Harvin’s Opportunities, Production On The Rise

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 23, 2011 – 11:20 am

If Adrian Peterson is unable to play this Sunday, it’ll be Toby Gerhart who steps into the starting RB role and will shoulder much of the burden typically handled by the NFL’s best RB. While obviously no one wants to see Peterson miss a game, Vikings fans should be anxious to see what Gerhart – selected by the Vikings with a 2nd-round pick in 2010 – can do in a prominent offensive role.

But there’s also another dynamic to the Vikings offense which should be grabbing the attention of Vikings followers – Percy Harvin’s increasing opportunities and production. Yes, Gerhart is the “next man up” in a scenario where Peterson doesn’t play, but the trend in the Vikings offense also tells you that Harvin is poised to see an increased role.

Even with Peterson in the lineup, Harvin’s opportunities have increased over the last 4 games. Here are the number of touches-yards-TDs (not including kickoff returns) Harvin has had since Christian Ponder made his first start on October 23 against the Green Bay Packers: 4-23-0; 8-77-1; 9-70-0; 11-94-1. Also, the number of times he’s been targeted in each game as not declined: 3;5;8;8.

It’s clear that getting Harvin more involved in the offense has been a priority of the Vikings since Week 7, and that effort has even increased coming out of the team’s bye in Week 9. Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier spoke on this subject Monday, following his team’s loss to the Raiders in a game in which Harvin had 11 touches for 94 yards and 1 TD.

“One of the things coming out of the bye, is we wanted to come up with more ways to get Percy the football,” Frazier explained. “That’s what we have been trying to do and that’s what we wanted to do yesterday. The fact that Adrian wasn’t in the ball game created more opportunities for Percy, being such a focal point of our offense. But that’s one of the things we want to be able to do; get the ball in Percy’s hands in a variety of ways.”

Being productive in a variety of ways is the strongpoint of Harvin’s skill set. In 2009 as a rookie, Harvin established the Vikings record for the most combined yards with 2,081 (1,156 kickoff returns, 790 receiving, 135 rushing). Then in 2010, Harvin finished 2nd in the NFC and 5th in the NFL with 1,908 combined net yards.

Whether on ground or in the air, Harvin is a dynamic playmaker who will take pressure off of Gerhart should he take over for Peterson in the short-term.

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A Look At The Atlanta Falcons

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 23, 2011 – 8:39 am

The Vikings are back on the road this weekend and will fly south to tussle with the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. The Falcons boast a 6-4 record, are in 2nd place in the NFC South, and are coming off a 23-17 win over the Tennessee Titans at home.

Home for the Falcons is the Georgia Dome, a place where they’ve won 16 of their last 21 regular season games. The Vikings haven’t played Atlanta on the road since 2005 – a 30-10 loss – and have logged a 1-1 record against the Falcons since 2007.

There will be a lot of familiarity when the Vikings and Falcons clash on Sunday. Vikings WR Michael Jenkins played for the Falcons from 2004-10, Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave was an assistant coach in Atlanta from 2006-10, and Vikings WRs coach George Stewart held the same position for the Falcons from 2003-06. In addition to that, former Vikings DE Ray Edwards is now a starter for Atlanta’s defense. Edwards had 8.5 sacks for the Vikings in 2009 and 8.0 more in 2010, but so far this season for the Falcons he has just 2.0.

The Falcons entered the 2011 season with high expectations. They won their division in 2010 and, consequently, hosted a home playoff game. The Green Bay Packers marched into the Georgia Dome and steamrolled the Falcons, though, which prompted the franchise to make a few slight adjustments before making another run at the Lombardi Trophy this season. The highlight of Atlanta’s offseason came during the draft when they traded up from the bottom of the first round to the sixth spot so they could select WR Julio Jones. Typically a run-leaning offense, the move to acquire Jones infused the offense with another aerial threat and it also laid the foundation for sky-high expectations in 2011.

Atlanta got off to an uneven start this season, moving to 3-3 after a Week 6 victory over the Carolina Panthers. Two more wins sandwiched around a bye got the Falcons to 5-3, and things were looking good for head coach Mike Smith’s team. But then the New Orleans Saints came to town, solved the Georgia Dome hex and took control of the division with a 26-23 overtime victory. The Falcons defeated Tennessee the following week, and will now look to log consecutive victories while hosting the Vikings on Sunday.

If Atlanta is to defeat the Vikings, they’ll have to do so without Jones. The 1st-round pick is dealing with a hamstring injury and said earlier this week he’s unsure if he’ll be able to play on Sunday. The Falcons have plenty of weapons even if Jones doesn’t play. They feature one of the NFL’s best RBs in Michael Turner, who ranks 5th in the NFL with 888 rushing yards and also has 8 rushing TDs. When Atlanta attacks through the air, TE Tony Gonzalez and WR Roddy White are the primary targets. Gonzalez and White have combined for 104 catches and 10 TDs already this season.

Guiding the Falcons offense is Matt Ryan, a 4th-year veteran who is completing 60.8% of his passes. Ryan’s career TD-INT ratio is 81-44, an impressive mark, and in 2011 that ratio is 15-10. He’s a composed and poised passer in the pocket who prefers to stand in and throw in the face or pressure rather than escape and get work done on the run.

It’s fair to call the Falcons offense a balanced attack. Atlanta has 361 passing attempts and 291 rushing attempts, and they’ve scored 15 TDs through the air compared to 10 on the ground. The Falcons have the NFL’s 12th ranked total offense and the 14th-ranked scoring offense.

