News | Minnesota Vikings – vikings.com
MINNEAPOLIS – It was a long afternoon of Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert throwing to receiver Keenan Allen.
The five-time Pro Bowl receiver caught a franchise-record 18 passes for 215 yards on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium and helped the Chargers win 28-24. But the Vikings run defense provided a pivotal fourth-and-1 stop with under a minute to play that nearly changed the game.
Minnesota stuffed Chargers running back Joshua Kelley for no gain to force a turnover on downs. Defensive tackle Jonathan Bullard beat his block and met Kelly in the hole. Rookie Jaquelin Roy helped clean up the tackle as seven other Vikings defenders swarmed Kelly.
The Vikings regained possession at the Chargers 24-yard line and needed a touchdown to win. But quarterback Kirk Cousins’ pass at the goal line bounced off T.J. Hockenson’s extended hands, deflected off safety JT Woods and landed in the grasp of linebacker Kenneth Murray, Jr.
“It felt good to get the offense back on the field,” Roy said following the fifth-round pick’s NFL debut. “You know, it was my first game, and to get in the backfield and create havoc is what a [defensive] lineman dreams of.”
Vikings Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores sent an onslaught of blitzes at Herbert throughout the game. The Chargers adjusted by throwing various bubble screens, quick outs, and slants. Herbert calmly navigated a chaotic pocket, setting career single-game highs in passing yards (405), completions (40), and completion percentage (85.1).
“With our style of defense, they clearly came in with a plan to just kind of see if they could get pressure looks and had some answers just to put the ball in play on bubbles and block them up receiver screens and one-step throws,” Head Coach Kevin O’Connell said. “They were not going to try to drop back in those scenarios, and that’s where we gotta just keep defeating blocks, getting off blocks.”
The Vikings blitzed Herbert on 40 of 49 dropbacks (81.6%), the second-highest blitz rate in a game since Next Gen Stats started tracking the stat.
Herbert averaged 2.26 seconds to throw in response to the heavy blitzing, his first game under 2.40 seconds in his career. The Vikings have the highest blitz rate (64.9%) through three weeks of any defense in the NGS era.
Allen also became the first player in Chargers history with at least 15 catches and 200-plus yards in a game. In addition to his record-breaking receiving performance, he threw a 49-yard touchdown to receiver Mike Williams halfway through the third quarter.
Vikings cornerback Byron Murphy battled Allen both out wide and in the slot. Murphy said Allen was a challenge. Fellow defensive back Camryn Bynum agreed.
“We got to know that he is a future Hall of Famer. He’s Kennan Allen,” Bynum said. “We have to know where the premium wide receivers are on the field. And at the end of the day, we didn’t do our jobs knowing where he was at all times.”
It’s difficult to defend a dynamic duo of Herbert and Allen without successfully blitzing. Herbert was only sacked once and was hit five times. He was precise in close quarters, too. Two of his three touchdowns were 3 or fewer yards. Tight end Donald Parham, Jr., caught both in the first half.
“Justin had quite a bit of time on some of those to sit in there and push the ball down the field when he wanted to,” O’Connell said. “So that’s where we just gotta try to find a way to get home.”
Minnesota nearly forced a fourth-quarter interception that would’ve prevented the Chargers final touchdown. Herbert underthrew a streaking Joshua Palmer down the left sideline. Vikings cornerback Akayleb Evans was in coverage and fully extended for the pass, but the ball bounced off his hands and into Palmer’s chest for a touchdown.
“I told him it’s the NFL. Players are going to make plays. You’re going to give up plays. Just don’t listen to outside noise,” Bynum said. “Adversity is going to strike. You can’t let that mess up your confidence … [Akayleb Evans] is a really good player. He’s going to get back in the lab and make the plays next week.”
Minnesota (0-3) again lost the turnover battle despite generating a second-quarter fumble recovery. Linebacker Jordan Hicks punched the ball out of Palmer’s grasp near midfield after a short catch-and-run. Hicks recovered the ball, and Minnesota made a 23-yard yard field goal 11 plays later to go up three.
Despite allowing a season-low 30 rushing yards, the Vikings couldn’t make enough plays to win. The team travels to Carolina next week before returning home to face the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs.
“I think this is one of the best groups I’ve ever been a part of,” Murphy said. “We definitely got it within us. We just have to figure it out by taking it day-by-day and then week-by-week.”
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