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Vikings, Seahawks High Performers On Special Teams

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 31, 2012 – 9:57 am

There are a lot of interesting subplots to this week’s Vikings-Seahawks matchup – the NFL’s two leading rushers (Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch) go toe-to-toe, a pair of up-and-coming QBs (Christian Ponder and Russell Wilson) look to keep progressing, two of the NFL’s best pass-rushers (Jared Allen and Chris Clemons) go against two of the NFL’s best LTs (Matt Kalil and Russell Okung), etc.

We detailed those three as well as five additional storylines on Wednesday morning.

But one subplot we didn’t mention that is certainly noteworthy is the matchup between the Vikings and Seahawks special teams groups. All NFL clubs take special teams seriously, but some groups are consistently among the NFL’s best. In recent seasons, the Vikings and Seahawks could be included in this group.

There’s no question Mike Priefer has made a difference in the Vikings special teams performnace since he joined Leslie Frazier’s staff prior to the 2011 season. Percy Harvin has continued to be arguably the NFL’s top kickoff returner and K Blair Walsh has made a quick and profound impact in his rookie season. Seattle Special Teams Coordinator Brian Schneider is now in his 3rd season on Pete Carroll’s staff, and under his guidence the Seahawks have led the NFL in blocked kicks the past two seasons.

Mike Priefer

Both coordinator’s have found success once again in 2012, and it’s making a difference for their teams. The special teams group that can outperform the other in Sunday’s game will contribute significantly to the outcome of the game. It will be a fun subplot to watch.

Here are a few facts about how the Vikings and Seahawks special teams have fared so far in 2012…

– The Vikings are one of just three teams to register both a kickoff return TD (Percy Harvin) and a punt return TD (Marcus Sherels) this season.

– The Vikings rank #2 (25.3) and the Seahawks rank #9 (23.6) in average starting position after a kickoff.

– Harvin ranks #2 (35.7) in the NFL and Seattle returner Leon Washington ranks #5 (29.8) in the NFL in kickoff return average.

– Walsh is tied for 1st in the NFL with 31 touchbacks.

– Seattle ranks #1 in the NFL in opponents average starting position after kickoff (19.4).

– Seattle ranks #4 in opponents kickoff return average (20.6).

– The Vikings rank #7 in opponents punt return average (6.2).


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8 Vikings-Seahawks Storylines To Follow

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 31, 2012 – 6:39 am

Wednesday is finally here, which means the NFL calendar flips from last week to this week. For the Vikings, who are coming off a disappointing loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home last Thursday night, that’s a good thing.

This weekend the 5-3 Vikings travel to Seattle for a contest against the 4-4 Seahawks. Both teams are hungry for a win after losses in Week 9. Here are a few storylines we’ll be chasing this week…

1. Can Vikings Contain “Lynchpin” of Seahawks Offense?
Ordinarily the Vikings are a great run-stopping defense. Over the last three games, though, poor gap integrity and shoddy tackling have plagued the Vikings. The Vikings will have serious problems on Sunday if they don’t fix those issues because Marshawn Lynch will have no mercy. Lynch is the NFL’s 2nd-leading rusher behind Adrian Peterson and he’s not an easy guy to tackle. At 5-11, 215 pounds, Lynch has a combination of speed and power that causes defenses fits.

2. All Eyes on Ponder
Fair or not, the blame for the Vikings recent woes in the passing game has generally fallen on the shoulders of QB Christian Ponder. After opening the season with 0 INTs through four games, the 2nd-year passer now has 7 INTs in his last four outings and he’s completed just 51.9% of his passes for 309 yards in his last two games. We know Ponder can get the job done by playing well and moving the ball through the air, and now all eyes will be on Ponder to see if he can get things turned around after a few extra days off following the Thursday night loss to Tampa Bay.

3. Familiar Foes
Both the Vikings and Seahawks have players on their team who were significant figures with the other franchise. A trio of former Vikings – Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell, LB Heath Farwell and WR Sidney Rice – will face their former team in the regular season for the first time since leaving the team after the 2010 season. The three helped the Vikings reach the NFC Championship Game after the 2009 season and both Farwell and Rice were named to the Pro Bowl that season.

