A convenient scheduling quirk occurred this past weekend for anyone who wanted to get an advanced look at future Vikings opponents: Tampa Bay and Detroit, the Vikings next two opponents, played each other. As luck would have it, this week the Vikings Week 3 and Week 4 opponents (Detroit and Kansas City) also play each other.
With Detroit and Tampa Bay squaring off last Sunday, I set the DVR and watched that game back this morning. I took quite a few notes in watching the Lions defeat Tampa Bay 27-20, but I’ve decided to focus on just two areas.
Here are my thoughts on Tampa’s defensive front seven and passing attack after watching last weekend’s game…
Buccaneers defensive front seven
– Tampa Bay plays in a 4-3 defensive scheme and that front seven includes a very young defensive line. The Buccaneers invested their first two picks in each of the last two drafts on defensive linemen, and the result is a starting defensive line that averages 23.75 years of age and an entire defensive line group that is even a touch younger than that.
– The two standouts on that line are DT Gerald McCoy, the #3 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, and Adrian Clayborn, the #20 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. McCoy is good at splitting double-teams and being a disruptive force in the backfield, but he had no sacks and no tackles for a loss against the Lions. Clayborn is athletic and sheds blockers very well. He had a great outside rush move against LT Jeff Backus early in the game, but he also had trouble finishing plays and he was fooled on an end-around early in the game.
– Ultimately, I think the Buccaneers defensive line will be the heart and soul of the defense for several years to come. They are young and very athletic. But the Vikings offensive line matches up with this group and it’ll be a fun aspect of the game to watch on Sunday.
– The three linebackers are athletic and when pressuring the QB can be dangerous because of that athleticism. The Vikings offensive line, RBs and TEs need to have their protection responsibilities buttoned up to make sure Tampa’s LBs don’t get a free run at the QB.
– Against the Lions, Tampa Bay didn’t do a much disguising of coverage with their LBs. You’ll see Chad Greenway and E.J. Henderson frequently showing one look pre-snap and then executing a different technique during the play. I didn’t see the Buccaneers do this at all; it was a very straight forward approach, and they dropped into a lot of zone coverage against Detroit.
– I think the Buccaneers LBs are prone to misdirection and play-action or draw plays. Detroit executed a great play-action pass early in the game, with RG Stephen Peterman pulling to the left side. Peterman pulling caused two Buccaneers LBs to bite, which allowed Lions QB Matthew Stafford to find a wide open Brandon Pettigrew down the seam for a 1st down.
– We’ll start with the trigger man – QB Josh Freeman. He’s a young, athletic and big-armed passer who has some spark but also doesn’t fare well under pressure. The trick is, it’s hard to corral him because he’s strong and fast. He’s a player on the rise, but he still has some learning to do. Hopefully he doesn’t take a step forward this week.
– Their WRs are more quick than fast. The best of the group is Mike Williams. Most of Freeman’s throws to Williams are when there is man-to-man coverage against him. I didn’t see Freeman throw to Williams when he was covered by two-plus defenders. Freeman threw two fade routes to Williams in the game’s first eight plays, both in man-to-man coverage. Then Freeman threw another fade to Williams later in the 1st half and yet another in the 2nd half. But Williams has the speed and ball skills to win those one-on-one matchups.
– I was most impressed with TE Kellen Winslow. He can lineup in a three-point stance or in the slot, and he’ll win both ways. The Lions tried to cover him up with S Louis Delmas, and Winslow won that battle most of the time. Many times Tampa Bay would call plays that involved the WRs running off coverage and Winslow running drag routes across the field, under the coverage. This is where Delmas struggled a touch. When Freeman targeted Winslow, it was mostly intermediate routes to the outside of the field when a LB or S was trying to cover him man-to-man.
