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After (Film) Review: Pressuring Matthew Stafford

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 23, 2011 – 6:50 am

When you begin the season with a 2-0 record, you’re obviously doing a lot of things correctly. But when I popped in the tape of the Detroit Lions first two games of the season, there’s one thing that stands out more than any other: QB Matthew Stafford is picking teams apart and he’s doing it while sitting comfortably in the pocket.

The Lions have not given up a sack yet in the 2011 season, and they’re the only team to accomplish that feat. So this week’s After (Film) Review is dedicated to analyzing how to pressure Stafford.

Personnel
Before we get into details, numbers and statistics, let’s address the Lions offensive personnel at QB and OL. This is a group on the rise, and it starts with Stafford. Now fully healthy, Stafford appears to be one of the fastest-rising passers in the NFL. In two games this season, Stafford is 47 of 72 (65.2%) for 599 yards with 7 TDs and 2 INTs. Stafford’s passer rating is 111.9, and I’d also note that one of his two INTs was a deflected pass that should’ve been caught.

The offensive line is a solid group that has protected Stafford very well through two games (zero sacks allowed). Jeff Backus is the LT and he’ll go against Jared Allen on Sunday. Chiefs DE Tamba Hali was better than Backus last week, beating him with a combination of power and speed moves. Allen has 4.5 sacks against Detroit in 6 games, and he’ll need more if the Vikings are going to hang with Detroit. The interior of the Lions offensive line features Rob Sims at LG, Dominic Raiola at C and Stephen Peterman at RG. This is a solid trio in the middle, but the Vikings have Kevin Williams returning and I think there will be opportunities for the Vikings to win in this area. The Lions RT is Gosder Cherilus, a solid player whom I saw pick up a few blitzers against the Chiefs. He is playing well.

Offensive Scheme
Vikings fans should find the name Scott Linehan familiar. He’s the Lions Offensive Coordinator, but the reason Vikings fans should know his name is because he was the Vikings Offensive Coordinator from 2002-04 and guided the NFL’s 2nd, 1st and 4th best offenses in his three Vikings seasons. So Linehan knows how to get it done, and in Detroit he has the combination of offensive weapons and scheme that creates explosive results.

The biggest trend in the Lions scheme is their reliance on the gun (commonly referred to as the shotgun) formation. Stafford has been on the field for 125 snaps through two games, and he’s been in the gun for 81 of those 125 snaps (64.8%). Also, Stafford has thrown 61 of his 72 pass attempts (84.7%) from the gun. Why does Detroit use the gun formation so much? Is it a comfort issue for Stafford? Does Stafford have trouble scanning the field from under center? I’m not sure, but the high rate of snaps out of the gun stands out to me.

Bringing Pressure to Stafford
Put simply, the Buccaneers and Chiefs were conservative in bringing extra rushers to pressure Stafford. In 72 dropbacks against Stafford, the Buccaneers and Chiefs brought 5 or more rushers just 15 times (20.8%), according to my count. In the snaps Stafford saw 5+ rushers, he completed 5 of 12 (41.6%) passes for 87 yards with 2 TDs, 1 INT and a passer rating of 71.8. In 60 dropbacks against 4 or fewer rushers, Stafford is 42 of 60 (70.0%) for 512 yards with 5 TDs, 1 INT and a passer rating of 116.8.

It’s a limited sample size with only 12 attempts, but Stafford’s efficiency declines against 5+ rushers. Although in fairness, I should also point out that Stafford has 2 TD throws against pressure.

My thinking is the best strategy is to bring pressure against Stafford. Specifically, I would attack the left edge of the Lions offensive line (Antoine Winfield from the slot, if the alignment matches up?) and the A gaps (E.J. Henderson and Chad Greenway). Yes, if Detroit covers up that pressure, Stafford can gash the Vikings big time. But, if you look at his numbers against 4 or fewer rushers, he’s killing defenses anyway. At the end of the day, it’d be easier for me to accept Stafford beating me while I was bringing pressure than to accept the fact that Stafford beat me while I was sitting back on the defensive and trying to guard that talented group of playmakers.


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Can Vikings Success vs. #1 WRs Continue This Week?

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 22, 2011 – 6:10 am

The Vikings pass defense has been criticized more than any other part of the team recently. It can be debated if that level of criticism is fair. On one hand, the Vikings have allowed 578 passing yards and 3 TD passes in two games. On the other hand, the Vikings ranked 10th in pass defense last year and this year they have as many INTs as TDs allowed this season.

