First Impressions: Vikings-Rams
First Impressions: Vikings-Rams
The Vikings treated this game as a necessary inconvenience, risking their starters for just one series on either side of the ball. Makes sense — they were saving their knees so they could get down on one to propose marriage to Brett Favre for the 2010 season.
The Rams, on the other hand, left all their starters in for the entire first quarter, and left the starting O-line out for the entire first half as rookie Sam Bradford got his first live action in nearly a year.
Sam Monson takes a PFF look at the meaningful moments:
Wide receiver Laurent Robinson was back as a starter in the Rams offense, paired with Donnie Avery. But that might be a testament to the issues the Rams continue to have at receiver as much as any recovery that Robinson has made. Rodger Saffold was the starting left tackle with last year’s top draft pick Jason Smith manning the right side of the line. With Jacob Bell being held out of the game with an injury, utility lineman Adam Goldberg played left guard, and Hank Fraley and Jason Brown rotated between center and guard.
The Rams have been experimenting with Brown at right guard against 4-3 teams with two large defensive tackles because of his size, and the idea has some merit. Right guard is the interior O-line position most often on an island and likely to face a one-on-one matchup with a big defensive tackle. Unfortunately for the Rams, the Vikings’ defensive tackles were able to get consistent penetration from both spots all night long. Smith has only just returned from injury, hasn’t had many reps at right tackle, and certainly didn’t look good. He was abused by Jayme Mitchell — the Vikings’ backup defensive left end — consistently throughout the game, being beaten with bull rushes and speed moves with little resistance. He was better than that as a rookie, and will likely be again.
As for Bradford, well, he was worthy of his own article.
The Rams started the game with a linebacker trio of Larry Grant at weakside linebacker, James Laurainitis at middle linebacker and Na’il Diggs at strongside linebacker, meaning that the superior David Vobora has been relegated to a backup role. There has been talk that the Rams like Diggs in coverage more than Vobora and that Grant has been greatly improved during camp, but the bottom line is that Vobora did nothing last season to suggest he should be replaced in the starting lineup. He showed that he is a valuable playmaker, even if the Rams feel it should be in a two-down capacity.
Vobora entered the game with the second-team D at middle linebacker, and almost immediately blew up a run play in the backfield with a quick read and reaction. Vobora didn’t have a great end to ’09, but he was PFF’s fifth-ranked 4-3 outside linebacker over the course of the season, scoring a +9.6 PFF rating, and +8.3 against the run.
Chris Long stayed in the game well into the second quarter, after the rest of the starters on D had been taken out. Long didn’t play poorly in ’09, recording a PFF rating of +1.6 on the season, but he has been far from the dominant force the Rams expected when they drafted him.
Defensive back Jerome Murphy saw a lot of playing time in the game, and the Rams have to find somebody who can improve a secondary that was pretty wretched in ’09, with four cornerbacks and two safeties grading firmly in the red.
The Vikings’ starting offense only played one series in the game, and it was without Adrian Peterson, Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, Visanthe Shiancoe, and Jon Sullivan (and that’s before we go anywhere near the endless Brett Favre drama). Tarvaris Jackson attempted four throws on his lone series and they went thus:
• Naked boot right, Jim Kleinsasser in the flat for a few. Right decision coming off Bernard Berrian who was well-covered deep.
• Shotgun, third-down completion to Berrian for a first down out of the bunch on the left-hand side.
• Second and 9, pass right to Greg Lewis for 8 yards, Lewis couldn’t hold on (slipped?). Came off first read, found second target.
• Third and 9, Rams showed blitz, dropped off it, right read, tipped at the line, incomplete.
Given the fact that the Vikings might be relying on Jackson to lead the team in the 2010 season, it would have been nice to get an idea of how far his game has improved, if at all. But all we can gather from those throws is that he didn’t make a poor decision or a bad read, but none of them were high-risk either.
Running back Albert Young showed a good ability to read, and pick up the blitz, stoning a blitzing player on several occasions during the game. Rookie Toby Gerhart, on the other hand, looked far less comfortable in that regard, but did show some quick feet at times.
Middle linebacker E.J. Henderson didn’t play in this game, but he dressed and went through the warmups, which is remarkable, as anyone that saw his femur snap like a twig during the game against Arizona last year can attest. Jasper Brinkley started at MLB in his stead, much like he did last season. Brinkley seems to have improved his ability to diagnose and read plays in coverage (-3.6 PFF rating in coverage last season, and a QB rating of 130.4 against), but he still appears athletically suspect in coverage at times.
Pat Williams sat out the game as well, and Jimmy Kennedy started alongside Kevin Williams. Kennedy has been impressive since joining the Vikings (+3.2 PFF rating last season), showing well both against the run and the pass, and he appears to still be the top backup at defensive tackle for Minnesota. The second-team D-line was impressive across the board, with Brian Robison, Letroy Guion, Fred Evans and Mitchell all making multiple positive plays against the Rams’ starters. The Vikings would appear to not only have a top D-line, but to have ample depth in the unit.
In the secondary, Lito Sheppard started at right cornerback across from Antoine Winfield, and Asher Allen lined up with the first team in the slot. This is likely the way the Vikings will go into the season, but rookie corner Chris Cook is making a strong push, showing extremely well in coverage as well as special teams in the game. Cook shows rare speed and agility for a corner of his size (6-foot-2, 212 pounds) and looked especially comfortable in press coverage.
Sheppard’s coverage numbers opposite Darrelle Revis in ’09 were impressive (48.1 percent completion into his coverage, only 2 TDs allowed), but his coverage grade wasn’t spectacular (+3.6). Regardless, his play against the run was an issue (-2.4 PFF rating). If the Vikings feel confident in Cook, he could force himself into a starting spot by opening day.