ReFo: MIN @ DET, Week 1
A catalogue of early errors helped keep this game close but, aside from their first offensive play, the Vikings really showed very little. It’s painfully apparent that Christian Ponder can’t carry the team on his back and, with the offensive line struggling and Adrian Peterson not at his best, they really faught to move the ball. Minnesota will need to find a solution to the eight box defenders going forward. They’ll no doubt be pleased they don’t have to face the Lions’ vaunted defensive line every week. Three of Detroit’s four backups have started and played well at some point in their careers and the last of the group, Ezekial Ansah, is a top five pick. While there are still some concerns in the secondary, their fearsome pass rush should hide some of those deficiencies.
Somewhat surprisingly Detroit also gashed the Vikings on the ground. The backfield duo of Reggie Bush and Joique Bell proved unstoppable on both handoffs and screens. The loss of Kevin Williams certainly contributed to that, but Minnesota fans have to be concerned by some of the huge holes the Lion’s average offensive line were able to open. Unfortunately their pass coverage wasn’t much better, with the exception of the ever-reliable Harrison Smith, as the secondary struggled to handle the Lion’s spread attack. Here are some specific talking points.
Minnesota – Three Performances of Note
Matt Kalil (-3.0) and John Sullivan (-1.1) are two of the very best at their positions in the NFL, but both had serious problems Sunday. Khalil’s -2.5 pass protection grade was the worst of his career so far. He missed blocks and assignments in a way he hasn’t since entering the league as the fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft. Overall he gave up a hit and four hurries on 36 drop backs but the stat line doesn’t tell the whole story. It was the speed at which he was beaten that was really concerning with all of the pressure he allowed coming in less than three seconds. Kalil hardly got his hands on Willie Young on one play with 6.31 to play in the fourth quarter as the Detroit defensive end blew by him to the inside. The USC product was also uncharacteristically poor in the run game, allowing one tackle for no gain and one for a loss. Ansah beat him for the former and Young the latter. Speaking of Young (+5.5 in 29 snaps) he needs more press than he receives. The versatile former seventh round pick is a stud in the making.
Sullivan meanwhile, who had not graded in the red since 2011, struggled with Ndamukong Suh’s power and athleticism. Overall he allowed two hurries on 36 drop backs with the lowlight coming with 3:54 to play in the fourth quarter. Suh got a good jump and bull rushed Sullivan 7 yards into the backfield. It was more of a mixed game for the Viking’s center in the ground game as he graded positively once and negatively twice.
The Vikings featured three rookies in their season opener with both Sharrif Floyd (+0.8) and Xavier Rhodes (-0.7) seeing extended action. Floyd played 44 of a possible 83 snaps (the Viking’s rotated him almost equally with Fred Evans and Letroy Guion) and had a solid debut. Although he failed to stand out in anyway, he was consistently active and certainly didn’t look out of place. Despite failing to register any pressure in his 20 pass rush snaps, Floyd was able to get his hand up to bat down a pass in the second quarter. There were ups and downs in the run game too, as he got the better of fellow rookie Larry Warford on some occasions. On the other hand Floyd will be disappointed he couldn’t bring down Bush with 5.31 to go in the fourth when confusion on the offensive line left him with an unblocked shot at the runner at the line of scrimmage.
Rhodes on the other hand made some mistakes but was not bad overall. Starting at left corner, the Florida State product saw a lot of Calvin Johnson and did a decent job. In total he allowed 4-of-5 targets to be completed for 33 yards. While Rhodes failed to make any plays, he also avoided big mistakes. The Vikings did have some success against him running slants and he allowed a crucial first down late in the game via penalty when he interfered with Johnson (Q4, 8.38).
The final rookie to see the field was first round wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (+0.4) who surprisingly received only five snaps. His lone target resulted in a first down as he made a move to escape the tackle of safety Glover Quin on a screen.
