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Facing The Champs

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 21, 2009 – 5:27 pm

The Vikings are off to a 6-0 start, and that has some people thinking Super Bowl. But there’s a long way to go before we can start thinking about playoffs and home field advantage and Super Bowls.

In their quest to reach and win this year’s Super Bowl, the Vikings will face both teams from last year’s Super Bowl, a scheduling coincidence that has happened to the Vikings on occasion in the past. Minnesota travels to Pittsburgh this week to battle the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers and then the Purple heads to Arizona for a bout with defending NFC champion Arizona on December 6.

The last time the Vikings faced both teams from the previous Super Bowl came in 2001 when the team met Baltimore and the N.Y. Giants, participants in Super Bowl XXXV the season prior. That year, the Vikings beat the Giants but lost to Baltimore in the season finale.

In team history, the Vikings have played the defending AFC and NFC champions in the same season a total of 7 times – 1978, 1981, 1984, 1990, 1997, 1999 and 2001.


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Winfield Sits; Everyone Else Participates

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 21, 2009 – 3:42 pm

Considering how banged up the Vikings were in the immediate aftermath of last Sunday’s slugfest against Baltimore, having just 1 player not participate in practice today isn’t such a bad situation. But that doesn’t mean the Vikings are without their share of bumps and bruises.

CB Antoine Winfield (foot) was the only non-participant in practice on Wednesday, but 7 others were limited because of ailments. They are: S Husain Abdullah (back), S Eric Frampton (ankle), WR Percy Harvin (shoulder), T Phil Loadholt (ankle), RB Adrian Peterson (ankle), WR Darius Reynaud (hamstring) and S Madieu Williams (quadricep).

The Steelers have 4 players on their injury report, 3 of which did not participate and 1 who was limited.

Non-participants were DE Travis Kirschke (not injury related), S Troy Polamalu (not injury related) and WR Hines Ward (not injury related). RB Rashard Mendenhall (knee) was limited.


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Roethlisberger Presents Unique Challenge

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 21, 2009 – 3:07 pm

Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger possesses the unusual ability to have success throwing the ball while also holding onto it for extended periods of time. One thing that will drive offensive coaches nuts is when their QB holds onto the football, yet the thing that makes Roethlisberger great is his willingness to hold onto the ball long enough to make plays.

This enigma is best illustrated by looking at the numbers. Pittsburgh has allowed 16 sacks this season, which ranks them tied for 7th worst in the NFL. At the same time, Roethlisberger has a passer rating of 106.1, which is 4th best in the NFL. Of the 9 teams that have allowed 16 sacks or more this season, only Pittsburgh and Green Bay have passer ratings above 90. The passer ratings of the other teams are: 61.7, 87.2, 72.5, 51.9, 82.0, 47.5 and 80.2. Yuck.

So how is Roethlisberger able to put up such good numbers, and win so many games, in spite of holding the ball for so long and being sacked so many times? One reasons is his ability to throw the ball from several different positions and platforms. He can throw on the run, throw side-armed, shovel it or flip it. On top of that, his receivers have learned how to produce with a QB who is seemingly never out of the play.

“They stay with routes,” Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress said of Pittsburgh’s receivers. “Just because the quarterback moves doesn’t mean a guy is all of a sudden going to start running back downhill at the quarterback. They stay with it.

“I don’t know how far he can throw it flat-footed. He can throw with people around his waist, or heading to the ground. He has a strong arm.”

Vikings defenders have certainly taken note of Roethlisberger’s style. DT Kevin Williams, who is 2nd on the team with 4.0 sacks, says defenders lick their chops because Roethlisberger holds onto the ball for so long. But he also acknowledged that the QB has had plenty of success because of his ability to make plays

“He takes a lot of hits holding that ball, but I mean he makes a lot of plays for that team and it keeps them in the game,” Williams said. “He’s won a lot of games taking that extra time and taking those hits.”


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Childress Focused On His Team, Not His Contract

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 21, 2009 – 2:06 pm

Clark Judge of cbssports.com reported earlier today that the Vikings and Bob LaMonte, Brad Childress’ representative, have been discussing a contract extension for the Vikings head coach. But Childress on Wednesday said a contract extension was not his focus at this time.

“I haven’t spoken to anybody about that,” Childress said when asked about Judge’s report. “I’m focused on beating the Pittsburgh Steelers; that’s the biggest thing right now.”

Asked a follow up question about the issue, Childress further indicated that he’s more worried about his team than the status of a potential contract extension.

“I prefer to deal with the 53 guys on this team,” the head coach said. “That’s what we’re doing here; so I don’t even give the other thing any thought.”

In his report, Judge cites one source as saying an agreement is so close that an announcement could be made by early next month, but he also cites a source as saying nothing is imminent.

