The Vikings may be coming off a momentum-generating win last week against the San Francisco 49ers, but they have redemption on their mind this week. This weekend the Vikings will travel to Detroit for a battle against the Lions, a team that swept the season series from them a season ago. The season sweep for Detroit was their first over the Vikings since 1997, and the Lions have now won the past three games against the Vikings.
There’s a lot to talk about in previewing this matchup, and we’ll get it started by pointing out 6 storylines we’ll be chasing this week…
1. Jerome Simpson Debuts For Vikings
The Vikings signed WR Jerome Simpson last April and he immediately developed a rapport with QB Christian Ponder, an encouraging development for the Vikings as they looked to add speed and explosiveness to their passing game. Simpson had to serve a 3-game suspension to begin the season. That suspension is now over, and Simpson was reinstated to the team on Monday. A big question this week is: How will Simpson fit into the Vikings offense?
We saw quite a bit of Simpson during the offseason program and training camp. Then we saw him briefly in the preseason, with the highlight being a 33-yard catch-and-run in Week 2 against the Buffalo Bills in which he caught a quick slant and hurdled a defender before being tackled downfield. That’s the kind of athleticism that has many expecting Simpson to add some flare to this Vikings passing attack. This week we get to see Simpson in the Vikings offense during the regular season for the first time.
2. Vikings First (and last, for a while) Crack At Division Opponent
Sunday’s contest marks the first divisional test for the Vikings, and it’ll be the Lions first game in the NFC North, too. The Lions will jump right back into divisional play in three weeks, with a Monday Night Football matchup against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. But the Vikings won’t see a division opponent again until Week 10, when they host the Lions at Mall of America Field. It’s an odd scheduling quirk for the Vikings, as they play just two divisional games in the first 11 weeks of the season, and both of those divisional games are against the same opponent.
The Vikings are keepers of the NFC North, boasting more division titles since their inception into the League in 1961 than any other franchise. Lately, though, the Vikings have not taken care of business within the division. The Vikings last division win was September 26, 2010 at home against these Lions, and their last road win in the division was on November 1, 2009 at Lambeau Field against the Green Bay Packers. This week the Vikings have a chance to start regaining supremacy within the division.
3. Can Ponder Keep It Going vs. Lions Pass Defense?
Vikings QB Christian Ponder is off to a solid start in 2012. He’s completing 70.1% of his passes, good for 2nd in the NFL, and he has generated a passer rating of 104.9, good for 5th in the NFL. On the flip side, only four teams are allowing opposing QBs to complete a higher percentage of their passes than the Lions, and only three teams have yielded a higher opponents’ passer rating that the Lions. Can Ponder keep it going against Detroit? Don’t be surprised if the game comes down to that question. Granted, Vikings RB Adrian Peterson has a per-carry average of 5.2 yards and 8 rushing TDs against Detroit in 9 games, so a large focus for both teams when the Vikings have the ball will be on the running game. But whether it’s because the Vikings want to be aggressive, the Lions slow down the Vikings ground game, or the Vikings need a quick score late in the game, there’s a good chance Ponder will have an opportunity to test this Lions pass defense.
4. Lions vs. Harvin, Vikings vs. Megatron
A wide receiver has been the most dynamic weapon for each of these offenses during the young season. For the Vikings, it’s been Percy Harvin. He leads the NFL with 27 receptions and he’s 7th in receiving yards as well. When you combine his receiving and rushing yards, Harvin has 319 total yards (30% of the Vikings offensive output).
For the Lions, Calvin Johnson has led the way. He’s 3rd in the NFL with 24 receptions and 1st with 369 yards. While he has just 1 TD to this point, Johnson does have 9 plays already of 20+ yards (the next closest Lions has 2) and he has accounted for twice as many 1st downs (18) as any other Lions non-QB.
A big factor in this week’s game, obviously, will be how each team’s defense fares in neutralizing the opponent’s #1 threat. The difficulty for Detroit is how versatile Harvin can be because the Vikings line him up everywhere, from the slot to out wide to in the backfield and then of course as a kickoff returner. The difficulty for the Vikings is Johnson’s size-speed combination. He simply overpowers defenders of all types.
5. Vikings Offensive Line Faces Another Nasty Defensive Line
Not many defensive fronts have been nastier than the San Francisco 49ers the past couple seasons. Last Sunday, though, the Vikings offensive line was even nastier. They paved the way for Vikings rushers to gain 146 yards – the most any team has gained on the ground against the 49ers since 2010 – and offense as a whole generated 344 yards, which is the 5th highest total against the 49ers over their last 19 games. It may have been the offensive line’s best performance over the past two seasons.
