Frazier Senses Good Energy For Vikings As Game Day Approaches

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 2, 2010 – 3:49 pm

It sounds like the Vikings are carrying energy and momentum generated from last weekend’s win over the Washington Redskins – the Vikings first road win in over a year – into this week’s preparations for the Buffalo Bills.

“A good spirited practice this afternoon,” Vikings Interim Head Coach Leslie Frazier said to reporters on Thursday. “Guys seem to really be in a groove. They know our opponent is a very good football team and they understand what we’re going to be up against on Sunday.”

The Vikings are going up against a 2-9 Bills team, but it’s a Bills team that has played better than its record would indicate. They’ve been in 7 games that have been decided by 8 points or fewer, including 5 of 6 games that have been decided by 3 points or fewer, and they’ve lost 3 games in overtime. They took the Pittsburgh Steelers to overtime last week and they ripped off 35 unanswered points on the road against Cincinnati a couple weeks ago.

While all of those numbers indicate the Bills have the potential to give the Vikings all they can handle this Sunday, Frazier takes some comfort knowing his team will be playing at home.

“The good thing is we’re playing at home and we’re going to try and draw from the energy of our fans,” Frazier explained. “We’re going to need our fans in a big way in order to be successful on Sunday. Hoping that place is as loud as its ever been; if that’s the case, then it should bode well for our football team.”

– Frazier said Percy Harvin was unable to practice on Thursday because of episodes related to migraines.
— Ray Edwards (ankle), Steve Hutchinson (thumb) and Adrian Peterson all missed a 2nd consecutive day of practice on Thursday but will try to get on the field Friday to gauge how close they are to being able to play on Sunday.

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Favre Practices; Chris Cook, Rice Do Not

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 2, 2010 – 3:36 pm

Vikings QB Brett Favre (ankle/neck/right shoulder) returned to practice on Thursday after not practicing on Wednesday. Favre was a limited participant in practice, as were S Husain Abdullah (ankle) and S Jamarca Sanford (hamstring). After being limited on Wednesday, both CB Chris Cook (knee) and WR Sidney Rice (hip) sat out on Thursday. WR Percy Harvin (illness), WR Greg Lewis (concussion) and RB Adrian Peterson also did not practice.

WR Bernard Berrian (groin) and S Eric Frampton (hamstring) were both full participants for the 2nd straight day. After practice on Thursday, Vikings Interim Head Coach Leslie Frazier indicated Berrian was on the way to returning to the lineup on Sunday barring a setback on Friday or Saturday.

DE Ray Edwards (ankle) and LG Steve Hutchinson (thumb) both sat our for the 2nd consecutive day and Frazier indicated again on Thursday that both players will likely be game-time decisions on Sunday. Frazier also said that Edwards, Hutchinson and Peterson will try and practice on Friday to see how close they are to being able to go on Sunday.

The only changes to the Thursday injury report for Buffalo were T Demetrius Bell (knee) and LB Chris Kelsay (illness) participating on a limited basis after being held out on Wednesday.

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Bevell: Vikings Offense Striving For Balance

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 2, 2010 – 2:05 pm

Since 2006 the Vikings offense has gone through a gradual progression, from productivity as well as mode of productivity. For an illustration of the Vikings gradual improvement in offensive productivity since 2006, check out the chart below…

2006 2007 2008 2009
Points Scored 282 365 379 470
Offensive TD 25 34 37 53
3rd Down Conversion 33.1% 34.5% 39.5% 44.9%
Average Yds. Per Pass 5.4 5.8 6.0 7.1
Punts 94 81 74 73

I don’t have a similar chart to explain the trends in mode of productivity – or in other words, how (running the ball vs. passing the ball) the Vikings have managed to produce on offense. Suffice it to say, the Vikings were a run-heavy offense from 2006-08, but turned into a more pass-heavy attack in 2009.

As the Vikings offense sputtered at times during the first half of 2010, many observers began to wonder and question aloud whether the Vikings offense had progressed into too much of a pass-heavy attack. Leslie Frazier seems to have been wondering the same thing, and he’s emphasized several times since being named interim head coach that he’d like to get back to the Vikings true identity – a great run-stopping defense and a great rushing offense.

“As I said before, we’re at our best when we’re running the ball and stopping the run,” Frazier said on Wednesday. “That’s who we are. That’s our identity.”

That hasn’t been the Vikings offensive identity for much of 2010. Prior to last week’s game against the Washington Redskins, the Vikings passed the ball 57.5% of the time (355 passes in 617 plays from scrimmage) and ran the ball 42.4% of the time (262 runs). Against Washington in Frazier’s first game at the helm, though, the rushing identity came back. The Vikings ran 62.2% of the time and passes 37.3% of the time.

So why did the Vikings stray from the run-oriented attack early in the season? The answer is likely complex and would require more than a blog entry to answer. But Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell was asked about it on Thursday.

“One, you’ve got to go with what’s working,” Bevell said, referring to the Vikings boasting the NFL’s 8th-best passing attack a season ago. “Two, we wanted to have a little bit more balance (than in years prior to 2009, when the offense was run-heavy). You can go back all the way to ’06 when all we really could do was run it. And we ran it against as many guys (defenders) as they wanted to put in there. People were asking ‘How come we can’t be more explosive?’”

