Breaking down the tape from Sunday's loss to the Chargers
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Here's the tale of the tape from the Minnesota Vikings' 24-17 loss to the San Diego Chargers, with grades on a scale of 0 to 5 in parentheses:
Keeping Donovan McNabb (43 snaps) in the pocket sent the veteran's movement-based game into the tank. McNabb's first pass was a one-step option on a designed run play DE Shaun Phillips read all the way and intercepted. His second pass was a checkdown to HB Adrian Peterson that gained 4 yards on third-and-9 -- one of nine third-down snaps the Vikings needed 5 yards or more to convert. That allowed the Chargers to shut off the bootlegs McNabb loves, pin back their ears and rack up 13 QB pressures, including two sacks, on a night he threw only 15 passes. McNabb did complete a couple of third-down throws and a 3-yard touchdown to WR Michael Jenkins with 9 minutes, 50 seconds left in the second quarter. But the Chargers shut off that valve and McNabb was 1-of-7 passing for 2 yards the rest of the way, throwing low on several timing patterns to the perimeter and coming up short on his lone deep ball. A broken play and a sack were a fitting finish on the offense's last two snaps. One 23-yard scramble notwithstanding, preseason signs that McNabb had something in the tank at age 34 look like red herrings, at least for now. The debut of the "Blazer" package with No. 3 QB Joe Webb (two) in the shotgun and McNabb split wide was a flop, too.
Running backs (3½)
The Chargers played SS Bob Sanders about 8 yards off the line on the strong side nearly every first and second down and still couldn't stop HB Adrian Peterson (35 snaps) from posting a 6.1 average on 16 carries -- none more impressive than the 46-yard burst on which he juked Sanders in the hole and ripped free from FS Eric Widdle's ankle tackle. If there's a nit to pick, it's Peterson's decision-making on a couple of runs in the second half, when he rushed seven times for only 24 yards (3.5 average) and appeared to cut away from daylight a couple of times. Then again, it's hard to fault Peterson for trying to make too much happen with the way the offense was going. There's not much work to go around for HB Toby Gerhart (four snaps) and HB Lorenzo Booker when WR Percy Harvin is taking so many third-down snaps in the backfield.
New year, same old Bernard Berrian (32 snaps). He did hustle to make a block on Peterson's long run and had a step on CB Antoine Cason in the fourth quarter when McNabb's pass on the "go" route came up short. But Berrian didn't put up much of a fight for the deep ball, nor the comeback throw McNabb missed on third-and-6 earlier. Is one shot pass a game justification to let him take up so many snaps? Harvin (27) played five snaps in the backfield, ran four times for 15 yards, caught two passes for 7 and let Cason get over his shoulder to break up an early third-down throw. Manufactured touches are a must with Harvin, but surely he can threaten downfield more than this. Jenkins (29) seemed to have rhythm with McNabb early, shook veteran ILB Takeo Spikes for the touchdown and never saw the ball come his way again. He was mismatched several times in blocking assignments against linebackers out of the Vikings' bunch running sets. Devin Aromashodu (four) didn't factor.
Tight ends (1½)
Back from his latest hamstring injury, Visanthe Shiancoe (39 snaps) never got started. The Chargers' linebackers weren't giving up the short middle, leaving Shiancoe to dive in vein after one low McNabb pass on an out-breaking route and set a bunch of thin blocks in the running game. The Vikings used at least two tight ends on 33 of 43 snaps (76.7%), yet the only other target credited to one was a throwaway in the direction of rookie Kyle Rudolph (21), who remains a liability in the blocking phase. That puts a lot of pressure on Jimmy Kleinsasser (20) inline and in the backfield. Without a fullback on the roster, Kleinsasser played seven of eight "F" snaps, led the way on Peterson's long run and drew his usual single-blocking assignments against outside linebackers when the Vikings slid to a six-man line. Undrafted rookie Allen Reisner (two) didn't factor a day after being re-signed off the practice squad.
Offensive linemen (1)
Coaches knew the Chargers' talented 3-4 front would put pressure on their protection unit, and both tackles ran into trouble. LT Charlie Johnson allowed five QB pressures to three players, including OLB Antwan Barnes' sack to halt the final drive. RT Phil Loadholt took a false start and allowed three pressures, including the hit by Phillips that altered McNabb's deep underthrow for Berrian. And the Chargers generated all that heat despite rushing more than four only five times in 15 dropbacks (33.3%). Outside rushes closed the edges on McNabb, whose other sack was a product of DE Corey Liuget beating LG Steve Hutchinson off a counter move. Hutchinson's combo blocks with C John Sullivan generally were tight, but he had a hand in multiple runs for loss and stumbled on a failed third-and-6 draw to Harvin. Though Sullivan allowed two pressures and couldn't finish DT Antonio Garay before he cleaned up a sack, that's not a bad day against a player of Garay's caliber. The Vikings' reluctance to pull their guards might have something to do with RG Anthony Herrera's mobility. He was painfully slow and almost appeared to be limping after he whiffed on an attempted cut of ILB Donald Butler. Tampa Bay and Detroit the next two weeks sounds like trouble. Big trouble.
