The Vikings are among the NFL’s best teams at running the football in 2011, as they rank 1st in the NFL with 5.6 yards per carry and 3rd in both rushing yards per game (157.0) and runs of 10+ yards (19). The Vikings passing offense, though, has been a bit slower out of the gates; they rank 31st in passing yards (155.0) per game, tied for 25th in receptions of 20+ yards and 17th in passer rating (80.9).
This Sunday’s game against the Cardinals at Mall of America Field provides the Vikings a good chance to get their passing game on track. Arizona’s pass defense has yielded 283.0 yards per game (26th in the NFL) and opposing QBs have a passer rating 89.4 (14th in the NFL). More importantly in my view is the fact that Arizona has allowed 26 gains of 20+ yards, with 23 of those coming through the air. Only one team has allowed more gains of 20+ yards and only one team has allowed more gains of 20+ yards through the air.
So I went through Arizona’s 4 games this season and charted all 23 receptions of 20+ yards (we’ll call them Big Gains) against them. Below I’ve listed a few trends and what it could mean for the Vikings on Sunday…
– WRs hauled in 17 of the 23 (74%) Big Gains, TEs had 5 (21.7%) and RBs had 1 (4.3%). This is good news for Bernard Berrian and Percy Harvin, and perhaps Devin Aromashodu. We saw Aromashodu get past the Chiefs secondary for a 34-yard TD last week, and I think both Berrian and Harvin will have opportunities to do the same on Sunday.
– Arizona has allowed 11 of 23 (47.9%) Big Gains on 1st and 10, 7 (30.1%) have come on 2nd and long, 3 (13%) on 3rd and long and 1 (4.3%) each on 2nd and medium and 3rd and short. This could play into the Vikings hands perfectly because of how well they’ve rushed the ball. If Adrian Peterson can get going on the ground early, the Cardinals will be forced to allocate more defenders closer to the line of scrimmage, especially on obvious running downs such as 1st and 10, and that could further expose the Cardinals secondary on 1st and 10.
– Just 6 of those 23 (26.1%) Big Gains have come when the Cardinals have sent 5+ rushers to the QB. This tells me that the Big Gains are not the result of receivers coming open because of blitzing defenders. Opposing QBs and receivers are finding holes in the coverage, and the Vikings must find a way to do this, too. The Cardinals run a mix of man and zone coverage, and they also play a pretty significant amount of single-high safety. It’s important for the Vikings to find holes in the coverage because Arizona’s secondary is a group of very good tacklers. Only 1 of the 23 Big Gains was a catch-and-run play (WR screen pass to Sidney Rice).
– This is a bit of over simplification, but 17 of the 23 (74%) Big Gains were throws to the outside half of the field, while 6 (26%) of the 23 Big Gains were throws to the inside of the field. I think Arizona’s pass defense is vulnerable on the edges. Whether that means attacking the CBs exclusively or finding ways to dictate man-to-man coverage and then running outside routes with RBs and TEs, I’m not sure; that’s for the Vikings offensive staff to figure out. But I’ve seen teams find more success attacking the edges of the Cardinals defense than attacking the middle of it.
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 145 Comments »