Breaking down the tape from the Vikings' win over the Cardinals
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Here's the tale of the tape from the Minnesota Vikings' 27-24 overtime win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, with grades on a scale of 0 to 5 in parentheses:
This was Brett Favre at his finest, and the numbers -- 37 of 46 passing (80.4%) for a career-high 446 yards with two touchdowns, two interceptions and a 101.9 passing rating -- don't tell the full story. Five days after Randy Moss' release, Favre completed at least four passes to six different receivers. He hit on his last seven in a row for 11, 20, 15, 33, 15, 25, 22 yards on the way to 17 unanswered points. Time and again, he threaded pinpoint passes in between combination coverage, and he exploited the Cardinals' soft approach at the corners by completing three throws on designed run plays -- including the slant WR Bernard Berrian took for 22 on the final drive. Favre was bumped on his release of both interceptions, which falls on protection, not accuracy. He didn't have anyone open on fourth-and-goal when his end-line throw for TE Jeff Dugan was batted down. He played with passion and showed no clear signs of the fractured foot that continues to limit his practice work, even while getting sacked three times and hit six more. Halfway through another training camp-less season, Favre finally is rounding into form, and the Vikings can only hope this win has the same springboard effect as last year's rally to beat San Francisco.
Running backs (3)
On a day the Vikings ran 76 plays, HB Adrian Peterson (65 snaps) got only 15 carries, but he made the most of his touches. He powered through FS Kerry Rhodes' arm tackle on a 4-yard TD run late in regulation. He broke two arm tackles on his 30-yard burst to open the overtime series, raising his 5.4 per-carry average. He also took a swing pass for a 12-yard score, a check in the flat for 15 and a screen for 33. It all made up for Peterson's pitiful performance in protection -- including a failed cut of ROLB Joey Porter that yielded an OT sack, another QB hit and four total pressures. HB Toby Gerhart (10) misread a blitz, and his two chances for key conversions ended up a mess. The rookie got nowhere from an inside handoff on third-and-1 and fell flat on his face after catching a swing pass on second-and-4. The latter should have been at least a first down and maybe a touchdown. FB Naufahu Tahi (16) could have sorted better on the next play, but DE Calais Campbell got past to slow Peterson, and the Vikings settled for a field goal. Tahi otherwise led well.
Welcome back, Bernard Berrian (70 snaps). He doubled his season total by catching nine passes (for 89 yards, 9.9 average) without doing damage over the top -- and he looked at home running a steady diet of slants, crosses, drags, screens and one-step routes. Who knew a vertical receiver could be so effective with no receptions longer than 22 yards? Berrian's stick route that came up shy of the goal line could have been a little deeper. He worked predominantly from the "X" position while Percy Harvin (51) bounced between the "Z" and the slot, setting career highs in catches (nine) and receiving yards (126). If Harvin's sprained left ankle was bothering him, it didn't show as he made defenders miss on a swing he took for 28 yards, an in-cut for 25 and a bubble screen for 14. He probably could have leapt and had a better chance to get the post Rhodes broke up in the end zone. Greg Camarillo (39) set the tone early by chasing down Rhodes on the first interception, racing more than 60 yards across the field before chopping out the ball at the 3. Season highs of four catches for 66 yards -- including a skinny post for 31 over ILB Paris Lenon's shoulder -- and his extensive work in three-wide sets suggest coaches finally are giving him a chance to work ahead of Greg Lewis (21), who would have gotten even less time if Harvin hadn't dropped out temporarily with a bruised elbow. Ditto Hank Baskett (six). Lewis didn't help himself by getting knocked down by SS Adrian Wilson on the first interception. The whole group blocked well. Randy who?
Tight ends (3½)
Visanthe Shiancoe (54 snaps) didn't have a ball thrown his direction for more than 49 minutes. Then, Favre went his way five times down the stretch, completing four of them for 66 yards -- including the 25-yarder on a seam over Wilson that forced overtime with 27 seconds to go. Shiancoe might have drawn an illegal contact call on fourth-and-goal if he'd run through SS Hamza Adbullah instead of cutting his route short. Taking off on the wrong snap count to draw another false start is inexcusable. Jimmy Kleinsasser (34) had one, too. His blocking was solid as usual, and he had a chance against FS Rashad Johnson if Favre's second interception hadn't been affected by the hit. Dugan (13) let Campbell get inside on third-and-1 from the 3. There wasn't much he could do on the fourth-and-goal throw.
Offensive linemen (2)
The protection held up well enough down the stretch to win, but LT Bryant McKinnie's worst game of the season put the Vikings in a hole. He fell for Porter's hard step on second-and-goal -- the same move Seattle DE Chris Clemons used to beat McKinnie in the preseason -- and the resulting hit on Favre forced a costly turnover. McKinnie gave up five QB hits in all, including four to Porter. He also got beat backside by DT Alan Branch on a Peterson run for no gain. At least McKinnie hustled on the first pick, forcing Rhodes to cut back into Camarillo. So did RT Phil Loadholt, who gave up three QB pressures and was slow to adjust to DT Darnell Dockett's stunt that contributed to that interception. Loadholt made up for it with key blocks on Peterson's TD catch and big run to open OT -- after he sustained an apparent leg injury on the Vikings' last offensive play of regulation. He deserves credit for finishing the game on guts. C John Sullivan gave up a sack to Dockett, could have finished better against NT Dan Williams on third-and-1 and nearly derailed a late drive with a shotgun snap into Favre's shins. He just seemed a little off. CB Greg Toler and company wanted no part of Sullivan barreling down the field on Peterson's first touchdown, though. LG Steve Hutchinson gave up two pressures but was a force in the run game. He also annihilated Lenon on Peterson's long screen-and-run. RG Anthony Herrera sustained well all day. It wasn't all on the line, but 17 total pressures against that Cardinals front is unacceptable. The Cardinals sent at least one extra rusher on 13 of 43 dropbacks (30.2%).