On the flip side, TE John Carlson left Seattle to come home and join the Vikings via free agency in 2012. In Seattle, Carlson caught 106 passes and 12 touchdowns in his first two seasons, and in 2010 he helped the 7-9 Seahawks upset the defending champion New Orleans Saints in the first round of the playoffs with a pair of touchdown catches.

4. Defending Russell Wilson
Speaking of familiar faces, the Vikings will see one under center for Seattle. Rookie QB Russell Wilson has been a pleasant surprise in the NFL. The 3rd-round pick in last April’s draft beat out high-priced free agent Matt Flynn for the starting job coming out of training camp and he’s played well in the first half of the season. Vikings coaches are familiar with Wilson because he was the starting QB for Frazier’s North squad down in Mobile, Alabama at the Senior Bowl. In order to win the game, the Vikings will now need their defensive linemen to become familiar with Wilson by pressuring him constantly and bringing him to the ground.

5. Overcoming the Loss of CB Chris Cook
The Vikings improvement in pass defense was a big reason they jumped out to an impressive 5-3 start in the first half of the season. The presence of Chris Cook, who missed 12 games last year, was a big reason for that improvement. But now, with Cook expected to miss 6-8 weeks with a broken arm, the Vikings will rely on their depth to overcome his loss. Expect Josh Robinson and A.J. Jefferson to get most of the looks, and expect them to play well in Cook’s stead.

6. Strength vs. Strength: Battle For Field Position
CenturyLink Field in Seattle is known as one of the toughest places to play for visitors. A big part of overcoming the disadvantage this week for the Vikings will be to win the field position battle. Both the Vikings and Seahawks do things to help them win the field position battle. Percy Harvin (35.7) and Seattle’s Leon Washington (29.8) rank 1st and 2nd, respectively, in kickoff return average. Also, the Vikings rank 2nd in average starting field position after kickoff (25.3-yardline) and K Blair Walsh is tied for 1st in touchbacks with 31.

7. What a Rush!
A sneaky-good subplot to this Vikings-Seahawks matchup is a pair of battles that will happen between very good LTs and very good DEs. Vikings DE Jared Allen has a sack in six straight games, and on Sunday he’ll go against Seattle LT Russell Okung. The Seahawks took Okung 6th overall in 2010 and he’s rounding into a great player on their offensive line. Another outstanding performer for Seattle has been DE Chris Clemons. The 6-3, 254-pound pass-rushing ace has 7.0 sacks this season and had 11.0 sacks in each of the last two years entering 2012. He’ll go against 4th overall pick Matt Kalil, who has made a rookie mistake here and there but has generally played extremely well for the Vikings.

8. Second Half of the Season Begins
The Vikings were a surprise team in the NFL through the first half of the season, winning five of eight games and upsetting a pair of playoff teams from a season ago – Detroit and San Francisco. The second half of the season begins for the Vikings, and the attitude inside Winter Park should be that there’s no reason they can’t be a surprise team in the second half of the season, too. Sure, four of the Vikings final six games are against division opponents and are on the road, but the Vikings have proven they can play with anybody when they play well.


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Mistral Raymond Moves Closer To Return

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 30, 2012 – 6:20 am

After an intense and thorough competition throughout the offseason, training camp and the preseason, the Vikings chose Mistral Raymond as one of their two starting safeties to begin the season. Early in Week 3, though, the Vikings had to find a replacement for their choice. Raymond suffered what appeared to be a very serious ankle injury early in the Vikings home game against the San Francisco 49ers.

The injury was severe enough to keep Raymond away from the football field for several weeks, but now it appears Raymond is inching closer to a return and could be on the field for this Sunday’s game in Seattle.

“It looks that way,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said on Monday. “We need to get him through an entire week of practice, we’re going to give him a little bit more this week and then we’ll make a decision later in the week. All indications are he’s improved enough where he can go through everything in practice. But he still hasn’t done that.”

Just as important as participating in practice, the Vikings will closely monitor how Raymond’s body responds after a practice.

“When we put him through the paces and what we’re doing with seven-on-seven, team, individual work, group, whatever we’re doing, just to see how he responds on Thursday after a Wednesday practice and then Friday after a Thursday practice,” Frazier explained. “Because it will be much more intense for him than it has been as we integrate him into everything that we’re doing.”

Speaking of what the Vikings are doing, the defense has made subtle changes since Raymond left the lineup in Week 3. The 2nd-year safety will have to make adjustments on that end, too.

