With a Vikings team that looks unfamiliar from last season and even last week, the Vikings are putting together a competitive game against a team that’s coming off one of the most dominant wins in NFL history. It’s not just the quality of play that’s unfamiliar, however. The personnel has changed as well, and it looks like a good one, as the Vikings lead 24-14.
The first thing to look at is Teddy Bridgewater, who of course looks good—though hasn’t been asked to do too much. His passes haev been quick and his reads easy,m though that shouldn’t take away from some impressive plays, including an anticipation throw to Greg Jennings for a good gain and checking out of one play to give Jarius Wright a huge gain on a screen (even though it was immediately after another screen). Also important for him has been a lack of mistakes. In a game he isn’t expected to carry the team, it so far looks like he’s rejuvenated it.
Matt Asiata is doing exactly what he’s been asked to do, which is enough. His good gains are still subject to questions about the ways he’s found huge lanes (mesh plays that could have frozen LBs were his two TDs), though getting what his line gets him is a very good thing in this case, where the interior line is getting good push against a questionable defensive line. Asiata’s eventual demotion, if it ever comes, has probably been staved off for one more week. Of course, his runs in the second half of the second quarter were impressive plays by him, regardless of the quality blocking ahead of him. He showed off good lateral agility and decent burst to average 4.7 yards per carry
Or it would be, were it not for Jerick McKinnon‘s impressive 55-yard run. The Vikings couldn’t turn that into a score, but the attempt miss is not his fault, obviously. He’s displayed good patience throughout the season and preseason, and it showed on that run and his subsequent run for six yards, where he bounced outside after seeing holes close up. He looks like the RB the Vikings drafted him to be, as a threat to take it to the end zone on almost any play. His ability to play in short-yardage situations, like his touchdown, is helping. It doesn’t look like he’s run against stacked boxes yet, but it’s a good sign. He has also done well in his limited pass protection opportunities.
Speaking of the offensive line, there has been very good play from everyone, Matt Kalil and Charlie Johnson included. Kalil isn’t just matching up well by not allowing sacks or pressures, he’s been doing it with good technique—mirroring the defensive line men well and refusing to overplay against fakes. Both he and Johnson have done adequately run blocking.
On the other hand, where Kalil and Johnson have done very well in one area and just enough in another, John Sullivan has done excellently in all phases of the game he’s asked to compete in. An superior run blocker and excellent pass protector, Sullivan has open up big lanes for Asiata and did a very good job on McKinnon’s big run as well. He’s been fantastic so far.
More surprising has been Vlad Ducasse, who looked unimpressive in his first game with the Vikings, has been good today. In particular, he’s done a good job holding his own when Sullivan peels off blocks, and also has crushed players downfield on a couple of runs. As a pass blocker, he hasn’t given up much pressure, though has had some help.
Phil Loadholt hasn’t drawn much attention, but has let some blocks slip by away from the play. He doesn’t look like the disaster he was against the New Orleans Saints, but he doesn’t look as clean as he did in 2012 or 2013, which isn’t a huge surprise but a small reason to be upset.
Cordarrelle Patterson hasn’t been able to advance the ball, but he has been alright in his other duties. Though he has generally held up well in the run game (especially on the McKinnon run), he has whiffed a block or two. He may need to get the ball more, but the Vikings offense is doing well enough without forcing it. Naturally, he’s been a good returner.
On the other hand, Jarius Wright has been excellent. Not only has he been getting the raw production numbers that look impressive, his release off the line and timing with Teddy has been superb. Catching away from his frame and running naturally has only helped him. It may be the case that Teddy has revived his career, as this chemistry is excellent so far.
Greg Jennings hasn’t seen many targets, but has looked fine so far. He should be getting more targets, but has performed well when you can see him and gets marginally open, which is good. It may depend on the read progression, though.
Tight ends Chase Ford and Rhett Ellison have done an alright job replacing Kyle Rudolph, but it seems like the Vikings will simply be missing that sort of mismatch element in this game, as neither of them are as capable catching passes in the red zone. Regardless, Ellison has been blocking well, though Ford has looked somewhat questionable in his limited play—though at least one of his plays looked very good.
The defense has been increasingly inconsistent, with good plays followed by bad from almost every player. Still, there have been some noteworthy performances.
Defensive end Brian Robison has looked very good, and he’s put a lot of pressure on Matt Ryan through Lamar Holmes and had a sack that was called back. In general, Robison may be the quietest good performer for the defense as the Falcons haven’t really run in his direction and he’s done a good job affecting the pass.
On the other hand, Everson Griffen has been more up and down. He flashed well early in the game in both the run and passing game despite playing against Jake Matthews, but lost efficacy as the game has gone on.
On the interior, there have been more problems. Despite a good play by Sharrif Floyd there have been issues with more consistent penetration and finishing plays, three times getting close to or even getting his hands on the ballcarrier without bringing him down, including some critical plays where the Vikings were nearly given a freebie (the botched snap, for example). Linval Joseph also had good moments but they’ve been washed out by some liabilities in play, and he’s not been as penetrative as before.
Though we’ve seen Shamar Stephen and Tom Johnson play, they haven’t been in long enough to earn a fair review.
Gerald Hodges has been tasked with filling in Chad Greenway’s shoes, and though he’s had at least one misstep, he hasn’t been terrible, with the run defense suffering more as a result of Barr and the interior line more than anything else. In fact, Hodges had enough in terms of splash play to be worth watching out for.
On the other hand, though Anthony Barr has looked good rushing the passer, he looks uncomfortable in off-ball LB duties, not closing well against running backs or filling his run gaps in.
Harrison Smith, however, has looked like the safety he’s been billed as. He’s played with a lot of awareness and physicality and has been responsible for many of the good plays the Vikings have had, helping shut down Julio Jones when called upon. He’s hit well and cleaned up runs. His partner, Robert Blanton, hasn’t been as on-point, but neither has he seemed the liability he was last week.
Josh Robinson continues to moonlight as the most talented cornerback, a confusing statement still four weeks into the season, and has played extremely well against a gifted receiving corps. Though he has given up a few plays in coverage, his positioning and reaction has been generally very good. Xavier Rhodes is having one of his better games, though he’s already given up his requisite penalty.
Captain Munnerlyn was most likely responsible for the long Roddy White reception early in the game, and since then has been better in terms of corraling the slot receivers, though of the three has been the most questionable.
If it seems like the entire secondary got unduly good reviews despite giving up 14 points in a half, it should be noted that Matt Ryan had around six yards an attempt entering the second half, with good receptions over the middle given up by the linebackers more than the cornerbacks.