The Minnesota Vikings lost their first game of the season on Sunday in Philadelphia, 21-10. Coming off their bye week, the Vikings were lethargic in all three phases. Before moving on to Monday night’s matchup in Chicago, let’s take a look at some film notes after reviewing the tape.
Offensive-Line Struggles not all about the Tackles
Minnesota opened with T.J. Clemmings at left tackle and Jeremiah Sirles at right tackle. Those two have drawn much of the ire and criticism for their play but against a tough Eagles defensive front it was a collective struggle. Sam Bradford’s first interception can be credited to Clemmings being eviscerated by Brandon Graham. Bradford was hit as he threw, taking a lot off the pass. It doesn’t look like it was a good decision by Bradford either way but he may have been trying to throw it out of the back of the end zone.
Sirles particularly had a tough afternoon. Bradford’s under thrown ball to Charles Johnson on a go-route can be attributed to Sirles getting beat and allowing a hit on Bradford. Sirles was beat to the outside on consecutive plays in the third quarter, leading to a pair of hits on Bradford and a sack. Philadelphia appeared to target its pressure on the right side of line when Sirles was in the game. Minnesota countered by often lining up Rudolph on the ride side but one-on-one the Vikings were overmatched on the outside.
Newly acquired Jake Long made his debut in the Vikings’ third series, promptly allowing a strip sack on a deep, play-action drop back by Bradford. Long and Ronnie Hillman had a miscommunication on a blitz pickup in the second quarter, resulting in another strip sack of Bradford.
Guards Alex Boone and Brandon Fusco each had their shares of struggles. Boone gave up a big hit on a Bradford completion midway through the third quarter, just two plays after Fusco was run over by Fletcher Cox who stuffed Jerick McKinnon in the backfield.
Hillman, McKinnon and Matt Asiata all below average in blitz pickup, contributing to the 19 pressures the Eagles recorded.
Center Joe Berger continued to be the one solid lineman Minnesota seemingly can count on week in and week out.
Bradford Some Good, Some Not so Much
While much of the offensive criticism is directed at the protection, Bradford wasn’t at his best either. No. 8 was understandably skittish in the pocket, often feeling pressure that wasn’t necessarily there. On the sideline route to Stefon Diggs where the pass-interference flag was waved off, the play was designed to go quickly to Johnson on a slant. Johnson’s defender came on the blitz and Johnson beat the safety inside. Bradford clutched and didn’t pull the trigger before lofting the prayer to Diggs.
Bradford also had another near interception when he stared down Kyle Rudolph in the flat. From the broadcast angle, it looks like Bradford never checked any of his other reads, telegraphing his throw to Rudolph. FOX announcer Troy Aikman commented on two different occasions that Bradford looked too nonchalant in the pocket and the tape does seem to confirm an overall lack of urgency from Bradford. A couple throws sailed on him like this one to Diggs, however I’d counter Diggs ran a poor route here, not getting enough depth behind the zone coverage.
What the tape also showed was some of the good the Vikings have gotten out of Bradford. When Bradford wasn’t too quick to his first option or feeling imagined pressure, he stood tall in the pocket and delivered strikes. On this long completion to Rudolph both Sirles and Clemmings are beat, but Bradford hangs in long enough to get it to Rudolph for the big play.
Here in the second half, Bradford has pressure coming straight up the middle but he is able to take the hit and still complete the pass to Diggs for a first down.
With the offensive line was as spotty as it was, it is understandable that the quarterback might be a little jumpy. But the tape shows Bradford needs to have better pocket awareness and be willing to hang in a little longer to find his second or third options.
Minnesota’s defense obviously warrants the least amount of blame for Sunday’s meltdown but it was far from perfect. For starters:
Carson Wentz was only pressured six times against the Vikings. That's an incredible failing by MIN's D and victory by PHI's O.
— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) October 24, 2016
Also middle linebacker Eric Kendricks had an adventure in coverage. While it should be noted that Kendricks’ solid coverage on the tight end led to Andrew Sendejo’s first-quarter pick of Carson Wentz, twice later in the half Kendricks was burned by play action. On this play Kendricks is badly beat when he peaks into the backfield.
And on the next he was lucky the throw from Wentz was off target.
Kendricks also came off Darren Sproles on a broken play attempting to pressure Wentz as he neared the sideline, leaving Sproles for an easy 19-yard gain and a first-and-goal for the Eagles.
Linebacker Chad Greenway’s ability to cover has greatly diminished and he was only on the field in running and short-yardage situations. On two different occasions he was beat to the flat by running backs out of the back field and was fortunate Philadelphia was unable to convert those play into first downs.
This is likely splitting hairs when the unit has been as good as the Viking defense. However it is still worth noting and something they’ll need to address as more teams are likely to try to expose those weaknesses.
Same ole’ Norv
It had been quite a revelation for the Viking offense the last four weeks with Bradford under center. The offense was working out of the gun and focused on quick passing. Well after the bye the shotgun look was still there but the quick-passing game was not.
Bradford was routinely asked to make four, five step drops out of the gun with long-developing route concepts down field. It was like stubborn Norv Turner returned to the coaches’ box.
The third and fourth down heavy-set run plays early in the fourth quarter obviously didn’t pan out but the Vikings had success converting short-yardage plays in the first half with Zach Line possibly fooling Minnesota into a false sense of hope in those two big spots. However, the difference between Line’s first-half conversions and the second half attempts were the formation. Early in the game, Line’s run came out of a two-receiver look. Late it was out of a heavy, goal-line set. The play calling needs to be more dynamic in those situations without Adrian Peterson or an overpowering offensive line.