Talk of a contract extension comes as no surprise because Childress is in the 4th year of a 5-year agreement with the franchise and he’s improved the Vikings in every year of his tenure, going 6-10 in 2006, 8-8 in 2007 and then 10-6 with a division title last season. Now, of course, Childress has the Vikings off to a 6-0 start, the franchise’s best start since they began 6-0 in 2003.


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Treating 6-0 Like 0-6

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 21, 2009 – 1:48 pm

I wrote earlier in the week about how this Vikings team, although 6-0, won’t have a problem with being over-confident or with keeping its focus because of the laundry list of things that could use improvement. The biggest area of concern manifested itself in the Ravens furious late-game comeback last Sunday, where they quickly erased a 27-10 deficit and turned it into a 31-30 lead before finally losing 33-31 on a missed FG as time expired.

While there isn’t a singular defensive deficiency that can be cited for the Ravens ability to come back from such a large deficit, one deficiency that was mentioned to Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress today during his press conference was poor tackling. There were several instances, especially in the 4th quarter, where Ravens ball carriers were able to extend plays and even get into the endzone because of poor tackling by the Vikings.

On one particular play, Ravens RB Ray Rice got by 4 potential Vikings tacklers before reaching the endzone.

So how do you get the defense to improve its tackling at a point in the season where practicing tackling during the week would be more counter-productive than productive because teammates would be tackling their own teammates?

“They’re not going to come out here and go through a meat grinder or anything like that today,” Childress said of his team. “But you can have tackling drills, whether you have pads on or you don’t. Whether you’re fitting versus bags, whether you’re putting your head across the bow or wrapping. Those fundamental points of emphasis which you usually bridge back to. They’ll be important this week as well.”

Childress, though fully acknowledging the need to improve in this area, sounded confident in his team’s ability to improve in this area. He also said it’s common for teams to revisit even the most fundamental aspects of the game, even at this point (Week 7) of the season.

“You treat 6-0 like 0-6,” Childress explained. “You always go back to fundamentals. If there’s an area you didn’t do well in, you go back to fundamentals. Whether it’s the quarterback and footwork, or a running back and footwork, or a lineman and footwork. In this case you’re talking about tackling. Getting them on the ground is important. Understanding whether you’re the last line of defense or you’ve got help coming…that’s what you talk about when you talk about responsibility.”


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Statistical Contradictions In Vikings-Steelers Matchup

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 21, 2009 – 10:56 am

In last week’s matchup against the AFC North’s Baltimore Ravens, we saw some stark parallels between the Vikings and their opponent. Both teams were similar in terms of TD drives, red zone scoring, points off turnovers and 3rd down conversion rate.

In this week’s matchup against the Steelers, I see some contradictions that will make for just as interesting a contest. Some of the contradictions favor the Steelers, while some favor the Vikings.

Consider…

– The Steelers preferred method of moving the ball is through the air, where QB Ben Roethlisberger leads an aerial attack that ranks 2nd in the NFL. Roethlisberger and Co. go against a Vikings pass defense this week that ranks just 24th in yards allowed and has given up 9 passing TDs on the season. The Vikings offense, meanwhile, prefers to move the ball on the ground and boasts the NFL’s best RB. Adrian Peterson leads the league in rushing and is 2nd in rushing TDs.

– Pittsburgh’s defense, while tough against the run, has a few loopholes, one of which is 3rd down defense. The Steelers are allowing opponents to convert 41.8% of their 3rd down tries, while the Vikings offense is the NFL’s 3rd best at converting 3rd downs, with a 46.4% conversion rate.

– One area in which the Vikings have been exceptional this year is turnover differential. The Vikings are +8 on the year and tied for 4th in the NFL with 12 takeaways. The Steelers, meanwhile, are -4 in turnover ratio, including -3 in their 2 losses to Chicago and Cincinnati.

– Pittsburgh has a +49 point differential against opponents in the 1st half, tied for 3rd best in the league, while the Vikings are +25 (10th) in the first 2 quarters. On the other hand, the Vikings are tied for the 2nd best point differential in the 2nd half at +43, while the Steelers are just 26th in the NFL with a -24 second-half point differential.


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Vikings Make Practice Squad Move

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 21, 2009 – 10:20 am

The Vikings on Wednesday adjusted their practice squad by terminating the contract of one player and filling the roster spot by signing another.

QB John David Booty was released and DB DeAndre Wright was signed.

Wright played collegiately at New Mexico and was drafted by the New York Giants in the 6th round of last April’s draft. The Giants ended up releasing him and the Detroit Lions signed him to their practice squad. He is a native of Washington D.C. and stands at 5-10, 198 pounds.


