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Young DTs Ballard, Guion Flash Potential

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 22, 2011 – 2:49 pm

Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said on Monday that DT Kevin Williams played his best game of the season on Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. That’s a good sign for the Vikings defense because when Williams makes plays in the middle of the Vikings defense, it opens up opportunities for other defenders.

But Williams isn’t the only Vikings DT who has stood out recently. Youngsters Christian Ballard and Letroy Guion have flashed potential recently, and seeing them continue to develop would be a huge positive for the Vikings defense. We won’t get ahead of ourselves here; Ballard and Guion can’t be mentioned in the same breath as Williams yet, and “flashing potential” is a far cry from becoming a productive and disruptive member of an NFL defensive line. But seeing young players flash potential is a lot better than the alternative.

It was Guion who blocked the Raiders 49-yard FG attempt in the 4th quarter to help the Vikings build momentum for a 14-point 4th quarter and near comeback victory. For the season, Guion has 13 tackles and 1.0 tackle for loss playing behind Williams. Those numbers won’t blow you away, but they’re an indication that Guion is progressing in his 4th season and will likely compete for a starting position at some point in the near future.

Ballard made a great play on Sunday against the Raiders, too. The Raiders had the ball and a 27-14 lead with just over 6 minutes to play in the 4th quarter, and they were trying to work on the game clock and get out of Mall of America Field with a tough road win. On a 1st-and-10 rush by RB Michael Bush, Ballard was cut block and fell to the ground. But he quickly picked himself up, ran to Bush as the RB sprinted off left tackle, and punched the ball out of Bush’s arms. DE Brian Robison was there to recover the fumble, and the Vikings scored a TD just two plays later to close the gap and make the score 27-21 with 5:12 to play.

Again, this doesn’t mean Ballard is destined for the Pro Bowl anytime soon. But it was the kind of hustle and impact play that you want to see from young, developing players, even though the team is going through a disappointing 2-8 season. Ballard has 2.0 tackles for a loss on the season and he’s also been a factor for the Vikings special teams group. Just as is the case for Guion, it appears Ballard will be challenging for even more playing time next season.

Another aspect about this to keep in mind is that both Ballard and Guion were mid-round picks by the Vikings. Ballard was selected with a 4th-round choice (#106 overall) this past April and Guion was a 5th-round pick (#152) in 2008. Getting this kind of development – and hopefully consistent disruption and production in the near future – from mid-round picks is crucial to a franchise’s ability to build a roster that can attain long-term success.


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Vikings Look To Improve Pass Protection This Week

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 22, 2011 – 1:04 pm

Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said on Monday that his team’s pass protection must improve going forward. I think Vikings fans would most certainly agree. On Sunday against the Raiders, QB Christian Ponder was sacked 5 times and was forced to leave the pocket to avoid pressure many more. For the season, only 4 teams have allowed more sacks than the Vikings (30).

With pass protection being the issue that it is, many are quick to point a finger at the offensive line. And certainly members of the offensive line will be the first to tell you that they’d like to improve their play. The 5 starters on the Vikings offensive line are prideful individuals who’ve played on winning teams in the past, plus they’re playing well this year in the running game and would like to equal that effort in the passing game.

But the Vikings pass protection issues don’t land exclusively at the feet of the offensive line. Protecting the passer is a task charged with every single offensive player on the field, not just the 5 linemen.

“It wasn’t always our offensive line,” Frazier said on Monday of his team’s pass protection issues against the Raiders. “Sometimes, for the number of people that we had in protection, versus what they (Oakland) were bringing, they had more numbers than we had. Other times, there were times where we did get beat one-on-one. So, it was a combination of the two.

“When they are bringing as many people as they were bringing yesterday, we have to do some things to try and get Christian another second and be able to exploit the one-on-ones with our receivers down the field. Our receivers have to get open and we have to get the football to those receivers.”

The last point Frazier made is important. Winning one-on-one matchups down the field is just as important as winning one-on-one matchups against defensive linemen. The Raiders scored their 2nd-quarter go-ahead TD when WR Chaz Schilens beat man-coverage and came down with a lofted pass from Carson Palmer. On the play, Vikings CB Asher Allen was in good position to make a play, but it was Schilens who made the play instead. This is something that Vikings pass-catchers have the ability to do, and when they do this it will allow Ponder to get rid of the ball quicker and, consequently, reduce the amount of sacks the Vikings allow.

Proof that the Vikings have the playmakers to win one-on-ones actually came on Sunday against Oakland when WR Percy Harvin scored on a 26-yard screen pass and also scored on a 35-yard run that was called back because of penalty.

“One of the reasons that screen was so effective that Percy scored on was because they wanted to bring pressure, they get everybody coming in one direction and Percy is untouched on the simple screen away from the action,” Frazier explained. “So, there are some ways to slow them down if they want to bring pressure the way we’ve been getting it the last couple of weeks, and the same thing on the reverse that was called back. There are some things to offset some of what people are doing and we’ll work to do that, to attack that.”


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E.J. Henderson Hosts 4th Annual Turkey Giveaway

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 22, 2011 – 11:13 am

Vikings LB E.J. Henderson hosted his 4th annual “E.J. Henderson Turkey Giveaway” at a Cub Foods location in Minneapolis on Tuesday morning. At the event, Henderson and a few of his teammates distributed 3,500 turkeys to families in need.

Joining Henderson were LB Larry Dean, DE Everson Griffen and LB Tyrone McKenzie. The event’s opening presentation took place inside the store from 9:00-9:20 a.m., with remarks from local political leaders, dignitaries and Henderson. Following the presentation, Henderson and his teammates began distributing the turkeys to and visiting with those who attended the event.

Henderson is a 9-year veteran with the Vikings and has become one of the most community-conscious members of the team. His younger brother, Erin, has followed the lead by not only becoming a core member of the team but also by becoming involved in the local community.

E.J. has established the The E.J. Henderson Youth Foundation (EJHYF), which serves urban youth in the Twin Cities area. The mission of the EJHYF is to provide opportunity and encouragement to urban youth through academic, life skills and athletic programs developing each student in mind, body and soul. E.J.’s goal is to provide youth with the skills to become responsible members of their communities and to find success in their futures.


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Broncos-Vikings Game Moved to Noon Start on FOX

Posted by Ryan Cardinal on November 22, 2011 – 10:00 am

The December 4 game at Mall of America Field between the Denver Broncos and the Vikings has been moved to a Noon CT kickoff (previously was scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. CT) and will now air on FOX (KMSP Channel 9 in the Twin Cities) instead of CBS.

The NFL utilizes “flexible scheduling” on Sundays in Weeks 10-15, 17.  Flexible scheduling ensures quality matchups in all NFL Sunday time slots in those weeks and give teams a chance to play their way onto primetime and into the late-afternoon 3 p.m. CT time slot on CBS and FOX.

For each of the flexible scheduling weeks with the exception of Week 17, the NFL will announce the start times of games on Sundays no later than 12 days prior to that weekend.  To ensure a Sunday night game and doubleheader games with playoff implications in Week 17, the flexible scheduling decision for that Sunday may be made on six days notice.


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