Sunday, September 11, 2016

Notebook: A late defensive surge lifts the Vikings to a 25-16 win over Tennessee

The Vikings recovered after a slow start and their defense stepped up in a huge way as they held off the Tennessee Titans for a 25-16 win. Daniel House takes you inside his post-game notebook.

Updated: September 11th, 2016 5:15pm

By: Daniel House

The Vikings couldn't have started much slower as they opened the regular season in Nashville for a matchup with the Titans. Their defense allowed the Titans to get into a rhythm offensively. Tennessee picked up a field goal and a 6-yard touchdown reception in the first half. They entered the break leading 10-0. Blair Walsh missed two field goal attempts and the Tennessee offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage. The Vikings offense lacked flow and couldn't establish any success in the running game. Shaun Hill made the open throws but simply was unable to create opportunities because of his limited mobility and arm strength. The Vikings looked doomed at halftime. However, a Mike Zimmer coached team is known for making halftime adjustments. The defense came out in the second half and corralled three turnovers, including interception and fumble recovery touchdowns. They dominated every phase of the Tennessee offense and didn't allow them to get into any rhythm. The offense didn't contribute any scoring, but they didn't need to. Defensively, the Vikings scored 14 points and four field goals from the leg of Blair Walsh was enough. The Vikings late surge and dominating defensive effort was enough for them to pick up a huge 25-16 win over the Titans.

For more, take a dive inside my post-game notebook:

Hill does enough to win
Quarterback Shaun Hill didn't perform spectacular, but he did enough for the Vikings to stay competitive in the game. He took care of the ball, made the open throws, and managed the game well. He missed several open receivers, including Stefon Diggs, who was open in the end zone for a touchdown. He finished the day completing 18 of his 33 passes for 236 yards. The offense didn't score a touchdown the entire day and relied on field goals when drives stalled. Fortunately, the defense had two scores and totally dominated the Titans offense in the second half. Hill left a few throws on the field, but also connected on an impressive 33-yard pass to Stefon Diggs up the sideline and threaded the needle on two receptions to tight end Kyle Rudolph. His passes had no velocity, but they reached the receiver and he effectively made the throws necessary for the offense to be successful. The quarterback duties likely will be handed to Sam Bradford next week as the Vikings open U.S. Bank Stadium. Hill did enough to pick up a win to open the season and that's all he was asked to do.

The Vikings can't do anything on the ground
The Vikings did absolutely nothing in the running game. Adrian Peterson had just 31 yards on 19 carries and the entire rushing offense averaged just 2.3 yards per carry. The offensive line was not getting a good push and Tennessee was winning the line of scrimmage. Both Alex Boone and Joe Berger stood out on several occasions as players who struggled when trying to gain leverage. Adrian Peterson didn't have many lanes to run the football and Tennessee should be credited for their gap discipline. Peterson had the tendency to run the ball indecisive in this game, but also didn't have any running room. Adrian isn't the type of player who can create yardage after contact in the backfield and he needs his offensive line to open holes for him to be the most successful. Once Peterson can get downhill, good things generally happen. Today, the offensive line play, combined with his indecisiveness, wasn't a recipe for success on the ground. The inability for the Vikings to sustain drives was a direct reflection of a poor running game. Shaun Hill converted on his opportunities, but it was impossible to handle all of the long-down situations the offense was placed within. In order to see a better offensive flow, the running game needs to be effective, which will in turn open up more chances to perform well through the air.

Diggs is a playmaker, Thielen is reliable, and Patterson contributes
If you take away one thing from watching this game, it should be how special Stefon Diggs is as a wide receiver. His crisp route running and ability to find soft spots in coverage schemes are fantastic for a player with his experience level. Diggs had seven catches for 103 yards, including two very tough receptions in traffic. He does a great job of shielding himself from the defender in traffic to get in the position to make tough grabs. Diggs has the chance to be a top-ten level wide receiver in the league if he can receive consistent quarterback play.

Additionally, Adam Thielen is one of the most dependable receivers the Vikings have on their roster. He had four catches for 54 yards, including a huge 21-yard diving reception on third down. He added a brilliant special teams tackle and is an all-around contributor in every phase of the game for the team. His route running has taken the next step and it is easy to see the hard work he has put into his development. Thielen has really taken a huge leap over the last year. It appears his contributions have been enough to make a player like Jarius Wright expendable from the offense.

Surprisingly, wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson contributed on both special teams and offense. He added a difficult diving reception on an out to the sideline and picked up a dynamic eight yards on a jet sweep. More importantly, he set the tone of the second half as he returned the opening kickoff 56 yards inside Tennessee territory. The coaches utilized every ounce of Patterson's potential they could muster for this game and he actually made small, but notable contributions.

