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Prepping for another rookie: How the Vikings’ defense slows inexperienced QBs

By Matthew Coller

The Minnesota Vikings have only faced one veteran quarterback this year.

On Sunday in the Meadowlands, former USC star Sam Darnold will become the third rookie quarterback to face the Vikings in seven weeks. Two other foes, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, are entering their third years in the NFL and Jimmy Garoppolo made just the eighth start of his career on opening day.

While the Vikings shockingly lost to Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills in Week 3 and gave up 465 yards to Goff, they atoned for their letdown by beating Wentz in Philadelphia and mauling rookie Josh Rosen last Sunday.

Head coach Mike Zimmer has generally dominated unseasoned quarterbacks. Last year, the Vikings defeated Mitch Trubisky and Brett Hundley twice, easily beat DeShone Kizer and slowed Jared Goff to seven points.

That trend isn’t new. Quarterbacks in their first, second or third years in the NFL have only beaten Zimmer five times in 22 tries. Fifteen of those games have featured multiple sacks, 11 have gone under 200 yards and six have included multiple interceptions.

Those numbers don’t include Garoppolo, who went 15-for-33 with 261 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.

Sunday’s win over Rosen and the Cardinals was the perfect demonstration of why it’s been so darn difficult for young QBs to beat the Vikings since Zimmer came aboard in 2014. Let’s have a closer look at some of the ways they slowed Rosen and will likely attempt to frustrate Darnold…

Multiple looks on third down

On the first third down of the game for Rosen, the Vikings showed their classic double-A gap “mug” look in which linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr line up inside the two defensive tackles over the A gap.

At this point, the Vikings have innumerable options. They can send one after the quarterback or both or drop both back in coverage and send a rusher from somewhere else — notice Harrison Smith is playing at the line of scrimmage. But this time, the Vikings play man-press coverage with their corners, man coverage with Smith and nickel corner Mackensie Alexander and drop both Barr and Kendricks into zones.

While the Vikings’ front four creates some push, Rosen appears to get rid of the ball earlier than needed and forces it to a receiver who wasn’t open for an incompletion.

The sheer concern over pass rushers coming from all angles is enough to make an inexperienced — and even sometimes quality quarterback — struggle against the Vikings, especially since Sheldon Richardson and Danielle Hunter both entered the game in the top 10 at their position in QB pressures.

When Rosen made his first appearance in the red zone, the Vikings threw something at him that they do not use all that often: Cover-0.

On the play below, Zimmer sends the house, rushing everyone except for three DBs playing man coverage. There simply wasn’t enough bodies blocking to stop every rusher in purple and linebacker Anthony Barr came unblocked. The moment of hesitation causes Rosen’s pass to get knocked down.

There’s more where this came from.

Zimmer pulled out a 3-4 Zone Dog blitz on a third-and-6 in the first quarter. Notice again that the linebackers are up at the line of scrimmage, but they drop back. Only Danielle Hunter, Linval Joseph and Stephen Weatherly are on the D-line and DBs Mackensie Alexander and Anthony Harris come after the passer.

In this case, there are enough Cardinals to block the Vikings’ rushers, but the O-linemen are unable to pick up the blitz quick enough, leaving a massive hole for Alexander. It’s possible Rosen could have found a quick outlet if he had picked up on the blitz quick enough, but blitzes off the bunch formation side are not always the easiest to spot.

On Rosen’s third quarter interception

Even when Zimmer isn’t sending more than four rushers on a key third down, there’s always some type of unique look. On Rosen’s interception, they run a twist with the defensive tackles and rotate safeties.

The rookie quarterback sees Harris as the lone deep safety, but at the last second Smith scampers back into that role allowing Harris to become a robber and step into the passing lane for the interception.

Personnel matters in the equation, too.

Even without Everson Griffen, there are few teams that can boast the type of front-four rush as the Vikings. Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes are also very capable of handling top receivers one-on-one in man coverage and Smith is the type of chess piece that makes it all tick.

So far, Darnold has had some serious ups and downs. Going by ESPN’s 1-100 QBR metric, he’s posted two games over 80, which is spectacular, and two games under 20, which is very poor. The one difference between him and Rosen is a gunslinger mentality that both makes him dangerous and reckless. Zimmer will be looking to take advantage of that, especially in big spots.

