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Bleacher Report – Vikings

All-22: Where did the Vikings passing game go?

By Matthew Coller

Stats don’t always tell the story, but when it comes to the Minnesota Vikings’ passing game, ESPN’s QBR statistic tells pretty accurately how he his performances have fallen the last two weeks.

That is Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford’s QBR in his first six starts as a Viking. He got off to a pretty decent start, had some ups and downs, then took off against the New York Giants and Houston Texans and has collapsed in the last two weeks in losses to the Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears.

Last week, it was easy to shrug off some of the problems as a tough road game against a really good opponent, but the struggles to move the ball through the air against the Bears were particularly worrisome because Chicago came into the game with just one win and with mediocre defensive performances in most of their six losses.

So how were the Bears able to slow down Bradford again? Well, we talked about the blueprint to stopping him and whether the Eagles had found the secret sauce. The answer is yes and no. The Eagles used a lot of unique looks up front and blitzes to confuse the Vikings’ offensive line. Chicago did not do that. They came with four and played lots of zone coverage. Their four-man rush was able to consistently beat the Vikings’ blocking scheme and the zones took away the middle of the field.

With TJ Clemmings being ranked Pro Football Focus’s worst tackle and Jake Long struggling against the Eagles, part of the plan seemed to be to give the tackles some help, even when there wasn’t a blitz. That’s robbing Peter to pay Paul, basically. When more blockers are required, there are fewer receivers down field. On this play early in the game, you can count seven blockers for the Vikings and just four rushers for Chicago.

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Against the Eagles, one of the main criticisms of the Vikings’ offense is that they went to seven-step drops with slow-developing routes either down the field or into intermediate areas. Well, not much changed against Chicago.

Each of these three examples are from the first half…

Here on third and long, the Bears play deep zone and Bradford only has one underneath option and the running back starting to sneak out of the backfield after initially staying in to block.

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The Vikings nearly hit one deep ball to Stefon Diggs, but more often than not the Bears kept receivers in front of them with safeties over the top. This is a first down play where Minnesota was looking down field and again. There was nowhere to check down when pressure came.

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On this first down play, Bradford takes a sack because all of his receivers are tightly covered. Notice that only one of the routes went less than 10 yards

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Not all the plays required deep routes. There was this successful screen to Cordarrelle Patterson – a play Vikings fans probably wanted to see more often on Monday night.

But if you think that short passes and short passes alone are the quick fix, then you’ll see here that the answer isn’t that simple. One thing that the Eagles knew about Bradford that other teams may be picking up is that, even when he has time, the Vikings’ quarterback will stick to his first read and will either throw it to that read or take a sack/throw it away.

It appears that was the case on this play. Patterson is running a screen on the other side of the field, which may have made it difficult for Bradford to find someone else, but this was one of the rare plays in which he had lots of time. Instead of moving in the pocket to improvise like an Aaron Rodgers or Cam Newton or Ben Roethlisberger might do, he throws the ball toward a receiver that wasn’t all that open.

While the Vikings’ problems run deeper than just the offensive line, it all starts there. You can understand why Bradford would be locked onto his first reads – because he wouldn’t ever think he’d have time to get to a second or third option. Plays like this have to be destroying his confidence.

The Vikings don’t have a running game to even give opponents the slightest thought of bringing more guys up to the line of scrimmage. When Jerick McKinnon or Adrian Peterson are in the game, there is at least the threat of them breaking off a big run, but Asiata’s biggest run against the Bears was seven yards.

Since Minnesota did not add a tackle at the trade deadline, they will have to find a way to cover up for the offensive line. That way is certainly not deep, slow-developing routes.

The post All-22: Where did the Vikings passing game go? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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