Not Caught Up In The Numbers

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 8, 2009 – 4:31 pm

The St. Louis Rams enter this week’s contest against the Vikings ranked last in points per game, 30th in both passing yards and rushing yards per game, and 27th in turnover ratio. The Vikings, meanwhile, are 4-0 and coming off a couple of exciting wins over San Francisco and Green Bay.

But none of those figures enter Vikings assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier’s mind as he prepares his defense to hit the road and play the Rams this weekend.

“I don’t caught up in the numbers because when you watch the Packers (vs. Rams) game, they were really in that game, and they scored some points,” Frazier said on Thursday. “They were moving the football. Even a week ago against San Francisco, they were moving the ball.”

If that were the case, you might ask, then what’s the reason for such low rankings in the above-mentioned key statistical categories? Frazier has an answer, and it’s clear he’s not floating a bunch of hyperbole to just say the right thing.

“But then they’d do something to hurt themselves – a penalty or turnover,” Frazier explained. “All of sudden they couldn’t overcome some of that and it mushroomed on them. But they were effectively moving the football in that game a week ago, and they really moved it well against Green Bay.”

Frazier is right on the money. Any positive momentum the offense has been able to generate has been negated by either penalties or turnovers. St. Louis is the NFL’s most penalized team on offense and they are -4 in turnover ratio.

But again, Frazier stressed that he’s not caught up in statistical rankings. Rather, he’s focused on taking steps to correct errors and improve the defense. He also knows, from his playing days and his 11 years of NFL coaching experience, that anyone can beat anyone.

“You just have to always remind yourself that you’re in the National Football League,” Frazier emphasized. “We’ve all seen it, where teams have not played very well but that one particular Sunday, they played their best ball. And you just have to make sure you’re up to the task; it happens, that’s the NFL.”

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Edwards, Hutchinson Practice

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 8, 2009 – 3:29 pm

After sitting out of practice yesterday, Vikings DE Ray Edwards (hamstring) and All-Pro G Steve Hutchinson (back) both practiced on a limited basis today. This is good news for the Vikings considering both players are starters and also considering 5 other players appear on Thursday’s injury report, including RT Phil Loadholt (ankle).

During his weekly press conference today, Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said that all players go through aches and pains at this point in the season but that Hutchinson might be feeling it a little more than most at this point.

“Obviously we appreciate it; we’re never going to put anybody out there who is injured, but they’re going to have to play through some aches and pains,” Bevell said. “He’s doing that; he’s fighting through it. He’s a tough guy, he competes hard and he’s going to go as much as he can go. A lot of the guys are doing the same thing.”

Loadholt was not on yesterday’s report but appeared on it today and was noted as a limited participant. Also limited today were QB Brett Favre (foot/ankle/knee), LB Erin Henderson (calf) and CB Cedric Griffin (hand). WR Darius Reynaud (hamstring) did not participate in practice today.

There were a few changes to St. Louis’ injury report as well. On the negative side, WR Ruvell Martin (hamstring) was added to the report as a limited participant in practice. WR Keenan Burton (hamstring) and S Anthony Smith (achilles) went from limited to did not participate.

On the positive side, CB Ron Bartell (thigh) and S Craig Dahl (concussion) went from limited to full participants.

WR Donnie Avery (hamstring), QB Marc Bulger (right shoulder) and RT Jason Smith (ankle) remained  limited participants.

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Chat With Vikings C John Sullivan Tomorrow

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 8, 2009 – 2:30 pm

The Vikings offensive line is coming off perhaps its best game. QB Brett Favre threw 271 yards and 3 TDs against the Packers and, just as important, #4 never hit the floor. For the 1st time this regular season, the Vikings offensive line didn’t give up a sack.

The man at the center of the offensive line is John Sullivan, and you can chat with him tomorrow around 2:00 CT right here on Ask him what’s like to play next to the best G in football – Steve Hutchinson. Or what it’s like snapping to a legend such as Brett Favre. Ask him about his beard, or anything else that might be on your mind.

Sullivan is a laid back guy and the chat with him tomorrow is sure to cover plenty of topics, from serious football questions to light-hearted non-football questions.

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Frazier: Allen “Understood The Moment”

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 8, 2009 – 2:08 pm

Vikings assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier has been in some big games during his career. In 1985 he was a part of the Super Bowl-winning Chicago Bears team. A little more than 20 years later, Frazier was an assistant coach under Tony Dungy on the Super Bowl XLI champion Indianapolis Colts.

In 10 seasons as an NFL coach, Frazier has been a part of 6 playoff teams and 5 division champions.  So he knows a little bit about big games.

While last Monday night’s Vikings-Packers game certainly wasn’t near the level of a Super Bowl, it was about as big a regular season game a team can play in a Week 4. The Vikings were able to win Monday night’s big game and one of Frazier’s star defenders – DE Jared Allen – was a big reason Minnesota was able to come out on top.

