Wednesday, July 1, 2015

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Surprising no one, the Minnesota Vikings have named Matt Cassel the starter for the season at quarterback and informed the team this morning, according to Jay Glazer.

Like Glazer points out, Cassel has done very well in the preseason and has done nothing to indicate he shouldn’t have the job, from the perspective of the current coaching staff. This announcement mostly formalizes what we already knew, as Bridgewater took precious few snaps with the, and only then when it was late in the process.

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In the third week of the preseason, you rarely see really well-designed, complex plays if only because offensive coordinators want to hide it. If not, then they want to evaluate their players in an environment that makes it easy; a simple play is easy to break down in that regard. Andy Reid didn’t do that because he enjoys fun.

The Chiefs ran a play-action, fake reverse screen to Knile Davis and moved three or four Vikings out of the play entirely, and created some awkward blocking angles to do it. At the same time, they still gave themselves options if the screen wasn’t there for them or pressure arrived too early. At a glance, the play looks like this:

Kansas City Screen 4

 

That’s a lot of lines, which doesn’t help anyone, but there you go. The loop in the “F” route designates that the fullback looked back for the pass, in case the pressure arrived too early on the screen or the left tackle couldn’t bat the defensive end inside. The “Z” on the fake end-around is an available receiver if the Vikings don’t bite on it and they crowd Davis at the point of attack. But the first option was the one that worked out for them in the end.

Incidentally, the “Y” has what looks like an insanely difficult block on Anthony Barr, but it’s actually far easier because Barr is expected to move to contain the end-around. Here’s a video poorly diagramming the play, and how the Chiefs got a few more yards than they should have, even with its excellent play design:

For a more complete recap of the game, head over to Vikings Journal, where I wrote about the Vikings offense and defense at length.

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Without the Kansas City Chiefs scoring an offensive point, the Vikings defense looks to be in good form, and the offense has had some splash plays, highlighted by a 53-yard catch from Cordarrelle Patterson on a well-designed play, executed fantastically by the playmakers. Though excitement waned from there, there have been good signs from both sides of the ball, though the defense tailed off in the second quarter.

Offense

After the first touchdown, the offense stalled in part because of Matt Cassel. Though it wasn’t until the final minutes that he showed some spotty play. In this game, he seemed a lot more prone to pressure than the previous games, and that’s an issue given the pressure given up on the edges by all three tackles early on, with Austin Wentworth taking snaps from Phil Loadholt as he was being examined in the locker room for a leg injury. Without that drive, it would be fair to call him accurate, and he even threaded the needle on a tough pass that was marked as an incompletion because Greg Jennings didn’t tap his toes on the sideline.

The final drive was a bigger issue—a near pick six from Ron Parker, followed by an actual interception from him on a deep ball to Jerome Simpson, who wasn’t open. Generally speaking, his ball placement has been good and his decisionmaking continues a good trend. That said, he has to answer for staring down Jennings on the near-interception and throwing to Simpson when double-covered. The last drive is not really his fault, as he was the subject of two drops, one from Matt Asiata and one from Patterson.

Cordarrelle Patterson is still progressing well as a route-runner. He still hasn’t shown nearly any signs of precision and could get out of breaks even better than he does, but he’s been maintaining separation with leverage and strength, something he didn’t do last year. He’s getting better off the line of scrimmage, too. Those improvements so far have manifested well, and led to Patterson’s deep touchdown, as well as some good catches later on. The drop on third down at the end of the half is bad, but not part of a consistent pattern.

Of the other receivers, Greg Jennings continues to find ways to create space, but he’s been asked to run routes into  crowded areas of the field to open up other areas of the field. A good performance, except for the incompletion on the deep throw from Cassel, but not something that will show up readily. Jerome Simpson has been neither impressive nor disappointing. It will be up to the review on afterwards to really determine how well the receivers did.

On the offensive line, the interior has held up well. John Sullivan is holding up extremely well (with help from either guard) against a premier nose tackle. Brandon Fusco has driven well, and I haven’t noted many mistakes. The same is true of Charlie Johnson thus far.

