The Vikings continued preseason action during a home game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. A sloppy offensive performance stole the headlines, but a few second-team defensive players quietly performed at a high level. Daniel House breaks down the film and shares his takeaways.
Updated: August 19, 2018, 1:05 p.m.
By: Daniel House
The Vikings' first-team offense was out of sync throughout the afternoon. They managed to muster just 33 net yards and fumbled twice during four drives. There were a variety of factors involved, including inconsistent offensive line play and uncharacteristic play by quarterback Kirk Cousins. This was the first time where the timing between the quarterback and pass catchers looked off. In the clip below, wide receiver Adam Thielen has separation off a comeback, but Cousins short arms the throw and is inaccurate as he tries get the pass out quickly.
There were moments during the four drives where Cousins' footwork was uncharacteristic and it impacted his ability to deliver the ball accurately. At least three of his five incompletions were the result of timing issues, muddy footwork or a forced throw. In the clip below, Cousins had several options available, but looked nervous in the pocket, rushed the throw and nearly threw an interception in the process. It's clear the offense has more work to do as they attempt to develop continuity with a new system and quarterback. Not only that, but the scheme was rather basic for this game and won't mimic what the Vikings will actually deploy in the regular season.
Some of the issues were related to offensive line play, too. There were two reps where the tackles were backed into Cousins, forcing him to rush throws or check down in the flat. The clips below are a couple examples:
Aviante Collins received the start at right tackle and struggled to handle Yannick Ngakoue during several reps. I believe Collins is more of a natural fit at the guard spot, but could play tackle in a pinch. His movement skills and shorter arms fit the profile of a interior player rather than an offensive tackle. In the clip below, it appears there was a poorly executed assignment as Ngakoue has a clear path to Kirk Cousins:
When Collins has been inside, his performance in both preseason games and training camp have been best. The Vikings moved him around the offensive line from both tackle spots to guard. They clearly wanted to evaluate Collins at a variety of positions to paint a clear picture of how the offensive line depth is developing. In the late stages of the game, rookie Brian O'Neill held up well and has shown flashes as he continues to develop at the next level. For now, every three reps are positive for O'Neill, while two are less impressive. A few of his issues were related to picking up stunts and maintaining balance when a defensive end gets a step. Right now, he's probably the best option as the backup right tackle, but I'd expect the team to claim or trade for a tackle before or during roster cuts.
In terms of run blocking, there are flashes of positive reps from the first-team offensive line unit. They opened a nice lane for Latavius Murray to burst free for an 11-yard gain. Cornelius Edison had a strong game, specifically in the running game as he helped open lanes for numerous positive runs. He has stepped up and probably will claim a roster spot because of his ability to play both guard and center. Danny Isidora is still struggling to progress into the second level and sustain blocks from time-to-time. He was much better in this category in the first preseason game. Tom Compton also had several positive reps and bounced back after an inconsistent performance in Denver. The running game hasn't been a major problem for this team early in the preseason. The play below is well-executed, aside from the first of two fumbles by Murray.
For the most part, the main issue has been consistency in pass protection. With Pat Elflein, Mike Remmers and Rashod Hill likely returning soon, it will be interesting to evaluate the Vikings up front to see whether there is reason for concern. At this point, they have a few serviceable options inside, but probably need one more swing tackle to feel comfortable this season.
One of the other roster competitions that stood out was the battle for the No. 3 running back job. Mike Boone stood out in the race, rushing for 91 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. He had several great runs where he flashed his ability to create yards after contact. This was one of his main strengths dating back to his college days at Cincinnati. Watch him cut back inside and toss multiple defenders aside to pick up a few additional yards.
A few moments later, Boone again breaks another tackle in the hole and busts free for his longest run of the day. His ability to absorb contact and maintain balance are two of his strengths as a runner.
Boone has also flashed his natural receiving ability and could even come out of the slot as a mismatch threat. Later in the game, Boone also had a great pass protection pickup to allow quarterback Kyle Sloter an opportunity to get the ball out. He has shown off versatility throughout camp and the preseason. Roc Thomas also had several notable runs and a positive reception out of the backfield. The competition is heating up for one of the final roster spots. Boone and Thomas both bring positive attributes to the table, but it's unlikely they'll be able to keep both of them on the active roster.
