Breaking Down the Good and Bad from Minnesota Vikings Offense Against Cardinals
Veteran Dwight Freeney robbed kicker Blair Walsh of the opportunity, strip-sacking quarterback Teddy Bridgewater with five seconds left to preserve Arizona's 23-20 win. But while the game ended in heartbreak, the Vikings still put together one of their most productive offensive performances of the 2015 season.
We've had the weekend to digest what happened with the Vikings offense in Arizona. Here's a look at the best and worst from the game offensive coordinator Norv Turner called in Week 14.
Good: Spread the Ball Around
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater completed 25 passes, hitting 11 different receivers for 335 yards (a new career high). He connected with four different receivers, four tight ends/fullbacks and three running backs.
Amazingly, receiver Stefon Diggs—Minnesota's leading receiver coming into the game—caught only two passes for 12 yards. With Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson shutting the rookie down, Bridgewater needed to find others in the passing game.
Norv Turner developed ways for him to do so.
On Minnesota's first drive, Bridgewater hit running back Matt Asiata on a swing pass for 22 yards. A quarter later, he dialed up a tight end screen for Rhett Ellison, who rumbled 41 yards. A few plays later, Bridgewater improvised against pressure, finding running back Jerrick McKinnon for eight yards and a first down.
One of Bridgewater's best throws of the night came later in the second quarter, when he lofted a perfect pass to rookie tight end MyCole Pruitt for 32 yards off a deep corner route. In the fourth quarter, an underneath pass to Zach Line turned into 24 yards.
Even Mike Wallace made an impact, catching three passes for 43 yards and the game-tying touchdown.
Overall, Minnesota produced 17 first downs and six plays over 20 yards through the air.
The Vikings offense isn't built to feature one or two players in the passing game. It must be a group effort like Thursday night, when Turner was as creative as he's been all season in finding ways to distribute the football to a variety of players.
Bad: Final Play Call
With 13 seconds left and needing just three points to tie the Cardinals in regulation, Minnesota went for a passing play to get closer for kicker Blair Walsh. There was plenty of blame to go around for the final result of the play.
Left tackle Matt Kalil missed his block, and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater failed to get rid of the football. But the majority of the blame for the final play still falls on offensive coordinator Norv Turner.
The call asked for tight end Kyle Rudolph and receiver Jarius Wright to run twin crossers from the left to right of the offense. It also asked for Bridgewater to utilize a seven-step drop. It ended up being far too slow-developing of a play in the situation.
Bridgewater waited and waited for Rudolph and Wright to finish their routes, knowing full well he couldn't complete a pass inbounds. When he finally realized the play was a wash, it was too late. Freeney, who put a vicious spin move on Kalil's solo block attempt, stripped away the football as Bridgewater was attempting to get rid of it.
Head coach Mike Zimmer said Turner "probably could have called something else," via Ben Goessling of ESPN.
Players need to execute, but coaches must also put their players in the best positions. Turner failed in this regard.
A seven-step drop was playing with fire, especially given the offensive line's season-long struggles. The chances of a sack or a penalty were too high. And there was no need for a play that asked the go-to receivers to run all the way across the field toward the near sideline.
The call needed to be a quick drop with an immediate read. Either Bridgewater would take a shot to the sideline right away, or he'd throw the ball into the first row and settle for the kick.
Hindsight is a powerful thing when breaking down football plays. But in this scenario, even the head coach questioned the thought process behind the call.
Good: Sticking with the Run
There must have been a temptation for the Vikings to abandon the run last Thursday night. The Cardinals went up by 10 points with a field-goal drive lasting over seven minutes in the third quarter, and Minnesota needed an answer to start the fourth quarter.
Credit Turner. He stuck with Adrian Peterson and the run.
The Vikings ran Peterson on the first three plays of the ensuing drive. He turned those opportunities into 16 yards and a spark for the offense.
On the next drive, which ended in the game-tying touchdown, Peterson carried five times (including one on a penalized play).
Overall, the Vikings gave Peterson 23 carries, despite his gaining only 69 yards. It wasn't always pretty, especially with the Cardinals geared up to stop the running game. But the commitment paid off. According to Pro Football Focus, Bridgewater completed 10 of 13 passes for 173 yards off play action.
The Vikings are dead in the water when they give up on the run and become a one-dimensional offense. Teams can then pin their ears back and attack Bridgewater with the pass rush. Minnesota must stick with Peterson, even when the scoreboard suggests a shift to passing. It's the only way to give this offense, as currently constructed, a fighting chance.
Bad: Trick-Play Timing
Once again, the Vikings' failed trick play on the first drive of the second half presents a problem. If the players execute, the play call is fine. But when the Cardinals blew it up, and Peterson fumbled while trying to make the pitch to receiver Mike Wallace, it turned from trick to terrible.
However, it's fine to wonder why it was necessary.
The Vikings had gained 34 yards on their drive's first five plays of the drive, including a five-yard run with Peterson to set up the 2nd-and-5 situation. It seemed to be an ideal time for a play-action pass. Instead, Turner dialed up the reverse to Wallace.
The call felt out of place. The Vikings were moving the ball with efficiency and simplicity. Calling a reverse was getting cute when cute wasn't required.
Minnesota was at the Arizona 35-yard line, which was well within Blair Walsh's range. Instead of driving for points, the Cardinals recovered Peterson's panicked pitch attempt at the 43. Arizona then went 57 yards in six plays to retake the lead. The botched trick play was a huge turning point in the game.
The lesson here: Deception probably isn't needed when traditional means are doing the job.
Good: Passing-Game Approach
It took 14 weeks, but the Vikings might have finally found their passing game's sweet spot. And it had nothing to do with asking Bridgewater to execute deep drops and toss the football down the field.
The Vikings won against the Cardinals by using a quick, short passing game designed to get the ball out of Bridgewater's hands. According to Pro Football Focus, only five of Bridgewater's 32 attempts traveled more than 10 yards in the air. He peppered the Cardinals coverage with underneath throws. His receivers did the rest.
PFF credited the Vikings receivers with 236 yards after the catch or 70.4 percent of Bridgewater's final tally. Six different receivers had at least 20 yards after catch.
Turner also helped Bridgewater with play-action passes. He averaged 13.3 yards per attempt, with a passer rating of 118.3, over his 14 dropbacks, including play action. Turner called for a run fake on 35 percent of his passing plays against the Cardinals.
The result was Bridgewater's most productive and efficient game of the season. Moving forward, expect the Vikings to use more of both concepts—quick throws and play action off the run—to power the passing game. If it can work against one of the faster, more talented secondaries in football, it can work against anyone.