The Minnesota Vikings knocked off the defending NFC champions with a dominating defensive performance on Sunday afternoon. Daniel House discusses the major takeaways from the Vikings 22-10 win over the Panthers.
Updated: September 25th, 2016 5:25pm
Updated: September 25th, 2016 5:25pm
By: Daniel House
By: Daniel House
The Minnesota Vikings knocked off the defending NFC champions with a dominating defensive performance on Sunday afternoon. The Vikings sacked Carolina quarterback Cam Newton eight times, notched three interceptions, and added a safety. Every player on the Vikings defensive line contributed to this fantastic performance. The Vikings allowed the Panthers to score the first 10 points of the game and looked vulnerable early, but they made some massive adjustments in the second half, putting the brakes on any offensive flow Carolina had established. The Vikings proved they have an elite defense that can stack up with some of the best offensive units in the league. Carolina came into the game averaging a league-best 33 points per game and the Vikings held them to 10 points. The Panthers had won 14 consecutive home games entering this matchup and the Vikings snapped the streak. After picking up just 34 yards of total offense in the first half, the Vikings found a rhythm in the second stanza. Sam Bradford connected with Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph to pick up several critical first downs. The Vikings went on a 10-play, 79-yard drive to start the second half and it set the tempo for the rest of the game. Minnesota's defense dominated in every facet and picked up an impressive 22-10 road win. The Vikings overcame the adversity they faced this week and proved they have a well-coached and resilient ball club.
For a more in-depth look at the game, take a look inside my post-game notebook:
Bradford catches fire in the second half
After completing just 4 of his 11 passes in the first half for 26 yards, Sam Bradford found his rhythm in the second half. He had more time to throw in the pocket and it showed. The Vikings connected on more short and intermediate routes and established a balance on offense. Bradford finished the second half 14-for-17 with 145 yards and a touchdown. Overall, he finished the day 18-for-28 with 171 yards and a touchdown. More importantly, he didn't make any mistakes and was efficient within the system. Bradford took a few big hits in the first half, but managed to hold up. He beautifully placed a throw to the deep part of the sideline for wide receiver Adam Thielen, who hauled in a one-handed grab. Bradford also fired a laser to the end zone and connected with Kyle Rudolph for a 15-yard score. If Bradford can continue to play efficiently without making mistakes, the Vikings have the chance to be very successful as a team.
McKinnon picking up tough yardage
Jerick McKinnon didn't have many open lanes to run through in this game, but he created some yardage. He used his low center of gravity and sharp cuts to pick up some very tough yards after contact. McKinnon carried the ball 16 times for 45 yards and helped bring more balance to the Vikings offense in the second half. The Vikings averaged just 2.41 yards per carry, which is an improvement over their previous average in the first two games (1.9 yards per carry). They still need to get better and the offensive line problems continue to stand out. At the surface, it appeared Brandon Fusco struggled again and Andre Smith has been a liability in the running game too. Guard Alex Boone left injured and Jeremiah Sirles allowed two run stops for small gains as a replacement.
McKinnon carried the ball 16 times, while Matt Asiata picked up 15 yards on six carries. The Vikings will continue to rotate at the running back position and will adapt the personnel they use based upon the opponent they are playing against.
Rudolph looks comfortable with Bradford
Kyle Rudolph had a big day in the passing game and picked up a few huge first down receptions to move the chains. Coming out of halftime, the Vikings went on a 10-play, 79-yard drive, draining 5:17 off the clock. It was capped by a tough 15-yard touchdown grab by Rudolph. He led the team with 7 catches for 70 yards. He was targeted 10 times and it is clear Sam Bradford has found his favorite safety valve in the offense. Rudolph did drop a pass in the end zone, which would have been nullified by an offensive pass interference penalty, but the throw wasn't great either. If Rudolph can continue to make an impact in the red zone, the Vikings can maximize the potential of such a huge offensive weapon.