– Here are two prime examples of the situations the Buccaneers try to create for Williams and Winslow: On a 2nd and 10 with 14 seconds to play in the 1st half, Tampa Bay had Williams run a deep route to runoff a CB and S. That created space for Winslow to come off the line and run a 10-yard out underneath the coverage on Williams. It was an easy throw for Freeman, and Tampa got into better FG range to close out the half. On 3rd and 3 in the 4th quarter, Tampa had 3 WRs and Winslow in the game (lined up on right side of offensive line). Williams came in motion and ran a shallow crossing route from left to right, and Winslow came out of his stance and ran a drag route from right to left. Delmas had man-to-man coverage on Winslow. After Winslow caught a few balls, Lions safeties began to key on him. So, on a 3rd and 8 in the 4th quarter, Winslow was in the slot to the right and Delmas was focused on him, which left Williams singled wide left. Freeman found Williams on a deep out route for the 1st down after a quick double-move.
– On a 3rd and 5, Tampa Bay went with a 3-WR formation, with Winslow in the slot; Freeman was out of the gun formation. Detroit rushed 6 defenders, which left a CB one-on-one with slot receiver Preston Parker. This is where I see Chris Cook excelling. The Lions CB couldn’t guard Parker on the corner route, but I think Cook can because he’s physical enough to jam the receiver at the line and disrupt the timing of route.
– I don’t know if this qualifies as a tendency or not; remember, I only watched on game. To accurately scout a team and discover tendencies, you certainly need more than one game’s worth of evidence. But when Tampa Bay was in the “Zebra” personnel package, I noticed that Williams and Winslow never lined up on the same side of the formation. My theory is that this gave the Buccaneers the best odds at getting a one-on-one matchup with one of these two pass-catchers, and whichever guy had the desired coverage, that was Freeman’s primary read. Many times it worked, including Williams’ 4th-quarter TD reception that made the score 27-20.
– I never saw Detroit try to jam Winslow at the line of scrimmage to disrupt the timing of the route. I wonder if this would work.
– Starting RB LeGarrette Blount is not good in pass protection; they bring in FB Earnest Graham often for those duties.
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 108 Comments »
The Vikings secondary help Chargers QB Philip Rivers below his career marks in yards per attempt and passer rating last week in the season opener. They’ll look to do the same thing to Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman this week in the home opener, and a little extra help should be available in that quest.
Asher Allen, an important component in the team’s nickel defense as well as on special teams, was limited in practice all week leading up to the Chargers game and then he didn’t play on Sunday. Allen is dealing with a foot injury, but Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said the CB “should” be able to play this weekend, assuming everything goes according to plan in practice over the next 3-4 days.
“I think he will,” Frazier said when asked if Allen will make it back to the field for Sunday. “We’ve got to see how he does in practice. But from everything I was told leading up to today’s practice, we should have him for this game on Sunday.”
Frazier said the Vikings came out of last weekend’s game pretty healthy and he doesn’t expect at this point that anyone will miss Sunday’s game with Tampa Bay.
Jamarca Sanford will get his second straight start at safety, but Frazier said Tyrell Johnson will rotate in, just as he did last week. Frazier was also asked about the QB depth chart and he said it will remain the same, with Christian Ponder listed as the backup and Webb listed as the #3.
Tags: Asher Allen, Christian Ponder, Jamarca Sanford, Leslie Frazier
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 67 Comments »
The Vikings play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Sunday at noon, but the action on the Vikings Radio Network begins tonight with the debut of “Vikings Country,” a weekly radio show hosted by Mike Mussman and co-hosted by either Jared Allen or Chad Greenway.
The show will be broadcast live from the Sky Deck Sports Grille and Bar at Mall of America – located on the fourth floor, east side – every Wednesday during the regular season and will air on FM 100.3; the show will also be aired on Fox Sports North at 11:00 a.m. every Sunday. Allen and Greenway will alternate weeks as co-hosts of the show with Mussman, and the Vikings Street Team will be at each broadcast giving away great prizes.
