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Talking Turnovers

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 16, 2009 – 5:00 pm

Week in and week out, turnovers are perhaps the most telling statistic in the NFL. And it makes sense – NFL teams average about 12 possessions per game, which means a turnover costs you 8% of the game and gives your opponent another 8% of the game to score.

So far in 2009, the Carolina Panthers are well aware of the importance of turnovers. They lead the league in turnovers with 31.

Turnovers are exactly what Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress referenced when he was asked on Wednesday about the Panthers fall from grace in 2009. It was just a season ago in 2008 that Carolina won the NFC South with a 12-4 regular season record. Heading into this Sunday night’s game with the Vikings, Carolina sits at 5-8 with no chance of making it back to the postseason.

“It comes back to the high turnover games,” Childress said. “I’ve seen them be productive in almost every game that they’ve played in. Obviously they had success down there two or three weeks ago against Arizona. Arizona turned it over, they didn’t turn it over and they had the wherewithal to go on the road and beat somebody. But I would tell you that it usually comes down to that (turnovers) and giving people the ball at inopportune times.”

The statistics support Childress’ assertion. Of the Panthers 31 turnovers, 24 of them have come in losses. Adding insult to injury is the fact that Carolina yields the 2nd-highest percentage of points allowed on giveaways at 35.8%.

Taking advantage of the turnover game is one way for the Vikings to come away from Charlotte on Sunday night with an important late-season win. The Vikings are +7 in turnover margin and they score points 66% of the time after forcing a turnover. If Childress’ club can continue those trends, life on the road this weekend will be more enjoyable than their last road game – a 30-17 loss at Arizona.

Another important factor for the Vikings this Sunday night will be their mindset heading into the game. After the Arizona loss, Childress took some blame for not having his players ready to play. By the sounds of it this week, Vikings players will be focused and won’t be overlooking a 5-8 team that’s down on its luck.

“We all know they’re talented and they have a good defense, good offense,” LB Chad Greenway said Wednesday. “But for some reason it’s not coming together. You just have to keep battling every week and at any point, people can beat you. You have to continue to play well. It’s a tough situation they’re in, but we know they’re good.”


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Harvin Held Out; 9 Others Limited

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 16, 2009 – 3:47 pm

The Vikings and Panthers have released their initial injury reports for the week. WR Percy Harvin did not participate in practice and 9 other players were limited.

You can view the Vikings injury report by clicking here.

For the Panthers, 6 players are listed on the injury report and 4 of them were held out of Wednesday’s practice. Those held out were QB Jake Delhomme (finger), CB Richard Marshall (ankle), WR Muhsin Muhammed (knee) and RB Jonathan Stewart (toe). Two players, DE Tyler Brayton (concussion) and LB Na’il Diggs (ribs), are on the report but were full participants in practice.


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RB Williams, WR Smith Highlight Panthers Offense

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 16, 2009 – 2:20 pm

We’ve noted in the vikings.com Blog over the past several hours some of the disadvantages the Carolina Panthers will be forced to deal with when they host the Vikings on Sunday night. It looks as if starting QB Jake Delhomme won’t play and we know for sure that Carolina will be without both starting OTs.

But that certainly doesn’t mean the Panthers can be discounted – not with a pair of dangerous offensive playmakers still in the fold.

Those playmakers are RB DeAngelo Williams and WR Steve Smith. If you’ve watched NFL highlights over the past several years, you’re surely familiar with both players.

Williams is a dangerous runner because of his immense talent but also because he runs for a team that values establishing a ground attack.

“I know what they’d like to be able to do is run the football,” Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress said on Wednesday. “DeAngelo Williams is obviously very talented at doing that. He’s a compact, powerful, explosive running back. He can step out of a lot of trash. He’s got speed enough to be able to hit the big play. He can obviously play in the pass game; he’s good enough to be able to protect in there.”

Childress and the Vikings are familiar with Williams because they’ve faced the speedy and elusive star twice since 2006. In those 2 games, Williams has totaled 101 rushing yards and 1 rushing TD on 23 carries and also 7 receptions for 41 yards. But Childress told reporters on Wednesday that he’s gotten better every year and has “learned how to play” since facing the Vikings as a rookie in 2006.

Just when you’ve had enough of Williams or you’ve found a way to contain him, though, there’s still a speedy and ultra-talented wide receiver in the mix.

“And then a guy on the outside like Steve is a tough guy who can hit the homerun if you’re paying too much attention to the run,” Childress commented.

Smith has 48 career TDs and has topped 1,000 receiving yards 5 times in his career. He’s on pace to come close to that mark again in 2009 despite tumultuous play from the QB position.

