So I spent a while watching and re-watching every play of the Vikings vs. Chargers game over the last couple of days. I used the NFL’s game re-wind service which includes a 10 second back up feature which is pretty useful for watching each play. On every play, I watched the blocking of each individual offensive lineman and each TE and watched every other player that the TV camera let me see. On defense, I basically watched whatever the TV camera let me. Here are my impressions:
1st and perhaps most surprising to me is that the Vikings didn’t play much differently in the 1st and 2nd halves. What differed in the 2nd half is that Rivers started to throw longer passes that mostly connected. The pass rush slowed down a bit and guys got open in the secondary. There were also some bad penalties (e.g. Cedric Griffin’s personal foul) on the Vikings defense in the 2nd half as well. In general though, both the offense and the defense played with the same strengths and weaknesses in both halves. In broad brush strokes, here’s my impression of the team’s performance:
O-line: The offensive line did reasonably well all things considered. They were better on running downs than passing downs. In general though, they pushed their guys off the line of scrimmage on running plays. I’d say that Hutchinson and Herrera had very good games. Johnson, despite others’ impression, was fine in my opinion. Sullivan was occasionally overmatched and Loadholt was slow. Those last two guys did not have particularly good games. On at least a couple of plays, I saw Sullivan get blown up. On one play he virtually flew backwards. Loadholt is starting to appear to me as being a slow version of 2010 McKinnie. That said, as a unit, the O-line did its job in my opinion. It wasn’t always pretty, but I think it was more effective than most people have given them credit for.
Unfortunately for the O-line Peterson missed A LOT of opportunities and had some screw ups too. In fact, I would come right out and say that in my opinion Peterson had a bad game. He was as physically gifted as ever during the game, but he made bad reads and decisions and more. He missed a number of opportunities on running plays throughout the game, and they were frustrating to watch. One play in the 4Q had me shocked. The O-line opened a barn-yard door size gap in the line between Hutch and Johnson and inexplicably Peterson ignored it and instead went inside for a 4 yard gain. There was at least 10 yards of open field through the gap, and a pretty decent chance that Peterson would have been gone. Peterson missed blocking assignments on pass rushes (no surprise there). However, at a critical moment in the game 4Q with 4 minutes remaining, McNabb went to hand off to Peterson but Peterson was on the wrong side of him. The play got blown up for a loss. It was a case of McNabb and the O-line heading one way and Peterson getting mixed up and going the other. All in all, not a good day of decision making for Peterson in my opinion. His mistakes cost the Vikings a lot of yardage and particularly so in the fourth quarter.
Another player that stood out for having an off day was Rudolph. He had trouble blocking throughout the game and also appeared to take on the wrong assignments. His blocking woes made a difference in at least two cases that immediately come to mind. In one case, Rudolph let his guy go straight at McNabb who ended up overthrowing Harvin to the outside as a result. On the play, Rudolph somehow decided to assist with an inside block (barely helped) and didn’t seem to notice his guy as he ran past him at the QB. It was very frustrating to watch as a fan who noticed the same stuff from Rudolph in pre-season, and I fear that if I were a coach I’d be significantly limiting his playing time.
Bernard Berrian did a good job of blocking through the game but ended up the game with a sum total of zero catches. To make matters worse, he dropped two balls. One ball was a low throw from McNabb (but appeared to be pretty catchable) on 3rd and 6 that was dropped by Berrian. It ended the drive. The other play is the well known 45 yard throw from McNabb that Berrian also dropped which also ended the drive. McNabb underthrew Berrian, but I believe that was as a result of pressure. McNabb was hit at virtually the same time he released the ball. Berrian adjusted to the ball well, but, as I said, dropped it. Berrian’s bobble-catch TD in the end zone during pre-season may have made believers out of some folks who had been sitting on the fence about Berrian, but I’m afraid Berrian’s ineffectiveness as a pass-catching receiver appears to be as before.
So, Peterson, Rudolph and Berrian were disappointments in my book. However, I was surprised and delighted to see Kleinsasser back to old form. He was a blocking machine. Last year was an off year for him, and I feared the worst. However, Kleinsasser had a really good game, and I was very happy to see that.