The post Prepping for another rookie: How the Vikings’ defense slows inexperienced QBs appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

4 Takeaways: Vikings Beat Cardinals, 27-17

By Vikings – WCCO | CBS Minnesota

gettyimages 1052138988 4 Takeaways: Vikings Beat Cardinals, 27 17

There wouldn’t be another let down against a team the Minnesota Vikings should handle in their own stadium. Not this week, and not after an impressive road win at Philadelphia.

The Vikings made things more interesting than needed at times, but overall did their job and took care of business Sunday in a 27-17 win over the Arizona Cardinals. It was an important win to build momentum, and more important to keep pace in the NFC North.

The Vikings and Packers both sit at 3-2-1, while the Bears are at 3-2. Six games in, and the division is still very much for the taking with the Vikings having not yet played the Bears or the Lions. Here are four takeaways from Sunday’s win, the Vikings’ second straight.

(credit: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Run Game Takes Off With Latavius Murray

Through five games, the Vikings had largely struggled to run the ball. The offensive line hasn’t consistently opened up running lanes, and Dalvin Cook has been sidelined with a nagging hamstring injury. It’s forced quarterback Kirk Cousins to shoulder much of the load for Minnesota’s offense.

That changed Sunday, when Latavius Murray emerged for 155 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Murray finished with 6.45 yards per carry, by far the best average for any Vikings running back this season. Cook was expected to play, but the hamstring didn’t feel right during warm-ups and he was inactive. The Vikings ran for nearly 200 yards as a team, which could open up things even more offensively for Cousins if they can do it more consistently.

They’ll have chances against the Jets, who allow on average more than 108 yards rushing per game.

(credit: Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

No Slow Start Against Cardinals

Let the Buffalo Bills game be a lesson: Don’t expect the Vikings to have too many more slow, sluggish starts, especially on their home turf. The Vikings inexplicably got down big early against the Bills in a game where they were favored by more than two touchdowns. They didn’t let it happen again Sunday.

It was closer than it should have been at the half, with the Vikings up 13-10. But the Vikings out-scored the Cardinals 14-0 in the third quarter to make the final 15 minutes largely boring. There’s too much parity in the NFL and too many things can change weekly for one team to take another lightly, regardless of what point spreads say. The Vikings looked focused early in all phases, and it should continue the rest of the season.

gettyimages 1052134484 4 Takeaways: Vikings Beat Cardinals, 27 17

(credit: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Adam Thielen Among Top NFL Receivers?

Adam Thielen is no longer a feel-good story about an undrafted Division II star making an NFL roster. He’s legitimately inserted himself as one of the top receivers in the NFL. The numbers don’t lie. Thielen finished Sunday with 11 catches for 123 yards and a touchdown. That’s six straight games to start the season with at least 100 receiving yards.

Thielen is on pace to record more than 1,800 receiving yards. He currently leads the NFL with 58 catches, is first in yards (718) and tied for ninth with four touchdowns. He’s fast, runs crisp routes and rarely drops the ball when it’s in his area. He’s one of the most talented and consistent receivers in the NFL.

A big pay day could be coming his way, but will it be with the Vikings? They’ve already paid Stefon Diggs big money, but will the Vikings do what they can to keep the NFL’s best receiving corps in tact? For now, just enjoy every play Thielen makes. It’s a thing of beauty.

gettyimages 1052140626 4 Takeaways: Vikings Beat Cardinals, 27 17

(credit: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Defense Slows Josh Rosen

For the second straight week, fans saw a Vikings defense get back to the way it’s capable of playing. The Vikings slowed Carson Wentz two weeks ago in a 23-21 victory. Sunday, they faced highly-touted rookie Josh Rosen. He finished with 240 yards, but threw an interception to Anthony Harris.

Danielle Hunter collected two sacks, and has at least one sack in every game this season. Harrison Smith got his third sack of the season, Mackensie Alexander got his first sack, Anthony Barr got a forced fumble and Tom Johnson got his first fumble recovery.

The defensive unit seems to have stabilized after a few shaky games, now allowing 20.3 points per game and nearly 360 total yards. They’ll get tested again next week, traveling to face another rookie quarterback when they take on Sam Darnold and the New York Jets.

