Vikings

Sparkplug Patterson and Unconquerable Third Down Defense Play Big Roles in Vikings’ Win

Photo Credit: Brian Curski (Cumulus Media), Kyle Hansen (Cumulus Media) and Luke Inman (Cold Omaha)

The Minnesota Vikings drafted a wide receiver in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft to address a perceived need for pass catchers, yet it’s been a different first-round pick, Cordarrelle Patterson, who’s stepped up and, on Sunday, enabled the offense to proceed without missing a beat as star wideout Stefon Diggs watched from the sideline.

Patterson has been trying to earn his way out of the doghouse since plummeting from the spotlight during the 2014 season. Against the Texans, he delivered his second consecutive rock solid game, likely representing his best two-game stretch since Weeks 13 and 14 of his rookie season. It may be safe to say he’s reestablished himself as an offensive threat – and as much more well-rounded player.

His four catches, 39 yards and a touchdown look small next teammate Adam Thielen’s seven grabs, 127 yards and a score, but the instant chemistry quarterback Sam Bradford has displayed with Patterson says that the fourth-year receiver is making himself into a reliable target who can be trusted to get in the proper place in the proper number of steps, something that couldn’t be said in previous seasons.

Each of Patterson’s four grabs on Sunday resulted in a first down or touchdown. He vigorously fought for extra yardage, showed good field awareness of where the first-down markers were and, on his touchdown, ran a great out-cutting route that gave Sam Bradford an open window in the back-right corner of the end zone. His contested catch against Charles James II was his best of the day, and Patterson explained after the game it was a play that he and Bradford had worked on last week after practice – the product of extra hours working at his craft. “Hard work,” Patterson said. “I feel like the coaches watch us each and every day, they see all the hard work you put in at practice … Hard work just really pays off for you.”

Patterson played his way off the field in 2014 and 2015 with lackadaisical route running and mistakes that reeked of a lack of discipline, like headbutting Green Bay’s kicker for a personal foul last season. Zimmer wanted to see consistency before entrusting Patterson with the same type of responsibility he received in the second half of his rookie campaign, and though it took almost 2.5 years, Patterson seems to be a reconstructed man with his on- and off-field approach. “He’s obviously a weapon for us,” Zimmer said after the game. “I think he’s taking everything that we’re giving him and jumping at it and trying to do the very best he possibly can.”

“God gave you your eyes in the front of our head to see where you’re going, not where you’ve been,” Patterson said last week. It’s a realization that seemed to evade Patterson the last two seasons as he wondered aloud to the media what more he needed to do to get on the field and occasionally alluded to his upcoming free agency. Perhaps the Vikings’ decision not to pick up his fifth-year option was the wake-up call that Patterson needed – a proverbial kick in the pants from the front office that caused Patterson to realize his money-making days could be dwindling if he didn’t build some value before signing a second contract.

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Zimmer said last week that he wasn’t sure if Patterson would have received the delegation of punt-team gunner with an open mind at an earlier time, but the speedy receiver has taken to the duty like a special teams ace, becoming the latest Mike Priefer gunner to splash on the punt coverage team. He made another tackle on Sunday, tracking down Tyler Ervin from behind after Marcus Sherels overran the return man.

Patterson’s elevation has not only softened the blow of getting very little production from rookie Laquon Treadwell, it may have caused Vikings fans to ponder — for only an afternoon — ‘Diggs who?’

While it hasn’t been said for quite a few years, the Vikings are developing something that resembles quality depth at wide receiver.

Even when Diggs returns from his groin injury – likely after the bye – Patterson is in a position to remain involved, perhaps in lieu of Charles Johnson, who had another quiet day.

While it hasn’t been said for quite a few years, the Vikings are developing something that resembles quality depth at wide receiver, and they haven’t even cracked the potential of their first-round pick.

Third down dominance

The Vikings had Houston offensively discombobulated from the opening kickoff. The Texans seemed determined to pass the ball early on and test the Vikings’ secondary, but that turned out to be an unwise decision from new playcaller, head coach Bill O’Brien. Brock Osweiler threw the ball 42 times and completed just 45 percent of his passes. You can imagine how this put the Texans in a bind once it got to third down.

With no run game whatsoever (until the team’s final drive) and a plethora of incompletions being thrown, the Texans found themselves in undesirable third downs all day, which led to them starting 0 for 12 on conversion attempts. They did manage to eliminate the goose egg with a garbage time completion to DeAndre Hopkins, but 1 of 13 on third downs is still about as ugly as it gets.

Houston ran 13 third down plays and, on average, faced a 3rd and 7.5. Only twice did they have anything more favorable than 3rd and 5. They didn’t try to run once on third down – even on attempts of 3rd and 1 or 3rd and 2 – a testament to the Vikings’ improved rush defense, which entered the game in the top quarter of the league.

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Osweiler was 3 of 11 on third downs, took two sacks and threw an interception. He seemed flustered by the noise and was seen calling audibles on many of the attempts. “They were so loud,” Zimmer said of the crowd’s third-down noise level. “I think [Houston] used two timeouts because of that as well.”

The Vikings also had three pass breakups to prevent third down completions. Eric Kendricks made two and Captain Munnerlyn had another. “I thought we covered really well today,” Zimmer said. “I thought we rushed them good. Defensively I thought we were swarming to the football pretty good today.”

Houston is still 3-2 and leading the AFC South, but there will be many questions asked about the offense after another uninspiring performance from their new quarterback Osweiler, who came over from Denver in the offseason and has now put together two clunkers in the last three games. “At times, as far as if you see something that the defense is doing, you want to audible and the play clock is getting low. That is where it affects you, because now you do not have time to do that,” Osweiler said of his primary difficulty on Sunday. “So now maybe you are throwing high and you are just going to throw the ball in the dirt, where if you were at home maybe you can verbalize something in two or three seconds and get a different play.”

Defensive end Brian Robison – who recorded two sacks on the day – credited Minnesota’s game-planning prowess as the reason they flustered Osweiler. “Our coaches are probably the smartest coaching staff I’ve ever been around, so we do a great job of making sure that when we come into a game we’ve got the best game plan possible.”

Opponents are now 9 of 41 on third down against the Vikings over the last three games. Just one pebble in the pile of stats one could pull to show how remarkable this defense has been through the first five weeks.

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