The Panthers may be starting an inexperienced QB behind a patchwork offensive line against the Vikings on Sunday night, but there’s always a chance for success with playmakers such as Williams and Smith in the fold.


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Favre, Rice Improv Special

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 16, 2009 – 1:38 pm

Brett Favre has completed 67 passes to Sidney Rice so far in 2009, 5 of which have resulted in TDs. Their success together is largely the function of careful game planning throughout the week in preparation for the opponent.

But sometimes in the heat of battle, strategy is tossed out the window and players have to simply play the game. In those moments, an ability to improvise is more important than the ability to scheme and strategize.

One of those improvisation moments came to fruition for Favre and Rice last week against the Cincinnati Bengals. And the QB-WR combo passed the test, hooking up for a 9-yard TD on a crucial 3rd and 8 from the 9-yardline.

NFL Films breaks the play down, with film study provided by Greg Cosell and soundbites from both Favre and Rice. Check out the video by clicking here.

The play gave the Vikings their first TD of the game and also a 10-0 lead that eventually yielded a 30-10 victory over the Bengals.


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In Hindsight, Vikings Draft Vision Was 20-20

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 16, 2009 – 11:28 am

Though it’s an exercise with no practical purpose, one can’t help but enjoy it. SI.com’s Don Banks has published his annual re-do of the NFL Draft.

They say hindsight is always 20-20, but in terms of judging 1st-round talent during the 2009 NFL Draft, it looks as if the Vikings foresight was pretty good, too.

In Banks’ piece, he re-picks the entire 1st round using what we currently know about this year’s rookie class. And the results show that the Vikings personnel department was on the money last April.

Banks has both WR Percy Harvin, selected 22nd overall by the Vikings, and OT Phil Loadholt, selected 54th overall by the Vikings, going among the first 6 picks, with Harvin going to Kansas City at #3 and Loadholt going to the Bengals at #6.

With both Harvin and Loadholt off the board at pick #22, Banks has the Vikings taking DT B.J. Raji with their 1st round pick. The Vikings would’ve received great value with Raji at #22.

A few more thoughts on Banks’ re-draft:

– He has Bills S Jairus Byrd going to Houston at #15, which is a bit too high in my opinion. Byrd, who has 9 INTs and 45 tackles in his first NFL season, would’ve been a good pick for the Jacksonville Jaguars at #8 or for the Bills at #11.
— The Lions switch their pick from QB Matthew Stafford to OT Michael Oher in the re-draft, which allows the St. Louis Rams to select Stafford at #2 instead of OT Jason Smith.
— The Jets (Mark Sanchez at #5), Broncos (Knowshon Moreno at #12), Buccaneers (Josh Freeman at #17) and Lions (Brandon Pettigrew at #20) all wind up with the same player they selected back in April.
— The Raiders go with Michael Crabtree at #7 instead of Darrius Heyward-Bey.
— Minnesota native James Laurinaitis goes to the Eagles at #19 instead of the Rams in the 2nd round.


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Reynaud Steps In And Steps Up

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 16, 2009 – 11:02 am

A pair of rookies – LB Jasper Brinkley and S Jamarca Sanford – filled in for a pair of regular starters last week against the Cincinnati Bengals and stepped up their game in a winning effort.

But there was also a 2nd-year player who stepped up his game in place of a missing starter last Sunday.

Darius Reynaud, who regularly returns punts for the Vikings, was also inserted as a WR and the team’s kick returner in place of an ailing Percy Harvin. Reynaud averaged 27.0 yards per kickoff return on 2 attempts against Cincinnati and also registered 60 punt return yards on 5 tries.

After the game on Sunday, Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress seemed pleased with Reynaud’s performance.

“I thought he did a good job,” Childress said. “He did a good job in preseason. He’s got running back-type skills and can break tackles. He’s strong and got a little bit of wiggle. (He) did a good job with the punt returns as well. He can catch kickoffs or punt returns and push it back up in there.”

Reynaud’s position flexibility was a huge plus for the Vikings this past week, who were missing Harvin, a favorite for rookie of the year honors, for the first time this season. While Reynaud has shown an ability to play multiple positions, it’s clear, as Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune points out, that his primary role on the team this season is as a returner.

Given Harvin’s history with migraines, though, it’s well within the realm of possibility that Reynaud will be utilized again this season in the same capacity as last Sunday.

Fortunately for the Vikings, Reynaud has the ability to step up his game.


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Vikings To Face Reserve OTs In Carolina

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 16, 2009 – 8:25 am

The Carolina Panthers have maintained a top-flight rushing attack (they’re ranked 4th in the NFL) this season despite having to piecemeal together their offensive line due to injuries.

