The Vikings improved their overall pass protection and showed more rhythm on offense in their second preseason game. Daniel House takes you inside the film room to find this week's winners and losers.
Updated: August 21, 2017, 1:52 p.m.
By: Daniel House
By: Daniel House
The Vikings' first-team offense showed more rhythm in the second preseason game. They were unable to punch the ball into the end zone, but moved the ball through the air and on the ground. The offensive line opened rushing lanes and provided more time for quarterback Sam Bradford to move in the pocket. The key moving forward will be to improve their red zone offense, which was a problem last year. Head coach Mike Zimmer said it will be an emphasis in practice this week. On the first drive, the Vikings reached the red zone, but two penalties and a failed screen pass stalled the drive. The team had trouble running screen passes and it appeared to be a timing issue between the offensive lineman, running back, and quarterback.
With Alex Boone and Riley Reiff out, the offensive line was filled with a new group of players on the left side. Nick Easton played left guard and Rashod Hill saw starting duties at left tackle. They both performed very well in their starting roles. Hill executed in pass protection and helped spark a long Dalvin Cook rush. Easton showed more movement in the running game and fueled several open holes on the left side. The Vikings might have found something with Easton seeing live action at left guard. He is a very fundamentally sound player, displaying excellent balance and a wide base. The interior of the Vikings’ offensive line put together one of the best performances I’ve seen in quite some time. In addition, the tackles held up well in pass protection, not allowing a single sack the entire evening. On the second team unit, Willie Beavers continued to perform well and was more consistent than the first game. His fundamentals have really evolved with more experience and instruction.
Center Pat Elflein displayed the mean streak we saw on tape as a run blocker and pass protector. He is a fantastic blocker in the second level and drives through defenders until the whistle. In the clip below, Elflein barrels the defensive tackle out of the play and Dalvin Cook gets small at the line of scrimmage to push forward through defenders. Cook is very elusive and picks up yards after contact because of his vision/patience and strong cutbacks. He was very tough to bring down in this game and nearly knocked off several long runs.
In the clip below, the entire left side of the offensive line gets a great push. Elflein dominates his rep and Rashod Hill holds his block long enough to give running back Dalvin Cook a small crease. Cook showed off his elusiveness as cornerback Richard Sherman tried to ankle tackle him in the box. He is very tough to bring down and consistently creates yards after contact because of his movement skills. Hill has been very underrated as a run blocker throughout training camp and the preseason. He's also developing into a more consistent pass protector with the additional reps he's received during Riley Reiff's absence. People should feel very comfortable having him as backup tackle on this roster.
In addition, Elflein will finish blocks as a pass protector, too. He got position on the defense tackle and pancaked him to the ground, allowing quarterback Sam Bradford to pick up a few yards on the ground. You don't see this type of play from a center very often. This is the mean streak Elflein repeatedly displayed on tape at Ohio State. He can be an enforcer and leader on the Vikings' offensive line for seasons to come. Within the same clip, you would like to see the stunt picked up better on the left side, but Elflein's pancake and Rashod Hill's backside block allowed Bradford to escape the pocket.
Diggs was Bradford's go-to target in this game. He was getting open off a variety of routes and it's clear to see how involved he will be in the offense this year. Diggs dominated training camp practices and has taken a strong leadership role among many of the young wide receivers on the roster. He is one of the most unique competitors you will find and is extremely gifted as an athlete.
Many people haven't been talking about it, but tight end David Morgan has put together a solid training camp and preseason. He is one of the best run blocking tight ends you'll find. Not to mention, he is very serviceable as a pass catcher. Morgan has great hands and is very tough to bring down after the catch. He will fight through tackles and grind out additional yardage. More importantly, he is an integral component of the running game and will be a strong asset to the offense because of his versatility. In the clip below, Morgan catches a pass in the flat and carries the defender to the first down marker for an additional seven yards.
After being relatively quiet throughout training camp and the preseason, tight end Bucky Hodges finally burst onto the scene. He hauled in two passes up the seam, including a 21-yard touchdown reception. Hodges is adjusting to playing more inline tight end at the next level. He was split out wide in college and worked almost exclusively like a wide receiver. In this game, he stretched the field up the seam, showing off his playmaking ability when he can get separation. In the clip below, quarterback Taylor Heincike delivered a great throw into a tight window and Hodges displayed great body control to make the grab in traffic. He can haul in tough catches consistently because of his length, speed, and developing ball skills. Hodges just needs to improve as a run blocker and route runner as this level. He will be competing for the third or fourth tight end spot with tight end Kyle Carter, who has went relatively quiet after a solid training camp.
