A Look At The Special Teams Play From Sunday

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 30, 2009 – 2:37 pm

There’s been a lot to talk about with regard to offense and defense in light of the Vikings 36-10 pounding of the Chicago Bears on Sunday. But the special teams play from Sunday should not go ignored.

In fact, a handful of special teams plays and strategies had a distinct impact in Sunday’s game. Let’s examine a few of them…

– Vikings rookie WR Percy Harvin is the NFL’s most dangerous return man through 11 games with a 29.8-yard return average and 2 TDs, but the Bears effectively took him out of the return game on Sunday because K Robbie Gould blasted 2 touchbacks and pooched a third kickoff to TE Jeff Dugan.

– While the Vikings weren’t able to make an impact with their kick return game, the Bears kick return output was perhaps the only positive thing they can take away from Sunday’s performance. A rookie WR of their own, Johnny Knox, gashed the Vikings kick coverage unit for 77 yards to open the 3rd quarter. In addition to that, regular return man Danieal Manning averaged 24.6 yards per return on 5 attempts.

– But it wasn’t all negative for the Vikings on their kickoff coverage effort. Following a Brett Favre-to-Chester Taylor 10-yard TD that made the score 14-7 Vikings, Manning was tackled by special teams standout Eric Frampton and Frampton was able to strip the ball from the returner before taking him to the ground. Special teams ace Heath Farwell was there to recover the fumble and the Vikings kicked a 52-yard FG three plays later to increase their lead to 17-7.

– With that 52-yarder, Longwell became the Vikings career-leader in 50-yard FGs on Sunday, surpassing Fuad Reveiz with his 9th such conversion. Perhaps even more remarkable, as Longwell pointed out to me this morning, is that he’s made 8 in a row from 50+ yards. His last miss from 50+ was against the San Diego Chargers in 2007 when his 57-yard attempt fell short and was then returned by CB Antonio Cromartie 109 yards for a TD.

– Speaking of returning missed FGs, one of the best at doing that is Devin Hester. But the Vikings didn’t allow Hester to return a missed FG or even a punt for many yards. Hester was 2 punt returns on the afternoon but managed just 4 return yards. Credit for that accomplishment should be split between P Chris Kluwe and his coverage unit.

– Speaking of Kluwe, I wonder what happened on the Vikings last PAT of the game. The snap appeared to be good and it looked as if Kluwe had a hard time getting the hold down. Longwell didn’t even attempt to kick it and the play went into the books as a failed 2-point run attempt. But Longwell and Kluwe did team to convert 3 other PATs and Longwell was true from 37 and 20 yards in addition to his 52-yarder.

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Vikings Defense Closing Out Games In The 4th Quarter

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 30, 2009 – 1:47 pm

During a 4-game mid-season stretch from Week 4 to Week 7, the Vikings defense had a negative 4th-quarter scoring margin in 3 of 4 contests, including a -8 margin against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 6 that almost cost them the game.

In Week 4 against Green Bay, a -7 scoring margin almost cost the Vikings a victory late in the game and then in Week 7 at Pittsburgh the Vikings were outscored 14-7 in the 4th quarter along the way to their first loss of the season. At that point in time, the trend of negative scoring margins in the final quarter of the game was a concern.

But since then, the Vikings have rectified the problem and have won their past 4 contests going away, with 4th-quarter scoring margins of +8, +10, +1 and +9. Against the Bears on Sunday, the Vikings allowed only 2 net yards in the 2nd half.

The key to the Vikings turnaround in this aspect of the game is partly the learning experience they gained from that mid-season stretch. Asked if he and his teammates thought they had Sunday’s game in their “back pocket” after interceptions by Bears QB Jay Cutler, Vikings LB Chad Greenway cited their history of 4th-quarter let downs and insisted this defense takes nothing for granted.

“Well, you never know what’s in your back pocket,” Greenway said. ” We’ve had other games, like Baltimore, where you’ve had games put away and teams come back on you. You know they’re capable of that, especially with the offense they have over there.  You just have to avoid the big plays and make tackles.”

An improvement in tackling and a continued pass rush has allowed the Vikings to close out games recently. With the exception of a Justin Forsett TD last week against Seattle, the Vikings haven’t surrendered any scores in the 4th quarter since they came back from their bye in Week 10.

“We are tackling better in the second half, and that was our number one goal for the second half of the season,” Greenway explained. “We want to continue to maintain that. Do the simple things well, and play fundamentally well.”