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Setting The Table For Pittsburgh

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 21, 2009 – 8:12 am

Off another exciting win at home, the Vikings are in the midst of preparations for yet another game against a nasty AFC North opponent this week. On Sunday the 6-0 Vikings will battle the 4-2 Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field, a place opponents have entered and come out victorious on only 3 of the last 19 occasions.

Yes, the defending Super Bowl champs are an impressive 16-3 at home over the last 2+ seasons. They are led by head coach Mike Tomlin, whom Vikings fans remember well from his time as the Purple’s defensive coordinator in 2006. With the Vikings on Brad Childress’ inaugural staff, Tomlin led a defense that was #1 against run. Now as Pittsburgh’s boss, Tomlin has continued a tradition of stingy defense in the Steel City.

Currently, Pittsburgh is ranked 3rd in overall defense, allowing just 275.2 yards of total offense per game, and they rank 2nd in the NFL against the run (74.5) and 12th against the pass (200.7). Only 2 teams (Denver and Minnesota) sack opposing QBs more than Pittsburgh (they have 17).

Offensively, the Steelers don’t fall into the traditional mold of excellent defensive teams who then like to pound the ball on the ground. Led by QB Ben Roethlisberger, the offense is best when it takes to the air. Pittsburgh is 2nd in passing offense, averaging 296.7 yards per game, and 5th in overall offense with 403.7 yards per game. But don’t think this team can’t balance it out with a good ground game, too. Second-year RB Rashard Mendenhall has taken over as the starting runner and he possesses a nice blend of power and speed. The Steelers are the league’s 15th best rushing team, but that might be trending upward with Mendenhall now as the bell cow.

As impressive as the Steelers have been at home lately and as solid as they are along the line of scrimmage, in the run game and on defense, the Vikings also boast some firepower and have a few of their own positive trends to site.

RB Adrian Peterson bolted to the top of the league rushing charts last week with an impressive 143-yard day against Baltimore. He leads the NFL in rushing with 618 yards and he’s 2nd in rushing TDs with 7. To balance out their powerful ground game, the Vikings have the league’s 3rd-highest rated passer, as Brett Favre has compiled a 109.5 passer rating.

On top of the individual statistical success, the Vikings are obviously playing well as a team and have an undefeated record to prove it. The Vikings have won 15 of their last 18 regular season games, including their last 7 regular season games dating back to last year. Minnesota has also won its last 6 road games dating back to last year and they can tie the franchise record for consecutive road wins with a victory over Pittsburgh on Sunday.


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Rice/Peterson Combine To Ravage Ravens and Write Records

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 21, 2009 – 6:59 am

Scott Grams is a member of the Vikings public relations game day staff and he’s put together some information regarding the impressive performances from both RB Adrian Peterson and Sidney Rice from last Sunday’s victory over the Ravens. Our thanks go to Scott for passing the info along.

WR Sidney Rice posted his career-best day against the Ravens on Sunday and teamed with RB Adrian Peterson to etch their names in the Vikings record book. The duo posted a rare 100-yard rushing/100-yard receiving day and both notched 50-yard plays on the afternoon. Rice became only the 4th player in Vikings history to have a pair of 50-yard catches in a game and the 1st to accomplish the feat since 2000.

The Rice/Peterson combo has already made a mark in the Vikings record book with the most scrimmage (rushing/receiving) yards by a RB/WR in 2007 against San Diego when both players were rookies. On Sunday, the duo combined for 342 yards, the 4th-best total in Vikings history. Peterson’s 143 yards rushing and 23 yards receiving on Sunday against Baltimore gave him 166 scrimmage yards for the day to go along with Rice’s 176 through the air. Peterson’s 143 yards on the ground was his 7th-best of his 18 career 100-yard rushing games.

Rice’s 176 yards are his career-high and his 63-yard catch in the 3rd quarter was his career-long. Over the past 17 games, dating back to Monday Night Football against New Orleans on 10/6/08, the Vikings have had 6 games with a 100-yard receiver – 4 by Bernard Berrian, 1 by Visanthe Shiancoe and 1 by Rice. His performance against a traditionally strong Ravens defense was even more impressive. Only 4 other NFL players have had more receiving yards against the Ravens in the history of the team – Jimmy Smith (291), Isaac Bruce (229), Steve Smith (189) and Anquan Boldin (181).

Rice and Peterson combined for their 1st 100/100-yard day, but the Vikings offense has featured a few such feats recently. Peterson and Bernard Berrian pulled it off 3 times in 2008 – vs. Detroit, vs. Houston and vs. Chicago. Combined with Sunday’s effort, the Vikings are 4-0 in games with a 100-yard rusher and a 100-yard receiver in the past 2 seasons.


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