Image courtesy of Vikings.com

In this weekly series of articles, I’ll be breaking down what went RIGHT or what went WRONG each game for the Minnesota Vikings. This week, thanks to a turnaround victory over the Detroit Lions, I’ll be focusing on the positives and what the Vikings can build on moving forward this season.

In the NFL, game plans can and do change on a weekly basis. Against a team like the San Francisco 49ers, stopping the run has to be a defense’s number one priority — though that’s not always the result. When playing the Detroit Lions, for example, teams put a premium on shutting down Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, and Matthew Stafford’s other receiving weapons.

On the offensive side of the ball,  finding a balance between running and passing is ideal. Depending on the defense or specific one-on-one matchups, that can change. Take the New England Patriots in Week 2 — Tom Brady threw the ball 59 times against the Buffalo Bills and shredded Rex Ryan’s defense. Meanwhile, the Washington Redskins rushed the ball 37 times against the St. Louis Rams, riding the legs of Alfred Morris and Matt Jones to a victory.

A look at the Vikings’ first three offensive plays from both games illustrates this variation perfectly:

  • (9:19) (Shotgun) T.Bridgewater pass incomplete short right to J.Wright.
  • (9:13) (Shotgun) T.Bridgewater pass incomplete deep left to C.Johnson (T.Brock).
  • (9:07) (Shotgun) T.Bridgewater pass incomplete deep left to J.Wright [A.Lynch].

The Vikings started their first offensive drive on San Francisco’s 26-yard line after a blocked field goal and Andrew Sendejo return, but couldn’t capitalize on the premium field position. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner scripted running plays, but Teddy Bridgewater checked into passes based on the defense’s alignment and coverage. After missing Jarius Wright in the flat and misfiring on two deep balls, Bridgewater and the offense watched Blair Walsh push a 44-yard field goal — giving the ball right back to the 49ers.

Against the Lions, Turner’s first few offensive calls — downhill, inside zone runs — illustrated his plan to feed Adrian Peterson early and often:

  • (14:55) A.Peterson up the middle to MIN 25 for no gain (E.Ansah).
  • (14:26) A.Peterson left tackle to MIN 36 for 11 yards (G.Quin, E.Ansah).
  • (13:57) A.Peterson up the middle to MIN 38 for 2 yards (J.Jones).

In the first quarter alone, Peterson had 13 carries and surpassed his game total of 10 rushes from the previous week. The offensive line established itself against the Lions from the start and Peterson set the tone on the team’s first drive. He looked more patient, more decisive, putting together 11-yard and 25-yard runs as the Vikings marched down the field for their first touchdown.

Special players make special plays, as evidenced by Adrian Peterson’s ability to turn the corner and outrun edge defenders, but their success wouldn’t be possible without the development of effective game plans. From an offense’s first scripted plays to a defense’s blitzes and pre-determined coverages (Xavier Rhodes shadowing Calvin Johnson,) the Vikings’ preparation is key to a victory each week. After the jump, I’ll take a look at some of that preparation (and a few individual performances) that highlight how the Vikings defeated the Detroit Lions in Week 2

Offense

The Running Game

” I thought the offensive line did a very nice job. We got on their defensive linemen, we got up on the second level, we stayed on the double teams good, I thought the tight ends blocked well. Adrian adds a physicality too when he’s running the football as well. I think the receivers did a nice job, Jarius Wright did a nice job going in there and cracking guys when they had the safeties down in the box. I think that overall mentality was important. We’re trying to develop that mentality, that toughness, and the physicality. That’s what we want to be like as a football team.”

Throughout the game, the Vikings’ physicality was on full display. They defensive line harassed Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, Captain Munnerlyn mugged Golden Tate, but no player embodied Mike Zimmer’s mentality better than Adrian Peterson. For a player who appeared hesitant and shied away from contact against the 49ers, Sunday’s game provided a platform for Peterson to silence the doubters. When given the chance — save for three fumbles — he did just that, running with confidence, patience, and his signature physicality.

2nd and 10 at DET 25 (14:41) (Singleback)
2nd and 10 at DET 25 (14:25) (Singleback/11 Personnel) A.Peterson left tackle to MIN 36 for 11 yards

As mentioned above, Norv Turner intended to get the ball to Peterson as soon as possible. This play, the second of the game, was one of many delayed handoffs to Peterson early on. Up front, T.J. Clemmings/Mike Harris and Joe Berger/Brandon Fusco engage the defensive tackles in double teams, holding their blocks just long enough to spring Peterson loose. Matt Kalil seals off Ezekiel Ansah to the outside and opens a running lane in the C-Gap, which Peterson finds after making one hard cut in the backfield.

