December 4, 2017

Vikings defeat Atlanta 14-9 to boost winning streak to eight games

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

On Sunday afternoon, the Minnesota Vikings visited Mercedes-Benz stadium in Atlanta to play the Falcons. Many commentators were expecting a high-scoring game, but both teams’ defences played at a very high level, keeping the score low and the tension high. Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes may still be a bit hobbled by a leg injury he’s been nursing, but he still did a great job of taking away the other team’s top receiver — in this case the excellent Julio Jones. Jones ended up catching two passes of the six Matt Ryan threw in his direction for only 24 yards. Case Keenum had a down first half, but a much better second half to finish with 25 completions on 30 attempts for 227 yards and two touchdowns, one to Jerick McKinnon and the other to Kyle Rudolph. Keenum is now 8-2 as a starter since taking over for Sam Bradford in week 2.

At Zone Coverage, Arif Hasan describes the Vikings’ strategy as conservative and (to some extent) designed to reduce Keenum’s opportunities for errant throws:

For the most part it worked, and it served to set up both touchdowns for the Vikings – first to Jerick McKinnon and a second time to Kyle Rudolph.

It also happened to mitigate the pass rush of the Falcons defense, who had been abusing the offensive line throughout the game. Restricting Case Keenum’s propensity to take risk also ratcheted down the prospect of a turnover, too.

Before the final drive of the first half, a two-minute situation where the Falcons were happy to give up yardage in the middle of the field in exchange for time wasted, Keenum threw the ball 10 times for six completions and only 50 yards. Even with the free yardage on the failed two-minute drive, Keenum exited the half only averaging 6.5 yards per attempt.

That extremely conservative game plan led to a death-by-a-thousand-cuts style of drive, and both touchdown drives were nine plays or more.

On the Vikings’ final drive, an attempt to drain the clock with a small lead meant that Keenum was able to string together completion after completion, going 13 for 13 to end the game after completing his prior two passes as well for a 15 completion streak.

The former Los Angeles Rams quarterback ended the day averaging 7.6 yards per attempt on 30 passes with two touchdowns. Much of the yardage came after the catch, but the improvement in the second half nevertheless could stave off the possibility of Teddy Bridgewater returning to the field for at least another week.

Nevertheless, shaky play from Keenum meant running into opposing defenders in response to pressure in the pocket, as well as poor ball placement and a number of missed opportunities as Vikings receivers ran wide open with nary a look from their signal-caller.

Instead, reliance on the Vikings running backs dictated their ability to move the ball early on. Latavius Murray earned 76 yards on the ground (4.6 yards per carry) with Jerick McKinnon bringing the total to 100 yards on the ground from halfbacks. Clutch short-yardage running from fullback C.J. Ham also meant another critical third-down run for a yard to bring Vikings running backs to 101 total rushing yards.

1500ESPN‘s Judd Zulgad says that the win over the Falcons shows that the Vikings have what it takes to go deep into the playoffs:

The formula the Vikings used to extend their winning streak to eight games on Sunday felt like exactly what they are going to need to do in the playoffs. Defense is the starting point for any success this team is going to have come January; Keenum and the offense need to do their part, but their most important job will be playing smart, not committing any turnovers and holding onto the ball for as long as possible to keep the defense fresh.

“I think they believe,” Zimmer said of his players. “I think they believed before, but the more you win and you go into somebody else’s stadium and you win against a good football team, it just continues to add to your confidence as we go forward. They were happy in the locker room, but they understand that we haven’t really done anything yet. We still haven’t won the division, we’ve still got a ways to go and playing in December here is going to be really important.”

The Vikings now sit at 10-2, giving them four-game cushions over second-place Detroit and Green Bay in the NFC North. Minnesota’s final four games are at Carolina, home against Cincinnati, at Green Bay and home against Chicago.

The big regular-season tests are passed. Maintaining a high-level of play, getting as good of playoff seeding as possible and keeping everyone healthy are the most important things now for the Vikings.

Here’s a statistic that says a lot about the value of having a consistent long-term starter at quarterback in the NFL:

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