Sunday, October 26, 2014

Notebook: Rookies shine in a 19-13 overtime win over Tampa Bay

The Minnesota Vikings knocked off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and finally won a game in the closing minutes. Daniel House analyzes every position group from the 19-13 overtime win. 

Updated: October 26th, 2014 5:35pm

By: Daniel House

The Minnesota Vikings knocked off the Tampa Buccaneers in overtime, following a 27-yard fumble return touchdown by linebacker Anthony Barr. The game was ugly until late in the contest and the Vikings didn't provide much optimism on offense. In the end, the group pulled through, executing on a 9-play 61-yard drive that set up a 38-yard field goal by kicker Blair Walsh. Teddy Bridgewater converted on several huge passes and lived up to the 'two minute' Teddy nickname. He finished 5-for-8 for 54 yards on the final drive of the game and failed to make any critical mistakes. For the most part, the Vikings offense was shaky, but they managed to pull through and convert when it was absolutely necessary.

The playbook opened up when throws needed to be converted to move the chains and sustain drives. On the Vikings lone touchdown drive, Bridgewater handled the pressure nicely, while making a perfect strike on a late developing corner route to Greg Jennings. The pass was lofted at a nice angle and Jennings perfectly hauled in the 17-yard touchdown reception. Until that point, the Vikings offense was forced to punt and kick field goals. This is an area that needs to be addressed moving forward, but the defense performed well enough to win today's game. The defense has allowed 17 points of fewer in each of their last three games and a key play by the group ended up being the difference in the game. Young players and rookies are stepping up and the Vikings are making slow strides each and every week.

Bridgewater starts slow, finishes fast

Consistency has been the major issue as we have watched quarterback Teddy Bridgewater over his first few starts in the league. This is to be expected from a rookie, but he continued to show he can perform well under pressure. Early in the game, Bridgewater was having trouble converting up the field and his passes were continually being tipped at the line of scrimmage. However, when you evaluate the full scope of his performance and weigh the amount of crucial throws into the equation, his performance looks much better. Bridgewater finished the day 24-for-42 with 241 yards passing and a touchdown. He more importantly stepped into the pocket and made the crucial throws when the game was on the line. We have yet to witness Bridgewater put together an entirely awesome performance and his consistency still needs to improve. Nonetheless, it was encouraging to see him make the throws necessary to put the Vikings in a position to win at the end of the game. Remember, Bridgewater is 21 years old, is a rookie, and he is a starting quarterback in this league. Perfection is can't be expected, but as we watch him play, strides are being made towards the ultimate goal.

McKinnon is flourishing 

It has been a treat to watch Jerick McKinnon show growth over this last three appearances as the starting running back. His vision, cutbacks, and degree of elevation are all points of athleticism you simply cannot teach. He notched 16 carries for 83 yards and his yards per carry average was an impressive 5.2. His role in the offensive scheme is increasing and he making a strong case to become a starting feature running back in this league. More importantly, I'm really impressed to see his pass protection skills improve every week. This was an area of concern entering the season and with more game action under his belt, this part of his game has turned the corner. The most puzzling part of this contest came over the last three series of the game. McKinnon was substituted for Matt Asiata and he wasn't brought back into the game until the final drive of the game. With the success McKinnon displayed early, it was very confusing to see Asiata enter during the most critical junction of the game.

Patterson is getting involved 

Cordarelle Patterson was targeted a whopping 12 times today and he finally witnessed an extended role in the Vikings offensive system. He hauled six receptions for 86 yards, including two critical third-down conversions towards the sideline. On both of the plays, he was able to drag his foot and maintain possession of the ball in-bounds. It is important to involve Patterson in the scheme and it seemed as if Teddy Bridgewater was becoming more comfortable finding him up the field. He is the most dynamic playmaker and the ball needs to be heading in his direction as much as possible. Late in this game, the importance of finding Patterson was one of the clear takeaways you could find from the offense. The more impressive part of today's game was how the ball was distributed to seven different receivers. Greg Jennings added a touchdown catch, new-comer Charles Johnson showed some flashes, and Jarius Wright was sprinkled into the pot too.

Ford moves the chains

Chase Ford hauled in six passes for 61 yards and played a pivotal role in moving the chains for the Vikings offense. He added two huge receptions near the end of the game to keep the Vikings within striking distance. Ford did commit an interference call that nearly proved costly, but in the end, it didn't become a fatal flaw. He has shown he can be an athletic presence in the passing game and Teddy Bridgewater hasn't been afraid to find him in the flat and across the middle over the last few weeks.

Offensive Line steps up 

The Vikings offensive line has been the elephant in the room as of late, but today they added some optimism. As I indicated in my game preview, the Buccaneers front-four hasn't been impressive this season. However, they protected well for the vast majority of the game and were a key reason Jerick McKinnon was averaging 5.2 yard per carry. Matt Kalil was beaten twice today, but he managed to not accumulate these mistakes in the critical portions of the game. Joe Berger was toasted by Gerald McCoy and this led to the lone sack the group surrendered during this game. The offensive line wasn't the major issue today, but their is still room for growth from these players.

Defensive Line is playing at an elite level

After a disappointing first few weeks of the season, the Vikings defensive line has stepped up their game over the last three contests. Today, they absolutely dominated the line of scrimmage and dictated the tempo of this game from the start. Everson Griffen added a sack and accumulated his fourth consecutive game with a quarterback takedown. He was flying all over the field, making his presence known in the running game, as well. Griffen has been justifying his large extension over the last few weeks of play. Sharrif Floyd was gaining insane leverage in the interior and the stunts with Everson Griffen were working masterfully again. In addition, he was making the plays in the running game and was an active force in that avenue. The Vikings defense accumulated five sacks today and  four of them came from the defensive line. It is very impressive to see how they are dominating the line of scrimmage and are causing havoc for opposing offensive lines.

Barr makes the big play

As I stated in my game preview, the Vikings defense needed to eliminate the big play, while showing they can finish the game. The defense may have allowed a touchdown late in the game, but they managed to make the big play in overtime. Anthony Barr stripped the ball, recovered it, and ran into the end zone for the game-winning 27-yard touchdown. He is making a strong case for being a defensive rookie of the year candidate. Barr is continually stopping plays in pass coverage and his athleticism is on display every week. He is a huge force on defense and it is crazy to think he has been playing linebacker for just the third year of his football career. Dynamic defenders like this don't come along very often and the Vikings are extremely lucky to have Barr on their defense.

Munnerlyn notches his first interception 

Captain Munnerlyn performed well today and added his first interception as a Minnesota Viking in the 1st quarter of the game. He wasn't beaten frequently as in week's past and Munnerlyn expressed his pleasure with his performance in today's game. Xavier Rhodes performed well and nobody accumulated any big plays on him. Josh Robinson allowed two longer pass receptions, but as a whole the secondary performed very well. It helps when the defensive line is getting great pressure, but the secondary still played a role in allowing an impressive 4.0 yards per play average today.

Walsh adds the equalizer 

Kicker Blair Walsh missed from 56 yards, but managed to connect from 46 yards in the first half. His most important kick came in the 4th quarter, as he drilled a 38-yard kick to send the Vikings into overtime.

Injury Report

Brian Robison left with a bruised buttock, but returned to the game. Cordarrelle Patterson injured his ankle on a kick return and was in a boot after the game. He played the majority of the contest with this injury and it doesn't appear to be too serious.

What's Next? 

Next week, the Vikings will travel back to Minnesota to square off with the Washington Redskins at noon.

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