Breaking down the tape from the Vikings' win over the Bills
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Here's the tale of the tape from the Minnesota Vikings' 38-14 win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, with grades on a scale of 0 to 5 in parentheses:
Brett Favre held the ball for 4.9 seconds on a designed sprint-out, never feeling JLB Reggie Torbor coming from the far side to deliver a day-ending bodyslam. The resulting pass wobbled into the arms of CB Drayton Florence for an interception, leaving Favre with his first 0.0 passer rating since Nov. 10, 1991, on top of his earliest exit ever. Tarvaris Jackson took over, gift-wrapped a pick-six for Florence on his fourth pass and then settled in -- going 8-for-8 for 104 yards, including scores from 31 and 6, while guiding four consecutive touchdown drives. WR Sidney Rice bailed him out several times but couldn't get to the post Jackson heaved off his back foot into double coverage. SS Donte Whitner caught that one and CB Leodis McKelvin dived for Jackson's third interception on a ball high and behind WR Greg Camarillo, who also was the target on the first pick when Jackson misread the zone. Jackson also set up Buffalo's only sack by checking to an empty backfield. He had scrambles of 13 and 9. He made several difficult throws, none better than an off-balance throwback to Camarillo for 20 on a drag. Most important, Jackson came in cold and played well enough to help the Vikings stake a 24-point halftime lead. His completion percentage (68.2%) and per-attempt average (8.50) were solid. He made some maddening mistakes, too, but what else is new? Rookie Joe Webb lasted one snap in a multi-positional role before his NFL debut ended with an injured hamstring on the punt-return team.
Running backs (4)
Maybe HB Adrian Peterson (30 snaps) needs to sprain an ankle every week. Despite limited practice time and an unconvincing pregame workout, Peterson was at his powerful best -- gaining 45 of his 107 yards (42.1%) after contact, humiliating poor MLB Akin Ayodele on 2- and 3-yard touchdown runs and outracing FS Jairus Byrd to the pylon on a cutback 43-yard score. Peterson got hit 5 yards deep in the backfield and went 7 yards for a first down anyway. He stiff-armed talented NT Kyle Williams in the hole and burst for 13. How did interim coach Leslie Frazier almost deactivate him? Handing the reins to Albert Young (11) after the long run was the right move. Young doesn't have any burst, but his reads usually are sound, and his 2.7-yard average on 10 carries mostly was a product of Buffalo winning up front. Rookie Toby Gerhart (24) probably would have gotten those reps if he hadn't strained a hamstring. He cut back a zone-left play for 13 against a slot blitz and averaged 4.5 yards on 12 carries. A drop in the flat came on an iffy pass by Jackson and a good hit by Ayodele. The Vikings favored extra-tight end sets over lead plays with FB Naufahu Tahi (13), whose blocking was OK in limited opportunities.
Imagine how the Vikings season might have been different if they'd had this Rice (59 snaps) all along. He elevated over McKelvin for a 46-yard gain on a go. He pulled a high-wire act against McKelvin and Whitner for a 31-yard touchdown. He lost Florence on an in-and-out cut before diving for a 6-yard score. Percy Harvin can make a lot of plays, but no one goes up and gets the football in traffic like Rice -- nor do any of the Vikings' receivers have Rice's combination of size, speed and detail in route running. He played extensively in twins and stacked sets with Bernard Berrian (58), who is back to flailing his arms and begging for flags. He drew a big one at the goal line against McKelvin and probably could have been called for two, including one on a blatant pick play. One catch for 14 yards? If the groin is OK, Berrian's probably just finished. Once Webb was sidelined, the Vikings had to go the rest of the way with only Rice, Berrian and Camarillo (36), who probably could have run a sharper route on the first interception. The design was nifty on the swing pass Camarillo took for 7 in the red zone -- a play that probably was put in the game plan for Webb.
Tight ends (3)
Jimmy Kleinsasser (38) is just so steady, it's easy to forget he almost never touches the ball this often. His three catches -- for 6, 12 and 7 yards, all in the right flat -- were a personal high since he had four on Dec. 4, 2005. Kleinsasser also went one-on-one against a linebacker a half-dozen times in pass protection without allowing a QB pressure. Line slides are a whole lot more effective with a guy like that. Visanthe Shiancoe (42) took a dump-off for 15 but mostly was invisible in the passing game, finishing with two catches for 17 yards. Why can't coaches scheme more ways to get him involved? He's better in pattern than inline, where he struggled to get movement against SLB Chris Kelsay in the run game and picked up another false start. Jeff Dugan (13) gave up a pressure to Kelsay.
