Offensive formations and film observations: Week 14 vs. Ravens
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Welcome to another installment of 'Offensive formations and film observations,' this one brought to you for the Week 14 matchup between the Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens.
Every Tuesday after a game, we'll take a look at what the Vikings offense looked like, bring you five key takeaways from film study and hand out a proverbial game ball and name the goat(s). Every Wednesday, we'll provide you with a similar breakdown and analysis from the defensive side of the ball.
The Minnesota Vikings offense produced 379 yards and 26 points in the loss, improving to 346.1 yards/game (14th) and 24.2 points/game (14th).
Fronted by a flurry of fourth-quarter touchdowns, the Vikings and Baltimore Ravens produced 36 points in 2:01 at the end of regulation after battling to a 12-7 advantage for Minnesota in the first 57:55 of the game.
Quarterback Matt Cassel threw for a Vikings' season-high of 265 yards - with 79 yards and one of Cassel's two touchdowns coming from rookie receiver Cordarrelle Patterson's last-minute catch-and-run. A slew of injuries forced reserves into action as Patterson followed backup lineman Joe Berger's and third-string running back Matt Asiata's blocks en route to the rookie's career-long receiving touchdown.
A week after running back Adrian Peterson set his season high with 211 rushing yards, he amassed just 13 yards on seven carries. In very snowy conditions early on, Peterson found little room to work with against a Ravens' front that seemed to care little for rushing the passer in the first half. Peterson left with a foot sprain after a four-yard catch in the second quarter and also lost his rushing title lead to Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy. McCoy ran for 217 yards against the Detroit Lions on Sunday and now holds a 74-yard lead on Peterson. Pending Peterson's health, the two are slated to face each other on Sunday at the Metrodome.
Running back Toby Gerhart spelled Peterson and averaged 5.9-yards-per-carry on 15 touches - none as crucial as his 41-yard touchdown run with a minute and a half left in the game for the 19-15 lead. The Vikings allowed a 77-yard touchdown to Ravens return man Jacoby Jones on the next play, which set the stage for Patterson's heroics.
The Vikings struggled moving the ball consistently as 37 of 63 plays [58.7%] went for three yards or fewer, including Cassel's 21 incompletions. Despite surrendering 11 sacks in the previous two overtime games, the Ravens did not sack Cassel once - though a handful of his incompletions were caused by unchecked pressure.
Tight end John Carlson (concussion), running back Toby Gerhart (hamstring), Adrian Peterson (foot) and guard Brandon Fusco (knee) were all injured on Sunday.
Shotgun 1 tight end / 3 receivers: 22 plays
1 tight end / 2 receivers / 1 fullback: 13 plays
2 tight ends / 2 receivers: 10 plays
1 tight end / 3 receivers: 6 plays
3 receivers / 1 fullback: 4 plays
Shotgun 5 receivers: 3 plays
1 tight end / 1 receiver / 1 fullback / 1 extra OL: 2 plays
Shotgun 2 tight ends / 2 receivers: 2 plays
2 tight ends / 1 receiver / 1 fullback: 1 play
Total: 63 plays
1) Out in the snow, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave called 40 pass plays to 23 runs and leaned more toward the pass after handing off to Peterson on six of the first 12 plays. The Vikings had a clear plan to work both Peterson and Gerhart in a one-two punch setup before Peterson's injury. Gerhart had back-to-back carries on the team's second drive before his first-quarter fumble. Patterson was flagged for a holding penalty which negated Gerhart's first run. On the subsequent 1st-and-20, Gerhart fumbled and though his knee appeared to be down before the ball came loose, the play was not overturned. The Vikings' lone turnover led to the Ravens' only touchdown of the first 57:55 of the game. Coach Leslie Frazier received an unprovoked call from the NFL on Monday morning to discuss officiating in Sunday's game. Frazier said one of the plays discussed was Gerhart's fumble.
Musgrave ran out of the shotgun on 27 of 64 plays [42%], with nine of their 13 fourth-quarter calls coming in that set. Musgrave added an additional offensive lineman at least twice as swing tackle J'Marcus Webb entered for extra pass protection. However, Webb allowed one quarterback pressure and one hit on Cassel in the limited snaps he saw. Receiver Joe Webb (10) saw more snaps than receiver Jarius Wright (7) for the first time all season - though Webb had no targets and was used primarily as a run blocker.
2) A season-low five Vikings caught passes on Sunday for a season-high 246 receiving yards. The trio of Patterson and receivers Jerome Simpson and Greg Jennings saw 25 of Cassel's 38 passes come their way. Patterson had eclipsed his season (and career) high with 58 first-half receiving yards, but would finish with 141 yards and a 28.2 yards-per-catch average after his 79-yard score in the closing minutes. Patterson and Simpson, who caught his first career touchdown pass on Sunday in 26 career games with the Vikings, have become a formidable deep threat duo when the pass protection allows it. Of receivers with 40 catches or more, Simpson is tied for 15th with a 15.6-yards-per-catch average. Patterson's breakout game has him at 11.3-yards-per-catch on the season. Jennings made a pair of spectacular one-handed grabs, one of which was out of bounds, as he tallied five catches for 53 yards on a team-high 10 targets on Sunday.