Allen had 4.5 sacks and a forced fumble in the game. He also caused a safety in the 2nd half that pushed the Vikings lead to 30-14.

“When you play in big games like that, you need your star players to really step up,” Frazier said. “You don’t know necessarily what’s going to happen to some of the other guys that are good players but maybe haven’t been put in that type of limelight. You need your star guys to step up and that’s exactly what he did.”

Given Frazier’s experience of being in and winning big games, any praise he gives certainly is significant. And in light of Allen’s impressive performance against the Packers, Frazier praised his DE’s ability to perform when the team needed him most.

“He understood the moment, he understood what we needed from him,” Frazier explained. “Boy oh boy, did he let it go; it was great to see.”

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Rams ’09 Top Pick Smith On Injury Report

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 8, 2009 – 11:21 am

Last week Vikings DE Jared Allen faced a backup LT, with Green Bay’s starting LT Chad Clifton out because of an ankle injury. And Allen took advantage, tallying 4.5 sacks and wreaking havoc on Green Bay’s offense all night.

This week it’s the Vikings other starting DE – Ray Edwards – who might face a backup. Rams T Jason Smith, chosen in this past April’s NFL draft with the 2nd overall selection, has missed St. Louis’ previous 2 games and he once again appeared on the injury report yesterday.

Smith, who started the first 2 games of the season at RT, is dealing with a knee injury. The injury kept him from practicing during the week leading up to both Week 3 and Week 4. That’s the bad news for St. Louis. But the good news is that he was able to practice on Wednesday on a limited basis.

It’s far too early to speculate if Smith will be able to go on Sunday, and in fact it will probably be a game-time decision. But if Smith can’t go, former Viking Adam Goldberg will likely start in his place. Goldberg started at RT in both Week 3 and Week 4 for St. Louis.

Goldberg is an Edina, MN native and signed with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent in May of 2003. He was acquired by St. Louis via trade from Minnesota in exchange for a 2008 seventh-round draft choice.

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MN Native Laurinaitis Already Impressing NFL Coaches

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 8, 2009 – 9:20 am

It probably doesn’t surprise local Minnesotans who watched him play in high school for the Wayzata Trojans or football fans who saw him play 4 seasons at Ohio State, but Rams rookie LB and Plymouth, MN native James Laurinaitis has quickly made an impact in St. Louis.

The upbeat and heady LB – taken 35th overall by the Rams last April – already leads his team in tackles with 34 and has quickly established himself as a leader on the Rams defense.

“He played at a great school that won a lot of football games; he has played in big games before,” said Rams Head Coach Steve Spagnuolo. “I think that brings you in the league a little more relaxed and when you are relaxed, things sink in a little bit easier. He has some football intelligence to him; he naturally has that. He loves this game. He studies it tremendously. I think all that adds up to a guy that can understand what we are doing.”

Laurinaitis plays the “mike” (middle) LB in St. Louis’ defense, and with that comes the responsibility of making calls in the defensive huddle. Considering he’s a rookie still trying to absorb the playbook and learn the ropes of the NFL, the added responsibility of relaying defensive calls from the sideline is significant.

But Laurinaitis explained that he’s been making calls on defense since he was a junior in high school.

“It’s a learning process, but I have been able to pick up on it pretty quick,” he said of adjusting to the NFL game. “I take pride in that, being dependable in the huddle.”

Laurinaitis’ impact hasn’t been noticed exclusively in St. Louis, either. Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress, a Big Ten man himself, likely saw Laurinaitis play frequently while in a Buckeyes uniform and surely studied the LB during preparations for last year’s draft. The Vikings head coach is clearly impressed.

“I thought he had an ‘A’ football IQ,” Childress said. “Was and is going to be a very good football player. Smart, you don’t play in a program like Ohio State under the bright lights and not direct the show.

“He is making all the checks and he has a great aptitude. He’s a great kid and a hell of a football player. He will just be learning some of those hard lessons as you go. I don’t see him unlike I saw a (Chad) Greenway coming in at that point.”

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A Look Inside The Red Zone

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 8, 2009 – 7:59 am

In penning his latest piece on, Pat Kirwan cites last Monday’s Vikings-Packers game as an example of the importance of red zone scoring efficiency. The Vikings, Kirwan points out, scored 3 TDs in as many trips to the red zone while the Packers were 0-2 in red zone scoring.

Kirwan’s piece is a good read and goes in depth on the importance of red zone scoring, and it also references a bunch of current league-wide red zone statistics and trends. Kirwan also says having a mobile QB, an athletic TE, a tall receiver and a powerful RB are important factors in being able to convert red zone scoring chances.

