Look below for full game grades and analysis
|Positional Unit||First-Half Grades||Final Game Grades|
Week 16 against the Bengals
Final Analysis for the Minnesota Vikings
Passing Offense: Somehow Matt Cassel's second half was worse than his first half, and his play was nothing short of terrible throughout. He has no excuse for his awful performance, as the offensive line did a good job of blocking individual players, although they were a little overwhelmed when it came to blitzes. The receivers got open, and there weren't many drops. In that sense, the passing unit wasn't necessarily bad overall, but it was too dependent on one player who massively underperformed. The grade reflects this, even if the sum of the performance was one of the worst ones the team has seen in some time.
Running Offense: The unsung heroes of the offensive line should be the story once more as they blocked the run even better than they stopped the pass rush. Creating huge lanes for Adrian Peterson, then later Joe Banyard and Cordarrelle Patterson, the offensive line was almost the entire run game while Peterson took what his blocking gave him. Patterson was even better as he played a big part in the only second-half Vikings score. Overall, it was a good performance by the running offense, even if Peterson wasn't quite himself.
Passing Defense: The passing defense was abysmal, as neither the coverage nor the pass rush could get the job done until well after the game was out of hand. Everson Griffen showed up and there were some fine looks by various spot players at various times, but nothing consistent could stop the passing defense except drops by the receivers and Andy Dalton himself. Again, even if the numbers weren't the worst the Vikings have given up in a long time, the performance by the individual players was.
Run Defense: The run defense provided the lone bright spot for the beleaguered Vikings scrimmage units. The Vikings bottled up the Bengals running game all day, and they gave up only 2.2 yards per carry and only 1.8 yards per carry to running backs. It was more gap discipline than anything else that allowed this to happen and simple assignment football was mostly responsible for forcing the Bengals away from relying on the run. The defensive line didn't win all that much up front, but they didn't get moved off the ball. Today, that's all they needed.
Special Teams: Incredible work by Cordarrelle Patterson should establish him as the league's best kick returner, if he wasn't already. Vikings fans should rest assured that they have at least found a better special teams player than their previous all-world returner, Percy Harvin, and his contributions there alone might be enough to justify the trade. Blair Walsh wasn't tested on the field and Locke had a middling performance. Their ability to prevent big gains with special teams ultimately didn't matter, but it's always good to win the field-position game.
Coaching: The Vikings coaching staff have failed their team this season, but it would be erroneous to blame the loss entirely on them without also casting some blame on the players. Situational offensive play-calling was horrible, but so was Matt Cassel. The staff made some poor choices in terms of snap counts and how often players saw the field—particularly a clearly struggling Adrian Peterson—and their risk/reward management was off. On defense, the coaching staff couldn't overcome an injured and incongruous corps, which is partially on them. But they didn't force Chris Cook out of position or Shaun Prater to go down, so it is difficult to lay the blame on them.
First-Half Analysis for the Minnesota Vikings
Passing Offense: There were some early issues with pass protection, but the sack which resulted in a fumble at the beginning of the game wasn't the fault of the offensive line as Matt Cassel needed to do a better job of reading the blitz. Cassel is playing more to his level than he did last week, but an early strike to Jarius Wright on a gorgeous route put the Vikings back in the game. The story of the game, however, seems to be Cassel overthrowing receivers when they are open. Very few of Cassel's passes—even the completions—have been on target.
Running Offense: Adrian Peterson hasn't really been generating his own yards, and almost all of the yards gained in the first half are a result of the blocking. Today we've seen an uninspired performance from the league's best running back, and the Vikings should have moved on from him earlier in the game. As of right now, his 3.4 yards per carry average is more impressive than it is disappointing, given how poorly he's run lately. Cordarrelle Patterson has been successful running the ball however, and figures to be an important part of the game heading into the second half.
Passing Defense: Early injuries to cornerbacks spell trouble for Minnesota and a stale pass rush isn't helping matters. In terms of technique, the Vikings passing defense is playing terribly, but they're lucky that Andy Dalton hasn't exploited it as much as he should have. While the secondary deserves its share of criticism, putting virtually no pass-rushing pressure on the quarterback is inexcusable. The Vikings' average of 7.5 yards per attempt in the first half was a gift from Dalton, and they should exploit his miscues more often. Despite those average numbers, the passing defense has been anything but.
Run Defense: Audie Cole's injury is regrettable, but he was responsible for a few big gains because he failed to get off of blocks. With Henderson in at middle linebacker, the only unit performing well has been the Vikings run defense, which has held the Bengals to 3.0 yards per carry and the running backs with even fewer at 2.8. The early BenJarvus Green-Ellis touchdown looks to be a fluke and the Bengals are carrying themselves in the passing game.
Special Teams: Unsurprisingly, Patterson has once again repeated his displays of dominance in the return game, and he's been the most exciting player the Vikings have fielded so far. From here on out, it looks like the Bengals will give up field position if it means they can avoid kicking it to him. Marcus Sherels has done well on punt returns, too. Blair Walsh hasn't been tested as a kicker, but Jeff Locke hasn't played all that well, with his punts outkicking the coverage and giving up free yards.
Coaching: The coaches should have taken Peterson out earlier in the game and found different ways to use their defense with Cole out of the game. Isolating poor matchups has hurt the Vikings defense as well, and they can't seem to adapt to changing game circumstances. Beyond that, the offensive play-calling has been abysmal and disregarded the demands of certain situations. For example, obvious screens were called on 3rd-and-short and we saw plenty of poorly designed audible calls and passing plays. The Vikings aren't playing as if they have four downs, and that's the fault of the coaching staff.