Sunday, August 16, 2015

Notebook: Starters flash as Vikings knock off Bucs

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The Vikings first-team units were efficient during the lone quarter they were on the field against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After that, the game got a bit sloppy. Nonetheless, the Vikings still managed to knock off Tampa Bay, 26-16. 

Updated: August 16th, 2015 3:00pm

By: Daniel House

The Vikings first-team units were efficient during the lone quarter they were on the field against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. On the offense's four drives on the field, they notched a field goal and a 5-play, 38-yard touchdown drive. Teddy Bridgewater was extremely efficient and comfortable in the offense. He finished the night 7-for-8 with 86 yards passing. During their four appearances on the field, the first-team defense forced two punts, a field goal try, and an interception. The second, third, and fourth team groups were very sloppy at times. Those groups accounted for three fumbles and gave up an extensive amount of yards through the air.

The bigger storyline from last night's game came on one of the first plays of the game. Right tackle Phil Loadholt was getting set to block across the line of scrimmage, when he fell to the ground in excruciating pain. He left the game on a cart and it was later reported he has a torn achilles and will miss the remainder of the 2015 season. This definitely cast a shadow on the performance in this game. Loadholt had an excellent training camp and worked so hard to return from a pectoral muscle tear. Among an offensive line group that needed continuity, this isn't something this team could afford. Despite some sloppy play later in the game, it was encouraging to see the starters perform well. The preseason is a time for second and third tier players to gain valuable experience. Last night was the perfect example of placing those players in different situations as they adjust to playing at this level. Now, they need to show they can become more disciplined as the preseason progresses.

Quarterbacks efficient against Tampa Bay

In the first half of the game, Teddy Bridgewater and Shaun 'Pennzoil' Hill were firing on all cylinders. Bridgewater finished the game 7-for-8 with 86 yards passing, while Hill completed 8-of-9 passes for 104 yards and two touchdowns. Bridgewater looks more comfortable than he was at this stage last year. He reads through all of his progressions and knows when to release the ball on time. Shaun Hill is the veteran in the room and looked impressive last night. He still made a couple high throws to the sidelines, but connected nicely with Cordarrelle Patterson on a 21-yard fade for a touchdown. Hill might not have the best mechanics, but he sure slings the ball and plays with tons of heart on the fuel. After he entered the game in third quarter, Taylor Heinicke finished the night 12-for-16 with 103 yards. He notched two overthrows, including one to Stefon Diggs in the front corner of the end zone. Heinicke saw all of the reps as the third quarterback and the coaches evidently wanted to get an extended look at the undrafted rookie.

Running backs can't take control of the ball

Last night, the Vikings running backs couldn't seem to handle the football. Joe Banyard, Zach Line, and Dominique Williams all fumbled the football in this game. However, Williams ran the ball very well and carried the rock six times for 44 yards. He used excellent patience and vision to accelerate through the holes extremely well. The bigger issue is holding onto the football because losing the turnover battle can be the difference between a win or defeat in this league. In addition, Zach Line saw extended action in both the running and passing games. He missed at least two blocking assignments last night and hasn't done anything to distinguish himself in this avenue. DuJuan Harris has quietly flashed in the first two preseason games and was the second leading rusher last night. Harris finished the night with 27 yards on four carries. He has excellent patience and his speed and cut backs are so smooth. This week, one thing that will be emphasized for all of these running backs will be ball security. Three fumbles from the running back position group isn't acceptable and won't win football games.

Patterson and Thielen shine

Cordarrelle Patterson got back into the scoring column and corralled his first preseason touchdown against Tampa Bay. He put a nice inside move on the cornerback and faded to the sideline. Shaun Hill placed the pass over the top and Patterson made the catch in stride for a 21-yard touchdown. Later in the game, Patterson ran a designed isolation route and picked up six yards on the play. However, he taunted the opposing player and was slapped with a 15-yard penalty. He sat out the next play and Mike Zimmer expressed his displeasure after the the game. Patterson was getting open down the field and made all of the catches against the Bucs secondary. If he can continue to find ways to get open, he has the hands, speed, and size to be a serious threat in this offensive system. Adam Thielen does it all -- offense and coverage/return teams. He was the leading receiver last night, hauling in two catches for 54 yards and a touchdown. Thielen has good open field speed and can make a quick move on a dime. He ran a crossing route and beat the linebacker in the middle of the field. Shaun Hill found him and Thielen marched into the end zone for a 15-yard score. Not to mention, he returned two punts and averaged 15 yards on each attempt. Thielen is a utility receiver that can do it all for the Vikings in so many different ways.

