Vikings Finish Regular Season With NFL’s #2 Rush Defense

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 6, 2010 – 12:15 pm

In a blog entry last week we mentioned that the Vikings still had a shot to finish the regular season with the #1 rushing defense, which would’ve marked the 4th consecutive season they accomplished such a feat.

At the time, they were 4th and right on the heels of the Bengals (#2) and Steelers (#3) and about 5.0 yards per game behind the Packers (#1).

As it turns out, the Vikings were indeed able to close the gap on all 3 teams ahead of them, but they weren’t able to vault up to the #1 spot. The Bengals surrendered 257 rushing yards to the Jets on Sunday night and fell all the way to 7th while the Steelers allowed Miami to net 99 rushing yards, which dropped them to 3rd.

All of that allowed the Vikings to jump up to #2 after holding the NY Giants rushing attack to just 35 yards on Sunday afternoon. The Packers, playing at Arizona against a barely-trying Cardinals club, held the home team to 48 net yards rushing and were able to hold off the Vikings for the #1 spot.

In the end, Green Bay finished the regular season allowing 83.3 rushing yards per game and 3.6 yards per attempt, while the Vikings finished close behind at 87.1 rushing yards per game and 3.9 yards per attempt. Even though the Vikings weren’t able to finish atop the league again in rushing defense, it was good to see them finish the season on a strong note by holding a Giants team that normally runs the ball well to just 35 net yards.

And, after all, boasting the 1st, 1st, 1st and 2nd-best rushing defenses in the last 4 years is nothing at which to scoff.

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A Look Around The NFC North

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 6, 2010 – 11:01 am

With the Vikings off this week by virtue of the 1st-round bye, now is a good time to take a quick look around the division to see what else is happening. We’ll address each team in alphabetical order…

Chicago Bears
For the 3rd consecutive season, the Chicago Bears missed the playoffs. This year’s absence from the NFL’s 2nd season is perhaps the most painful because of the high expectations that arose in light of the acquisition of QB Jay Cutler. And so the disappointing developments do not come without consequences.

Head coach Lovie Smith avoided the pink slip, but some of his assistant coaches did not. Much of the offensive staff was released, including offensive coordinator Ron Turner, and Smith will relinquish play-calling duties on defense. As a result, Smith and the Bears front office will be hiring a new offensive and defensive coordinator, and that new offensive coordinator will join with Smith in hiring new offensive assistants.

We’ll leave the speculation up to others about possible candidates for those 2 jobs. Here are a few other quick thoughts about the Bears as they begin their offseason:
– Injuries sure seemed to have been a huge factor in the Bears misfortunes this season.
– Will the Bears acquire more weapons for Cutler and the passing game?
– Will Orlando Pace return for another season?

Detroit Lions
It was another painful season in the Motor City, as they Lions increased their win total by just 2 from their 2008 win-less campaign. But it did mark an improvement, nonetheless, under 1st-year head coach Jim Schwartz and the #1 duty of a head coach is to keep the team moving in the right direction.

So Schwartz has the team heading the right direction, in much the same way Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress had his team going after Year 2 – the Vikings were 6-10 in his 1st season and 8-8 after Year 2. Schwartz is saying all the right things in Detroit and that should be a source of confidence for Lions fans.

Here are a few other quick thoughts about the Lions as they begin their offseason:
– Offseason rehab will be priority #1 for 3 crucial pieces of the Lions offense – TE Brandon Pettigrew, RB Kevin Smith and QB Matthew Stafford. All 3 players suffered knee injuries and are in the midst of rehabbing those injuries for next season.
– It sounds as if QB Daunte Culpepper won’t be back with the team. Where he goes might be worth watching but who Detroit looks to as a backup QB will be important.
– With the 2nd-worst record in 2009, the Lions will have the #2 overall pick in this year’s draft. What position will they address?

Green Bay Packers
The Packers are currently preparing for their Wild Card matchup against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix. Last week, of course, the Packers thrashed a hardly-trying Arizona club that didn’t have much for which to play. Much more is on the line this week and in my view and I’m preparing for a high-scoring affair that will be fun to watch.

It seems as if the Packers and, specifically, head coach Mike McCarthy are well aware of the fact that a different, more motivated Cardinals club will likely show up on Sunday afternoon. Green Bay is hot heading into the playoffs having won 7 of their last 8 regular season games and they’ll look to continue that trend this weekend.

Here are a few subplots to watch this Sunday afternoon when the Packers and Cardinals kick it off:
– Green Bay was +24 in turnover margin this year and if Arizona is to advance to the Divisional round they’ll have to win the turnover battle.
– Sunday will mark the 1st playoff start for Packers QB Aaron Rodgers. Arizona QB Kurt Warner is a playoff veteran.
– Green Bay has the league’s #1 rush defense and I don’t expect Arizona to challenge them too often on the ground. It will be fun to watch a great passing team (Arizona) go against a defense that has prepared for the pass all week (Green Bay).

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Harvin Wins AP Offensive Rookie Of The Year Honor

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 6, 2010 – 7:58 am

We referenced in this blog entry from yesterday the significant contribution the Vikings 2009 draft class had during the regular season. All 5 players made the 53-man roster coming out of training camp and then each of the 5 started at least 1 game during the regular season.

Now one player in that 5-member 2009 draft class has been named the AP’s Offensive Rookie of the Year – WR Percy Harvin. The dynamic playmaker was an overwhelming choice as he received 41 of a possible 50 votes; Baltimore Ravens rookie T Michael Oher was 2nd in voting with 6 votes.

Harvin, the 22nd overall pick last April, took the league by storm in 2009, quickly demonstrating his ability to transfer the play-making ability and explosiveness he possessed in college to the NFL level. Harvin played in 15 games during the regular season and in that time set a new Vikings record for all-purpose yards (2,081), breaking RB Adrian Peterson’s record.

The elusive and speedy WR tied for the NFL rookie lead in receptions with 60 and had 790 yards and 6 TDs to go along with the receptions. He also rushed 15 times for 135 yards to set a Vikings franchise record for rushing yards by a WR.

Harvin was just as effective in the return game as he was on offense, returning 42 kickoffs for 1,156 yards and 2 TDs, becoming the 1st Viking to ever record 2 kickoff return TDs in a season and in a career.

Earlier in the week, Harvin was added to the NFC’s Pro Bowl roster as a returner.

Harvin is the 6th Vikings player to win the award, joining Peterson, Randy Moss (1998), Sammy White (1976), Chuck Foreman (1973) and Paul Flatley (1963).

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