VikesCentric is written by Twin Cities football writers Bo Mitchell of SportsData, Arif Hasan of Vikings Territory, Aj Mansour, who hosts Minnesota Vikings Overtime on KFAN, and Joe Oberle a long-time Minnesota based writer. The VikesCentric crew crunches numbers, watches video and isn't shy about saying what's on their minds.
On the national scene, there is nobody more revered for predicting and analyzing the NFL Draft than ESPN Television’s Mel Kiper. Specializing on predicting the league’s draft since 1984, year-by-year Kiper’s accuracy gets better.
While Mel’s claim-to-fame will always be his legendary mock drafts, he also analyzes draft classes by each team the day after the draft concludes. Looking back to April of 2014 you can see Kiper’s grade on the 2014 Minnesota Vikings NFL Draft Class came in at a “B-”.
Kiper’s analysis centered around criticising the Vikings for reaching with the ninth overall pick and selecting Anthony Barr.
“I thought Anthony Barr was a pretty big reach based on my evaluations,” Kiper stated. “He’s a talented but raw player who lacks instincts on defense.”
With hindsight being 20/20 and having the 2014 season behind us, Kiper has now gone back to the draft boards that he graded before the season and has re-graded the 2014 draft class for each team. For the Minnesota Vikings, it was a mixed bag of criticism, but ultimately the grade did go up.
Not forgetting that third round offensive lineman David Yankey never played and sixth round cornerback Kendall James was cut before Week 1, Kiper raised his overall grade of the Vikings 2014 NFL Draft class to a “B+” in his recent re-evaluations.
The reasoning is pretty self explanatory, but here is what Kiper had to say after the fact.
“I actually knocked this draft down a peg last spring because I simply wasn’t as high on Anthony Barr as a player who could come in and provide early returns as a pass-rusher. The Vikings got him at No. 9 and I thought it was a reach; [after one season] it’s clear the Vikings have a player.”
Barr finished his rookie season with 55 tackles, 4 sacks, 3 passes defensed and 2 fumble recoveries despite missing the team’s final four games.
On the offensive side of the ball, the praise continued to rain down from Kiper.
“They also have a player in Teddy Bridgewater, who was the top QB on my all-rookie team. Sure, you can question whether he’ll become a star, but you can’t question that he looked more ready for this level of competition than any other rookie QB, and that he’s simply tough. I really like Bridgewater’s chances, and as I said then, “moving decisively to get [him] made sense, and they have the pieces around him to help him succeed.”
Teddy, one of the finalists for the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award, finished with 2,919 passing yards, 14 TDs, 12 INTs and a passer rating of 85.2 after coming on strong down the stretch of the season.
Maybe the best praise though, at least for the immediate future of this Vikings squad, came for running back Jerick McKinnon.
“Jerick McKinnon got called into action earlier than we thought and looked pretty good -- I do think if he gets a lot of carries, he’s going to hit a lot of home runs.”
“All in all, Minny has to be excited about this class. Barr was pretty good, and Bridgewater has a chance to be the answer at QB. Great Start.”
For those of us who watched every one of the Vikings games this season, I think that anaysis would be tough to argue.
But since we did watch every game this season, let’s take Kiper’s surface analysis one step further.
Hitting on Shamar Stephen in the 7th round should be a BIG bonus for the Vikings draft class in 2014. Stephen was active for all 16 games and even started 3 spot-starts for injury. Backing up Linval Joseph at the nose, Stephen made his presence felt on the regular and did a good job flashing from time-to-time but plugging up the middle often.
Antone Exum and Jabari Price were both active most of the season and did a good job filling in on the special teams and giving this team a little depth in the defensive backfield when needed.
Looking back at the last three draft classes for the Minnesota Vikings, it becomes increasingly clear that Rick Spielman is figuring out his style for draft day and it’s leading to some pretty good success.
For more offseason analysis of Vikings Football including "The Top 50 Free Agency Targets For Minnesota" head over to VikingsJournal.com.
Sunday afternoon, many of you watched the Green Bay Packers knock Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys out of the NFL Playoffs. As it seems to go more often than not lately, the game went the way of Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. For the third time in the past eight seasons, the Packers are on their way to the NFC Championship game, one win away from another Super Bowl appearance.
