Mike Zimmer’s change in stance from Sunday to Monday appears justified.
On Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings coach said he thought quarterback Teddy Bridgewater played well. At times, he did. The numbers indicated a solid performance – 25 of 37 passing for 296 yards and a touchdown, a 100.7 rating and 43 yards rushing on four carries.
But while the offensive line didn’t play a great game, some of the blame for the six sacks he took has to fall on Bridgewater for holding the ball too long, as Zimmer said Monday.
“My expectation is they go in and do their job. It wasn’t all the offensive line last night,” Zimmer said on Monday. “There was times when Teddy didn’t get the ball out on time, there was times that we didn’t block them, guys missed blocks and their defensive front did a good job.”
The penalties certainly didn’t help. And they started early with Matt Kalil flagged for an obvious hold when he tackled an edge rusher on a designed screen play, setting up first-and-20 for the first official snap of the game. It didn’t get better early, as Brandon Fusco followed that with a miss of his block and Mike Harris getting out-leveraged into the backfield for a 1-yard Peterson loss. The Vikings actually got out of that mess with a first down but eventually punted away their first possession.
“I think when you get in those situations where you’re first-and-20 and second-and-18 and things like that, these guys can lay their ears back on you pretty good. That’s a part of our issue there,” Zimmer said.
The sacks, however – six in all – were more troubling with issues all over the place. Here is what went wrong on each of Bridgewater’s sacks:
1. The sacks started on the Vikings’ third series after picking up a first down to start the drive. But after moving the chains, right tackle T.J. Clemmings started to block down before recovering too late to his presumed outside assignment. The Packers only rushed four as Bridgewater took a 10-yard drop and had Adrian Peterson open for a check-down that should have at least gotten the ball back to the line of scrimmage. Instead, Bridgewater circled backwards before being dropped for an 18-yard sack. Needless to say, second-and-28 isn’t a good spot and the Vikings punted the ball away for the last time in the game with the lead or a tie.
2. After Green Bay took the lead with a 40-yard field goal, the Vikings offense once again put itself in a terrible situation. It picked up once first down on a 16-yard pass to Stefon Diggs, but a first-down holding call was legitimate as Fusco initially missed his block and turned to grab the defensive lineman before the exchange between Bridgewater and Peterson even happened, bringing first-and-20. On the next snap, the Packers once again rushed four. Rhett Ellison gave Bridgewater a lane to step up from his deep drop and Bridgewater pumped once while looking deep. He also had Peterson wide open in the flat and pumped twice to him but never unloaded the ball. Instead, he finally decided to try to run and Nate Palmer wrapped him up for a zero-yard sack.
3. The Vikings took one more sack in the second quarter when Bridgewater took a 9-yard drop, hit his back foot and didn’t release the ball. He took two more hops before starting to scramble up the pocket, but by then Julius Peppers had gained the edge against Kalil and leaped forward to get Bridgewater from behind.
“There were some times we probably called a few more quicks in this ballgame,” Zimmer said. “But there’s some times where we’re going to take seven and a hitch and get it out, but he’s got to get it out. He can’t take seven and two hitches, he’s got to go seven and a hitch.”
4. Zimmer said the Vikings got tricked on one play, and it might have happened on their first drive of the second quarter. Facing second-and-13, Bridgewater had three receivers in the game and Peterson split wide. The Packers’ defensive linemen all rushed to their left and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix came on a late blitz from the other side. With all the offensive linemen slanting to their right, Clinton-Dix was left as a free runner. Bridgewater appeared to look at three different route options, but eventually simply back-pedaled and accepted the 10-yard sack.
5. With desperation setting in after Peterson’s fumble, the Vikings were still hoping to make a game of it with more than half of the fourth quarter remaining and trailing by 14 points. Adrian Peterson fumbled the ball away on their last possession, but there was still a small chance for a comeback. They gained one first down, but on second-and-4, Harris had Mike Daniels pinned to the inside, but instead of driving him further inside, Daniels got Harris’ hands away and make a move to the outside directly to Bridgewater, bringing him down for an 8-yard sack. It was a simple man-to-man matchup that Daniels clearly won.
6. The very next play, the results weren’t much different. The Packers came on another four-man rush and spread out their defensive line. Datone Jones lined up across from Clemming and came rushing inside. Harris started to pick him up and Matt Asiata put a solid chip block on Jones while going out on a pass route, but after Asiata’s hit on Jones, Harris completely lost him, lunging further inside with Jones wrapping around the outside with a clear path to Bridgewater. The quarterback stood little chance, and facing fourth-and-22 the Vikings punted away their chances with 8 minutes to play.
In all, Bridgewater was sacked six times, scrambled four more times and hit an additional 10 times. Some of that was on him for holding onto the ball too long, but no matter where the blame is placed, the hits added up.
“I have a concern,” Zimmer said when asked about the hits on Bridgewater. “I have a lot of concerns today, but I’m more concerned about this team and how we go forward.”
On Sunday, they spent too much time going backwards.