Vikings

Vikings Offense Improves In Time for Defense's Bottom to Fall Out In Loss to Washington

The Minnesota Vikings offense moved the ball better in this week’s loss to Washington, but it didn’t mean much as they still dropped to the Washington Redskins by six points.

Offense

That’s not to say the offense was good, but rather that it was better.

There’s good evidence that the offense is significantly different, and it will be worth going over later in the week, but for now it should be understood that it is faster (in terms of play-to-play tempo), quicker (in terms of dropbacks) and low-risk.

It allowed the Vikings to avoid pressure and put more emphasis on getting yards after the catch than getting it through the air.

That naturally de-emphasizes Bradford and means less was asked of him; yes he had a 77.5 percent completion rate, but he also had the lowest average depth of target in the league this last week. He may have had a passer rating over 100, but had 66 percent of his yards come after the catch.

For the most part, Bradford was alright. Within the confines of an elite defense and limited offensive potential because of its offensive line problems, that would typically be enough to secure a win—average offensive output and elite defensive production has been the formula for more than one Super Bowl contender.

But without that elite defensive performance, Bradford’s weaknesses as a passer were highlighted; he demonstrated limited pocket presence and poor pocket movement. He doesn’t need to be mobile to effectively move around in the pocket—what he needs to do is to use subtle footwork to escape pressure and create room for himself to step up into the throw.

Those sacks were to some degree on him, particularly the first one, because of his inability to make room and then use that room to make plays. His interception was a poor decision that didn’t make much sense, but Preston Smith also deserves credit for an amazing play.

sam-bradford-sacked

Overall, Bradford had what might be characterized as an average-ish day, with some big mistakes. Those mistakes contributed to the failed drives at the end of the fourth quarter, but it would be dishonest not to credit him for the string of successes before the sacks.

His receivers did well, however. Stefon Diggs had himself a day, and did a good job finding ways to get open at every level of the field, while also generating yards-after-catch. Diggs and Thielen both averaged over 5.0 yards after catch, well above NFL average, and Diggs did so grabbing targets short, intermediate and long.

Digs demonstrated excellent route-running, catch technique and after-catch vision in order to once again top 100 yards for the Vikings while pulling in the bulk of the receptions.

Cordarrelle Patterson didn’t feature as heavily in this game as he did other games, and both he and Jarius Wright were largely used as screen threats—a way to replace the run game with passes. To that end, they did well—averaging 6.5 yards a catch.

The offensive line as a pass protection unit didn’t perform too poorly, though that isn’t an endorsement. Alex Boone struggled a little bit and his error led to a sack (that Bradford could have avoided), while another sack was the result of contact coming from both tackles (Jake Long and T.J. Clemmings). In that case, it was also more on Bradford than on the linemen, though both should have done a better job. Alex Boone also allowed a big hit in the second quarter, while Brandon Fusco allowed more than one hit.

In some sense, the line was protected by the quickness of the dropback; Clemmings was beaten several times by pass-rushers but they didn’t land because of how quickly the ball was out.

Jake Long and Joe Berger both played well, with only one or two mistakes from Long in pass protection until his injury.  In his stead, Jeremiah Sirles immediately gave up a sack.

In terms of pressures allowed and total hits, the offensive line did an alright job. But the fact that Clemmings couldn’t block his man and that Jake Long is out for the season means that things are not yet trending up for this unit. Brandon Fusco has been inconsistent all season, but at least did well as a run blocker in this game. Should he find that consistency as a pass protector, he’ll actually turn out alright.

He’s now had as many acceptable quarters of play as bad, and his development moving forward will be interesting.

As for the running backs… I’m not sure there’s as significant of a problem as people are indicating. Obviously, 1.6 yards a carry from the running backs is not acceptable, but determining how they happened is important. They only had 0.5 yards before contact, well below the NFL average of 1.6 yards before contact—and though adjusting for that would result in only 2.5 yards per carry, it’s at least worth noting.

While last week McKinnon was the unfortunate victim of selectively poor blocking while Hillman benefited (McKinnon only had 0.5 yards before contact last week while Hillman had an astonishing 2.4), the reverse was true this week, sort of. McKinnon didn’t get anything like the excellent space Hillman had last week, it was decent enough and he didn’t take advantage of it, with at least two of his runs failing because of error on his part.

All of the running backs had issues. Hillman’s improvement in pass protection doesn’t mean he was clean by any means, and he didn’t have the chance to put anything positive together. Asiata was asked to get push and rarely could.