But last Sunday against New England, the Panthers line was dealt another blow when starting RT Jeff Otah was lost for the season to a knee injury. Carolina placed Otah on injured reserve this week and replaced his roster spot with NFL journeyman Rob Pettiti, who started at RT for Dallas in 2005 but saw his most recent action in the United Football League this October and November.

Otah isn’t the first starting OT to go on injured reserve this season for Carolina. Starting LT Jordan Gross is also on IR. To replace Gross, Carolina shifted starting LG Travelle Wharton over to LT and now has 2nd-year player Mackenzy Bernadeau playing at LG.

You can see why I used the word piecemeal to describe the Panthers offensive line.

But give Carolina credit. They’re still rushing for 149.9 yards per game, displaying grittiness in their attitude and a commitment to running the football, something the Vikings have surely noticed on film and certainly respect.

At the same time, Vikings DEs Jared Allen and Ray Edwards have an opportunity this week to go to work and help add to the Vikings league-leading sack total of 41. If the Vikings jump out to an early lead as they did last week against Cincinnati, the Panthers may be forced into more of a throw game and will be without their bookend OTs to protect the QB from Allen and Edwards.


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Report: Delhomme Won’t Start Vs. Vikings

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 16, 2009 – 7:27 am

The Vikings visit the Carolina Panthers this weekend but they might not see the home team’s regular starting QB, according to a report by NFL Network’s Jason La Canfora.

Delhomme, who has been the Panthers starting QB since 2003 and has led the franchise to a Super Bowl, has endured a tumultuous stretch as of late. He played in only 3 games during 2007 but then bounced back in 2008 by leading Carolina to a 12-4 record and division title.

The shine was taken off that accomplishment quickly, however, because Delhomme threw 5 INTs and lost a fumble in the divisional round against Arizona. Then this season Delhomme continued to struggle with INTs, throwing 18 of them against just 8 TDs, before injuring his finger and being forced out of the last 2 games.

According to the report by La Canfora, Delhomme is still experiencing “swelling and discomfort” but will be re-evaluated at the end of the week to assess his chances of playing on Sunday. For now, though, La Confora described Delhomme’s prospects of playing as “doubtful.”

If Delhomme can’t play, 3rd-year pro Matt Moore will start in his place. Moore, who played collegiately at Oregon State, has completed 29 of 50 passes for 358 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT in the last 2 games.


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Setting The Table For Carolina

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 16, 2009 – 6:47 am

The Vikings and Carolina Panthers will meet this Sunday night in Charlotte in what is a matchup between 2008 division winners. The NFL scheduling formula annually pits division winners in the same conference against each other, which is why these teams are meeting for the 4th time in 5 years.

The Vikings come in having just clinched a playoff spot after defeating the Cincinnati Bengals last week and needing either a victory against Carolina or Green Bay loss this week to capture the NFC North title for a 2nd consecutive season.

The Panthers, meanwhile, enter this matchup far from the division-winning form of last year. They were 12-4 in winning the NFC South in 2008 but have regressed since then and currently have a 5-8 record with 3 losses in their last 4 games.

The Vikings realized significant statistical advantages in each of their first 3 games coming out of the bye. But then they faced 2 teams – Arizona and Cincinnati – that stacked up much better from a statistical standpoint. This week, though, we are back to the Vikings realizing a distinct statistical advantage, not the least of which is scoring offense – the Vikings rank 2nd in the NFL at 29.9 per game while Carolina ranks 25th at 17.3 per contest.

But there is one area of the game on which Carolina has consistently been able to hang its hat – the running game. RB DeAngelo Williams is one of the league’s best and he has a sidekick in Jonathan Stewart who, like Chester Taylor, would start for many teams across the league. Together, Williams and Stewart spearhead a rushing attack that averages 149.9 yards per game, 4th-best in the NFL.

That’s about where the statistical advantages end for Carolina, though. The Vikings are superior in passing offense and defense, total offense and defense, red zone and 3rd-down offense and defense, turnover margin, time of possession, 1st downs and sacks.

All of those advantages are on paper, however, and we don’t play these games on paper. They are played on the field, and the Vikings will have to overcome one significant obstacle if they want to best the Panthers on the field – playing on the road in prime time.

The last time the Vikings played a Sunday night road game was in Arizona, a 30-17 loss. There’s something to be said for the disadvantage endured by traveling 3 hours across the country and then sitting in a hotel all afternoon waiting to go to the stadium for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.

Just as there was in Arizona 2 weeks ago and against the Bengals last week at home, the Vikings have a lot riding on the outcome of this game. A win will clinch the NFC North championship and a win along with a Philadelphia Eagles loss will also ensure the Vikings of the NFC’s 2nd seed, which sets them up with a 1st-round bye in the playoffs and then a home playoff game in the Divisional round.


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