Vikings report card: turnovers tell the story

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings will watch the tape from Sunday’s 34-24 loss at Detroit on Sunday and see plenty of miscues.
Minnesota did have some bright spots — hello Jerome Simpson — but struggled in too many facets to go on the road and beat the Lions. Four turnovers were the biggest culprit in the season-opening loss and ultimately lead to poor grades in our weekly report.
Here’s how each phase graded out for the Vikings on Sunday:
Pass offense: D
Simpson had his best game since signing with Minnesota last year and showed just what the team thought it was getting when they took the chance on signing him. Simpson is healthy after being hobbled all last year and he looked it on Sunday. He had seven catches on eight targets for 140 yards and made a highlight diving catch on a pass that appeared to be out of reach over his head. It was Simpson’s best game since going for eight catches and 152 yards in Week 10 of the 2011 season.
Three interceptions by quarterback Christian Ponder outweigh any improvement at the receiver position. Greg Jennings made a couple of good catches on poorly-thrown passes, but wasn’t much of a threat. Ponder just continues to have baffling moments. He was indecisive, felt pressure in the pocket and was inaccurate with his throws. The final numbers for Ponder: 18 of 28 for 236 yards. He was sacked three times and had one touchdown to Adrian Peterson to go with the three interceptions. In the past, Minnesota might have taken a 236-yard effort from Ponder and relied on Peterson running the ball. But the turnovers can’t happen. Minnesota is now 3-13 in Ponder’s career when he throws an interception. Tight end Kyle Rudolph was mostly invisible as well, with just two catches for 27 yards. Third receiver Jarius Wright didn’t have a catch and rookie Cordarrelle Patterson caught one pass for 10 yards.
Run offense: C-minus
Minnesota ended up with more than 100 yards rushing as a team and Peterson did have an explosive 78-yard touchdown run on his first carry of the season to give the Vikings early momentum. Peterson is such a threat and he had three total touchdowns. But Peterson didn’t have much running room after his first carry, getting 15 yards on his final 17 carries for an 18-carry, 93-yard day.
The offensive line didn’t give Peterson much of a chance to get going. He was hit early after getting the handoff on several chances. Minnesota was without Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton on Sunday. Tight end Rhett Ellison opened a hole for Peterson on his big run with a lead block. But the holes weren’t there often with Ellison and undrafted rookie fullback Zach Line getting Felton’s responsibility. Peterson had averaged over 100 yards per game against Detroit in his career but the running game had limited success after Peterson’s first carry.
Pass defense: D
Coming into the game, hearing Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford would throw for over 300 yards wouldn’t have been much of a shock. He surpassed 300 yards in both games against the Vikings last year. But Stafford finished 28 of 43 for 357 yards and two touchdowns with Calvin Johnson only going for four catches and 37 yards.
Minnesota didn’t let Johnson, or any other receivers, take the top off the defense. Instead, the Lions went with quick, short passes to beat the Vikings underneath with the secondary dropping back. The biggest blow was the screen Reggie Bush took 77 yards for a touchdown, breaking through the middle of the Minnesota defense untouched. The two running backs, Bush and Joique Bell, combined for nine catches and 168 yards. Linebacker Erin Henderson intercepted Stafford on a pass that defensive tackle Fred Evans tipped at the line, but the Lions’ passing game again had its way against the Vikings.
Run defense: C-Minus
The biggest surprise, defensively, for Minnesota was the inability to stop Detroit on the ground. Without stalwart defensive tackle Kevin Williams in the middle, the Vikings were beaten repeatedly along the line and were exploited in the middle of the defense without Williams, with Evans, Letroy Guion and Sharrif Floyd trying to hold inside and new middle linebacker Erin Henderson caught out of position.
Bush had 21 carries for 90 yards for a 4.3 yard-per-carry average. Bell averaged 4.2 yards per carry, with six carries for 25 yards. Bell also finished the drives for Bush, who was stopped at the 1-yard line twice, with two touchdowns. Detroit hasn’t been known for a running attack or the ability to pound the ball up the middle, but Bush shined in his first game for the Lions and the Vikings missed Williams in run support.
Special teams: C
Kicker Blair Walsh had another flawless outing. He converted his only field goal, staying perfect from 50-plus yards in his career with a 52-yard field goal. He also had touchbacks on all five of his kickoffs. Rookie kickoff returner Cordarrelle Patterson didn’t have many chances. He returned two kicks from deep in the end zone and finished with a 27-yard average.
Rookie punter Jeff Locke struggled a bit in his first game. He had five punts for a 42.2-yard average with a long of 54 yards. But Locke didn’t appear to have the hang time he’s known for and Detroit returner Michael Spurlock had the chance to return each of the punts. Locke’s first punt went only 36 gross yards and Spurlock returned it eight yards. Locke finished with a 34.8 yard net average.
Overall: D
The biggest concern for Minnesota has to involve Ponder and the turnovers. The Vikings have stressed being turnover-free on offense and letting Peterson lead the way. Ponder was charged with all four of the team’s turnovers — Detroit had two turnovers — with a fumbled handoff being charged to the quarterback. Ponder was tripped up by guard Brandon Fusco as he backpedaled and Peterson never cleanly got the ball from Ponder. Ponder was nearly intercepted one other time and almost had two interceptions that might have been returned for touchdowns.
Minnesota will have things to clean up, particularly in the middle of the defense. But as the coaches stress, the Vikings need to win the turnover battle and the records support their theory. Minnesota was a minus-2 in turnovers on Sunday and couldn’t capitalize on the many chances and mistakes by Detroit. With a road game next week at Chicago, where they usually struggle, the Vikings could be in a precarious situation already.