Source:: CBS Minnesota

Why Thielen and Diggs’ draft status still matters (and Marshawn stories) (ep. 389)

By Matthew Coller

Matthew Coller and former NFL wide receiver Donald Jones get together again to talk about Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs’ rise to stardom. Why are undrafted players driven differently than guys who were drafted? How does Thielen succeed in the slot? Plus Donald played with Marshawn Lynch and he explains why Marshawn was a great leader.

The post Why Thielen and Diggs’ draft status still matters (and Marshawn stories) (ep. 389) appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

Vikings Place Mike Hughes On Injured Reserve

By Vikings – WCCO | CBS Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Minnesota Vikings rookie defensive back Mike Hughes was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday, ending his first NFL season just six games in.

Hughes suffered a knee injury during Sunday’s 27-17 win over the Arizona Cardinals. Mike Zimmer said Monday an MRI confirmed the worst, a torn ACL. Hughes had 19 tackles on the season and returned an interception for a touchdown in the season-opening win over the San Francisco 49ers.

The Vikings took Hughes with their 2018 first round draft choice.

The Vikings announced Tuesday they’ve signed defensive tackle David Parry, signed Craig James to the practice squad and released cornerback Jalen Myrick from the practice squad.

Source:: CBS Minnesota

The subtle effectiveness of the Vikings’ tight ends

By Matthew Coller

If you drafted Kyle Rudolph on your fantasy team because you were expecting him to put up Zach Ertz-like numbers under offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, you are probably disappointed so far.

There are currently 11 tight ends with more receiving yards and Ertz has 21 more receptions than Rudolph. But if you aren’t focused on fantasy, it’s apparent that DeFilippo’s usage of the Minnesota Vikings’ tight ends has been one of the driving forces of success on offense. That was especially clear in the Vikings’ 27-17 win over the Arizona Cardinals.

Before we look at some of the plays in which the tight ends’ impact can only be seen with a closer look, it’s worth pointing out that Rudolph’s efficiency numbers have never been better than in the first six games of this season.

According to Pro Football Focus, Kirk Cousins is 27-for-30 with 8.6 yards per attempt and has a 125.8 quarterback rating when targeting Rudolph. He has a catch of at least 15 yards in every game except Week 1, in which his lone catch was a touchdown, and on third down he has caught eight passes on nine targets and gained six first downs. Rudolph is 5-for-5 on third or fourth down with fewer than three yards to go.

The Pro Bowl tight end has also cleverly been used as a blocker. In the past he has been criticized for his run blocking, but the way in which DeFilippo has used him in mismatches has helped the Vikings spring key plays.

One common theme in Rudolph’s usage has been blocking on wide receiver screens. On Sunday he helped open a hole for Adam Thielen, who gained nine yards on first-and-15. Rudolph is matched up against a defensive back and takes care of business by flooring the smaller player.

Later in the game DeFilippo dialed up another clever blocking scheme using Rudolph, this time on a read option play for Cousins.

The right side of the Vikings’ offensive line double teams the defensive tackle and leaves the defensive end. When the D-end draws in, Cousins simply runs right past him. But the play doesn’t work if Rudolph can’t handle safety Antoine Bethea.

The Vikings’ tight end again uses his size advantage on the smaller defensive back and drives him into the end zone, allowing the quarterback to walk in for an easy seven.

On the receiving side, Rudolph has been well known as a red zone threat, producing 16 touchdowns over the past two seasons. On Sunday, DeFilippo used Rudolph as a red zone decoy on a Thielen touchdown.

The Cardinals rush four and have seven defenders in coverage. The linebackers and nickel corner play zone underneath, so the nickel does not carry Rudolph, leaving the safety in a bind when both Rudolph and Thielen run vertical routes. He can either help the linebacker with Thielen or cover Rudolph — either way is advantageous for the Vikings. (Also notice also that both outside receivers run quick hitches, leaving more space for Rudolph to operate).

So even though Rudolph did not end up with a touchdown catch, his role on this play was vital.

Tyler Conklin’s role was important as well. The No. 3 tight end is lined up at the top of the screen. Covering him is a defensive back, which indicates the Cards are going to play zone coverage. The play wouldn’t be as effective if the nickel was playing man coverage and following the Vikings’ starting tight end.

