Could probably do fifteen big points on this game but let’s not ramble…
1. So much for playing solid, disciplined, smart, fundamentally sound defense.
It’s really kind of stunning the way the Vikings’ defense has disintegrated the last couple weeks. Against San Francisco, Detroit and Tennessee this looked like a legitimate top 10 defense. What did they do right in those games that they’re not doing now? I think the main thing is discipline. You didn’t see guys getting out of position in those games. Everyone filled their gaps. You didn’t see big coverage breakdowns. The pass rush wasn’t necessarily great but it was sufficient. The tackling was sound. Things started going south against Washington. But that was supposed to be the RG3 effect. RG3 in the read option with playaction causing linebackers to come up and giving the QB open throwing lanes. And then just RG3 making things happen. But it wasn’t just RG3 because in the two games since then, the Vikes have gotten gashed in the running game. It didn’t matter against Arizona because the Cards could find no passing game to complement what they did on the ground, and the Vikes were able to make big plays on defense. But against the Buccaneers? It all fell apart. I think part of what has happened is, the Vikings got exposed by Washington and now everyone’s studying that tape. What did Tampa Bay learn from the Redskins’ approach? Obviously Josh Freeman didn’t run read option. But Tampa Bay did use some of the same stuff Washington ran. They got a TD on a pass to the fullback on a play almost identical to one Washington ran for a touchdown. The key in both those plays was taking advantage of Harrison Smith who was coming up to stuff the run. I think what Tampa saw was that the Vikes’ linebackers and DBs guess a lot and come up aggressively in run defense. And what kind of plays take advantage of that? Screens. Draw plays. Little flair passes. That’s what Tampa hit them with. Doug Martin’s two biggest plays were a draw and a screen. This is something the Vikings need to adjust. They seemed to play back more against Detroit and San Francisco and you didn’t see those big plays against them. Chad Greenway, Jasper Brinkley and Erin Henderson especially seem to be susceptible. They all want to play downhill. They all looked lousy against Tampa Bay. So many bad angles. And when guys had a chance to tackle they didn’t wrap up. Alan Williams needs to go back to the drawing board with these guys.
2. The Vikings can’t play from behind.
The Vikes lost this game in the first quarter. They lost it by not being able to control field position. It slipped away after the second possession. That was a three and out. Then Chris Kluwe hits a bad punt – what’s up with him lately? – and Tampa gets it at their own 42. Field goal. Vikings get it back and do nothing with it again. In fact, thanks to a couple penalties, they end up punting from their own 13 after starting on their own 20. This time Kluwe’s punt is muffed by Roscoe Parrish but the Vikes are unable to recover. Tampa starts on their own 48. Touchdown. It’s 10-0. Third possession, late in the first quarter. Jerome Simpson catches a slant but fumbles. Tampa recovers on their own 46. They go down and get a field goal to make it 13-0 early in the second. So look at the field position for Tampa on those three possessions. 42, 48, 46. Talk about putting your defense in the meat grinder. And this is a team that’s built to control the ball, control field position. What kills that plan? Three-and-outs. Turnovers. Bad special teams. First quarters have been a big problem for the Vikes during this three game stretch. The Washington game, it was the red zone failures. Against Tampa it was poor execution on offense and special teams and that one bad turnover. This team can’t fall behind 13-0. Not the way they play offense.
3. Chris Cook will be sorely missed.
Cook broke his arm early in the third quarter and obviously did not return. Tampa Bay took note of Cook’s absence and started absolutely peppering his side of the field, the defensive right. Tampa’s dagger possession in the fourth quarter that ate nine minutes and featured four third-and-long conversions told us all we need to know about this defense with A.J. Jefferson and Marcus Sherels out there instead of Cook. 14 yards to Vincent Jackson on a 3rd-and-six with Sherels on Jackson. 12 yards to Tiquan Underwood on third-and-ten with Jefferson on Underwood. 34 yards to Mike Williams on a third-and-ten with Jefferson on Williams. That’s three big plays against that side of the field. One more third down conversion came over the middle. Now Cook will be out for the rest of the season probably. A.J. Jefferson – a tall, serviceable corner with press coverage skills who the Vikings were smart to pick up from Arizona in a trade – should play better with more practice but I doubt he’ll perform as well as Cook. The secondary has an issue with Cook out.
4. Adrian Peterson won’t be denied.
Peterson has now had two huge performances in a row against teams with solid run defenses. He’s hitting holes so hard, it’s scary. And this is happening with teams showing no respect whatsoever for the Vikings’ pass game. Teams are keying on Peterson and he’s still shredding them. Imagine what Peterson could do with a pass offense complementing him? All we can do is imagine.
5. Percy Harvin yelled at Bill Musgrave on the sideline and I don’t blame him.
I want to know what goes on in Bill Musgrave’s head sometimes. The Vikings had that big defensive stand in the second half that included Jared Allen scuffling with Donald Penn. So Allen gets a huge sack and the whole stadium is going bananas. The Vikings are down 30-17 at this point and probably have no realistic shot to get back in the game but at least the energy and momentum are on their side. This is where a good playcaller with a feel for the game takes advantage. I have no problem with Musgrave calling a run to Peterson on first down considering the way Peterson was going. But he gets stuffed for a 2 yard loss. Next play is a QB scramble that gets six yards. Now it’s third-and-six and really, this is the ball game. You’ve got to know this if you’re Bill Musgrave. Either you convert this third down deep in your own territory or it’s game over. It’s not Musgrave’s fault of course that John Sullivan made a bad snap and the play was killed. But here’s what is Musgrave’s fault. The fact that Percy Harvin was next to him on the sideline instead of being in the game. This is a game-on-the-line situation and your only good receiver is not in. And Harvin is screaming at Musgrave. Rightly. Someone needs to ask Musgrave what his thinking was in that situation, cause I can’t conjure a good excuse for him. You need six frigging yards for a first down. Which man on your team is most likely to gain six yards? Wouldn’t you want him on the field? Does Musgrave just have a little chart that says “use this play in this situation” and he just goes with that instead of reacting to the specific circumstances of the game? Don’t get it. Just don’t get it.
(Editor’s Note: Yes I realize I didn’t mention Christian Ponder at all in those five points. There’s a reason for that. I’m sick of talking about him. I no longer want to think about him or discuss him.)
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