Vikings

Vikings Lose Exactly How You’d Expect, but Stand At 5-1

Photo Credit: NFL Gamepass

In a 21-10 loss that was felt and played out more like a three-possession loss than a two-possession one, it seems like everything went wrong for the Vikings. They still stand atop the division with one of the best records in the NFL—especially against a slate of excellent teams. That should provide a significant buffer to any growing pessimism left over from the poor play of the offensive line and the resultant performance.

In a game where the offensive line allowed 19 quarterback hits (per Fox Sports) and more pressures, the offensive line were the majority of the problem.

Head coach Mike Zimmer certainly seemed to agree with that assessment when he called out the offensive line as being soft, and it’s difficult to take away anything more impactful than how fatal the line play was.

We knew from the outset of the season that if there was one Achilles heel to the team, it was the offensive line. Since then, the offensive line has been ravaged by injuries, with temporary injuries to Brandon Fusco and Alex Boone in previous games as well as IR-worthy injuries to Matt Kalil and Andre Smith.

The interior of the offensive line held up pretty well, however, which doesn’t match well with the perception Brandon Fusco and Alex Boone have built up. Beau Allen and All-Pro defensive tackle Fletcher Cox were limited to two or three pressures in the passing game.

That means an offensive line where T.J. Clemmings was the best pass protector is the reality the Vikings were left with. He “only” gave up pressure on about one of every ten of his pass protection plays—a rate that would make one the worst offensive tackle in almost any year in recent NFL history over the course of a season.

But Jake Long and Jeremiah Sirles—at one point a shining light along the line—were somehow worse. Long was only in on ten dropbacks but gave up two sacks and at least one additional hurry, a three in ten rate. Sirles split the different, allowing about eight pressure in 40 dropbacks.

That added up to a bevy of hits and constant pressure on Bradford, who has been excellent under pressure but not put under the same kind of duress. This, more than any other game, led to more quarterback hits and sacks than he’s ever had in a Vikings uniform even if the amount of pressure per snap isn’t necessarily unusual.

It was more pressure than most games, but it probably wasn’t the worst individual offensive line performance of the year—that might belong to the game two weeks ago. Sure, the offensive line had an abysmal game, but the playcalling and time Bradford held on to the ball may have made all the difference.

The Vikings had over 80 percent of their plays come on quick passes in Week 5, which is why a poor offensive line performance didn’t translate to nearly as many hits or as much pressure. The Vikings only had 40 percent or so of their passing plays come on these quicker passes, lengthening the amount of time Bradford spent in the pocket, without giving him better windows to quickly get rid of the ball.

Still, not all of it is on playcalling; Bradford also simply held on to the ball longer on the same kinds of dropbacks as before while offensive linemen gave up pressure quicker than they did before. The Vikings quarterback didn’t demonstrate the same awareness of the pocket as he had in previous games, either.

Those all contributed to the massive problems the Vikings had with the Eagles pass rushers, but it should be said that none of this would be a big issue if the Vikings offensive line were merely as good as an average one; shifting from 2.37 seconds from snap-to-throw to 2.56 seconds is dramatic in the sense that 0.2 seconds can be an eternity in the pocket, but not dramatic insofar as many NFL quarterbacks spend 2.50 seconds from snap-to-throw.

Not only that, Bradford dealt with pressure poorly relative to how he did in previous weeks. Aside from exacerbating the pressure issues with his navigation in the pocket, he was less accurate than he usually was against pressure.

Honestly, his accuracy was only a little below NFL average under pressure but given how much he bailed out the Vikings before with a high accuracy rate, it seems like an enormous dropoff. It is, but it is difficult to argue that it is his fault—can a quarterback who plays about average under pressure in one game be blamed for how often the level of pressure depressed his overall level of play?

Either way, it’s something to consider.

All of the concerns about sustainability—a mediocre offensive line, the relative luck of dropped interceptions and recovered fumbles, the low offensive drive success rate and the untenably high level of play from special teams—came home to roost.

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Bradford made his own mistakes independent of the offensive line, and even grading on a curve, Bradford did poorly. After all, Bridgewater dealt with playcalling that exacerbated pressure even more often and had more than a few games with even more pressure than Bradford dealt with in this one and only had two total games with lower ESPN QBR. He had seven games with a lower passer rating in his 29-game career.

As for run-blocking, the line largely did well. Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata together averaged 4.3 yards a carry and had an astonishing success rate of 58.3 percent. Clemmings had a surprisingly good game as a run blocker after putting together several consecutive games of worse run-blocking than pass-blocking.

Brandon Fusco and Joe Berger put together excellent games as run-blockers and though Boone was solid as a pass protection player, he did have some struggles paving the road for running backs. Fusco did give up some bad blocks, but worse blocks were given up more often by Jeremiah Sirles and sixth-offensive linemen Zac Kerin.

