Vikings bench McNabb, Ponder to start Sunday 19 Oct 11

NFL Team Report – Minnesota Vikings – INSIDE SLANT

Coach Leslie Frazier plans to name rookie first-round pick Christian Ponder the starter for Sunday’s game against the Packers, pulling the plug on veteran Donovan McNabb after a 1-5 start with the Vikings.

Minnesota lost 39-10 at Chicago on Sunday night, when Ponder received extensive action and all signs have since pointed to a change behind center.

Frazier wasn’t ready to pull that trigger on Monday, saying he needed time to consult veterans on the roster and conference with members of the coaching staff. He’s expected to make an official announcement Wednesday.

“My staff and I, we’re going to discuss that further … and on Wednesday we should come to a conclusion as to which direction we want to go,” Frazier said Monday. “I’ll be able to provide some insight one way or another as to why we chose to go in the direction that we’re going, whichever direction that will be.”

McNabb continued to struggle with his accuracy, a lack of making plays and has been under constant duress behind a shaky offensive line. Ponder entered Sunday’s game in the fourth quarter.

“For a guy who gets limited reps in practice, it seems he had a good grasp, like we thought he would, of our offense, moved the team when he was in there, made some good throws,” Frazier said of Ponder, who completed 9 of 17 passes for 99 yards and a 70.5 passer rating. “There were some throws he’d like to have back but considering the number of snaps he’s had in game situations, I thought he did a pretty good job of moving the team.”

Frazier said the decision wouldn’t be made based on what’s best for the team in 2012 or the development of Ponder’s career. Ponder was drafted 12th overall in the 2011 draft.

“I don’t think we are at that point,” Frazier said. “This next game is a home game against the defending World Champions and we still have some things to play for in this 2011 season. Right now, 2012 is not really on the radar as we prepare for this next ball game.”

Frazier said Sunday’s loss was the worst of the five the team has experienced this season.

–There’s no rift between coach Leslie Frazier and his players, but they definitely aren’t on the same page when it comes to explaining Sunday night’s 39-10 loss at Chicago.

After the game, several players said the Bears made strategic changes from the week before, when they were beaten in Detroit. Specifically, players discussed how the Bears shifted to more max-protection schemes with two-receiver routes, which gave Jay Cutler by far his best protection of the past two seasons.

Frazier, meanwhile, said it was just a matter of the Vikings players not playing the way they have, especially in a win against the Cardinals the week before.

“I didn’t see a lack of effort, but we were not nearly as physical up front, on either the offensive or defensive line, as we needed to be, and that is unexplainable,” Frazier said. “That’s what we pride ourselves on, our o-line and our d-line, being the driving force that drives our defense and we were not the most physical group out there last night and that is a concern.”

Frazier also said the players “didn’t seem to handle the prosperity very well” coming off the Cardinals game.

“We didn’t go out there with the type of energy and focus that you have to play with on the road against an opponent in your division,” Frazier said. “And that comes back to me.”

Defensive end Jared Allen disagreed that the players don’t know how to handle prosperity.

“You can sit here and throw out all these theories that you want,” Allen said. “But the bottom line is there are a lot of the same guys here who went 12-4 two years ago. Same guys that went 10-6 (in 2008). Guys know how to win. It’s a problem of doing it every day and doing it every play. We don’t walk around here like, ‘Oh, we beat the Arizona Cardinals, we’ve arrived.’ Nah. Guys are humble in this locker room.”

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NFL Team Report – Minnesota Vikings – NOTES, QUOTES

–There’s an interesting situation to keep an eye on between the players and coach Leslie Frazier. It hasn’t reached the back-biting stage, but they aren’t all on the same page when it comes to explaining why things have fallen apart.

In the locker room after Sunday night’s loss, defensive players talked about all the adjustments the Bears’ offense made to protect quarterback Jay Cutler better than they did the week before at Detroit. Players talked about how the Bears increased their max protection with tight ends and running backs staying in more to help block. That, they said, was the reason Cutler enjoyed great protection, except for one third-quarter sack.

On Monday, Frazier said the players simply weren’t physical enough up front on either side of the ball.

“We did not play the physical football game that we are accustomed to playing up front,” Frazier said. “On our defensive line and offensive line. They didn’t do a whole lot of things different than what they did against Detroit. We did not physically take over the line of scrimmage like we are capable of doing, like we have done on other occasions. For them to run the football as effectively as they did to that quarterback to stand there, take time in the pocket.

“And for their defensive line to stuff our run game, they’re not the only team that plays eight-man fronts against us. For us to not get any movement against their defensive line that’s unacceptable and we’ve got to get it fixed.”

–The Bears are figuring out what it takes to stop running back Adrian Peterson.

The All-Pro running back went into the game averaging 112 yards per game in seven meetings against the Bears. That includes a 224-yard effort in the first meeting back in 2007.

The Bears, however, have held Peterson to fewer than 100 yards in each of the past four meetings. Sunday, he had just 39 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries (3.3).

Peterson said it’s not frustrating to face continuous eight- and nine-man fronts, like the Bears showed him all night long.

“It comes with the territory,” Peterson said. “I know they’re going to focus on stopping the run.”

Peterson also said Sunday’s loss was worse than blowing double-digit halftime leads in each of the first three weeks.

“It’s always hard to lose when you’re up,” he said. “But to get dominated like we did (Sunday), in all phases, I would say it hurts a little more.”

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NFL Team Report – Minnesota Vikings – STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER NOTES

–QB Donovan McNabb likely will be benched in favor of rookie first-round draft pick Christian Ponder. Coach Leslie Frazier said Monday that he should reach a decision and announce it on Wednesday after consulting with his coaching staff. McNabb isn’t the entire problem in a 1-5 season, but his accuracy problems continue and he has no future with the team.