Defensive linemen (3½)
A favorable matchup and an increasingly aggressive blitz attack helped RE Jared Allen (48 snaps) and the Vikings' pass rush finally get back on track. Of their six sacks on Cardinals QB Derek Anderson, only two came with at least one extra rusher, which Frazier sent on three of 16 dropbacks (18.9%) in the first half and seven of 15 (46.7%) thereafter. But the threat of pressure forced the Cardinals to keep in extra blockers, and even that couldn't stop Allen, who finished with 2½ sacks, three additional hits and 11 total pressures -- all but one against overmatched LT Levi Brown. Allen's motor ran hot in the run game, too, and his pass break-up on a screen late in regulation was a big one. LE Ray Edwards (49 snaps) chased Anderson out of bounds for one sack, cleaned up Allen's pressure to end regulation with another and finished with six total pressures. He hadn't played like this since before the bye. UT Kevin Williams (51) gets in the backfield a couple of times every game but just isn't as effective when NT Pat Williams (26) can't suck up as many blockers next to him. DL Brian Robison (23) and DT Jimmy Kennedy (eight) got plenty of inside rush opportunities in nickel, and Robison had a pair of pressures. Rookie DE Everson Griffen (seven) made his debut on defense and showed some positive things, though he still needs a counter to play off his outside speed move. Why activate DT Fred Evans (seven) instead of Letroy Guion?
On an otherwise quiet day, MLB E.J. Henderson (55 snaps) made his presence felt on Arizona's penultimate series of regulation -- firing past FB Reagan Maui'a and getting off TE Ben Patrick's block for the most important two of his seven tackles (five solo). He was the lone linebacker in the Vikings' previously unused dime package, meaning LB Chad Greenway (45) was on the sideline more than he has been all season. If Greenway wants to make the Pro Bowl, he needs to make plays like the interception he bobbled away after buzzing underneath WR Steve Breaston. Greenway also missed two tackles, and his inside blitzes were only OK, though he did finish off a sack after Anderson escaped a sandwich late. WLB Ben Leber (24) has no prayer when the Vikings play him at the line against two-tight sets. He's just not quick or physical enough to avoid getting turned on run plays.
Defensive backs (3)
Missed tackles by SS Husain Abdullah and CB Chris Cook (39 tackles) on WR Andre Roberts' 30-yard score suggested a repeat of the previous week's failings at New England, but the secondary graded out favorably overall. Cook moved into the base defense to start the fourth quarter after an injury sidelined CB Asher Allen (38 snaps) and was targeted only twice, including an out-cut Breaston caught for 16 yards. The injury also moved up CB Lito Sheppard (20) into the nickel, and he made one of the day's clutch plays, stopping All-Pro WR Larry Fitzgerald after a 6-yard gain on third-and-10 late in regulation. Fitzgerald did get the best of Sheppard twice, running a go for 30 yards on third-and-1 when Sheppard was expecting FS Madieu Williams to help. As usual, Williams made multiple impressive plays -- most notable, raking out the ball from Fitzgerald on a one-on-one play downfield -- and missed some chances, too. Abdullah made multiple mistakes in coverage, but Anderson's inaccuracy saved him at least once. It's tough to trust him in one-on-one situations. CB Antoine Winfield just keeps making every tackle in the book.
Several players appeared to be at fault on LaRod Stephens-Howling's 96-yard kick-return touchdown. Gerhart was slow off a block, Asher Allen guessed wrong in the hole and LB Jasper Brinkley got doubled to his knees. PK Ryan Longwell's tackle attempt did more harm than good because the only other player with a chance to make the stop, S Eric Frampton, had to hurdle him. Longwell's kick hung only 3.5 seconds, matching the lowest among six boots. Couple that with Cardinals LB O'Brien Schofield stripping Harvin on the second half's opening kickoff, leading to a 30-yard TD return by Michael Adams, and this was a losing performance for Brian Murphy's crew. Penalties on S Jamarca Sanford (false start) and Cook (illegal block in the back) didn't help. Kennedy's lack of awareness on the fumble was disturbing. The snap, hold and kick on Longwell's 35-yard winner were perfect, and he also hammered a 21-yarder to keep his field-goal record unblemished. P Chris Kluwe grossed 47.8 yards, netted 46.0, blasted a 56-yarder and averaged 4.6 seconds of hang time on four punts -- leading to Arizona drives from the 15, 1, 19 and 18, respectively. LB Heath Farwell's play to save one punt at the goal line was outstanding. He also had two tackles. Camarillo took advantage of a bad day by Arizona P Ben Graham to average 12.3 yards on seven returns.