Breaking down the tape from the Vikings' loss to the Lions
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Here's the tale of the tape from the Minnesota Vikings' 20-13 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday, with grades on a scale of 0 to 5 in parentheses:
In his second NFL start, Joe Webb crashed back to earth. The rookie completed 62.5% of his passes for 148 yards -- 64 of them (43.2%) in the final 6 minutes, when the Lions went to a soft zone and surrendered the middle. Two of Webb's 20 completions (10%) yielded "explosive" gains (16 yards or more), one of them among only two completions that traveled more than 8 yards beyond the line in the air. Webb failed to set his feet and airmailed HB Lorenzo Booker running open to the end zone. He failed to take off running on third-and-8 and served up an interception for CB Amari Spievey. He failed to get the Vikings out of multiple bad calls against run blitzes, resulting in big losses. Lions DC Gunther Cunningham didn't even bother to send pressure (four in 37 dropbacks, 10.8%) in many obvious passing situations, figuring it'd be hard enough for Webb to sort out seven- and eight-man coverages with a short-handed receiver corps. The one time Cunningham was himself and sent empty pressure on third-and-10, Webb stayed calm and hit WR Percy Harvin for 11. The sack total (three) could have been even higher if Webb weren't so strong and elusive in the pocket. A fourth sack and strip were wiped out by penalty. No doubt, Webb has natural ability, but even an offseason's worth of reps seem unlikely to be enough to get him ready to compete for the full-time starting job.
Running backs (1½)
There wasn't much breathing room against Detroit's talented line, but HB Adrian Peterson (35 snaps) didn't seem to see the few holes that were there either. He ran up Harvin's back on his first carry for 10 yards -- his longest of the day. He ran into traffic instead of following FB Naufahu Tahi (11) on a counter for no gain. He appeared to have a cutback lane on an inside-zone play and instead let RE Turk McBride close the backside. Peterson also was a step late in protection, gave up hit to Spievey and got lit up by OLB Ashlee Palmer for an 8-yard loss on an off-target swing pass. Even with a banged up knee, Peterson always keeps his legs moving. He fought for a couple of first downs and gained 16 of his 31 yards (2.2 average on 14 carries) after contact. HB Toby Gerhart (19) bailed out Tahi once by avoiding MLB Vinny Ciurciu in the backfield and managed 12 yards on three carries (4.0 average), all in a row. Booker (eight) couldn't catch up to Webb's bad throw, caught the only other ball thrown his way for 6 and showed great awareness chipping two Lions on one dropback. Maybe the Vikings have found their third-down back. Tahi had way too much trouble with Ciurciu. The Vikings were better off with TE Jimmy Kleinsasser motioning back there.
On a day so much went wrong, Percy Harvin (46 snaps) did everything right -- until Webb's third-and-5 slant bounced off his chest in the fourth quarter. Three other third-down passes came Harvin's way and he converted two, including a stick route he willed into a 20-yard gain by busting four tackles. He finished with eight catches -- six more than anyone else -- for 72 yards (9.0 average). OC Darrell Bevell called that motioned end-around one time too many and Harvin lost 5. Bernard Berrian (53) caught two passes for 11 yards on the opening drive, ran a lousy route on a third-down throw that missed and wasn't heard from again. A sore quadriceps might have been bugging him, but Berrian pulled this all season. Greg Lewis (33) backed up one drive with a false start, tried to release deep instead of coming back on the interception and was on a different page again as a checkdown sailed wide. Getting drilled during the lateral clownery might have been the last act of Lewis' career. Greg Camarillo (13) caught the only ball thrown his way for 13 yards. Hank Baskett (one) is a goner.
Tight ends (2)
Visanthe Shiancoe played 40 snaps, went out in pattern 28 times (70%) and only had three balls thrown his way. Palmer chopped one out his hands; the other two were good for 14 yards in garbage time. Why Shiancoe couldn't get more touches remains of the season's great schematic mysteries. Kleinsasser (30) got a lot more work the season's last two weeks, probably because of Shiancoe's blocking struggles. He acquitted himself well as usual in the run game and protection, and his 20-yard catch off a bootleg matched a season-long. Jeff Dugan (11) might have picked the wrong man on the end-around that lost 5, but he was stuck in a rough spot. Overall, he was mediocre.
Offensive linemen (1½)
Considering this group got help from chips or extra blockers nearly five times as often (19 in 37 dropbacks, 51.4%) as Detroit blitzed, allowing three sacks, three additional hits and 16 total QB pressures had to be disheartening. The lasting image is RG Ryan Cook's arms flailing as rookie DT Ndamukong Suh knocks him backward, forcing Webb to run for cover before tossing up the pick. But there were problems all over the line, and Webb's willingness to hold the ball all day only exacerbated them. Cook allowed five pressures, mostly on bull rushes, and struggled consistently when asked to single-block in the run game. LE Cliff Avril got three pressures against LT Bryant McKinnie, who appeared particularly slow-footed and had a hand in two runs for loss and no gain. RT Phil Loadholt gave up five pressures, including the nullified strip-sack and a late speed rush by Avril that set up a hustle sack for Suh. C John Sullivan only gave up one pressure against DT Sammie Hill, but he had his hands full all day against DT Corey Williams and sculled another shotgun snap. LG Chris DeGeare was pleasantly invisible again, continuing to make strides and show more power in his fifth start. He still isn't climbing to the second level, though -- missing Avril scuttled an inside screen to Kleinsasser on third-and-9.
