Vikings Offense Takes Step Forward Saturday Night

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 27, 2011 – 10:28 pm

The Vikings ultimately didn’t win Saturday night’s game against the Dallas Cowboys at Mall of America Field, but the first-team offense took another step forward in their development under new coordinator Bill Musgrave.

QB Donovan McNabb was 12 of 18 for 156 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT on the night. He hit speedy WR Bernard Berrian over the top of Dallas’ defense for a 49-yard score in the 1st quarter and he found Percy Harvin four times for 29 yards in the 1st half. New WR Michael Jenkins also got in the mix during the 1st half with 2 receptions for 22 yards, including a 17-yard grab on the play right before McNabb’s interception; the interception came on a deflected pass.

While it was encouraging to see the passing game take flight against Dallas, there’s no question that the bread and butter of this offense will be the running game. Adrian Peterson took handoffs on five of the Vikings first six plays, which set up Berrian’s long TD score to cap the team’s opening drive. In total, Peterson gained 81 yards on 14 carries and looked explosive the entire night.

The performance by the Vikings first-team offensive line should not go unnoticed. The group welcomed back starting RG Anthony Herrera following his recovery from a serious knee injury that ended his 2010 season prematurely. Herrera stepped in and the rest of the line displayed improvement, as Peterson burst past the first line of the Dallas defense on multiple occasions.

“We got into a good rhythm,” RT Phil Loadholt said after the game. “We were moving guys up front, got in a good rhythm and we were able to move the ball. As an offensive line, we love it when we hear that run call. The momentum, once you start putting drives together like that, you can see it in the defense that things are going well for us. It feels good once you get that momentum.”

The Vikings first-team offense strung together drives of 83, 51, 56 and 45 yards on Saturday night, largely thanks to the protection and run blocking provided by the line. In his postgame press conference, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said he was impressed with the offensive line early in the game and he also said Herrera’s performance was encouraging. Asked if Herrera would be able to play in the regular season opener on September 11 in San Diego, Frazier said the feisty veteran had “a chance,” which is good news as Herrera comes back from that knee injury.

All in all, we’ll temper the enthusiasm because the Vikings lost the game and there were still productive drives that didn’t end with TDs. At the same time, it was encouraging to see the offensive take yet another step forward in their development. McNabb stretched the field vertically with Berrian and Jenkins, and then Harvin and Peterson did their work underneath.

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Vikings Drop 23-17 Decision To Dallas

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 27, 2011 – 10:15 pm

The Vikings dropped a 23-17 decision to the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday night at Mall of America Field in a game that saw the return of the Vikings to their home stadium for the first time since December 5, 2010. The contest was the third preseason game for both teams and it gave coaches and fans an extended look at starters.

The difference in the game turned out to be on special teams, where Dallas blocked a 50-yard FG attempt by Ryan Longwell and returned it for a TD. Gerald Sensabaugh got his mitts on Longwell’s kick and CB Alan Ball eventually recovered the loose ball and dashed to the endzone, giving the Cowboys a 10-7 lead early in the 2nd quarter.

From that point forward, each team found the endzone once – Dallas on a 5-yard TD run by Felix Jones and the Vikings on a 10-yard scamper from QB Joe Webb – and Dallas came away with the 6-point win. Longwell came on to convert a 44-yard FG later in the game and the Cowboys converted a pair of FGs to create the winning margin.

The Vikings actually held an advantage in most statistical categories, including total yards, first downs and third-down efficiency. But the score on special teams was enough to tip the balance.

We’ll have much more from Saturday night’s game soon, including a look at the Vikings first-team offense and injury updates on the Vikings secondary. With three preseason games now in the books, the Vikings have a 1-2 record. Their next game is the preseason finale and it takes place on Thursday night at Mall of America Field against the Houston Texans.

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Join Us For Tonight’s Live Chat

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 27, 2011 – 4:58 pm

As we have for all of the preseason (and will continue to do for the regular season), we’ll be hosting a live game-day chat for each Vikings game. The third chat of the year will be tonight, beginning around 7:00 p.m. CT as the Vikings and Cowboys square off at Mall of America Field at the HHH Metrodome.

Remember, the live chat won’t start until right around kickoff.

To join the chat at kickoff, click here to go to the Vikings Game Day page.

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Shiancoe, Gerhart, Kevin Williams Among Scratches Tonight

Posted by Ryan Cardinal on August 27, 2011 – 4:30 pm

Here are the inactive players for the Vikings tonight:

CB Asher Allen, RB Toby Gerhart, LB Kenny Onatolu, LB Ross Homan, LB Heath Farwell, TE Visanthe Shiancoe, and DT Kevin Williams.

In terms of starters, Anthony Herrera will start at RG in place of Ryan Cook; Jim Kleinsasser will start at TE in place of Shiancoe; Letroy Guion will start at DT in place of Williams, and Jamarca Sanford will start at SS in place of Tyrell Johnson.

