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Reviewing the Minnesota Vikings’ 2021 season: Week 6 @ Carolina

Purple Pain

This fan blog entry was originally posted at Purple Pain Forums by MidwinterViking.

The purpose of this series is to look for things that can be changed in 2022. I am trying to look for things the Minnesota Vikings can learn and improve on. I try not to focus too much on the opponents; however, in this case, Carolina looked grossly incompetent. The fact that this Carolina team somehow won five games is nothing short of a miracle. I’ll try to ignore that fact and look for things the Vikings can change.

Here are the previous games:

Game 1 @ CIN

Game 2 @ ARI

Game 3 vs SEA

Game 4 vs CLE

Game 5 vs DET

Week 6 – Vikings vs Panthers: Vikes win 34-28 in OT

Interesting stat:

Sam Darnold‘s passing yards in the first 58 minutes of the game: 124 (0 TD / 1 INT).

Sam Darnold’s passing yards in the last two minutes of the game: 83 (1 TD / 0 INT).

Patrick Peterson injured his hamstring with 2:03 left in the game. Prior to that, Peterson had played extremely well, especially covering the Panthers’ No. 1 wide receiver, DJ Moore. The Panthers’ secondary receivers looked terrible and dropped everything, but the coverage did a good job taking away their top options forcing them to go to their not-so-good receivers.

I also want to shout out Bashaud Breelend for his play in this game; it was very strong. I ripped Breeland as much as anyone last season, but this review of the game has made me realize that through six weeks, he was not the weak link. His interception was spectacular.

He had a perfectly-timed pass breakup wiped out by a dumb, unnecessary penalty by Xavier Woods. The box score will tell you he had a pass interference. He didn’t; he was all over the receiver who just fell down to try and play-act a flag and it worked. I officially give a mea culpa on trashing Breeland and henceforth wish him well in his career.

Related: No, the Minnesota Vikings won’t trade for Baker Mayfield

Minnesota Vikings’ red zone inefficiency

Key play:

There were so many ways for the Vikings to utterly blow the doors off the Panthers. I’m going to pick the one where the Vikings had a chance to turn the momentum to their favor and really put the hammer down. This is not the key play, but necessary context, this is third-and-goal on the first drive, and the ball goes to Tyler Conklin:

Justin Jefferson can create separation in the red zone; Conklin can’t.

I’m also going to say that I don’t think Conklin was good in this game. He wasn’t opening much up with his blocking. He had this missed touchdown. He held onto some wide open throws, exactly like any tight end in the NFL should do.

I like Conklin and would have been happy with him as a TE2 who can dependably convert plays when the opposition leaves him alone. I don’t think he’s a TE1. Here is why I set this up. At this point, the Panthers weren’t looking good and the Vikings had a chance to really put pressure on early with a score on this play. They would settle for a field goal.

The pass goes to Adam Thielen who is brought down short of the first down.

Do you blame Kirk Cousins in this situation for throwing short of the end zone? It looks like Conklin might have the outside open for the touchdown. Maybe, but the last time Conklin made a break the defender was all over him.

If that’s Irv Smith Jr. at tight end, I think this is a touchdown to Irv.

KJ Osborn runs a curl behind Thielen short of the first down… why? That doesn’t get a first down and just puts a defender in front of Conklin.

Dalvin Cook just sort of jogs out into the flat to the left and contributes absolutely nothing to the play.

This is every problem with the 2021 Vikings’ offense in one play: misuse of players’ skill sets, short throw, poor play-design; and all rolled up and called on a critical play.

Related: Colin Cowherd predicts Minnesota Vikings will double their 8-win total from 2021

Vikings unit grades from Week 6

Now scores by unit; from -2 to 2 per game with no 0’s given out.

Passing offense: The passing offense was obviously a positive, but it’s difficult to rate. Considering how many really dumb passing plays there were this game, it’s tough to rate the passing offense very high. If they’d stop screwing around, Cousins could probably have thrown for 500 yards on this ramshackle excuse of a defense. I’m still going to give them +2 because the passing offense basically won this game twice, in overtime AND with a drive to set up a game-winning field goal with one second left… if not for a miss.

Game score: +2 (cumulative season to date: +5)

Rushing offense: Big totals, but a lot of grinding. Dalvin got a lot on his own.

Game score: +1 (cumulative season to date: +0)

Pass defense: The pass defense won its matchup, but it wasn’t dominant. This game, the secondary carried the pass rush. The one high point was Dalvin Tomlinson; he and Armon Watts took the Panthers’ lunch money. I can’t rate this higher because the Panthers’ receivers were so bad, and they did come back to tie the game.