It’s tough to look across the Hudson, at the landscape of the NFL in Green Bay and not feel like they have everything and we have nothing. They have Rodgers, we’ll start our third new quarterback in as many years. They have the reigning rookie of the year (Eddie Lacy), we have a question mark at running back. They have Lambeau, we are currently displaced. They are playing in the NFC Championship game next weekend, we are watching from our couch.
For the past 10 or so years, outside of a flash in the pan in 2009, this has been the way things have gone. The future is starting to look a little brighter in Minneapolis, but the gap is still wide.
But how wide is it? It’s time to quantify the gap and answer the question, just how far behind the Green Bay Packers are the Minnesota Vikings?
To do this, we’ve created a fictitious 100-point grading scale with five categories. Each category brings with it a value scale of 0-20 points, with 20 points being the highest. Grading each of these teams across the Offense, Defense, Special Teams, Coaching and Fan Base, we’ll come up with a number to show us just how far the Vikings are from where the Green Bay Packers currently reside.
Buckle up, Vikings fans, the results are not expected to be pretty.
OFFENSIVE SCALE (20): Green Bay 19, Minnesota 8
The Green Bay Packers hold the trump card when it comes to the offensive category, his name is Aaron Rodgers. A-Rodg is currently the best quarterback in the league and I’m not sure there are any questions any more. He has the skills, he has the attitude and he has the confidence it takes to be a star in this league, and he does it on a regular basis, calf injury or not. Sprinkle in a decent offensive line, a top-5 wide receiver in Jordy Nelson and a dominant running back in Eddie Lacy and the Green Bay Packers offense is one of the best in the league. The only knock that kept them from a perfect 20, is the offensive line that lacks consistency from time-to-time.
For the Vikings, we’ll split the middle and give them a 10, based mainly on potential. Teddy looks like he’s going to be the guy, but there’s really no telling what that ceiling is. Does he have the potential to be a guy like Aaron Rodgers or will he be an adequate starting quarterback, something like Jay Cutler and Matt Ryan? We just don’t know. With a gigantic question mark in the backfield given Adrian Peterson’s current situation, holes at the wide receiver spot and an offensive line that functions like a leaky sink, there are some big concerns for the Vikings on offense after the 2014 season.
DEFENSIVE SCALE (20): Green Bay 13, Minnesota 14
This may be the only category where the Vikings walk away on top, but I’m not sure that a one-point loss will mean much to the Packers. The two teams finished 14th (Minnesota) and 15th (Green Bay) during the regular season this year but the Minnesota defense is younger and seems to be trending in the right direction. Julius Pepper is playing on borrowed time and despite still being a dominant defender, even Clay Matthews is starting to show signs of normalcy. For the Vikings, Zimmer’s scheme mixed with Rhodes’ progression, Smith’s steady play and the upside that is Everson Griffen and Anthony Barr, the Vikings played poorly down the stretch and still finished ahead of the Pack. Give some of these young players another year or two and it will be very interesting to see where these two defenses stand.
SPECIAL TEAMS (20): Green Bay 12, Minnesota 12
By most accounts, this year was one of the worst special teams years for the Vikings in recent memory. Bad punts followed up by missed field goals preceding poor kick returns, that seemed to be the recipe for the Vikings season this year. Locke, Walsh and Patterson all had down seasons and their stats were all still better than the Packers lot.
Masthay, Crosby and Cobb had a down season across the border too. That said, the problems seem less pressing when your offense is able to score no matter the starting position. Giving both teams a 12 in this category is kind of a cop-out, but trying to weigh potential on something like special teams is a bit of a crap shoot. Just ask the Minnesota Vikings how their assessment of Cordarrelle Patterson played out this year?
COACHING STAFF (20): Green Bay 18, Minnesota 12
The most promising thing about comparing the two coaching staffs for these teams is the fact that last season, the gap within this category would have been twice as wide. Mike Zimmer has given the Vikings hope for the leadership of this team in the future. Norv Turner adds to that equation and we’ll sprinkle in the GM here too, Rick Spielman seemingly makes more good decisions than bad ones (yes we remember Christian Ponder). The attitude, the direction and the coaching seem to be the right mix for a successful team here in Minnesota.
Over in Green Bay, they’re working off of the same recipe card, but they are about six steps ahead of us here in Minnesota. Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson have this football thing figured out. The way they have not only identified the talent, but then go and utilize those skills is second to none right now. Again this is trending in a positive direction, but it has to be the Packers by a good margin right now.
