Sam Bradford perhaps made the play harder than it needed to be, but the play was made.
He had time, a rare commodity behind this Vikings offensive line, and a wide open Cordarrelle Patterson about 15 yards downfield on his left. But on the first snap, Bradford bought more time shuffling his feet for 5.8 seconds, an NFL eternity, and was hit while launching the 44-yard completion to Kyle Rudolph.
Bradford’s right arm is responsible for the Vikings offense and he added two feet to the equation during Sunday’s 25-16 win in Jacksonville. That’s one of a handful of things I think I saw during the game, which I’ll break down below in lieu of the standard player-driven post. Also check out Mark Craig’s five takeaways from the game and Matt Vensel’s Upon Further Review.
Sam Bradford’s feet were an asset. As an organization, breaths should pause the few times Bradford takes off to run into a field of defenders capable of ending their season with a hit. “He’s the most awkward slider I’ve ever seen,” guard Alex Boone said. Though he can get moving, dodging defenders and picking up four yards on this first-and-10 below. Bradford moved in the pocket well behind some improved protection, but again missed an open target in Adam Thielen near the 35-yard line. Bradford was good, not great, with his day carried by three well-placed throws for 40-plus yard gains. And his feet were part of the reason the Vikings did not allow a sack.
The Vikings missed Harrison Smith, even as second-year safety Anthony Harris played a decent game in his first start of the season. Harris was caught too close to Jags’ top target Allen Robinson when Blake Bortles found Bryan Walters for a 14-yard touchdown on a post route from the opposite side of the field. Harris’ highlight came on an excellent open-field tackle of T.J. Yeldon to force a field goal. He blitzed, doubled Robinson with Xavier Rhodes and filled many of Smith’s duties, though the plays weren’t fully coming together in his third career start. Harris was one of two defenders to miss a tackle on Marqise Lee’s 39-yard catch and run.
Everson Griffen and the Vikings defensive line are still a wrecking crew. There were times Allen Robinson was left wide open because Bortles was scrambling away from Griffen, who would’ve had three sacks had his grip not slipped in the second quarter when Bortles evaded for a five-yard scramble. Griffen’s repertoire of pass rushing moves has grown tremendously in three years under this coaching staff and he owned the matchup with Kelvin Beachum on Sunday. Shamar Stephen, the 2014 seventh-round pick, hasn’t received enough attention for his improvement as a run defender. He had another strong day in Jacksonville on 27 snaps [41%]. Brian Robison led the defensive line with 57 snaps [86%]. The 33-year-old team captain is on pace to surpass 75-plus percent of snaps for the sixth consecutive season. On the second-and-18 play below, watch Robinson get open on the out route near the 30-yard line. Griffen beats Beachum so quickly he’s on Bortles’ back before Robinson can make his cut.
Vikings running backs solid in pass protection. The Vikings will stop reaching across the goal line in desperation, Zimmer said Monday, after Matt Asiata fumbled at the 1-yard line. Though in all, Vikings running backs had a solid day in Jacksonville, which included some key blocks in pass protection. Jerick McKinnon stonewalled linebacker Paul Posluszny on a blitz, allowing Bradford to escape for a 15-yard scramble. Asiata stopped Telvin Smith to provide enough time for Adam Thielen’s 41-yard catch.
Bortles fared better vs. Vikings blitz. Mike Zimmer peppered in extra pass rush against the third-year Bortles, who navigated that part of the game all right. Bortles was ineffective when the Vikings committed more to coverage, when he completed 17 of 27 passes for 159 yards. a touchdown and took three sacks. He especially had success against the Vikings’ zone blitzes, where Hunter had a rough couple of plays in coverage. He was blindsided by Lee while chasing the runner on a 15-yard catch. Hunter also missed the tackle on Lee for a 39-yard gain. The Vikings sent a five-man rush 11 times [25.6%] with linebacker Anthony Barr appearing to spy Bortles in certain spots. Bortles completed 6 of 10 passes for 98 yards and took one sack vs. the blitz.
Backup centers struggled on both sides. Both starting centers were out of this game and opposing defensive tackles had their way. With Joe Berger sidelined for a second game due to a brain injury, Nick Easton stepped in for his second career start. It was an uneven outing for Easton, who made a couple wrong calls in protection, according to Zimmer, and was beaten a handful of times up front. Though Easton wasn’t the weakest link on his own line as left tackle T.J. Clemmings surrendered the pressure that led to a Bradford fumble. The quarterback saved him by picking it up and completing the pass. Linval Joseph blew up a couple runs on Jags backup Tyler Shatley, starting for the injured Brandon Linder.
Marqise Lee needed some ridiculous catches to be the first player to surpass 100 receiving yards against the Vikings this season — in Week 14. When Xavier Rhodes wasn’t getting penalized, he was sound on Allen Robinson for much of the game. Robinson caught just one pass for 17 yards on three targets, drawing a 31-yard pass interference penalty against Rhodes. Lee was the star of the Jaguars’ show with two especially acrobatic catches, one each on Rhodes and Terence Newman.