The offensive line still needs work
T.J. Clemmings made the start for Matt Kalil, who was placed on injured reserve this week. My early observation was positive. He didn't appear to allow much pressure and held up well in the running game. Clemmings has always been relatively solid as a run blocker and hopefully he can continue to improve with more experience. Aside from him, Andre Smith had a rough day and allowed numerous pressures, along with right guard Brandon Fusco. Before Alex Boone left injured, he wasn't holding up well either. The Vikings offensive line needs to protect Sam Bradford and prevent him from getting injured. Today, the second half was better, but they still need to continue improving. I was more concerned about the running game. There was a slight amount of growth, but many of the yards gained were created by the running backs. The offensive line needs to take the extra few days of preparation to continue fixing their problems.
The defensive line dominates
The Vikings defensive line was absolutely incredible in this game. They pounded Cam Newton and picked up 8 sacks on the day. Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter were wreaking havoc in the pocket. Hunter put Panthers tackle Michael Oher on his back and sacked Newton for a safety early in the game. He also brought the pressure that forced Newton to throw an errant pass to the sideline. Cornerback Terence Newman jumped the route and hauled in an interception. Linval Joseph's interior pressure was eye-opening. He put a huge strain on the offensive line and collapsed the pocket on numerous occasions. It allowed edge rushers like Hunter and Everson Griffen to pick up more sack opportunities. Joseph added a sack of his own and Newton got up slow, favoring his ankle after the play. Newton didn't have the same burst after he suffered this injury. Brian Robison added a sack and brought pressure, which allowed Anthony Barr to get free and take down Newton. The Vikings defensive line won every battle up front and didn't allow Cam Newton to be comfortable in the pocket. Mike Zimmer's pressures were so exotic, he had Brian Robison covering 15 yards up the field at one point. With so much talent on the front-seven and an elite defensive mind like Zimmer, it is hard for an opposing offense to have success. If the defensive line can bring this type of pressure every game, the Vikings will be tough to beat.
Benjamin shut down, Smith is all over the field
Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin was shut down today. He didn't catch a pass the entire day and Xavier Rhodes had a fantastic performance in his return from injury. Rhodes was beaten on a fade up the sideline early in the game, but didn't get safety help quick enough. It impressive the Vikings held one of Carolina's biggest pass catching weapons in check for the duration of the game. Terence Newman and Trae Waynes both added interceptions and the Vikings secondary made it very difficult for Cam Newton to throw effectively up the field. In fact, many of the sacks the defensive front had were the result of fantastic coverage up the field. The secondary should get high praise for their performance today.
Safety Harrison Smith is the best safety in the league. If you watch today's game and don't agree, you need to get your eyes examined. Smith made some incredible open-field tackles and sprinted across the field to corral tough stops. He destroyed quarterback Cam Newton on a safety blitz and led the team in solo tackles. Smith can be dropped into coverage or brought into the box to make his presence known as a pass rusher. There is nothing Smith can't do in this defense. Today, he was the most impressive player on the field and is one of the single biggest pieces of this defensive unit.
Sherels with a return touchdown
Marcus Sherels stepped up in a huge way in today's game. The Vikings offense was struggling and couldn't get into a rhythm. A 54-yard punt return touchdown by Sherels was all the Vikings needed to get going. He followed the blockers and sprinted into the end zone untouched. Sherels picked up his fourth career punt return touchdown, which is a Minnesota Vikings record. Sherels always finds a way to make a big impact in at least one game every year.
Following the return touchdown, kicker Blair Walsh missed the extra point. It was the third extra point he has missed in his last five games He needs to start making these kicks because a point or two can be the difference in close matchups.
Finally, the Vikings had two special teams stars today. Cordarrelle Patterson played punt gunner and picked up an impressive tackle. He also downed a punt inside the 5-yard-line. Patterson made a positive contribution today and it was great to see. Additionally, safety Anthony Harris had two special teams tackles and stood out across all of the coverage units.
The Vikings will return home for a Monday night matchup against the New York Giants on October 3rd.