Loadholt suffers achilles tear, enter T.J. Clemmings

As I discussed in the opening, Phil Loadholt suffered an achilles tear on one of the first plays from scrimmage in last night's game. He went down with minimal contact and was in extreme pain as worked his way back to the sidelines. Loadholt was having an excellent off-season and was the best offensive lineman on the field in training camp. Now, the team will be most likely be leaning on rookie tackle T.J. Clemmings to fill the void. It has been a slow process for Clemmings as he has been adjusting to the technique and finesse of NFL rushers. However, he progressed throughout training camp and has been improving every day. Last night, he held up pretty well, but the Bucs weren't sending many rushers at all. In fact, they weren't really dialing up many rushing packages at all. Next week, Clemmings will be dealing with Khalil Mack and that will be a very good test for the young rookie. The T.J. Clemmings era is beginning earlier than we anticipated, but as Mike Zimmer said last night, this is why you draft rookies.

Griffen gets a sack, Johnson continues to make plays

Bucs left tackle Donovan Smith was introduced to Everson Griffen last night. All it took was one inside spin to say hello. Griffen put that move on Smith and had a free ride to sack quarterback Jameis Winston. This is a technique Griffen used frequently in training camp against offensive lineman. He has been causing havoc in practice and on the field in preseason action. Tom Johnson is a diamond in the rough player the Vikings are very fortunate to have on their roster. He notched three tackles last night and was shedding blockers all night. He perfectly recognized a screen pass and made an extremely athletic play to make the stop. Johnson is getting some of the best push of any defensive lineman on this roster. He was a huge threat on third down last year and will continue to be a pivotal piece of the defensive line rotation.

Kendricks has an impressive night, Hodges all over the field

Eric Kendricks really flashed in his second official NFL game. He added a tackle for loss, where he quickly filled the gap to make the tackle. Later in the game, he sacked Seth Lobato and was untouched in the process. Kendricks also defensed a pass across the middle and added a brilliant special teams tackle in the early portion of the game. He will continue to see more playing time this preseason as the coaches try to provide him with valuable experience. It's hard to imagine the thought of Anthony Barr, Gerald Hodges, and Kendricks in the base 4-3 defense. As for Hodges, he was all over the field again last night. He had two tackles and a sack in last night's game. The sack came on a botched play and Hodges kept the motor going. He flew across the line of scrimmage and sacked Jameis Winston behind the line of scrimmage. Hodges has been the most impressive linebacker thus far and it seems as if the coaches are finding ways to utilize him on the field.

Waynes is getting picked on 

Trae Waynes was getting thrown towards frequently during last night's game. Waynes played left outside cornerback in the nickel package and was beaten on 3rd-and-14. Jameis Winston found Vincent Jackson over the top for a 40-yard completion. After the game, Mike Zimmer indicated he should have some help in the back end on that play. In the same drive, Louis Murphy beat Waynes on a comeback ball. Later in the game, Austin Seferian-Jenkins ran a corner route and Waynes had tight coverage that caused an incompletion. It will take time for Waynes to get used to the technique, but it seems he has a long way to go before he is performing at a high level in this defensive system.

Exum notches interception

Last week, Antone Exum had a fumble recovery. Now, in his second game of 2015, he added an interception. Jameis Winston overthrew the pass and Antone Exum was in the perfect place to snatch the errant throw. He still hasn't saw snaps in games with the first-team defense in the preseason. However, he is starting to leave a positive impression on the coaching staff. Robert Blanton notched two tackles and defensed a pass. He nearly intercepted a pass, but couldn't haul it in. At this point, this doesn't seem like much of a competition, but reps could be divided as the preseason continues.

Locke and Walsh look better this week, Diggs continues to separate himself from Sherels

Kicker Blair Walsh connected from 46 and 42 yards out in last night's game. He also hit both of his extra point tries and rebounded after being shaky in the Hall of Fame game. Jeff Locke also looked improved and knocked four of his five punts inside the 20-yard line. However, he didn't really have any deep punts that required him to stretch the field. That's what the real issue has been for Locke. Stefon Diggs returned three punts last night and looked better than Marcus Sherels again. He returned one punt 32 yards deep into Bucs territory. Diggs averaged 18.3 yards per return and returned three punts last night. Sherels was back for just one return and you could definitely see the coaches want additional looks for Stefon Diggs.

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