Thursday Injury Report; Favre Practices

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 14, 2010 – 2:23 pm

The Vikings and Cowboys have issued their Thursday injury reports and there’s some good news for the Vikings. After sitting out of practice on Wednesday, QB Brett Favre (ankle/right elbow), S Jamarca Sanford (back) and C John Sullivan (calf) all practiced on a limited basis.

Outside of those 3, there were no other changes to the Vikings injury report.

The Cowboys had a few changes as well, including the addition of C Andre Gurode (knee); he did not practice on Thursday. Other changes included S Alan Ball (shoulder), LB Brady James (knee) and DE Igor Olshansky (knee) all practicing on a limited basis after sitting out on Wednesday. WR Dez Bryant (ribs/ankle) and FB Chris Gronkowski (groin) did not participate.

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Frazier Preaching Gap Discipline To His Defense

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 14, 2010 – 1:48 pm

All things considered, the Vikings defense played well against the NY Jets last Monday night. If you discount the 7 points that came from a late game INT returned for a score, the Vikings surrendered 22 points to the Jets. That’s not a bad number considering A) New York began 4 possessions inside of Vikings territory and B) the Vikings offense did nothing to help the field position battle in the 1st half.

But one area where the Vikings defense will look to improve this week is run defense. The Jets rushed for 155 yards on 32 carries against the Vikings defense, which is typically stout against the run. Vikings assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier pointed to poor gap discipline as a main factor in the Jets ability to run the ball against his squad.

“I get concerned when we get out of our gaps; when we’re not where we’re supposed to be,” Frazier acknowledged on Thursday. “Guys get a little anxious and start wanting to make other people’s plays. Then you get a little concerned.”

Although the Cowboys are a pass-heavy offense, they also feature a trio of talented runners that can cause headaches for opposing defenses. Starter Marion Barber III is a big, physical and imposing runner who can pickup yardage between the tackles. Felix Jones is a shiftier runner who is dangerous in the open field and also excels as a receiver out of the backfield, particularly in the screen game. And then reserve Tashard Choice is a versatile back who can come in and change the pace for either Barber or Jones.

If the Vikings don’t fix their gap discipline issues from Monday night, the Cowboys will be quick to pounce.

“We’ll get things to where they need to be and we’ll get tested this weekend by Dallas,” Frazier said. “They have the ability to run the football and I’m sure they saw some things in that Jets game they think they can exploit. We’ll have to really step it up and play good run defense.”

While the 155 yards given up was a little disheartening for Vikings fans on Monday night, what should be encouraging is that the Vikings have identified the problem and will have it shored up by the time Sunday afternoon rolls around. And if you dig a little deeper in the statistical analysis, you can see that fixing just a few errors will go a long way for the Vikings.

The Jets picked up 84 of their 155 yards (54.1%) on 5 long runs, according to Frazier; that averages out to 16.8 yards per carry. But on the other runs – 27 carries for 71 yards – the Jets averaged just 2.6 yards per rush. The key to holding the Cowboys closer to 2.6 yards per carry than 16.8 yards per try is simple – gap discipline.

“You’ve just got to do your job and let everyone else do their job and we’ll be fine,” Frazier explained. “That’s how we became and have been a great run defensive football team, and that won’t ever change.”

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Vikings Show Confidence In Cooper

Posted by cjsiewert on October 14, 2010 – 12:45 pm

After backup C Ryan Cook was replaced by Jon Cooper at halftime during Monday night’s loss to the NY Jets, the 2nd-year veteran stepped up to fill in on a moment’s notice. His play gained the respect and attention of the coaching staff as well as his fellow teammates.

“He did a pretty nice job, held his own,” offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell mentioned of Cook’s ability to come in and perform when called upon. “I feel confident with Coop, he does a great job. He’s scrappy, he’s tough. He’s going to fight each and every play and I’m excited about it.”

Cooper, who was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Vikings, has played in 3 games this season with Sullivan recovering from a nagging calf injury. As Bevell pointed out during his weekly press conference, it’s important the C position “understands what we’re trying to do” and possess the ability to “make a call quick” at the line of scrimmage.

When Sunday rolls around, the Vikings will have their hands full with Dallas Cowboys DT Jay Ratliff. The 6-year veteran has a knack for penetrating into the backfield with his “ability to redirect and his great quickness,” Bevell acknowledged.

Should Cooper be the choice as a starter on Sunday against a premier defensive front, the team holds assurance in his abilities. Also, the fact that the Vikings will be starting their 3rd C in 5 games is not a concern of one important figure on the offense.

“In the second half, we brought Jon Cooper in and he did a good job out there,” Vikings All-Pro RB Adrian Peterson said prior to Thursday’s practice. “Playing for a half (with Cooper) and the offense look good. We were able to move the ball and be productive.”

