Sunday, November 2, 2014

Notebook: Vikings pick up a much-needed team win

The Vikings picked up a huge team win over the Washington Redskins and they head into their bye week with a 4-5 record. Daniel House analyzes the positives and negatives he saw during today's action. 

Updated: November 2nd, 2014 5:09pm

By: Daniel House

The Vikings picked up a much-needed 29-26 win over the Washington Redskins. Early in the game, it took the entire group some time to settle in, but they finally hit the gas pedal near the end of the first half. On the first series of the game, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater over shot Greg Jennings who had a step on the defensive back. He followed that by missing a wide-open Cordarrelle Patterson up the seam of the field. Patterson beat the defensive back and was over the top of the safety with nearly 20 yards separating him from any defender.

Following these poor sequences in the first half, Bridgewater started to relax and the entire offense began to click. Greg Jennings was gaining separation and tight end Chase Ford made some huge catches to keep drives alive. In addition, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn added a critical interception at the end of the first half and the offense finally scored a touchdown following a defensive takeaway. The playbook opened on offense and the defense was able to make the big plays when necessary. If some crucial penalties could have been eliminated and the missed connections would have been made, the Vikings may have controlled this game. Minnesota learned how to battle adversity, while collaborating in all three phases of a contest. Now, the team will head into the bye week with a respectable 4-5 record.

Bridgewater settles into the game

After missing two wide-open receivers and under throwing another, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater finally settled into the game. He orchestrated three scoring drives in the second half, while finishing the day 26-for-42 with 268 yards and a touchdown. More importantly, the rookie has won three contests in the 4th quarter, becoming 3-2 as a starter in the NFL. Bridgewater has proven he can perform at his maximum level when he is placed into a pressure situation. These are encouraging signs as you watch him progress and grow on the field every week. If he can learn how to throw vertically up the field and gain more elevation on those passes, he will take his game to the next level. His short and intermediate throws up the sideline are on the money and more importantly, he hasn't been turning the ball over on a frequent basis. There are still some areas you could question about his decision-making, but ultimately, these issues will improve as he gains more experience on the field.

Asiata: the goal-line vulture

Running back Matt Asiata notched three touchdown scores for the 3rd time in his NFL career. He only rushed for 26 yards on the ground, but he managed to plunge into the end zone when the Vikings reached the deep portion of the red zone. He continues to run with a head of steam up the middle and he is able to carry defenders to pick up touchdowns. The Vikings are developing a solid tandem between rookie Jerick McKinnon and Asiata. McKinnon is able to move the ball up the field by gaining edge yardage and Asiata is able to enter the game and pick up the tough goal-line scores. He may be considered a point vulture for fantasy football enthusiasts, but winning the game is more important.

Jennings leads the receivers 

Greg Jennings is really developing into a leader of this team and it was encouraging to see him perform well again today. He hauled in six catches for 76 yards receiving and was targeted a team-high 10 times. You can see how he is mentoring the young players on this team and it is great to see him spreading his knowledge to everyone on the roster. Jennings ran some great routes today and played a pivotal role in moving the chains on certain drives. More importantly, it was great to see quarterback Teddy Bridgewater distribute the ball to five different wide receivers. This helps keep the defense honest and will ultimately improve the flow of the offense. The pass catchers appeared to do a much better job of gaining separation and it proved positive when Bridgewater was able to squeak out of the pocket and extend plays.

Ford becoming a hot target

Tight end Chase Ford hauled in five receptions for 66 yards and was one of Teddy Bridgewater's go-to receivers in today's game. Ford added a huge 20-yard touchdown that put the Vikings on the board just before halftime. He added five other catches, including a 21-yard reception that helped move the chains on a critical Vikings touchdown drive. Bridgewater indicated in his postgame presser that he believes it's only a matter of time before Chase Ford is a 'household' name. When Kyle Rudolph returns, the Vikings will have a very athletic tight end combination to move the ball through the air.

