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Dave Campbell / Associated Press, Published November 07 2012

Ponder-Rudolph connection has been missing lately for Vikings

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – The disappearance of Minnesota’s passing attack has produced plenty of theories from the frustrated fans and myriad analysts following the Vikings.

Christian Ponder has lost confidence. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave’s scheme is too conservative. The wide receivers aren’t deep enough, both on the roster and on the field.

Oh, and what happened to Kyle Rudolph?

The recent dive in aerial production appears as tied to Rudolph’s recent evaporation from the offense as any trend. The big tight end with the sure hands has a total of two catches for 17 yards over the last three games while being targeted eight times. The two lowest outputs of Ponder’s career, for yards passing in games he played start to finish, came in that stretch.

“We’re going to do a good job this week of trying to figure ways to get him the ball,” Ponder said. “They’re taking it away. We’re not trying to force things that aren’t there, but they are doing a good job of taking him away.”

Subtracting for sacks, the Vikings netted a mere 44 yards passing in the loss last week at Seattle, and that wasn’t even their lowest total of the season. Their passing net against Arizona, a game they won on Oct. 21, was 43 yards. In another victory, at Detroit on Sept. 30, the net was 100 yards.

Yardage isn’t a prerequisite for success, and to be sure totals are influenced by myriad factors, but it can be a barometer of ability.

“I have to do a better job of providing a target for Christian, whether it’s crossing routes or intermediate quick routes,” Rudolph said after practice Wednesday. “The biggest thing is getting separation at the top. Throughout the course of the game a person can watch and see, ‘Oh, you’re open there.’ But it’s always about the timing of the separation, and we need to get back on that same page of having the separation at the right time.”

Ponder has 558 attempts since he became the starter with 10 games left in the 2011 season, and 146 of them have gone to Harvin (26 percent), according to STATS LLC. But Rudolph is high on the list, tied with Devin Aromashodu for third with 71 targets in the last 19 games. Michael Jenkins is second with 72.

The team’s first two draft picks last year, Ponder and Rudolph have become close friends and forged an obvious connection on the field. Five of Ponder’s 10 touchdown throws have gone to Rudolph this season, despite the recent lag.

“All people care about is pass stats. It’s all we talk about. How do you get to the Pro Bowl? Catch touchdowns. Catch passes,” Rudolph said. “But as a tight end there’s a whole lot more that goes into it than just that.”