Monday, May 30, 2016

brian robison

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Image courtesy of Vikings.com

In Minnesota, the usual suspects continue to carry the Viking ship. Adrian Peterson’s 372 rushing yards lead the league, Mike Zimmer’s defense is holding teams to less than 20 points per game, and Anthony Barr is making spectacular plays on a weekly basis, both against the run and in coverage.

On Thursday, the Vikings Territory staff will answer Lindsey’s Question of the Week and share our pick for the team’s most impressive player through the first four games of the season. A few obvious choices — Peterson, Barr, Harrison Smith — stand out, while a number of newcomers like Linval Joseph and Terence Newman could potentially make the list.

Today, I want to ask fans a similar question. As spectators, we expect greatness from the Vikings’ best players. It’s a given that Peterson can score whenever he touches the ball, or, that Xavier Rhodes will likely shut down an opponent’s number one receiver. But which players have exceeded expectations at the quarter mark of the season, and who is surprising you with their play?

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Image courtesy of Vikings.com

In this weekly series of articles, I’ll be breaking down what went RIGHT or what went WRONG each game for the Minnesota Vikings. This week, the Vikings punished the San Diego Chargers behind a strong running attack and consistent quarterback pressure from the defensive line.

These Minnesota Vikings have the look of a certain team approximately 1,660 miles to the West — the Seattle Seahawks. Before you comment or tweet in outrage, hear me out, because the similarities are too obvious to ignore.

Like their counterparts in the Pacific Northwest, the Vikings are built to succeed through two fundamental concepts; a strong running game and a fast, aggressive defense. General manager Rick Spielman’s draft strategies and recent free agent signings have helped him achieve the look and feel of the Seahawks on both sides of the ball, from the secondary to depth at running back.

That starts with Harrison Smith, who through three games is already considered the league’s best safety, per Pro Football Focus. He’s this team’s Earl Thomas, a “quarterback of the defense” who can cover sideline to sideline and attack the line of scrimmage in run support. At linebacker, Anthony Barr, Gerald Hodges, and Eric Kendricks exemplify many of the same traits that make Seattle’s mid-level defenders so dangerous — speed, versatility to blitz or cover, and instincts.

Beyond those position groups, the Vikings’ greatest defensive strength starts at the line of scrimmage. Everson Griffen is the anchor of the group, a force against the run and an elite edge rusher. He plays a similar role to the Seahawks’ Michael Bennett, who lines up across the defensive line and is by far Seattle’s most consistent rusher, having tallied seven sacks in 2014. Joining Griffen are Brian Robison, Scott Crichton, Justin Trattou, and two of the league’s best interior linemen — Sharrif Floyd and Linval Joseph.

With a mix of double A-Gap blitzes, suffocating coverage from the secondary, and aggressive play from the front seven, Mike Zimmer’s defense passes the eye test. Like the Seahawks, they fly to the football and are an opportunistic bunch who have forced six turnovers through three games in 2015.

On the offensive side of the football, the Vikings are taking the Marshawn Lynch approach to moving the football, and fortunately, have the running back to do so. Adrian Peterson, the original “Beast Mode,” leads the league with 291 yards on the ground and in the past two games, rushed the ball 49 times. Last season, the Seahawks ran the football 53.63 percent of the time, and this year, the Vikings are on pace to surpass that. They’re rushing on 54.88 percent of their offensive snaps, taking the football out of Teddy Bridgewater’s hands and forcing defenses to commit to the run.

Hopefully, as they did for the Seahawks during their Super Bowl runs, the defense’s loaded boxes open up opportunities in the passing game. Russell Wilson, for example, finished the 2014 season with 3,475 passing yards, 20 touchdowns, and seven interceptions in an offense tailored to the running game. When we take Teddy Bridgewater’s statistics through three games and extrapolate them to project a 16-game season, we get the following: 2,693 yards, 5 touchdowns, 10 interceptions. Underwhelming, yes, but Bridgewater is operating behind Adrian Peterson in Norv Turner’s offense, and he hasn’t been forced to win games with his arm.

As long as the formula — suffocating defense and a run-heavy offense — are leading to victories, the Vikings should stick to the plan. A similar one took the Seahawks to multiple Super Bowls, and the Vikings have a chance to get there very soon. If last week’s win over the Chargers was any indication, they’ve fully embraced this winning identity.

After the jump, Ill dive deeper into their performance and the building blocks being put into place for a successful playoff run.

