Friday, 8 November 2013

A game of two halves for Vikings

The Vikings' defensive line had a lot to smile
about in the second half against the Redskins
The Minnesota Vikings finally won their first game of the season on American soil last night, overcoming the Washington Redskins 34–27 at the Metrodome to go 2–7. The game featured a rejuvenated Christian Ponder, who threw for two touchdowns and just four incompletions all night, but it was the Minnesota defence that showed the most improvement from their final-minute defeat to the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday.

It could so easily have been yet another case of déjà-vu for the Vikings, however, as they allowed Robert Griffin III to march his team down to the 4-yard line with no time-outs and the clock winding down. Not content with simply allowing a 76-yard drive, the Vikings coaching staff even stopped the clock for the visitors, sending Greg Jennings into meltdown. In the end, it was three bad throws from RG3 (and a missed holding penalty against Vikings LB Erin Henderson) that consigned the Redskins to a sixth defeat in 2013.

At half-time, though, with the Vikings down by two scores, victory seemed unthinkable. As has been almost endemic of the franchise throughout the past few weeks, the defence was simply unable to get off the field on third down throughout the entire first half, with the exception of a goal-line stand that resulted in a field goal on the Redskins' opening drive.

In a complete mirror image, after converting seven of their eight third-down attempts in the first half, the Redskins converted just two of eight in the second half, both of which came on the opening drive, which again resulted in three points. With effectively the same personnel out on the field in both halves, the change in their fortunes can almost be put down entirely to play-calling.

Last week against Dallas, Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams came in for much criticism from two of his senior defensive linemen, Kevin Williams and Brian Robison, who questioned why, on the Cowboys' game-winning drive, they did not continue with the four-man rush that had caused Tony Romo trouble earlier in the game. With more time in the pocket, Romo was able to pick holes in Minnesota's threadbare secondary, even with the extra man dropping into coverage.

It looked as though Coach Williams would stick with the same strategy last night, and to much the same effect. With space to throw, and the added threat of the read option offence to work with, RG3 completed 16 of 21 passes, and he and running back Alfred Morris put up 288 yards of total offence. The only thing that kept Minnesota in touch with the visitors at the half was Washington's equally porous defence.

Williams presumably saw the error of his ways during the interval, and on the first series after the break, Kevin Williams recorded his first sack of the game. From then on the Redskins struggled to deal with the pressure and Griffin was sacked a further three times; his numbers also suffered, as he threw for just 102 more yards and his passing percentage dropped from 76.2% in the first half to 50.0% in the second.

If this shows anything, it is that Coach Williams needs to put more faith in his defensive line to get the job done. The Vikings' secondary is notoriously weak, especially with the loss of several starters due to injury, but the team's defensive line is among the best in the league. Instead of forcing elite pass rushers to play in an unfamiliar role by dropping back into coverage, Williams should be playing to their strengths. Even the best quarterbacks will make mistakes if they are put under enough pressure, it's just a matter of keeping up the intensity and giving the defensive backs the opportunity to make plays on bad throws.


  1. Good article, RG3 struggles under pressure as his game against the Broncos showed.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Ben. Glad you liked it. You're right, RG3 needs to develop more of a pocket presence, especially if he wants to have a long career in the NFL. His legs won't carry him forever.