Fans are encouraged to attend the live broadcast each week at the Sky Deck Sports Grille and Bar, where they will enjoy a state-of-the-art restaurant and entertainment facility that features high definition TV’s, quality billiards, 12 lanes of bowling and a great menu of beverages and food.
Allen will co-host on the following dates: September 7, September 21, October 5, October 19, November 16, November 30, December 14 and December 28. Greenway will co-host on the following dates: September 14, September 28, October 12, October 26, November 9, November 25, December 7 and December 21.
Tags: Chad Greenway, Jared Allen
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The Vikings enjoy a great home-field advantage at Mall of America Field and it looks like that advantage will be given a boost over the next two games. The team has decided to bring back individual player introductions, always a fan-favorite aspect of pre-game festivities.
In recent seasons, the club has gone with a full team introduction for each home game. By popular demand, however, Head Coach Leslie Frazier and the team has decided to try individual player intros for the next two games.
It’s not yet known which groups will be introduced for each game, but you can be sure the introductions will be met with an electric and raucous reaction from the fans at Mall of America Field.
Tags: Leslie Frazier
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 32 Comments »
A new week in the real world begins on Monday. But in the NFL world, the new week begins on Wednesday. Games are played on Sunday, we digest and review the games on Monday and Tuesday, and then on Wednesday we flip the calendar to next week’s game.
Today is Wednesday, and that means the focus on vikings.com and at Winter Park will shift to preparing for this Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. We’ll delve into further detail about the Buccaneers over the next few days, but here are a few basics…
– Both the Vikings and Buccaneers suffered 7-point defeats on opening day. But the Buccaneers lost their game at home to the Detroit Lions. Although the Lions are a team on the rise, it was still a disappointing loss for Tampa Bay because they, too, are a young team on the rise and they’re coming off a 2010 season in which they won 10 games. Lions QB Matthew Stafford was 24 of 33 for 305 yards with 3 TDs and 1 INT on the day, and he was able to lean on his top 4 weapons all day – RB Jahvid Best, WRs Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson and TE Brandon Pettigrew. The Buccaneers will need to do a better job of containing the Vikings primary offensive weapons this week, or else they’re in for a long day on Sunday.
– Tampa runs a 4-3 defensive scheme that, on surface level, looks very similar to the Vikings defense. The one thing I noticed that was very different, though, was that Tampa’s LBs don’t disguise their intentions in the same way the Vikings LBs do. With the Vikings, you routinely see Chad Greenway and E.J. Henderson showing a look pre-snap and then executing a different technique after the snap. With Tampa’s LBs, it was very straight-forward.
– The Buccaneers have a pair of 1st-round picks starting on their defensive line with 2010 #3 overall pick Gerald McCoy at DT and 2011 #20 overall pick Adrian Clayborn at right DE. McCoy is quick off the ball and is very capable of splitting double teams and being disruptive. But Detroit was able to contain him enough to register 126 rushing yards. Clayborn is also quick off the ball, but I noticed even more that he can shed blocks quickly and smoothly. Still, the Lions contained Clayborn well enough because Stafford wasn’t sacked one time all day.
– Offensively, the Buccaneers feature a young, talented nucleus with QB Josh Freeman, RB LeGarrette Blount and WR Mike Williams leading the group. But don’t sleep on TE Kellen Winslow, who was targeted 8 times by Freeman and hauled in 6 receptions for 66 yards against Detroit. Blount is a big, physical back who had a nice rookie season last year, but for some reason the Buccaneers were easily discouraged from running the ball against Detroit. Freeman threw 43 times in the game, meanwhile Tampa Bay picked up just 1 rushing 1st down and they ran the ball only 16 times all game, including just 5 carries for Blount.
– On special teams, K Connor Barth was 2 for 2 in FG tries, but the star of the show is P Michael Koenan, whom the Buccaneers acquired via free agency this past offseason. He’s a solid punter, but his value is on kickoffs. He was easily blasting kickoffs through the endzone, forcing the Lions to start at the 20-yardline. Across the NFL in Week 1, teams scored on fewer than 23% of drives that started at the -20 or worse.
