After winning 26-23 in overtime in Week 1, Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier was asked if he was bracing for a “wild ride” this season. Frazier simple answer was, “It could be.”
Sunday’s 23-20 loss at the Indianapolis Colts was another wild ride.
Frazier had also talked last week about being ready to play a lot of close games, the importance of finishing games, and finishing even during a game the Vikings might not have played their best. Of course, at the time Frazier was talking about Minnesota surviving last week. He could say a lot of the same this week, but be referring to a loss.
Minnesota rallied late to tie the game, but Indianapolis and rookie quarterback Andrew Luck finished the game with one final drive. The Vikings sit at 1-1 after two weeks and have had big swings, positively and negatively, in each game.
Here’s how Minnesota stacked up against the Colts:
Pass offense: C-plus
Patience and efficiency are the key attributes right now to the passing offense. Ponder completed 77.1 percent of his passes (27 of 35) for 245 yards and two touchdowns. He’s been over 70 percent passing and a quarterback rating over 100 in each of the first two games. He finished Sunday at a 114.6 quarterback rating. But the yards have come methodically and late when the Vikings have been in holes. There have been very few big plays. The quick-strike passing to receiver Percy Harvin has been the biggest threat, hoping Harvin can turn short passes into big plays. Ponder and the offense need to get going earlier. And it can’t be forgotten that one of Ponder’s two touchdowns came on the surprise double-tip which receiver Stephen Burton was able to stay with and catch.
Harvin has been nothing short of amazing in his first two games. He had a career-high 12 catches Sunday for 104 yards. Ponder wasn’t really able to attack the Colts’ defense because receivers weren’t able to get separation down the field. Michael Jenkins did end up with five catches for 43 yards. Tight end Kyle Rudolph had three catches for 35 yards and the tying touchdown, all in the second half. The end-game numbers are all in Minnesota’s favor and some don’t look too bad, but those plays weren’t there when the Vikings really needed them.
Run offense: C-minus
In contrast, Minnesota’s running game did have a bit of success early. The Vikings ran for 22 yards on their first series and 33 on their second drive, each ending with a field goal. After that, Adrian Peterson was bottled up and the offense went into a slide until the passing game’s success late. Minnesota still wants to establish itself as a power-running team and has the backs to do so in Peterson and Gerhart.
Peterson ended with 16 carries for 60 yards, just a 3.8 yards-per-carry average. Gerhart had five carries for 15 yards. Harvin had a 20-yard run, but also was stuffed on a 7-yard loss on his other carry. Peterson’s return has been amazing, but he’s not quite as explosive as he was in the past, that could come as the season progresses. The late rallies have also come by letting Ponder have the ball in his hands. A team with Peterson and Gerhart need to do more than 95 total yards rushing and a 3.7-yard average.
Pass defense: C-minus
The defensive numbers really are surprising and differ from the perception that comes from watching the game. The Colts finished with only 194 net yards passing. Luck completed 64.5 percent of his passes. But it seemed like Luck was able to hit on key passes when he needed to, continuing Minnesota’s defensive struggles on third down. The big blow was Donnie Avery’s 40-yard catch on Indianapolis’ first drive, which seemed to get Luck going. Antoine Winfield was beat in coverage. Luck also threw two touchdowns and no interceptions. Luck’s second touchdown was a blown coverage by linebacker Erin Henderson, who didn’t get deep enough in coverage and Reggie Wayne split the safeties for a 30-yard touchdown, which was a real backbreaker for the Vikings defense at the time.
Perhaps the biggest concern might be Minnesota’s pass-rush. Facing a Colts’ team that didn’t have two starters on the offensive line to begin the game and later had four players in new positions along the line, the Vikings again offered a bit of pressure but couldn’t finish off with many sacks. Luck was elusive enough and very aware in the pocket, but Minnesota’s defense couldn’t take advantage of a weakened offensive line. Ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison and defensive tackle Kevin Williams are still without a sack two games into the season. Yet, strangely, the Vikings held the Colts under 200 passing yards.
Run defense: B-plus
Minnesota’s standing as a strong run defense will be looking good after the first two weeks. The Colts finished with only 84 rushing yards and couldn’t use the running game to chew up some of the game clock in the second half. Donald Brown had 16 carries for just 45 yards, a 2.8-yard average. The Vikings defense is built to stop the run, and the underwhelming Brown had no room against Minnesota. Brown is quick and has good speed once he has an opening, but there were no holes or chances to turn on the speed on Sunday. Outside linebackers Chad Greenway and Henderson, in particular, seemed strong against the run.
Special teams: C
Two plays in particular keep this from being a strong grade. The most crucial was the roughing the kicker penalty on Andrew Sendejo when he bumped into punter Pat McAfee and extended an Indianapolis drive that ended with a field goal. The second was the unusual decision by backup kickoff returner Marcus Sherels to take one kickoff out of the end zone even though he was about nine yards deep. It was the only kickoff return he had Sunday, with Harvin handling the others in his usual explosive fashion. Harvin had two returns, including a 50-yarder. Sherels dropped one punt, but recovered to pick up the ball.
Rookie kicker Blair Walsh had a nearly perfect game. He hit a 51-yard field goal to become the first Vikings’ kicker to convert from 50-plus yards in consecutive games since Fuad Reveiz in 1992. He also routinely put kickoffs out of the end zone, leaving the Colts with only one return chance.
The numbers in the individual categories above favored Minnesota over Indianapolis in many cases. Two numbers that don’t fit in the above categories that ultimately might have decided the game are turnovers and penalties. The Vikings committed the game’s only turnover when Ponder was stripped on a sack and the Colts recovered. And the yardage advantages for Minnesota were over-ridden by 11 penalties for 105 yards, including many poorly-timed penalties on the Vikings. Adding to the slow-start storyline, Indianapolis converted four of its first five third-down attempts, but ended 7 of 16 on third down, another surprising stat that deceives the eyes of spectators. In the end, Minnesota did too much to hurt themselves, and didn’t find a way to finish like they had the week before. And this was all against a team that had won two games last season, one less than the Vikings, and then made sweeping changes. It wasn’t against a Super Bowl favorite like Minnesota faces next week at home against the San Francisco 49ers.