Sunday, October 12, 2014

Notebook: Vikings can't muster points, lose 17-3

The Vikings offense was anemic and couldn't move the ball during a 17-3 loss to the Detroit Lions. Daniel House pinpoints every issue and discusses what the next steps are to improve as a team. 

Updated: October 12th, 2014 7:28pm

By: Daniel House

The Vikings offense couldn't accumulate points and struggled to move the ball up the field for the second straight week. There was hope the return of rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater would help spark the offense, but this wasn't the case. The offensive line couldn't handle blitz packages and Bridgewater was forced to make quick decisions with an extremely low amount of time to throw. The offense couldn't move the ball and the attack was extremely unbalanced. With three quarters in the books, Bridgewater had completed just three passes to receivers.

The running attack was underwhelming and the team was extremely predictable in this avenue. Rookie running back Jerick McKinnon was awarded the start for the first time today and he was one of the small bright spots on the Vikings offense. He carried the ball 11 times for 40 yards, while hauling in six passes for 42 receiving yards. The defense played well after allowing a six play 80-yard drive to start the game. Detroit was able to convert on third down just once during 13 attempts in these situations. They added four defensive sacks and allowed just 17 points to the Lions offense. Missed tackles were an issue at times and gap integrity wasn't perfect, but the defense placed the offense in a position to win the contest.

I let you take a look inside of the my notebook and tell you where everything went wrong in today's game.

Bridgewater throws three interceptions

Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater returned for today's matchup following an ankle injury he suffered two weeks ago. Bridgewater finished the day 23/37 for 188 yards and three interceptions. He struggled at times making decisions, but the pocket wasn't very clean for him to make the reads necessary to be successful. Bridgewater threw three interceptions, two of which were tipped at the line of scrimmage. His first interception came during the first drive of the game as the Vikings were in the red zone. Bridgewater waited too long for Cordarrelle Patterson to break out of his post route and it resulted in a telegraphed interception. Bridgewater was sacked eight times in today's game and he was taking a beating each time he stepped back in the pocket. He had no chance to step into a clean pocket, which allowed the Lions defensive line to dominate. The rookie pains showed at times today, but the stat line can be pretty deceiving when you analyze how Teddy Bridgewater really performed.

McKinnon starts the game

For the first time this season, rookie running back Jerick McKinnon started the game. Matt Asiata saw a significant cut in snaps and McKinnon was awarded more reps in every package today. He finished the game with 40 rushing yards on 11 carries, along with six catches for 42 receiving yards. McKinnon was used frequently on runs outside the tackles and played an active role in the screen game. He could be deemed as one of the lone bright spots during an anemic Vikings offensive performance. Matt Asiata rushed the ball just two times, for -5 yards rushing and he dropped a pivotal pass that led to an interception late in the first half. It seems strange that Asiata saw a dramatic cut in carries and was not the starter for the game, but it appears the coaches were scheming differently for today's game.

Not many chances for the wide receivers

When the ball can't be moved up the field and passes aren't being completed, it is hard to get wide receivers involved. Running back Jerick McKinnon was the Vikings leading pass catcher and wide receivers were almost nonexistent. Greg Jennings wasn't used until the fourth quarter and corralled three catches for 33 yards. He added two drops and seemed to quit running on several of his routes towards the end of the game. Jarius Wright added four catches for 17 yards and was used in the short passing game through screens and other intermediate patterns. Coach Zimmer challenged Cordarrelle Patterson after the game and indicated he needed to run better routes to get open, if he wanted to see passes during the game. It is important the coaching staff can swiftly figure out ways to move the ball up the field by using their wide receivers in the gameplan.

Chase Ford leads the tight ends

Tight end Chase Ford was targeted a second-most five times in this game and added four receptions for 37 yards. He was used when the pocket collapsed and Bridgewater needed to find a safety valve towards the sidelines. Ford made some difficult catches in traffic and was able to position his body to gain valuable yardage.

Offensive Line is atrocious

The Vikings offensive line was atrocious, pathetic, and inadequate in today's game against Detroit. They allowed Teddy Bridgewater to be sacked eight times and the pocket was never clean at any point in the game. Every player held responsibility in this performance and every person played equally as bad. Matt Kalil, Charlie Johnson, John Sullivan, Vlad Ducasse, and Phil Loadholt all placed their hand in the proverbial cookie jar. The critical holding calls and more importantly, the inability to handle speed rushers off the edge is completely unacceptable. Yes, the Lions have an extremely dominant front four, but this offensive line group has played poor during several stretches of this season. Matt Kalil was a high draft pick and has been unable to produce as his play on the field has rapidly declined. Vlad Ducasse has picked up big penalties and hasn't filled the shoes of Brandon Fusco like he needed to. It might not seem realistic, but if these types of performances continue, replacements may be summoned. The alternatives might not be great, but the only way you may be able to send a message to these players is by benching them for an amount of time. If the Vikings can't protect Teddy Bridgewater, they won't win many games and will struggle for the remainder of the season.

Defensive Line steps up 

The Vikings defensive line needed to pressure the quarterback and they showed a slight improvement in this category. Everson Griffen and Tom Johnson both added sacks, along with half contributions from Brian Robison and Linval Joseph. The pocket was tight for most of the day and Matthew Stafford wasn't provided with a clean pocket frequently. There were only several moments where he wasn't wrapped up to the ground and was allowed to make throws out of the pocket. The defensive line was able to pressure Stafford and the secondary directly benefited from this. The Vikings defense only allowed 185 passing yards and their ability to get off the field on third down was a positive takeaway from this game.

Brinkley and Barr perform well

Jasper Brinkley added a sack and a team-high two tackles for loss in today's game. He filled his gaps really well and was getting downhill as a run defender. Brinkley blitzed up the middle and showed some explosion as he reached Matthew Stafford for the sack. He was staying in his lane and was making the plays during the majority of his snaps today. Anthony Barr added two quarterback pressures and continues to make an impact in a variety of ways for this defense. He shut the door on a third-down screen pass and is performing well as a coverage linebacker.

Secondary making plays

The Vikings secondary held Matthew Stafford to just 185 passing yards and added four passes defensed on the day. Xavier Rhodes and Josh Robinson both added difficult pass breakups on highly contested passes and didn't allow the big play. The Lions were without Calvin Johnson, but it was encouraging to see the coverage group play well; especially during third-and-long situations. Mike Zimmer worked very hard with this group during the off-season activities and all of these young players in the backend are showing plenty of promise. Rhodes and Robinson have been adequately making the plays necessary in coverage and it played a big role in the Vikings ability to hold the Lions offense to just 17 points scored.

Zimmer not impressed with special teams

Mike Zimmer indicated he wasn't pleased with the way his special teams group performed in today's game. There weren't any issues in return coverage, but the only issue I could pinpoint was in the punting game. Jeff Locke punted the ball seven times and averaged just 42.3 yards per punt. He wasn't able to shift field position and his longest punt was a measly 48 yards.

Injury Report

Gerald Hodges left with a hamstring injury, but returned for the next series of play.

What's next? 

The Vikings will travel to Ralph Wilson Stadium to take on the Buffalo Bills next week at noon.

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