What can’t be disputed, though, is the Vikings ability to take out their opponent’s #1 WR. The Vikings allowed just 1 catch for -4 yards to Mike Williams last week and in Week 1 San Diego’s Vincent Jackson was good for just 2 receptions for 31 yards. If you go back through the last 6 games of 2010 – when Leslie Frazier was named interim head coach and Fred Pagac was the defensive coordinator – and throw in the first two games of this season, #1 WRs are averaging just 3 receptions for 44 yards against the Vikings. In those 8 contests, opposing #1 WRs have just 1 TD reception (Johnny Knox of the Chicago Bears at TCF Bank Stadium last December).

Week 2 – Mike Williams (Tampa Bay): 1 reception, -4 yards, 0 TDs
Week 1 – Vincent Jackson (San Diego): 2 receptions, 31 yards, 0 TDs
Week 17 – Calvin Johnson: Did Not Play
Week 16 – DeSean Jackson: 2 receptions, 32 yards, 0 TDs
Week 15 – Johnny Knox: 2 receptions, 78 yards, 1 TD
Week 14 – Hakeem Nicks: 7 receptions, 96 yards, 0 TDs
Week 13 – Stevie Johnson: 2 receptions, 36 yards, 0 TDs
Week 12 – Santana Moss: 5 receptions, 40 yards, 0 TDs

This angle is relevant now because the Vikings face perhaps the NFL’s most talented WR this week in Detroit’s Calvin Johnson. In fact, Johnson has more TD receptions (33) than any other NFL WR since he was selected with the No. 2 pick in the 2007 draft.

“He’s still a great player, nothing has changed in that regard,” Frazier said on Wednesday. “Their quarterback is playing well, but Calvin Johnson is a big-time wide receiver; someone you have to always be aware of when he’s on the field.”

The last time the Vikings and Lions played – Week 17 of last season – Johnson did not suit up. Although he’s dealing with an ankle injury this week and did not practice on Wednesday, there’s no question he’ll be in the lineup on Sunday. The only question now is, can the Vikings success vs. opposing #1 WRs continue?


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Ayodele: Everybody “Stoked” To Have Williams Back In Lineup

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 21, 2011 – 12:49 pm

This is Leslie Frazier’s first year as the full-time head coach of the Vikings, and there’s always some degree of transition involved with a change in team leadership. One part of the transition for the Vikings defense this year is a (literally) big change in the middle of the defensive line.

Gone is DT Pat Williams. In his place, the Vikings will rely on youngsters Christian Ballard, Letroy Guion and Fred Evans, and they also went to the free agent market to sign Remi Ayodele. Through the first two games of the regular season, the performance from the interior defensive line has been okay; not great, but not poor.

With Kevin Williams now back in the fold, though, there’s reason to believe a big up-tick in production is on the way.

“I’m really excited to have him back,” Ayodele said of Williams. “To have a veteran right next to you that has dominated the game for so long always help everybody on the defensive line. Everybody is stoked to have him back.”


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Frazier’s Message To Team: Focus On The Lions

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 21, 2011 – 12:23 pm

Generally speaking, the football-following world does a good job of not over-reacting after the first game of the regular season. Teams that came away with a win in Week 1 aren’t anointed as future Super Bowl champions and teams that came out on the wrong end of a Week 1 decision aren’t completely written off.

But that tends to change after Week 2. In today’s highly-sensationalized sports culture, we like to reach wide-sweeping conclusions on how the rest of the season is likely to play out based on the first two games. So for the Vikings, beginning the season with a 0-2 mark has brought about a fair amount of panic from the fan base and a fair amount of criticism from observers. There’s talk about the infrequency with which teams make the playoffs after starting 0-2, and how many wins the Vikings need by their Week 9 bye.

That’s all external talk, though. Internally, Leslie Frazier’s message is an easy one.

Focus on the Lions.

“One of the things I tried to get across to our players and our leadership, is we’re still very early in the season,” Frazier said on Wednesday while meeting with reporters. “Our focus needs to be on the Detroit Lions and finding a way to get a win on Sunday. That’s where our energy and focus has to be throughout this week. Just continue to move forward, one day at a time, and that means having a good day today at practice and a good day tomorrow and a good day on Friday as well.”

Frazier’s message is the right one to convey to his team. But it’s not as easy to expect those outside the building to take the same approach.

Both perspectives of this weekend’s game against the Lions are correct, though.

No matter how you shake it, Sunday’s game is a big one for the Vikings.

“We got a home game this week against a divisional opponent,” Frazier said on Monday. “It’s a big game. Any game in the division. The sense of urgency has nothing to do with where our record is now. But the fact we’re playing a divisional opponent at home. We just got to find a way this weekend.”


