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Coach Speak: Special Teams As A Weapon, Ponder's Return and Defending Lacy

Posted Oct 24, 2013

The Vikings three coordinators had their customary weekly press conference on Thursday following the team’s morning walk-through. In this weekly piece, we’ll choose a comment from each of them and explain or react to what was said.

 

Question asked: When you look at last year’s regular season finale against the Packers, Christian Ponder had perhaps his best game as a pro. What are some of the things that made him so effective in that particular game?

Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave said: If remember correctly, we made some good plays down there in the red area. We ran the ball well. We stayed ahead of schedule. We weren’t in too many third-and-forevers. When we were in some third-and-forevers, we made some plays, especially in the fourth quarter.

Reaction: Musgrave’s recall on the game and the reasons for Ponder’s – and the offense’s in general – success is spot on. The Vikings scored touchdowns on four of six drives in the red zone and they were three for three in goal-to-go situations. Adrian Peterson had 199 yards rushing on 34 carries and the Vikings as a team ripped off 217 net yards rushing. And the Vikings were 50% on 3rd downs with five of 12 their to-go distances at four yards or fewer and conversions on four of their seven to-go distances at seven yards or longer. One of those four conversions on 3rd and long was the play of the game, where Ponder stepped up into a clean pocket and delivered a strike to Michael Jenkins along the left sideline on the first play after the 2-minute warning. The game was tied at 34 at that point, but the Ponder-to-Jenkins 3rd down conversion helped setup Blair Walsh for the game-winning and playoff-clinching field goal at the buzzer.

 

Question asked: How much does it help the Packers offense with a guy like (Eddie) Lacy?

Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams said: “A lot. They are a lot more balanced than they were the past year. They’ve been running the ball very effectively, even though they haven’t had a ton of home run hits from the running back, they keep the chains moving. You have to account for the (running) back, the line has been consistent with the guys that have been in there, and that’s reason for the improvement up front. They are hitting on all cylinders and Lacy is a big reason for that.”

Reaction: Don’t kid yourself, the Packers are still a throw-first offense with one of the best quarterbacks in the game at the helm. Even still, Williams is correct that Green Bay has become more balanced. Green Bay is averaging 27.5 rushing attempts per game, which is up slightly from last season. Where they’ve improved greatly, though, is their efficiency in running the ball. The Packers averaged 3.9 yards per carry last season, and this season they’re up a full yard to 4.9. Additionally, Green Bay ranks sixth in the NFL in rushing. That’s not a typo, Green Bay has the sixth-best rushing attack in the NFL. Credit Lacy for much of the improvement, especially recently because he’s on a string of impressive games over the last month. Lacy has 301 yards on 68 carries the past three games, and you can be sure the Packers will test the Vikings run defense on Sunday night before they start dropping back and exposing themselves to Jared Allen and Co. on every snap.

 

Question asked: Is it a difficult thing from a special teams standpoint that you can play so well for maybe an entire game or season, but if you fumble a punt it’s a very noticeable gaffe?

Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer said: “It’s one of those situations where when you’re a special teams coach and a special teams player, we have to keep emphasizing – me coaching and them playing – you have to be consistent. You have to do it play after play after play after play. If you have one great play, three average plays and one poor play, they’re just as good as you are. We look at our special teams as a weapon here in Minnesota, and we felt like we were most of the night (against the NY Giants), but when you give the ball up twice, it just washes it away. It’s too bad that happened, especially with the way our guys are playing. The effort is there, the attitude is there, the energy, the work ethic, we’re having a lot of fun coaching. We just have to be more consistent.”

Reaction: My favorite part about this quote is when Priefer began a sentence with “We look at special teams as a weapon here in Minnesota.” When I look back at Priefer’s tenure here with the Vikings, that’s a great way to summarize what he’s brought to the special teams group. From Percy Harvin and Ryan Longwell during Priefer’s first year or two to Cordarrelle Patterson this season and Blair Walsh the past two seasons, the Vikings have indeed been aggressive on special teams and they’ve had one of the better special teams groups as a whole in the NFL. And that’s not even mentioning some of the success the Vikings have had in kickoff and punt coverage.