The Minnesota Vikings couldn’t have dreamed up a better start to the season than a 29-19 win with a career-best performance from Sam Bradford. But what can we take away from a review of the All-22 game film that we can use to project the Vikings’ future? Let’s have a look…
Dalvin Cook can pass protect
On the play above, the Saints send a cornerback and defensive end both at left tackle Riley Reiff, who forces the corner wide, giving him no shot at Bradford. That required Cook to step up and slow the DE. As you can see, Cook stuck his man in place, giving Stefon Diggs’ crossing route time to develop. Sam Bradford waited until Diggs had crossed the middle linebacker, leaving him wide open for a solid gain.
Cook appeared to make one mistake in protection on the final drive of the second quarter as he slid over to the wrong side, allowing pressure on Bradford. But overall, Cook proved that he can be a three-down back.
Opposing teams will no doubt try to rush extra men to keep Cook in the backfield because they are aware he can be an asset in the passing game. His pass blocking ability will be tested weekly.
Riley Reiff had a good debut
The Vikings’ starting tackle, back on the left side of the first time since 2015, had a terrific opening game. He didn’t allow a single pressure on Bradford and was solid in run blocking. When Reiff suffered a back injury and missed a big chunk of training camp, there was a here-we-go again feeling, but he appeared healthy and comfortable back on the left side. With confidence in his blockers, Bradford was able to work the ball downfield far more often than last year, going 5-for-5 on throws of more than 20 yards.
Pat Shurmur was pretty creative
Given a full offseason to implement his offense, Pat Shurmur showed the Saints’ defense many unique looks and took advantage of their lack of experience playing together. Throughout the game, Shurmur toyed with different personnel groupings in formations. The one above, for example, included moving right tackle Mike Remmers to the left side of the line next to Riley Reiff. Three linemen on the left all blocked right and Joe Berger pulled.
Shurmur used two tight ends at times and also had Kyle Rudolph standing up off the line of scrimmage, sometimes in a “trips” formation with three receivers together on one side and occasionally the former Notre Dame tight end was in an outside receiver spot.
Pat Elflein didn’t look out of place
The image above was not something you saw very often in 2016. On this play, Jerick McKinnon could have driven a truck through the hole that was opened up by rookie center Pat Elflein (and FB CJ Ham). Later in the game, Elflein was racing down the field next to McKinnon on a screen play. He was solid in run blocking and very good in pass protection throughout the night. Nick Easton got beat a few times 1-on-1 at guard, but overall the interior showed they have good chemistry.
Jerick McKinnon was used properly
One of the biggest questions heading into the opener was how the Vikings would split up the touches between Dalvin Cook, Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon. It became clear early on that Cook was going to get the lion’s share of the snaps and McKinnon reminded everyone that he can be a versatile spark plug. Outside of the one 10-yard run, he didn’t see much action in the run game, but McKinnon caught three passes for 32 yards. While that type of production won’t win you a fantasy league, it will help win games. We did not see McKinnon line up in the slot as he did on occasion in training camp. That could be coming in the next few weeks.
The Saints gave the Vikings some freebies
“How did he get that open?”
Three of the Vikings’ biggest plays came on confounding mistakes by the Saints. On a 35-yard completion to Adam Thielen, the Saints ended up with Manti Te’o guarding the Vikings’ top-notch receiver. Thielen came across the field wide open and Bradford simply had to get him the ball. The Saints also bit hard on play-action, leaving Diggs wide open for a touchdown.
Some of these freebie opportunities will happen every week and the Vikings will have to continue to take advantage – it’s hard to see other opponents allowing as many wide open opportunities for Diggs and Thielen.
What should we make of Trae Waynes’ night?
If there are any concerns about the Vikings’ defense after one game, it would be that the Saints threw at Trae Waynes 10 times and completed nine passes. There is a “yeah, but…” to the Waynes stat though. As the Vikings were mounting their lead, Waynes and the Minnesota pass defense did a great job at holding Drew Brees in check. Through three quarters, Brees was 12-for-20 with 149 yards and zero touchdowns.
In the fourth quarter, as the Saints were desperately trying to mount a comeback, Brees attacked Waynes and went 15-for-17 with 142 yards and one touchdown. So the context of Waynes “bad night” matters.
The third-year corner from Michigan State also tackled exceptionally well.
Linval Joseph demolished the Saints
If you’re wondering why Adrian Peterson only played nine snaps against the Vikings, it’s because the Saints could not handle Linval Joseph at all. He ate up the middle of their offensive line, shutting down middle run plays early in the game, which forced the Saints to look elsewhere to get the ball to their running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara.
There may be concerns about whether Tom Johnson can be effective against the run, but Joseph’s dominance mitigates whatever shortcomings exist.
Eric Kendricks can cover anyone
There really isn’t much more to this observation than this: Eric Kendricks is supremely valuable to the Vikings’ defense because he can cover running backs or tight ends at an exceptional level. On the Saints’ first drive, he jumped a route and nearly picked off a pass headed for Colby Fleener.
Danielle Hunter has a skill you didn’t know about
Danielle Hunter’s absurd athleticism allows Mike Zimmer to occasionally dial up zone blitzes, which call for Hunter to drop back in coverage and a linebacker to blitz. On this play, Eric Kendricks came free at Brees while Hunter did a good job covering Kamara. Zimmer can be incredibly creative with the number of defenders who are dynamic.