Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Inside the Film Room: Vikings vs. Packers

Photo: CT Post

The Vikings shut down the Packers, but Daniel House sees room for improvement in a few offensive phases. How much did the weather impact timing? Find out in the latest film session!

Updated: December 27, 2017, 4:00 p.m.

By: Daniel House

The Vikings completed their first shutout since 1993 and caused headaches all day for the Packers in a 16-0 win on Saturday night. The defense kept the Brett Hundley in the pocket and created pressure all night. According to Pro Football Focus, the Vikings tallied 26 pressures to go along with 23 incompletions. Minnesota's coaching staff elected to send less pressure, especially after Hundley was escaping the pocket with his legs. On one occasion, the Vikings sent extra pressure and he escaped for a long 24-yard scamper. Instead the defense sent four-man fronts and set the edge strong, forcing Hundley to step into the pocket and make quick throws. The following film clip summarizes the pressure the Vikings created throughout the night.


Hundley was holding the ball for a long time and the coverage up the field was excellent throughout the night. Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb struggled to get separation and the Vikings' tight coverage on the outside forced the Packers into throwing underneath all night. Minnesota's young cornerbacks are getting better every week, which has made their defense even more formidable. Trae Waynes has been in excellent position and is starting to make plays on the ball. He has been tight to wide receivers and shadowing them to the boundary, preventing catches with a play on the ball. If he can become more sound in coverage, he already has shown above average tackling skills around the box. Cornerback Mackensie Alexander has been making more plays and isn't afraid to react as much. The maturation of these two players has paired nicely with Xavier Rhodes and a solid pass rush. The clip below shows Waynes making a play he was unable to complete during his first two years.


Harrison Smith's performance was one for the ages. He was constantly toying with Brett Hundley all night and making difficult plays around the box. Smith was reading the tendencies of the offense and reacting. In the clip below, the Packers tried to block Smith with Richard Rodgers and he was destroyed in the process. Green Bay called a run-pass option look and Smith read the play from the start. It is incredible how much intelligence Smith plays with, specifically in pre-snap settings. He is the true quarterback of the defense and knows his opponents' tendencies better than anyone.


Not only did Smith lead the team with eight total tackles, he grabbed two interceptions and finished with a 99.9 overall grade, according to Pro Football Focus. He used some deception to snatch the interception below. Before the snap, Smith confused Hundley by looking like he was going to settle into zone or come off the edge, but he exploded into man and baited him into a bad throw. He added another pick in the second half and showed the national audience why he was egregiously left off the Pro Bowl roster. One could argue the complete scope of Harrison Smith's season is the best of his career. He has simply been one of the biggest keys to the defensive success. There have been so many cases this year where Smith has made a pre-snap call to place the defense in an advantageous situation.


Offensively, the Vikings didn't play their best game. Quarterback Case Keenum struggled pushing the ball up the field and left several throws out there. He was unable to connect vertically four times, but managed to draw one pass interference call. Keenum has never displayed downfield arm strength, but he normally can connect with open targets. In the clip below, Adam Thielen ran a absolutely beautiful double move, but Keenum overthrew the pass.


There were moments where the Vikings' wide receivers had significant cushion off double moves. Diggs ran one below and had Josh Hawkins leaning out of the break. Keenum put too much air on the throw and Diggs was waiting for the pass. In the process, he was luckily able to draw a pass interference penalty to place the offense in a favorable situation.


Keenum made a few quality throws, including a difficult scramble and connection with tight end David Morgan for a first down. He also showed excellent touch and placement on a 4-yard touchdown to Stefon Diggs in the back corner of the end zone. Pat Shurmur has been designing plays which feature unbalanced sets in the red zone. On this play, guard Danny Isidora reported as eligible. Out of those formations, they have been dialing up plenty of motion, play-action, or rub plays to get players open in the second level. As you can see below, Diggs had a 1-on-1 matchup that was set up by an Adam Thielen crossing route that slightly slowed up the secondary. Keenum finishes the play with a beautiful touch throw and Diggs make a difficult tip-toe grab in the end zone.


There have been many positives associated with Keenum, especially relating to his pocket presence and ability to care of the ball. However, in some situations, I would like to see Keenum improve his reads. There are pre-snap situations where he will allow a running play to be completed into a run blitz. He has a tendency to struggle when trying to find his second read in the shallow soft spot of coverage. The Packers ran Cover-2 a few times and Keenum was unable to find open targets off deep curls. Instead, he was locked into the underneath shallow concepts. The timing routes were slightly off in this game and some of this could be attributed to the surface causing rhythm issues between Keenum and his wide receivers. However, there have been others games where this has been the case. In the end, Keenum has made enough plays for the team to win, including difficult scrambles and extended plays. In the future playoff games, he'll need to find the open wide receivers, especially when points become a premium. 

The clip below shows an example of Keenum not firing the pass quick enough into the soft spot of coverage to Adam Thielen. The pressure certainly isn't acceptable, but Keenum still had Thielen for a split second. Instead, he settled for the shallow crosser intended for Diggs. You can see Thielen was visibly frustrated at the end of the play because he saw this coverage tendency in the pre-snap read. As it relates to Jeremiah Sirles losing his rep, he'll need to step up after the team lost Nick Easton for the season with an injury. Sirles did not perform well in relief and was specifically exploited in pass protection, including this rep where the defender put him on skates. He isn't great in the screen game like Easton, which could have an impact on a portion of the offense. I would not be opposed to seeing the coaching staff try Danny Isidora at left guard during portions of the Chicago game.


Finally, the play calling balance seemed a little different during stretches of this game. The Vikings had 1st-and-5 before being unable to convert out of this switch route. The Packers perfectly passed off players in the second level and Keenum had no options. On the prior plays, the Vikings ran between the tackles and were unable to take advantage of an encroachment penalty on first down. 


Late in the game, the team also couldn't convert in the red zone and ran three straight running plays before kicking a field goal. The red zone offense showed less consistency this week. The prior game against the Bengals, the main issue was penalties and this was cleaned up. Now, the attention must return to improving the offensive balance and consistency for the playoffs. It felt like the Vikings offense held back some concepts in this game, especially by using less Jerick McKinnon in a game where he had an excellent matchup. The offensive balance and play-calling have certainly been strengths leading up to this game. It's worth noting how the weather and missed throws deep also placed the offense in uncharted territory. A tune-up game against the Bears and a week off for the playoffs would certainly benefit the Vikings as they tie up loose ends before hitting the home stretch.

Overall, the defense was impressive and didn't really need to use their full arsenal of scheming and personnel to make it happen. The mistakes offensively can be corrected, especially considering the Vikings likely won't be playing in below-zero conditions during important playoff games.

Without question, Minnesota certainly has the NFL's top defense and an offense with enough firepower to be a threat in January.


  1. It is a good post. The game between the Vikings and the Packers. I read the review and also the tweets. It is interesting to note who an offense emerges and how it is settled. Thank you for posting this.