked out. I had a bad game. … That really wasn't a confidence booster. It's just things you've got to fix. Learning football from my brother and my father, you've got to forget those things."

  • Cutler, who has earned a reputation as being pouty, provided a mostly amicable conference call with Minnesota reporters last Wednesday, but there was one classic Cutler. Asked how he has been able to brush off criticism, which would seem to be a compliment wrapped in the question, he responded: "That's what you guys get paid to do, to break things down and to criticize as much as you can. It is what it is. The guys in the locker room are used to it. It's a tough business. We've just got to make sure we keep things in the locker room and rally around each other."

  • John Sullivan was asked about the similarities between Detroit's defensive tackles and Chicago's tandem of Henry Melton and Stephen Paea.

    "The Lions are very stout up front, so is Chicago. They're both big challenges, especially as road games, but those are the games you have to win if you want to be a great football team," he said. "We've got to find a way to pull it off this week."

    Peterson also complimented Chicago's defensive line, but added: "They're not Detroit."

  • Despite the Bears having an alumni event Sunday at Soldier Field, Frazier, a starting cornerback during the Bears' Super Bowl-winning season in 1985, will have other matters to address.

    "I'm sure some of them are going to contact me; some have to say hello, but it's a business trip for me so it's a little bit different," Frazier said. "I can't participate in any of those functions that they'll have, but we'll text back and forth."


    Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
  • VikingUpdate.com Recommended Stories