On defense, the Vikings' first-team unit had significant trouble defending screen passes. Head coach Mike Zimmer was already talking about it during his post-game press conference. The clips below show all of the issues the unit had when defending these plays. Most of the time, it was the result of sending pressure and the defensive tackles being too far up the field. Not only that, but the players in the second level were unable to get off blocks to help prevent a big play.
Out of the starters on the field, defensive end Danielle Hunter was dominant against Cam Robinson throughout the afternoon. This is the perfect example of why evaluating offensive line play off sacks allowed is just not the right way to do it. By my count, Hunter had eight quarterback pressures, three quarterback hits and one sack on 19 total snaps. The clip below is an example of how quick and powerful Hunter's first step is. His pass rushing moves looked more refined in camp and now the real area he must improve is finishing sacks when he has the opportunity. Hunter missed one in this game and it's been a theme in the past. However, if he can cause these type of disruptions consistently, it will be invaluable to the Vikings' defense.In his post-game presser, #Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer was already talking about improving against screen passes. This is why: pic.twitter.com/7uPFjFFP1x— Daniel House (@DanielHouseNFL) August 18, 2018
The most impressive aspect of the game was the performance of the Vikings' second and third-tier defensive players, specifically on the defensive line. Stephen Weatherly has been fantastic as a run defender both in training camp and the preseason. He uses his hands below to shed and blow up T.J. Yeldon to complete a tackle for loss. Weatherly has been progressing over the past two years and is most productive as a run defending defensive end.
One of the most improved players on the roster is defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson. He has significantly improved his pad level to complement quick feet and above average hand technique. The added weight and power this offseason has allowed him to win better at the point of attack. He had at least five stand-out plays in this game and will be an important cog in the Vikings' defensive line rotation, especially considering his ability to play both three-technique and nose tackle.
With the amount of injuries that have occurred at defensive end, the Vikings were forced to kick Ifeadi Odenigbo outside in the second half. Odenigbo has been fantastic as an interior pass rusher because of his quickness off the snap and evolving hand technique. He also added more weight to improve his overall power. When he moved to the defensive end spot, he showed an impressive ability to bend the edge, along with fantastic quickness off the snap. In the second clip below, you see how he never quits on the play, too.I would argue Jaleel Johnson and Eric Wilson are two of the most improved players on the #Vikings roster. Jaleel was dominant during stretches of today's game. He's refined his technique and uses his hands so well to shed. Here's a clip of some of his best plays: pic.twitter.com/xfwez296H6— Daniel House (@DanielHouseNFL) August 18, 2018
Ifeadi is someone who could claim a roster spot because of his strong training camp and preseason performances. His versatility also is a huge added bonus because he can play inside and move to the edge if depth is needed in the rotation. This position flexibility, combined with his talent are enough for him to be in the conversation to make the roster.
Finally, it wouldn't be an "upon further review" piece without taking a look at cornerback Mike Hughes' performance. During one rep, he lost his balance and nearly gave up a long touchdown pass, but again, had another strong day. The first clip below is what I've been talking about in all of my training camp posts. Hughes' hips, feet and overall technique are so refined for a player with his experience level. He shuts down the route because all of those traits are simply so impressive.
Another area where Hughes has stood out is as a nickel blitzer. He was used in this capacity in the first preseason game and was sent to pressure the quarterback against Jacksonville, too. His athleticism, speed and tackling ability allow him to be a threat when he's deployed in this capacity out of the nickel spot.
Overall, the offensive issues will need to be corrected. There were many odd question marks and uncharacteristic performances from the first-team unit. As discussed earlier, a variety of factors contributed to the struggles, including odd quarterback play, offensive line issues and a bland preseason play-script.#Vikings rookie CB Mike Hughes' hips don't lie. Also, he's been really underrated off nickel blitzes during the first two preseason games: pic.twitter.com/41H35HnmrX— Daniel House (@DanielHouseNFL) August 19, 2018