The Ravens had 13 pass deflections on Cassel's 38 throws. After Cassel had five of his passes batted down in limited action against the Chicago Bears last week, he had one-third of his passes swatted away on Sunday. Only two came from the defensive line - both from the 6-foot-7-inch Chris Canty, which means the Ravens' man coverage was effective. There's no question that Cassel is the more developed quarterback over Christian Ponder, but he had luck on his side on Sunday as a number of near-interceptions slipped through the hands of Ravens defenders in the snow.
3) After rushing for a season-high 246 rushing yards, the Vikings gained just 114 yards on the ground on 25 carries. Peterson's seven carries for 13 yards and a 1.9-average are all season lows for the NFL MVP, but Gerhart couldn't find much room either until late. He gained 73 yards on three plays, including the 41-yard touchdown run, but found just 16 yards on his other 12 carries.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, left tackle Matt Kalil gives up the edge to Suggs and left guard Charlie Johnson can't move Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata out of the way. Gerhart chooses to go right and is tackled between the two for a loss of one yard. These kinds of looks were typical for Vikings running backs before the Ravens softened their fronts in the final minutes.
The Vikings tried two shotgun runs prior to this one and they gained just three total yards. On this play, the Vikings catch the Ravens off guard as they only have 3 down lineman and rush their linebackers wide, making it easy for Charlie Johnson (74) to seal the nose tackle with center John Sullivan (65). Daryl Smith is in man-coverage on tight end Rhett Ellison, which brings him out of the play. Gerhart uses his speed to get 16 yards before he's touched. He splits two defenders and gallops another 20 yards, carrying one Raven defender into the endzone. Gerhart also appeared to injure his hamstring on this play.
Patterson's 33-yard touchdown run was his longest play from scrimmage during Week 13's win against the Chicago Bears. On Sunday, Patterson more than doubled that when he caught a screen pass on 3rd-and-10, five yards behind the line of scrimmage, and took it 79 yards for the score.
This play also used a bit of deception as the Vikings did not stack the formation one way or the other before flipping it to Patterson. Patterson motions from a three-wide set on the left to balance out the formation on the right before the snap. Marked by the red arrows, this deception gets the ball into Patterson's hands with six Ravens defenders already behind the play. Asiata and Berger lay key blocks as Simpson sticks to his cornerback about 15 yards downfield. Patterson makes safety Matt Elam slip up in the snow at midfied as he runs cleanly to the endzone for the 26-22 lead with less than a minute left.
4) Nearly 150 of the Vikings' 379 yards came on the final five plays as they were held to 89 yards in the second half before Gerhart's 41-yard touchdown run began a series of wild plays in a crazy finish. The defensive struggle - or offensive ineptitude, depending on how you look at it - was exemplified by the Vikings' 15 first downs, which ties a season low after moving the chains a combined 58 times in the previous two overtime games. Rookie punter Jeff Locke punted a career-high nine times out of the Vikings' 15 possessions. On one side, that's decent because the Vikings turned the ball over just once. However, they lost the time of possession battle 32:12-to-27:48 as they also had 16 fewer plays than the Ravens.
The Vikings managed to convert just 5-of-17 third-down attempts [29%], but they converted 3-of-8 in the second half, including Cassel's two touchdown passes to Simpson and Patterson.
5) The Vikings offensive line struggled mightily in opening up lanes for Peterson and Gerhart throughout the game. Peterson averaged 1.9-yards-per-carry on his seven attempts because of bad matchups and poor one-on-one blocking. Left tackle Matt Kalil had issues with linebacker Terrell Suggs throughout the game as he failed to seal Suggs or even stick to him at all in run blocking situations. Consistently left one-on-one, Kalil was put on his back more than once by Suggs as he appeared to struggle with his footing. Right guard Brandon Fusco played just five snaps before he left with a knee injury. Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (6'4", 340lbs) abused Fusco on the play he was injured when he used a swim move to go right by Fusco and engage the lead blocker to get Peterson for a gain of two yards. Ngata did the same to center John Sullivan, guard Charlie Johnson and backup lineman Joe Berger on numerous plays throughout the game, including Gerhart's first-quarter fumble. With linebacker Elvis Dumervil out, right tackle Phil Loadholt had an easier time against the Ravens' 3-4 defense as replacement linebacker Courtney Upshaw accounted for just one tackle.
Cassel was not sacked, but had at least three throwaways as the Vikings failed to account for edge pressure early on. Ravens safety James Ihedigbo led his side with 12 tackles as the eighth-man in the box. Sullivan struggled with blitzing linebackers at times, allowing a critical pressure on Cassel from linebacker Daryl Smith during the team's final drive, which forced Cassel's final throwaway. Cassel also scrambled twice for six yards to avoid would-be sacks.
Game ball: Cordarrelle Patterson. Patterson's 141 yards were more than half of the Vikings' total receiving yards and he did most of that work on his own after catching a lateral pass and turning into a 79-yard score for the late-game lead.
Goat(s): Matt Kalil. Kalil allowed just three quarterback pressures on Cassel's 40 dropbacks, but the second-year left tackle was a major liability in the running game. Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs was second on his team with five solo tackles as he continuously worked Kalil to get stops.