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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Notebook: Vikings offense dismal from the get-go at Buffalo

Botched snaps, sacks and fumbles.

It was ugly from the first snap, when Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder hit the dirt for the first of four sacks in the opening two quarters of the 20-16 loss at the Buffalo Bills on Friday.

As advertised, Ponder and the first-team offense played into the second quarter, with Ponder connecting to receiver Greg Jennings for the first time that gave fans something a little different — a five-yard quick screen to Jennings.

But the opening sack, credited to Bills linebacker Jerry Hughes after beating left tackle Matt Kalil on a stunt, was a sign of things to come for a Vikings offense that was dismal in amassing four first downs, 74 yards and three points in the first half.

Running back Adrian Peterson (coach’s decision) and fullback Jerome Felton (appendectomy) were the only two missing links in the Vikings starting offense on Friday night with the emphasis solely on slinging the ball.

Offensive woes

Coach Leslie Frazier said he had a specific number of snaps prescribed for Ponder heading into Friday, but the glaring lack of execution amounted to five plays per drive for the first-team offense.

Here’s a brief list of some blemishes for Ponder and the first-team:

•Ponder, often scrambling to avoid defenders, only gained a first down on one of his five series. Once he was sacked, Ponder looked uncomfortable from the pocket for most of the night, even leading into pressure or failing to step up.

•Center John Sullivan snapped the ball when Ponder wasn’t looking for the first play of the third drive, setting up a 2nd-and-24 after the fumble recovery and the third three-and-out in a row to start the game.

•Ponder was sacked three times in 25 plays, the final coming on third down at Buffalo’s nine-yard line as Ponder didn’t step up into the pocket and a defender shed running back Matt Asiata’s block. Kicker Blair Walsh missed wide right from 49 yards earlier, but converted the 36-yard field goal after the sack.

•Ponder came out for the last time on the first series of the second quarter, overthrowing Jennings and making his debut target to receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, which was practically a throw away as he was sandwiched between two Bills defenders.

Frazier tempered any excitement or disappointment during Tuesday’s practice regarding the first-team offense in Friday’s game: “I’d be more concerned with some of the things we have to do in practice to try to get what we would need to open the season in Detroit. But with what we’ve prescribed, we should be able to see what we need to see whether that’s good or bad.”

“You know, that’s not a bad thing either to find out if we’re not doing some of the things we hope to be able to do.”

One thing the Vikings need to do is hold onto the football. The team registered three fumbles in the first half, all on botched snaps — one from Sullivan and two on plays from reserve center Joe Berger in one drive.

The Vikings recovered all but one fumble — which ended up as the Bills first touchdown after Berger’s snap sailed over Cassel’s head and into the endzone.

Secondary starts aggressive

The Vikings’ starting secondary didn’t get much of a test against the Bills’ quarterback Kevin Kolb, who threw four passes in the first quarter — the second of which was tipped by cornerback Xavier Rhodes, making his NFL debut, and intercepted by safety Jamarca Sanford.

Rhodes’ physicality inside five yards also disrupted Bills’ rookie receiver Marquise Goodwin’s route as quarterback Kevin Kolb placed the ball too far out in front on the interception.

Playing in both the base and nickel formations, cornerback Josh Robinson saw extended playing time at both outside and the slot after just six snaps in the preseason opener. Robinson jumped a route and deflected Kolb’s pass in the second quarter and if he had another step on the ball, could have turned it into a pick-six.

Look at the bright side

The Vikings only had three penalties, which puts the total at four across the first two preseason games — the fewest in the NFL so far.

No penalty was inopportune as linebacker Tyone McKenzie’s holding call after receiver Stephen Burton returned a kickoff for a touchdown.

Although he didn’t have a catch Friday, Burton has made a strong case for the 53-man roster this preseason by demonstrating his value as a run blocker, special teams man and solid fifth option at receiver.

Rookie punter Jeff Locke saw extended work with an inept offense — booting seven punts for an average of 40 yards, pinning three inside the 20-yard line with the help of cornerback Bobby Felder.

Felder played a big role in the field position game on Friday, downing two of Locke’s punts inside the 20 and taking a punt return back for 37 yards.

Late hits

•Linebacker Desmond Bishop set foot on a NFL field for the first time since Aug. 9, 2012.

Bishop subbed in late in the second quarter and finished with four assists on tackles and was credited with a half-sack, but was in coverage when Bills quarterback E.J. Manuel threw a four-yard touchdown pass to receiver Brad Smith.

Smith was likely not Bishop’s responsibility, but the linebacker was left on an island with no help as the nearest man to the ball.

•Receiver Jarius Wright left the game in the first half, reportedly with a concussion, and did not return.

•Defensive linemen Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Brian Robison, along with linebacker Chad Greenway played into the second quarter after sitting out the preseason opener.

by Andrew Krammer

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