Offensive linemen (2½)
LG Chris DeGeare got an education in his first NFL start. Williams held his ground against the rookie over and over in the run game, contributing to three runs for loss or no gain. Several other runs were in trouble before the back bailed DeGeare out. Given the chance to climb to linebackers, DeGeare failed several times to stick his blocks. His pulls and kickouts were slow, he had a false start and he gave up two QB pressures. Even with one hand, Steve Hutchinson can't be much worse than this. DeGeare has the size and ability -- he's just not ready. The Bills lack the ammo to challenge RT Phil Loadholt and LT Bryant McKinnie in protection. Moats fooled McKinnie once with an outside rush, but that was it. Neither pressure against Loadholt came on a dropback. Tough to fault McKinnie on the shot that knocked out Favre -- everyone can finish better, but he did his job by steering Moats wide. Loadholt was better in the run game. Williams gave C John Sullivan some trouble, too -- Williams and WLB Paul Posluszny are the only guys in Buffalo's front seven who can play -- but Sullivan's combo blocks with RG Ryan Cook were tight again. It's a little curious 17 of 25 zone runs (68%) went to the left. Only Cook allowed a QB hit; linebackers accounted for the other three. The Bills sent an extra rusher only five times in 22 dropback pass plays (22.7%) -- no surprise, considering how the Vikings kept busting them with the run.
Defensive linemen (4)
The Bills chipped or kept in blockers on 15 of 24 dropbacks (62.5%) and still couldn't stop the Vikings from embarrassing their overmatched offensive line. RE Jared Allen (43 snaps) pressured QB Ryan Fitzpatrick five times and hit him three in 2.3, 2.3 and 2.2 seconds -- the last an impressive strip-sack as LT Demetrius Bell steered him wide. LE Brian Robison (44) had three pressures, including hits in 2.3 and 2.4 seconds, on the other side against RT Mansfield Wrotto, with one leading to an interception. UT Kevin Williams (36) bulled LG Andy Levitre to the ground for another hit in 2.2 seconds, and rookie DE Everson Griffen (14) added a hit in 2.1 and one more pressure. That's 11 pressures and seven lightning-strike hits from the line alone on a day Fitzpatrick threw 25 passes (44%) and the Vikings sent an extra rusher only five times in 24 dropbacks (20.8%). The Bills did get explosive runs of 12 and 20 yards, but both of those came on seal-the-edge sweeps. Toss those out, and HBs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller averaged 2.8 yards on 16 carries. Allen had a tackle for loss. Williams had two and beat backup RG Cordaro Howard so badly on a draw play Fitzpatrick couldn't even make the handoff. Robison recovered two fumbles. The Vikings didn't really even need NT Pat Williams (17) or DT Letroy Guion (20), with the Bills running only 49 plays.
WLB Ben Leber (18 snaps) had his most productive day despite limited action as the Vikings played only eight snaps of base defense (16.3%). He held his ground in the run game, played catch-up to strip butterfingered FB Corey McIntyre and did well to locate and fall on the ball after a botched center-quarterback exchange in goal line. Leber took eight snaps in the regular nickel defense off MLB E.J. Henderson (34), who got pressure through Jackson on an inside zone blitz, dropped Spiller for a 3-yard loss on a pass play and finished with five solo tackles. SLB Chad Greenway (43) showed great patience to stave off Levitre and stop Jackson off a screen on third-and-8. This wasn't Greenway's best day against the run; he and Henderson both probably could have fit better against the sweeps that got out. OLB Erin Henderson (six) and MLB Jasper Brinkley (six) played the final two series under far difference circumstances than their clean-up duty two weeks earlier against Green Bay.
Defensive backs (3)
CB Antoine Winfield (43 snaps) nearly went the distance after Robison's hit handed him an easy interception. He also hit Fitzpatrick on a third-down slot blitz, recovered a fumble that was overturned upon review and was a menace as usual on the edge of the run game. Fitzpatrick went after CB Asher Allen (49) four times on third downs -- two completions for 31 yards, another on-target ball WR Stevie Johnson dropped and a late go affected by another Robison hit. Allen will keep getting that type of action until he shows he can get more stops. Don't hold your breath. CBs Frank Walker (28) got more nickel work than Lito Sheppard (19); both held up OK, though Sheppard maybe could have closed on WR Lee Evans' grab for 23 against zone coverage. SS Tyrell Johnson (three) started in place of FS Madieu Williams (46), who always seems late to the party in combination coverage. The Bills' lone offensive touchdown went uncontested to WR David Nelson on a post in Williams' area, and smacking Evans couldn't bail out Allen's mistimed jump at the sideline. SS Husain Abdullah (49) kept Nelson out of the end zone on a stick route for one of his team-high seven tackles (five solo).
Spiller returned one of P Chris Kluwe's four boots (43.8 gross, 35.8 net, 4.75 hang) for 14 yards. The others left the Bills starting at their 13, 10 and 17, respectively -- including a 55-yard bomb that hung 5.1 seconds and took a bad hop into the end zone, only to be offset by Bills RB Quinton Ganther's unnecessary cheap shot on Kluwe behind the play. Griffen was flagged for being ineligibly downfield on the last punt. Kickoff coverage was excellent, thanks in part to PK Ryan Longwell's consistent hang time (3.78 average) and placement. Tyrell Johnson made the play of the day by powering back TE Jonathan Stupar into McKelvin, who coughed up the fumble Walker recovered. It's a shame Johnson hurt his knee on the play. Webb gained 30 yards on the opening kickoff and could have had a lot more if he'd followed Tahi to the outside. Young returned another for 25. Harvin's job is safe. Camarillo isn't a home-run threat, but he's smart and sure-handed. The Vikings can take that trade-off as long as it comes with the occasional 17-yarder.