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A new brand of "Vikings Football"

Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Mike Zimmer laid the blueprint for success when he arrived in Minnesota last season, and those plans are finally becoming a reality for his young Vikings team after a dominating victory over the San Diego Chargers in Week 3.

The tape from their latest performance — and from their Week 2 demolition of the Detroit Lions — is covered in Zimmer’s fingerprints. A relentless pass rush, a grinding running game, and endless pressure packages paved the way for the Vikings’ 2-1 start on the field. The second-year head coach brought more than just schemes and concepts to Minnesota, though — he instilled a mentality that has permeated every player in the Vikings locker room.

Following yesterday’s win, Zimmer was asked what makes his defense “go”, and while success stems from stopping the run,  Zimmer believes a tough, physical mindset can impact a game from the very first snap:

“It is important to be able to do that. I know that our guys are starting to take a lot of pride. They came out in the three tight end set, which we have seen before and it was good that we shut it down early and it’s about a mindset and about physicality and about toughness and all the things that I really try to preach every single day. But when you can stop the run then eventually you can lay your ears back.”

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Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Inconsistency isn’t what you want to define your team if you are an NFL team, but over the course of just six days the Vikings have appeared like two completely different teams, and now us fans are forced to wonder which product we’ll see on the field this coming Sunday.

Coming off of a solid home victory against Detroit, news is starting to break of even more injury concerns along our offensive line (Brandon Fusco this time), and it is fair for each of us to wonder just how Minnesota will fare against Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers this weekend.

In preparation for the looming battle, we took a look around the web and brought you all the best links we could find:

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Image courtesy of Vikings.com

In this weekly series of articles, I’ll be breaking down what went RIGHT or what went WRONG each game for the Minnesota Vikings. This week, thanks to a turnaround victory over the Detroit Lions, I’ll be focusing on the positives and what the Vikings can build on moving forward this season.

In the NFL, game plans can and do change on a weekly basis. Against a team like the San Francisco 49ers, stopping the run has to be a defense’s number one priority — though that’s not always the result. When playing the Detroit Lions, for example, teams put a premium on shutting down Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, and Matthew Stafford’s other receiving weapons.

On the offensive side of the ball,  finding a balance between running and passing is ideal. Depending on the defense or specific one-on-one matchups, that can change. Take the New England Patriots in Week 2 — Tom Brady threw the ball 59 times against the Buffalo Bills and shredded Rex Ryan’s defense. Meanwhile, the Washington Redskins rushed the ball 37 times against the St. Louis Rams, riding the legs of Alfred Morris and Matt Jones to a victory.

A look at the Vikings’ first three offensive plays from both games illustrates this variation perfectly:

  • (9:19) (Shotgun) T.Bridgewater pass incomplete short right to J.Wright.
  • (9:13) (Shotgun) T.Bridgewater pass incomplete deep left to C.Johnson (T.Brock).
  • (9:07) (Shotgun) T.Bridgewater pass incomplete deep left to J.Wright [A.Lynch].

The Vikings started their first offensive drive on San Francisco’s 26-yard line after a blocked field goal and Andrew Sendejo return, but couldn’t capitalize on the premium field position. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner scripted running plays, but Teddy Bridgewater checked into passes based on the defense’s alignment and coverage. After missing Jarius Wright in the flat and misfiring on two deep balls, Bridgewater and the offense watched Blair Walsh push a 44-yard field goal — giving the ball right back to the 49ers.

Against the Lions, Turner’s first few offensive calls — downhill, inside zone runs — illustrated his plan to feed Adrian Peterson early and often:

  • (14:55) A.Peterson up the middle to MIN 25 for no gain (E.Ansah).
  • (14:26) A.Peterson left tackle to MIN 36 for 11 yards (G.Quin, E.Ansah).
  • (13:57) A.Peterson up the middle to MIN 38 for 2 yards (J.Jones).

In the first quarter alone, Peterson had 13 carries and surpassed his game total of 10 rushes from the previous week. The offensive line established itself against the Lions from the start and Peterson set the tone on the team’s first drive. He looked more patient, more decisive, putting together 11-yard and 25-yard runs as the Vikings marched down the field for their first touchdown.

Special players make special plays, as evidenced by Adrian Peterson’s ability to turn the corner and outrun edge defenders, but their success wouldn’t be possible without the development of effective game plans. From an offense’s first scripted plays to a defense’s blitzes and pre-determined coverages (Xavier Rhodes shadowing Calvin Johnson,) the Vikings’ preparation is key to a victory each week. After the jump, I’ll take a look at some of that preparation (and a few individual performances) that highlight how the Vikings defeated the Detroit Lions in Week 2

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