Offensive line protects Hill, poor as run blockers
The offensive line quietly protected Shaun Hill well and allowed him to make the open throws when they were available. The only noticeable flaw came on the right side of the offensive line. Right tackle Andre Smith allowed some pressures and was put on his back twice. It wasn't enough to slow the passing game completely, but it was disruptive. Matt Kalil should earn praise for his performance in this game. At a quick glance, he appeared to hold up well against the rush and Hill had plenty of time to step into his throws. As I discussed earlier, the offensive line must improve in the running game and can't allow an opposing defensive line to dominate the line of scrimmage. The blockers were getting no push and it limited the overall amount of available lanes for the running backs. It appears Joe Berger and Alex Boone need to play better, but I will take another look at the film to analyze the offensive line unit closer.

Rudolph makes a few tough grabs
Tight end Kyle Rudolph picked up some huge first downs that helped move the chains for the Vikings offense. He notched four catches for 65 yards and displayed some nice hands in traffic. Rudolph even created some yardage after the catch on one of his receptions. He did have the chance to extend a play on a crosser, but couldn't put a move on the defender. What's more, Shaun Hill and Rudolph got squared up early in the game and it resulted in a wide-open dropped pass. Nonetheless, Rudolph made some huge plays to move the chains and that is the skill-set he needs to bring to the table. Offensively, it would be nice to see the coaches target him more in the red zone, but right now, he is getting the job done as a possession style tight end.

Defensive front takes over in the second half
After a slow start on the defensive line in the first half, Coach Zimmer lit a fire under the unit at halftime and the tone was totally different for the final 30 minutes of the game. Everson Griffen made an insanely athletic play to pressure Marcus Mariota, forcing him to lob a pass into the arms of linebacker Eric Kendricks. The second-year linebacker took the interception 77 yards the other way for a touchdown. The defensive score was the jolt the entire team needed as they attempted to get their mojo back. Kendricks added a tackle for loss later in the game and finished 4th in total team tackles (6). In addition, Danielle Hunter added a 24-yard touchdown as he recovered a botched exchange by quarterback Marcus Mariota. Hunter used his athleticism to burst past the offense and took it in for the score. Later in the game, Hunter used his power and fantastic burst to sack Marcus Mariota deep in Tennessee territory. The sack opportunity was set up by great inside pressure from Sharrif Floyd, who dominated in the interior. Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen were such a scary duo when they were on the field together and we might see more of it as the season progresses. Brian Robison also played great, adding a pass breakup and a tackle for loss early in the game. If the team can find a balance between Robison and Danielle Hunter, the rotational pass rush will continue to be deadly.

Defensive tackle Linval Joseph destroyed running back Derrick Henry and reached Marcus Mariota for a third quarter sack. Joseph was so disruptive during the second half and appeared to draw a few double teams from the Titans offensive line. If this unit can perform at such a high level, they can overcome the potential deficiencies on offense. A key point of empahsis this offseason was to corral more takeaways as a defensive unit. Two defensive touchdowns and a forced fumble by Shamar Stephen are a great step in the right direction. Without the stout play of the defense, the Vikings wouldn't have won this game. After a slow start and limited pass rush, the defense came out with a different attitude and simply dominated the second half against Tennessee. If they can put together 60 minutes of this high intensity football, this defense has a chance to be pretty special.

Mariota picks on Waynes
According to Mike Zimmer, cornerback Xavier Rhodes felt something pop in his knee while stretching and will be receiving a scan on Sunday evening. He missed the game and Trae Waynes received the start opposite of Terence Newman. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota took advantage and went after Waynes for most of the day. The young cornerback didn't fare well. He was beaten on several occasions and rookie wide receiver Tajae Sharpe had a great day against him. Waynes was getting beaten when the receiver played more physical. He wasn't entirely out of position, but couldn't recover when the receiver got separation. If Rhodes is out an extended period of time, Trae Waynes will need to play better. I'm curious to watch the tape back to see how far off the line of scrimmage he was playing. He had trouble with this in the preseason and I want to analyze his pre-snap decision making/alignment.

Walsh is inconsistent again
Kicker Blair Walsh had a whopping six field goal attempts in this game, but only made four of them. He missed a 37-yard field goal wide left and followed it up with a poor 56-yard miss. Walsh couldn't connect on an extra point as well and really struggled with accuracy. As Walsh relaxed, he finally got into a rhythm and made his attempts from 30, 33, 45, and 50 yards out. His consistency is a huge concern and he must perform better. A few lost points can be the difference between a win and loss in close matchups.

What's Next?
The Vikings will play their first regular season home game at U.S. Bank Stadium during a matchup with the arch-rival Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football next week.


  1. I saw the same issues with Tre Waynes that you did. Lots of other bloggers thought he had a good game. I gave him a C because he didn't give up a TD that I can remember. He led in tackles because his man was always catching the ball in front of him....

  2. Was happy the defense came through. We'll need better QB and CB play to contend with GB, in the home opener. Also starting faster will be key.

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