“We’ve got a few changes in what we’re doing from earlier in the season when he was starting, but he shouldn’t have a problem picking up some of those little nuances,” Frazier said. “But we also have to see how he’s doing physically, as well. How he plants, how he cuts and how he responds the day after one of those practices.”

The news on Monday was good because it’s clear Raymond is progressing and it’s clear he will be back soon, something that seemed unlikely at the moment he injured the ankle. But it’s also clear the Vikings will be careful in how they work Raymond back into the mix.


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Frazier, Vikings Defense Focused On Fixing Run Defense

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 29, 2012 – 3:16 pm

Through the first five games of the season, the Vikings defense was up to its old tricks of shutting down the opponent’s rushing attack. The Vikings permitted just 3.1 yards per carry and 1 rushing TD over the first five games, and they collected 37 tackles for loss against the run in that same span.

Over the last three games, however, the tides have turned. A fundamentally sound and gap strong run defense turned leaky. Washingon, Arizona and Tampa Bay combined to rush for 468 yards and 5 TDs on 99 carries, production few teams have been able to muster against Leslie Frazier’s defense in Minnesota.

And it has the Vikings head coach concerned, especially with Seattle RB Marshawn Lynch up next for the Vikings.

“I’m concerned,” Frazier acknowledged on Monday. “We have to shore up our run game and the running back we’re facing on Sunday, in my mind, he’s one of the best in our business so we better get our run game fixed in a hurry.”

Frazier singled out missed tackles and poor gap integrity as reasons the Vikings have surrendered the rushing yards they have in recent weeks, and he explained that the defense focused on those issues during Monday’s practice.

“One of the things today that we did was we did a review on some of our run fits, whether it was seven-man fronts or eight-man fronts, just to make sure we all understand where we have to be and where we have to fit up runs,” Frazier said. “We have to improve in that area.

“We haven’t changed our run fits in a long, long time. We didn’t execute as well as we needed to and it cost us. We have to get it fixed and we will.”


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Vikings Return To Work Monday, Begin On-Field Preparation For Seattle

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 29, 2012 – 6:17 am

The disadvantage to playing on NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football is that you must quickly move on from a Sunday game and prepare for a Thursday game in a manner of 72 hours. The advantage to playing on Thursday night is you get a few extra days over the ensuing weekend to A)recover from the previous two games over four days, and B) prepare for the next opponent.

The Vikings have moved on to the “B” part of the advantage. After licking their wounds from a Thursday night loss to Tampa Bay, the Vikings will return to work on Monday and begin on-field preparations for their game this Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. The Vikings will hold a mid-morning practice at Winter Park on Monday, have their customary day off on Tuesday, and then resume a normal practice schedule on Wednesday-Saturday before flying to Seattle on Saturday afternoon.

Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier will meet with reporters after Monday morning’s practice at approximately 11:15 a.m., and we’ll of course have that for you on vikings.com. So stay tuned for that as well as other updates today and throughout the week.


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Sullivan, Greenway, Vikings Sponsor New Playground At Amplatz Children’s Hospital

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 29, 2012 – 6:06 am

Vikings center John Sullivan is donating $150,000 to make a new University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital playground possible. To support Sullivan’s efforts, Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway, has donated $25,000 through his Lead the Way Foundation while the Vikings organization – through the Vikings Children’s Fund – has contributed the remaining $25,000 for the $200,000 project.

A ceremony will take place on Tuesday to name the playground and reveal renderings of the future project, which is set to open in Spring 2013. During the event, the playground will be officially named “Sullivan Playground” in Sullivan’s honor. Children wearing “Team Sullivan” t-shirts will celebrate the naming and refreshments will be served.

Immediately following the ceremony, Sullivan, along with teammates Brandon Fusco, Greenway, Charlie Johnson, Tyrone McKenzie, Kyle Rudolph and others, will host a “Halloween Huddle” for patients and their families in the lobby of University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital. The players will then make bedside visits throughout the hospital.