Rudolph ended the day with four catches for 37 yards — sorry fantasy owners –but one of the catches was a key third-down grab with under one minute remaining in the first half that ultimately led to a field goal.

Meanwhile No. 2 tight end David Morgan had a big impact as a blocker on Sunday.

Here are two explosive runs by Latavius Murray, both broken open in part by strong Morgan blocks:

On the first run, the Vikings are in a bunch formation with two tight ends and strong-blocking receiver Laquon Treadwell. Morgan hits the linebacker and drives him back, opening up a huge gap. On the second play, the Vikings’ backup tight end is asked to match up with the defensive end. He gets a little help from tackle Brian O’Neil, who then quickly works out to the cornerback and drives him all the way to the sideline as Murray is scampering for a huge gain. Morgan played 24 run snaps on Sunday, his highest total of the year.

With an offensive line that has given up a great deal of pressure on the quarterback, Morgan has also played a helpful role in protection, allowing just one pressure (per PFF) on 31 pass blocking snaps.

What we come away with is: DeFilippo might not be getting his tight ends the same types of numbers as Ertz had in Philadelphia or Gary Barnidge in Cleveland, but he’s using tight ends as chess pieces to set up other playmakers. And when Rudolph gets his number called, good things have happened.

The post The subtle effectiveness of the Vikings’ tight ends appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

Purple FTW! Podcast: Vikings Numbers & News feat. Darren Wolfson + Eric Eager (ep. 642)

By Andy Carlson

Darren “Doogie” Wolfson (@DWolfsonKSTP) of The Scoop Podcast swings in to chat about Minnesota Fightin’ Vikings injuries and a (not so?) surprising name that could be added to the roster to fill Mike Hughes’ spot. Plus Dr. Eric Eager (@PFF_Eric) of Pro Football Focus stops in to recap the Vikes’ grades versus the Arizona Cardinals and breakdown rookie offensive tackle Brian O’Neill.

All that and more “Free Brian O’Neill” chatter on this edition of the Purple FTW! Podcast!

A Carlson Digital Joint

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Listen to the Episode Below!

Dedicated to the Pain AND Pleasure that is the Minnesota Vikings.

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The post Purple FTW! Podcast: Vikings Numbers & News feat. Darren Wolfson + Eric Eager (ep. 642) appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

Sam Darnold followed Kirk Cousins FA process, “everything worked out for the best”

By Josh Alper Kirk Cousins will be playing quarterback at MetLife Stadium this weekend and that was something the Jets hoped would be the case when free agency got underway in March. The difference is that they hoped he’d be playing at least seven other games on the field as their starting quarterback. As captured in a documentary [more]

Source:: ProFootballTalk

Vikings place Mike Hughes on injured reserve

By Mike Florio One of the best cornerbacks in the 2018 draft and a guy who has proven to be valuable to the Minnesota defense is officially off the roster for the rest of his rookie season. The Vikings have placed Mike Hughes on injured reserve, two days after he tore an ACL against the Cardinals. The Vikings [more]

Source:: ProFootballTalk

Vikings bring back DT Parry, add James to practice squad

By Matthew Coller

The Minnesota Vikings announced Tuesday that they have signed defensive tackle David Parry, who played the first two games of the season with the Vikings prior to being released. The roster spot was created by defensive back Mike Hughes being placed on injured reserve.

The Vikings also signed Craig James, who had a strong preseason and camp with Minnesota, and released former Gopher Jalen Myrick.

Since Parry’s release, the Vikings had been playing without a true backup nose tackle to spell Linval Joseph. The move suggests that Jalyn Holmes may remain at defensive end going forward. Holmes was a defensive tackle in training camp and preseason but was forced to the edge because of an injury to Tashawn Bower and the absence of Everson Griffen.

The move could indicate the team will go forward with their current crop of corners rather than replacing Hughes by signing a veteran free agent.

The post Vikings bring back DT Parry, add James to practice squad appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

Which defenses do you currently trust?

By Mike Florio At a time when the NFL is generating record numbers on offense, it’s getting harder to find defenses to trust. So which defenses do you trust? That was the subject of Tuesday’s PFT Live draft, with Peter King joining the show. We eventually selected eight defenses worthy of trust, and it’s up to you to [more]

Source:: ProFootballTalk