Also, I was pleased to see Gerhart take the yards that were given to him by the O-line. It was only two plays but he got yardage of 12 and 4 in those two consecutive plays. He didn’t bounce around like Peterson does. He just saw the hole and made his moves left and right without losing his forward momentum the way that Peterson typically does at or near the line. I hope we see more of Gerhart.
McNabb wasn’t great. He had some misses, but generally speaking, I think he did okay. He had a bad interception in which I think he turned and passed to Harvin too slowly. Later he had a bad bounce pass to Shank and threw to the wrong side of Harvin on a short yardage play that might have gone for more if Harvin hadn’t had to twirl around to catch the ball. However, in general, I think he did okay. Not great but not worthy of the pile of abuse he’s received thus far.
As for play calling, I actually think it was a lot different from the old Chilly days. There were a lot more 3 TE and 2 TE sets than I had realized after first watching the game. Rudolph didn’t help matters with his blocking when in the game, but in general, I liked the play calling. If Peterson hit the obvious holes and had Berrian caught his two 3rd down balls, I think we’d be talking about the San Diego game differently. One play I noticed that wasn’t commented on by the announcers was a play that Peterson took for a first down late in the 3rd quarter. On this play, Loadholt lined up at left tackle to the left of Johnson and Hutch. Herrera and Kleinsasser anchored the right. It was a cool play that worked well. After that play, the Vikings went Webb Cat and lost some significant momentum.
On the defensive side of the ball, I noticed a few things. Our DTs got pushed back on running plays. We used to get penetration on rushing plays with Kevin and Pat on the inside. Not so on Sunday. Our defensive ends did fine, but it was mostly the linebackers that seemed to be getting the penetration and tackles on running plays. That may have been by design and assignments. I don’t know. It was interesting to me though.
While Jared Allen obviously did well being dropped back into pass coverage, Awasom did not. At one point, I remember thinking, "Who on earth is that linebacker and what is he doing?"
On passing downs, we had a pretty good rush when the guys weren’t tired. The push up the middle stalled as the game wore on.
It was harder to see how our guys in the secondary did in coverage, because the cameras often just showed results rather than how the coverage unfolded. I was surprised at times by how deep our linebackers were playing. I feel that because Winfield is so good at tackling and blitzing that he’s often given a pass on his less-than-stellar coverage skills. He was not particularly effective in coverage, but he continued to make plays all over the field and was definitely fun to watch.
Cook had flashes of good and bad. My hope is that with experience he’ll limit the bad a bit more; too many penalties mostly.
At safety, Sanford seemed to play the best of the three (i.e. Abdullah, Sanford and Johnson) from what I could see. Abdullah caught my eye a couple of times making bad decisions and taking bad angles. Tyrell Johnson nearly cost the team a TD in the second quarter when he got confused again. You could see him moving towards the line of scrimmage before realizing the wide receiver was behind him and Rivers was going for it. Rivers overthrew the receiver in the end zone, and Johnson wasn’t even in the picture at that point. What’s it going to take to just give the job to Sanford full time?
Our linebackers played very well. Erin Henderson showed his youth a few times. He mostly looked good but got caught out of position on one play (a dink and dunk across the middle that went for big yardage).
As I said before, my takeaway from re-watching the game is that I don’t think the Vikings played much differently between the first half and the second half. What they did well in the 1st half, they did well in the 2nd. What they struggled with early, they struggled with late. My advice to the coaches is to sit Berrian, Tyrell Johnson and Rudolph. I don’t know what to do with Peterson’s decision making. I think that’s part of the overall Peterson package, and you just take the good with the bad. Just the same, I’d like to see a bit more of Gerhart. I think his style just may be more consistent and better able to take advantage of what our O-line can give. He won’t break the 40 yard runs, but I think he’ll consistently get the yards that are there. And this past weekend, I think that might have been enough to keep the chains moving.
Anyway, this ended up being longer than I intended. If you read through it all, thanks for sticking with it.