FAN BASE/GAMEDAY ATMOSPHERE (20): Green Bay 20, Minnesota 8
I’m sure that this will upset certain factions of Vikings fans, but anybody that has ever visited Lambeau Field on Green Bay Packers gameday cannot argue that the atmosphere around that stadium, the level of passion inside the gates and the overall knowledge of the game among the fan base is top-notch. That’s what comes with a history of winning. I’m not saying that Minnesota doesn’t have those fans, but 4 Super Bowl losses and 0 victories followed by decades of disappointment have left those fans in hibernation mode. The new stadium in Minnesota will bring out the fan base again, if the team can pair that with a quality product on the field the fan base will mobilize again and this number will even out a bit. That said, mainly because they’re crazy, I’m not sure that Vikings fans will ever fully catch up to that of the Packers fan base. Trust me, I hate saying this, and they are annoying as can be, but they might be the best fan base in the league.
GREEN BAY 82 - MINNESOTA 54
It’s obviously not a scientific scale, but doing our best to compare the two franchises as a whole, the Vikings are currently 28 grade points behind the Green Bay Packers. Understanding that the Vikings are trending in the right direction in almost all categories, I honestly thought it was going to be worse. Let’s take another look at this in two years when the Zimmer/Spielman crew have had a few more draft classes and Teddy has a few more games under his belt. I’m not saying they will have usurped the Packers on top of the division by then, but this conversation will likely be a lot more interesting then.
I hear a lot of Vikings fans hoping that the Vikings select Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon III with the 11th pick in this year’s NFL Draft. I like Gordon as much as anyone. I think he’ll be a very good NFL running back. I also don’t think the Vikings should take him – nor do I think they will.
Gordon is one of two players I’ve been asked most about since the season ended with regards to whether the Vikings will take them at 11 in the draft. The other is talented Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper. As I stated in my first mock draft of the offseason, I don’t see any way Cooper slides out of the top 10 and falls in the Vikings’ lap at 11. If Rick Spielman wants the best wide receiver in this year’s draft, he’ll need to trade up and get him.
As for Gordon, I didn’t have him going in my top 20. Not yet anyway.
Before all my neighbors from across the border start yelling and name-calling, let me clarify. Gordon is the best running back in this year’s draft -- due in large part to the ACL injury suffered by Georgia running back Todd Gurley in November. Truth be told, Gurley was the best running back I saw this season but the knee injury sabotaged his first-round draft value. Even so, Gordon has the explosiveness to be a feature NFL running back, if there is such a thing anymore.
In fact, as things stand now, Gordon projects as potentially the only running back to go on Day 1 of the draft. He might go in the top 20. He might even go top-15. I might have him included somewhere in the top 15 of my future mock drafts if it becomes apparent that a team is strongly considering taking him. Overall, he might very well be one of the 10 best players in this year’s draft.
However, he’s a running back, and running backs as a position are no longer valued by NFL teams the way they once were. Even five years ago, Gordon might have been a top-five pick in the draft. In case you hadn’t noticed, though, today’s NFL is all about the passing game.
Both this season and last season only 13 players topped 1,000 rushing yards. In 2012 that number was 16. In 2011, 15 players topped 1,000. In 2010 it was 17. In 2009 it was 15, 2008 had 16, 2007 had 17 and in 2006 there were 23 players with more than 1,000 rushing yards. The “one star running back” system is eroding. Most teams now favor a running back committee – like the Patriots have done for years. Five of the eight teams that played in the Wild Card round of the playoffs last weekend employed a backfield by committee approach (Panthers, Ravens, Colts, Bengals, Lions) for a good chunk of the season. The Ravens finally settled on one back (Justin Forsett) while injuries eventually forced the Cardinals into a committee backfield.
Last year, not a single running back went in the first round of the NFL Draft. The Tennessee Titans made Bishop Sankey the first running back selected in the second round with the 54th overall pick. Jeremy Hill went to Cincinnati one pick later and Carlos Hyde was taken by the 49ers two picks after that in a mini run on running backs. I like Gordon better than all those guys, which is why I think he goes in the first round – just not to the Vikings.