The time for looking back on that performance is over, though, because the Vikings offensive line has another tough assignment this week. While the numbers through three games don’t necessarily show it, this is a talented Detroit defensive line. A pair of disruptive DTs – N’Damukong Suh and Cory Williams – anchor the line and then left DE Cliff Avril and right DE Kyle Vanden Bosch come from the edge. Nick Fairley adds good depth at DT as well, and this group of 5 players have accounted for all 7.0 of the Lions sacks this season. The Lions have permitted 13 rushes of 10+ yards this season (3rd worst in the NFL) and they’ve forced just 4 three-and-out drives (tied for fewest in NFL), so there are opportunities for the Vikings offensive line to expose flaws.
6. Is This The Week Adrian Peterson Registers A Breakout Performance?
Adrian Peterson’s comeback from knee surgery has been remarkable. His presence in the lineup for Week 1 was inspirational to both his teammates and fans, and he’s played an important role in both of the Vikings victories this season. But he’s yet to have a trademark Adrian Peterson performance in 2012 – the kind of performance that keeps fans on the edge of their seats the entire game. Peterson has gained 84, 60 and 86 yards in his first three games, and he’s averaging 4.0 yards per carry. Not bad, but again, it’s not the standard Peterson has created over his first five seasons.
This week presents Peterson with a great chance to author a signature performance. The Lions have a talented and deep defensive line, but as we pointed out in headline #5, this is a defense that has allowed 13 explosive runs already this season. On top of that, Peterson has a great track record against the Lions. In 9 career games against Detroit, Peterson has 169 carries for 892 yards (5.2 yards per carry) and 8 rushing TDs. In his second career game against the Lions back in 2007, Peterson ran for 116 yards and 2 TDs on 15 carries, and he followed that up with a pair of 100-yard rushing games in 2008. In November of 2009, Peterson rushed for 133 yards and 2 TDs on 18 attempts, and the next season on September 26 he rushed for 160 yards and 2 more TDs on 23 carries, including his career-long rushing TD of 80 yards.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Christian Ponder, Jerome Simpson, Percy Harvin
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 129 Comments »
For the first time this season, QB Christian Ponder will be the guest on tonight’s “Vikings Country” radio show, which airs live from Dick’s Last Resort on the fourth floor of Mall of America from 6:30 to 7 PM CT on KFAN 100.3 FM. Fans in the Twin Cities are encouraged to attend the show, which is hosted by Mike Mussman, live and in person.
The TV version of Vikings Country Sunday mornings at 11 AM CT on Fox Sports North.
Tags: Christian Ponder
Posted in All | 6 Comments »
First thing tomorrow morning we’ll begin previewing the Vikings upcoming matchup with NFC North rival Detroit. The Vikings and Lions will play at Ford Field in Detroit on Sunday, with kickoff slated for noon CT. Before we do that, though, let’s empty out the notebook from last week’s win over the San Francisco 49ers…
Frazier credits Sanford, calls him the kind of guy “you want on your club”
Jamarca Sanford started 15 games for the Vikings defense a year ago. Through three games this season, Sanford has started none. Rookie Harrison Smith and second-year player Mistral Raymond emerged from training camp with starting jobs, leaving Sanford disappointed heading into the season.
But Frazier explained on Wednesday that Sanford didn’t let that disappointment adversely impact his attitude or preparation. And that attitude paid off for Sanford and the Vikings defense against the 49ers when Raymond went down with an injury in the 2nd quarter.
“Jamarca really had his heart set on being a starter this season,” Frazier explained. “He worked his tail off throughout the offseason. He was really looking forward to it and there’s no doubt there was disappointment when he wasn’t named one of the starters at safety.
“What he did on special teams, what he has done, in absence of being a starter, just a great example for the rest of our team. Those are the kind of guys you want on your club. Everybody wants to start but we talk to them all the time that everybody can’t start. You have to be willing to accept your role in order for our team to have a chance to be successful, and he’s an example of that.”
Sanford finished the game with 6 tackles on defense and, in what should come as no surprise, 1 tackle on special teams, too.
Vikings correct discipline, penalty issues from a week ago
In last week’s loss to the Indianapolis Colts (it hurts to even type that), the Vikings were uncharacteristically undisciplined. When all was said and done, the Vikings had 11 penalties enforced against them for a total of 105 yards, with several of them coming at inopportune times to extend Colts drives and/or negate positive plays by the Vikings offense. In his post-game press conference that day, Frazier was the first to acknowledge those mistakes, and was determined to correct them the following week.
