The Titans’ first drive offered hope that this would be a competitive game with both team giving as good as they got. Unfortunately, that drive was the only time outside of garbage time that the Titans’ offense was able to string together a few good offensive plays, and they couldn’t even put any points on the board to show for it. Their run game was non-existent, and Matt Hasselbeck wasn’t able to give the offense the spark that it sometimes had in 2011.
The Vikings on the other hand, methodically moved the ball down the field which led to points on six of their first ten drives. They didn’t need big plays because they piled on first down after first down to either get in scoring range, or make sure once they punted that Tennessee wouldn’t be close to scoring.
Teams can make all the statements that they want against the best teams in the league, but it is winning the games you should win and ensuring that you win them comfortably that help teams move towards the playoffs. Minnesota took a step towards showing the nation they are a team to be considered as playoff contenders, they never looked troubled by the Titans this week.
Minnesota – Three Performances of Note
Letting the Receivers Do the Work
The Vikings have come up with a successful offensive strategy that they are using to great effect this season. They complete short passes and give their receivers room to run. Minnesota averaged 10.3 yards per catch, with the ball being in the air for an average of just 3.8 yards. That means that their receivers were collecting 6.5 yards after each catch. All last year, we wanted Percy Harvin (+3.5) to be a bigger part of the offense, and this year the Vikings realize they just need to get the ball in his hands and let him make plays. On four of Harvin’s eight catches, the Vikings ran a quick receiver screen and he then gained 45 yards after the catch on those plays alone. It’s not a flashy throw, but Harvin makes what happens after the catch exciting. Most impressive was his touchdown at the end of the third quarter where he did a juke move straight out of Madden to make Jordan Babineaux miss, and did the exact same move two yards later to make Colin McCarthy fall. If that wasn’t enough, Akeem Ayers missed a tackle on Harvin before he marched into the end zone pushing the game out of reach.
Not Ready to Back Down
Once defensive tackles reach a certain age, we begin to see a decline in their playing time and their quality of play. While the Vikings are only using Kevin Williams (+3.3) on 70.6% of plays this year compared to the 88.4% he played last year, the traditional statistics of nine tackles and no sacks fail to do Williams’ play this season justice. Within the first six minutes of the game, Williams blew past right guard Leroy Harris to end up in the backfield as fast as Chris Johnson was handed the ball. While Williams ended up missing the tackle, his teammate still completed the play ensuring the rush resulted in a loss. On the following play he had a pressure forcing Hasselbeck out of the pocket, and on the start of the following drive, he deflected a pass which helped lead to a three and out. While he never had the big play of a sack or a tackle for a loss there were far too many plays where Williams silently effected the Titans offense in a negative way for him to be ignored.
If It Isn’t Broke, Don’t Fix It
One of the big problems the Titans had is the Vikings did the same things over and over, and the Titans couldn’t consistently defend against it. Ten of Adrian Peterson’s 17 runs were to the gaps either directly left or right of the right guard, and that is where Peterson found the most success running for 8.7 yards per carry on those attempts. While there were a few times where Tennessee could come up with a stop, on six of the ten times Peterson found four or more yards. Most impressive for the Vikings that all of their big runs came in the middle right gap, with Peterson achieving a 34 and 22 yard run, while Toby Gerhart also had a 22 yard run in that gap. The fact that the Vikings more often than not had positive rushing plays mixed with a few big runs mixed with the strong passing game was a formula bound for success.
Tennessee – Three Performances of Note
No Excuses for Poor Throws
This year Jake Locker was given the reigns to the offense, but a dislocated shoulder led Matt Hasselbeck to return to quarterback this offense. Typically, when a quarterback has a poor game statistically like Hasselbeck did with his 4.7 yards per attempt, you can point to something for his poor play. Sometimes he is under pressure too much or blitzed, or his receivers aren’t playing well. While three dropped passes from his receivers didn’t help, the worst of Hasselbeck’s throws all came when the pass rush wasn’t getting to him. He especially found trouble with the hitch route where he only completed five of eleven passes and threw an interception. Any ball that he threw more than 16 yards in the air fell incomplete. Especially when your team is behind there comes a point where the quarterback needs to take the offense by the scruff of the neck and drive it forwards. That was never the case with Hasselbeck and the Titans offense in this game.
No Pass Game + No Run Game = No Offense
When you can’t get the pass game going, the only hope a team has for offense is in their run game. For three of the first four games of the season that wasn’t happening for Tennessee, but Chris Johnson showed some signs of life last week against the Houston Texans. In the beginning of the game it looks like we might see another good game. On the first play of the game Johnson followed his blockers into a nice running lane, and ran past a Chad Greenway missed tackle. On the second play, Kevin Williams almost had him for a big loss, but Johnson forced another missed tackle. Those were the only missed tackles Johnson forced all game, and he managed just 19 more yards on 13 carries. Late in the first quarter, the Titans had an opportunity to gain momentum after a fourth down conversion from the punt team lining up in the Wildcat. On the very next play though, Johnson lost a fumble halting any chance for momentum to build. It is embarrassing when a Matt Hasselbeck scramble, the Jordan Babineaux Wildcat run and Darius Reynaud’s lone carry result in more yards than Johnson’s 15 carries.
Where the Problem Is In the Secondary
The Titans defense did not have a terrible day when it came to covering the Vikings receivers. They didn’t get much from a pass rush who had just one sack and one hit. Minnesota had a lot of low risk passes that are easier completions, but don’t always get a lot of yards. Slot corner Ryan Mouton (+2.4) for example had a great game as he didn’t allow a catch, and had two passes defended. The problem came once the Vikings caught the ball, and were making moves after the catch. As a team, the Titans missed 13 tackles which is far too many, and every single coverage defender in the Titans’ nickel defense had at least one missed tackle. The chief culprit on the day was Michael Griffin (-5.1) who missed four tackles; three of which led to Vikings first downs and the fourth leading to a touchdown. Throw in an unnecessary roughness penalty as well as helping allow a Kyle Rudolph touchdown, and you have a game to forget. The Titans could have made this a much closer game and given their offense more of a chance if they could have just wrapped up the Vikings skill players.
– After taking the majority of snaps last week, Jerome Simpson saw just 24 of a possible 70 snaps in this game. He was targeted three times but didn’t record a catch.
– Stopping the Titans offense was very much a team effort as nine different players ended up with two or more stops in this game.
– Christian Ponder had a QB Rating of 102.2 when there was no pressure, but was down to 38.5 when there was pressure. It was a good thing for the Vikings he was only pressured on seven of his 39 dropbacks.
PFF Game Ball
This was very much a team victory for the Vikings, but it was Percy Harvin who stole the show on offense with the telling big plays.
Follow Nathan on Twitter: @PFF_NateJahnke