Vikings have to protect to improve on offense
The Minnesota Vikings are falling fast as they head to Buffalo with a passing attack that ranks 30th in the league in yards, last in interceptions and didn't score a touchdown in last week's loss to Detroit.
The Minnesota Vikings are falling fast as they head to Buffalo with a passing attack that ranks 30th in the league in yards, last in interceptions and didn’t score a touchdown in last week’s loss to Detroit.
It’s difficult to imagine anyone manhandling the Vikings offense as thoroughly as the Lions’ defensive front did last week. But a peek at Buffalo’s game films reveals another stout and talented front four, not to mention the league’s top-ranked run defense.
In other words, uh-oh.
“I think Buffalo has a very a good front, too,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “The two inside guys, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams, are both very good, Mario Williams on the outside, Jerry Hughes is playing really good now.”
It’s a team game, obviously, but the offense is the heaviest anchor weighing down a 2-4 team that’s now two games out of first place in the NFC North. In last week’s 17-3 loss to Detroit, the Vikings held Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford to 15-for-29 passing for 116 yards and no touchdowns over the final 56 minutes. And yet they still lost by two touchdowns as rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was sacked eight times and threw three interceptions.
“We have to find a way to outplay our opponent’s defense,” defensive end Brian Robison said. “We have to find a way to be perfect.”
In wins over St. Louis and Atlanta, the Vikings had no turnovers and no sacks allowed. In losses to New England, New Orleans, Green Bay and Detroit, the Vikings had 10 turnovers and 22 sacks allowed. As a result, each loss has been by double digits, including consecutive division losses by 32 and 14 points.
Now, the Vikings travel to Buffalo (3-3) with a turnover ratio of minus-5, which is tied for 26th in the league. The Bills are plus-3 with 10 takeaways, including six interceptions.
Zimmer was asked Wednesday if playing a rookie quarterback in these circumstances was risking the dreaded “David Carr” syndrome, a reference to the former Houston Texan who never did live up to expectations after being sacked an NFL-record 76 times as a rookie No. 1 overall pick in 2002. Former Dolphins defensive end-turned-NFL analyst Jason Taylor presented that argument earlier this week.
“I don’t know about Jason Taylor’s comments, but I do know that I know Teddy, and I’m not worried about him,” Zimmer said. “He’s got a very tough mindset, he’s a great competitor, he’s got mobility in the pocket so he can move. I’m not very concerned about that, and we’re going to block better.”
SERIES HISTORY: 13th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 8-4. The Vikings are 4-3 in Buffalo, but lost the most recent meeting, 17-12 in 2006. They haven’t won in Buffalo since 1997. The Vikings beat the Bills 38-14 at the Metrodome in 2010.
n Vikings coach Mike Zimmer apparently has been too busy to count the number of times his team has lost.
Asked a question about receivers dropping passes, Zimmer said: “I have an interesting stat for you. The two games we’ve won, we’ve had no turnovers and no sacks. The two games we’ve lost we’ve had 10 turnovers and 20 sacks. Or the three games we lost, I guess. It kind of tells you where it’s at right there.”
You’re getting closer coach. It’s actually four times that you’ve lost. And the sack total in those four losses is 22, not 20.
n Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater did something Monday that’s indicative of the personality that veterans are coming to respect. It wasn’t anything major. Just a quick comment to the offensive line that might help Bridgewater as a leader down the road.
Bridgewater was sacked eight times in the loss to Detroit. But he’s trying to make sure some fingers are pointed in his direction as well as the offensive line’s direction.
On Monday, he went out of his way to stick his head into the offensive line meeting room to say a few words.
“I just told those guys, ‘Hey, I’m going to be much quicker getting the ball out of my hands,’ not forcing those guys to hold their blocks longer than they’re supposed to,” he said.
BY THE NUMBERS: 119 - Career touchbacks in 38 games by kicker Blair Walsh. That’s only 14 shy of the team record of 133 by Fred Cox, who played 210 games over 15 seasons. Opponents have returned only four of Walsh’s kickoffs this season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “I don’t really know the exact time, but you have to have that mental clock in your head. It’s usually whenever you take that fifth step, the ball should be gone. “ - QB Teddy Bridgewater, who has spent probably more time than he’d like addressing how long he held the ball on some of his eight sacks on Sunday.
Strategy and personnel
n TE Kyle Rudolph (hernia surgery) did not practice again Thursday and remains weeks from returning.
n LB Gerald Hodges, who missed only four snaps in the Lions game despite straining his hamstring early, has not practiced this week. It’s looking unlikely that he will play considering Chad Greenway, the starter at the weak-side linebacker spot, is ready to return.
n LB Chad Greenway, who has missed the past three games because of a broken hand and broken ribs, had full participation in practice again on Thursday. Wednesday was the first time he had made it through a full practice since before Week 2. Look for him to start this week.
n CB Jabari Price, an important special teams player, was limited in practice on Thursday after not practicing on Wednesday because of a hamstring injury.
n DE Corey Wootton, who is a small part of the team’s defensive line rotation, did not practice again on Thursday because of a lower back injury.
n DT Sharrif Floyd, who was limited in Wednesday’s practice because of a lingering elbow issue, did not practice at all on Thursday.
n NT Linval Joseph, who had his best game as a Viking in last week’s loss to the Lions, was limited again in Thursday’s practice because of an ankle injury. Joseph had a season-high eight tackles and a career-high six quarterback pressures.
n WR Cordarrelle Patterson is still on the injury report with a hip injury, but was able to have full participation again on Thursday.
n FS Harrison Smith, who was questionable a week ago, is still on the injury report with an ankle injury. He had full participation in practice on Wednesday and Thursday. He played in 100 percent of the snaps on Sunday.
GAME PLAN: The Vikings have as much respect for the Bills’ defensive front as they did for the Lions. So the game plan hinges on the ability to protect quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who was sacked eight times at home against the Lions on Sunday. The Vikings’ running game won’t be able to control the game against Buffalo’s top-ranked run defense, but some sort of balance will be a must. To achieve that, look for the carries to be more evenly distributed between the bigger, more powerful Matt Asiata and the smaller, quicker Jerick McKinnon, who moved into the starting role last week. Defensively, stopping the Bills’ three running backs is the No. 1 priority because the Vikings believe quarterback Kyle Orton will make mistakes in third-and-long situations.
Matchups to watch
n Bills RDE Jerry Hughes, who had two quarterback pressures and one of his four sacks of the season in the loss to New England on Sunday, vs. Vikings LT Matt Kalil, who gave up four sacks and three quarterback hurries in the loss to Detroit. No Vikings player is under harsher scrutiny right now than Kalil, the fourth overall pick from the 2012 draft. Pro Football Focus has him as its lowest-rated starting offensive tackle. Hughes had an active and disruptive day against the Patriots.
n Bills C Eric Wood, who is part of Buffalo’s 22nd-ranked running game, vs. Vikings NT Linval Joseph, who played well against the Lions after straying from coach Mike Zimmer’s technique the week before at Green Bay. The Vikings run defense improved in large part because Joseph stayed committed to a scheme that demands him to occupy blockers so that linebackers can move freely. Joseph also had a season-high eight tackles and half a sack. The Bills split last week’s 23 carries among three backs. They averaged only 3.0 yards per carry.