Hutchinson Added To Injury Report; Sapp Practices

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 3, 2009 – 3:27 pm

The Vikings and Cardinals have released their Thursday injury reports. And there are a couple of things to report.

All-Pro G Steve Hutchinson was added to the report and is listed with a shoulder ailment. He was a limited participant today. The only other change for the Vikings on Thursday is that Benny Sap (thumb/ribs) was limited after sitting out on Wednesday.

There were no other changes on the report.

For the Cardinals, there were no changes to their report from Wednesday’s information.

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“Status Quo” For Warner On Thursday

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 3, 2009 – 3:16 pm

Cardinals QBs Matt Leinart and Kurt Warner split reps during practice on Thursday, the 2nd consecutive day the reps have been divided in that fashion.

This report from the Cardinals official website describes the situation as “status quo” but also says that Warner is progressing. Warner was knocked out of action 2 weeks ago and then was held out of last week’s game in Tennessee after waking up with neck pain.

My friend Paul Allen asked me on the radio today during my weekly appearance on his 9-noon program if I thought Warner would play. I do think Warner will play, especially considering he was expected to play last week but for the last-second neck pain and also because he’s now had an extra week of rest following his concussion.

But as Paul astutely pointed, the recent buzz surrounding head injuries in the NFL is causing more sensativity to the issue.

Ultimately, we won’t know whether Warner will play or not until 90 minutes prior to kickoff, when teams are required to submit their list of inactive players. And it doesn’t give Arizona any advantage to declare their starter before the deadline, so I don’t anticipate an official announcement to be made before 5:50 Arizona time on Sunday evening.

Speaking of concussions, the Vikings had 2 players listed on Wednesday’s injury report with concussions. Thursday’s injury report will be released shortly and we’ll post it here and on the injury report page as soon as it becomes available.

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Cutting The Field Down

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 3, 2009 – 1:59 pm

Vikings rookie Percy Harvin has transitioned nicely from a multi-positioned offensive player at the University of Florida to a finely-tuned WR in the NFL. But Harvin’s contribution to the Vikings in his 1st season hasn’t been limited to offense.

He’s also leading the NFL with a 29.8-yard kickoff return average.

Harvin’s ability to return kickoffs has cut the field down for QB Brett Favre and the offense. The Vikings rank 2nd in the NFL with an average starting field position of the 32.2-yardline, and that’s largely a function of Harvin’s return ability as well as opponents electing to kick the ball short and away from the electric playmaker.

Teams have taken note, however, of Harvin’s return abilities and they’re also taking up measures to limit the damage. Speaking with reporters on Thursday at Winter Park, Vikings special teams coordinator Brian Murphy mentioned that opposing teams are trying to spot the ball away from Harvin on kickoffs.

But Murphy and his staff try to come up with answers to those tactics.

“Kickers have hit charts – where they place (kick) the ball – and we go to great lengths to study that and to educate our returners on that,” Murphy said.

Murphy said he and his staff will study how kickers approach their kicks, where they place the tee, how they walk-off and measure their steps, anything that might give the Vikings a tell as to where the ball will be kicked.

The Vikings are cutting the field down for Harvin so that Harvin can cut the field down for the offense.

“If you can cut the field down just a little bit, Percy can pretty much get to every ball,” Murphy said. “So we try to cut the field down for him and say ‘if the ball is (teed up) here, you can anticipate a kick in this general vicinity.’ But I think as long as you can cut the field down a little bit for him, he should be able to reach all of those.”

Another way teams have been able to combat Harvin’s league-leading return ability has been with touchbacks. Harvin had 5 returns each against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers in back-to-back weeks earlier in the season, but in the Vikings 3 most-recent games, opposing teams have logged 4 touchbacks and have kicked away from Harvin twice.

Murphy said that more than worrying about where opposing kickers will try to place the ball on their kickoffs, he’s more focused on Harvin specifically making the right decision in terms of whether to return the ball out of the endzone or not.

“You use the lettering in the end zone as kind of your warning track,” Murphy said. “And then you’ve got to judge the trajectory of the ball; it it’s hit with hang time you want to keep it in and if it’s more of a low line drive you have the opportunity to bring it out.

“It’s the guys in the front line that have to cover it. It’s not as much the returner, it’s being able to cover it up in the front line. There gets to be a point where everything gets stretched away and there’s a lot of room in there that you’re better off keeping it in.”

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Cardinals Can Attack On The Ground, Too

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 3, 2009 – 11:41 am

We’ll have the daily Kurt Warner update(s) later here on the Blog, but there’s another facet of the Arizona Cardinals offense that has emerged as an effective tool over the last month or so.

The running game.

We all know the Cardinals as the team with a gun-slinging QB and a corps of talented WRs. But lately Arizona has been getting it done on the ground, too.

