EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Leslie Frazier knows the limitations of his 6-6 Minnesota Vikings very well. Twelve games into the season and clinging to fading playoff hopes, Frazier knows there is no savior that is going to appear magically to rescue Minnesota’s last-ranked passing offense.
“It’s not like at this time of the season somebody’s going to drop a special guy in your lap,” Frazier said Monday, spreading his arms skyward as if he was hoping for some sort of divine intervention. “It’s just not the case.”
No, at this point of the season, the Vikings are left to fly or fall with an offense that falters when it has to go to the air. Despite a rushing offense that ranks third in the league and a defense that’s held up for the most part this season, Minnesota’s season has slipped without a credible passing game. Frazier has watched all year as quarterback Christian Ponder and the team’s receivers continue to misconnect.
After Sunday’s 23-14 loss in which Ponder was 12 of 25 for 119 yards passing, with two backbreaking interceptions, the Vikings have slipped to last in the league in passing, averaging only 180.6 net yards per game.
Ponder, as the quarterback, is heaped with criticism and rightly so. But Ponder shares the blame in an inept passing game with his wide receivers, especially since Percy Harvin, an early-season star has missed the past three games. Without Harvin, who even at his best wasn’t stretching the field, Minnesota has lacked any help for Ponder down the field or on the outside.
No more evident is the lack of a reliable wide receiver — other than Harvin — than Sunday’s loss to the Packers. Jerome Simpson, the offseason hero who’s underachieved in the regular season, was the first wide receiver to catch a pass from Ponder on Sunday. The catch highlighted part of what the Vikings expected from Simpson, an 18-yard catch on an important drive.
The problem? The catch came with just 2 minutes, 55 seconds left in the game. That’s right, Minnesota went 57:05 of game clock before a wide receiver caught a pass.
“It wasn’t complicated what (the Packers) were doing,” Frazier said. “We just got to do a better job at times of finding ways to win in one-on-one situations. Also, when a guy has created some separation, get the football to him on time. And we have some occasions where we didn’t create separation like we needed to, a lot like we thought we were going into the game, and other times where we had that separation and we didn’t get the ball there in a timely fashion and it cost us.”
Simpson, who has just 14 total catches this season, had seven targets in Sunday’s game. He caught two passes. Rookie Jarius Wright (one catch, 13 yards) was the only other wide receiver with a catch in the game. A week earlier it was seven dropped passes that were a big culprit in a loss.
Harvin’s absence has been a blow to a receiving corps that was already lacking for big playmakers. Even missing three games, Harvin’s team-leading reception totals (62 catches, 677 yards) still are far and away tops on the team. Tight end Kyle Rudolph has 45 catches. Meanwhile the rest of the team’s wide receivers have totaled 68 catches to Harvin’s 62.
Lack of separation from defenders has been an issue. But Frazier said he’s also noticed Ponder being hesitant at times to release passes.
“In our league, it’s not very often that guys are going to be wide open,” Frazier said. “So when we say throw it on time, on time means when the guy comes out of his break deliver the football. You’ve got to be able to make that decision whether you can get it in there or not. If you end up holding it a little bit longer, in our league the guys are good enough to close if you do that. So when I say throw the ball on time, that’s part of it. When my back foot hits my drop point, get the football out, go through your progressions, do the things that are necessary to be a real good NFL quarterback.”
Opponent’s defensive approach won’t change with running back Adrian Peterson having an MVP-type season. Frazier’s left to hope Harvin can return quickly and try to extract something more from Simpson, Wright, Michael Jenkins, Devin Aromashodu and Stephen Burton.
“We think we have some guys that are capable of creating some separation,” Frazier said. “We’ll continue to schematically, as coaches, try to find ways to scheme coverages if we can and get some guys some open looks. But we have to get it done. There’s so much at stake we have to find a way to get it done. We have to work at it as coaches and as players and find a way to get it done.”