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Vikings Playing For Pride, Future

Posted by cjsiewert on December 22, 2010 – 4:16 pm

With a win on Sunday night, the Philadelphia Eagles can clinch a playoff berth and an NFC East Championship, so needless to say, there’s a lot at stake for the NFC East leaders. But the Eagles are not the only team with something to play for this week – the Vikings will be playing for pride and look to improve upon many different things looking forward to next season.

“I really believe that our guys are mentally where they need to be as we have to focus on the Philadelphia Eagles who are a very good football team,” Vikings Interim Head Coach Leslie Frazier said on Wednesday. “They’ve got a lot to play for at this time of the year and in a lot of ways, we do as well. Our guys have really bought into the fact that we’re playing for our own personal pride, but also, we have a chance to go on the road and get a win against a very good team which would bode well for us as we go forward.”

Ever since falling out of playoff contention after the loss to the NY Giants at Ford Field 2 weeks ago, there have been questions swirling about whether players would “coast out” to finish the season. But after receiving his 2nd Korey Stringer Good Guy Award – honoring the Vikings player who is the most cooperative and has the best attitude with the media – LB Ben Leber pointed out that it his job to continue playing and leave any other concerns for the offseason.

“No, I mean it hasn’t been tough at all,” Leber responded when asked if it’s hard to finish out the season while not thinking about the future. “This is my job, this is what I’m supposed to do. I’ll have a long offseason, especially we don’t have a CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) to think about, what’s going to happen with my future. I’ll have plenty of time to think about that. Just focus on how I’m going to get myself and this team better.”

It’s safe to say that there will be some significant roster moves to a Vikings team that has fallen to 5-9 just one season after claiming their 2nd consecutive NFC North title and a conference championship appearance. Also consider the amount of free agents after this season and those looking for new contracts. But what remains a priority of Frazier’s is to stay focused at the task at hand, and that’s to beat the Eagles on Sunday night.

Frazier spent 1999-2002 with the Eagles as their DBs coach, so he holds ties back in Philadelphia, but still has his mind set on one thing – winning.

“It’s special in the fact that we get a chance to go back and see some old friends, but we just need a win so bad,” Frazier said. “I mean that’s what’s on my mind more than anything. What can we do to figure out a way to get a win against a good team on the road? That’s where my energy and focus is.”


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Get Extra Access To NBC’s Sunday Night Football Via Facebook And Twitter

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 22, 2010 – 2:56 pm

You’re already at the #1 spot for comprehensive and behind-the-scenes coverage of Vikings football. But with this Sunday night’s game between the Vikings and Eagles being broadcast on NBC as part of their Football Night In America presentation, you can get extra access from them, too.

You can follow Sunday Night Football on NBC all week on their Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/SNFonNBC) and with their Twitter account (www.twitter.com/snfonnbc).

While you’re at it, be sure to use these social media platforms to follow the Vikings – our Facebook page is this http://www.facebook.com/#!/minnesotavikings and you can follow us on Twitter as well http://twitter.com/#!/VikingsFootball.


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Vikings List 6 On Wednesday Injury Report

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 22, 2010 – 2:49 pm

We’re in the middle of the 2nd-to-last week of the regular season but the Vikings injury report looks like something from the 2nd week of the campaign. Just 6 players appear on this week’s initial report, which is far fewer than the Vikings have seen in recent weeks.

QB Brett Favre (concussion/neck/right shoulder) and RB Adrian Peterson (knee) were 2 of the 4 Vikings who did not practice Wednesday. Safeties Tyrell Johnson (knee) and Madieu Williams (concussion) were the other Vikings to be held out. CB Frank Walker (hamstring) was limited and S Jamarca Sanford (concussion) was a full participant.

The Eagles have 12 listed on their report, including 4 who were held out. Non-participants in practice were CB Jorrick Calvin (back), LB Keenan Clayton (hamstring), RB Jerome Harrison (not injury related) and DT Mike Patterson (knee). Also, LB Stewart Bradley has been declared out for Sunday night’s game.

The rest of the Eagles on the report were full participants. They were: WR Jason Avant (concussion), G Nick Cole (knee), LB Moise Fokou (wrist), TE Clay Harbor (abdomen), G Todd Herremans (hip), WR DeSean Jackson (foot) and T Winston Justice (knee).