The Vikings squeezed 1,108 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns from the duo of Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon this season. They got 1,549 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns from the duo of Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart the season before. That’s a difference of 27 rushing yards and 0.25 touchdowns per game. For argument’s sake, let’s say the Vikings part ways with Peterson this offseason and choose to retain Asiata (he’s a restricted free agent). Let’s also say McKinnon gets even a little better in his second season and the Vikings do something to improve their offensive line, even a little. If all these very feasible things occur, my guess is the Vikings could squeeze something around 1,500 yards and 10-12 touchdowns out of their running backs next season. And that might be selling them short – there are NFL observers who feel McKinnon could develop into a pretty solid NFL running back. Heck, he averaged 4.8 yards per carry in part-time duty as a rookie so why not?
Is it really nice to have an elite player like Peterson in the backfield? Of course. Would it be really cool to have Gordon in Vikings purple? Absolutely. However, it’s just more of a luxury than a necessity at this point.
The Vikings – and pretty much every other team in the top 20 of the draft – have more pressing needs than a stud running back. In case you missed it, the Vikes have holes to fill at offensive line, linebacker and wide receiver -- and could also use help at cornerback and safety. They can’t plug all those holes in free agency.
When the Vikings’ front office self-scouts their most pressing needs, I’m guessing running back is not near the top of the list.
This is the point where someone usually reminds me (read: scolds me) that teams should always take the best player available rather than draft for need. That’s great in theory. If your team is without a glaring need – or perhaps has needs that can be adequately addressed in latter rounds, by all means take the best player available. However, 10 teams passed on J.J. Watt four years ago when they shouldn’t have, so you can’t tell me the “best player available” strategy is always in play. And if Jameis Winston slides to 11 in the draft this year, I’m guessing the Vikings won’t take him, even if he’s the top-rated player left on their war room draft board. They have a quarterback last I checked.
In short, the Vikings have bigger fish to fry. Get a guard, get a tackle, get a wide receiver or get a linebacker... then maybe later in the draft if there’s a value pick at running back, grab him. This is a pretty good running back draft class. If Peterson is gone, the Vikings might select one later on to complement McKinnon. There will still be good ones available in the third and fourth rounds.
Gordon looks like he’ll be a very good NFL player so I’m not knocking his talents at all. I’d really, really like to get him in my dynasty fantasy football league this summer. He’ll help whatever NFL team he goes to.
I just doubt it’s going to be the Vikings.
Go to VikingsJournal.com for more on the NFL Draft and all the speculation on the Vikings landing Larry Fitzgerald.
Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData, head writer at VikingsJournal.com, co-host of the Fantasy Football Pants Party at 1500ESPN.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell
Months of planning and negotiations between the multiple sides that will be represented at this weekend’s Vikings vs Redskins game have come to culminated on this moment. November 2nd, 2014 is expected to represent one of the largest Native American protests in the history of the State of Minnesota and the epicenter of it all will be TCF Bank Stadium on the campus of the University of Minnesota.
The controversy has been stirring for the past couple years surrounding the nickname “Redskins” that goes along with the Washington NFL franchise. While one side claims that the term is honoring the warrior history of the Native people, the other side, actual Native Americans claim that the nickname brings with it a much more disparaging etymology.
To some it is believed that the term is simply a slightly racist term used to reference the skin tone of the Native American people. If that’s not outlandish enough for you, there’s more to the story as well.
Those protesting the use of the nickname suggest that the term “Redskins” is in reference to an ugly time in American history when the civil rights of American Indians were taken from them, along with many of their lives being taken as well.
*Disclaimer – While some hold tight to the truth in the following explanation, there are others who refute it’s accuracy. The following details do contain graphic explanations.
According to multiple historical sources, the nickname “Redskins” refers to the day and age when bounties were placed on the heads of Native Americans and the monies were collected when the scalps of dead American Indians were submitted.
With the land being filled by European settlers, government officials put a bounty of 50 pounds out for every dead Native American. As the bodies of Native Americans were submitted, townsmen realized they had a problem disposing of the decaying bodies. The bounty was then changed to reflect the problem and required only the heads be submitted to receive the bounty. But still, the problem persisted. According to some, the term “redskins” came about at this point as the requirements were changed again requiring only the scalp of the deceased to collect the monies.
Understandably, the term brings with it some heavy negative connotations.
