Monday, December 19, 2016

The Vikings' Latest Loss is a Gut-Check


The Vikings' latest loss against the Indianapolis Colts is a gut-check for everyone involved. Daniel House broke down the game and provided his insight on the 34-6 throttling. 

Updated: December 19th, 2016 12:16pm

By: Daniel House

It's hard to win football games in the NFL with penalties, limited offensive output, and uninspired play on defense. The Vikings looked like a team with their attention already on a game next with the Green Bay Packers. Everyone on the defensive side of the ball was lethargic and the offense wasn't much better. It's one thing to lose in the NFL, but this team didn't compete. It was an uncharacteristic performance for a Vikings team under the leadership of Mike Zimmer. The defense allowed 34 points, made numerous mistakes, couldn't get off the field on third down, and allowed big plays. The offense couldn't sustain drives and the Colts did a great job of controlling the clock. There were two turning points in this game. One being when Linval Joseph was called for a costly leverage penalty on an Adam Vinatieri field goal attempt. It kept the Colts drive alive, and instead of 6-0, the Indianapolis lead was extended to 10-0. Another came after Indianapolis extended their lead to 17-0. Minnesota was driving up the field, but an Adrian Peterson fumble in the red zone ended the drive. On the next possession, the Colts went 91 yards and scored a touchdown to extend their lead to 24-0 before halftime.

Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski deserves some praise for the way he schemed the Vikings in this game. The Colts ran the ball well and beat up the Vikings' defense with quick hitters to the tight ends and wide receivers. Indianapolis controlled the rhythm of the game and dominated the line of scrimmage. The Vikings defensive line was completely ineffective against a Colts offense line starting three rookies up front. They came away with zero sacks and only two quarterback hits. Indianapolis won the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and it allowed them to control every aspect of the game. Running back Frank Gore rushed for 101 yards on 26 carries and the Vikings couldn't stop the run to force Indianapolis into more passing situations. It allowed the Colts to control the tempo and eat up the Vikings via the short passing game.

Not to mention, the linebackers were exposed in coverage. Chad Greenway was beaten on a 27-yard touchdown by tight end Erik Swoope up the sideline. He was a step late and Andrew Luck threw a perfect pass to Swoope who ran a nice route to get open. Earlier in the game, Eric Kendricks was caught leaning in coverage. Erik Swoope broke off his route and Kendricks fell for the fake. There were numerous occasions in my film review where Kendricks either looked confused or was out of position in coverage.
In addition, there were several moments in the game where Anthony Barr was unable to shed blockers or wrap up ball carriers. He has struggled mightily with this throughout the season and his performance has been rather disappointing this year. Perhaps he is playing injured, but the theme of lacking strength in the running game and being unable to finish tackles has been evident since the beginning of the season. The linebackers did not have a great day yesterday when they were exposed by the quick-hitting passes to tight ends.

The defense performed uncharacteristically poor and Indy did it by keeping the defense off balance. In fact, their approach had some similarity to the way Chicago carved up the Vikings earlier in the season. When Andrew Luck had time to step into the pocket, he connected up the field. He flourished when he was able to continually move the chains and get into a flow. The Vikings' defensive line lacked physicality and their defense is predicated on getting after the quarterback to open up opportunities for others to make plays.

The secondary had the most trouble in the backend. Anthony Harris had 15 total tackles, but that's not a good sign. When a safety has a plethora of tackles, it generally means the defense is struggling against the run.

Harris performed well against the run and made tackles, but he was lost in coverage on a few occasions. It was particularly evident on wide receiver Phillip Dorsett's 50-yard touchdown. In the below clip, cornerback Xavier Rhodes was tasked with the responsibility to cover T.Y. Hilton. This leaves Harris with the responsibility to help over the top. As Dorsett, broke off his route and tried to sell the post route, Anthony Harris was caught looking inside and had no chance to recover.

The Vikings are missing Harrison Smith in the backend because he allows the team to do so many different things as a complete unit. It starts with bringing him in and out of the box to rush the passer. Not to mention, he has the range and talent to cover the backend better than a player with limited experience like Anthony Harris.

In addition, the defense lacked discipline and the effort never appeared to be there. Everson Griffen jumped offsides on a critical third-down, giving the Colts a first down. He also completely whiffed on Robert Turbin during a 6-yard touchdown run. Turbin broke three arm tackles and corkscrewed right through the wave of Minnesota defenders. As I stated earlier, the entire team looked very uninspired and it was pretty obvious on certain plays throughout the game.

I haven't even talked about the offense yet! Normally, we can spend the entire time talking negatively about the offense, but the defense played just as poor in this game. Sam Bradford had one key interception before the half as he tried to force the ball into a tight window with three defensive backs in the area. There was no disguise or trap coverage and Bradford was trying to make too much happen. It allowed the Colts to add another field goal with seconds remaining in the half.

However, Bradford was not the problem in this game. He completed 32 of his 42 passes for 291 yards and made the throws he was asked to make. The offensive problems are stemmed in personnel problems up front and a lack of creativity in the scheme. Minnesota can't run the ball, which puts them in long down situations on a frequent basis. What's even worse is when you are in long down situations and can't protect the quarterback for anything more than a short crosser or slant. The offensive line continued to struggle and I pulled some of the most exhilarating clips for your viewing pleasure.

I think it is time to really discuss how Sam Bradford has survived 14 games with T.J. Clemmings protecting his blindside. Everyone must be collectively sending their prayers. I don't think I've ever seen a professional player with more inconsistent technique. In this selected clip, there is heavy interior pressure, but Clemmings' technique is something worth watching. His angles are a poor and his punch is weak (or non-esxistent) on a consistent basis. On this play, Sam Bradford could have stepped into the pocket better, but Clemmings was absolutely annihilated.

And it's not just Clemmings either. It is hard to find any positives up front with this Vikings offensive line right now. Near the end of the game, both Joe Berger and Jeremiah Sirles hardly engaged the defensive lineman. Initially, I thought they were confused by the stunt, but it didn't look like it even phased them either.

The offensive line has protected so inconsistently this year and it has limited the Minnesota offense so much. As I wrote a few weeks ago, it has drastically impacted the things the coaches can do on offense. They haven't protected and the run blocking hasn't been much better. The entire unit has trouble getting leverage and having Adrian Peterson back didn't yield any different results. Granted, the Vikings did have to shy away from the run during a blowout, but they still couldn't run the ball early in the game. I found several clips where the offensive line allowed their defender to shed a block and blow a play up in the backfield. Here is a clip where Colts defensive lineman Zach Kerr gets inside on Nick Easton and clogs up everything. Adrian Peterson had no chance to even create yardage.

Overall, the offense isn't built to play in long down situations and when you can't run the ball, it's hard to be effective through the air. However, the offense still lacks fundamental creativity. They struggle adapting to certain personnel they have at their disposal. They were unable to attack the 26th ranked defense in the league with a secondary that has been clobbered on a consistent basis.

As a whole, not much has changed with the offense throughout most of the season. Nonetheless, the defense taking such a drastic step back was startling. The effort didn't appear to be present and this lethargic performance is something that will test the mental fortitude of the team moving forward. The Colts absolutely dominated the Vikings in every phase. Minnesota couldn't get off the field on third down and continued to commit costly penalties on both sides of the ball; all of which have been issues appearing sporadically throughout the season.

The Vikings have one less day to straighten everything out as they try to play spoiler against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Christmas Eve.

The real question is: what type of veteran leadership do the Vikings have?

We will find out in six days.

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