–RB Adrian Peterson is an All-Pro, but proved he can’t beat eight- and nine-man fronts by himself. Running as hard as he normally does, Peterson had only 39 yards on 17 carries in the 39-10 loss to the Bears. The line needed to be more physical, and QB Donovan McNabb needed to get the ball downfield more.

–RB Toby Gerhart hasn’t been effective since the first couple weeks of the season. In his limited duty, he isn’t moving the pile or creating much when he catches the ball out of the backfield.

–TE Kyle Rudolph has the hands and the athleticism to catch balls that are thrown off-target. Those are good skills to have with the way McNabb is throwing now. With more accurate throws, Rudolph could also put his speed, which is good for a tight end, to use.

–WR Bernard Berrian caught five passes against the Bears after catching only two coming into the game. The five catches came a week after Berrian was deactivated against Arizona for missing two team meetings. Berrian, however, had a bad drop on third-and-five early in the game. That contributed to the Vikings falling behind early and not being able to come back.

–WR Greg Camarillo, lost in the shuffle since CB Marcus Sherels won the punt return job before the season, caught his first pass of the season against Chicago. The veteran had been inactive for three consecutive weeks before the Arizona game.

–OT Pat Brown, a second-year player who has never started an NFL game, will get increased reps in practice this week. Starting right tackle Phil Loadholt has knee tendinitis and a bruise that kept him out of most of the second half of the Bears game. He’s expected to play Sunday, but should be limited in practice.

–C Joe Berger also will be given extra reps in practice. Starting center John Sullivan suffered a concussion against the Bears and will have to pass the league-mandated medical exam before he can return to practice.

–SS Tyrell Johnson, who lost the starting job right before the start of the regular season, could get his first start of the season. Starter Jamarca Sanford suffered a concussion against the Bears.

–DE Brian Robison, a backup the past four seasons, is proving worthy of being a starter. He’s been sturdy against the run and has already matched his career high in sacks with 4.5.

–CB Antoine Winfield’s strained neck is getting better. He hasn’t played or practiced since getting injured against the Chiefs on Oct. 2. He could return to practice on a limited basis this week.

REPORT CARD VS. BEARS

PASSING OFFENSE: D — On paper, Donovan McNabb had his best game statistically with only five incompletions, two of which were drops. Don’t, however, make the mistake of judging a quarterback on paper. McNabb’s accuracy continued to be an issue. For example, a 30-yard completion to Bernard Berrian could have been a touchdown had Berrian not had to stop to catch the ball. The pass protection was awful and no plays were made in the passing game to get the Bears out of eight- and nine-man fronts with a single-high safety. Rookie Christian Ponder made his NFL regular-season debut. Playing most of the fourth quarter, he looked like a rookie, completing 9 of 17 passes for 99 yards.

RUSHING OFFENSE: D — The Vikings ran the ball only 17 times, but fell far behind so early that they couldn’t stick with the run. And if they had stuck with the run, they wouldn’t have moved the Bears off the ball without a legitimate passing attack. Adrian Peterson had just 39 yards and one touchdown on 12 carries (3.3), while the team averaged 3.1 yards on 17 carries. The Bears have caught on to Peterson lately. Although Peterson went into Sunday’s game averaging 112 yards per game in seven meetings, he’s been held under 100 yards the past four meetings. He has 90 yards on 29 carries the past two meetings.

PASS DEFENSE: F — Against a Bears offense that had allowed Jay Cutler to be sacked 70 times in his past 20 regular-season games, the Vikings’ vaunted pass rush could must virtually no pressure, except for Jared Allen’s strip sack with the game already out of hand in the third quarter. The Bears used max protection and a balance between the run and pass to give Cutler all the time he needed to shred the Vikings’ secondary, particularly cornerback Cedric Griffin. Roy Williams beat Griffin for a 17-yard gain on the Bears’ second offensive snap. One play later, Devin Hester blew past Griffin for a 48-yard touchdown.

RUSH DEFENSE: D — One of the reasons Cutler stayed upright and dangerous was the Vikings couldn’t stop running back Matt Forte. He didn’t have a monster game, but his 5.1-yard average on 17 carries was all the balance the Bears needed, and more. Forte would have easily topped 100 yards if he hadn’t been pulled late in the game.

SPECIAL TEAMS: F — Other than early on in the first quarter, there were only 14 seconds in which one felt the Vikings had a chance to make the game a contest. Adrian Peterson scored on a 4-yard run with 10:23 left in the third quarter to make it a 26-10 game. Unfortunately for the Vikings, their nemesis, Devin Hester, returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown and a 33-10 lead that broke the Vikings’ will. Hester, who torments the Vikingsyearly, also had a 27-yard punt return. Vikings punter Chris Kluwe felt the strain of punting to Hester, who has three career punt returns for touchdowns against Kluwe. One of Kluwe’s attempts to punt the ball away from Hester traveled only 18 yards and set up a 33-yard touchdown drive.

COACHING: F — A week ago, the Bears’ run defense and offensive line were gashed in an ugly loss at Detroit. The feeling among the Vikings was that played right into their strengths, which are Adrian Peterson and pass-rushing ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison. But when the Bears made adjustments to correct what happened in Detroit, the Vikings had no counter moves. The Bears went into full max protection mode and neutralized the Vikings’ front four. And on defense, the Bears packed the line of scrimmage with eight- and nine-man fronts. They played almost the entire game with a single-high safety, daring the Vikings to beat them passing the ball. The Vikings simply had no answers to the Bears’ changes.