NFL Week 1: Vikings @ Titans Recap

“I’ll never not take a win.” — Mike Zimmer

I’m not a scientist, but I’m pretty sure that means that Zimmer isn’t thrilled with the way the Vikings won on Sunday, but he’d rather have the team play that way and win, than play that way and lose. As a fan, I will concur with the coach’s sentiment expressed immediately following the Vikes’ 25–16 victory over the Titans in Tennessee. 1–0 beats the hell out of 0–1.

Outside of great catches by Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, and Cordarrelle Patterson (yes!), the offense was pretty anemic. Norv Turner said on Monday morning that the lack of success in the running game was due to “one guy” being free and disrupting the play. That was true here as Jurrell Casey #99 is double teamed by Berger and Boone, and then both blockers release him to block downfield.

I’m not certain that that example is exactly what Norv was talking about, but had 99 not entered the picture, Kyle Rudolph’s failed reach block on Derrick Morgan might have been at least a little less impactful.

Among the folks in #VikingsTwitter this morning, there was a bit of celebration about the lack of sacks given up, and the effectiveness of the offensive line. In particular, folks were happy about the aptitude of Matt Kalil. #75 is still having trouble with bull rushes, as evidenced by this effort on the first third down of the game.

Aside from that play, Kalil did well. As has been well documented, the Vikings had difficulty picking up stunts last season. There were several instances where Kalil and Boone stymied a stunt early in this game. Below is one such example.

That might not be the greatest stunt in NFL history, but the communication between the two OL was impressive. They handed off well before contact was made.

Meanwhile, Shaun Hill was serviceable in the game. His arm strength was bad, and that wasn’t a surprise to anyone that watched the preseason. He showed good anticipation and a trust in his receivers to get open and make plays. The lack of arm strength means that his mechanics have to be rock solid, however and there was one throw early on where his mechanics cost him a touchdown.

Here, he reads Diggs coming open, and makes the correct throw, but for whatever reason, he doesn’t step into it. Throwing off the back foot causes the ball to sail, and he overthrows an easy touchdown by 5 yards or so. The protection was solid, and I wonder if he saw a flash of #90 DaQuon Jones in his peripheral vision and hesitate for a moment. Jones gets a good push, but Fusco holds him off. Either way, this is the cost of doing business with Shaun Hill as the QB. If his mechanics aren’t perfect, he’s going to miss throws.

The defense was opportunistic in scoring twice, and was the only defense to score in week 1. I hope you started them on your fantasy team(s).

Using Pro Football Reference’s play by play table, I calculated that the Vikings success rate (where success is defined as 40% of yards needed for a first down on 1st down, 60% on 2nd down, and a first down on 3rd or 4th down) on 1st down was just 25%. The 2nd down success rate was 45.5%. Combining the two gives an Early Down Success Rate (EDSR) of 34.8%. That was the lowest ESDR of any team in the NFC North in week 1. The Vikings allowed the Titans to have an EDSR of 54%. That was the highest EDSR allowed of any team in the NFC North.

All offseason, the coaching staff has stressed the importance of keeping the offense on schedule, and forcing the opponent into 3rd and long. I don’t know what the definitions of those terms are for Mike Zimmer and company, but I think these metrics give at least a reasonable picture of what that might mean. Regardless of the specifics, it is clear that the execution on both sides of the ball has to get better, particularly on early downs.

I’ll never not take a win, but winning as a direct result of a fabulous interception, and a right place right time scoop and score wasn’t exactly encouraging. Nevertheless, I like that the O-Line played better. Having Shaun Hill manage the game was nice, but I am hopeful that Sam Bradford will get the start and maybe the offense can stretch the field a bit and open some running lanes for All Day.