Issues At Linebacker
With the trio of EJ Henderson, Ben Leber and Chad Greenway, the Vikings had one of the best sets of linebackers in the league for a while. Two of the three are gone however and the third may be on his last legs. Greenway (-3.7)struggled in the second half of last season and this game will have done nothing to dispel the concerns that he may have lost a step. Despite playing 37 run snaps, Greenway had just the solitary stop and finished with a -3.1 grade in run defense. There were a couple of occasions (Q1, 2.55 and Q3, 12.21) where he had Bush lined up with a chance to bring down the runner for a short gain, but simply couldn’t make the play. Similarly Erin Henderson was consistently manhandled in the run game and there should be serious questions as to whether he can handle the transition to middle linebacker. The position is especially difficult in the Viking’s scheme because they predominantly run cover 2 and thus ask their Mike backer to position himself deeper at the snap. Henderson (-4.3) had particular trouble with Warford when he came to meet him at the second level.
Both players also graded below average in coverage. Their combined stat line reads seven targets, nine receptions, 164 yards and a touchdown. To be fair much of that came from Reggie Bush’s 77 TD on a screen in which Greenway happened to be in coverage, but aside from that they combined to give up four first downs. Henderson was also crucially taken out on the aforementioned screen.
Detroit – Three Performances of Note
I’ve been highly critical of Matthew Stafford (+4.3) in the past, but this was one of his better games. The aim now will be to improve his consistency and this performance was a good start to the new season. Of 39 “aimed passes” Stafford completed 28 for 357 yards, two touchdowns and the solitary interception. That pick also wasn’t his fault as a batted pass at the line of scrimmage ballooned into Henderson’s waiting arms. The numbers could have been even better too if not for the simply absurd “possession” rule which stole a touchdown from Johnson. Stafford also threw a beauty of corner route which Megatron caught, but then stepped on the end line making it incomplete through no fault of his own. His highlight on plays that were actually successful was a gorgeously thrown post against cover two, which made it over the linebacker and between and in front of the safeties on second and long (Q2, 1.12). Stafford also proved composed against pressure, completing 6-of-11 passes for 70 yards and one sack. Ignoring drops, throwaways and batted passes, he has an accuracy percentage of 76.9, good enough for seventh in the league.
Stephen Peterman was a decent player for the Lions but he was ageing so the Lions decided not to resign him and instead targeted Kentucky product Larry Warford (+2.9) at the beginning of the third round of this April’s draft. The early signs have been positive as the 340-pound monster had a solid preseason which carried into Sunday’s game. Despite his size, Warford moves well and has the ability to get out and make blocks in space. Initially I was surprised when they drafted him because I thought he was a bad fit for the Lions’ three-wide spread attack, but so far he’s fitted in seamlessly. As previously mentioned Floyd did give him some trouble but aside from that he consistently graded positively in the ground game. In pass protection although the stat line reads perfection, he did allow a hit to Guion (Q4, 10.04) however the play was negated by a roughing the passer penalty. The only other blip was a false start in the second quarter.
Tough Day for Slay
While most rookies performed well in this game, Darius Slay (-4.4) was not amongst them. Jerome Simpson ate him for lunch as the second round pick managed just 31 snaps before being benched in favour of Rashean Mathis. The first play of his NFL career will stick in the memory for all the wrong reasons, as he had to try to take down Peterson at the second level after he broke through the line of scrimmage. Unsurprisingly the rookie got nothing but air as AP broke his ankles and took off for his long score. Slay’s only other contribution in the run game went just as badly, coincidentally it was Peterson’s other rushing touchdown. Slay this time did make contact, but you could hardly tell from the running back’s reaction as All Day was hardly slowed down at all. In coverage Christian Ponder completed 4-of-6 targets against him for 75 yards. Overall he allowed four first downs including a 47 yard bomb where he allowed about 15 yards of separation. We’ll see if he gets an opportunity to start going forward.
– Bush and Bell combined for 51 yards after contact (of 115 total) and three forced missed tackles in the ground game
– Suh leads all interior defensive lineman with a pass rushing productivity of +20
– The Vikings had as many combined sacks and hits as batted passes (four)
PFF Game Ball
It’s time to hop on the Willie Young bandwagon. He dominated both on the ground and as a pass rusher against one of the league’s best left tackles.
Follow John on Twitter: @PFF_John