To date, The University of Minnesota, the Minnesota Vikings and the NFL have been in contact with both Dan Snyder, owner of the Redskins, and representatives from multiple Native American tribes trying to lay out a plan for this weekend and the ultimate future of the Redskins nickname. To date, the plan for this weekend continues to be business as usual for all parties involved.
Because of these decisions, representatives from multiple tribes will be on hand Sunday protesting the NFL’s use of the nickname led by Indian activist Clyde Bellecourt. While the protests are expected to remain peaceful, they are also expected to be large. Sources with knowledge of the situation expect the protests to cause major delays leading up to kickoff.
At this point, it appears as if the name change is inevitable, but will not happen this season. It’s a sign of the changing of our world, and it’s probably for the better.
The NFL has never been more pass-friendly. However, on Sunday in Tampa the worst passing offense in the NFL will square off with the worst pass defense in the NFL. It’s the movable object vs. the resistible force and (you guessed it) something’s gotta give!
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were on bye this past weekend. This presumably gave them a little extra time to, among other things, review film from their 48-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 6 – a game in which Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco gashed their defense for five touchdown passes before halftime.
Yes, before halftime.
In other words, Flacco – a fairly pedestrian quarterback statistically speaking by today’s NFL standards – had more touchdown passes against the Buccaneers in the first 30 minutes of that game than Vikings quarterbacks have had all season.
Yes, all season.
The Vikings’ passing game has been that bad… and the Buccaneers’ pass defense has been just as bad. On Sunday at Raymond James Stadium we’ll find out which is worse.
In the purple corner: the Vikings passing game
Thus far this season, the Vikings rank 32nd in pass offense (a.k.a. dead last) with an average of 184 yards per game. Astonishingly, they have thrown just four touchdown passes. No other team has fewer than seven.
The 184 yards per game rate is fairly awful, but not historically awful. There are examples in recent seasons of teams who have averaged less than that. In fact, just last year both the Jets and Buccaneers averaged fewer passing yards per game. Of course, both of those teams at least reached double digits in touchdown passes.
The Vikings are currently on a pace to finish the season with 2,944 yards passing and nine touchdown passes. Nine. Touchdown. Passes. Heck, Joe Kapp once threw seven touchdown passes in a single game for the Vikings back in 1969.
Nine would be bad. Really bad. It would tie the franchise record for fewest touchdown passes in a season set by the 1971 Vikings. Gary Cuozzo led that team with six touchdown passes. Bob Lee had two and Norm Snead had one. Cuozzo, Lee and Snead is not the company Bridgewater, Ponder and Cassel want to join. Speaking of Cassel, the last NFL team to have a full season with passing stats as bad as the Vikings’ are projected to be was the 2012 Kansas City Chiefs, who finished with 2,937 yards and eight touchdown passes – led by Cassel, who threw for 1,796 yards and six touchdowns.
Fortunately for Vikings fans, I’m optimistic they’ll break the 10 touchdown-plateau this season. As Arif Hasan adroitly suggested yesterday, patience is needed with Teddy Bridgewater. He’ll become more acclimated as the season goes on and start producing better numbers.
Maybe even this week.
In the pewter corner: the Buccaneers pass defense
The Buccaneers rank 32nd in pass defense, allowing 295 yards per game. They have allowed 15 touchdown passes, which ties them for next-to-last in the NFL. Only the Jets have allowed more scoring passes (18). Of course, the Jets haven’t had a bye week yet, so technically the Bucs are right there with them in terms of ineptitude.
The Buccaneers are also allowing the highest completion percentage (71.6) and quarterback rating (111.8) in the NFL. Their 8.4 yards per attempt allowed ranks 31st.
Sacks have not been a specialty of the Buccaneers this season, either. They only have nine in six games, which has to be a little encouraging for the depleted and ineffective Vikings offensive line.
Injuries have been part of the problem. The Buccaneers lost starting right cornerback Mike Jenkins in Week 1 to a torn pectoral. His replacement, Johnthan Banks missed the game against the Ravens in Week 6 due to a neck injury. Banks could play against the Vikings – not that it would be a bad thing for the Vikings since Banks ranks 99th overall out of 106 cornerbacks graded by ProFootballFocus.com.
Look for the Vikings to target Banks, if he plays, more often than left corner Alterraun Verner, who’s actually playing pretty well this season after signing a four-year deal with the Bucs in May.
