Vikings LBs Play Well In Season-Opener

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 10, 2010 – 3:15 pm

We heard earlier on the Blog from TE Visanthe Shiancoe, who said the Vikings offense left a lot of plays on the field against the New Orleans Saints in Thursday night’s season-opener. While I’m sure the Vikings defense has a handful of plays they’d like to have back as well, one strong-point of the defense’s effort was the play of the LB corps.

Leading the charge was the man in the middle of the Vikings defense – E.J. Henderson. Coming off a severe leg injury that ended his 2009 season early, Henderson aggressively rehabbed all offseason and remained ahead of schedule in his return to the field. The latest step in Henderson’s return was his performance on Thursday night.

Henderson led all tacklers with 12, with 9 of them being unassisted tackles. One play in particular that stood out to me came late in the 2nd quarter when he filled a gap and ran through Saints RB Pierre Thomas to register a tackle for a loss. New Orleans eventually missed a FG to end the drive, eventually allowing Brett Favre to hook up with Visanthe Shiancoe for a 20-yard TD just before halftime.

“I thought E.J. played exceptionally,” Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress said. “He showed up in a lot of different spots. I can think of one or two instances where you’d liked him to play something a little bit differently, but I thought he was very active.”

It wasn’t just Henderson who played well among the Vikings LB corps. Chad Greenway, with 9 tackles, was the game’s 2nd-leading tackler (Antoine Winfield also had 9 stops) and Ben Leber tallied 4 stops and 1 pass break up (PBU). Each of the 3 starting LBs had a tackle for a loss in the game.

“All three of those linebackers, and don’t leave Ben Leber out of the mix, he played very well last night,” Childress said. “Those three guys had an active night among all of them and Ben’s not taking back seat to any of them right now.”

Speaking of Leber, he saw several snaps in the Vikings nickel package and has been rotating in and out of that alignment with Henderson; Greenway is a staple at LB in the nickel package.

Finally, one more LB stood out to me as well, except it wasn’t with a performance on defense. Heath Farwell, a reserve LB who is a leader on special teams, tallied 2 special teams tackles and was a key aspect in the Vikings ability to hold punt returner Reggie Bush in check. Bush had just 7 punt return yards on 3 attempts.

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Shiancoe Says Offense Will Learn From Thursday Night’s Loss

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 10, 2010 – 12:11 pm

The Vikings offense in 2009 was the NFL’s 2nd-highest scoring unit and averaged just short of 30 points per game. In the 2010 season opener, though, points weren’t flowing as freely for QB Brett Favre and Co.

The Vikings went scoreless in the 1st quarter and then posted 9 points in the 2nd quarter. But New Orleans found a way to shut the Vikings out in the 2nd half and come away with a 14-9 win, a far cry from the offensive output both teams’ offense had in last year’s NFC Championship Game.

Despite the struggles, Vikings TE Visanthe Shiancoe sounded optimistic following the game that his team’s offense will eventually find its stride in 2010.

“We left a lot of plays out there obviously,” Shiancoe said. “This is an explosive offense and there’s a lot of things we can take and learn from this. It’s just the beginning of the season, one of sixteen games. So we have a lot of football left. This is nothing that’s going to get us derailed from our goal of the Super Bowl. It’s nothing we’re going to panic over or really get distraught over.”

Shiancoe was the Vikings leading receiver in Thursday night’s loss, hauling in 4 receptions for 76 yards and tallying the Vikings lone TD – a 20-yard grab in the middle of the endzone. But regardless of his performance, he knows that the coming days will provide some productive meetings in the film room.

“We definitely left some plays out there on the field,” he said. “We’re going to have a good film session tomorrow.”

Shiancoe did point out a couple of positives, most notably that the offensive line, RBs and TEs were solid in protecting Favre; he was sacked once on the night. And ultimately that’s what the next week or so will be about for the Vikings – taking positives away from the game but also learning from mistakes in an effort to regain the offensive form that helped lead the club to 12 wins a season ago.

“We always have room for improvement,” Shiancoe acknowledged. “This film session is most likely going to be filled with things that we can learn from. A lot of plays were left out there on the field. And that was from things that I’ve seen out there. So I know that after we watch the film, we’re going to be pretty disappointed at the things we left out there. At the same time, it’s going to be a building process. So we can get a lot of good out of this.”

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Kluwe A Vikings Standout In 2010 Season Opener

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 10, 2010 – 9:37 am

The Vikings lost their season-opener by a 14-9 count at the Superdome in New Orleans on Thursday evening. And while nothing short of victory is acceptable on game days, there are always some positives to point out, even in a loss.

One of the positives from Thursday night was the punting performance of Chris Kluwe.

