As impressive as the Minnesota Vikings’ Week 1 win was over the San Francisco 49ers, they’ll have to clean up at least one area before taking on the Green Bay Packers and, presumably, quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
First, a look back to last Sunday.
The Vikings faced a complex San Francisco offense and held it to 16 points thanks to four forced turnovers. But they gave up some big chunks of yardage to tight end George Kittle and fullback Kyle Juszczyk when Jimmy Garoppolo used play-action or run-pass option.
Kittle finished with a team-high 90 receiving yards and could’ve had more.
On his game-changing drop in the third quarter, Anthony Barr got caught watching Alfred Morris on the play-action and was slow to react to Kittle cutting upfield.
Barr’s brief hesitation let Kittle free, but the tight end couldn’t haul in the pass. It proved costly as Mike Hughes delivered a Pick 6 on the next play.
Kittle did catch five passes, though, one of them for 18 yards when Eric Kendricks appeared to over-commit to Morris on an RPO in the second quarter.
Kittle lined up on the left side, then cut across the grain to the right flat with Kendricks in pursuit, but late.
Juszczyk, the fullback, got San Francisco’s biggest play of the day after lining up against Ben Gedeon in the right slot. Morris was again the bait on a play-action, and Gedeon got caught watching as Juszczyk snuck down the right sideline.
Safety Andrew Sendejo and corner Mike Hughes were cleared out by the outside receiver running a post, leaving Juszczyk all alone for 56 yards.
Each of Minnesota’s starting linebackers was victimized at least once, but it’s a hard job for any player to find their run gap, then recover to find their receiver while also trying to diagnose whether they have help coming on a particular play. The lapses being shown here might seem glaring in a screenshot, but in real time they are more like flinches.
“It was misdirection this way, misdirection that way, and then somebody sneaking out the backside, somebody sneaking out the frontside,” Zimmer said on Monday. “We practiced a lot of them, but it happens so much faster in the game, and they were so much flatter than we anticipated. They did some good things scheme-wise, so we need make the adjustments quicker than what we did.”
Now to the Packers.
Jimmy Graham is their new tight end, a nine-year veteran with 69 career touchdowns. He has historically lined up all over the line of scrimmage, including 260 snaps from the slot in Seattle last year and 168 snaps out wide, according to Pro Football Focus. In Week 1 with Green Bay, he took 33 snaps from the slot, 18 in-line and eight out wide.
“Obviously we know who Jimmy Graham is,” said Harrison Smith. “He’s had a lot of success in this league and will continue to do so.”
Graham’s first game in Green Bay was unassuming with two catches for eight yards. Granted, he didn’t have a full game with Rodgers, who left in the first half with a sprained knee and returned in the third quarter.
The former Saints third-round pick posted his lowest yardage total since his rookie season last year with 520 yards for the Seahawks, but Seattle’s porous offensive line also needed a lot of help. Graham lined up in-line 41 percent of the time last year and split out wide just 23 percent of the time. Compare that to 2013 in New Orleans when he was wide on over two-thirds of snaps and generated debate over whether he should be paid on the tight end or wide receiver scale.
Graham, 31, isn’t as mobile as he was five years ago, but he’ll still be used in a variety of positions for the Packers. One game isn’t enough to tip Green Bay’s hand as to how they’ll use him, but Rodgers was a 68.9 percent passer out of play-action last year and isn’t likely to have poor ball placement like Garoppolo did on Kittle’s drop.
Lapses in coverage against Graham — a tight end with five 800-plus-yard seasons — could have greater ramifications than they did last Sunday.