Defensive linemen (3)
If LE Brian Robison (63 snaps) can rush the passer like this all season, no one will miss Ray Edwards. He got the initial pressure that set up a third-down sack in 2.7 seconds. His outside speed rush made Chargers QB Philip Rivers step up before overthrowing wide-open WR Vincent Jackson to the post. He hit Rivers' arm to cause an interception and finished with a team-high five pressures against RT Jeromey Clary, who couldn't handle Robison's speed rush all day. He still can get stronger at the point, though. San Diego chipped RE Jared Allen (69) a bunch and LT Marcus McNeill still gave up four pressures, including a piece of that sack with Robison. Allen's interception inside HB Ryan Mathews' wheel route was as fine a play as a 4-3 end can make on a zone drop. UT Letroy Guion (70) mostly was invisible before two offsides penalties ended his first NFL start with a long walk to the bench. NT Fred Evans (34) split time with starting NT Remi Ayodele (29), got doubled Evans out of his gap on Mathews' 21-yard run and took an encroachment penalty that sent San Diego into the victory formation. Ayodele doesn't penetrate like Pat Williams used to, but he can anchor from the zero-technique. Rookie DT Christian Ballard (23) played mostly as a nickel rusher and got one good lick on Rivers. DE Adrian Awasom (15) and DE Everson Griffen (10) didn't do much in relief.
If this was any indication, MLB E.J. Henderson (79 snaps) and SLB Chad Greenway (79) can expect more blitzing opportunities than ever before. In 52 dropbacks by Rivers, new DC Fred Pagac sent five or more rushers on 22 times (42.3%), including 14 zone pressures with a lineman dropping. Henderson and Greenway each got home once, and Greenway impacted the pocket a couple of other times by crashing into RB Mike Tolbert. The one costly miscue of Greenway's day was getting caught in traffic on Tolbert's 1-yard touchdown catch. He also missed two tackles and made eight solo stops, including two for loss. Henderson had only four (two solo) and lost sight of Tolbert on the deciding 19-yard touchdown. Rivers was content to throw to TE Antonio Gates (eight catches, 74 yards) underneath coverage over and over when they were tag-teaming the middle of the field, and slow reactions by the entire back seven contributed to big receiving days for Tolbert (nine catches, 58 yards, two TDs) and Mathews (three catches, 73 yards). WLB Erin Henderson (49) loosened up as the game went on, worked off a double team for his first career sack and got in on nine tackles (six solo).
Defensive backs (2)
What a strange day for CB Antoine Winfield (79 snaps), who caught the interception Robison caused, dropped another he shouldn't have caught anyway on fourth-and-20 and missed three tackles after missing only five all of last season. Winfield did get in on 10 tackles (seven solo), including several flying stops in space, and nearly saved the day by forcing a late fumble from FB Jacob Hester that bounced out of bounds. CB Cedric Griffin (79) showed no ill effects in his first game back from a second knee reconstruction. He batted down a fade to WR Malcom Floyd at the pylon, missed a tackle and took a borderline personal foul for riding Mathews into the Chargers sideline. Floyd got behind Winfield for a 16-yard gain but couldn't get anything going against No. 3 CB Chris Cook (30), who acquitted himself well in coverage when he moved his feet and stopped grabbing. Pass-interference and illegal-contact penalties were rookie mistakes. Getting knocked back by Tolbert at the sticks on third-and-8 was just embarrassing. FS Husain Abdullah (79) made six solo tackles, pressured Rivers twice on blitzes and did remarkably well one-on-one against Gates, deflecting one pass up the seam at the goal line. He's really coming into his own. SS Jamarca Sanford (56) won the starting job because he can tackle, but he missed two on the Chargers' momentum-shifting drive to open the second half. The imprint of Tolbert's helmet might still be on his chest. Where was SS Tyrell Johnson (23) going when Jackson blew by him to the post? He did have one impressive tackle in space.
The "bounce" return was a perfect call on the opening kickoff against a fast Chargers team susceptible to overpursuing. Harvin set his blocks with a hard step inside, broke LB Darryl Gamble's tackle and got a great block downfield from Cook on the 103-yard touchdown return. PK Nate Kaeding blew out a knee trying to make a tackle, too, and the Chargers did everything possible not to give Harvin or HB Lorenzo Booker another chance. CB Marcus Sherels weaved 15 yards on one of his two punt returns (8.5 average). He gets so small behind his blocks coverage players seem to have trouble locating him. PK Ryan Longwell put a 33-yard field goal down the middle, converted two extra points and kicked away only twice, putting one 5 yards deep with 4.0 seconds of hang time and the other 7 yards deep with 3.6 hang. The others were squibs and San Diego didn't have a return longer than 27 yards. P Chris Kluwe grossed 48.2 yards, netted 41.8 and averaged 4.35 seconds of hang time on six punts, including a 56-yarder and three inside the 20. S Eric Frampton had three special-teams tackles, Larry Dean and Cook two each.