Yesterday while meeting with reporters, Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress spoke about Arizona’s offense and mentioned that everyone is familiar with their passing proficiency. But Childress also said he’s noticed lately a bigger commitment to the running game.

I haven’t watched film of each of the Cardinals games this season, but a quick analysis of the statistics support Childress’ observation. Arizona averaged 19.7 carries per game in their first 7 contests, but in the last 4 games they’re averaging 27.8 carries.

In addition to the attempts increasing as of late, production on the ground is as well. Arizona averaged 64.9 yards per game in their first 7 contests and in the past 4 weeks they’ve averaged 140.5. And by the way, their record was 4-3 after 7 games and since the added emphasis on the run Arizona has gone 3-1.

The Cardinals feature 2 primary ball carriers – Tim Hightower and rookie Chris “Beanie” Wells. Given their physical stature and running style, both Hightower and Wells can be described as “bruisers.”

“They are playing both of those running backs,” Childress explained. “They are playing with a little bit more two-tight end sets. So they are being intentional about running the football. I know that stems from some of Ken’s (Whisenhunt) and (offensive line coach) Russ’ (Grimm) Pittsburgh background. They can run the football with 217-, 225-pound running backs. So I would expect them to continue to do that.”

The added emphasis on the run is not due to the injury Warner suffered a couple weeks back, either. Childress said the trend to emphasize the running game began well before Warner’s injury and the Vikings head coach also surmised that the coaching staff in Arizona values being able to run the ball to balance out its prolific passing attack.

“I think the last couple of weeks we’ve seen a push to that (running the ball), even when Warner was in there a couple of weeks ago (before the injury),” Childress said. “I think that they are, as I said, being intentional about, and not just trying to get run attempts. That line can be a physical offensive line. I know that’s what Russ in his heart feels. He would like to be able to whack you with the football.”

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Doing What Great Pros Do

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 3, 2009 – 9:09 am

WR Sidney Rice played with a handful of QBs and through injuries during his first 2 seasons with the Vikings. The result was a promising rookie season and an injury-shortened 2nd-year that yielded a 2-season total of 46 receptions for 537 yards and 4 TDs.

But this season Rice’s production has sky-rocketed. Through just 11 games, he leads the team with 56 receptions and is 3rd in the NFL and 1st on the Vikings with 964 receiving yards.

There’s no questioning that Rice has a certain future Hall of Fame QB to thank for that. Brett Favre has given Rice opportunities to make catches and Rice has cashed in.

But there’s also another reason for Rice’s sudden surge in production. With the Vikings preparing to face the Arizona Cardinals this weekend, now is an appropriate time to mention it.

The Cardinals feature an ultra-productive WR of their own in Larry Fitzgerald, Jr., a Minnesota native who returned home last offseason to workout with fellow NFL players and a couple of NFL legends – Cris Carter and Jerry Rice.

One of the fellow NFL players who joined Fitzgerald in his offseason workouts was Rice.

We chronicled the workouts in this space during the offseason.

Fitzgerald, Jr. says he’s thrilled to see Rice benefiting from those workouts and consequently having a breakout season.

“You know how when you see a friend do something and you are just genuinely happy to see him do it? That’s kind of how I feel,” Fitzgerald, Jr. told Twin Cities reporters on Wednesday. “I saw him working. He really wanted to get better at it and he has. I’m just really happy for him. I want to see him just consistently continue to do it and have big years to come.”

For his part, Fitzgerald, Jr. should be commended for having the attitude he does. In a game that is often polluted with trash-talking and negative energy, seeing one of the NFL’s best WRs working with one of its most promising young players gives you a good feeling about the direction of the game.

Fitzgerald, Jr.’s head coach, Ken Whisenhunt, says it’s a testament to his WRs character, although he’s hoping Rice’s hot streak cools off for Sunday night’s game in Arizona.

“Yeah, I am,” Whisenhunt joked when asked if he’s upset that Fitzgerald played a role in Rice’s production elevating. “But I think that it is good for all of these guys. I think that is compliment to Larry, his willingness to work with other guys. To me, that is what great pros do.”

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Harvin To Be Named NFL Offensive Rookie Of The Month

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 3, 2009 – 7:08 am

It hasn’t been formally announced yet, but Vikings WR Percy Harvin has been selected as the NFC Offensive Rookie of the Month for November.

In 4 games during November, Harvin continued his impactful rookie season for the Vikings by hauling in 19 receptions for 317 yards (16,7 avg.) and 3 TDs. Harvin also had 4 carries for 54 yards and returned 8 kickoffs for 239 yards (29.9 avg.).

Harvin currently ranks 1st in the NFL with a 29.8-yard kickoff return average and he’s tied with Miami’s Ted Ginn, Jr. for the most kickoff return TDs with 2. He is 1st in the NFL among rookies with 602 receiving yards and 2nd with 42 receptions.

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