About the Sullivan Playground
Just outside of University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital will be the Sullivan Playground for patients and their siblings. The play space is secure, private and comfortable. Working with Landscape Structures, a Minnesota company focused on designing inclusive playgrounds for children of all abilities, Amplatz Children’s Hospital child rehabilitation therapists and child-family life specialists selected a variety of activities and structures that are fun and appropriate for all children, regardless of age and medical conditions.  This playground and design will incorporate therapeutic, sensory and development elements as well as an innovative mixture of climbing, discovery, sliding, spinning and social function that are necessary for our patient and sibling population.  The unique features have exploration elements with ground level interaction.  As the first commercial outdoor slide ever made to accommodate children with IVs, the custom designed posts and attachments allow patients to climb ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) stairs and go down the roller slide without disconnecting from their devices.


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Vikings Place Cook On IR With Designation To Return

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 26, 2012 – 12:41 pm

Vikings CB Chris Cook knifed his way into the Tampa Bay Buccaneers backfield on the second play of the 3rd quarter on Thursday night, leading to a tackle for loss against RB Doug Martin. Unfortunately, the tackle for loss wasn’t the only loss on the play.

Cook left the game after that play with what appeared to be an arm injury. On Friday during his customary day-after-the-game press conference, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier announced that Cook had a broken arm, that he’ll need surgery to repair the break and that he’ll be out “an extended period of time.”

Exactly how long Cook will be out is unknown at this point, but there is a general timeline given the fact that the Vikings placed Cook on the Reserve/Injured list with the “designated to return” tag. The designated for return tag means Cook is eligible to return to the team for practice in 6 weeks and to the Active List in 8 weeks. Under that time table, Cook is eligible to return to practice the week of the Vikings game at home against Chicago on December 9 and is eligible to return to the Active List the week of the Vikings game at Houston on December 23.

Rookie Josh Robinson will likely step into the starting lineup with Cook out of action, while AJ Jefferson will probably slide into the nickel role. Marcus Sherels also figures to see more time on defense with the injury. The Vikings also have Brandon Burton on the roster and Bobby Felder on their Practice Squad.

Frazier also said the staff could work out some free agents corners over the weekend or early next week.

More on the “designated for return” tag
A club is permitted to designate only one player in the 2012 season as eligible to be returned to its Active List, and that player must be designated for return at the time he is placed on the Reserve/Injured list.

– Cook is ineligible to practice or to participate in team or individual drills (contact or non-contact) while on the list.

– Cook is permitted to attend team meetings, and may also attend practice sessions, provided he does not participate. Cook is not permitted to participate in a walk-through.


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Jared Allen On Loss: “We’ll Be A Better Team For It”

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 25, 2012 – 11:42 pm

Through the first seven weeks of the season, the Vikings were one of the NFL’s best stories: a 3-13 team in 2011 that saw its heart and soul – Adrian Peterson – severely injure his knee late in the year than shuffled its roster significantly during the offseason, leading to five wins in the first seven games of 2012.

But even a fast 5-2 start wasn’t enough to make everyone believers. A date with the 2-4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the grand stage of NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football figured to change all of that, though. A win on Thursday night would’ve moved the Vikings to 6-2 through the first half of the season, and it would’ve placed them among the NFC’s elite teams.

But it wasn’t to be. The Buccaneers came into Mall of America Field and had their way with the young Vikings. There were flashes of excitement – Christian Ponder threw a perfect pass to Percy Harvin for an 18-yard TD and Adrian Peterson continued to destroy opposing defenses with a 64-yard TD run and another 123-yard outing – but it was mostly a disappointment.

“Hats off to them,” Vikings DE Jared Allen said. “They came in here and kicked our butts. Top to bottom, I don’t know if we overlooked them or not, but it’s an embarrassing game for us.”

The Vikings will quickly go from darlings of the NFL who were slowly earning the respect of outside observers to an inconsistent team that’s too young and not consistent enough on offense to make it through a rigorous second-half schedule that includes four games against Chicago and Green Bay and road games in four of the final six weeks of the season. But both of those descriptors are tags placed upon the team by outside observers.

What matters most is how people within the team respond to the Vikings 36-17 loss on Thursday night. And judging by what Allen – one of the team’s best players and clearly one of its leaders – was saying in the post-game locker room, the Vikings will end up being just fine.

“One thing I know for sure, we will come back and we will learn from this and we’ll be a better team for it. One thing about this game, it will humble you. Week-in and week-out. You can never read the clippings. You can never believe the hype. You can never believe the game is just a ‘gimmie.’