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Frazier: Jared Allen Key To Vikings Improving Pass Defense

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 14, 2010 – 11:36 am

Fans have become accustomed to seeing DE Jared Allen pile up sacks, as he’s recorded back-to-back 14.5-sack seasons since being traded here before the 2008 season. But Allen’s traditional calf-roping celebration after sacks has only been seen once this season because the 7-year veteran has been shut out of 3 of the Vikings first 4 games.

While at first glance this might cause one to conclude that Allen’s performance on the field isn’t up to par, that actually isn’t the case according to Vikings assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.

“He’s playing well,” Frazier explained. “What’s happening with Jared is he’s still getting a lot of situations where there are backs chipping or tight ends to his side. What it does is it helps other guys, it helps our pass defense. Our pass defense has really improved, primarily because of the types of blocks that we’re getting from offenses right now.”

Statistics show that Frazier’s explanation is not mere hyperbole. In 2009 the Vikings pass defense ranked 19th and allowed 218.4 yards per contest; that was with 14.5 sacks from Allen. But so far this season, the Vikings pass defense ranks 6th in the NFL and is allowing just 185.0 yards per contest.

But the Vikings, and Frazier specifically, aren’t content with where they’re at so far in 2010. An ideal situation would be for Allen to grab a few sacks, have that pass defense continue to improve and then also see others along the defensive line benefit from the blocking schemes Allen is dictating.

“He’s going to have a bust-out game and hopefully it’ll be this weekend,” Frazier said. “But he’s not a disappointment by any means, whether it’s in our run defense or pass rush. It’s just people pay a great deal of attention to him. We’ve just got to get other guys who are getting one-on-ones to step up and help us in those areas.”

One player in particular who stands to benefit from the attention Allen sees is DE Ray Edwards. It was Edwards who caused Dallas QB Tony Romo the most headache in last year’s NFC Divisional Round playoff game. Romo was sacked 3 times by Edwards, a Vikings single-game record in the postseason.

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Dallas’ Debate: Run Or Pass?

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 14, 2010 – 6:51 am

NFL teams in recent seasons have gone away from using 1 RB exclusively to more of a RB tandem approach. A great model of this is in Carolina, where the Panthers have DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Another good example is the Miami Dolphins, who have Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams.

Another team equipped to capitalize on this trend is the same team the Vikings will host this Sunday at Mall of America Field – the Dallas Cowboys. They have 3 talented RBs in Marion Barber III, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice. But as good as those 3 RBs are, the Cowboys remain a pass-heavy team through the first 4 games of 2010.

No NFL team has a higher pass-to-run ratio than Dallas, who passes 66.4% of the time. Even with that talented trio of RBs, the Cowboys rank just 24th in rushing. And only 1 of their 8 TDs this season has come on the ground.

Despite the imbalance those statistics display, Cowboys Head Coach Wade Phillips doesn’t sound concerned about the playcalling or production.

“I thought we ran the ball real well against Tennessee this last game,” Phillips said on Wednesday. “I think Felix [Jones] averaged seven yards a carry and he had over 100 yards. We’ve had good averages in some of the games we’ve played as far as the running game is concerned, but we are strong throwing the ball also. I think you’ve got to utilize your attributes.”

Phillips is right. The imbalance in run-to-pass ratio hasn’t yielded poor offensive results. Dallas ranks 2nd in yards per game and they’re putting up a respectable 20.3 points per contest. On top of that, the Cowboys feature a talented passer in Tony Romo and several talented receivers in TE Jason Witten and WRs Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Roy Williams.

The Vikings in recent seasons have been an elite run-stopping defense, ranking #1 in that department from 2006-08 and then #2 in 2009. But last week against the Jets, the Vikings allowed 155 rushing yards and for the season they’re giving up 102.3 per game, which is middle of the road in NFL standards.

So how will the Cowboys attack the Vikings? Will they stick to their guns and attack through the air? Or will they try to crack the Vikings rush defense and utilize that talented trio of RBs?

“They play a lot of eight-man front,” Phillips said of the Vikings defense. “We’re going to throw it more and take advantage of that. I think to be a good team offensively, you’ve got to do both and if they back off, you run it, and if [they] put everybody up there, you throw it. That’s what we’ve tried to do and that’s the way we’ve been since I’ve been here.”

Romo was asked by Twin Cities reporters during a conference call to evaluate the Vikings secondary. He was complementary of the group but also pointed out a potential weakness the Cowboys might try to exploit.

“They do a good job,” Romo said. “They play some man-to-man; zone, they sprinkle in a little bit. They can be a little more aggressive because of their front sometimes. You know you have to watch out for that. I think there’s an opportunity there for some double move stuff on the safeties and things of that nature, so we’ll see.

“We’re going to go in and do what we’ve been doing, some of the things that were moving the ball. We’ll just see how the game goes. It kind of depends on a specific week and what the defense is giving us.”

Sitting with a 1-3 record, I’m guessing the Vikings will look to give the Cowboys nothing. But it will be interesting to see how Dallas attacks a Vikings defense that has been nothing short of stellar so far in 2010.

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