Re-Focused – Vikings @ Chargers, Week 1

| September 13, 2011

The Vikings stayed in this game longer than many gave them credit for coming in as the Chargers showed signs of another slow start. But for an outstanding play by Shaun Phillips to pick off a quick screen it was difficult to see where San Diego was going to get in to this game. That play was however made and with the Vikings struggling dreadfully to establish anything through the air it seemed only a matter of time until the Chargers worked their way into the lead. It took perhaps longer than Chargers’ fans may have liked but a Week 1 win is a Week 1 win.
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There were promising signs at least for the Vikings with some strong performances from new players stepping in to the fold but the complete lack of anything positive to say about the passing game is a grave concern. There were struggles in pass protection, Donovan McNabb couldn’t find any sort of timing with his receivers and tight ends and Adrian Peterson paid the price as, but for one long run, the Chargers defense was able to collapse down the running game to a large extent.
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Minnesota – Three Things of Note
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1)   Seizing an opportunity

With Ray Edwards now plying his trade in Atlanta this game offered the first opportunity for Brian Robison to prove himself as a starting DE and he grasped that opportunity with both hands. All game long, in every facet of the game, Robison made Jeromey Clary’s life a living hell. Robison graded positively in all three disciplines with his work in run defense particularly noteworthy and a statement of intent as he steps up from his role as a situational pass rusher. Robison picked up one sack and five pressures on 40 pass rushes (+2.9); he registered two stops in run defense and was a general nuisance resulting in a rush average of 0.9 yards per rush on eight carries off RG, RT and RE (+2.6). To top all this off he also defeated a block from Clary to chase down a screen for a loss, all in all an excellent display in his first game in a full time starting role.
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2) Pass protection woes

11 total pressures (two sacks, two hits and seven pressures) may not seem like a dreadful return for a Week 1 performance of an offensive line blooding a new LT. However when you consider that the Vikings only dropped to pass 19 times the poor display of the Vikings’ offensive line comes in to sharper focus, particularly on the left side of the line. New LT Charlie Johnson (-2.4 pass protection) proved that it’s not just Peyton Manning’s blindside he can fail to protect; Steve Hutchinson yielded a hit and a pressure as he continues to be a shadow of his former self; John Sullivan had his hands full, as expected, with Antonio Garay and conceded a sack and two pressures. There have been a number of changes on the Vikings’ roster this offseason but the offensive line has been largely untouched, they need to step up and provide a platform for the likes of Peterson and McNabb if they are to have any success this season.
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3)   Life without the Williams Wall

Sunday was the first time December 22nd 2002 that neither Pat Williams nor Kevin Williams was in the Vikings’ defensive starting lineup. Minnesota has been blessed to have such an outstanding defensive tackle partnership for so long and their first taste of life without the Williams Wall is not one that their fans will savor. The likes of Letroy Guion and Fred Evans have shown flashes of ability backing up the Williams’ in the past but stepping up in to a larger role the Vikings’ interior linemen struggled to make an impact. All four Vikings’ defensive tackles received more than 25 snaps and only Guion was able to grade positively in run defense, none of them grading positively overall. New signing Remi Ayodele (-0.9) was almost invisible on the field and the four DTs combined for only 2 defensive stops. Factor in the three penalties that Guion and Evans conceded allowing the Chargers to run out the clock and Vikings’ fans and coaches will be desperate for the return of Kevin Williams from suspension.
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San Diego – Three Things of Note
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1)   Trouble making space to run

The Chargers have a pair of running backs that have shown a real ability to make things happen in the running game, but they cannot do that unless they are given some room to work and once again the Chargers’ offensive line struggled in this regard. Only two offensive linemen (Kris Dielman and Nick Hardwick) graded, marginally, positively and the work done on the periphery by Antonio Gates and Randy McMichael continues to be more of a hindrance than assistance. Philip Rivers is capable of carrying this team but with some more effective run blocking this Chargers team is set to go far.
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2)   Shaun Phillips just keeps on producing

New season, same old Shaun Phillips and the Chargers should be so glad to have him. Whether it be rushing the passer, stopping the run or working in short coverage Phillips can do it all and do it all very well. His batted pass interception was opportunistic but just the play the Chargers needed early in the game after being shocked on the opening kickoff. Phillips won’t show up on the stats sheet but his four pressures on only 15 pass rushes played their part in a miserable debut for McNabb. The Chargers will be looking forward to more consistent performances from Phillips this season
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3)   Failing to exploit a mismatch

A big mismatch coming in to this game was the disparity in size between the Chargers’ wide receivers and the Vikings’ cornerbacks. With the Chargers’ vertical passing game and Phillip Rivers’ propensity for passing down the field it was one that was seemingly sure to be tested and hopefully, from a Chargers perspective, exploited. However that wasn’t the case as Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd combined for a meager 76 yards on five catches, in spite of being targeted 13 times. The Chargers were never able to isolate these two giants on the Vikings’ short CB pairing of Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin, only three passes sent towards these particular matchups. The pass rush display of Jared Allen and Robison certainly played its part but that San Diego didn’t try to force the ball to these two down the field, as they so frequently do, was somewhat of a surprise.
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Game Notes

● Adrian Peterson forced four missed tackles in this game, no other Viking running back or receiver made a Chargers defender miss.

● Antwan Barnes picked up four total pressures on only nine pass rushes in this game, the model of efficiency.

● Antonio Gates had eight receptions in this game – against coverage by eight different Vikings defenders.
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PFF Game Ball:

Brian Robison, DE, Minnesota Vikings

As Vikings beat writer Tom Pelissero said, if Robison plays like this all season, nobody will remember the Vikings lost Ray Edwards.
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  • sjt

    In regards to the Chargers throwing down the field, it looked like the Vikings were dead set against letting Jackson and Floyd beat them. They looked like they played a lot of 2 deep in order to prevent that very thing, which is why the Chargers had to check down to RBs and TEs so much.

  • uppercut

    When you say Phillips can “do it all very well”, do you mean this game or in general? Because I recall reading SP ranked below 48th of 85 edge rushers in PRP (for 2010 — based on Khaled telling a reader NE’s Cunningham finished 48th, ahead of SP & Osi) Real quick I think he was 33rd in 2009 also (34th in just pressure %). He has been very aware in the coverage game though.