Craig: A closer look at Saturday's game

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 29, 2011 - 7:59 AM

Charlie Johnson deserves an apology, tackling is a strength, play-action appears to be a powerful weapon, and a mistake is also a teaching tool.

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Vikings running back Adrian Peterson blasted through big holes for 81 yards, and that success set up some effective passes against the Dallas Cowboys.

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Sorry, Charlie.

A closer review of the game film from Saturday night's 23-17 preseason loss to the Dallas Cowboys showed new left tackle Charlie Johnson deserving of a pat on the back, after three weeks of being widely kicked in the rear.

Johnson in particular and the No. 1 offensive line in general played surprisingly well, controlling the line of scrimmage from the start of the game until right guard Anthony Herrera became the first starter to exit at the 1:38 mark of the second quarter. At that point, the Vikings were averaging 6.4 yards per carry and hadn't given up a sack. And the only knockdown quarterback Donovan McNabb suffered to that point came when right tackle Phil Loadholt was unable to handle an outside speed rush from Anthony Spencer.

"Guys came off the ball hard," said running back Adrian Peterson, who finished with 14 carries for 81 yards (5.8). "We are really trying to get this running game going. With them blocking well up front, it is my job to get the running game going."

For a closer look at the offensive line and three other areas upon further review of the game film:

FIRST DOWN: HERRERA, JOHNSON STABILIZE LINE

Right guard Anthony Herrera, playing his first game since major knee surgery nine months ago, took a huge step toward reclaiming his starting job heading into the regular season. He was sturdy at the front of the pocket and effective in the running game Saturday night vs. Dallas.

Two particular runs showed how the feisty Herrera can give Adiran Peterson just enough of a seam to make one of those All-Pro cuts. Herrera pulled and kicked out Anthony Spencer on an 11-yard run on third-and-1. Later, on second-and-2, Herrera drove end Igor Olshansky left as Peterson cut off the block for 5 yards.

Also, the only sack of Donovan McNabb came when the Cowboys overloaded backup Ryan Cook's gap with a blitz on the third play after Herrera left.

"It didn't look like the leg inhibited [Herrera] in any way, and he came off confident about where he was," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "So it's encouraging for our team. I think we have a chance to make a push for him for [to start] that first [regular season] game, but we'll talk about that this week."

Meanwhile, left tackle Charlie Johnson consistently controlled ends Jason Hatcher (two tackles) and Kenyon Coleman (one tackle). Johnson also had no problems with three-time All-Pro outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, although Ware appeared to treat the contest with the kind of disinterest and lack of intensity that's typical of a Pro Bowl game.

SECOND DOWN: TACKLING MUCH BETTER

Cornerback Cedric Griffin can cover, but his tackling is equally vital to this defense.

Playing his first extended minutes since having two major knee surgeries in consecutive seasons, Griffin was thrown at six times in 27 snaps. Four of those passes were completed, but the receivers gained only 14 yards after the catch. Even the electrifying Dez Bryant had gains of only 2 and 6 yards after catching the ball with an opportunity to run against Griffin.

Overall, the Vikings' first unit missed only four tackles. Of course, two of them gave up a touchdown on second-and-goal from the 5. Felix Jones simply ran through middle linebacker E.J. Henderson and strong safety Tyrell Johnson.

THIRD DOWN: PLAY-ACTION AS A WEAPON

McNabb's 49-yard touchdown pass to Bernard Berrian on the Vikings' first possession worked because the entire Cowboys defense bought the fake handoff to Peterson. And the reason it fell for the fake is Peterson had gouged them for 29 yards on five runs up to that point.

The fake certainly helped Johnson on the blind side. When Ware saw it, he stopped rushing and turned toward Peterson.

Play-action will be a big part of this run-oriented attack.

FOURTH DOWN: DEGEARE'S LEARNING TOOL

Teams never want to give up the 10-point swing that comes with having a field-goal attempt blocked and returned the other way for a touchdown. But the mistake that led to that swing Saturday night was easily corrected and shouldn't be repeated in the regular season.

Vikings left guard Chris DeGeare simply went too low in his protection stance. That enabled Gerald Sensabaugh to simply leap cleanly over DeGeare and easily block the field goal.

Sensabaugh tried it again later but was tripped up when the guard stayed higher in his stance. The mistake cost the Vikings the game as they lost 23-17, but it was a great learning experience for a young player who is struggling.

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    Up next: 7 p.m. Thursday vs. Houston • Mall of America Field • Ch. 11

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