Defensively, the Falcons are better than the statistics say. Their head coach is a former defensive assistant coach for the Ravens and Defensive Coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Atlanta has the 15th ranked total defense and is ranked just 26th against the pass, but only San Francisco is better against the run. Atlanta employs a 4-3 scheme that features solid starters across the board. Edwards and 4-time Pro Bowler John Abraham anchor the team’s pass rush from the DE position, while a trio of young LBs – Curtis Lofton, Stephen Nichols and Sean Witherspoon – hold things down in the middle of the field. In the secondary, the Falcons feature Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes – one of my favorite restricted free agents from last offseason – at CB and then Thomas DeCoud and William Moore at safety.

That’s a quick look at the Falcons, as the Vikings begin their on-field preparations today and work toward their Week 12 showdown with the Falcons this Sunday. We’ll have plenty more today and throughout the week, so stay tuned to for everything Purple.

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

Posted by Ryan Cardinal on November 23, 2011 – 4:59 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, 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 KFAN (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 the following nights: tonight, Dec. 7, and Dec. 21.  Greenway will co-host on Nov. 30, Dec. 14, and Dec. 28.

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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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Frazier Says Sunday Was Kevin Williams’ “Best Game Of The Season”

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 21, 2011 – 4:12 pm

It was a tale of two halves for the Vikings defense on Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. In the 1st half, the Raiders racked up 186 yards of offense, collected 13 first downs, converted 4 of 6 third downs, and scored 24 points. In the 2nd half, though, the Vikings defense clamped down on Oakland and surrendered just 115 yards, 9 first downs, 1 of 8 third-down attempts and only 3 points.

According to Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier, veteran DT Kevin Williams deserves much of the credit for the turnaround in defensive performance.

“Without question, his best game of the season,” Frazier said on Monday. “He was dominant. I told him earlier this morning I wish we could have finished that game off just for him because he deserved a game ball for his performance yesterday. It was just a dominant performance from the Kevin we’ve all grown accustomed to seeing, and yesterday it was on display.”

Williams finished the game with 12 tackles, including 2 tackles for a loss, and he also had a sack. There’s also no doubt that he made a difference even when he didn’t notch a statistic because he commands double-teams regularly, which frees up other defenders to make plays (LB Chad Greenway had 20 tackles and a sack).

But Williams’ contributions on Sunday went beyond the football field. Frazier shared with reporters that it was Williams who lit a fire under the defense in the locker room at halftime, with the Vikings trailing 24-7.

“He couldn’t be blocked one-on-one, destroyed their guard when he was rushing the passer, he was very disruptive and just a great example for the rest of our guys,” Frazier said. “And I think that had a lot to do with why our defense played as well as they did in the second half, limiting their offense to three points and playing on the short field. Kevin had a lot to do with that. He said a few words to our entire team prior to going back out at the second half. He really backed up his words with the way he played yesterday.”

Frazier wouldn’t go into specifics of what Williams said to the team at halftime, other than to indicate it was a “good” message, and a message to which the team definitely responded.

“It was a good message, but I don’t want to into it,” Frazier explained. “It was a good message, the guys responded. They played much better in the second half. Going into that half, the way that that last four or five minutes of the second quarter ended, that could have been a disastrous second half. But the guys stood up and they fought and put ourselves in a position to have a chance to win that game. A lot of that has to do with the leaders that are still on this team. Although we’re 2-8, there are guys in that locker room that are fighting to get a win.”

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Peterson Has High Ankle Sprain; Status For Sunday Unknown

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 21, 2011 – 12:57 pm

Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier met with reporters on Monday and he provided an update on RB Adrian Peterson, who was forced out of Sunday’s game in the 2nd quarter after injuring his ankle. Frazier says Peterson suffered a high ankle sprain and will be in a walking boot for the next couple of days.

Frazier added that there is some ligament damage, that the ankle sprain is a Grade 1 sprain, and that Peterson will try and practice on Friday to see if he’ll be able to play on Sunday.

“The good news is it’s nothing more serious than that, the fact that it is an ankle sprain and he’ll recover from it,” Frazier said. “It’s just the matter of the amount of time he’ll miss. We’ll have a better indication toward the end of the week.”

On other injury news, Frazier said that TE Kyle Rudolph has a quad contusion and will be day-to-day. Fellow TE Visanthe Shiancoe suffered a mild strain to his hamstring. Finally, Frazier had good news on the Erin Henderson front, saying the starting LB should be available for this Sunday’s game in Atlanta.

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Vikings Hope To Learn More On Peterson Injury Monday

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 21, 2011 – 9:24 am

Vikings RB Adrian Peterson left Sunday’s game against the Oakland Raiders with an ankle injury. He was unable to return to action, obviously leading to concern about his status for this weekend’s game against the Atlanta Falcons, and possibly about his status even after that.

During his post-game press conference, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier gave no indication that Peterson had sustained a significant ankle injury, but Frazier also couldn’t be definitive about the injury because more tests are to be conducted on Monday.

“Adrian has an ankle sprain,” Frazier said after the game. “We’ll do an MRI to learn more about it, but right now it has been diagnosed as a sprain.”

Frazier will meet with reporters again today, so perhaps he’ll have further updates on Peterson’s injury. 

Peterson spoke to reporters after the game, and he also couldn’t be sure as to the extent of the injury. Peterson said his ankle “got twisted up pretty bad” and that x-rays on the ankle came back negative, which is a positive. Asked if he’s tempted to “shut it down” for a couple of weeks because of the team’s record, Peterson was adamant in his answer.

“No, not at all,” he said. “That’s not in my DNA. I’m going to try and get back as fast as I can and, God willing, I’ll be up and ready to run this weekend.”

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