Offensive Line still not great 

The Vikings offensive line has allowed just two sacks in each of the last two games, but they haven't been a clean group. The pocket was very messy on a frequent basis and it resulted in several quarterback hurries and throwaways. These types of stats don't show up in the box score, but play a critical role in the game. Phil Loadholt was beaten on four occasions and an injury he suffered early in the game could have affected his performance. Matt Kalil again was not performing well and I calculated five quarterback hurries he was at the hands of. Nonetheless, once Bridgewater started to become elusive outside the pocket, he was able to create more plays up the field, while developing more time to make the throws. Pass protection is the main issue and if they can become more comfortable in this avenue, the Vikings offense will only improve following the bye week.

Defensive Line is making big contributions 

The Vikings defensive line has notched five or more sacks in each of their last three games. Sharrif Floyd and Everson Griffen have been absolutely dominating the line of scrimmage. Griffen registered a sack and Brian Robison added another. The blitz packages and stunts this group has been running have resulted in major pressure being applied to opposing quarterbacks. In turn, it has taken a strain off the secondary and has created more opportunities for the defensive backs to be successful. The Vikings entered the game with the second-most sacks in the league and could receive the top crown in this category after this week. The athleticism and awareness of the players on the defensive line has been one of the main reasons the Vikings defense has performed so well this season.

Barr is an animal

Anthony Barr added a sack and continues to prove why he is one of the biggest pieces in the Vikings defense. On several dump downs, Barr was able to wrap up the receiver and not allow the Washington offense to pick up unwarranted yards. He added two tackles for loss and is able to be a threat in coverage and the pass rush. Barr is a multi-dimensional player with skills and awareness techniques you simply cannot teach. Every week he begins to make more of an impact and the longer he performs within this Mike Zimmer defense, the more success we will see. His other cast of linebackers might not be the best at accomplishing their assignments, but Barr is a high caliber player that can compensate for many weaknesses that take place on the defensive side of the ball.

Munnerlyn adds a big interception

Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn added his second interception of the season and it came at a very critical time. The Redskins had the ball with roughly a minute remaining on the first half clock. Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III threw an ill-advised pass that was intercepted by Munnerlyn. He managed to place both hands under the ball, while hauling in the turnover. It allowed the Vikings offense to receive the ball and later score a touchdown before the first half ended. The momentum entered the locker room and the Vikings were able to take advantage of this when the second half of play began. Munnerlyn was beaten badly on a 56-yard reception from DeSean Jackson, but that was one of his only blemishes. Xavier Rhodes left to be evaluated for a concussion, but later retuned to the game. He has yet to corral an interception, but he has made the plays in coverage and hasn't allowed any big plays. Josh Robinson also has been much improved and his abilities in run support have considerably taken a leap. The Vikings secondary is a total different group this season and the pass rush has played a pivotal role in this overhaul among the defensive backs.

Smith leads the team in tackles 

Safety Harrison Smith led the team with 10 tackles and continues to show that he is one of the biggest cogs in the engine of the Vikings defense. He has been playing an active role in all aspects of the game and his ability to make plays, separates him as one of the top safeties in the league. He made a huge tackle in space that changed the momentum of the game. Robert Griffin III reached the outside of the pocket and slid, while being tackled for loss. Smith was called for a personal foul and it later sparked a Washington touchdown. It was a great play that was a poor anticipation call by a side judge. Smith continues to impress and will be paid for his efforts, very, very soon.

Locke still can't produce 

Jeff Locke is punting at a very poor level and his inability to plop the ball inside the twenty or kick the ball with length are completely unacceptable. The Vikings were unable to win the field position battle several times today and it was a direct reflection of poor punting. A 31-yard punt resulted in great Redskins field position and more points for their offense. This is the fourth week in a row I haven't been pleased with the efforts of Jeff Locke. He averaged just 40 yards per punt today and he needs to solve this issue during the bye week.

Injury Report

Phil Loadholt limped off the field, but never missed any action. Xavier Rhodes was evaluated for a concussion, but later returned to the game.

What's Next? 

The Vikings are on the bye week and will return to action November 16th during a critical divisional matchup in Chicago against the Bears.

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