1. Halftime Adjustments
The difference in the game was halftime adjustments. After a wholly deflating first two quarters in which we saw Blair Walsh miss two field goals left, Shaun Hill overthrow an open Stefon Diggs in the end zone, and the Vikings’ vaunted defensive front get neutralized and misdirected by a nifty Titans offensive gameplan, things looked…bleak. Tennessee went into the half with a 10-0 lead, and it was difficult to imagine how Minnesota would muster enough offense to even close that small margin. It felt a lot like the debacle in San Francisco to open last season. My one source of optimism was that the Vikings’ staff has done quite well with halftime adjustments under Mike Zimmer, and perhaps they could find a way to turn things around.
One thing this staff has excelled at is halftime adjustments. They'll need em.Expected bad O, didn't expect D to get slowed so dramatically
— Sam Neumann (@NeumSamN) September 11, 2016
They did, in a big way, and the team looked completely different in the second half en route to a 25-16 win. I firmly believe what separates an average coach from a good one is the ability to successfully adjust within games, and it’s good to see that continue under the Zimmer regime.
2. Defensive Scoring Machine
No, we can’t count on two defensive touchdowns in every (read: any) game, but man, it was fun to watch. Eric Kendricks’ 77-yard interception return touchdown and Danielle Hunter’s 24-yard fumble return fully turned the tide of the game and put the Vikings in the driver’s seat.
3. Danielle Hunter, Yes Please
The scoop and score was fun, but this sack might have been my favorite play by Hunter.
— Eric Thompson (@eric_j_thompson) September 11, 2016
This one shows everything that makes Hunter such an exciting young player: athleticism, strength, speed, and balance. Combine those with developing pass rush moves, and we’re looking at a monster in the making.
4. As Usual, Some Bad News
And of course, we couldn’t just enjoy this win without a dash of bad news to go along with it. Xavier Rhodes was hastily added to the injury report before the game, and ended up being inactive. After the game, we got a little more clarity…and more to worry about.
Zimmer said Rhodes was stretching this morning when something "popped" in his knee. Will have scan done tonight.
— Mark Craig (@markcraignfl) September 11, 2016
Zimmer doesn't know yet if Rhodes injury is serious or not
— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) September 11, 2016
Um, that doesn’t sound good. Trae Waynes played reasonably well in his stead, but losing Rhodes for any significant amount of time would obviously be a blow.
5. The Run Game. Woof.
The run game was very bad. Duh, Sam. But dang—as a team, the Vikings averaged 2.3 yards per carry (and just a 1.6-yard average on 19 carries for Adrian Peterson—yeesh). While the offensive line held up surprisingly well in pass protection, they struggled mightily on run plays, and often there was at least one defender waiting when the running back reached the line of scrimmage.
The two scores from the defense made the offensive struggles a moot point, but the team has to run the ball better if they’re going to be a playoff team without Teddy Bridgewater. I don’t know how this happens—I’m still hoping for an eventual jelling from the retooled offensive line, but it’s not a good sign when you make the Tennessee defensive front look unblockable in the run game. I do like the way Norv Turner mixed in some jet sweeps with Patterson and Diggs, and think we’re going to need to see more of that creativity. It is curious that McKinnon only got one carry, but that seemed like more of a flow of the game thing than any big schematic revelation.
The most optimistic reaction to the low running totals is that Tennessee stacked the box and sold out on the run, which allowed Shaun Hill to have a better day than expected. He did throw for 236 yards, which was definitely more than I saw coming, so maybe this theory has legs. By this logic, the more success the passing game has, the more it will help open up the run game. So…yeah! Let’s go with that.
- I won’t ramble on about it because it has been discussed enough already, but the Blair Walsh thing is major cause for concern. Again, not panic time, but he’s clearly struggling mentally, which is the last thing you want going on with your kicker. I did like that they kept trotting him out there even after the misses—hopefully that helps the confidence. Give it until Week 5 and reevaluate.
- Give Hill credit for doing what the team needed to win, but I fully expect Bradford to start against the Packers next week. They know they’ll need more offense, and they didn’t give up a first and a fourth to sit him. When he’s reasonably comfortable with the playbook, he’ll start, and that should be next week.
- That was the first full game I’ve seen Marcus Mariota play as a pro, and I came away impressed. The pick-six was ugly, but aside from that, he made mostly crisp throws, bought time nicely, and seemed to run the offense with command. The Titans are not a good team, hence the second-half collapse, but I’d feel good about having Mariota as the quarterback of the future in Tennessee.