Defensive linemen (3)
If not for a stirring pick-six by RE Jared Allen (65 snaps), the Vikings may well have stumbled to a shutout. That's how lifeless they appeared on both sides of the ball until midway through the third quarter, when Allen backed off his rush against Lions LT Jeff Backus, played QB Shaun Hill's eyes and ended up sprinting 36 yards for the Vikings' lone touchdown. Allen otherwise was pedestrian -- splitting a gift sack with LE Ray Edwards (61) when C Dominic Raiola goofed the snap count and finishing with four total pressures against Backus. He also overpursued on an end-around WR Nate Burleson took for 20 and got driven back by TE Brandon Pettigrew on HB Maurice Morris' 5-yard touchdown run. Edwards had five pressures, got in on seven tackles (four solo) and busted his hump all day. He can smell a payday coming. UT Kevin Williams (64) only got near Hill once and ended up with a 15-yard penalty for a late hit. He also broke up one pass and was credited with three solo tackles, active as usual in the run game. NT Pat Williams (35) got turned around a bunch of times while fighting Raiola to a draw. DT Letroy Guion (19) jumped offside early, beat RT Corey Hilliard to drop Morris for no gain and pressured Hill twice. He deserves a shot to start next season. DL Brian Robison (13) had Hill dead to rights on third-and-3, slowed up for no apparent reason and let a floater get to TE Tony Scheffler for 16. DT Fred Evans (12) made a nifty play off LG Rob Sims' block for his only tackle. DE Everson Griffen (two) couldn't turn his midseason surge into more playing time.
DC Fred Pagac scaled back his zone-blitzing attack but still tried to manufacture plenty of pressure, sending an extra rusher on 17 of Hill's 37 dropbacks (45.9%). Six of the blitzes (35.3%) got home -- including three by WLB Ben Leber (38 snaps), who hit Hill twice, narrowly missed him on another rush and saved a touchdown by stripping Scheffler at the goal line early. If that was it, Leber went out on a high note. SLB Chad Greenway (68) beat Raiola for two pressures, got in on eight tackles (four solo) and thwarted two screens to HB Jahvid Best by avoiding Raiola out front. Hill was 4-of-7 throwing into Greenway's coverage for 29 yards. The Lions' respectable 4.0-yard average on 27 rushes was weighted by end-arounds and scrambles -- Morris and Best combined for only 55 yards on 22 carries (2.5 average). MLB E.J. Henderson (68) blitzed eight times, never got home and was credited with only five tackles (two solo). He didn't appear to have his usual juice, but it's a miracle he was playing his 16th straight game since last year's injury at all.
Defensive backs (1)
Even with Pro Bowl WR Calvin Johnson standing on the sideline, Hill (28-of-39, 258 yards, 87.3 rating) destroyed a depleted Vikings secondary featuring CB Frank Walker at right cornerback and Lito Sheppard (31 snaps) playing nickel. Walker was targeted eight times, allowed five completions for 91 yards -- including explosive gains of 18, 33 and 23 -- and was flagged for a bogus pass-interference call that probably should have gone on Burleson instead. Sheppard gave up three completions in five attempts for 23 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown on a fade to Burleson. And Walker and Sheppard each three missed tackles on a day the secondary alone blew 10 -- a fatal flaw in a Cover-2 defense that mandates sure tackling on the edges. Eight of those 10 missed tackles (80%) resulted in first downs. Even CB Antoine Winfield had one. He blitzed four times and appeared reluctant to lay into Hill on his only pressure. Call it the ghost of Jay Cutler's chin. The zone blitz that was so effective against Philadelphia with Winfield rushing from the slot wasn't used once. He and S Husain Abdullah tied for the lead with nine tackles. Abdullah missed two, got home on one of two blitzes and spent more time than usual in the box. That left S Jamarca Sanford in several single-high situations and he held up OK. Getting dragged past the sticks by Pettigrew wasn't a proud moment, though. Sanford probably could have gotten more depth to help Sheppard on the touchdown, too.
PK Ryan Longwell's 48-yard field goal had plenty of distance, so what was the hang-up with trying the 51-yarder? His onside kick got the hop it needed -- Griffen and LB Jasper Brinkley just couldn't get a piece of Burleson to free Camarillo for the recovery. His other kickoffs were the usual fare with 3.8-range hang and the coverage units did well to hold Stefan Logan to a 19-yard average. Griffen had two jarring tackles. Longwell added a 27-yard field goal to finish above 90% (17-of-18) for a second straight season. P Chris Kluwe limited Logan to returns of 10 and 6 yards with help from Sanford, who downed two punts on the fly at the Lions' 5- and 6-yard lines, respectively. He always seems to be the first down the field. On five punts, Kluwe grossed 43.0, netted 39.8, averaged 4.3 seconds of hang time and saved a rare one-hopper from LS Cullen Loeffler. Camarillo averaged 3.0 yards on three punt returns. Booker's 49-yard kickoff return was another sign he deserves a longer look in that phase, too.