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Vikings Are AFC Fans Again Tonight

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 30, 2009 – 11:48 am

We mentioned earlier in this space that an AFC team was quite helpful to the Vikings in their drive for playoff positioning in the NFC. The Tennessee Titans defeated the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, knocking the defending NFC champs to7-4 overall, 3 games behind the Vikings.

Tonight another AFC team – the New England Patriots – will also play an NFC division leader – the New Orleans Saints. The Saints are one of two remaining undefeated teams (Indianapolis) and are in the driver’s seat for the #1 seed and home field advantage in the NFC playoffs. But a loss tonight will pull them back in a tie with the Vikings at 10-1 and the race for the #1 seed will be on.

Tonight’s game between the Patriots and Saints is in New Orleans and kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. CT.

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Watch Brad Childress’ Press Conference Live

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 30, 2009 – 11:23 am

Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress will address the media today at Winter Park in his usual day-after-the-game press conference and you can watch it live on by clicking here.

The press conference is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. CT. We’ll have reaction to Childress’ comments right here on the Blog as well as thoughts from Sunday’s victory.

The Vikings defeated Chicago 36-10 yesterday to move to 10-1 overall.

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Griffin: “All Of Us Have Stepped Up”

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 30, 2009 – 10:51 am

CB Cedric Griffin registered another INT on Sunday, fully extending himself while making a diving catch in the endzone on a 2nd-qurter Jay Cutler pass intended for Johnny Knox.

The play looked exactly like the type of plays Vikings DBs make while putting in extra work after practice every day. And Griffin acknowledged as much in the locker room after the game.

“That’s coach going out every day after practice and throwing deep balls to us, and us going out there and concentrating and having focus,” Griffin explained at his locker. “We’re able to go out on our own after practice and catch balls, and it’s paying off a little bit.”

Griffin may have understated it a bit there. His INT yesterday halted a 9-play drive that began at the Chicago 21 and had advanced to the Minnesota 22. The score at the time was 17-7 in favor of the Vikings, but another TD pass there would’ve given Cutler his 2nd of the day and would’ve made it a 3-point game late in the 1st half.

Griffin now has 3 INTs on the season, which is the same number of picks the 4th-year CB registered in his first 3 seasons. The uptick in INTs by Griffin couldn’t come at a better time, as the Vikings secondary is dealing with the absence of its best player – CB Antoine Winfield.

“All of us have stepped up – it’s a team effort right here,” Griffin said. “No man can do it by himself, and we are all doing a great job right now.

“The whole team is playing with a lot of confidence – offense, defense, special teams.  We are doing a great job in practice, the coaches are giving us a great game plan, and we’re going out and executing.”

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Vikings Rush Defense Continues Climb

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 30, 2009 – 9:30 am

The Vikings entered 2009 having led the league in rushing defense for 3 consecutive seasons, becoming the first club since the merger to accomplish that feat.

But after the first 2 games this season, the Vikings were ranked 15th against the run, raising some eyebrows and causing some to question the Purple’s dominance near the line of scrimmage.

The Vikings, however, didn’t question themselves and instead of raising their eyebrows, they raised their intensity.

Now 11 games into the season and with a 10-1 record, the Vikings rank 2nd in the NFL against the run. They entered Week 12 with the #3 ranking, but allowed just 43 rushing yards to Chicago and vaulted ahead of Cincinnati for the #2 spot.

“We’ve been picking it up the last few weeks,” All-Pro DT Kevin Williams said. “And we’ve been chopping it (the overall NFL rank against the run) down, chopping it down – we’re trying to get that number one run defense back.”

A part of the Vikings surge to the top of the charts in rushing defense has been their remarkable ability to hold opposing rushers to fewer than 100 yards. By suffocating Bears RB Matt Forte to the tune of 27 yards on 8 carries, the Vikings extended their streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher to 34 games, the longest active streak in the NFL and just 4 games shy of the all-time mark set by the Baltimore Ravens.

While teams typically don’t get caught up in statistics, the Vikings defense doesn’t shy away from the fact that they take pride in shutting down the opposing team’s rushing attack.

“For the last three to four years – we have a goal sheet every week – and that is number one each week,” Williams said of holding the opposing rusher to fewer than 100 yards. “We already know it’s number one, and in the back of our minds we know it’s there, and we just try to go out and accomplish it every week.”

Statistical goals are always secondary to the ultimate goal of winning games. But as Vikings DE Jared Allen pointed out, the Vikings ability to be among the NFL’s elite in terms of rushing yards allowed has directly impacted the team’s most important statistic – number of wins.

