FanPost

Game Observations - Vikings vs Steelers at Wembley Stadium

First, I know the Steelers were an 0-3 team, now 0-4, so it's easy to say, "That team sucked, it doesn't mean anything that the Vikings won". I'm not buying it. The NFL standings are a bit bizarre this year, and no team coached by Tomlin, with Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Palomalu on each side of the ball, is ever going to be easy-pickings. Damn those two are good, scary good. The Vikings weren't given this win, they had to earn it. Every yard of it.

I cannot overstate how happy this victory made me. The Vikings represented themselves, the NFL, and the United States, extremely well (as did the Steelers, only, less so J ). The entire experience could well be the spark that returns NFL-style football to Europe, and that's just got to be a great thing. It was just amazing, how packed Wembley Stadium was, and how enthusiastic the fans were. They got to see one helluva a great game, the lucky sods.

And of course, we won! After 0-3, I just wanted to soak in the warm afterglow of a Viking victory for a couple days, before getting too analytical or looking for negatives.

The biggest unexpected positive was Matt Cassel. He came in for Ponder and did a lot more than just ‘manage the game', he inspired and led the team. He attacked the deep zone again and again, and it was great to see. Did anyone other than me notice how ecstatic Simpson was by Cassel's throws in the first half? Simpson was acting like a rookie who caught his first pass, it was a bit ridiculous. And telling.

Cassel looked the part of a starting NFL QB, and the ‘controversy' began before the game was over. He was poised in the pocket, decisive, ran progressions, had great footwork and mechanics, a cannon-arm, and decent accuracy. He got lucky a few times, but that can be said for any QB, even Ben Roethlisberger. The question is whether or not Cassel can overcome his history and become more consistent down the stretch. We'll see.

The announcers kept calling Cassel's mistakes, "rust", implying that it will shake off, and I think they're right. Certainly, Cassel got better as the game went on, completing his last 11 attempts. In the 1st quarter, Cassel over-threw both Carlson and Patterson, and blew an easy toss to AD. On the other hand, he seemed to have an excellent rapport with Simpson, whom he targeted 7 times for 124 yards. Simpson's finally starting to look like a #1 WR, great to see.

Rudy and Wright all but disappeared in the game, but it was Jarius Wright who sprung Jennings past the third echelon and into clear space. Jennings was fearless and focused, and used his angles perfectly; the younger guys are going to learn a lot of good things from him.

In the after-game presser, when AD was asked about his 60 yard TD, he told the little story about how it was Joe Webb, talking on the sideline to AD, who recognized that Palomalu was cheating up when the Vikings went to a particular formation, and that the next time, Webb was going to break inside (which assumes the play actually called for Webb to do something else) and block Palomalu. It happened exactly as Webb expected, he blew Palomalu up for the key block and AD was off and running. Imagine that: An ex-QB in the WR slot, reading the defense, adapting to take advantage of it, even if he had to do it himself, to help out the RB. How about that.

On defense, Jared Allen showed up big-time and thrilled the crowd. He was a monster and Roethlisberger is a huge dude and ridiculously hard to bring down. He was a tussle even for Allen, but the Norse Cowboy prevailed.

I watched the pass rush pretty carefully and I think it's fair to say that the Vikings left at least 3 sacks on the field. Henderson was side-stepped by Big Ben, as was Greenway, twice. Allen missed in pursuit a couple times. Roethlisberger's just nimble enough to pull that off, but the Vikings should have done better there. It comes down to questionable tackling technique, and there was a lot of it in this game.

In the end, the Vikings put enough pressure on Roethlisberger to keep him from carving up the Vikings secondary at will, but a QB of his ability is going to get his yardage. And he did, but it wasn't catastrophic. The Vikings secondary plays a lot of ‘Prevent', something I've always disliked because it gives up a lot of underneath territory, and that adds up. There was a long pass from Roethlisberg to Brown in the 1st quarter that Smith was caught behind on, and I have to wonder; if Cook had been healthy and playing, might that have not have happened? It's worth remembering that the Vikings secondary was missing a starting CB and a Safety; they did pretty good, considering.

Tackling, or lack thereof, is my biggest beef with the Vikings defense. A lot of them are launching at the ball-carrier who's able to step aside, or they're just not wrapping up, or they're going really low. A couple guys stood out to me as whiffing quite a bit; Mistral Raymond, and Josh Robinson. Then I looked at the stats and while Robinson did have a few misses, he also led the team in tackles (12). Left side, middle, right, short, deep; Robinson was all over the damned place trying to make plays. Love that. Seriously love that. He had some whiffs, but he also had more attempts than anyone else on the team. His PI in the end-zone was completely unnecessary, but he's young and he'll learn from that. Mistral Raymond, with 4 tackles (3 in pass defense, 1 in run defense) doesn't have that excuse.