As individual runners, McKinnon performed wonders and Matt Asiata performed exceedingly well. Surprisingly, McKinnon was the more consistent of the two runners in the game before going down with an ankle injury.

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McKinnon only had four failed runs (a 63.6 percent success rate, incredibly high), and it seemed like those failures were rarely his fault. Even taking away his biggest run, he had a success rate of 60 percent and a yards per carry of 3.4. For Asiata, removing his biggest run gives him a respectable success rate of 50 percent but a yards-per-carry of 2.4.

For the most part, McKinnon got more yards more often than Asiata, but one shouldn’t take away how big a conversion on third and long can be.

Asiata and McKinnon should be praised for their vision, though McKinnon did save himself from what initially looked like unusual decisions from the broadcast angle. On the other hand, that could simply be creativity.

It should also be noted that Matt Asiata failed in pass protection on about half of his snaps (allowing one sack in the process), and Ronnie Hillman also did poorly both on his one run and on his single pass protection snap, giving up a pressure.

As for the receivers, an initial pass at them will tell us that they were largely unimpressive. It’s not always a receiver’s fault if he’s not targeted but it is incumbent upon them to perform when they are. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen largely accomplished this goal, though Thielen did drop a well-placed slant.

Though Diggs only converted two of his five targets into catches, two were too inaccurate to reel in and the other occurred on a play where he was interfered with without an accompanying flag.

(Photo credit: Cumulus Media)
(Photo credit: Cumulus Media)

Charles Johnson only had one target and though it was poorly thrown—perhaps meant for a different route, even—Johnson adjusted to it poorly and allowed the defensive back to get further into his frame than he needed to, also waiting for the ball to arrive instead of attacking it.

Defensively, the Vikings were pretty dominant; the defense only gave up 13 points with eight coming from a touchdown on a kick return where Charles Johnson was blocked out of his lane and Justin Trattou fell to the ground.

Carson Wentz threw for a passer rating of 52.4, the lowest of his nascent career by 25 points. This was largely driven by their secondary, as Harrison Smith, Captain Munnerlyn and Xavier Rhodes performed admirably. Of those three, Rhodes was lights-out, targeted five times in his 22 coverage snaps and grabbing an interception for his efforts.

He only allowed one completion for 28 yards and forced three incompletions besides his interception.

Harrison Smith was only targeted on three of his coverage snaps while Munnerlyn was only targeted twice. Both of them performed well, with Smith adding significant support for underneath passes and in the run game.

In Andrew Sendejo’s short time on the field, he of course reeled in an interception and almost housed it before his injury. Jayron Kearse struggled somewhat significantly in his absence, particularly with tackling angles and change of direction.

Trae Waynes played 24 snaps, but only 13 in coverage and was targeted only once in that instance; a huge improvement over his early play. He largely rotated in for Terence Newman, though on occasion would be used to spell Xavier Rhodes.

The defensive line didn’t live up to its own lofty standards. While Danielle Hunter found occasion to create pressure—more than Brian Robison or Everson Griffen—his biggest impact was in the run game, where he generated multiple stops in his limited snap rotation.

Photo Credit: Kyle Hansen (Cumulus Media)
Photo Credit: Kyle Hansen (Cumulus Media)

Robison did show up in the run game, but for the most part the defensive line was quiet. That’s probably why the running backs generated 4.5 yards a carry against the Vikings. Linval Joseph had an uncharacteristically poor game and was blown off the ball on occasion, also missing tackles in the run. It was also a rare game where he didn’t generate pressure.

Tom Johnson generated some pressure but was largely silent in terms of actually taking ballcarriers down, either in the running game or as a sack artist. Instead, it fell upon the linebackers and defensive backs to hold their own in the run game and it is unfortunate that both Chad Greenway and Anthony Barr fell short in those respects. While Eric Kendricks did well in both coverage and run defense, the Vikings overall had some issues containing the run game.

It’s clear that the defensive ends were asked to contain the run more than they were to rush the passer, which is one reason they didn’t get as many pass-rushing opportunities, but they didn’t live up to their end of the bargain entirely in run defense, though it did help to funnel runs inside the tackles.

Still, were it not for the frankly stellar effort by the defensive backs, the relatively poor play of the front seven in the run game could have been a big problem for the Vikings.

The Vikings were plagued by inconsistent special teams play, somewhat mediocre quarterback play and some surprisingly disappointing defensive performances. But the biggest takeaway from the game has to be how poorly the Vikings offensive line was and how this growing spectre upon the until-now perfect season finally revealed itself against a quality team.

I don’t know if there’s a way to fix the offensive line at this point, and there have been good teams to make it to the Super Bowl and even win it with this significant flaw—defensively driven teams like the Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers come to mind—but it’s revealing to see how exactly it can come back to bite the team.

Still, they remain as one of the best teams in the NFL and should continue to push for Super Bowl contention.

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Photo Credit: NFL Gamepass

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