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Final Thoughts: Rushing Offense, Pass Rush Key Vikings Victory

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 23, 2012 – 6:20 am

The Vikings have a quick turnaround this week, as they’re slated to play on Thursday night in a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. We’ll turn our full attention to the Vikings-Buccaneers matchup later on Tuesday. But first, here are a few final thoughts from the Vikings 21-14 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

Getting Home With Four
We identified rushing four defensive linemen and dropping seven defenders into coverage as the defensive key to the game in last week’s Verizon Wireless Winning Formula. The Vikings identified the same strategy as the way to contain Arizona’s offense, and it worked. Cardinals QB John Skelton was sacked 7 times in the game and was constantly under duress. That disrupted the Cardinals passing game and it prevented superstar WR Larry Fitzgerald from ever becoming a factor.

“That was the goal, to go into this game and be able to generate a pass rush without having to bring five or six guys,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said on Monday. “Our D-line stepped up to challenge. They dominated just like we hoped they would. It really took a lot of pressure off our secondary and helped them to play a very good game as well. It was great execution, but it started with our guys up front.”

Of the Vikings 7 sacks, 6.0 of them came from defensive linemen. DE Brian Robison had 3.0, DE Jared Allen had 2.0 and DT Kevin Williams had 1.0. The other sack went to CB Antoine Winfield (more on that play later). The pressure generated by the Vikings front four allowed the Vikings secondary and LBs to focus on Arizona’s receivers, specifically Fitzgerald. Only one other team this year (New England Patriots) has held Fitzgerald to fewer catches and receptions than the Vikings, who held the former Holy Angels (Richfield, MN) star to 4 receptions for 29 yards.

Run It, All Day
When you play the Vikings, you know you have to buckle it up and get ready to stop Adrian Peterson. But then, when you’re able to shut down the Vikings passing game almost entirely, you surely know Peterson will be coming at you. Even so, Arizona could not stop the best RB in the NFL. Peterson had his best day on the field since returning from his knee injury, carrying the ball 23 times for 153 yards and 1 TD. On the Vikings two TD drives, Peterson carried the ball a total of 8 times for 87 yards.

Perhaps most impressive about the Vikings rushing performance was the fact that they did it despite Arizona consistently stacking the box to try and slow #28.

“For our running back, Adrian Peterson, who is the premier back, to know they’re going to be in eight-man fronts, nine-man fronts at a time, and be able to rush for 153 yards, that’s the formula for success if you’re in a tough situation throwing the football,” Frazier said. “Credit our guys for buying into that philosophy and finding a way to get a win.”

What I also loved to see was the way the Vikings finished the game. The Vikings were in a precarious situation, holding on to a 7-point lead with :14 to play in the game and a 4th and 5 from the Arizona 33. There was too much time remaining to kneel again because that would give the Cardinals the ball on about the 35 with 12 or so seconds to go. They could use one quick pass to the sideline to put themselves in position to throw a hail mary. Trying a FG was an option, but a miss would give the Cardinals the ball at the spot of the hold, with a chance at a hail mary on the following play. So what did the Vikings do? They gave it to Peterson.

The result was good – an 8-yard gain up the middle for the 1st down, permitting the clock to tick down to zero.

Key Play: Antoine Winfield’s 4th-Down Sack
A key moment in the game came at the 7:47 mark in the 3rd quarter, with Arizona facing a 4th and 2 from the Minnesota 18. The Vikings just took a 21-7 lead on the previous series when Harrison Smith returned an INT 31 yards for a touchdown. With a makeable distance to go on 4th down inside the red zone, Arizona decided a FG wasn’t going to do much for them, so they decided to go for it.

It didn’t work out.

Skelton took the snap and rolled to his right, looking for a receiver in the right flat. That receiver was blanketed by Winfield, so Skelton tucked the ball and attempted to run for the 1st down. Being chased by Robison, Skelton sprinted toward the sideline and the 1st down marker, which prompted Winfield to come off his coverage at the just the right time and administer a crushing blow to Skelton before he could reach the 1st down marker – before he could even get back to the line of scrimmage. Robison got there a split-second later to increase the punishment, and the Cardinals turned the ball over on downs.

It was one of those signature plays from Winfield, a defender who plays with a unique blend of calculation and tenacity.

Vikings Neutralize Patrick Peterson
When it comes to punt returners in the NFL, Patrick Peterson has been Superman. He had a record-setting season returning punts last year as a rookie, scoring 4 TDs and totaling 699 yards on 44 returns. The 4 return TDs tied the NFL single-season record and set a franchise record, and the 699 return yards established an NFL rookie record and ranks as the 2nd-highest single-season total in NFL history (Desmond Howard, 875, 1996).

But when it comes to defending punt returners in the NFL, the Vikings have been Peterson’s Kryptonite. In last year’s matchup, Peterson had zero return yards on 4 Vikings punt. In Sunday’s matchup, Peterson had 7 total return yards on another 4 Vikings punts. Credit goes to Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer, P Chris Kluwe and the team’s punt coverage crew for finding a way to neutralize the explosive and dynamic Peterson.

Harrison Smith’s Temperament Impresses
Vikings rookie S Harrison Smith is off to a fantastic start. Even before his 31-yard pick 6 this past Sunday, Smith was having a great season. Add in that play, which was ultimately the game-winning score, and you can’t be anything but completely excited about how much of an impact player Smith will be for this Vikings defense.

Smith plays the safety position in a way we haven’t seen very much in Minnesota. He’s been fined for illegal hits and he’s been penalized for mixing it up after a play. But the penalties and/or fines that Smith has received after a couple of big-time hits have not caused Smith to temper his aggressiveness. He’s learning to modify his play so that he can remain aggressive while playing within the rules.

“Sometimes when you get fined as often as he’s gotten fined in these first seven games, it can temper your emotions and make you start playing a little tentatively,” Frazier explained. “And that hasn’t been the case with him. He’s been aggressive. He’s still in-tune with everything we’re trying to get done. He doesn’t seem to be sidetracked by anything that happened.

“I remember explaining to him about horse collaring and what happened a week ago against Washington and talking him through it again, although we’ve covered this before. And he said, ‘Okay, I understand.’ Then he just moved on, and that’s the attitude you want to see.”

Now Smith adds a defensive touchdown to his body of work in the NFL. Typically, players who bring that much to the table are emotional and volatile by nature. But that’s not the case with Smith, and that’s impressed Frazier as well.

“His resiliency, his maturity is very, very impressive,” Frazier said. “He’s a bright guy and very athletic but his maturity and just not letting stuff hang on to him that can be negative, that’s impressive.”


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