It was mission accomplished on that front in the victory over San Francisco, as the Vikings were penalized just once for 10 yards. The next step in the discipline category is to keep the penalties down again this week against Detroit while also securing the ball much better. The Vikings had 4 fumbles (2 lost) against the 49ers and were fortunate that they didn’t come back to haunt them. Fumbling that many times on the road and giving the potent Lions offense extra chances will put a lot of pressure on the Vikings defense.
A good day’s work for rookie CB Josh Robinson
Josh Robinson did something we haven’t seen much of from the Vikings defense in the past year – he intercepted a pass. And Robinson’s INT against the 49ers came at an opportune time. Trailing 24-13 with 2:38 to play in the game, the 49ers advanced the ball across midfield to the Vikings 48. On 2nd and 10, 49ers QB Alex Smith dropped back to pass and lofted a pass toward Michael Crabtree. But Robinson was there to pick it off and return it 24 yards to the 49ers 44.
Also, San Francisco returner Kyle Williams broke loose a couple of times against the Vikings – once to open the 3rd quarter on a 94-yard kickoff return to the Vikings 14 and then again in the 4th quarter on a 50-yard kickoff return to the 49ers 43. Robinson, who possesses great speed, teamed with Sanford to chase Williams down on the 94-yard return and then it was Robinson who caught Williams in the 4th quarter before he could do even more damage.
A player is expected to pursue until the whistle, so we won’t give him credit for doing what he should be doing, but we will give him credit for having the speed to run down a very good returner and help save a TD at least once.
Red zone rushing
The Vikings put forth a clean performance offensively, so to point out any “concerns” here is nit-picking a bit. One area where the execution could’ve been a touch cleaner was red zone rushing. Keep in mind, though, that the Vikings were 2 for 2 in red zone scoring, so this concern is really not that significant.
According to my count, the Vikings ran 11 red zone plays – 6 rushes and 5 passes. Christian Ponder was 3 of 5 for 13 yards with 2 TDs through the air. On the ground, though, the Vikings weren’t as efficient. The Vikings 6 rushes were for 5, 1, 0, 9, -1 and 2 yards. Adrian Peterson ran 5 times for 7 yards and Percy Harvin had 1 carry for 9 yards. Given how the Vikings were able to stick with the running game all afternoon against a stout 49ers defense, I’m not concerned in the least with the rushing totals inside the red zone. In fact, the Vikings were balanced in the red zone and scored a pair of TDs when knocking on the door, so the positives far out-weight the negatives on this one.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Jamarca Sanford, Josh Robinson, Leslie Frazier, Percy Harvin
Posted in All | 46 Comments »
Did the Vikings offensive line have their best performance of the season in Sunday’s win over the San Francisco 49ers? It sure looked like it, and Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier thought so, too.
“I think, collectively, yeah. And when you consider the front they were going up against, that’s a very good front,” Frazier said.
Frazier credited LG Charlie Johnson for a solid performance against 49ers All-Pro Justin Smith, and he also noted that Matt Kalil fared well against standout pass rusher Aldon Smith. Brandon Fusco and Phil Loadholt anchored down on the right side of the offense, and the lynchpin of it all is C John Sullivan. Credit should also be given to the Vikings coaching staff, who used a creative blocking scheme at times to create opportunities for the offense. Loadholt shifted to the left side of the formation on at least one snap to give San Francisco a different look, and the club also found a way to get rookie Rhett Ellison in on the action.
“It was a good performance across the board,” Frazier said. “As a group, to rush for 146 yards on that defensive line or that defense, it’s pretty impressive.”
Having any success against the 49ers on the ground is impressive. Gaining 146 yards? Over the past two seasons, that’s nearly unheard of. San Francisco hadn’t allowed that many rushing yards since November of 2010, and the 344 total yards the Vikings amassed on Sunday is 5th best against the 49ers over their last 19 games. Also, the Vikings collected 25 1st downs – #1 against San Francisco over the last19 games – and they logged 33:28 in time of possession – #2 against the 49ers over that same span.
A few other notes on the offensive line’s performance against the very good 49ers defense:
— The 49ers have only been held without a sack one other time since the start of 2011 (19 games) – against Baltimore in 2011.
— The 49ers did not have an INT, and they’ve been held without an INT just four times in that same span.
— The 49ers have only been held without a SACK and INT one other time in that span – the Baltimore game in 2011.
