Final Thoughts

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Final Thoughts: Vikings vs. Buccaneers

Posted Sep 22, 2017

Remember that time Anthony Barr was a one-man wrecking crew on the first play of overtime against Tampa Bay in 2014? It was Week 8, the Vikings were 2-5 and had lost three straight, and Tampa Bay scored 13 points in the 4th quarter to take a lead before the Vikings kicked a field goal as time expired in regulation to push the game to overtime.

Barr took over from there.

On the first snap of overtime, Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon found tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins for what looked to be a solid drive-starting play. Barr chased Seferian-Jenkins down, forced a fumble, scooped up the fumble and sprinted 27 yards for a touchdown. It was the first game-winning fumble-return touchdown in franchise history and it capped what was a great game for Barr. The rookie linebacker tallied nine tackles, a sack, three quarterback hurries, one pass defensed and the forced fumble and fumble recovery. The effort garnered Barr NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors and it was one impressive week in what was an awesome rookie season.

That season, Barr totaled 99 tackles, 4.0 sacks, four tackles for loss, 13 quarterback hits, three passes defensed, three fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles – all in 12 games.

Barr has been a steady producer for the Vikings defense since his debut season, but he battled through injuries during the 2015 and 2016 offseasons and that left many wondering what could’ve been had he been able to participate in an offseason program and training camp without also dealing with some sort of ailment. Well, he was healthy for all of the 2017 offseason and his first two games of the regular season have reflected that. He had eight tackles and 1.0 tackle for loss in the opener against New Orleans and then in Week 2 he was largely responsible for containing one of the NFL’s most lethal offensive weapons – Le’Veon Bell. In 31 touches, Bell racked up fewer than 100 yards and was held out of the end zone. With Barr in his hip pocket all day, Bell caught four passes for only four yards and averaged only 3.2 yards per carry.

We don’t know what Barr’s assignment(s) will be this week against Tampa Bay, but it’s clear he’s on a bit of a roll right now and very few people inside U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday would be disappointed if Barr had the kind of impact he’s had on the first two games, or the kind of impact he had the last time the Vikings played the Buccaneers.

Let’s get to a few more final thoughts from the week that was.

Bradford ruled out; Keenum will start Sunday

There will be no game day drama this week. Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer rule quarterback Sam Bradford out for Sunday’s game, meaning Case Keenum will start his second straight game for the Vikings. Everyone wants to know more detail about Bradford’s injury and timeline for return, but Zimmer declined to give any specifics about it because his focus remains on winning Sunday’s game over Tampa Bay; plus, he’s admitted he’s not clairvoyant.

For his part, Vikings Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur seems to have this extended quarterback quandary reduced to a pretty simple proposition.

“Well, the challenge is to put together a plan that can attack the defense that you’re facing and then within that plan trying to utilize the plays that fit the skillset of the quarterback playing,” Shurmur said. “That’s pretty much it.”

Zimmer, Koetter set to match wits over Rhodes, Evans matchup

Anyone who’s spent time thinking about the Vikings-Buccaneers matchup is anticipating a showdown between cornerback Xavier Rhodes and wide receiver Mike Evans. And that one-on-one matchup will come to fruition often on Sunday. But as we saw in this week’s Vikings GamePlan film segment with Pete Bercich, the Buccaneers like to line up Evans all over the formation – wide to each side, in the slot, in the short slot and in motion. So, will Rhodes travel with Evans? Will he travel with Evans to the slot? If not, does Rhodes stay on one side when Evans is in the slot or does Rhodes then pivot to DeSean Jackson when Evans is in the slot? This is a chess match between defensive and offensive minds and it’ll be fun to watch Zimmer and Buccaneers Head Coach Dirk Koetter match wits.

Everson’s engine is running hot!

Sack Daddy is off to a great start. Everson Griffen has tallied 3.0 sacks in two games and he’s been nearly unblockable as he starts a 2017 season that follows a 2016 season in which he was NOT the team’s sack leader. That distinction went to Danielle Hunter, who had 12.5 sacks. Griffen had 8.5, a very good season-long number, and make no mistake that Griffen is very pleased with his younger teammate’s success. But Griffen cares about his performance, he is dedicated to his craft, he wants to be respected and he wants to be great. Tampa Bay will be on the lookout for No. 97. It will either not matter and Griffen will continue ransacking the backfield, or Tampa Bay will compensate to help the left side handle Griffen and Hunter will be more freed up to get after the quarterback.

A win on Sunday would…

- Improve the Vikings record at U.S. Bank Stadium to 7-3. You have to win your home games in this League, and the Vikings are doing that in their new building. Cleaning up at home is imperative now, as the Vikings begin on Sunday a stretch of four games in five weeks on their home turn before playing six of their final nine games on the road.

- Improve the Vikings record versus NFC teams in 2017 to 2-0. All the games matter, but games against division opponents matter most and games against conference opponents matter almost as much.

