Thursday, September 29, 2016

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Image courtesy of vikings.com

The Vikings’ defense produced two scores as Minnesota overcame a slow start to beat the Tennessee Titans 25-16 on Sunday. The Vikings started the 2016 season off right with a good win on the road, but it was the Titans who controlled the red zone in this ball game.

The Titans ran 12 plays (11 pass and 1 run) in the red zone on three possessions which yielded two touchdowns and one field goal.

The Vikings ran 8 plays in the red zone (1 pass and 7 runs) on two possessions manufacturing only one field goal and zero touchdowns.

Red Zone Notes:

The Titans found the red zone first mid-way through the first quarter. Eric Kendricks’ outstanding tackle for loss on second down helped limit the Titans to a 28 yard field goal and a 0-3 advantage.

Early in the second quarter the Vikings had their first opportunity in the red zone. The Titans shut down three consecutive running plays by Adrian Peterson and an Andre Smith holding penalty set up an impossible third-and-24 situation. Blair Walsh’s 37 yard field attempt sailed wide left spoiling a 15 play 56 yard drive.

The Titans did their best red zone work through the air as running back DeMarco Murray caught two touchdowns out of the backfield including a nifty leap over a defender for the score.

The Vikings found the red zone again in the 4th quarter and Norv Turner once again dialed up three consecutive running plays. This time, two handoffs went to Matt Asiata and one to Stefon Digg which also saw very little success. After missing two field goals earlier in the game, Walsh connected on a 30 yard attempted to give the Vikings a 25-10 lead.

Tennessee was focused on stoping Peterson, and not only did they shut down the Vikings’ running attack in the red zone, but they held Peterson to just 31 yards on 19 carries for the entire game.

Quarterback Shaun Hill was effective enough in the passing game to move the chains and sustain some drives. However, after the game he stated that the Vikings will need to do a better job turning drives into points in the future.

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What Went Right, Week 1

Vikings Go Play in Second Half of Titans Victory
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

A comeback victory usually carries talk of halftime adjustments; the winning team did ‘x,’ ‘y,’ and ‘z’ to fix its mistakes and finish on top. Sometimes, the changes are as simple as a shift in coverage. Often times, coaches flip personnel to spark their teams to a ‘W.’

On Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings got back to basics. After falling behind 10-0 in the first half, head coach Mike Zimmer scaled his play-calling back, asking his defense to “settle down” and “go play.” The Titans got the best of his unit early, throwing multiple shifts and formations their way, but Zimmer remained confident in his tried-and-true system.

“When they’re giving you a lot of complicated shifts and motions and movements, a shift and a motion and then a play that’s going back, two guys running this way and one guy running that way, the more you add, the more complicated it gets. So, it’s no different. I was giving our guys a lot of calls the first half.” 

For all of Tennessee’s read-option looks, motions, and audibles before the snap, Minnesota had an answer in the second half. And most of the time, the answer was to line up and play sound, technical football. Zimmer didn’t add defensive wrinkles or send extra blitzes at Marcus Mariota; he trusted the talent and discipline of his defense to prevail, even with the simplest of calls.

“Trickery with trickery equals too much trickery,” defensive end Everson Griffen said Monday, per Lindsey Young.

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The Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers will face off Sunday night, with both teams aiming to gain a one-game advantage over the other in the early season jockeying for position in the NFC North. The Detroit Lions also started off the season with a victory and look like a team to be reckoned with.

Our beloved Vikings certainly have plenty of things to be discussed this week: Kicker confidence, a struggling running game, and something about a quarterback or two.

Before we go too far down that rabbit hole, however, let’s take a glance around the NFC North in our weekly taking of the temperature to see how our greatest enemies are feeling.

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Vikings' Bumpy Win over Titans
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

It wasn’t easy, but the Minnesota Vikings came away with a Week 1 win over the Tennessee Titans. The road to victory had its share of bumps, with the Vikings falling behind 10-0 in the first half. Tennessee’s formation shifts and personnel changes kept Mike Zimmer’s defense off balance, and combined with Blair Walsh’s spotty kicking, made yesterday’s first two quarters a frustrating affair.

But Zimmer and the coaching staff adjusted at halftime, finishing the game on a 25-6 run that sealed Minnesota’s victory. Outside of a strong defensive showing — two return touchdowns — the Vikings also left Tennessee with few bruises or injuries. At this early point of the week, Xavier Rhodes’s knee is the only major concern; an encouraging development as the team prepares to host the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night.

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Image courtesy of Vikings.com

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.

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.

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