Desmond Bishop definitely knows how to wrap up a tackle, and I hope he takes over a starting position. The much-maligned Erin Henderson was consistently in Roethlisberger's grill with pressure, he's not a complete dumpster-fire. E.J.'s little brother was 3rd in his number of tackles (9) on the day, behind JOSH ROBINSON (12) and Chad Greenway (10). Not too shabby.

The Vikings offense was smoother and they played with a fired-up attitude that was refreshing to see. This was the first game where I didn't see Ponder laughing and joking on the sideline. It did look like he made 1 attempt with Jared, who ignored him. On the other hand, the rest of the Vikings had a really high morale, and were grinning and laughing, until the last half of the 4th quarter, after Walsh shanked a 44 yard FG, at which point they got real serious again. Exactly as they should have been.

Overall, the Vikings defense was getting eaten up by inside screens early on, and later, by underneath passes because they were playing ‘prevent' defense which allowed Roethlisberger to march at will down the field into FG territory. The Vikings D is catching a lot of flak for allowing 27 points, and to a large extent, that's deserved. They need to tighten things up, and I think part of that is in a new secondary (Sherels was the oldest veteran out there!), part of it is a re-aligned LB corps, and a big slice of it is just the defensive scheme that lets the little stuff slip by. I can't help but think that Winfield would have put a stop to a lot of Steeler gains.

I think that the larger problem is still with the offense, not the defense.

The offense's 3rd down efficiency is just horrific at 36%. That's a LOT of wasted drives, and it's directly reflected in the time of possession. The Vikings offense was only on the field for about 23 minutes, that leaves your D pretty worn out by the end of the game, and the opposition offense, fresher. Not a good equation for success in the closing minutes.

But there's worse... according to Frazier, the Vikings are supposed to be a run-first offense. A ball-control offense that can chew up the clock, led by Adrian Peterson. I think that's pretty well debunked at this point, simply by the abject failure of the Vikings offense to do this. The Steelers had 13 minutes more time of possession than the Vikings! Holy crap, that's nearly a whole quarter!

We saw it play out again and again, and most painfully, in the 4th quarter when the Vikings got the ball with 3:30 seconds left in regulation play. A ball-control, running offense should have been able to easily chew that up. But they couldn't hold on for even 2 minutes, and the Steelers got the ball back with 1:43 left on the clock, at their own 22 yard line. 1 Prevent-D play later, the Steelers were sitting on the Vikings 42 yard line and we were having flash-backs of the previous 3 games. The Vikings D-line ultimately came through and saved the day, but it was the failure of the offense that put them in that situation.

AD is still AD, he'll bust loose for huge gains he gets some daylight, but because of the O-line, he's always been a feast-or-famine runner. Felton's return made a big difference precisely because the O-line rarely grades the road for AD (we saw them do it in this game, when AD high-stepped through a rift big enough for the Titanic to steam through, into the end-zone).

Until the Vikings actually provide AD with an O-line that can reliably push back the defense, each and every play, this is NOT a successful run-oriented offense. And that means that ultimately, the Vikings offense is reliant on the QB and receivers to make up the difference.

I saw Locke catching some heat from boards, but he boomed a 57 yarder with enough hang-time that it forced a fair-catch. On the flip side, he had a 36 yarder when the Vikings needed better. The rookie needs to improve, but I like the potential I'm seeing.

For those who want to look at some of the gross numbers, here they are;

The Numbers Game

Vikings

Steelers

Time of Possession

23:33

36:27

First Downs

18

29

3rd Down Efficiency

4/11 - 36%

8/15 - 53%

Rush: ATT/YDS/TDs

25/145/2

21/77/2

Pass: ATT/YDS/TDs/INTs

16/25/248/2/0

36/51/383/1/1

Sacks-Yards

1-0

5-26

Total Yards

393

434

Fumbles - Lost

1-0

1-1

Turnovers

0

2

Penalties - Yards

5-89

4-50

Punt AVG/LONG

41.8/57

35.6/42

In the end, all's well that ends well. The Vikings carried the day on Matt Cassel's arm (2 TDs) and Adrian Peterson's legs (2 TDs), which is a pretty balanced outcome. That they did this with a 26 minute possession deficit (13 minutes less for the Vikings + 13 minutes more for Roethlisberger) shows how much of potential improvement this Viking squad has ahead of them.

This FanPost was created by a registered user of The Daily Norseman, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the staff of the site. However, since this is a <em>community</em>, that view is no less important.

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