Monday, September 11, 2017

Notebook: Bradford lights up the Saints, Vikings cruise to victory


Quarterback Sam Bradford was sensational, carving up the New Orleans Saints for 346 yards and three touchdowns. Stefon Diggs grabbed a pair of touchdowns and the Vikings cruised past the Saints for a 29-19 win. Daniel House takes you inside his notebook!

Updated: September 11, 2017, 11:00 p.m.

By: Daniel House

After a discouraging preseason, the Vikings showed why you should take exhibition performances with a grain of salt. Quarterback Sam Bradford was sensational, carving up the Saints for 346 yards and three touchdowns. Stefon Diggs grabbed a pair of touchdowns and the Vikings cruised past the Saints for a 29-19 win.

Minnesota tallied 470 total yards, which was their highest mark since Week 3 of 2014. The coaches have been discussing the need for more explosive plays and Monday night’s win provided plenty of them.

For more, take a dive inside my notebook:

Bradford lights it up
Quarterback Sam Bradford showed what he can do when he is provided with adequate time and takes chances up the field. He finished the night 27-for-32 with 346 yards and three touchdowns. He gashed the Saints defense and climbed the pocket to drive throws down the field. When he faced pressure, he was still able to keep sound footwork and delivered throws into tight windows. The best example of this was when he stood in the pocket and delivered a strike to Jarius Wright for a 21-yard gain. He fit the pass into a six-inch window while standing in the pocket until the final moment.

The coaches have emphasized the need for explosive plays and a three-play, 74-yard drive with completions of 35, 21, and 18 yards to Wright, Adam Thielen, and Stefon Diggs provided encouragement. Bradford loves to throw corner routes and does so with fantastic touch and accuracy. He really showed his confidence down the field in training camp and it translated to the game due to improved pass protection. The offense really took advantage of play action looks and used them throughout the game to help push the ball down the field vertically. If the Vikings can score over 20 points per game this year, they’ll win plenty of games because of their defense.

Cook stands out in his first NFL start
Dalvin Cook made his Vikings debut and shined as the Saints defense ran out of steam. Cook was very elusive between the tackles and created runs when he faced extra contact. He was very patient and used his vision to extend several rushes. Cook got to the edge a few times and showed the other gear he has in the second level. He finished the night with 127 yards on 22 carries and busted off an impressive 33-yard run to ice the win. Cook had a few lapses as a pass catcher, but two of them were related to poor play calls. He can play all three downs and helped immensely in blitz pickup situations. We only saw a glimpse of what Cook is capable of during his first official NFL game.

Diggs and Thielen are dynamic
The Vikings have a special player on offense to pair with two very underrated wide receivers. I’ve been saying it for a very long time, Stefon Diggs is wired differently. He competes at such a high level and is a technician as a route runner. He completed an extremely difficult catch through contact to pick up 20 yards in the red zone. Diggs also made his contested grabs look easy, including a 2-yard touchdown. He wins with smooth routes and extremely lethal footwork. If he can stay healthy, the Vikings might have an elite level wide receiver at their disposal. Even more importantly, Adam Thielen is just as exciting. His body control and reliable hands stood out as he made an impressive 45-yard catch from Bradford. He ran a variety of different route combinations and showed how underrated he is at getting open. Thielen tallied 157 yards, notching nine catches on 10 targets. The Saints had no answer for the Thielen and Diggs combination. When Michael Floyd returns, the Vikings also will have another deep threat to complement their skilled duo.

Offensive line was a pleasant surprise
The re-tooled offensive line deserves praise for the way they performed in this game. The unit allowed just one sack and provided Sam Bradford with ample time to move in the pocket. When he has this luxury, he can be very deadly. Left tackle Riley Reiff didn’t allow any notable quarterback pressures and was rock solid in pass protection. He also beautifully set the edge for a 9-yard Dalvin Cook run in the first half. Reiff needs to be the rock of this offensive line and he made a fantastic impression in his debut. Mike Remmers had one holding call (shouldn’t have been one), but held up relatively well. There were a few less impressive reps in pass protection, but he opened holes in the running game.

The interior of the offensive line performed relatively well. Pat Elflein flashed his physicality and got to the second level as a blocker. He is a perfect fit in the power zone scheme the Vikings are running. Nick Easton also had a few great reps and sprung a 7-yard inside run by Dalvin Cook. He still shows a few growing pains, but he fits well in the system and has the movement skills necessary to be a very effective fit in this blocking scheme. Overall, the offensive line was a pleasant surprise and it allowed Pat Shurmur to open up the offense and take shots down the field. Shumur called a great game and really maximized the full potential of his offensive weapons. The unit still could use a little more consistency from a run blocking standpoint, but it was much improved.

Defense bends, but doesn’t break
It’s crazy that the first few sections of this piece were all about the offense. The Vikings defense continued to show their dominance. They played more zone and didn’t blitz extensively, but they still created pressure and covered the short-to-intermediate routes well. The unit did allow a few chunk plays, including a 52-yard reception to wide receiver Tommylee Lewis. However, the defense managed to clamp down and get stops. Before a late game score, the Saints had manufactured just four field goals and went 0-for-3 in goal-to-go situations. Early in the game, New Orleans used personnel packages to test the Vikings in the base 4-3 defense. The response wasn’t great, but the coaches made a few subtle adjustments to stop the quick rhythm passing game.

The defense kept New Orleans’ passing game in check and didn’t allow Drew Brees to get into a rhythm. Trae Waynes was beaten deep on a nine-route, but held up relatively well on his other assignments. It was particularly noticeable how well he played in run support and as a tackler in space. Veteran Terence Newman played nickel cornerback, which really tells you everything you need to know about Mackensie Alexander’s development. With recent acquisition Tramaine Brock out, the Vikings went with a veteran inside. Newman continues to show everyone that age is just a number as he executes his versatile role in the defense.

Linebacker Eric Kendricks was flying all over the field and put together one of his best performances in purple. He was reacting very instinctively in coverage and was physical against the run. Anthony Barr also had eight tackles, including an impressive tackle-for-loss in space. He fought through blocks and made plays against the run throughout the night. Barr showed improved effort and energy on defense, which was definitely an encouraging sign.

Run defense shuts down Peterson
Minnesota’s run defense allowed just 60 yards on the ground. It was fueled by Linval Joseph, who was creating disruptions throughout the night. He caused headaches with his impressive power and first step. The Vikings interior was getting a great push and Shamar Stephen had several positive reps, too. Adrian Peterson’s return was silenced as he rushed for just 18 yards on six carries. Minnesota needed to get better against the run and Monday night’s performance was encouraging.

The narrative is clear: the defense will keep the Vikings in games, but an offensive output like everyone saw Monday night would make this team a threat every Sunday.


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