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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Zulgad: No surprise: Vikings go on the defensive to earn victory in season opener

By Judd Zulgad

Blair Walsh missed two field-goal attempts and an extra point. Adrian Peterson averaged 1.6 yards per carry on 19 rushing attempts. The Vikings’ offense, led by journeyman backup Shaun Hill, stalled out in all three of its trips into the red zone.

Yet the Vikings left Nissan Stadium on Sunday with a season-opening 25-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans because Mike Zimmer’s defense did exactly what it is going to have to do on a near weekly basis if the Vikings are going to live up to expectations.

After trailing 10-0 at halftime, the Vikings defense accounted for both of the team’s touchdowns and Walsh connected on field goals of 50, 33, 45 and 30 yards as Minnesota rallied in the second half and opened with a win for the second time in Zimmer’s three seasons as coach.

The Titans finished with three turnovers, all in the second half, while the Vikings had none. The Vikings did this playing without cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who was replaced by Trae Waynes after Rhodes, already nursing a hamstring issue, felt something pop in his knee in pregame warm-ups.

“If we don’t turn the ball over and you get turnovers on defense you typically win,” Zimmer said. “So for us to get three and not turn the ball over I think that gives you a great opportunity to win. But our guys probably should have had four, we had a bad penalty at the end of the ballgame, but our guys keep battling and they keep going and I think they are starting to feel comfortable in the things that we are doing defensively.”

Zimmer was referring to a roughing the passer penalty late in the game that was called on defensive end Everson Griffen and erased what would have been an interception by safety Harrison Smith. The penalty on Griffen ended up costing the Vikings a touchdown because four plays later quarterback Marcus Mariota found DeMarco Murray on a 4-yard scoring pass with 28 seconds remaining.

While Zimmer wasn’t pleased with the frustration penalty on Griffen, he had to be happy with the pressure Griffen put on Mariota that led to a third-quarter interception by middle linebacker Eric Kendricks. Mariota made a terrible decision to throw the ball and Kendricks, who did not play in the preseason because of a hamstring injury, pounced before racing 77 yards for a touchdown to give the Vikings their first lead of the afternoon.

“On that particular play, we had good pressure,” Zimmer said. “I thought Erik made a great play, he had a good week of practice this week, intercepted a lot of balls, so I was hopeful that would carry over to the game.”

Early in the fourth quarter, defensive end Danielle Hunter recovered a fumble after a bad exchange between Mariota and Murray. The first thought was that Hunter should have fallen on the ball to make sure he made the recovery, but instead Hunter picked it up and went 24 yards for the touchdown.

The Titans’ offense attempted to cause problems for the Vikings in the first half by getting creative – Tennessee ran the Statue of Liberty and a fake fumbled snap – but any zip the Titans had in their step was taken away in the second half. Mariota threw for 146 yards in the opening half and 125 in the second.

“They had us off balance. They were doing a lot of shifting, motioning, line up here and run guys in and run guys out,” Zimmer said. “You prepare for it but it’s unnerving a little bit. But the good thing is I probably settled down a little bit on defense and some of the calls I made and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to play our normal stuff and we’re going to go.’ They were excited, I was excited, we’re all going to try and have great calls and all that stuff. It was more about, ‘Hey, let’s do what we do and let’s go play.’ That’s kind of what we did in the second half.”

And that is what the Vikings defense is going to have to do all season if this team is going to fulfill the expectations of many.

The post Zulgad: No surprise: Vikings go on the defensive to earn victory in season opener appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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