Bevell raises a good point. Prior to the Vikings signing QB Brett Favre before the 2009 season, the Vikings were often criticized for leaning too heavily on the run and not being able to ignite the passing game. Last season, the passing game was on fire and when times got rough, many criticized the Vikings for not running the ball enough.

Regardless of that debate, it’s clear that the Vikings team as it stands now is committed to re-establishing the running game and, more importantly, finding a balance in playcalling.

“I think you’re always striving for balance and you want to get as close to a balance as you can,” Bevell explained.

The one time when you don’t want to be balanced, though, is at the end of the game. That’s because a team would like to be protecting a lead and grinding out a victory, which is exactly what the Vikings were able to do against Washington last week. The Vikings salted away the final 6:13 of the clock against Washington and ran the ball 9 times in 10 plays before kneeling 3 times to end the game.

“Anytime that you can put a team away, or exert your will on them,” Bevell said, “I think you want to be able to do that.”

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Where To Go With Webb?

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 2, 2010 – 8:32 am

I don’t keep a detailed catalogue of questions that are emailed to me or submitted to the comments section below each Blog entry, but I’m guessing that one of the most frequently asked questions from Vikings fans is about Joe Webb and whether A) he’ll get on the field this season and B) he’ll remain a QB or switch to WR.

Up until this point, my answer has been that there is no question Webb will remain at QB and there’s also no question he’s not ready to play in an NFL game quite yet. But now, with the Vikings sitting at 4-7 and with Brad Childress out and Leslie Frazier in as (interim) head coach, it’s a fair question to re-evaluate.

The biggest Joe Webb enthusiasts insist that the Vikings should take this opportunity – being out of realistic playoff contention – to see what Webb can do at the position. He showed flashes of brilliance as a runner during the preseason and athletic QBs tend to excite football fans. Other Webb fans think that if the Vikings don’t want to play him at QB this season, they should move him to WR to find a way to get his talents on the field.

Joe Webb

Webb was selected by the Vikings in the 6th round (#199 overall) of last April’s draft out of the University of Alabama-Birmingham. He played both QB and WR in college and became the first player in NCAA history to pass for 2,000+ yards and rush for 1,000+ yards in back-to-back seasons. Webb was named Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year after the 2009 season, his 1,427 rushing yards in 2009 were the 3rd-most by a QB in NCAA history and he tallied 32 TDs in 2009 (21 passing, 11 rushing).

So his playmaking ability cannot be questioned.

Speaking of Webb and questioning, Frazier was asked about Webb on Wednesday during his weekly press conference. The original design for Webb was to be a WR in Minnesota, but after watching him throw during rookie minicamp in May, Childress switched him to QB. With Frazier now at the helm, questions have re-emerged about what Webb’s future position will be with the Vikings.

“I think he can be a quarterback in our league,” Frazier said. “It’s still early for him; definitely want to give him every chance to be a successful quarterback.”

In fairness to Frazier, though, he probably hasn’t given this matter a ton of thought since becoming interim head coach. As a result, this is an issue he’ll certainly evaluate once the 2010 season is over and he’ll have every right to change his opinion on Webb going forward. Ultimately, it’s clear Frazier understands the potential Webb has as a playmaker in the NFL.

“He can definitely make some plays with the football in his hands,” Frazier explained. “He’s an outstanding athlete. We’ve got time to evaluate him.”

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Vikings RB May Run Rampant Sunday, Whoever It Is

Posted by cjsiewert on December 2, 2010 – 8:06 am

Toby Gerhart’s career-setting performance against the Redskins last Sunday – 22 carries for 76 yards and his 1st career TD – allowed interim coach Leslie Frazier to continue his run-first offensive approach even after All-Pro RB Adrian Peterson was sidelined with an ankle injury during the 2nd quarter.

And Gerhart’s number may be called upon again to pace the ground game this Sunday at Mall of America Field against the Buffalo Bills with Peterson held out of Wednesday’s practice and his availability for game day in question.

Regardless of who shoulders the load for the Vikings rushing attack, a big game may be in the works against a struggling Bills run defense.

The Bills boast a league-worst run defense, allowing 167.4 yards per game – more than 20 yards allowed than the 31st ranked Arizona Cardinals. Opposing offenses have taken notice to these numbers over the course of the season, with the Bills defense averaging a league-leading 36.0 rushing attempts against per game.

The Vikings posted a run-pass ratio of 38-23 against the Redskins and that proportion may take an even more lop-sided number against the Bills. On Wednesday, Frazier emphasized the importance of being able to control the ball on the ground and how that translates to players buying into his offensive approach.

“I remember in the (Redskins) game John Sullivan came up to me after the first series and he said, ‘Let’s keep running that ball; keep running that ball!’” Frazier recalled. “To me that’s a confirmation that they’re buying in. Our offensive line, they like it. We know that if we get into a situation where we have to throw the football, we’ve got a great quarterback and we’ve got wide receivers that can do that.

“Like I said before, we’re at our best when we’re running the ball and stopping the run. That’s who we are. That’s our identity. Our offensive line loves it. I’m sure Adrian also likes it.”

I can’t speak for either Gerhart or Peterson, but I can be almost certain that both are well aware of the struggles the Bills defense is having against the rushing attack. This awareness just might translate to impressive numbers come Sunday and you can bet that the Vikings RBs will be determined to establish themselves in front of a boisterous Mall of America Field crowd.

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