Defensively, the Vikings were diced up in the passing game early. Cornerback Mackensie Alexander was exploited in the slot and allowed four receptions. Doug Baldwin turned him around twice, including on the clip below. He was unable to recover as Baldwin redirected his route to the sideline. Alexander was already playing several yards off of Baldwin and the additional separation was all the receiver needed. He was unable to remain disciplined when Baldwin set his routes up with a head fake. It led to numerous losses in the slot. Alexander needs to continue gaining experience and the preseason is a perfect time for him to see extended reps. In addition to Mack's struggles, Terence Newman was beaten several times and Seattle receivers were getting separation with ease on the first drive. In this game, the defensive backs weren't playing very physical at the line of scrimmage and that's certain to change when the regular season begins.
Rookie linebacker Ben Gedeon started at the weakside spot on Friday and continued to stand out more than his veteran competitors. Gedeon had five total tackles and was consistently making plays against the run. On the other hand, he was exploited at least twice in coverage, including a play where he needed to hold onto the tight end for a split second longer up the seam. Nonetheless, he continues to get better with more experience and flies around the field making plays. In the clip below, Gedeon takes on the running back after moving freely downhill. He isn't afraid to square up and take on offensive players in the gap.
Linebacker Edmond Robinson has really struggled in the preseason. He has been performing poorly against the run and gets caught with his eyes in the backfield far too often. On this play, Tashawn Bower could have done a better job setting the edge, but Robinson got sucked too far inside and was unable to recover. In addition to lapses against the run, Robinson lost his man on a long passing play in the first half. He has been playing very undisciplined, which has hurt his chances to make a strong impression in a wide-open race for the starting weakside linebacker role. Emmanuel Lamur has almost been nonexistent, which likely puts linebacker Ben Gedeon in the driver's seat to win the starting gig in the preseason.
The Vikings have a plethora of talented defensive lineman on this roster. The decisions they make during roster cuts will have many teams sitting on the edge of their chair. Defensive end Tashawn Bower continued his dominance, tallying a sack and quarterback pressure. He is getting after the quarterback with improved pass rushing angles and overall moves. Bower has made strides quickly under the instruction of defensive line coach Andre Patterson. In addition, Ifeadi Odenigbo added another sack and a quarterback hurry. He wins with power and is starting to add more speed moves to complement his upper body strength. In the clip below, both Bower and Odenigbo won off the edge to pick up a sack. Bower does a great job of shedding the offensive tackle's hands and Odenigbo uses his strong upper body to pull off the block. The Vikings will have a decision to make when it comes to which stable of defensive ends they prefer to keep. Bower has certainly improved his odds the most among all of the young players vying for the final spot.
The Vikings still had trouble against the run in this game and it was noticeable to see defensive tackle Tom Johnson struggling. He was unable to take on blockers or double teams to open lanes for the linebackers to get downhill. It led to him being down blocked out of plays and small rushing creases being opened. Johnson has been really struggling to get off of blocks this preseason and there was one noticeable instance where he was locked in the passing game. The clip is shown below:
Last week, I wrote about the importance of finding a versatile three-technique defensive tackle in this defense. The Vikings have two young players that are standing out on tape. Defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson was sensational in this game. In addition, Will Sutton has displayed his above average athleticism and upside in this system. Veterans Tom Johnson and Datone Jones haven't stood out in their time on the field. Could one of the young players edge Johnson or Jones when roster cuts roll around? It certainly could happen. In fact, rookie Jaleel Johnson is making a strong case to see more playing time with the first-team unit. He put together one of the best performances I've seen by a rookie defensive tackle this preseason. Johnson's hand technique and light feet pair very well with his overall explosiveness as a player. He can stay extended and shed double teams with ease. In the clip below, he completely destroys the guard off the ball and picks up a tackle for loss. Johnson is the perfect defensive tackle for this system and can help alleviate some of the interior issues against the run. More importantly, he is versatile and can be disruptive as a pass rusher out of the the three-technique spot. It's time to experiment and place Jaleel Johnson into the starting rotation.
For the surface observations from this game, click here.