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Play-action provides Vikings QB Christian Ponder with possibilities

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Updated: December 26, 2012 6:25AM

The Bears’ defense can’t be surprised again. They can’t be left complimenting another young quarterback for carving them up.

In other words, the Bears have to focus on what Vikings second-year quarterback Christian Ponder can do as much as they have to key on star running back Adrian Peterson on Sunday at Soldier Field.

The Bears learned the hard way in San Francisco what comes out of looking for the run and looking past quarterback Colin Kaepernick. He sliced them up through the air via play-action and various formations.

Watching out for play-action can be tough when a back such as Peterson is in the game, but the Bears’ linebackers and safeties have to be aware it.

In eight games against the Bears, Peterson has run for 823 yards and 12 touchdowns. He leads the NFL in rushing this season with 1,128 yards.

If the Bears don’t read their keys correctly, Ponder will use Peterson to burn them through play-action fakes, including plays similar to the one diagrammed above.

‘‘They have an athlete at the position who’s throwing the ball well,’’ coach Lovie Smith said. ‘‘One of the reasons they’re doing well is based on what they’re doing at the quarterback position.’’

The Vikings are coming off their bye week. But Ponder had a stellar performance against the Lions and their eighth-ranked pass defense two weeks ago, completing 24 of 32 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns in the Vikings’ 34-24 victory.

According to Pro Football Focus, Ponder has completed 63 of 93 play-action passes for 623 yards, four touchdowns and one interception this season. His quarterback rating on play-action is 96.3, much better than his 80.6 mark when it isn’t used. Play-action passes also make up 29.5 percent of his throws, the third-most among quarterbacks.

In the diagrammed play, the Vikings are in a shotgun formation against the Lions with Peterson in the backfield, three wide receivers and tight end Kyle Rudolph to the left of the offensive line. Ponder fakes a handoff to Peterson, who runs left, with right guard Geoff Schwartz pulling in front of him. This action convinces linebackers Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy to break on Peterson.

In the secondary, the Lions are in single-high man coverage (one safety over the middle). Strong safety Erik Coleman is covering Rudolph, but the play-action fake and Tulloch’s and Levy’s reactions cause him to stop. Rudolph runs past Coleman and into the area vacated by the linebackers, and Ponder finds him wide-open for a 16-yard gain on second-and-11.

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