Tags: Brandon Fusco, Charlie Johnson, John Sullivan, Leslie Frazier, Matt Kalil, Phil Loadholt, Rhett Ellison
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 23 Comments »
For the second time in three weeks, Vikings rookie kicker Blair Walsh is one the candidates for this week’s Pepsi Max Rookie of the Week on NFL.com.
To vote for Walsh, click here.
Walsh had another impressive day going three for three on extra points which included making a 52-yard field goal in the second quarter to help the Vikings edge the San Francisco 49ers 24-13. Walsh’s 52 yarder made him the first kicker in franchise history to have three straight games with a field goal of at least 50 yards.
On the young season Walsh is 7-7 on field goal attempts.
Posted in All | 28 Comments »
Leslie Frazier is an old-school football guy. He played on one of the best defenses in NFL history – the Super Bowl-winning Chicago Bears in 1985 – and that experience has influenced the way he wants to build and coach the Vikings. Frazier wants the Vikings to be a physical team that runs the ball well and defends the run with abandon.
And, as most quality football teams do, he wants his team to play well at home.
The Vikings did that this past weekend, holding serve at home and upending the San Francisco 49ers by a convincing 24-13 margin.
“We talk all the time with our players about defending Mall of America Field,” Frazier said after Sunday’s game. “This has to be a place where it’s tough for anybody to come in here and think that they can get a win. Our fans helped up tremendously [Sunday]. There were moments where they affected the 49ers offense, and I’ve witnessed that plenty of times in my years here, where our fans really make it difficult for opposing teams to come here and be successful.”
The Vikings do have had a significant home-field advantage since moving into Mall of America Field in 1982.The team now has a combined record of 159-88-0 (.643) all-time at Mall of America Field, which includes a 6-4 mark in postseason games. The Vikings have gone undefeated 3 times at Mall of America Field (1989, 1998, 2009), with Frazier on the Vikings staff as defensive coordinator during the undefeated (at home) 2009 season.
Key to the Vikings defending their home turn Sunday was a quick start that energized the crowd and kept them going through the final minutes of the game. The Vikings drove 82 yards in 16 plays and took 7 minutes off the clock on the opening drive to take an early 7-0 lead. That set the stage for Vikings fans to make the operation difficult for San Francisco the rest of the game.
“We wanted to get off to a good start to keep our fans engaged and our guys did that,” Frazier said. “I think we had a 16 play drive early in the game to get it going, our defense got off the field I think in six plays. From that point on, our fans were engaged and that was huge for us. Just a big win for us in a lot of ways.”
Now, the Vikings turn their attention to another big game – the one they have this upcoming Sunday against the Detroit Lions. This time, they’ll be the visitors facing a hostile environment. The design, Frazier says, is for his team to use last Sunday’s win to springboard them into next Sunday’s NFC North showdown with the Lions.
“To come home and defend our home turf the way we did at Mall of America Field, that’s a big deal,” Frazier said. “We have to somehow capitalize on this as a team and use it throughout this next week as we prepare for our next opponent. It’s a big win. It’s hard to win in the NFL, and it’s hard to win against a team who is as talented as they are.”
Tags: Leslie Frazier
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 17 Comments »
It’s been well-publicized that Vikings QB Christian Ponder set a goal during the offseason of completing 75% of his passes on 1st and 2nd down this season in order to avoid the dreaded 3rd-and-long scenario as much as possible. We’ve followed Ponder’s 1st and 2nd down passing numbers through the first two games of the regular season, and the results have been very good.
Through the first two games, Ponder was 32 of 40 (80%) for 339 yards with 1 TD and 0 INTs (110.3 passer rating). Those are terrific numbers for Ponder, but it resulted in a mediocre 3rd-down conversion rate of 36% (9 of 25) and average 3rd down to-go distances of 6.4 yards in Week 1 and 6.7 yards in Week 2.
This past Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, Ponder’s numbers were less gaudy on 1st and 2nd down, but the end result was a marked improvement in a couple different ways. Ponder was 14 of 24 for 139 yards with no TDs or INTs, which equates to a modest 74.8 passer rating. But the Vikings converted 7 of 14 attempts on 3rd down (50%) and the average to-go distance on 3rd down was just 5.4 yards, a full yard better than in Week 1 and 1.3 yards better than in Week 2.
