Film study: The good and bad of Blanton

Robert Blanton began the 2014 season as the starter, but injury and inconsistencies caused him to lose the job. We take a look at some of the good and bad plays he had in an up-and-down season.

Last offseason Robert Blanton earned a starting safety spot opposite Harrison Smith in training camp and preseason. He finally seemed to be developing into the safety the Minnesota Vikings thought he could be when they drafted him, but unfortunately things seemed to change once the regular season rolled around.

Blanton was good stopping the run and totaled 106 tackles during the season. However, it was the other stats that seemed to displease people in Vikings nation. He did not record any forced fumbles, one fumble recover, one interception and three passes defended.

People were expecting more out of Blanton during the 2014 season, and with the way Smith played next to him, Blanton seemed like a bit of a weak point in the defense. Since he wasn’t able to hold onto his starting role with his play on the field in the 2014 season, safety is once again a position of interest that appears to be up for grabs.

The Vikings didn’t address the position in the NFL draft, and the only free agent they brought in was Taylor Mays, who isn’t necessarily a Day 1 starter. That shows that the Vikings have confidence in the players that are already on the roster to fill that hole.

General Manager Rick Spielman has already said that the team has been impressed with what they have seen from Antone Exum Jr. this offseason. He also said that they know what they have in Blanton and Andrew Sendejo.

If Blanton hopes to once again be the starting safety for the Vikings, he will have to beat out Sendejo and Exum, while also beating out the newly added Mays and undrafted rookie Anthony Harris. This is by no means an impossible feat because Blanton is still a talented player. The problem is the inconsistency.

But what Blanton does have going for him is he has Mike Zimmer as a head coach. Zimmer is known to be one of the best defensive backs coaches in the NFL, so if anyone can coach him up properly, it is Zimmer.

Viking Update takes a look at Blanton’s play during the 2014 season in order to see what sort of things he offers the team moving forward.

Play No. 1
This first play was Blanton’s (36) only interception of the season. The Buffalo Bills were trying to complete a pass over the middle, but the quarterback threw the ball a little behind and a little too high for the intended target. This allowed for the ball to go right into the arms of Blanton for what appeared to be a very easy interception. But it is a little more complicated than that.

In this play the only reason that the ball went right into Blanton’s arms was because he was in the perfect position to make a play on the ball if it were caught. He was running up to the receiver and clearly ready to lay a hit on him once he caught the ball. It isn’t easy to be ready to lay a hit on someone and then switch over to catch a football. Your attention is no longer on the ball but instead on the player, and you will see NFL players often drop these balls. But Blanton was able to hold onto the ball and come down with the interception.

This play showed that Blanton is able to do well in pass coverage. Not just because he was able to make the interception, but also because he was in a good position to make a play on the ball. He just needs to be able to clean up some of the mistakes that he makes. If he could do that, he has the ability to become their full-time starter.

Play No. 2
In this next play Blanton ultimately makes the tackle that saves a touchdown, but it never should have been that close. In fact, if Blanton could have read the play faster, it’s possible this play would not have even been completed.

At the start of the play, Blanton is lined up as a single-high safety because Smith moves up into man coverage. Once the ball is snapped the two receivers to his right are both covered well, but the receiver to his left beats his man right off the line. Blanton never seems to notice this because he is focused on the quarterback’s eyes and actually drifts over to his right.

This then allows the receiver on the other side of the field to run free down the sideline and the quarterback is able to complete the pass for a big gain. Blanton then has to hurry over in order to make a shoestring tackle to save a touchdown.

If Blanton was able to read the situation from the moment the ball was snapped instead of watching the quarterback’s eyes he probably would have drifted over to his left instead of his right. This would have then put in him a better position to make a play on the ball, and it’s possible the quarterback wouldn’t have even made the throw.

Play No. 3
As mentioned earlier, Blanton is a solid contributor in the running game. He is not afraid to step up in the box, get his nose dirty and lay down a hit on a bigger back. He is also a sure tackler and does not miss too often, which is an important quality for a safety to have since they are the last line of defense.

In this play Blanton starts out lined up deep in the defensive backfield alongside Smith. However, once the ball is snapped he runs up to the line and covers the left end. Then once the running play goes to his side he is able to wrap up the ball carrier and bring him to the ground. A key to this play is how quickly he was able to get up to the line because it made it so the Patriots’ wide receiver wasn’t able to get over and block him in time.

Assisting in the running game appears to be one of Blanton’s strong suits and it is emphasized in this play. He gets to where he needs to be, and does it quickly. Then he is able to put a good tackle on the running back and bring him down for a minimal gain. Since Blanton is able to move up and assist in the running game, Zimmer is then able to move Smith around the field more and use him in different ways.

Play No. 4
Even though Blanton is usually solid in run defense, he does have a tendency to take poor angles from time to time. In this play the Bills’ running back is heading right up the middle of the field but sees that the line is congested and there are no holes to run through. He decided to bounce it to the outside and was able to get around the cornerbacks and run for 53 yards until Blanton gets a shoestring tackle on him.

Once Blanton sees that it is a run, he moves up to help. However, he runs right into the congested part of the field. He also gets a little too close because once the back bounces to the outside Blanton has to run around the cornerbacks and linebackers that are being blocked. This then slows him down and causes him to take longer to get to the ball carrier.

If Blanton would have just held off a little bit and shadowed the running back to see what he was doing, he could have stopped him for a shorter gain. There are times where he should rush right in, but since he was the single-high safety and Smith had already rushed in to assist, Blanton probably should have stayed back a little longer and watched how the play developed.

Play No. 5
One of Blanton’s strengths that he doesn’t seem to get very much credit for his is speed. There were multiple times where Blanton would need to run across half the field to help out a corner after the receiver caught the ball or he had to chase down a running back who had broken free. And more often than not he was able to catch up to the ball carrier and make the play.

In this play the Dolphins’ tight end finds a weak spot in the Vikings zone and is able to come down with a reception. He had no Vikings near him so he should have been able to turn up field and gain a lot of extra yards. But, instead, the moment he turned around Blanton was right there to bring him down.

While the play was developing, Blanton was assisting with another receiver who was running deep down the field. So by the time that the tight end caught the ball he was over 10 yards downfield. So to be able to close 10 yards in the time it takes the ball to arrive and the tight end to turn around is pretty impressive.

It is always good to know that Blanton has the ability to close on receivers quickly or to catch up to a player that is running down field. But at the same time, if a player has to chase someone down from behind it often means that either they made a mistake or one of their teammates did.

Blanton had plenty of ups and downs over the course of the 2014 season. He would make a good play and then seemingly make some mistake a little while later. As the year progressed, he had to miss time due to an ankle injury.

Now his starting spot is up for grabs and he needs to prove to the coaching staff once again that he has what it takes to be a starting safety in the NFL. If he is able to clean up some of the mistakes and earn the starting job again, he should be able to have a solid 2015 season.

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