Defense

The defensive line has taken some licks from fans in the past few weeks, but they haven’t been too bad. It is imperative that they do a better job of converting pressure into sacks, but they’re still getting pressure and forcing bad throws. More than that, they did their part in collapsing on the run game.

Linval Joseph and Everson Griffen in particular were effective as run-stoppers. Though Griffen struggled in the first quarter in this capacity, both of them put together excellent stop rates—a measure that basically quantifies “good tackles” in the running game by only counting tackles on runs where the offense failed to get minimally successful yardage.

Below is a table listing stop rate by the number of running snaps each player took in the game and pass rush pressure rate by the number of pass-rushing snaps:

Player Running Snaps Stops Stop Rate Pressure Rate
Everson Griffen 46 3 6.5% 7.4%
Linval Joseph 48 3 6.3% 9.1%
Chad Greenway 49 2 4.1% 0.0%
Harrison Smith 53 2 3.8% 0.0%
Shamar Stephen 38 1 2.6% 11.8%
Anthony Barr 53 1 1.9% 0.0%
Danielle Hunter 20 0 0.0% 16.7%
Eric Kendricks 6 0 0.0% 100.0%
Tom Johnson 18 0 0.0% 15.8%
Brian Robison 42 0 0.0% 3.4%
Andrew Sendejo 52 0 0.0% 0.0%
Xavier Rhodes 45 0 0.0% 0.0%
Trae Waynes 37 0 0.0% 0.0%
Terence Newman 44 0 0.0% 0.0%

While you should expect a bit more from Tom Johnson, that’s a little excusable given how rarely he’s asked to make plays as a run defender. His incredible pressure rate of 15.8 percent (more than most 4-3 defensive ends will get in most games) more than makes up for it. So too, with Hunter, who hasn’t been in on too many Vikings running snaps this year, but has been unsustainably good in that role.

Shamar Stephen and Brian Robison are the real disappointments from this stop rate metric, and though Stephen evidently could impact the passer with pressure. Griffen’s pressure rate of 7.4 percent isn’t ideal—he should be around 14 percent—the rest of the defensive line filled in the gaps there with their excellent pressure.

It should be said, however, that Brian Robison is becoming a liability and his missed tackles in this game hurt the Vikings.

The bigger issue is with the linebackers. Emmanuel Lamur, not listed above, had a few snaps in the running game but no tackles. Linebackers typically produce stops at twice the rate of defensive linemen. Griffen and Joseph’s 6.5 percent rate is decent, but Greenway’s rate of four percent is abysmal given the different positions that they play—and that even truer for Anthony Barr.

In pass coverage, the Vikings secondary fell short while the linebackers failed in their duties as well. Jordan Reed ran rampant through the Vikings defense, taking advantage of Andrew Sendejo, Chad Greenway, Anthony Barr, Emmanuel Lamur and an uncharacteristically underperforming Harrison Smith.

Pierre Garcon did his best to exploit Xavier Rhodes, while Jamison Crowder made quick work of the slot, which featured Mackensie Alexander or Terence Newman. Trae Waynes suffered through his own issues as well, and did a poor job preventing passes in his direction, instead allowing consistent underneath work, even when it wasn’t ideal to allow a short pass. Beyond that, he couldn’t wrap up or tackle, which allowed underneath passes to do so much more.

Terence Newman seemed like the only cornerback who could consistently win his matchups, and though even he struggled, he at least came out with a largely positive day. Xavier Rhodes probably had the best play of the bunch, but was still doing a mostly poor job before the concussion took him out of the game.

It was a failure at nearly every level for the Vikings defense, and though allowing 26 points doesn’t seem catastrophic, Minnesota did it on only 10 drives. A more typical game of 12 drives would see that climb to 31 points, while a faster game might have produced a 37 point game.

The Vikings didn’t suffer from a lot of big plays, though those still occurred too. It was a lot of successful smaller plays that did them in, and the mistakes piled up for the defense.

There were highlights—Linval Joseph proved once again why he’s the best nose tackle in the league, while Shamar Stephen ably stepped into his role. Terence Newman did a great job at cornerback and Tom Johnson constantly put pressure on Kirk Cousins.

But overall the defense did a poor job, and it came just in time to see the offense elevate itself.

blair-walsh-irritated

Oh, and Blair Walsh missed an extra point.

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