Scheme might be the other problem. Leslie Frazier, who oversaw the Vikings’ 31st-ranked pass defense last season has taken his Tampa 2 scheme to Tampa as the Buccaneers defensive coordinator. It could be the Tampa 2 defense is on its last legs as a base NFL defense, as many others have suggested.
And the winner is…
The resistible force will come out on top against the movable object. This isn’t necessarily a prediction for a Vikings win, but it is a favorable outlook for the Vikings’ passing game as a whole, assuming head coach Mike Zimmer can find enough healthy bodies to block ‘em up front.
Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData, head writer at VikingsJournal.com, co-host of the Fantasy Football Pants Party at 1500ESPN.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell
That the Vikings fell down 32 points is not just a referendum on Christian Ponder as a quarterback, as he would have you believe, but an issue with the entire team.
Naturally, the play of Christian Ponder is the first thing to point to. Though early on he had one or two moments where he's looked like a starting-caliber quarterback, his accuracy has been terrible throughout the game. Perhaps not to blame for the first interception (Luther Robinson, newly signed by the Packers, came through the line and hit his arm), the second interception was a terrible misread.
If there was much question about the issue of Bill Musgrave causing Ponder's struggles, perhaps this game can put that to rest. Ponder’s accuracy is well represented by his 50 percent completion rate, and though drops are not entirely his fault, the bad ball placement always increases the likelihood of those plays.
That said, against the Packers’ second-string defense, Ponder looked much sharper, especially on his last two drives. That doesn’t mean much, but it would be incomplete to ignore it. Ponder had more time on these throws, but he also had some plays where he escaped pressure smartly and made the play.
Of course, Ponder was still terrible. Let’s not get away from that. Averaging 5.0 yards per attempt when excluding sacks, touchdowns and interceptions (and 1.96 adjusted net yards per attempt when taking those into account).
It's difficult to really evaluate the wide receivers, as Greg Jennings, Jarius Wright and Cordarrelle Patterson have streaked open without targets. Patterson has had more issues than Wright or Jennings in getting open, but there's definitely a legitimate concern about the Vikings working away from "manufacturing" his touches—even if he can't do as good a job getting open on traditional pass plays, the Vikings need a spark and aren't getting one with the traditional offense.
Jarius Wright did drop one of the few excellent passes from Ponder, but for the most part has had done well with what he's been asked to do—he can't control his targets.
Jennings had six targets and only two receptions, something he and Ponder can both share blame for. Jennings didn’t look particularly interested in the game, but Ponder wasn’t doing him many favors with ball placement. There’s a good question over how many of those balls were truly catchable.
Interestingly, after the game was well and done, Adam Thielen had a good game and made the most of his targets. He wasn't asked to do anything extraordinary, but had consistently good play on his targets. Whether or not he was open because of the plays and defensive calls is to be determined later, but for now it's an encouraging outing.
Charles Johnson even got a few plays, though should have done more with a great deep ball late in the game. His other play was not executed with a high degree of skill, though Johnson is graded on a curve because of his late arrival to the team. That curve in mind, he still should have done better, but at least he ended with a reception.
Chase Ford has looked good at tight end, and so has Rhett Ellison, with Ellison providing some additional support in the running game. Though Ellison hasn’t been as good of a run-blocker this year as he has been in the past two years, nothing stood out in this game as particularly bad or good. For a blocker, that’s fine. Ford ended up grabbing some late conversions and can move the ball; he’s certainly looking like more than a standard undrafted free agent, and if MarQueis Gray develops as the season goes on (and he had a nice catch late in the game), the Vikings may be in an interesting spot in regards to their tight end depth chart next season.
As runners, Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon have been somewhat disappointing, but Asiata's fumble was his only real issue; his success rate as a runner tonight has been fairly astonishing in all honesty. He grabbed good yards when the blocking was sustained for him and people may be surprised to learn he finished with 4.8 yards a carry. His blocking was on-point for most of the game, but he had some big mistakes there, including a penalty, in a short succession of plays before being pulled out.
McKinnon, though not entirely at fault for his poor targets, needs to make the most of his ability in the open field. He hasn't pushed with the explosion he's flashed in other games and the offseason and is limiting his opportunities. Further, his runback on the Peppers interception was a little baffling. McKinnon’s vision is fine, as is his patience—he simply didn’t flash the burst he’s known to have.