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A Look At The Lions

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 21, 2011 – 6:14 am

Today is Wednesday, and that means the focus on vikings.com and at Winter Park will shift to preparing for this Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions. We’ll delve into further detail about the Lions over the next few days, but here are a few basics…

– These are not the Lions of the recent pass. Head Coach Jim Schwartz’s group is no longer the perennial doormat of the NFC North. They are 2-0 on the young 2011 season and they’ve done it in style, outlasting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27-20 on the road in Week 1 and then throttling the Kansas City Chiefs 48-3 at Ford Field last weekend.

– You can’t help but notice and be impressed by Detroit’s offense through the first two games, specifically QB Matthew Stafford. The Lions chose Stafford with the #1 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft and now that pick is paying massive dividends. He has completed 65.3% of his passes for 599 yards with 7 TDs and 2 INTs, which adds up to a passer rating of 112.0. The Lions rank 2nd in the NFL in scoring with 37.5 points per game, have yet to give up a sack and they’re +6 in turnover margin.

– As well as Stafford is playing this season, the Lions have actually maintained a pretty good offensive balance. Of their 9 TDs this season, 7 are through the air and just 2 are on the ground. But, Detroit has called the 4th-most rushing plays and just the 13th-most passing plays. While they’re averaging just 3.3 yards per rush, they are at least sticking with the run enough to have a balanced attack.

– Where Detroit becomes a bit unbalanced, though, is in critical situations such as 3rd downs and the red zone. The Lions have had 26 third-down snaps and 22 of those snaps have been passes (84.6%). They’ve also had 32 red zone snaps and 20 of them have been passes (62.5%). So Detroit can be pretty pass-heavy in big situations, but how can you blame them for that with Stafford pulling the trigger and superstar WR Calvin Johnson out there running routes?

– Defensively, the Lions are mostly very good to solid. They are the NFL’s 7th-ranked defense in yards allowed and the 2nd-ranked defense in points allowed. They are also ranked 7th in pass defense (allowing 187.5 yards per game) and they’re tied with Baltimore for the League lead in takeaways with 8.

– From a personnel standpoint on defense, the top group is the defensive line. Ndamukong Suh is quickly developing into an elite DT; in fact, he’s probably already elite. And then coming off the edge the Lions have Kyle Vanden Bosch, who already has 2.0 sacks this season. Fifth-year LB Justin Durant leads the team in tackles, CB Chris Houston has 2 INTs on the season and you always have to watch S Louis Delmas, who is aggressive in run support and always seems to be around the ball.

– The one vulnerability I see in this defense is in the run game. The Lions are yielding 4.6 yards per carry and 103.5 yards per game, which ranks 23rd and 13th in the NFL, respectively. The Vikings, meanwhile, rank 3rd in yards per carry with a 5.8-yard average and 3rd in yards per game with a 172.5-yard average. Also, Detroit’s two opponents have logged just 22.5 rushes per game, while the Vikings have averaged 29.5 rushes per game so far. I expect the Vikings to challenge the Lions with Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart early and often to see if Suh and Co. can hold up against a powerful ground game.

– Last week the Lions defense allowed just 3 points to the Kansas City Chiefs, an impressive display no doubt. But consider this…Chiefs star RB Jamaal Charles was lost for the game (and, subsequently, the season) at the end of the first offensive series. Prior to Charles leaving the game, Kansas City ripped off runs of 24, 8, 24, 5 and 3 yards (12.8 yards per carry).


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All Pro Dad Father & Kids Experience Is This Weekend

Posted by Ryan Cardinal on September 21, 2011 – 5:45 am

The Shriners Hospitals for Children All Pro Dad Father & Kids Experience is a hands-on event providing inspirational bonding opportunities for dads and their kids. This fall’s Minneapolis area Father & Kids Experience at Winter Park Field House will be held on Sept. 24, from 2 – 5 p.m. CDT at Winter Park Field House, and will be hosted by Minnesota Vikings Head Coach and All Pro Dad spokesman, Leslie Frazier.  Dads and kids will spend the afternoon running football-themed drills and learning tips on how to be better fathers, while spending quality time interacting with their kids.

“I am excited that All Pro Dad is returning to the Vikings!” said Tony Dungy, former Vikings defensive coordinator. “Leslie Frazier is a great spokesman for the All Pro Dad program.”

As a thank you for being a Vikings fan, we would like to offer the first 20 people to click on this link – www.allprodad.com/vikings – FREE admission to the event!  Each admission includes one adult and up to four children. The event is recommended for children ages five and older.  If you weren’t one of the first 20 to win free admission, please register today at www.AllProDad.com as the event is expected to sell out.

