Defense doesn't always garner the spotlight, but the Vikings had a dominating defensive effort Saturday night that showed up on the field and on the stat sheet. Plus, get two dozen notes that help tell the story of the game.
The goal of any defense is simple: Shut the offense down and don't get talked about for the wrong reasons. The attention a great defense gets is late in a game or after a game as it becomes obvious that they have dominated their opponent into submission.
With the Vikings' starting defense getting a mere cameo appearance of one drive (the Rams had their starters out for three defensive series and two offensive series), Saturday's game was one for the backups to show what they could do. While any expectations must justifiably be tempered by the fact that the opponent was St. Louis, which has won just six of 48 regular-season games the last three years, the dominance can't be argued.
Before a mutual agreement to kill the clock in the fourth quarter that allowed the Rams to get a nine-play drive, the Vikings' backup defenders made a big statement about their value to the roster.
How does one analyze a defense? First downs allowed? The Vikings gave up just eight. Third-down defense? The Rams converted just three of 14 chances. Total yards? The Rams had just 150 yards, less than half the passing yards Sage Rosenfels
managed in less than three quarters. Sacks? The Vikings got six of them.
Perhaps the most telling stat is drive times. For a team to get offensive rhythm, they need to move the chains. Winning teams will have a couple of 10-play-or-better drives at least once or twice a game. They are back-breakers. How long were the Rams' drives? Not including punts as offensive plays, prior to the prevent-defense that allowed nine plays in the final Rams drive, from the start of the game, the number of offensive plays in the first 10 drives for the Rams were 5, 3, 10, 3, 3, 5, 5, 3, 3 and 3. Six of the 10 drives were of the three-and-out variety and three more allowed one first down before shutting them down.
Several defenders stepped up to make plays and make the choice to who stays and who goes markedly more difficult for the coaching staff. Perhaps the St. Louis NFL team should be re-named the Sacrificial Rams, but there were a lot of Vikings who looked good in the opener and none of them were the usual suspects on the starting units.
The Vikings had seven players who didn't make the trip (Brett Favre, Percy Harvin, Sidney Rice, John Sullivan, Visanthe Shiancoe, Cedric Griffin and J Leman) and several others – including Adrian Peterson and E.J. Henderson – who suited up, but didn't play.
The Vikings domination was evident basically everywhere. They had 22 first downs to just eight by the Rams. The Vikings hit on 50 percent of their third downs (9-for-18), while the Rams made good on just 21 percent (3-for-14). The Vikings had 414 total yards (336 passing, 78 rushing), while St. Louis had just 150 (117 passing, 33 rushing). The Vikings had six sacks, while the Rams had two. The Vikings held the ball for 36:48 of the game.
The Vikings' first-team offense had just one series, in which Tarvaris Jackson completed two of four passes for 11 yards and picked up one first down.
The Vikings came out of the game essentially injury-free at first glance.
Sage Rosenfels had a monster game against the second-team Rams defense, completing 23 of 34 passes for 310 yards and three touchdowns. On the hot seat, Rosenfels did few things wrong in putting up some massive numbers.
If there is a concern from the first game, it was the ineffectiveness of the running game. Third-string QB Joe Webb led the team with three carries for 24 yards and, if you take the QBs out of it, the Vikings' running backs ran 27 times for just 58 yards – barely more than two yards a carry.
Perhaps most troubling were the carries for Albert Young. He carried the ball six times. The results? Runs of 0, 1, -4, 2, -4 and -2 yards.
The Vikings spread the ball around offensively, as 14 players had at least one reception. Tight end Garrett Mills had four catches for 106 yards and a touchdown, Logan Payne looked like a poor man's Wes Welker, catching seven passes for 52 yards and a TD and Marko Mitchell caught just one pass – but it was a 71-yard touchdown.
Madieu Williams had a chance to give the Vikings an early lead, but dropped a pass that seemed destined to be a pick-six for the Vikings defense.
No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford didn't get the start for the Rams. That went to A.J. Feeley, but Bradford played about two quarters. He completed six of 13 passes for 57 yards, but got attacked regularly by the Vikings and showed a frightening willingness to crumble as pressure got around him and before he was actually hit.
Third-string quarterback Joe Webb got his first chance to play in the fourth quarter and sparkled – leading the Vikings on a 63-yard scoring drive. He completed four of six passes for 37 yards and a touchdown and scrambled twice for 24 yards. While he misfired on a bomb down the sidelines and overthew a fade route in the end zone, he looked comfortable and flashed playmaking ability.
In his Vikings debut, Toby Gerhart carried eight times for 24 yards, but it was a mixed bag. He had 22 yards on one dynamic sweep and just two yards on the other seven carries.
Leslie Frazier allowed his defense to cut loose with blitzes on the young Rams QB. Aside from several passes thrown away for self-preservation purposes, the Vikings notched six sacks – two by Jayme Mitchell and one each for Fred Evans, Letroy Guion, Erin Henderson and Mike Montgomery.
In an ironic side note, in those checking their stats at the NFL's official website, Rhys Lloyd was credited with Montgomery's sack.
Speaking of Lloyd, he kicked in the second half and is being considered for a roster spot because of his ability to knock kickoffs deep enough into the end zone that they aren't returned. So far, not so good. Lloyd had four kickoffs. Two went one-yard deep in the end zone, one went two yards deep, and the fourth was kicked from the 25-yard line following an offside call on Gerhart on the kick. It came down on the 4-yard line, which would have been one yard into the end zone under normal circumstances. All four were returned.
Neither team attempted a field goal Saturday.
The Vikings had 10 penalties in the game including seven in the first half.
The main culprit was Chris Clark, who may have killed his chances of making the final roster Saturday. He had two false start penalties and two holding penalties. Clark fans can point to his recovery of a fumble, but the reason he was standing in position to make the recovery was because he got blown off the ball.
Of the first 10 completions Vikings quarterbacks had, they went to seven different receivers.
Of the 21 completions in the first half by Vikings quarterbacks, nine went to wide receivers and six each to tight ends and running backs.
Darius Reynaud would have had a much better rushing average than six carries for 19 yards. He had runs of 12 and 9 yards brought back due to penalties.
From the Mutual Embarrassment Department, it would seem the coaches were in preseason form when it came to throwing the challenge flag. Within a five-play span midway through the second quarter, both coaches threw their challenge flags to question a spot. Both of the calls were upheld and each coach lost a timeout in the process.
The Rams had kicker Shawn Suisham doing the kicking after Josh Brown sustained a pulled muscle. Suisham wasn't signed until Thursday. Thanks to the Vikings' dominance, he didn't attempt a field goal and had just one extra point.
The game was shown on tape-delay in St. Louis because, not only was the game not sold out, it appeared more than half-empty.