ReFo: Vikings @ Rams, Week 15
With two weeks to play, the MVP race is heating up and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is firmly entrenched in the discussion. Even more important than Peterson’s MVP chances, the Vikings are still alive for a Wild Card spot in a jumbled NFC that should come down to the final week of the season.
The St. Louis Rams appeared to have a good game plan installed for slowing down Peterson, as the first quarter saw defenders knifing into the backfield and stifling the Minnesota running game. It all changed at the 12:21 mark of the second quarter. That’s when Peterson broke free for an 82-yard touchdown run, and the Vikings never looked back on their way to a 36-22 victory.
While the Vikings are battling for a playoff spot, the Rams are looking for consistency under first-year head coach Jeff Fisher. Their three-game winning streak was snapped, a run that saw them defeat a San Francisco 49ers team that is widely acknowledged as the best in the league. To take the next step, St. Louis must find a way to avoid the poor efforts that have crept into their otherwise competitive 2012 season.
Let’s take a look at how this one played out.
Minnesota – Three Performances of Note
Rookie Plays an All-Around Game
Coming off his worst game as a pro, rookie left tackle Matt Kalil (+3.4) bounced back nicely with one of his best. He did not give up a pressure on his 27 pass block attempts, and his +2.1 run blocking grade is the best of his young career. Kalil’s athleticism was on full display with 5:36 to go in the second quarter as he got out in front of Minnesota’s toss play. He did a nice job of finding his target, cornerback Cortland Finnegan, and planting him on the ground to clear a path for Peterson. Kalil later showed power at the point of attack as he widened the edge on defensive end Eugene Sims to open a hole for a 17-yard run where Peterson was largely untouched. It was by no means a perfect day for Kalil, but since he’s shown more than capable as a pass protector, Vikings fans will be keeping a close eye on his run blocking to see if he can be a dominant all-around player for years to come.
Williams Can Still Rush
Despite a noticeable slip in his ability against the run this season, defensive tackle Kevin Williams (+2.6) has remained an interior presence as a pass rusher and he was Minnesota’s best on Sunday. He picked up a hit and five hurries on his 48 pass rushes, while also adding a batted pass. While a lot of his pressures came of the unblocked or clean-up variety, he was able to bull rush left guard Robert Turner into the quarterback’s lap on multiple occasions. Sunday was also Williams’ best game against the run since Week 9. While he was unable to notch any tackles, he did a nice job of redirecting blockers, such as the second play from scrimmage when he hurled a pulling Scott Wells into the ball carrier to allow linebacker Jasper Brinkley to make the tackle for no gain.
Cornerbacks Struggle in Coverage
Minnesota has received the requisite inconsistent play that comes with two young cornerbacks on the outside, and Sunday’s game was no different. Cornerbacks Josh Robinson (-3.5) and A.J. Jefferson (-1.3) combined to give up 10 of 16 passes their way for 99 yards, while notching a penalty apiece. Robinson was the culprit on two of St. Louis’ three touchdown passes, as he was out muscled by Brian Quick on an end-zone fade, before losing track of Danny Amendola for a score early in the fourth quarter. His pass interference penalty came on a go route to Quick where he all but tackled him on his way to a 29-yard spot foul. Jefferson was not much better, as all five receptions his way went for first downs.
St. Louis – Three Performances of Note
The Rams’ defense missed eight tackles, lead by safety Craig Dahl’s three. He was the poor soul left to tackle Peterson in the open field on multiple occasions, and he failed miserably. It started with 6:24 to go in the second when a charging Peterson left Dahl grasping for the air on a well-timed spin move. The worst of the bunch came at the 7:48 mark of the fourth quarter as Peterson came at Dahl full speed. The safety looked like he was stuck in quicksand as Peterson sprinted by him untouched on his way to a 52-yard gain. Dahl was also one of many Rams defenders to blame on Peterson’s 82-yard touchdown, as he completely overran the play and allowed for easy entry into the secondary and beyond.
Hayes Leads in Stops
If it wasn’t for the two big runs, the Rams would at least have a respectable performance against the run, and DE William Hayes’ play was a big factor in that. Though he played only eight run snaps, he notched four stops while grading at +3.5 as a run defender. All four of his plays came while working off blocks, and two of them were tackles for loss. He was part of the action in the first quarter when the Rams appeared to have Peterson held in check. On back-to-back plays, he shed fullback Jerome Felton to make the tackle for loss before standing up and shedding tight end Kyle Rudolph for a 2-yard loss just 30 seconds later. No matter who Minnesota threw at him, Hayes found a way to make plays against the run.
Just as the entire Rams team is trying to put together extended stretches of strong play, so too is quarterback Sam Bradford (+0.7). In his third season, he has shown flashes of brilliance that lead us to believe he should be the centerpiece of St. Louis’ rebuilding effort. Yet there are still a number of throws and decisions that leave us scratching our collective heads. Sunday’s effort had all of the above.
After fumbling a snap just plays earlier, Bradford made the worst decision of the game when he threw the ball right to dropping defensive end Everson Griffen, who picked off the errant pass and returned it for a touchdown to give the Vikings a 24-7 lead early in the second quarter. Bradford was completely unaware of the zone blitz and gift wrapped the interception for Griffen. Despite the terrible play, he bounced back to make big time throws, though it was well after the game was in hand for Minnesota. Whether it was finding Amendola with a perfectly placed touchdown pass on the roll out, or threading the needle up the seam, he’s certainly showed the ability that made him the first overall pick in the draft. At some point, however, the next step must be taken in Bradford’s career.
– Vikings QB Christian Ponder was 4-for-4 on throws between 10-20 yards. He was 0-for-1 on his lone attempt beyond 20.
– Minnesota blitzed on only 12 of 60 drop-backs, but they all had an effect on Sam Bradford. He graded at -2.5 against the blitz and +3.8 when they rushed four.
– Vikings DE Jared Allen played all 85 snaps. This marks the first time he’s gone the distance this season.
PFF Game Ball
Adrian Peterson was the best player on the field as he continues to carry Minnesota toward a playoff berth.