Musgrave vows to get the ball downfield more
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Quarterback Christian Ponder and the Minnesota Vikings' receivers have taken the brunt of the criticism for the team's lack of downfield passing over the first two weeks.
Ponder has completed two passes that traveled more than 20 yards in the air during the first two games, both in the season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Last week, Minnesota attempted four passes longer than 15 yards in the air.
Much of Minnesota's success in the passing game, with Ponder ranking fifth in the NFL averaging 8.3 yards per attempt, has been using quick, short passes and having receivers such as Percy Harvin try to break long gains.
Thursday, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave took the blame for the lack of explosive passes and the receivers struggling to get open against the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday.
"They weren't, and that's not on Christian," Musgrave said. "That's on myself, the play-caller and us as a staff designing plays, so we definitely want to have more chunks going forward. We didn't get a chance for them to materialize against Indianapolis and … that really hurt us, it hurt us in the long run."
Ponder finished with another efficient day against the Colts, completing 27 of 35 passes for 245 yards and two touchdowns. According to Pro Football Focus, only 104 of his 245 yards came through the air, an average of 3.9 yards per completion.
Focused on not falling into the same mistakes he made as a rookie, Ponder has tried not to force passes into coverage and is taking the options given by the defensive coverage.
"I'm going to be smart with the ball," Ponder said. "Obviously, my troubles last year were turnovers. I'm not going to force things down the field that aren't there. We're just going to play and make the plays we're supposed to."
The Vikings have been waiting for receiver Jerome Simpson's three-game suspension to end so they can add the speedy weapon who will make the offense more versatile. In his place, Devin Aromashodu had a couple big catches in the win against Jacksonville, but those deep plays were gone against Indianapolis.
Facing one of the league's top defenses in San Francisco this week will make things even tougher.
Harvin has done his part with 18 catches for 188 yards, but his 10.4-yard average is another example of how Minnesota is limited down the field.
Aromashodu, Michael Jenkins and Stephen Burton have tried to supply a deep threat but don't offer the same presence as Simpson, who can be activated following Sunday's game. Rookie Jarius Wright could get his first regular-season action on Sunday and possibly use his speed to stretch the defense.
The Vikings have been able to sustain drives with an offense ranked 16th in the league, 14th in rushing,13th in passing. But Ponder knows explosiveness is the missing piece.
"That's one thing we're lacking is big plays, and obviously we want to strive to get better at it to make the progressions of making those plays," Ponder said. "But, we aren't going to force things downfield and we're just going to take what the defense gives us. But, we're going to do some things to try to create big plays. That's one area we need to get better at."
Ponder said he has the option to go deeper and isn't limited by the play-calling. Musgrave said it is up to him to alleviate the pressure on Ponder and the receivers.
More from the backfield of Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart would help as well. A team designed to be a run-first unit, Minnesota finished with just 95 yards rushing last week.
"We've addressed our lack of explosive passes this week, but we also didn't have any explosive runs against Indianapolis," Musgrave said. "I think the longest one was for six yards. We're ready to ramp up all of those departments."
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