It’s a lot of data to crunch and compare, but suffice it to say that Ponder’s choice to set ambitious goals for 1st and 2nd down passing is paying dividends. Ponder is completing 71.8% (46 of 64) of his passes on 1st and 2nd downs for 478 yards, and he’s protected the ball well with 0 INTs and 1 TD toss. Those numbers yield a passer rating of 98.3, but more importantly it’s allowed the Vikings to convert 41% (16 of 39) of the 3rd downs, which represents a 2.6-point improvement from a season ago.
Tags: Christian Ponder
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 52 Comments »
Chad Greenway has been one of the Vikings most consistent players since he was selected in the 1st round of the 2006 NFL Draft. He’s played in all 80 games since coming back from a knee injury that ended his rookie season before it began, and he’s been the Vikings leading tackler in each of the past four seasons.
Through three games this year, though, Greenway has been more than a consistent performer. He’s been the Vikings best defensive player. And it was no more evident than in Sunday’s win over the San Francisco 49ers. Greenway led the team with 13 tackles and with 2.0 sacks. Greenway made several impressive open-field tackles to save big yardage and 1st downs. Both of his sacks came in the 1st quarter, the first on a 3rd-and-6 play in which Greenway closed incredibly fast and gave Smith no time to react, and the second sack came later in the 1st quarter during a drive that eventually ended with a miss FG.
“It was great by Chad,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said. “His leadership on the sideline, on the field making the big plays, that’s what we need from him. It was just great to see him step up along with other guys.”
Greenway had a career-high 174 tackles last season along the way to his first trip to the Pro Bowl. So far this season, Greenway has been credited with 37 tackles, which puts him on pace for another career high this season – 197 tackles. And Greenway is neutralizing perhaps the only criticism one could levy against him – a lack of “splash” plays. Greenway now has the 2.0 sacks as well as 3 passes defensed.
When asked about his performance after the game in the locker room, Greenway deflected the attention toward the team in general.
“When you can get a team that is coming off two big wins, beating teams in our division, you feel good about what you are doing,” Greenway said. “We really wanted to win at home, first and foremost and hold court here, consider that accomplished. They are a great football team. They are going to win a lot of football games.
“We feel like if we can replicate what we did here today every week and be consistent we have a chance to do something.”
Tags: Chad Greenway, Leslie Frazier
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 108 Comments »
Percy Harvin has yet to score a TD during the 2012 season. But make no mistake, Harvin has been one of the Vikings most valuable players to this point. He put together another solid outing on Sunday and helped the Vikings upend the heavily-favored San Francisco 49ers by a count of 24-13.
In the game, Harvin caught 9 of the 11 passes thrown his way and collected 89 receiving yards. For the season, Harvin has caught 27 of the 32 passes thrown his way for 277 yards. Six of Harvin’s 10 offensive touches on Sunday resulted in 1st downs, and one of the touches that didn’t was a quick 5-yard gain at the end of the 1st half that set up Blair Walsh for a 52-yard FG.
On top of his offensive production, Harvin also registered 3 kickoff returns for 74 yards and 1 rush for 9 yards against San Francisco. Add it all up, and you get 12 touches that generated 172 yards against a 49ers defense that ranks as one of the fiercest in the NFL.
For the season, Harvin has 43 touches and 559 combined yards, which amounts to 13.0 yards per touch. Also, Harvin’s 319 total offensive yards amount to 30% of the Vikings total offensive output on the season, and Harvin has generated 17 first downs for the Vikings offense.
Harvin’s value to the Vikings offense is not lost on its triggerman – QB Christian Ponder.
“It’s huge,” Ponder responded when asked about having Harvin as a weapon. “Again, when you can throw a short, little bubble route or a swing to him and he gets 15 or 20 yards on it pretty much every time, I mean it’s something that you can just rely on, and that’s a big part of this offense and also in the running game. When you start seeing San Francisco start doubling him, you’re taking away a defender on the run game when they’re worried about Percy Harvin. And he’s such a big part of this offense, and we’re going to keep giving him the ball and he’s going to keep making plays for the rest of the season.”
Tags: Christian Ponder, Percy Harvin
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 27 Comments »
A resounding 24-13 victory over a big dog in the NFC has elevated the Vikings to a 2-1 record for the season, and next week the Vikings head to Detroit for a showdown with the Lions in their first NFC North game of the season. There is a lot to talk about, and the Monday Morning Mailbag is the perfect place for the discussion.
To submit a comment or question for this week’s Monday Morning Mailbag, send an email to me at email@example.com. You can also submit your comment or question in the comments section below this entry.
Remember to include your name and town on the comment/email. We can’t post every comment/question, but we’ll try to answer each question.
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 34 Comments »