Sunday, August 2, 2015

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The Vikings are left with one practice squad spot again (perhaps for Mike Remmers) now that the Bears have signed former Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon off of their practice squad. Ahmad Dixon was one of nine practice squad players in the NFL (out of 320) making more than the league minimum for practice squad players, at $9,300 a week (minimum is $6,300).

The Bears have had issues with the safety position for a while and Chris Conte’s play against the Buffalo Bills is another indication. This comes on the heels of the Bears releasing Adrian Wilson in training camp to reduce the roster to 75 players (before final cutdowns).

Chicago cut cornerback Demontre Hurst to make room for him. Players can be signed at any time by any team from a practice squad, so long as they are being signed to a 53-man roster. Players are free to decline, as Tori Gurley did to the Vikings while the Packers were in the playoffs.

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There is no doubt that bigger challenges than the St. Louis Rams are in our near future, but for now the Vikings are enjoying their first win of the 2014 regular season, a 34-6 blasting that resulted in a Gatorade bath for coach Mike Zimmer.  Before we move on to next week’s matchup against the Patriots, here are a few post-game quotes and comments to enjoy:

Mike Zimmer on winning road games after the Vikings 2013 struggles:

I actually heard a couple of the players talking about it today before we went on. I’ve said it all along: If you play smart football, if you play good techniques and good fundamentals, you can go out in the parking lot and do good. It’s more about how you play than where you play.

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Leading 13-0, the Vikings are looking rusty but hanging on against a Rams team they were inexplicably underdogs to. Regardless, there are some serious issues on both sides of the ball worth digging into, as well as highlights to celebrate.

Offense

The Vikings are clearly employing a different method of playcalling that’s opponent-specific instead of one that focuses on the offenses’ own strengths, like many coordinators (Bevell, Musgrave, Roman, Gase/Manning) do. Others, like McDaniels, Whisenhunt and McCoy prefer to mold their offensive looks to the opponent that they have.

That second approach is a much more complex load on an offense, requiring a lot more flexibility and capability from the offense, as well as a larger mental load because of the expanded playbook that that approach requires.

So far it has been inconsistent in result, but flashes from Patterson and Peterson have both been good, though Patterson’s effectiveness has come as a runner more than a receiver. In fact, none of the targets have been consistently good, with so few attempts to give anyone time to shine.

There has been consistent pressure given up by the left side of the line, sometimes a result of mixed looks by the Rams but usually a result of being overpowered. The bigger issue are the consistent penalties on the line.

Despite the low rushing yards, the offensive line was run blocking fairly well early in the half, though there have been some notable miscues in the second quarter that have led to Rams in the backfield or a bottled up runner. More often than not, it’s been good, even outside the nontraditional sweep plays.

Adrian himself has been better than his statistics would indicate, but hasn’t been given the sliver of room he needs to break off consistent gains.

Cassel has been who he is, which is to say some flashes of consistently solid play and good throws, but large stretches of questionable play that aren’t necessarily covered by his good play. He hasn’t handled pressure particularly well, but there has been too much pressure to lay the blame at his feet.

 

Defense

Highlighted by a late interception by Robinson, it still probably more fortuitous than a sign of skill that the Vikings are shutting out the Rams. Still, good play on third down has propelled the Vikings to shutting out the Rams—unique play design on third and long in particular has given the Vikings that advantage, forcing the Rams to be 33% on third downs.

A big part of the play has been the interior line, with Sharrif Floyd, Linval Joseph and even Tom Johnson flashing solid and consistently good play. Though the defensive ends haven’t been as reliable in generating pressure, the pressure they have produced has clearly had an effect.

Anthony Barr is the only linebacker to consistently show up with good play, but that doesn’t mean that Chad Greenway, Jasper Brinkley or Gerald Hodges—in on nickel downs—have been bad, as they haven’t been exploited in coverage nor responsible for significant gains on the ground (the Rams are averaging 2.8 yards per carry on the ground). Jasper has flashed, too, so there are more signs of positivity from a questionable corps.

The secondary has been a little suspect, however, and despite the fact that Harrison Smith has been excellent on his pass rushes (and untargeted; a good thing), the corners have been wanting. Though Robinson finished out the half with an excellent interception, the penalties and yards gained by receivers through the air point to some problems the Vikings need to solve. Still, it was good to see Blanton do a good job against Tavon Austin on what would have been a deadly run and Shaun Hill reduced to 6.2 yards per attempt.

Second half incoming. Live score updates here.

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Minnesota Vikings: 34
St. Louis Rams: 6

First Half Recap here

Full Game Recap here

4th Quarter—1:31

Vikings 34 – Rams 6

After a hilariously bad drive by the Rams, they were able to trot out their big-legged kicker, Greg Zuerlein, and pot in a perfectly placed 46-yard shot.

4th Quarter—3:18

Vikings 34 – Rams 3

A defensive score that highlights the playmaking ability of Harrison Smith, the Vikings were able to combine several important elements after putting together pressure after pressure on Austin Davis. Though they had gotten home on sacks (courtesy of Everson Griffen) earlier, it was pressure by Anthony Barr that led to the final interception by Smith, and his runback was aided by none other than Griffen himself, blocking downfield on the return. Though the offense hasn’t been spectacular outside of a penalty-assisted drive, the Vikings have done more than enough to dominate a bad Rams team.

4th Quarter—6:27

Vikings 27- Rams 3

A sputtering start to a drive was aided by a penalty for roughing the punter. Though the Vikings repaid the favor by taking away a run-and-catch from Rhett Ellison, they drove home with a touchdown to Kyle Rudolph running a levels concept concurrently with Ellison on the next play.

3rd Quarter—1:54

Vikings 20 – Rams 3

A 67-yard, insane run by Cordarrelle Patterson was solely responsible for the offensive drive, though it should be noted that the defense, and Linval Joseph in particular, deserves credit for stopping an admittedly anemic Rams offense.

3rd Quarter—10:11

Vikings 13 – Rams 3

Greg Zuerlein hits a 56-yard field goal attempt after the Vikings struggled a bit against Jared Cook, a predictable problem before the season started—without any clear, consistent answer to defending tight ends. But Austin Davis, second-year undrafted rookie from Southern Miss, couldn’t handle the blitz looks and was stopped deep.

2nd Quarter—0:26

Vikings 13 – Rams 0

After a mediocre set of drives, the Vikings were able to take advantage of both Patterson and Jennings’ skills, as well as a few good Peterson runs to set up the first red zone appearance for the Vikings of the game. It didn’t take long to convert the red zone appearance into a touchdown, with fantastic play design and execution by the Vikings, and most notably Jennings to get the score.

2nd Quarter—14:16

Vikings 6 – Rams 0

The Vikings defense keeps escaping despite worrisome pressure percentages on first and second down, but third down playcalling has been superb. On offense, inconsistent but effective gains have led to getting just inside of field goal range twice for the Vikings, both resulting in scores. Earlier, the Rams could not do the same.

1st Quarter—10:37

Vikings 3 – Rams 0

The Minnesota Vikings started off with the ball and after some impressive runs and quirky playcalling, the Vikings found themselves pushed back by penalty and plays for loss, forcing a third and 20 despite a solid drive. After a run for no gain, the Vikings opted for a 52-yard field goal, which was good.

 

 

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