Offensive formations and film observations: Week 6 vs. Panthers
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Welcome to another installment of 'Offensive formations and film observations,' this one brought to you for the Minnesota Vikings-Carolina Panthers
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 Vikings offense produced 290 yards and 10 points in the loss, dropping their points average to 25 per game (10th in NFL) and yards average to 338.4 (19th).
Coming off the bye week, the Vikings' offense was as inept as it has been all season. Their three-point effort in the first 59 minutes was saved by an illegal hands to the face penalty by the Carolina Panthers on fourth down, which gave quarterback Matt Cassel another shot after his pass was batted down on the previous play. Cassel's longest completions, a 20-yard pass to receiver Greg Jennings and the 23-yard touchdown to tight end Kyle Rudolph, didn't come until the final drive with the Panthers playing soft coverage.
Running back Adrian Peterson's 31-yard run in the third quarter was the Vikings' longest play of the game. Peterson did not carry the ball after that and, down 28-3 at the time, was pulled from the game before the fourth quarter.
Two weeks after scoring touchdowns of 70- and 60-yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers and averaging a season-high 9.9 yards per play, the Vikings came away with a season low in points and regressed to just 4.8-yards per play. Meanwhile, nearly half of their plays (28) went for less than two yards, negative yardage or a turnover.
Shotgun 1 tight end / 3 receivers: 42 plays
2 tight ends / 2 receivers: 6 plays
1 tight end / 2 receivers / 1 fullback: 4 plays
1 tight end / 3 receivers: 3 plays
Shotgun 2 tight ends / 2 receivers: 2 plays
2 tight ends / 1 receiver / 1 fullback: 2 plays
Fullhouse: 2 tight ends/ 2 receivers: 1 play
Total plays: 60
1) Playing from behind, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave ran out of the shotgun on 44-of-60 snaps [73%]. Cassel made his second start and proved to be wildly inconsistent, throwing two interceptions and missing numerous open receivers throughout the game. Cassel was the victim of shoddy pass protection, as he would pull the trigger quickly too early at times after getting hit on a previous play. The Vikings tied their season-low with 23:33-of-60:00 time of possession, the same mark they had against the Steelers. However, they ran eight more plays in the limited time frame and produced 24 fewer points and committed two turnovers compared to the win in London. On 22 first-down plays, the Vikings called 14 passes and eight runs. Peterson ran the ball a season-low 10 times, five of which came in the team's first 10 plays before the Panthers scored touchdowns on two of their first three drives.
2) The intermediate-to-deep passing game was not present on Sunday, which is perplexing considering they were down by three touchdowns for nearly half the game. Cassel appeared hesitant to take shots downfield as two of his deep attempts to Jennings were overthrown, behind his target and intercepted. Cassel completed 26-of-28 passes, one for a touchdown, between 0-and-10 yards.
But on the 16 attempts longer than 10 yards, Cassel completed just six passes for 85 yards and two interceptions. Even before his first interception, Cassel was locking onto receivers and making it easy for the Panthers to defend his often-telegraphed throws.
On the third play of the game, Jennings and receiver Cordarrelle Patterson ran vertical routes up the right side of the field. Jennings comes free along the Cover-2's hole down the sideline, but Cassel already stared down Rudolph and had his pass deflected in tight coverage. He missed another throw just before halftime, when he checked down to Peterson for a two-yard gain. On the play, Panthers defenders lock onto Jennings and Rudolph. As the pair ran parallel routes up the middle, Wright comes free 20 yards down the sideline, but Cassel dumps it off to Peterson despite not having any pressure.
Even more egregious was Cassel's read on 3rd and 8 from the Panthers' 21-yard line just plays later. Cassel checks down to Peterson for an 11-yard gain, but Jennings is left waving his arms on an open corner route in the endzone. The Vikings settled for a field goal and the 14-3 deficit after Peterson fumbled at the four-yard line and Rudolph was out of bounds on a would-be touchdown reception on 3rd-and-1.
3) Cassel made a few veteran pre-snap reads, including the first play of the third drive. The Panthers stacked eight in the box, showing a Cover 3, with their cornerbacks playing seven-to-10 yards off the line and a single-high safety. Cassel makes a pre-snap adjustment and throws a zero pass to Patterson, who runs for five yards after the catch.
However, those same pre-snap reads appeared to be lacking in pass protection, where the Panthers got after Cassel as the game wore on. Each Cassel sack was a result of a Panthers blitz, which included varieties of linebacker stunts and cornerback/safety blitzes. On two of Cassel's three sacks, the culprit came untouched to the quarterback. Left guard Charlie Johnson allowed four hurries on Cassel, one of which came on the first interception. Left tackle Matt Kalil left too early on a first-half screen play, resulting in an illegal receiver downfield penalty. During the opening three-and-out of the second half, Kalil blocks down while his defensive end, a linebacker and cornerback come free with only Peterson inbetween the three rushers and Cassel. The result was a sack and loss of 10 yards. Right guard Brandon Fusco's inconsistencies came in run blocking, where he would often get lost in space while pulling or not shed to the second level soon enough. However, he made the seal block on Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly that sprang Peterson for his 31-yard gain in the third quarter.
4) The Vikings were down 21-3 when they got the ball in the second half. Musgrave ran the ball just four times out of their final 31 plays. At one point, Musgrave called 20 passes in a row before handing the ball off to running back Toby Gerhart, who spelled Peterson in garbage time. In the numerous passing situations, Cassel took two sacks and threw for just 139 yards and one touchdown and one interception on 27 second-half attempts. The Vikings gained an average of 4.9-yards-per-pass in the game.
5) The last time Peterson had 10 carries or less in his seven-year career was on Nov. 20, 2011 against the Oakland Raiders when he finished with six carries for 26 yards. Needless to say, Peterson's 10 carries for 61 yards on Sunday are season lows. He was pulled from the game in the third quarter and did not take part in the Vikings' final three drives. Peterson struggled finding room to work with as the Panthers stacked the box and did very little to prevent the deep ball. Despite that apparent advantage, Cassel didn't try to stretch the field and reverted back to his check downs, like how former starting quarterback Christian Ponder often got chastised for doing.
Game ball: Kyle Rudolph. Rudolph hasn't always been the best run blocker, but the Vikings targeted him a season-high 11 times on Sunday for his best game of the season. Only one pass fell to the turf as Rudolph caught nine balls for 97 yards and a touchdown. His second incompletion was a catch, but he was out of bounds in the endzone on 3rd-and-1 at the goal line before halftime. Rudolph was part of the problem in picking up the Panthers' numerous blitz packages, but four of his nine catches came on either third or fourth downs and was the only reliable outlet in tight spots. On his 23-yard touchdown reception, the ball traveled just seven yards in the air and Rudolph made two defenders miss before running it in for the score.
Goat(s): Offensive line. A tossup between the Vikings' offensive line and Cassel, the goat goes to the offensive line as they surrendered three sacks, four hits and 12 hurries. Cassel felt pressure on 19 of his 49 dropbacks [39%]. The line isn't at fault for Cassel's two picks, but Peterson averaged around three yards per carry before his final 31-yard run. Right tackle Phil Loadholt (false start) and Kalil (illegal rec.) were both flagged for penalties as they collectively put out their worst performance since Ponder was sacked six times against the Cleveland Browns.