Unlike his Week 1 performance, in which he danced in the backfield and avoided oncoming defenders, Peterson wastes no time hitting the hole and lowering his shoulder to gain an extra yard at the end of this run. What’s particularly encouraging about this play is the blocking by the offensive line. Berger, for example, releases from his double team to pick up linebacker No. 55, and Jarius Wright flies in from the left to cut off linebacker No. 57. No man is left unaccounted for, and it leads to an 11-yard gain on a critical second down early into the game.

(6:56) (No Huddle, Shotgun Offset Left) A.Peterson up the middle to MIN 24 for 7 yards
2nd and 12 at MIN 17 (6:56) (No Huddle, Shotgun Offset Left) A.Peterson up the middle to MIN 24 for 7 yards

Here, on the Vikings’ second drive of the game, the offensive line continues to dominate inside. The 3-technique on the left (outside shade of the guard) crashes the A-gap, and Mike Harris/Joe Berger pick him up with ease. On the opposite side of the line, the 2i-technique (inside shoulder of the guard)  is blocked by Matt Kalil and Brandon Fusco, who do an excellent job working up to the second level to cut off linebacker No. 55. Rhett Ellison, who missed a similar block against the 49ers last week, actually chips Ansah on the outside and blocks an oncoming cornerback (not pictured).

Peterson Run 2.3
2nd and 12 at MIN 17 (6:56) (No Huddle, Shotgun Offset Left) A.Peterson up the middle to MIN 24 for 7 yards

The result? A seven-yard gain, which is somewhat surprising given Peterson’s struggles operating out of the shotgun last week. However, I attribute those issues to poor blocking and the running back’s adjustment to Norv Turner’s system. As you can see, Fusco (red box, left) is executing a perfect seal block, preventing the tackle from making a play in the backfield. Kalil (red box, right), used his athleticism to reach linebacker No. 55 at the second level and is in ideal position as Peterson finds the hole. For his part, Peterson displayed patience, starting left before cutting to the right for positive yardage off of Kalil’s backside.

The Passing Game

“It was one of those throws where you just have to put everything you have behind it. Mike did a great job of getting separation from the defender and made a tough catch.”

Teddy Bridgewater threw the ball just 18 times on Sunday, and while that was the result of game planning, made the most of his limited attempts. The Vikings emphasized quick-hitting passes and used deception to keep the Lions guessing defensively. At times, Bridgewater was forced to move from his spot within the pocket, but delivered accurate throws on the run. Though he threw for just 153 yards, Bridgewater completed 14 of his 18 attempts and kept drives alive with smart decisions downfield.

3rd and 8 at MIN 38 (13:25) (Shotgun) T.Bridgewater pass deep right to J.Wright to DET 45 for 17 yards.
3rd and 8 at MIN 38 (13:25) (Shotgun) T.Bridgewater pass deep right to J.Wright to DET 45 for 17 yards.

Mike Wobschall called Bridgewater’s performance on third-downs magical, as the Vikings converted 7-of-14 opportunities on plays like the one above. Here, the Vikings run a set of vertical routes on the bottom of the formation, with Mike Wallace (WR No. 2) and Charles Johnson (WR No. 1) running streaks down the field. Wright, who is matched up with the Lions’ safety in man coverage, creates separation at the top of his deep out route, using his speed to get to the sideline. By running vertical, Wallace and Johnson clear out the intermediate area of the field for Wright.

Teddy Throw 1.2
3rd and 8 at MIN 38 (13:25) (Shotgun) T.Bridgewater pass deep right to J.Wright to DET 45 for 17 yards.

Bridgewater is forced out of the pocket as right tackle T.J. Clemmings is beat by the defensive end, but delivers a strike to Wright along the right sideline. As you can see in the photo above, Bridgewater throws the ball without setting his feet and while rolling to his right — a feat that requires tremendous arm strength and accuracy to fit the ball into such a small window. The play, while impressive, was important because it kept the Vikings’ first offensive drive alive and lead to a touchdown to put Minnesota up 7-0.

(5:22) (Shotgun) T.Bridgewater pass short right to K.Rudolph to DET 12 for 11 yards
(5:22) (Shotgun) T.Bridgewater pass short right to K.Rudolph to DET 12 for 11 yards

As mentioned above, Bridgewater’s performance was aided by the game plan crafted by Norv Turner. Up until this point (late into the second quarter), the Vikings had dominated the Lions on the ground with a mix of looks, from singleback runs to shotgun meshes to an experiment with the pistol formation. Here, Bridgewater fakes the shotgun handoff to Jerrick McKinnon before pulling the football and throwing to Kyle Rudolph in the flat.

