Monday, October 5, 2015

Captain Munnerlyn

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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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When it comes to roster depth, Minnesota is doing quite well at the cornerback position.

On Monday, the Vikings added Jabari Price back to the active roster, leaving only Josh Robinson inactive. Robinson suffered a torn pectoral muscle prior to team OTAs and is currently on the Physically Unable to Perform list.

Head coach Mike Zimmer came to Minnesota with experience as a defensive coordinator, and it’s no secret that his specialty lies on that side of the field. Even more specifically, defensive backs seem to have a special place in his heart.

Associated Press Dave Campbell wrote the following last month:

Zimmer coaches [cornerbacks] as critically as any players on the Vikings, and if there were a contest held to determine his favorite position on the field the others would probably be fighting for second place.

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The inevitable cuts are looming, and after tonight game, we’ll see the Minnesota Vikings’ active roster go from 89 players to 75 by September 1st. Through three weeks of preseason football, not much has changed — Teddy Bridgewater is still the man, Charles Johnson is the Vikings’ best receiver, and the defensive line is loaded with talent. There’s plenty to be excited about, but plenty left to prove for a handful of players, whether they’re clinging for life on the roster bubble or trying to find their groove with a new team.

As head coach Mike Zimmer noted earlier this week, the Vikings don’t view tonight’s matchup with the Cowboys as a “dress rehearsal.” Rather, it’s a test for his young team against a 2014 playoff contender and this year’s NFC East favorite, per 1500 ESPN’s Derek Wetmore:

“We really don’t gameplan for it. Our guys have been through all that for 16 weeks now anyway. It’s still about us and doing what we do and seeing if we can do it good against a team that we really haven’t studied much.”

“It’ll be a good test. They’re a very good offensive team, they’ve improved a lot defensively, they’ve always done a good job on special teams,” Zimmer said.

With that said, here are a few Vikings I’ll be watching closely tonight. If not a tune-up for the regular season, this evening’s game will provide the starters extended playing time and the reserves a chance to prove they belong on the roster:

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The Minnesota Fightin’ Vikings are days away from trimming the 90-man roster down to 75 after the Dallas preseason game and then the final 53 — after the fifth and final exhibition at Tennessee — as the 2015 campaign begins.

Since my mock draft skills are itching to get out, I did a mock 53-man roster and practice squad prediction/projection/forecast. Enjoy! (Also please be quick to tell me where I’m wrong, suck, and am terrible.)

5 Teddy Bridgewater
13 Shaun Hill
I think this makes the most sense to keep 2 QBs on the roster & toss the kid Heinicke (who has shown some promise in spurts) on the practice squad. Also I think Teddy’s done enough to stay off the 53-man bubble…

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The Vikings have been in Mankato less than a week, and fans are already anxious to see where their favorite players sit on the team’s depth chart. After four training camp practices and this morning’s walkthrough session, Mike Zimmer and his coaching staff were expected to make a few changes to the roster, but things appear to be relatively the same as they were on Wednesday.

Thanks to Daniel House at Vikings Corner and Arif Hasan for the quick updates. I expect we’ll see a few changes in 11-on-11 during today’s afternoon practice:

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