Sunday, September 28, 2014

Notebook: Bridgewater makes first start, Vikings roll with 41-28 win

Teddy Bridgewater performed well in his first NFL start and the Vikings picked up a 41-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons

Updated: September 28th, 2014 9:15pm

By: Daniel House

Teddy Bridgewater made his NFL debut and didn’t disappoint, completing 19 of his 30 passes for 317 yards and a rushing touchdown. He performed at a high level and played a pivotal role in the Minnesota Vikings 41-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons. He left the game in the middle of the fourth quarter with a reported ankle sprain, but he remains optimistic that he will be ready for Thursday night’s matchup with Green Bay.

Running back Matt Asiata plunged into the end zone for three red zone touchdowns and helped power the Vikings on the ground. Pair that with a 135-yard rushing performance by Jerick McKinnon and the rushing attack was back on track in today’s game. The offense was more balanced and accumulated a whopping 558 total yards through the air and ground. On the defense, the team struggled to get off the field on third-and-long situations, but remained strong and finished the game with a pivotal sack by linebacker Anthony Barr and an interception from safety Harrison Smith.  The Vikings showed plenty of grit in this win and will need to prepare quickly during a short week.

I compiled all the notes from today’s game and allow you to take a look inside of my notebook.

Bridgewater plays strong, leaves with ankle sprain 

Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater started his first career game today and finished 19-for-30 with 317 yards and a rushing touchdown. He was poised and handled the pressure, finding his receivers down the field. Jarius Wright hauled in 132 yards from Bridgewater and they both attribute this to the amount of time they spent taking reps together during training camp. Bridgewater was leading his receivers very well and snapped the passes to the spots where the defense was weak in coverage. He left a touchdown on the field, when he missed Jarius Wright over the top for what would have been a long touchdown, but that was his only blemish on the day. He was far ahead of many expectation levels, but an injury to his ankle in the middle of the fourth quarter caused him to leave the game. Reports are that he will have an MRI tonight, but x-rays came back negative and he is currently nursing a sprained ankle. Bridgewater told NFL Network following the game, that he expects to start this Thursday against Green Bay at Lambeau Field.

The rushing attack is revived

The Vikings offensive attack wasn’t balanced over the last two games, but today it appeared this issue may have been resolved. Running back Matt Asiata rushed for 78 yards on 20 carries, while adding three goal-line touchdowns. The brighter spot came with backup running back Jerick McKinnon. He finally saw extended action and impressed during his time on the field. McKinnon sprinted for a 55-yard run early in the game and added 135 yards on the ground, on just 18 carries. His elusiveness and vision were on display and some of the read-option looks the Vikings were implanting fit his rushing style very well. If the Vikings can continue to run the ball well and accumulate yards threw the air and on the ground, their offense will accumulate plenty of points.

Wright leads the receivers 

After being relatively unused for the early portion of the season, Jarius Wright was a big part of the gameplan in today’s game. He hauled in eight catches for 132 yards and nearly hauled in a long touchdown pass in the third quarter. He was used on several wide receiver screens and Norv Turner was working to isolate him in space. It proved to pay dividends and the connection between Bridgewater and Wright showed on the field today. Greg Jennings added three catches for 72 yards and was consistently found in the gaps of the zone in the secondary. Cordarrelle Patterson wasn’t much of a factor today and notched just two catches for 36 yards. The ball was distributed heavily to the running backs and Jarius Wright today and it seems like this may have been a huge part of the gameplan.

Ellison performs well 

Rhett Ellison filled in during the absence of Kyle Rudolph and hauled in one pass for 19 yards, along with a successful catch during a two-point conversion try. He wasn’t used significantly in the passing game, but he was sure-handed when he was called upon. Ellison is reliable and can provide some stellar blocking on the edge for the running backs.

Offensive Line steps up

I was very impressed with the Vikings offensive line today and felt they stepped up in a huge way. Matt Kalil settled in and played his best game of the 2014 season thus far. He didn’t allow many quarterback pressures and kept the pocket relatively clean for Teddy Bridgewater. Vlad Ducasse filled in for starting right guard Brandon Fusco and played much better than many anticipated. His only mistake came on a holding call, but he pass protected well and did a nice job of blocking up front. The Vikings offensive line stepped up in a major way and didn’t allow a sack, while paving the way for the running backs to sprint for 241 yards on the ground.

Defensive Line rather applies pressure

The Vikings defensive line was applying pressure and added just one sack, but forced Matt Ryan to step up in the pocket on several occasions. They picked up several critical holding calls that stalled Falcons drives and placed them in several third-and-long situations. The front-four needs to improve upon getting off the ball, while closing on sacks on third down. Atlanta had too many third down conversions and the Minnesota defense can’t afford to continue this trend for the duration of the season.

Barr picks up big sack, Hodges plays well 

Anthony Barr blitzed and picked up a big sack late in the fourth quarter that helped the Vikings get the ball back. He pounced through the gap and closed the pocket down, while ripping Matt Ryan to the ground. Barr handled the duties of calling the signals very well and is far ahead of the learning curve. Gerald Hodges performed well in Chad Greenway’s absence and notched three tackles. He covered well in the passing game and he fills the gaps extremely well in the run game. Hodges provides a high level of athleticism on the field and I like the elements he brings to the Vikings defense.

Rhodes steps up in a major way, Munnerlyn struggles

Cornerback Xavier Rhodes was glued to Julio Jones all day and allowed the NFL’s receiving yardage leader to just 81 yards today. He added several passes defensed and notched five tackles on the day. He was in the correct position and deflected several passes down at their highest point. Rhodes now needs to show consistency on a weekly basis and if he can play as well as he did today, the Vikings secondary is upgraded significantly. Captain Munnerlyn was involved in a miscommunication that resulted in a 24-yard touchdown catch by Roddy White. He was burned on several routes across the middle and admitted via Twitter that he did not perform well today. Several other plays overshadowed these mistakes, but they are areas that will need to be fixed as soon as possible.

Smith adds an interception 

Safety Harrison Smith added an interception late in the fourth quarter that essentially closed the game. He is playing at an extremely high level and is picking up some major tackles in run support. Smith is like a ball hawk in the back of the defense and his ability to make plays is huge for this defense. He is a key leader and is easily the Vikings biggest asset on the defensive side of the ball.

Walsh hits big field goal 

With just minutes remaining in the contest, kicker Blair Walsh drilled a 55-yard field goal in the fourth quarter that increased the Vikings lead to 10 points. Walsh did miss from 49 yards, but he hit from 18, 33, and 41 yards out. He settled down nicely and made a huge kick when it counted late in the game.

Injury Report

Teddy Bridgewater left with 10 minutes remaining in the game and has been diagnosed with a sprained ankle. He is expected to play next week, but we will know more as the week continues.

What’s Next?

The Vikings will travel to Green Bay to take on the Packers this Thursday night at 7:25 p.m. CST.

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