The design in particular, with Mike Wallace clearing out, forces the strong safety to rally to the flat. He bites on the play fake, which stops his feet, opening up the field for an 11-yard pitch-and-catch. Plays like this are almost automatic for Bridgewater, who’s smart enough to understand defensive keys and coverages. Because the Lions were so intent to stop the run, they fell hard for the shotgun play-action and gave Rudolph a free release off the line of scrimmage — contributing to Bridgewater’s 77 percent completion percentage.

Defense

An Agressive Defensive Line

“They ran a couple of the same plays that we got the week before, we played them really, really good. We played with good technique, we got in the right place. I think we were intent on making sure that we did things correctly. I think the players did a good job this week and the coaches did a good job this week of getting back to some of the basics that we needed to do.”

The Lions finished the day with just 38 rushing yards on 16 carries and pressured Detroit’s offense all afternoon, tallying eight quarterback hurries and eight passes defensed. It was an impressive performance from a front-seven that was absolutely manhandled by the San Francisco 49ers. Of those seven players, a few especially stood out, including Linval Joseph and Brian Robison. Together, they pressured Matthew Stafford, created penetration against Detroit’s offensive line, and spent much of the afternoon in the Lions’ backfield.

2nd and 10 at DET 20 (10:21) A.Abdullah right end to DET 20 for no gain (C.Greenway, L.Joseph).
2nd and 10 at DET 20 (10:21) A.Abdullah right end to DET 20 for no gain (C.Greenway, L.Joseph).

Coming into Week 2, all eyes were on Ameer Abdullah, who had gashed the San Diego Chargers on seven carries for 50 yards and a touchdown the previous week. Against the Vikings, he failed to find such success, finishing the day with nine yards on six carries. Here, on the Lions’ second offensive play of the game, Detroit tries to run a zone play to the right. Lineal Joseph ensures the play won’t work, shooting his hands into the center to create separation and fill the running back’s intended hole.

Upon finding the ballcarrier, Joseph tosses the center aside and brings Abdullah to the ground for no gain. In addition to his impressive individual effort, look at thee number of purple jerseys near the football once the whistle is blown. I count five who would have been in position to blow the run up for little or no gain, and this play established the defense’s dominance almost immediately..

2nd and 7 at DET 14 (12:48) A.Abdullah right end to DET 9 for -5 yards
2nd and 7 at DET 14 (12:48) A.Abdullah right end to DET 9 for -5 yards

Robison, who finished that game with six tackles, one TFL, two defended passes, and one quarterback hit, played like the Robison of old (or young) against the Lions. He dominated the right side of Detroit’s offensive line and made his presence felt against the pass and against the run. For all of the talk about his decline and age, Robison proved those doubters wrong, if only for just a week.

Here he pulls a veteran move against the right tackle, faking outside with a hard stutter step before swimming inside to tackle Abdullah in the backfield. Given the design of the Lions’ play, which appears to be a stretch, shooting the B-Gap is a calculated risk for Robison — crash too hard, and you lose outside contain, leading to green grass fro the running back. Fortunately, Robison is quick enough to cut the play off and the flow from the defense behind him is sound. In particular, Anthony Barr puts himself in proper position to become the force player and clean up any spillage by Abdullah.

Creating Turnovers

“I think we said a thousand times this week that we wanted to make sure that people knew that’s not the type of defense we are, and I think today was a little more indicative of who we are,” Robison said. “I feel like we swarmed the football better and we just did our jobs better. All 11 guys did their job a lot better than they did last week.”

As a bonus, I’ll include two more plays that exemplify Zimmer’s hopes for an aggressive, opportunistic defense. Though I’m sure Zimmer and defensive coordinator George Edwards would like to see those quarterback pressures turn into sacks, the two have to be pleased with the number of turnovers created at every level of the defense. A combination of blitzes, ferocious play from the defensive line, and situational awareness made Sunday’s win a success for Zimmer’s team.

Turnover 1
2nd and 1 at DET 48 (7:43) T.Riddick left guard to MIN 47 for 5 yards (H.Smith). FUMBLES (H.Smith), RECOVERED by MIN-S.Stephen at MIN 47. S.Stephen to MIN 47 for no gain (C.Johnson)
Turnover 2
1st and 10 at 50 (12:12) M.Stafford pass short middle intended for E.Ebron INTERCEPTED by J.Trattou at 50. J.Trattou to DET 39 for 11 yards (Team)

Stay tuned as the Vikings Territory team previews the Vikings’ Week 3 Matchup with the San Diego Chargers.