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Offensive Line Looks To Step Up vs. Eagles

Posted by cjsiewert on December 22, 2010 – 2:06 pm

Since the Vikings have posted only17 points in their last 2 games, a host of different aspects of the offense could be blamed for their current woes. Vikings Interim Head Coach Leslie Frazier mentioned that the offensive line is one area that is looking to improve in order to have an opportunity to win this Sunday night against the Philadelphia Eagles.

“We’ll have to play our best game on both sides of the football up front,” Frazier said during his Wednesday press conference. “In particular with our offensive line.”

As Mike mentioned in his “Setting The Table” segment, the Eagles defense is not as stout as other defenses the Vikings have faced this year, ranking 13th overall and 21st in scoring defense, but their front 4 features fluid formations that are always changing from play to play.

“The Eagles have a fast front,” Frazier acknowledged. “They do a great job of moving around and very seldom do they get stuck on the line of scrimmage. They are always moving. So our offensive line will be challenged probably as well as they have been in a game this season.”

The attributes of the Eagles front 4 that Frazier alluded to are obviously a hurdle the offensive line will have to overcome in order to improve, but this will all have to be done without their regular starting guards. Both Anthony Herrera and Steve Hutchinson are on injured reserve, and although the offensive line has been without both of them for 3 weeks now, it is still a struggle to find cohesiveness. Especially for C John Sullivan, who has been working with a different G beside side him since Herrera suffered a season-ending injury against the Packers over a month ago.

“It’s been a little bit tougher for him in some ways,” Frazier said of Sullivan. “But he’s responded quite well. There have been moments where he found himself, and this has been more of late, where he has to take control of our offensive line. More so than he would have if Steve were there or Anthony were there. It’s a different mindset for him, but he’s responded to it and I think that he’s become more confident as time has gone on and this is one of those weeks that he’ll have to become a captain for us on that offensive line.”

Losing an All-Pro player such as Hutchinson to injured reserve has a dramatic impact on the play of the offensive line, but Frazier mentioned that his replacement – rookie Chris DeGeare – has stepped in nicely.

“He’s gotten better,” Frazier said. “There’s been moments where he’s struggled, which we thought he would being a young guy and playing as much as he’s had to play. But overall, we’ve seen some consistency, we’ve seen him not back down to situations and we expect him to get better as time goes on.”

Injury-plagued or not, the Vikings offensive line will have to step up to secure a win against another team vying to clinch its division.


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The Vikings Quarterback Shuffle

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 22, 2010 – 12:54 pm

Oh let me count the ways the Vikings 2010 season is different than the 2009 season. Actually I don’t want to do that. But perhaps the biggest difference is the stability of the QB position.

A year ago the position was as stable as possible, with Brett Favre producing the best season of his career and not missing a game. This season, however, things haven’t gone as well and the Vikings currently find themselves in the midst of a QB shuffle.

Since December 7, the Vikings have made the following QB roster moves: signed R.J. Archer to the practice squad (12/7), placed Tarvaris Jackson on IR (12/16), signed Patrick Ramsey to the Active Roster (12/16), signed R.J. Archer to the Active Roster (12/20), waived R.J. Archer (12/21) and signed Rhett Bomar to the Active Roster (12/21).

And with all of that, Favre suffered a concussion on Monday night. Vikings Interim Head Coach Leslie Frazier described Favre’s status this week as “day-to-day” and indicated doctors have not cleared him to return to the field. As a result, rookie Joe Webb – who replaced Favre on Monday night – is in line to start on Sunday night against the Philadelphia Eagles.

If Favre is indeed unable to play on Sunday night, Frazier said Webb would be the starter with Ramsey as the backup and Bomar as the 3rd (emergency) QB. Got all that?

Frazier was asked about the his newest QB – Bomar – while meeting with reporters on Wednesday and he indicated the Vikings signed the former University of Oklahoma and Sam Houston State passer with a combination of thoughts in mind.

“We needed a live arm, a guy who we thought could come in and maybe in an emergency give us a little bit more than what we were getting otherwise,” Frazier said. “Not knowing what Brett’s situation is going to be from day-to-day or week-to-week with the games we have remaining, but also to maybe take a look at him for the future. So it’s a combination of the two.”