“They (the opposing offense) have to play one-dimensional,” Allen explained. “They have to drop back to throw. And, we were shutting down the run. Every game we go into, we feel that if we can make a team one-dimensional, then we have the matchups and we feel like we can win.”

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Titans Help In Vikings Fight

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 30, 2009 – 8:06 am

The Vikings will travel to Arizona this upcoming Sunday for a battle with the defending NFC champions as they try to put some more space between themselves and the Cardinals in a fight among NFC division leaders for playoff position.

But the Vikings got some breathing room before even suiting up against Arizona thanks to the Tennessee Titans, who after a 99-yard game-winning drive by QB Vince Young defeated the Cardinals on Sunday and dropped them to 7-4. As a result, a Vikings loss next week in the desert still won’t be enough to drop them below the Cardinals while a win will guarantee the Vikings a better seed than their NFC West foe.

As it stands right now, with the Saints yet to play their Week 12 game (against New England tonight), the Vikings are in 2nd position in the NFC. New Orleans (10-0) has the conference’s best record, just ahead of the Vikings, and Dallas is in 3rd position with an 8-3 record.

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Versatile Veteran Hicks Steps In For Herrera

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 30, 2009 – 7:55 am

Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress told reporters after Sunday’s game that he can’t recall coaching a more versatile player in his career than rookie WR Percy Harvin. But it was another versatile player on Sunday who did his job and allowed other versatile players, such as Harvin, to rack up yards and points.

G Artis Hicks, an 8-year veteran who was acquired by the Vikings from Philadelphia the same year Childress came to Minnesota from the Eagles, stepped into the starting lineup on Sunday in place of Anthony Herrera, who was held out due to a concussion sustained in last week’s win over the Seahawks. The Vikings offense didn’t miss a beat with Hicks in the fold, racking up 537 nets yards – 159 of them on the ground – and allowing just 1.0 sack.

“I thought he did a good job,” Childress said of Hicks after the game. “He had Tommie Harris in there lined up as a three technique. He is a jack of all trades. He doesn’t flinch. He’s started right tackle, he’s started right guard, he started on the over side, so he’s a valuable guy and there is nobody on that team that thinks twice about him going in there.”

When the Vikings acquired Hicks several years back, Childress recalled a time when they were both in Philadelphia and Hicks was inserted into the starting lineup at LT only minutes before the game. LT is a premier position in football, of course, because you’re protecting the QBs blindside, and Hicks stepped into the starting LT position on a Monday Night Football game and the Eagles offense didn’t miss a beat.

During his time in Minnesota, Hicks has played several positions, including starting at LT last year in place of a suspended Bryant McKinnie. This year, Hicks has contributed significantly yet again.

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Harvin Continues Impressive Rookie Campaign

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 30, 2009 – 7:54 am

Vikings WR Percy Harvin tallied 6 receptions for 101 yards and a TD on Sunday in his team’s 36-10 route of division rival Chicago at Mall of America Field. While that performance marks his first 100-yard receiving game in the NFL, it’s just the latest example of why he’s the front-runner for rookie of the year honors.

But Harvin doesn’t seem worried about yardage totals or postseason honors. Just as his superstar RB teammate Adrian Peterson, teams goals come first for Harvin.

“I don’t worry about yards,” Harvin said in the locker room after Sunday’s win. “All I worry about is as long as we get the victory we’re making another step towards our team goal.”

The Vikings team goals include winning another division title and ultimately winning a Super Bowl. And the efforts of Harvin are aiding in those quests. What makes Harvin so valuable to the Vikings isn’t simply his receiving skills; it’s his versatility. For the season – combining his receiving, rushing and kick return yards – Harvin has 1,617 yards and 7 TDs on 84 touches; that’s 19.25 yards per touch.

“He is a triple threat,” Vikings G Artis Hicks said. “I think defensive coordinators and special teams coordinators, they look at that and have to game plan against that. If he isn’t the rookie of the year, show me another guy who is.”

Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress said he couldn’t recall seeing a more versatile player in his coaching career. And Vikings QB Brett Favre was complimentary of Harvin on Sunday, too.

“I think Percy is on his way to a league of his own,” Favre said. “He’s quick like Wes Welker. He is strong. He’s got a long ways to go to be in the same category as Wes, but at the rate he is going he is a dominant force in a lot of ways.

“(He’s) smart. He understands the game. Does he make mistakes? Does he wish he would have done this or done that? Sure. But I think the way he’s performed this year, and there is still a lot of football to be played, but the guy is legit.”

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