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MN Native, Former Gopher Standout TE Ben Utecht To Sing Anthem Tonight

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 27, 2011 – 4:30 pm

A guy who used to star during football games in this building will take center stage before the game tonight at Mall of America Field, as Minnesota native and former University of Minnesota Golden Gopher standout TE Ben Utecht will sing the National Anthem.

“This is a very special night,” Utecht said. “Just walking down the tunnel brings back so many great memories of Saturday games here as a Gopher. It’s a special night and I’m excited.”

Utecht was undrafted out of college but debuted in 2005 with the Indianapolis Colts. He was actually a member of the Super Bowl champion Colts with current Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier in 2006. Utecht said he was excited when Frazier was named Head Coach of the Vikings.

“He’s obviously good friends with Tony Dungy and I am also friends with Tony,” Utecht explained. “He has a lot of the same Tony Dungy qualities when it comes to leadership and being able to relate to players and to people in general. So when the Vikings decided to give Leslie a chance, I was fired up for him.”

Utecht says he’s performed the National Anthem for every major pro and college team in Minnesota and that doing so tonight for the Vikings is a special moment for him; he has “lots” of family members with him at the game tonight.

Utecht w ill perform as the lead male vocalist on the upcoming Jim Brickman Christmas Celebration tour. Also, his debut album, “Christmas Hope,” just went on pre-order and will be available later this year.

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5 Things To Watch Tonight

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 27, 2011 – 10:26 am

Tonight the Vikings will play their third preseason game of the 2011 season and it’ll be against the Dallas Cowboys at Mall of America Field. First-teamers will get extended looks tonight, which is why the third game of the preseason is considered so important.

With that in mind, here are five things to watch during tonight’s Vikings-Cowboys contest…

A TD from the first-team offense
The first-team offense took a big step forward last week in Seattle after a mediocre outing in Tennessee to open the preseason. Expect another step forward this week from Donovan McNabb and Co. It would ease a lot of souls – everyone from Vikings coaches to Vikings fans – if the first-team offense could find a way to move the ball and score a TD or two. To this point, McNabb has looked comfortable in the offense and he’s spread the ball around to a variety of receivers. Tonight, though, watch for the running game to improve a touch and for McNabb to find a way to attack vertically.

Cedric Griffin and Anthony Herrera coming back from injury
A pair of starters are coming back from serious knee injuries this season – CB Cedric Griffin and RG Anthony Herrera. Griffin has had a nice training camp and he’s looked good in the little time he’s seen on the field. Tonight, though, he’ll likely get his first extended action since the injury and the Vikings will be focused not only on how he performs during the game but how his knee feels after the game. With Herrera, he’s slowly been brought along during training camp and tonight is the first time he’ll play in a game at all since the injury. Just as is the case with Griffin, it will be as important how Herrera feels after the game as how he plays during the game. Head Coach Leslie Frazier said earlier this week that the one thing the coaches will be looking for is Herrera’s explosion coming off the ball. If he can show signs of regaining that explosion and he can come away from the game with minimal soreness, then the feisty veteran will be one (major) step closer to returning to the starting lineup.

Pressure on Cowboys QB Tony Romo
One of the positives I took away from the Vikings performance last week in Seattle was the pass rush from the first-team defense. Seattle QB Tarvaris Jackson was rarely allowed time to sit in the pocket and find an open receiver, which was a large part of why the Vikings were able to shutout Seattle in the first half. Tonight the Vikings will see an offensive line that is a touch better and a QB that is much better. If the Vikings can still find a way to pressure the passer tonight, we know they might have something going this year in terms of pass rush after a less-than-stellar pass rush last year. I think the secondary is going to be better than most people think this year, but an effective pass rush will make the secondary look even better.

Another strong performance from Chris Cook
One of the bright spots in last week’s victory over Seattle was the performance of CB Chris Cook. He was lined up against former teammate Sidney Rice for much of the first half and he held his own by frequently jamming Rice at the line of scrimmage and even being involved in a pass breakup in the endzone. If Cook can step up and perform well as the team’s 3rd CB, the Vikings defense will be stronger. With Cook in the lineup, the Vikings nickel package features two big, physical CBs (Cook and Griffin) on the outside and then Antoine Winfield sliding inside to play the slot receiver. That’s the lineup Frazier prefers to see out there and if Cook plays well tonight, that vision comes one step closer to being realized.

Competition at WR
One of the position battles still raging is at WR, where the top 3 are set (Bernard Berrian, Percy Harvin and Michael Jenkins) but the next two or three are still open. I’m not sure if the Vikings will keep five or six WRs, but either way there are jobs still available. We won’t count anyone out, but the guys I’ll be watching tonight are Devin Aromashodu, Greg Camarillo, Juaquin Iglesias and Jaymar Johnson. The next tier of guys are Manny Arceneaux, Stephen Burton and Andre Holmes. Aside from performance in the offense, another factor in determining which players will earn roster spots is special teams. Johnson can increase his value by proving effective in the punt return game, while Aromashodu has increased his value by making a pair of special teams tackles.

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