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What we learned from the Vikings-Saints game film

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.

  • incentcar

    Let the positivity continue after shocking Tomlin & Co. Easier said than done, but not impossible.

  • Topgunn

    I would like to see more Jaleel Johnson and less Shamar Stephen in run downs and let Tom Johnson focus on his strong suit…rushing the passer. I was disappointed Jaleel Johnson was inactive for the Saints game. We should use him for the Steelers game. Otherwise, hard not to be enthusiasitc about the first game.

  • Once McKinnon develops a better intuition of which way the kickoff coverage is going to push/be pushed, he will be extremely good. Two kickoffs he ran straight into coverage when he should have easily gone around them.

  • IrreverentOne

    Enjoyed the diversity of the offense and, as everyone else has said, really liked what I saw about the defense. All I want to do is remind all that this was the Saints and although their QB is rightfully described as being one of the best in action the defense is not one that scares anyone. Next week in Pittsburgh will be a better indication of how the offense has improved from last year. Go Vikes.

    • Jordan Musser

      Very true but honestly our offense couldn’t have done what it did Monday night last year even if it played a high school football team. With that said I am still very eager to see how they perform on the road against Pittsburgh!!!

  • Erik Arne

    A great breakdown of the game; as a viewing fan things happen so fast on the field that we don’t see the design or strategy of a particular play. Thanks for the great analysis!

  • Gordon Guffey

    Matthew Coller said ~
    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.

    Could this be the reason why Zimmer and Shurmur worked so hard on the screen pass in OTA’s and TC ~ I think so ~ Cook is a weapon for sure ~ He is the first true all around RB they have had since Chester Taylor ~

    Matthew Coller said ~

    Pat Shurmur was pretty creative

    IMHO he is the best OC the Vikings have had since D. Green was the HC ~ Funny thing this is I cant remember who he has as a OC ~ Seem like it was some guy named Brian Billick ~ Anyone know this guy ~ LOL

    Matthew Coller said ~

    Pat Elflein didn’t look out of place

    Once again you forgot the fine job that Easton did at left OG ~ Was he perfect ~ No but it was his first year EVER ((( based on what I could find ))) at OG ~ He has always been a Center ~ So lets give a little bit of love the the undrafted young man ~ Heck the whole OL was a stand out compared to last season OL ~ The Saints defense would have rip that OL a new one ~

    Matthew Coller said ~

    Danielle Hunter has a skill you didn’t know about

    He is a fine player ~ And I totally agree with you ~ But lets not forget a young man named Barr who also had a good outing ~ Yes Hunter is special ~ He is going to cost some money to resign for sure ~ But Barr looked good also ~

    As you said the defense as a whole played well for the most part until the last 2 mins when the Vikings were just keeping everything in front of them ~

    Mr. Matthew Coller I agree with your story ~ Just wanted to add a few thing I were missing ~

  • Jason Wisniewski

    Great stuff! Pretty impressive on how the Vikings were able to take advantage of their own personell and attack the Saints weaknesses with outstanding gameplanning and playcalling. Kudos to this coaching staff and of course the players for executing! #SKOL


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