By Joseph Gunther
The Minnesota Vikings began the Mike Zimmer era in style. They blew out the St. Louis Rams 34-6 Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome. Cordarrelle Patterson and the defense were the stories of the game.
Patterson finished with just three catches for 26 yards on five targets, but ran the ball three times for 102 yards, including a 67-yard touchdown that started the rout.
The defense recorded five sacks and forced two turnovers, one of which was returned for a touchdown.
The first interception may have been the turning point of the game. The Vikings were only up six points with the first half coming to a close. Former Vikings quarterback Shaun Hill tried to force a throw and Josh Robinson made the catch along the sideline. It took the Vikings four plays and 35 yards to get their first touchdown of the game. Matt Cassel tossed a pass over the defender to Greg Jennings in the back of the end zone to give the Vikings a 13-0 lead going into halftime.
The Rams (0-1) made a change to second-year quarterback Austin Davis and the Vikings dominated the second half. The lone production the Rams got was on the opening drive of the third quarter and then their last offensive drive of the game – both resulting in field goals.
The Vikings (1-0) were the only team in NFC North, with the Detroit Lions yet to play, to win their opener.
Offense Grade: A
The Vikings offensive line was supposed to be challenged by the Rams defensive line. However, the Rams’ front four made little impact on the game. The player everyone was talking about was Robert Quinn. The defensive end is one of the premier pass rushers in the game. He forced Matt Kalil into two false start penalties early in the game, but was held silent otherwise. He made two tackles – one for a loss – and got one hit on Cassel.
The Vikings had 346 total yards, 186 on the ground and 160 through the air, on 56 plays (6.2 yards per play).
Adrian Peterson had a good game, even if it wasn’t the production he normally has. He had 75 yards on 21 carries and two catches for 18 yards. However, along with several short runs, he had three runs of greater than 10 yards.
Defense Grade: A+
The Vikings defense was very good. Harrison Smith returned an interception 81 yards for a touchdown to seal the victory, but before that they had five sacks, including two on back-to-back plays by Everson Griffen, and another interception.
Throughout the game, Hill and Davis were under pressure. Along with the five sacks, they were hit a combined eight times, including twice by Griffen. The Vikings also recorded seven tackles for a loss and four passes defensed.
Robert Blanton and Anthony Barr led the way with seven total tackles. Linval Joseph, Jasper Brinkley and Gerald Hodges added five each.
Smith’s interception in the fourth quarter was a textbook play all around. The pass rush got into Davis’ face and forced him to just throw the ball. Smith jumped the route and caught the ball. Once, the ball was in his hands, there was a lot of running room. Griffen escorted him down the field, keeping the only Rams player that could make the stop from doing so.
Quarterback Grade: A
Cassel played a near-perfect game. He moved within the pocket well. He only took one sack and did not turn the ball over. He threw the ball accurately enough completing 68 percent of his passes and had a 113.8 rating. He had time and space, which he used as well as he could have. The only thing he did not do well was run with it. He had three carries for minus-two yards.
The only thing more that Vikings could have asked for from their quarterback was to see rookie first round draft pick Teddy Bridgewater under center for the final kneel downs.
Special Teams Grade: A-
The Vikings special teams were their least impressive unit, but still very good. Blair Walsh was 2-for-2 on field goals, including a 52-yarder on the opening drive. He also made all four extra points. Jeff Locke averaged 47.4 yards per punt on five kicks, including a 52-yarder.
The return game was non-existent. Patterson had just two return opportunities and averaged 24 yards per. Marcus Sherels had just one punt return for six yards. Probably the only glaring mistake the special teams units made was Blanton blocking Daren Bates into Sherels, which left the punt returner injured.
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Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. Joseph is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.