Asked what stood out to Frazier about Bomar, the Vikings coach said a “strong arm” and his intellect.

“In the little time we spent with him yesterday and this morning, he’s done a good job of grasping some of the concepts we have on offense,” Frazier said. “We knew of his intelligence, so to see how he’s responded has been a boost for us. So we’ll just see how much we can give him as the week goes on.”

As for Ramsey, whom the Vikings acquired last week, Frazier has been impressed so far.

“We knew that he had a background in this offense,” Frazier said. “But we didn’t know it was quite as extensive as it turned out to be. We really weren’t concerned, if he had to get in the game, from a knowledge standpoint on Monday night. He has a great deal of knowledge about what we’re doing and how we’re doing things and what we expect. That’s one of the things that really impresses you is the way he studied and the way he’s been able to comprehend what we’re trying to get done from a concept standpoint.”

All of the roster shuffling presents a good illustration of two points: 1) building and maintaining an NFL roster is a never-ending process that requires constant evaluation and 2) stabilizing the QB position is paramount to both long-term and short-term success. The obvious reaction from a fan’s standpoint to this blog entry and to the Vikings current QB situation is to call for the organization to find that coveted long-term answer at the most important position on the field.

Obviously it’s much more complicated than just going to the store and buying a QB of the future. So, this is an issue that will be on-going for the Vikings throughout the offseason and leading into the 2011 season. But it’s also an issue that I’m confident will be resolved by the organization in a way that will lead to success in 2011.


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Setting The Table For The Philadelphia Eagles

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 22, 2010 – 8:16 am

There’s probably not a whole lot I can tell you that you don’t already know about the Vikings next opponent – the Philadelphia Eagles. At 10-4 and currently the leaders in the NFC East, the Eagles have been one of the NFL’s highest-profile teams in 2010 and it’s largely because of their QB – likely the 2010 NFL Comeback Player of the Year.

Michael Vick has taken the NFL by storm once again. He was a sensational player for the Atlanta Falcons from 2001-06, then pleaded guilty to federal felony charges and served 21 months in prison (plus 2 months of home confinement), made it back to the NFL in 2009 and now is one of the game’s top stars.

Vick entered the 2010 season as a backup to Kevin Kolb. But an injury to Kolb in Week 1 opened the door for Vick and he’s taken advantage of the opportunity. He is a legitimate MVP candidate – my vote would go to Tom Brady right now – and it’s because he’s a lethal threat as a passer and a runner. Vick is 3rd in the NFL with a 103.6 passer rating, has a clean 20-5 TD/INT ratio and is completing 63.2% of his passes. And yet at the same time he’s averaging over 6 yards per carry and has 8 rushing TDs. His ability to avoid sacks, break the pocket and pickup yards on the ground makes him nearly unstoppable.

Philadelphia’s offense ranks #1 in the NFL overall (403.9 yards per game) and #2 in scoring (29.4 points per game), behind only the New England Patriots. Coincidentally, the Eagles come into this weekend’s game with the exact same points per game average that the Vikings had in 2009.

Aside from Vick, Philadelphia’s offense is explosive because of a dangerous WR tandem comprised of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. It was Jackson, Maclin and Vick who keyed Philadelphia’s comeback win last week in New York, as the trio combined to score the final 21 points in the game. The Eagles trailed 31-10 with 8:17 to play, but then went on a 28-point scoring binge and won the game when Jackson returned a punt 65 yards for a TD as time expired.

Together, Jackson and Maclin have 16 receiving TDs and over 100 receptions. Maclin has more receptions and TDs, but Jackson has more receiving yards and is the bigger down-field threat, along with being an exceptional punt returner. Also, don’ sleep on RB LeSean McCoy. He’s thrived as the Eagles full-time starting RB in 2010. He has a 5.3 per-carry average, 7 rushing TDs (9 total TDs) and 7 carries of 20 yards or more. McCoy is the prototypical dual-threat RB because he’s reliable as a runner and productive as a pass receiver, with a team-leading 74 receptions.