It was on the very same field where the Vikings opened the 2010 season that Kluwe had perhaps his most infamous performance as a Viking back in 2008. In that game, Kluwe punted to Saints RB/punt returner Reggie Bush 5 times and the dynamic playmaker turned those 5 punts into 176 return yards and 2 TDs. After one of Bush’s returns, Kluwe got an earful from Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress.

But the Vikings 6-year veteran suffered no such fate this year. In fact it was quite the opposite. Kluwe, who has blossomed into one of the NFL’s better punters, did an outstanding job on Thursday night, as he and the Vikings coverage units held Bush to just 7 total punt return yards on 3 attempts.

When Bush takes the field at the Superdome to return a punt, the home crowd chants “Reggie! Reggie! Reggie!” But Kluwe was able to silence those chants on Thursday night with high-arching kicks that were accurately placed and allowed the Vikings coverage units to converge on Bush.

Kluwe had 7 punts on the evening and totaled 310 gross punt yards, which averages out to a 44.3-yard average; Kluwe’s net average was 43.3 and 2 of his 7 punts landed inside the 20-yardline. Also, only 3 of the 7 punts were returned.

More impressive than those numbers though, was the field position Kluwe was able to create for the Vikings. Kluwe’s 1st punt of the game came from the Minnesota 27. But because Bush was forced to call a fair catch after a booming 46-yard punt, New Orleans was starting on their own 27.

Then Kluwe displayed his accuracy on the next punt, dropping one down on the Saints 4-yardline from 2 yards beyond midfield. There were 3 other times when Kluwe had punts from inside the Minnesota 30-yardline than ended up giving the Saints the ball inside of their own 35.

All of that unfortunately didn’t help the Vikings pull out a victory, but it is a legitimate positive to take away from a disappointing loss.

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Vikings Drop Opener To Saints 14-9

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 10, 2010 – 3:36 am

The Vikings returned to the scene of last season’s NFC Championship Game loss in New Orleans on Thursday night to begin the 2010 season, but unfortunately the outcome was similar to how their 2009 season concluded. The Saints, riding high off of last season’s Super Bowl victory, defeated the Vikings by a  14-9 count in a tightly-contested battle that set the stage nicely for the NFL’s opening weekend.

The NFL has a tradition where the defending Super Bowl champions open the season at home by hosting an intriguing opponent. Given the classic NFC Championship Game the Vikings and Saints put together a season ago, there was no more intriguing opponent for the defending Super Bowl champs than the very team they defeated to earn a spot in the NFL’s Big Game.

New Orleans had the NFL’s highest-scoring offense in 2009 and that unit took the field first on Thursday evening. And they didn’t miss a beat from last year. QB Drew Brees and Co. opened the season as champs should, driving 77 yards in 5 plays and 2:04 to take a quick 7-0 lead. The New Orleans defense, backed by a frenzied home crowd, then forced a Vikings 3-and-out and it looked like a route was on.

But that’s when the Vikings dug in their heels. Thanks to a hard-nosed defense, the guidance of 20-year pro QB Brett Favre and the determined running of superstar Adrian Peterson, the Vikings fought their way back and actually took a lead into the locker room at halftime. Minnesota owned the 2nd quarter, as Favre led the offense on 2 scoring drives – one of which was capped by a 41-yard FG from Ryan Longwell and the other culminating in an acrobatic 20-yard TD pass to TE Visanthe Shiancoe.

The Vikings led 9-7 at halftime – the PAT following Shiancoe’s TD was blocked – and it appeared another class Vikings-Saints showdown was in story. But from there the offensive excitement fizzled.

Favre, Peterson and the Vikings offense couldn’t get anything going in the 2nd half. They had just 1 drive of more than 4 plays in the 2nd half and the Vikings never got closer than the Saints 20-yardline during the entire game. Brees wasn’t having much more success than Favre, although the Saints did drive 74 yards in 11 plays to tack on a Pierre Thomas 1-yard TD run early in the 3rd quarter.

That 3rd-quarter TD gave the Saints a 14-9 lead that they would never relinquish. Both offenses struggled to gain rhythm, largely because both defenses were playing well. The Vikings punted 7 times on the night and had a pair of good scoring opportunities in the 2nd half cut short by a sack and then a lost challenge.

New Orleans’ offense wasn’t any more impressive in the 2nd half, although they were able to rush the ball against the Vikings typically stingy-against-the-run defense to the point where they controlled the clock and kept Favre off the field at the end of the game.

With all of the buildup and hype to this game, the loss is a tough one to take. But Thursday night’s contest against the Saints was just 1 of 16 regular season games the Vikings will play in 2010. The Purple will have a chance to recapture the magic in 9 days when they host the Miami Dolphins at Mall of America Field in the Vikings 2010 home opener.

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