The Minnesota Vikings lost their playoff chances and embarrassed themselves in the process against the NFL's other purple team—the Baltimore Ravens. An exciting but frustrating game for Vikings fans left them spent but angry.
Read below for grades and analysis of every unit.
|Positional Unit||First-Half Grade||Final Game Grade|
Week 14 against the Ravens
Final Game Analysis
Passing Offense: In another mixed half offensively, the passing game caught a few lucky breaks near the end, and Cordarrelle Patterson's near game-winning touchdown at the end would have been the highlight had it not been for some heroics from the opposing team. The offensive line tightened up a little bit in the second half, but it was a quick release from Cassel that really reduced the pressure. On the whole, the passing game got worse and only completed seven of 17 passes in the second half, although the yards per attempt did increase.
Once again, Cassel is the beneficiary of dropped defensive interceptions that could have changed things significantly if the poor officiating already hadn't. A low completion rate is still bad despite a high yardage per attempt because those inconsistencies won't move the chains. A net poor passing performance when the Vikings needed an average one helped lose the game.
Running Offense: The Vikings run game improved significantly coming out of the half and was the biggest reason they were still in the game. Aside from stretch runs to the outside, the Vikings weren't just productive, but consistently successful running the ball. Toby Gerhart did his best to close out the game with a long touchdown run and ended the game with 5.9 yards per attempt. The blocking wasn't necessarily spectacular but it was functional after they cleaned up the interior blocking assignments. A good, but not great, performance from the unit.
Passing Defense: The fourth quarter was a completely different story from the rest of the game, and the passing defense was largely on-point until then. Even with that fourth quarter, they still allowed only 4.9 yards per passing attempt and grabbed three interceptions—almost always a winning performance from a defense. Even the pass rush made waves, and a few three-and-outs late in the game looked impressive. It might be hard to believe, but the Vikings only allowed 6.6 yards per attempt in the fourth quarter.
The bigger issue, of course, were penalties that gave Flacco and the Ravens additional yards and took away an interception. Some of the penalties—like the pass interference committed by Robert Blanton—were wholly on mental miscues from the Vikings defense. Others, like the pass interference call on Chad Greenway, seemed suspect. Nevertheless, the Vikings passing defense allowed a score at the wrong time and couldn't close doors when it mattered most. A great performance marred by a terrible final drive.
Running Defense: The running defense broke down and allowed Ray Rice some impactful runs late in the game, giving credence to his late-season resurgence as a running back of note. Starting the game with 2.3 yards a carry, he finished with a total of 3.9. Still not good for him, but a sign that the Vikings run defense broke down. Missed assignments were part of the problem late in the game, but much of it simply had to do with being out of position and having poor tackling angles.
The defensive line was much more concerned with the pass than the run (which follows, given the fact that Flacco dropped back 53 times, including scrambles and sacks, while the Ravens called 26 running plays), and it meant that the linebackers and secondary needed to clean up. On most occasions, they did, but they didn't really close out all that well—like the passing defense.
Special Teams: The special teams were on display, and this time for a bad reason. They gave up their third touchdown return of the season and wiped away an incredible play from Patterson to recapture the lead. Blair Walsh was very effective in awful conditions and shouldn't be faulted for a pooch kick that was covered poorly. Locke didn't do well in the cold, but the Vikings return game was at least effective, even if it wasn't spectacular. One play will define their performance for fans, but it was honestly an up-and-down day overall.
Coaching: Once again, the coaching staff can be implicated for an embarrassing loss. When the defense had been performing as well as it had been earlier, it's on the defensive coordinator to put those talented players in a position to win. The late two-minute defense the Vikings showed was the same two-minute defense that they'd been showing all year, a big part of the reason they were so easily picked apart. The coaching staff is also partially responsible for the penalty issue at the end (although once again, the officiating itself is suspect), while the offensive coordinator shouldn't be credited for fluke outcomes from some poorly-called plays at the end.
A lack of adaptation from the offense allowed the game to be close in the first place, and the coaching staff shouldn't be credited for some impressive individual player performances.
Passing offense: While it's admittedly difficult to grade games in the snow, it's pretty clear that the passing game is struggling. Throwing only 10 completions on 21 attempts, Matt Cassel's passing has been questionable even when taking the snow into account. There have been a few impressive passes, but they have been overshadowed by questionable decision-making and misplaced throws.
The only shining moment has been Jennings, whose most impressive play wasn't even ruled a catch. The offensive line has been questionable at best and got worse with the injury to Joe Berger. To the offense's credit, the passing game improved significantly by the end of the half.
Running offense: An injury to Adrian Peterson will define the game, but it looks like the terrible running game had nowhere to go but up by the time a bad tackle took him out of the game. Nevertheless, the offensive line has done a terrible job, while runs to the outside have had limited effectiveness for the running backs.
The running game finished the half looking up, but it still has been enormously ineffective. Relying on a running back who requires cutback lanes and solid footing has made the normally formidable running game a shadow of itself.
Passing Defense: A mixed performance from the passing defense, but honestly it's been much better than what the opposing team had been able to do. The secondary has forced a number of missed passes, even though the pass rush has been significantly slowed by the snow. The bigger issue has been losing contain on the surprisingly sprightly Joe Flacco, who has left his reputation for deep throwing behind in favor of a more improvisational game.
At the end of the half, a series of delayed passes to Rice hurt the defense but didn't give up anything with the aid of the clock. The numbers look good and the only score has been on an extremely short field.
Running Defense: If you take into account how the Ravens running game has been performing all year, the Vikings have been somewhat disappointing despite only giving up 2.3 yards a carry to Ray Rice. Losing contain on Joe Flacco and allowing him to run for 22 yards (plus more on a play that was later called back) has been their greatest sin and they need to do a better job keeping track of quarterbacks—as they've had to all year. Regardless, it has still been a good performance, as most Ravens runs have failed.
Special Teams: The odd circumstances of the game change things, but the Vikings special teams has outperformed the Ravens special teams in most arenas. Unfortunately, their performance against Sam Koch, the Ravens punter—along with their own Jeff Locke's performance—will drag the grade down. Locke has been disappointing, but the units overall have been good. Decent kick coverage and decent returning from Patterson on kickoffs give the special teams a small advantage.
Coaching: Neither team's coaching staff has been particularly great, but the Vikings should be worried by how poorly their coaching staff on the offensive side of the ball has adapted to the snow. Too many runs outside and plays that require cutbacks in slippery conditions have hampered the offense. Situational play-calling has been abysmal for the offense, and both play design and play selection have limited what the Vikings can do.
Hopefully, as they enter the half, they'll focus more on the middle, both in the passing and running game. On defense, the play-calling has been better and has taken advantage of the players' specific skill sets, which is why we see more pass rushes coming from the linebackers and physical play from the secondary.