We’ll have a lot more on the Vikings-Buccaneers matchup this week, so stay tuned to vikings.com.
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 18 Comments »
Wednesday is the day we flip the calendar from last week to this week. But before we do that this morning, I wanted to empty out the notebook from Sunday’s season-opening loss to the Chargers…
Positives to build on
It’s hard to look at the positives when you lose a game that you lead by 10 points at halftime, and in the process you generated just 10 first downs and 187 net yards. But there were some positives from the game and Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier mentioned a few of them in his Monday press conference.
“I had a chance to go back and look at that tape and there were so many positive things that happened in that game,” Frazier said, “and particularly in the first half, just opening up the season the way we did with the kickoff going for a touchdown and guys just battling throughout and trying to make plays on both sides of the ball and our special teams as well.”
Frazier went on to mention other positives, such as: running the football (Vikings averaged 6.1 yards per carry); stopping the run (Chargers averaged just 2.9 yards per carry). Beyond that, it was good to see the Vikings win the turnover battle, hold QB Philip Rivers below his career averages in yards per attempt and passer rating and continue to cover kicks extremely well.
Give a tip of the cap to Antoine Winfield, who intercepted Rivers late in the 1st half to stymie a scoring drive. It was the 24th INT of his career and his 18th as a Viking. Winfield will play in his 100th game as a Viking this Sunday in the team’s home opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Other defensive playmakers from Sunday were LB Erin Henderson and DEs Jared Allen and Brian Robison. In his first career start, Henderson had 6 tackles, 3 tackles for a loss and a sack. Allen and Robison split a sack and Allen also added an INT deep in Vikings territory to halt another potential Chargers scoring drive. On Winfield’s INT, Robison hit Rivers as he threw it, which caused the ball to hang up in the air so Winfield could snag it.
Frazier encouraged by CB Cedric Griffin
The Vikings defense is better when Cedric Griffin is playing, and he was playing in a regular season game on Sunday for the first time in nearly a year. Frazier seemed encouraged by Griffin’s ability to play the whole game on Sunday.
“I was really impressed with the fact that Cedric Griffin played as well as he did and as long as he did,” Frazier said. “He played every snap on defense, he did a great job.”
Young defensive line rotation
With Kevin Williams missing in action for the first two weeks of the season, a few young defensive linemen saw extra snaps on Sunday. There wasn’t much of a pass rush from the inside, which we typically see when Williams is in the game, but you have to give the youngsters some credit for the way they played against the run. In the end, there is improvement to be made, but it was also a step forward for the young rotation. Also, this experience will only make the entire defensive line better once Williams does return.
Re-naming the “Wildcat”
The Vikings introduced their package of plays for QB Joe Webb. Some have questioned the timing, which is a good example of Monday Morning Quarterbacking if you ask me, but the bottom line is it was good to see the Vikings display some creativity and ambition in getting Webb on the field.
But I think we need to come up with a name for this package of plays. It sounds like Frazier and the offensive staff don’t view this subset of plays in the team’s playbook as the typical Wildcat package, largely because Webb is a dual-threat – he can run or stay in the pocket and throw.
“Well ours is a little different,” Frazier responded when asked about the “Wildcat.” “The way we’re using Joe Webb, it’s different. Most teams that put a guy back there can’t throw the ball as well as Joe. We have a legitimate quarterback running the offense when we do it.”
Unfortunately, the Chargers were able to contain Webb when he was in the ballgame. But watch for the Vikings to grow that package of plays and improve production.
“There is room to expound on what we did [Sunday],” Frazier said. “We are not ready to give up on it. They did a good job [Sunday] of defending it, but we think it has merit.”
I do, too.
Tags: Antoine Winfield, Brian Robison, Cedric Griffin, Erin Henderson, Jared Allen, Joe Webb, Kevin Williams, Leslie Frazier
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