On the edge, Phil Loadholt had a few struggles, but nothing too frequent or worth noting. His replacement when he was in the locker room was Austin Wentworth, and his very brief time was disastrous, giving up a safety. Matt Kalil needs to turn it around soon, because he has been pretty bad, even considering the caliber of player he’s up against. Giving up pressure often, Kalil’s play has forced Minnesota to focus more than one blocker on the edge, even in pass plays.

At running back, Matt Asiata has been extremely impressive, and has shown much more quickness and agility than he’s been given credit for. Smart reading and deceptive play has given him quite a few good gains, and if not for a slip in the backfield that lead to a tackle for loss, it was nearly a flawless game. There has been very little of Jerick McKinnon

Defense

The defense has held up extremely well, though teams are doing a pretty good job of figuring out where the Vikings are weak: tight ends and shifty running backs. The defensive line can be said to be the star of the night, as Everson Griffen has been excellent and has put a lot of pressure on Alex Smith, while Brian Robison has done the same on the other side. Both have shown an array of moves while maintaining fundamental soundness, both with their positioning and leverage. Griffen has clearly expanded his game from two years ago and seems technically refined. Backup defensive ends Scott Crichton and Corey Wootton haven’t had a lot of looks and have been less impressive.

The defensive tackles have contributed to the fact that 23 of Kansas City’s 39 plays were for three yards or fewer (or were sacks or turnovers). Sharrif Floyd has been playing his gap well with quickness, but he’s being overshadowed by backup nose tackle Fred Evans, who is playing instead of Linval Joseph, who is still out. Evans has been shooting gaps with burst and speed, playing his gaps well, getting off of blocks with alacrity and reading the play very quickly. Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen have been good as well, and Johnson got in on a sack with Everson Griffen. Stephen has held up well against double teams and is performing well in his role as a nickel-package rusher.

There’s been a lot of linebacker rotation. Chad Greenway has been playing excellently, and his interception highlights solid play that also includes smart tackling and excellent positioning. He did make way for other linebackers, like Michael Mauti and Audie Cole, neither of whom have shown a lot yet. Mauti has been silent, but Audie has made at least two significant mistakes that look bad on film, even if one of them is because it’s difficult to find any linebackers who can cover De’Anthony Thomas.

Anthony Barr has looked extremely good, either lined up at defensive end or at linebacker. Aside from one mistake against a scramble, he’s been aligned intelligently and has played not just with discipline, but with quick decisionmaking and smart instincts. He’s put pressure on the quarterback, covered better than the other linebackers and has played the run and scramble very well. Jasper Brinkley has even shown good signs, with some plays in the backfield help his case.

Cornerback Xavier Rhodes has shown top-level play. Aside from putting himself in the right position with few technique mistakes, he’s doing a good job of reacting to the ball in the air and harassing defenders without running afoul of the officials. On the other side of the field, Captain Munnerlyn has an interception on his resume, which might make up f0r his play in the previous game. Josh Robinson may be notable for a deep pass interference play, but neither he nor Marcus Sherels have been egregious in coverage.

Harrison Smith hasn’t been tested much. While indicative of good play, it might also mean that Robert Blanton and Chris Crocker seem easier to exploit. For the most part, it seemed like Crocker was well-positioned, but Blanton, just recently returned from injury, is still learning his assignments, as he may have been responsible for more than one play in the middle.

Overall, the first half of this game might provide a truer test of their talent than the previous game, though the Kansas City offensive line may be just as bad as Arizona’s. The team looks sharp in their responsibilities, but there are clear issues that will crop up consistently in the season.

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Xavier Rhodes and Cordarrelle Patterson appear well on their way to success in the NFL. The Vikings drafted Sharrif Floyd before each of those two a year ago though. He’s the one with the most question marks a season in.

The question marks that relate to Floyd’s play date back to his days as a Florida Gator, despite the palpable hype around his skills as a prospect and eventual slot into the first round. Floyd was always a bit of a project who’s technique and playing style didn’t equal up to his end production. That meant a dip in form as a rookie was likely and meant that development was needed for Floyd to match his potential.

With two weeks of preseason in the books, and only two more remaining, we are getting quite close to the time when the Vikings (and everyone else) have to start trimming down the roster.  As our Week Three contest approaches, here are the best links I could find from around the internet, so tell them who sent ya:

 

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