It may be easy to forget the contributions of players like Jerome Felton and though I admit I wasn’t watching for him on many plays, the ones I did see were excellent. He’s a solid blocker that has left his average 2012 behind him. Where earlier, there was questions about Felton’s role on the squad because of Ellison’s proficiency there, Felton is proving his worth on the team and is showing up as a better lead blocker.
The offensive line has been a mess, and though Ponder can't be blamed for the majority of the pressure he's received, though with more open rushers, he may be somewhat responsible for the free blitzers or extra pressures by calling poor protections.
On the other hand, Phil Loadholt should not be excused for his poor play on the day. Not only did he give up a number of pressures and play on his heels for much of the game (against a number of different rushers, including Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers and Mike Neal), his added penalties didn’t help. Loadholt had been playing well in the previous two years, but he hasn’t looked like it in the past two games. He’ll need to find that form again.
On the other side of the line, Matt Kalil had a very up-and-down game, starting off with an excellent stretch of play to be followed by several more breakdowns in the middle of the game that gave rise to some of the questions he was attempting to stave off with his solid effort in the last game.
Kalil finished the game off fine, but that middle stretch of play is still enough to drive serious concerns, because there were some pretty big mistakes. That the end of the game was against backups may be relevant.
The interior of the line is difficult to evaluate in particular because of questions regarding the protection call—which head coach Mike Zimmer reinforced in the presser after the game by pointing out how involved the quarterback is in protection—where free rushers seemed more common than usual. Regardless, it looked like Charlie Johnson didn’t play with awareness—one of his strong points despite his maligned career.
It was difficult to tell if John Sullivan was at fault for the protection breakdowns, but he is likely not blameless, particularly with so much interior pressure. Christian Ponder was hit 16 times in the game, much of it up the middle. The only particular pressure I identified that was a result of a slipped block from Sullivan was an early Letroy Guion pressure (embarrassing), but it’s difficult to believe that it didn’t happen more often, given how many times Mike Daniels, Mike Neal and AJ Hawk were seen in the back field. On the other hand, it doesn’t look like Sullivan lost any ground as a road grader.
There was some dispositively poor play from Vlad Ducasse, but it wasn’t as clear as it was for Loadholt, who was likely the worst offensive lineman. Ducasse definitely didn’t sustain as many clear blocks. For as many issues Charlie Johnson had, Johnson at least looked like a better run blocker (with his own gaffes), while Ducasse seemed mixed at best in the same skill.
The defense was certainly up-and-down compared to the consistently anemic offense. Though Aaron Rodgers averaged 9.2 yards an attempt (10.6 adjusted net yards per attempt), there were good moments from the passing defense, including some highlight plays from Xavier Rhodes and consistently good play from Josh Robinson.
Though Rhodes has been out of position at times, he’s the kind of player that can make up for it if given the opportunity and did so against Nelson, though the ball was uncharacteristically underthrown from Rodgers. Despite some issues at the beginning of the game, Rhodes was able to finish well. Josh Robinson had a generally very good day, and though he drew a critical pass interference penalty, it was probably a good play and unfairly called. In the future, I imagine the Vikings coaches will ask him to play the same play similarly.
Captain Munnerlyn looked out of sorts in coverage, though wasn’t a bad run defender. Unfortunately, that’s not where his priorities should lie, and the touchdown Randall Cobb grabbed against him reminded Vikings fans of the Julian Edelman touchdown just weeks ago. Munnerlyn’s consistent issues in coverage need to be a talking point in the coaches’ meeting rooms, because it certainly is one outside of them. He hasn’t had a good game yet, and quite a few bad ones.
Jabari Price entered in for a few snaps with Xavier Rhodes out and played well for what it’s worth.
Behind them were Anthony Barr and Gerald Hodges, and though both had some good plays of note (more Barr than Hodges), they largely had some issues. Barr’s can be excused and don’t be surprised if he ends up positively graded by the Vikings and Pro Football Focus, with some great work in the run game, against a screen and looping for quick pressure. He also had some issues finishing tackles and staying disciplined.
Though the bigger issue with gap discipline was from Hodges, who was out of his gap for at least one play and potentially another on the two biggest Eddie Lacy runs. Beyond that, he too missed several tackles and took a poor angles on at least one run. He couldn’t get off of his blocks quickly enough. On the defensive side of the ball, there’s a good argument to be had that Hodges had the worst game of anybody, including Munnerlyn and Blanton.