“It is great to be returning to Minnesota with fun football drills, practical information and fatherhood tips,” said Mark Merrill, founder and president of Family First.

The 2011 All Pro Dad Father & Kids Experience is sponsored by Shriners Hospitals for Children, Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, Russell Athletic, Comcast and Minnesota’s Sports Station THE FAN 100.3.


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Reminder: “Vikings Country” Featuring Jared Allen Is Live At Mall Of America Tonight

Posted by Ryan Cardinal on September 21, 2011 – 3:56 am

As is the case each Wednesday during the NFL season, fans can head to Mall of America tonight from 6:30 to 7 to check out “Vikings Country,” a weekly radio show hosted by Mike Mussman and co-hosted by either Jared Allen or Chad Greenway.  Tonight, Jared Allen is the co-host.

The show will be broadcast live from the Sky Deck Sports Grille and Bar at Mall of America – located on the fourth floor, east side – every Wednesday during the regular season and will air on FM 100.3; the show will also be aired on Fox Sports North at 11:00 a.m. every Sunday. Allen and Greenway will alternate weeks as co-hosts of the show with Mussman, and the Vikings Street Team will be at each broadcast giving away great prizes.

Fans are encouraged to attend the live broadcast each week at the Sky Deck Sports Grille and Bar, where they will enjoy a state-of-the-art restaurant and entertainment facility that features high definition TV’s, quality billiards, 12 lanes of bowling and a great menu of beverages and food.

Allen will co-host on the following dates: September 21, October 5, October 19, November 16, November 30, December 14 and December 28. Greenway will co-host on the following dates: September 28, October 12, October 26, November 9, November 25, December 7 and December 21.


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Vikings Activate Williams, Waive Awasom

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 20, 2011 – 12:22 pm

The Vikings have made the return of DT Kevin Williams from a two-game suspension official.

He’s been added to the team’s 53-man roster.

To make room for Williams, the Vikings waived DE Adrian Awasom.


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Williams’ Return Makes D-Line Deeper, More Versatile

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 20, 2011 – 7:45 am

The return of Kevin Williams to the lineup from a two-game suspension is a big deal for the Vikings defense. He’s a 6-time Pro Bowler and the defense now has a playmaker in the middle of the defensive line for whom opposing offenses will have to account on a play-by-play basis.

But Williams’ return goes beyond just having another playmaker on the field. With Williams back in the fold, the Vikings defensive line instantly becomes deeper, and the Vikings defensive coaches have more flexibility in their scheme, playcalling and rotation options.

For example, Remi Ayodele and Letroy Guion have been the starters at DT in Williams’ absence. With Williams back in the lineup, the Vikings can keep both Ayodele and Guion fresh by rotating their snaps. Then you have rookie Christian Ballard, who has the position flexibility to play both DE and DT. Early on he’s been playing primarily DT, but with Williams back and Ayodele and Guion potentially rotating at DT, perhaps Ballard gets more time at DE?

Those are just two examples of how Williams’ return positively impacts the Vikings ability and depth along the defensive line. Now, the key is for the Vikings to execute whatever strategy they employ.


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Pro Bowl DT Kevin Williams Returns To Team, Ready To Play

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 20, 2011 – 6:47 am

The bad news is the Vikings are off to a 0-2 start on the young season and they haven’t had perennial Pro Bowler Kevin Williams at DT to try and stop the bleeding. The good news, though, is Williams’ suspension is over and he’s returned to the team.

Williams was back at Winter Park for the first time in two weeks and he’ll begin preparations along with his teammates for this weekend’s NFC North showdown with the red-hot Detroit Lions. Williams met with reporters at his locker on Monday and, as mild-mannered as Williams is, you could tell he was anxious to be back around the team.

“I was here on my couch, yelling at the screen,” Williams said when asked where he’s spent the past two weeks.

The suspension meant Williams was unable to play the first two weeks, but he was also prohibited from being at Winter Park and interacting with players and coaches. Williams said he set up independent treatment for his injured foot and also worked out on his own at Lifetime Fitness.

“I’m in pretty good shape,” Williams said. “I’m ready to play a game. I know it’s going to be a different feeling when those pads get on, but I think as far as conditioning-wise I feel good. The wind will probably get cut short a little bit with the pads strapped around you, but it’ll take a few plays to get a second wind and it’ll be fine.”

Williams is a true professional, so there should be no concern about him coming back in good shape. The one issue to watch is his injured foot. Williams says he’s about as close to 100% as he can be at this time of year and he also indicated confidence that he’ll be able to play through any pain that comes as a result of the injury.

“I’m definitely going to play,” Williams said. “Sitting at home two weeks was bad enough; the foot ain’t gonna stop me.”


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