Game score: +1 (cumulative season to date: +6)

Run defense: This was fine. The yards-per-carry for the Panthers only looked respectable because Darnold had some good scrambles… and if Darnold is running for his life, you’ll be fine.

Game score: +1 (cumulative season to date: +0)

Special teams: The -2 isn’t enough to capture how horrible the special teams was. A punt blocked for a touchdown and two missed field goals in the fourth quarter is 13 points given away by special teams. Also, Dede Westbrook almost gave away a punt. This was a complete catastrophe. I looked at Greg Joseph’s game log and, interestingly, after this game, he only missed one more field goal on the season. Maybe he figured something out after those two misses.

Game score: -2 (cumulative season to date -2)

Coaching: Never got the team out of second gear. One decision that really bugs me: if you’re not going to turn your offense loose at the end of the second half, why run a play at all? Either go or don’t go; kind of going halfway seems like only risk with no reward.

Game score: -1 (cumulative season to date: -3)

Related: Justin Jefferson speaks out about Vikings ‘old-school offense’ last season

Vikings’ old-school offense on full display

Here are some of the plays that struck me as needing to be addressed with a new scheme. First, the quick-outs. These don’t even rise to the level of being a stupid screen because they don’t even bother to set the receiver up with blockers. Bad things happen with these.

Offensive play 1:

Jefferson’s sweetness comes from creating separation downfield. He’s not a speed demon in the mold of Tyreek Hill. This play just puts him in traffic and hopes something good happens. Even if it does work, there is one blocker in position for two defenders. It doesn’t, and Jefferson fumbles. That’s the football gods saying “never do that again”. Klint Kubiak doesn’t listen; there were at least six of these horrible out throws where the receiver runs a “just stand there” route behind the line of scrimmage.

Offensive play 2:

Oh yeah! Now we’ve opened up the book of stupid screens! Cousins gets drilled but this one might actually work because there is an entire committee out there to block for Cook! Unfortunately, the committee discussion on which of the four members should block the one (seriously, count … ONE!) defender gets bogged down in administrative procedure and Cook is blown up. I honestly have no idea who to blame when four guys watch a defender run by, preparation or players?

Offensive play 3: 

The game time and situation are important here. On second and 11 with three minutes left sitting on an eight-point lead, and the Vikings choose to put the ball in the air. Ballsy. If you’re going to do that, you’d better have a good play design that should have a good chance at gaining most of what you need for a first down, then this:

My favorite: double “just stand there” routes by Thielen and Jefferson… I have no words… but I quit! I’m switching to defense!

On the defensive side, it’s going to look like I’m being hard on Xavier Woods. I know I am, but since his position changed, this is one of the areas that could produce some of the more significant changes. Also, he had a few questionable plays in this game.

Defensive play 1:

Brandon Zylstra splits the linebackers for a big gain. I’m not sure what’s going on with the defense on this one. Woods breaks on the receiver who appears to be well-covered. I’m not sure if this is a mistake or a miscommunication. This seems like an example of complexity in the defensive scheme opening the door for errors.

Defense play 2:

I had to split this up into two frames. You can see the ball arriving on top; on the lower half you can see Darnold has already released the ball and the receiver (tight end, Ian Thomas) is only at about the 23-yard line. Thomas isn’t a prolific receiver with only 18 catches on the season. The line of scrimmage on this play was at the four. I don’t know if this is on Woods for getting over too slowly or Kendricks for not tracking a low-end tight end 30 yards downfield. With two high safeties knowing a deep pass is coming on fourth and 10, it feels like the Vikings should have stopped Sam Darnold to Ian Thomas.

Defensive play 3:

This is the game-tying touchdown to Robbie Anderson. Things look okay at the start:

Then for the life of me, I can’t figure out what Mackensie Alexander should be doing here.

Alexander just turns around and runs towards the corner of the end zone leaving No. 11 Robbie Anderson alone. Eric Kendricks is playing a zone in the middle of the field.

Is this on Kendricks for not getting deep enough? Does Alexander think he can cover the running back on the out-route? Was Alexander supposed to turn Anderson over to Woods with Alexander taking the receiver to the outside? The pass goes over Kendricks to the back of the end zone for the touchdown. You can see from the first image there was nothing to worry about on the left.

After all that, I’ll just leave you with this, the best play of the day:

As always, if you’ve enjoyed this piece, please consider hopping over to Purple Pain Forums and debating with other Minnesota Vikings fans about not only this topic, but so much more!