If the question is about Eddie Lacy runs, the finger may more easily point to Robert Blanton, whose angles and tackling have been an issue for some time, and his coverage has not made up for this fact. In this game, the standout Eddie Lacy tackle has excited national media about Lacy’s ability to power in runs, but just reminds Vikings fans of the poor strength and technique Blanton plays with.
He’s been blown out of plays, dragged by runners and pushed off the ballcarrier. He doesn’t play with awareness of other defenders and diminishes the strength of swarm tackling by playing without discipline. There’s also a question about his role in the Nelson touchdown that turned Harrison Smith around, though it seems likely the call was on both Munnerlyn and Smith to stop.
And though Smith should have had more help than he did, he’s not blameless in the touchdown dime to Nelson from Rodgers. Smith bit on the play action, then played flat-footed against one of the better receivers in the NFL. Luckily, Harrison made up for it after that (though before that he did have a bad missed tackle), even before the Packers decided to play the backups. Once again, Smith was called up on in a variety of roles, including as a pass-rusher, man coverage defender (though not as often), strong safety and free safety, and in particular showed up in the run as the force player and had a well-timed interception, even if it was of Matt Flynn.
Up front, backups like Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen outperformed starters Linval Joseph and Sharrif Floyd. Johnson didn’t just have the best presence in the run game with some key tackles, he brought pressure through the A and B gaps, as well as complicated blocking schemes. He caused issues for center Corey Linsley, right tackle Bryan Bulaga and even guards T.J. Lang Josh Sitton at times. Though Stephen didn’t do anything of particular note, he also didn’t give up the bigger gains that Joseph did, though Joseph had two legitimately good opportunities early on that he couldn’t close for reasons that weren’t his fault, but were borderline penalties (though a good ref wouldn’t call either of them).
Floyd saw his gap gashed in the run game at times and couldn’t produce positive plays to balance his play, and his ability to put pressure on the quarterback is questionable at best at this moment in his career. Though Floyd finished with a sack, it was the result of pressure from Harrison Smith, Gerald Hodges and Brian Robison.
With them were the defensive ends who couldn’t get much done. Everson Griffen sandwiched his best play of the night with two offsides calls, and those will overshadow any pressure he got (minimal, honestly) otherwise. Brian Robison was better about pressure but had several plays with very poor run defense, either pushed out of a play or left leaping for a missed tackle.
Despite individual issues from the majority of the defense, there's a good argument that the defense as a whole played better than advertised. Naturally, the Packers scored many points, but when accounting for field position, things don't look entirely awful.
A field-adjusted metric like Drive Success Rate—which measures how often a defense gives up first downs per opportunity—marks the play as a general success, by keeping the Packers to conversion on 70% of opportunities when Rodgers, not Flynn, had the ball (for context, if a team did that the whole year, they would generally rank as the 20th-best in the NFL).
On the other hand, the Packers scored 35 offensive points, when their field position would dictate an expected points outcome of 21 total points with Rodgers on the field (an average offense against an average defense), meaning that the Vikings defense were two scores worse than an average team in the same situation.
The truth is somewhere in the middle. The Vikings, for the most part, played with a decent rate of success (there were more plays that were defensive successes than you may recall—the Packers punted on five of their ten non-Flynn drives and were two of seven on third down with Rodgers playing).
But the high success rate was counter-balanced by the sheer magnitude of the failures. If the failures were as impactful as the successes, the Vikings would have kept the game close, but the failures were so big that the Packers were able to put points on the board.
All around, it was a poor showing by the Vikings on offense and defense, and the abysmal special teams play of Jeff Locke shouldn’t be ignored either. Marcus Sherels was also confusing, as he fielded punts he should have let go, and let go of punts he should have fielded. The problem started with Christian Ponder, but it definitely did not end with him.
There should be no question that a lot of the sloppiness of the game can be attributed to the fact that it was a Thursday Night Football game on wet grass, but the Packers dealt with the same conditions and did better. Whether or not the team played sluggishly because they “didn’t have confidence in Christian Ponder,” or because they were left with low preparation time, the individual duties they were asked to perform were executed poorly, even from some of their best players.
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