Sunday, January 1, 2017

Notebook: Minnesota ends the season with a 38-10 win over Chicago


The Vikings closed out the season with a blowout win over the Chicago Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium. Daniel House provides his analysis of the 38-10 victory.

Updated: January 1st, 2016 4:42pm

By: Daniel House

The Vikings closed out the season with a blowout win over the Chicago Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium. Minnesota created five turnovers, including four on defense and one on special teams. It allowed them to find the end zone and score a season-high 38 points. Quarterback Sam Bradford completed 25 of his 33 passes for 250 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. At the end of the game, he led the league in completion percentage (71.6%) and will hold the crown unless Drew Brees destroys the Falcons in the afternoon game. In addition, tight end Kyle Rudolph caught his 29th career touchdown to pass Steve Jordan on the Vikings’ all-time list for touchdowns among tight ends. Rudolph finished the game with 11 catches for 117 yards and a touchdown. He created several plays after the catch and was an integral cog to the offense on third down conversions. Jerick McKinnon added a rushing and receiving touchdown and the Vikings ran over the Bears for a 38-10 win.

Bradford is efficient
Quarterback Sam Bradford might not have a strong depth of target, but he makes the throws he is asked to make in the system. Bradford completed 75.7% of his passes, along with three touchdowns. His lone interception came on a throw where wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson did not exhibit sound ball skills to make a play on the throw. Bradford was poised in the pocket, relaxed going through his reads, and had a relatively clean pocket to throw within. He even had the time to sprint for a 24-yard run (the longest of his career). Bradford has performed well this season and if Teddy Bridgewater is not ready for 2017, he is likely going to be the starter. His accuracy and ability to place the ball into tight windows was one of his most impressive attributes. Additionally, he threw just five interceptions all season, along with over 3,600 yards passing.

McKinnon gets it done
Running back Jerick McKinnon was isolated in space to make plays and he took advantage. McKinnon caught a 16-yard touchdown pass in the flat and sprinted into the end zone to give the Vikings an early 7-0 lead. He also averaged 5.6 yards per carry on the ground, including a 36-yard run late in the game. McKinnon created yardage with his cut-backs and jump-cuts, which was something we hadn’t seen consistently this season. The offensive line opened some lanes in this game and it allowed McKinnon to get into a rhythm as a runner. There were several plays where it appeared Bears defenders were taking plays off, but it was a welcome-sign to see the offense running the football.

T.J. Clemmings leaves, Hill fills in
Left tackle T.J. Clemmings was injured in the first quarter and was replaced by Rashod Hill. He managed to hold up well in his first appearance wearing purple. It appeared he wasn’t beaten in 1-on-1 pass protection, and according to Eric Eager (@EricEager82), he did not give up any pressures in his 48 total snaps. He did receive some help, but at a glance, he didn’t struggle when he was tasked with 1-on-1 responsibilities. I will have more information later in the week when I break down the tape in more detail.

Patterson with a 39-yard catch
On the first drive of the game, wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson hauled in an impressive 39-yard reception. Sam Bradford nicely placed the pass and Patterson displayed fantastic ball skills to track the pass and haul it in. Patterson showed growth this season and should be a player who is re-signed this offseason in free agency.

Wide receiver Jarius Wright notched a 1-yard touchdown reception off a designed play on the goal-line. Wright’s playing time was slashed this season, but he managed to grab a touchdown and a third down conversion. He did have one drop, but continued to show his specialty: running shallow crossing routes near the sticks.

Linval eats, Stephen up-and-down
Defensive tackle Linval Joseph continues to show that he should have made the Pro-Bowl. He picked up a strip sack late in the game and made his presence known in the running game. Joseph got a great push, but there were moments where linebackers struggled to fill the gaps and make a plays. Early in the first half, it appeared there were some alignments issues and it allowed Jordan Howard to rush for 135 yards. The second half run defense was slightly better as the game progressed.

However, the run defense is another area that needs to improve in the offseason. The linebackers had the tendency to be unable to get off of blocks this year. In addition, defensive tackle Shamar Stephen couldn’t shed blocks and was bullied on several plays. He had an up-down-game, which meshed with the performance he displayed during the season. Stephen is a fundamentally solid player, but he has the tendency to lack strength in the running game.

Kendricks finishes strong, Barr backpedaling
Linebacker Eric Kendricks flashed his skills in the running game with two run stops and he delivered a nice quarterback hit on Matt Barkley via a blitz. He led the Vikings in tackles again this season, but didn’t perform as consistent like his rookie season. The main area he must improve is in coverage against tight ends and running backs. He has trouble with the pivot route and was beaten again today via that move. Otherwise, his sure-handed tackling and play-making ability are a huge asset to the defense. He has time to get healthy this offseason and will continue to grow when he enters his third season.

Linebacker Anthony Barr showed some improvement last week in Green Bay, but today took a few steps back. He was caught backpedaling on a screen pass and was unable to fight through blocks. Barr appeared to be out of position in the running game and lacks strength against the run. It will be interesting to see if we hear Barr had a nagging injury he played through this season because his performance wasn’t near the level we are accustomed to seeing.

Trae Waynes is playing well 
Cornerback Trae Waynes put together one of his best regular season games as a pro. He was in position and knocked two passes away. In addition, he hauled in an interception as he matched the physicality of the wide receiver. Waynes continues to show growth and may be ready to take the reigns as the main cornerback opposite of Xavier Rhodes next season.
As for Rhodes, he added another interception and continued to lock down receivers. According to Eric Eager (@EricEager82) of Pro Football Focus, Rhodes surrendered a 47.0 passer rating on 75 passes into his coverage this year. He was one player opposing quarterbacks struggled to move the ball on and he is certain to be picking up a big contract heading into next season.

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