Perfect No More — Vikings Sink Themselves to First Loss

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The Minnesota Vikings have now experienced what every other team in the NFL has — a loss. Calm down Vikings fans, it’s only one game against a tough opponent on the road. And I will give credit where credit is due — the Eagles came up with a solid game plan and played well enough to win the game. But in my eyes, this game is all about the purple shooting themselves in the foot, over and over. Like the Week 1 loss last year to the woeful San Francisco 49ers, this was an uncharacteristic game from this Vikings team.

The obvious jumping off point is the atrocious play of the offensive line. We all knew this unit was the Vikings glaring weakness and it really showed on Sunday. Though the offensive line lost battle after battle and never got settled, a lot of factors contributed to Sam Bradford and the Vikings offense getting blown up.

Before lambasting the offensive line, did you know that since 2006 the Vikings have only invested three (three!!) picks on offensive lineman in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft?! That’s insane! In ten years, only three draft picks have been spent in the higher rounds on offensive lineman.

I give Rick Spielman a lot of love as the Vikings General Manager because he really is good at his job — but this is shocking to me. At this point, I am in no way saying that Laquon Treadwell is a bust. But in 2016, he hasn’t been utilized as a weapon whatsoever. I’d argue the first rounder that went to Treadwell should have went towards offensive line help. The offensive line being a weakness isn’t news — Teddy ran for his life all day in 2015. Granted, before training camp started, the offensive line options were aplenty. Then Phil Loadholt retired, John Sullivan got cut, Mike Harris never made the field, Matt Kalil and Andre Smith landed on IR, and the turnstile at offensive line really began to take shape.

Onto Sunday against the Eagles where the offensive line was a huge contribution to the Vikings significant loss. They played so bad it’s surprising to see that Bradford only got sacked six times — T.J. Clemmings, Jake Long, Jeremiah Sirles, all got worked on the edges. In fact, Jake Long was so rusty and overmatched (he allowed two strip-sacks in the first quarter alone) that he was replaced on the left side by Clemmings within the game. The only thing the line did competently was create some running lanes for Jerrick McKinnon and Matt Asiata — and even that was a C+ at best. On the topic of running backs, neither back did well in their pass protection yesterday either. It’s going to be a rough week in the film room watching the pass protection break down every single possession.

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But yes, we all know the offensive line was largely to blame. But in my opinion, even worse than that was Norv Turner’s game plan. How does an offensive guru, with decades of experience, change the formula from what had been working through five weeks to something that clearly did not? Think about it, the offensive line has been awful all year, the team has been workshopping a guy for one week (Jake Long) who hasn’t played actual football since 2015, and what is Norv’s game plan? Long developing, vertical routes for receivers, five to seven step drops for Bradford, all of which contributed to the quarterback holding the ball too long. The result? Pressure, interception, sack, fumble, sack, fumble, sack, pressure, pressure, sack, sack, sack.

Even by the second turnover, which was a strip-sack by Connor Barwin, it was clear the offensive line wasn’t going to compete against the Eagles very dangerous front seven. But yet after that, no real adjustments were made and Bradford kept ending up in situations where he had to hold the ball for far too long. The Vikings were marching downfield, well into Eagles territory after allowing the kickoff return touchdown — what happened next? Deep drop by Bradford, strip-sack, Eagle recovery.

In their previous matchup against the Texans, Bradford only took 2.03 seconds to release the ball after the snap, the fastest average to release in Week 5. Against the Eagles, Bradford averaged 2.56 seconds to release the ball, which is amongst the longest averages for any quarterback in 2016. And if that difference doesn’t shock you, trust me, that half second difference is an eternity for a quarterback in the pocket. So one game plan through five weeks clearly worked, the other did not.

This likely is the case of ole Norv overthinking it, operating under the mindset that the Eagles would expect short passing plays, so the offense will “confuse them” with deep routes and deep drop backs for Bradford (and Norv looooves to stretch the field if he can). But with how this offensive line is playing, that’s not even a legitimate option. And it was clear by the end of the first quarter.¬†Norv’s game plan set both Bradford and the offensive line up for failure.

Even the defense, which played pretty well yesterday all things considered, made some mistakes that could have drastically changed the outcome of the game.

After Andrew Sendejo intercepted Carson Wentz in the first quarter, he made it all the way to the two yard line before being tackled. Going back and watching the play, you can clearly see he had a wide open lane to the outside, a rush to the pylon if you will. That play could have easily changed the complexity of the game — a pick-6 early instead of what ended up being Bradford’s first interception as a Viking, in the [bleeping] red zone. Not only does that put the Vikings up seven (assuming Blair makes the PAT), but it changes Wentz’s mindset — he doesn’t exhale knowing he dodged a bullet, he gulps thinking how overmatched he is against this vaunted defense.

Same thing can be said for the fumbled exchange between Wentz and Darren Sproles later in the first quarter — had Anthony Barr been a bit more aggressive with the fumble recovery, he could have picked the ball up and ran it back for a touchdown. He fell on the ball, which is smart in many cases, but not in the open field with the end zone less than 20 yards away — it could have been a score had he been thinking aggressively — but at that point, who knew the offense would be so dismal.

Aside from that, the most surprising aspect from the defensive side of the ball was zero sacks tallied, again. You will remember the Vikings matchup versus the Giants they came away with the same total. While there was solid pressure and some hits against the Eagles, the Vikings front seven should be hauling in at least two sacks each week. There is too much talent to come up with zero sacks in two of the last three games.

All things considered, the Eagles offense didn’t do anything special all day due in large part to another solid performance on the defensive side of the ball. The Vikings defense came as billed (for the most part), and had they made a few more plays off turnovers, the day would have went a whole lot differently.

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Even with an impressive performance turned in by the defense, how annoying was it to listen to Troy Aikman yesterday? The Eagles would complete a third and two and he would be beside himself with disbelief that the Vikings allowed four yards. “You don’t see that often from this Vikings team…” He kept acting shocked the defense allowed minor success and I’m thinking, “Troy, it’s 18-3 right now, the Vikings D has only allowed Philly to score 11 points, and it’s the third quarter. They’ve been on their heels all game with how their offense has been playing. Carson Wentz has a QB rating of like 50 right now. The defense has caused three turnovers to this point. Calm down man. This D is still elite.”

Despite this blemish, the Vikings are still in great shape in 2016. At the start of 2016, had I told you the Vikings would be 5-1 after the bye week with all that has happened to this team, you’d take it in a heartbeat. It’s clear the Vikings need to address what is wrong — they are largely stuck with the personnel on the offensive line, now they have to make it work somehow. Norv needs to swallow his pride and get back to what works.

The Vikings have a soft opponent to beat up on next week, the lowly Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on Halloween. Hopefully the purple respond well to this loss, shore up their mistakes and protection packages and prove to the national television audience and the NFL that this team is still for real.

Every team in the NFL has lost a game in 2016 — the great teams bounce back and make their opponents remember what makes them so great. I’d be nervous to be Jay Cutler this week.

 

Photos by: Matthew DeeryNathan Rupert 

 

 

 

 



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