It was a nice win for the Vikings. It was also a game to build on. Erased a lot of the doubts generated in pre-season. Sam Bradford answered his critics with his play. Probably hasn’t erased all his doubters, but he made some progress.
Bradford isn’t the only QB to have a career game against the Saints defense in recent years, but he made the throws. He had the time. And what’s more, he made some key audibles at the line- something he has not been allowed to do before since joining the Vikings. All those things were important. He wasn’t perfect, nor was the Vikings offense, but it was nice - a relief really - to see it do so well in a real game.
Going back to last year, this is the 4th time in 5 games the Vikings offense scored 25 points or more. Just the offense. Not including special teams or defensive scores.
It’s not that often that the Vikings score 25 points or more and lose the game. Not since Mike Zimmer came to town.
What Worked On Offense
Pat Shurmur called a good game. Not every play worked, but there was a good balance and Shurmur made the Saints defend the whole field. He helped out Mike Remmers in pass protection because he needed to, allowing Bradford to make the throws downfield he needed to make.
It’s worth pointing out that Riley Reiff, in his first start at left tackle in two years, had 35 snaps in pass protection. He did not give up a sack. Nor a QB hit. Nor a QB hurry. No pressures at all. Perfect game for him in pass protection. When was the last time the Vikings had that from their left tackle?
Sam Bradford had a career game. His ANY/A, or adjusted net yards per passing attempt, was 12.15 by my calculation- roughly twice his career average. He went 27/32 for 346 yards, 3 TDs, no INTs, and one sack for a 5 yard loss. His passer rating was 143.
This is one of the greatest passes I've ever seen and I've had the pleasure of watching Aaron Rodgers play in the league for 12 years pic.twitter.com/aOT1kYP0dR— Ben Cummins (@BenCumminsFF) September 12, 2017
Both Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen had great games. Diggs caught 7 of 8 targets for 93 yards (13.29 yard avg.) and 2 TDs, while Thielen caught 9 of 10 targets for 157 yards (17.44 yard avg). Using Thielen in the slot looks like a good move by Shurmur as he can play there and is a tough matchup. But both receivers showed off their impressive route running skill sets on several occasions, leading to a number of ‘chunk’ plays that have been noticeably absent in past seasons.
Lastly, Dalvin Cook broke a few nice runs, leading to an impressive 127 yard rushing debut (5.8 yard average), breaking Adrian Peterson’s record for the Vikings. What stood out was his speed getting around the corner, which is how he broke all his longer runs. It was a bit of a mixed bag for Cook, however, as he dropped a couple passes- including one in the red zone that would have been a first down but instead led to a field goal. Overall though, I was left with a sense that this was only a taste of what Dalvin Cook can do, and that he has better games ahead of him.
What Didn’t Work So Well on Offense
As well as the offensive line did in pass protection- everyone had average or above grades from Pro Football Focus, led by Riley Reiff and Nick Easton - they did not do as well in run blocking. There were several runs that were stuffed or went for very little as both Nick Easton and Pat Elflein struggled in the inside run game. Both had very poor grades in run blocking- 32.3 and 29.5 respectively- which need to improve. Only Berger and Remmers had good run blocking grades. Overall it was a little surprising that the offensive line was able to pass protect better than run block, but it could have been a lot worse- as we’ve seen too often in recent years.
Looking at key situations, while third down conversions were very impressive at a 64% rate (9/14), red zone TD conversion % was average at 50%. The drop by Cook and a slightly off throw by Bradford - it would’ve been a tough catch in any case- led to field goal attempts.
What Worked on Defense
Defensively, there were two keys to the Vikings win: red zone defense and run defense. The Saints had 5 trips to the red zone, but managed only one TD- that was the difference in the game.
Run defense for the Vikings was also good for the most part, as they held the Saints’ impressive stable of running backs to no more than 18 yards a piece, and just under 3 yards a carry. Having a lead most of the game helped limit the Saints’ running game as well. Linval Joseph, Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, Shamar Stephen, Eric Kendricks, Trae Waynes and Harrison Smith all graded well against the run.
What Didn’t Work on Defense
Generally, Drew Brees and Company were able to sustain drives passing the ball most of the evening. Xavier Rhodes didn’t give up many yards, Harrison Smith was solid, and even MacKenzie Alexander turned in a good game. But Trae Waynes, Terence Newman and Andrew Sendejo struggled at times against a Saints offense missing a key weapon in slot receiver Willie Snead, who was suspended.
Sendejo had the worst PFF grade on defense, doing poor against both run and pass, earning a 35.1 grade.
It was an encouraging win to start the regular season for the Vikings, led but good pass protection and even better performance by Sam Bradford, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. The defense bent, but did not break for the most part, limiting Saints scoring and helping to secure the opening night victory for the Vikings.
It was a good opening test for the Vikings, who looked sluggish in the now distant pre-season, and they passed - in some cases in impressive fashion. But a bigger test is coming next Sunday: on the road against the Steelers. Passing that test would be even more impressive.
Who had the best game for the Vikings?
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