About that Vikings run defense

Many people lamented the Vikings run defense a year ago. But I never thought it was really that bad. They held their first six opponents, including the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans – both top 10 rushing offenses by season’s end – to below their would-be per-game rushing average. There were some hiccups in there, though. At any rate, 2017 is a new season and the run defense has been on point. The Vikings have held opponents to 3.0 yards per rush, seventh-best in the NFL, and they haven’t allowed a run longer than 11 yards all season.

The quietest record setter ever

Leave it to Marcus Sherels to set a Vikings team record in the quietest fashion ever. The soft-spoken Sherels broke the record for Vikings career punt returns yards last week, passing Leo Lewis. Sherels now has 1,822 career punt return yards and will have 14 games to add to that total in 2017. Sherels is as unassuming a pro athlete as you’ll ever meet, but don’t confuse that soft-spoken nature for weakness or ambivalence. He’s as competitive and dedicated as they come. He broke into the League the hard way, as an undrafted free agent, and seven years later he’s still kicking – ‘er returning. The guy no one wanted coming out of the University of Minnesota back in 2010 is now the guy no one can beat out of a roster spot because of his prowess on special teams as a punt returner and gunner.

Stat of the week

The Vikings defense has held opponents to just two of nine (22.2%) on red zone possessions. What should be noted with this stat is that the Vikings defense has faced formidable offenses – Drew Brees and the Saints and Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers, offenses that scored touchdowns at 66% and 54% clips, respectively, in the red zone a season ago.

Three threats

Gerald McCoy – The total package at defensive tackle. Big and powerful with strength and leverage combined with a quick first step and explosiveness to penetrate the backfield. McCoy is a handful and is a defender offenses will game plan around. He can ruin the game if you’re not careful.

DeSean Jackson – Speed. So much speed. A great complement to Mike Evans. Zimmer noted this week that Jackson has the speed and quickness to take a short pass and turn it into a long touchdown and then he also has the deep speed to take the top off a defense.

Lavonte David – Another Buccaneer with speed. Zimmer has praised the Buccaneers linebacker corps for their speed and David is a big reason for that. He’s a tackling machine, he can play in space and he can cover the pass.

Your mail

So much for that revamped offensive line. Leaking like a sieve. New Orleans defense was clearly an inferior NFL-caliber unit.

-- Jack Grace

Hall of Famers one day and trash the next. That is life in the NFL. Everyone loved that new-look Vikings offensive line after the 29-19 win over New Orleans, and now after some struggles while playing the Steelers on the road and on a short week with a backup quarterback, it’s like that group has never done anything worthwhile. Let’s give it time to breathe here before we make final judgments.

I hear a lot of praise for Trae Waynes’ performances from week-to-week but I seem to continually watch him try to catch up to receivers and cause flags to fly. Even going back to the preseason games against Seattle and San Francisco, he seemed to be struggling. Do you think it’s time we start to look at another option for the number two corner spot? Skol!

-- Glenn Johnson

Waynes has games where he plays well, such as Week 1 this season. He also has games where he gives up too many big plays and commits too many penalties. It’s fair to wonder when his development will take hold and he’ll take that next step, but I believe it’s unfair to jump ship with him. He has too much talent and too good of coaching right now to give up on him. I believe Waynes will be everything this defense needs him to be for the majority of the 2017 season.

How do you asses the overall performance of the secondary in Pittsburgh? And should we be concerned going forward? The long pass interference penalties look like a serious concern for a team that plays Aaron Rodgers and the Packers at least twice a year. Were they symptomatic of some deeper issues or young players not developing as hoped?

-- Jim Lee

They gave up too many penalties and a few big plays. Those mistakes have to be corrected. But Le’Veon Bell had four receptions for four yards and Brown was basically a non-factor. Tight end Jesse James didn’t have a touchdown after scoring twice the week prior. Roethlisberger had fewer than 100 yards passing at halftime. All of that illustrates a great effort by the pass defense, but those penalties and a few big plays muddy the picture a bit. I think they’ll be fine and are in a good place heading into Week 3.

Quote of the week: Pat Shurmur

Reporter: Did you do anything special with Dalvin on ball security?

Shurmur: A: We work on ball security with all the players every day. It’s like shaving, if you don’t it eventually you don’t look good. I think it’s something that we work on and every player that touches the ball needs to finish the down with it.

I love analogies, especially original ones. Thanks, coach Shurmur, for making Thursday’s press conference less mundane than it could have been. That’s two weeks in a row that Shurmur is the quote of the week. We might be onto something here.

Broadcast Info

National Television: FOX (Ch. 9 Twin Cities)

Play-by-play: Thom Brennaman

Analyst: Chris Spielman

Sideline: Peter Schrager

Local Radio: KFAN-FM 100.3/KTLK-AM 1130

Play-by-play: Paul Allen

Analyst: Pete Bercich

Sideline: Greg Coleman, Ben Leber