EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier sees an onion when he sees the team’s passing offense lately.
Finishing under 100 yards passing for the second time in three games, Minnesota coaches plan to head into full-out evaluations of quarterback Christian Ponder, the schemes and game plans of offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, the route running and separation of the receivers and the protection from the offensive line.
“We were looking at both protection and what we were doing route-wise and also what we’re doing schematically when people are lining up and playing press coverage outside and single high safety, just some of the things we were doing schematically and what we have to do to uncover our wide receivers,” Frazier said Monday. “Also what we’re asking our quarterback to do when we get in that type of coverage form teams who are so bent on stopping the run. But we’ve got to peel it back a little and figure what we need to do to take advantage of what we are going to see probably for a while until we show we can consistently complete passes.”
Despite rushing for 243 yards on Sunday, the Vikings’ passing game repeatedly stalled again in the 30-20 loss at Seattle, their third loss in four games. In a third of their games this season, they’ve finished with 100 yards or less in net passing in what is widely considered a passing league.
“It’s very frustrating,” said receiver Percy Harvin, who could miss next week’s game with a sprained ankle. “I would be lying if I told you different. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’re all still confident we can turn this thing around. We do have a lot of work to do so we’ve got to see if we can get it done.”
Harvin, who leads the league with 62 catches, wouldn’t say whether the issues have to do with the schemes.
Frazier meanwhile, while noting improvements are needed in all aspects of the passing game, debunked a couple of the most prevalent responses recently when discussing Ponder and the offenses inability to get any consistency or rhythm in the passing game.
Ponder has been sacked 14 times in the past four games as teams have increased the pressure from the pass rush and resorted to more blitzing to both slow running back Adrian Peterson, forcing Ponder into mistakes. Seattle had four sacks on Sunday.
“For the most part we did a good job against the pressures that they brought yesterday,” Frazier said. “I don’t think it was a major issue for us. We just didn’t find a way to complete the ball on a consistent basis and convert some third downs to keep the chains moving, especially in the second half. So, the pressures weren’t a major factor yesterday.”
As a result of the increasing pressure, Ponder has seemed less comfortable in waiting for plays to develop. The confident second-year starter from earlier this season, who was among the league leaders in completion percentage and quarterback rating early, has begun to feel the pass rush sooner and starts to move.
“If you get a lot of pressure usually that will create that,” Frazier said. “You’ll start seeing things when they’re not true. But we haven’t had consistent pressure. We have had moments where there has been pressure but we’ve got to help him. We’ve got to figure out what’s creating that when it does happen and help him to get past that.”
Frazier is sticking by his young quarterback, knowing Ponder needs to learn from the adversity. Frazier said he hasn’t felt the need to sit down Ponder and go to backup quarterback Joe Webb. Frazier said he hasn’t thought about giving Webb some time in order for Ponder to be able to sit back and watch the game and see things from a different perspective.
And most of all, Frazier said he doesn’t feel as if Ponder’s confidence has waned as the issues have mounted. As the struggles have continued though, Ponder seems reluctant to let the ball go with receivers being covered. His accuracy has dipped — and Frazier maintained the accuracy hasn’t been affected by the knee injury Ponder has played through — and Ponder can’t get on the same page as his receivers.
“At our level, it’s not very often that guys are going to be completely wide open on a consistent basis,” Frazier said. “So part of being a good quarterback at our level is throwing into tight windows. He’s capable of doing that. We’ve all seen him do it and just got to consistently do it because if we get those opportunities on Sunday in this ballgame we’ll have to take advantage of it.”
But the layers of the onion will be peeled, including a look at the routes, schemes and game plans being developed.
“There’s some things that we’ve got to look at,” Frazier said. “Some of those things we’re asking our guys to do route-wise, as well as, are we putting them in the best position to be successful and are we doing a good enough job of protecting with some of the things that we’re asking them to do?”