Defensively, the Eagles aren’t as sensational, ranking 13th overall and 21st in scoring defense. Injuries have been a factor for head coach Andy Reid’s defense, but the group is gutty and frequently comes up with a big play when it’s needed. The big playmakers are DE Trent Cole (9.0 sacks), CB Asante Samuel (7 INTs) and S Quintin Mikell (leading tackler). But there is a host of other players, such as OLB and former Detroit Lion Ernie Sims and CB Dimitri Patterson, who can step up at a given time and make a key play.

As I mentioned, injuries have taken their toll on the Eagles defense. LB Stewart Bradley is out for a bit with a dislocated elbow and just recently Philadelphia lost starting safety Nate Allen. But Reid as done such a nice job building his club that there is enough talent on the roster to make up for these losses.

A few other quick notes on the Eagles…
— Philadelphia is +14 in turnover ratio, which is tied for 2nd in the NFL. The Vikings are dead last in turnover margin at -32.
— The Eagles are surprisingly mediocre in 3rd downs, which is a key NFL stat. The offense ranks 12th with a 41.2% conversion rate and the defense ranks 16th and yields a 1st down 38.3% of the time.
— McCoy leads a rushing attack that is the 4th-most productive in the NFL, averaging 149.7 yards per game.
— The Eagles have won 3 games in a row and can clinch a division title with a win against the Vikings.


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Vikings Rookies Gaining Valuable Experience

Posted by cjsiewert on December 22, 2010 – 7:04 am

Monday night’s loss to the Chicago Bears added only more dejection to an already tumultuous season, but a pair of Vikings rookies are continuing to make strides in their own NFL progression.

Vikings RB Toby Gerhart and QB Joe Webb both played a significant role for the offense on Monday night in place of 2 All-Pro players – Adrian Peterson and Brett Favre. And both Gerhart and Webb are learning from the opportunities provided to them.

“It’s a long process,” Webb acknowledged to reporters after making his first significant appearance on the field this season. “Hopefully I can get in the film room, study and learn from my mistakes.”

Gerhart, who has played in 13 games this year and made his first start on Monday night against the Bears, enjoyed having his number called to carry the load for the rushing attack.

“It’s fun,” Gerhart said after the game. “You know, anytime you get a chance to play and show what you can do it’s always fun and just go out there and do what I get paid to do and that’s run the ball.”

The Vikings may not be playing for playoff contention, but when it comes to this pair of rookies both understand that they must continue to improve with what’s left of this season. The product that they place on the field during the remaining 2 games will certainly have an affect on the offseason evaluations that the organization’s executives and coaches will soon be faced with.

Although the Vikings offense was only able to muster 293 total net yards, Gerhart and Webb accounted for 244 yards of that total. Gerhart rushed 16 times for 77 yards with 3 receptions for 18 yards, while Webb completed 15 of 26 passes for 129 yards and 2 INTs with 6 rushing attempts for 38 yards and a TD.

Gerhart was instrumental in the Vikings opening scoring drive, carrying the ball 3 consecutive times to start the series for 3, 6 and 9 yards and an 8-yard run on the 5th play of the drive setting up Favre’s 23-yard pass-and-go TD to WR Percy Harvin. His biggest play of the night came late in the 1st quarter where Gerhart ran off the left end and bulldozed his way to the MIN 41 for a season- and career-long 21-yard gain. The big gain was a testament to his running style of running behind his pads.

Webb’s superior athletic abilities and raw quarterbacking skills were on full display Monday night. His inexperience was shown by 2 arrant INTs during the 4th quarter, but his shiftiness and speed, most of all, provided the Vikings offense with a characteristic it hasn’t seen all season.

Down 27-7 with 9:55 remaining in 3rd quarter, Webb exhibited his athleticism on a 1st and 10 attempt from the Bears 13. Webb rolled out to the right side on a play-action fake to Gerhart, pulled the ball down after a blitz by Bears LB Lance Briggs and beat 4 Bears defenders to the front-right pylon for the diving TD. The 13-yard score was his longest rush of the game.

Gerhart is continuing to solidify his standing as a reliable #2 RB and Webb will likely significant playing time down the stretch – with Favre’s status in doubt – to make improvements in his progression as an NFL QB. And if both rookies continue to improve, it may be a common sight to see #14 and #32 in the same backfield during the 2011 season.


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