“Hats off to them. They came in here and took care of business. We have a tough part of our schedule ahead and we need to take care of some business.”


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Buccaneers Beat Up Vikings 36-17

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 25, 2012 – 11:08 pm

The Vikings didn’t play sound football in any phase, Tampa Bay rookie RB Doug Martin had his breakout performance and Tampa Bay QB Josh Freeman remained on a roll. It all combined for a disappointing night at Mall of America Field, as the Buccaneers came away with a 36-17 victory over the Vikings on NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football.

Martin and Freeman paced the Buccaneers offensive attack. Martin, selected 31st overall by Tampa Bay last April, racked up 214 yards of offense (135 rushing, 79 receiving) and 2 TDs against a Vikings defense that was coming off a dominant performance against Arizona a week ago. Freeman, who came into this contest on fire, turned up the heat in Minnesota by passing for 262 yards and 3 TDs. Over the last 3 games, Freeman has thrown for 1,010 yards with a 9-1 TD-INT ratio.

As if battling those two playmakers wasn’t enough, the Vikings defense was constantly forced back onto the field because the Vikings offense couldn’t stay on it. The Buccaneers claimed a 15:30 time of possession advantage over the Vikings, as QB Christian Ponder and Co. failed to get into a rhythm. Their first three drives ended in three-and-outs and then punts, and then they were forced to punt three more times in the second half while they also saw drives end in a fumble, INT and on downs.

Ponder was 19 of 35 for 251 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT. He threw a beautifully thrown pass to WR Percy Harvin for the TD, striking from 18 yards out to make the score 13-7 in the middle of the 2nd quarter. The Vikings also scored a TD on the ground, with Adrian Peterson breaking two tackles and then out-sprinting the Buccaneers defense to the end zone for a 64-yard score that introduced thoughts of a late-game comeback.

The late-game comeback was not to be, however, as Freeman put together a cold-blooded drive to open the 4th quarter that put the game out of reach for the Vikings.

Following Peterson’s long TD jaunt, his 3rd rushing score of the season, the Vikings and Buccaneers exchanged two punts a piece. Tampa Bay had a tenuous 30-17 lead with just over a quarter to play, and off the long Peterson run and a rejuvenated Vikings defense the atmosphere at Mall of America Field was such that a comeback seemed to be in the offing. But Freeman dashed those dreams by putting together a 16-play, 87 yard drive that ended in a 1-yard Martin plunge for a TD. The drive included 5 conversions on 3rd down, three of which were for 9 yards or longer and the last of which was the 1-yard TD run.

That made the score 36-17 with just a little over 7 minutes to play. The Vikings drove the ball 66 yards on the ensuing drive, but they were unable to convert a 4th and 7 from the Tampa Bay 19 and ultimately turned the ball over to the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay took a few more minutes off the clock before punting it back to the Vikings. Ponder threw his only INT of the game 4 plays into the next drive, which allowed the Buccaneers to kneel on the ball and run out the rest of the clock.

The win improves Tampa Bay to 3-4 on the season and it’s the first road win since they won here in Minnesota early last season. The loss drops Minnesota to 5-3 on the season and is their first at home of the 2012 campaign. The Vikings will regroup on Friday and this weekend, and then will turn their attention to the Seattle Seahawks. The Vikings and Seahawks will play in Seattle a week from Sunday.

Vikings Leaders
– Peterson had 15 carries for 123 yards and 1 TD. He now holds the Vikings career record for 100-yard rushing games (30) and is also the NFL’s leading rusher with 775 yards.

– Harvin had 7 receptions for 90 yards and 1 TD. He currently leads the NFL in receptions with 70.

– Chad Greenway and Harrison Smith were both credited with 13 tackles to lead the team.

– Jared Allen had the only Vikings sack of the game and now has a sack in six consecutive contests.


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Vikings-Buccaneers Inactives

Posted by Ryan Cardinal on October 25, 2012 – 5:00 pm

Here are the Vikings and Buccaneers inactive players for tonight’s game:

Vikings: QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson, WR Jarius Wright, CB Brandon Burton, S Mistral Raymond, LB Audie Cole, OL Mark Asper & TE John Carlson.

Buccaneers: CB Myron Lewis, RB Michael Smith, DB Keith Tandy, LB Najee Goode, G Cody Wallace, WR Chris Owusu & TE Danny Noble.


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