Yet another interesting part to Kirwan’s piece is the explanation of the “green zone,” which is described as the area between the opponent’s 35-yardline and 20-yardline. Using Bernard Berrian’s 31-yard TD reception against Green Bay as an example, Kirwan explains that teams want to strike from the green zone with vertical passing plays before the offense runs out of space for their speedy receivers in the red zone.

Through 4 games, the Vikings have 13 red zone drives and have scored TDs on 8 of those drives while converting FGs on 3 more drives, giving the Purple an 84.6% scoring rate inside the opponent’s 20-yardline, ranked tied for 7th best in the NFL. Of the Vikings 8 red zone TDs, 5 of come through the air and 3 on the ground.

The Vikings red zone scoring efficiency is up nearly 3% this year compared to last year, a statistic that becomes even more important considering the league-wide trend is that red zone scoring efficiency is going down. While it’s probably speculative to point out why the Vikings red zone scoring efficiency is one the rise, Kirwan cites an NFL defensive coordinator as saying red zone blitzes have increased in 2009. As a result, the defensive coordinator said, QBs are throwing more incompletions in the red zone and are also being sacked and pushed out of the red zone, which is why the league-wide trend is for red zone scoring efficiency to decline.

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Spagnuolo Appreciates Vikings Defensive Line

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 8, 2009 – 7:24 am

When the New York Giants pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history by defeating the New England Patriots 17-14 in Super Bowl XLII, one of the biggest factors in the game was the Giants defensive line putting pressure on Pats QB Tom Brady.

Brady was hit 9 times and sacked on 5 occasions. A Giants defensive lineman was responsible for 11 of those 14 QB collisions, including a sack and loss of 10 yards by Jay Alford in the Patriots final offensive series, a drive that ended in a 4-and-out.

The architect of the Giants defensive strategy in 2007 was current Rams Head Coach Steve Spagnuolo. He was defensive coordinator in New York for 2 seasons, and his tenure there was highlighted by the team’s Super Bowl run at the end of 2007, when Spagnuolo’s defense had a string of impressive performances in which they held the league’s top 3 offensive teams – Green Bay (2), Dallas (3) and New England (1) – to a total of 51 points during their postseason run.

The common thread for the Giants in their ability to shut down powerful offenses was a defensive line that pressured the QB. Suffice it to say, Spagnuolo knows a little something about defensive lines. And he’s impressed with the unit the Vikings have put together.

“They are different in some ways, but the results are the same,” Spagnuolo said when asked to compare his former defensive line in New York to the one that exists currently in Minnesota. “That’s an explosive, very productive unit and one that everybody has to deal with. There is no weakness across the board and that’s what makes them so great.”

When he was in New York, Spagnuolo built up a line that featured more than just 4 good starters. Aside from stars Osi Umeyiora and Michael Strahan, the Giants also had in their DL stable players such as Alford, Barry Cofield, Fred Robbins, Dave Tollefson and Justin Tuck. Spagnuolo assesses the Vikings as having similar depth.

“They do it as a group and it’s not just four; they are firing five, six, seven other guys in there,” the Rams coach said. “(DL coach)Karl Dunbar does a great job and Leslie (Frasier), who I have a great deal of respect for and is a close friend of mine, does a tremendous job there. They package that thing well together and they’ve got good players.”

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Vikings Get Another Shot At Rams RB Jackson

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 8, 2009 – 6:40 am

Only 2 RBs have registered a 100-yard rushing performance against the Vikings over the last 37 games. Packers RB Ryan Grant did it on 11/11/07, but since then he’s played the Vikings 3 times and has just 218 yards.

The other RB to put up 100 yards against the Vikings defense is Rams runner Steven Jackson, who hung a 142-yard 3-TD performance on the Vikings in Week 17 of the 2006 season.

The Vikings have not faced Jackson since that impressive performance, but on Sunday the Vikings will get another shot at stopping Jackson, and if they hold the 6-2, 236-pound beast under 100 yards it’ll be the 28th consecutive game that an opposing RB has failed to hit the century mark.

But even though the Vikings currently have the 2nd-longest streak of holding opposing RBs under 100 yards, head coach Brad Childress knows that this week will provide yet another challenge.

“I’m mindful of seeing Steven Jackson and all his tools back in 2006 where he came and ran up and down the field on us,” Childress said on Wednesday. “There are guys here that can vividly remember that.”

Sunday’s matchup against Jackson is about more than just stopping him on the ground. Jackson is one of the best RBs in the league, and it’s not only because of his blend of speed and power. He’s an all-purpose back that can play on all 3 downs and in any offensive situation.

“He’s a big back, he’s a beast,” Childress explained. “He’s a good pass receiver out of the backfield, they split him out. He’s a very good pass protection guy. He was kind of mentored by Marshall Faulk, one of the better running backs in this league, certainly.”

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