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A Closer Look: Arizona’s Defensive Front 7

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 19, 2012 – 6:25 am

There was a period of time recently in which the Arizona Cardinals were one of the least-feared teams in the NFL. They registered just one winning season from 1985-2007. Just one in that entire span of years. Ken Whisenhunt took over as head coach in 2007, and since then the Cardinals have been a tough team to beat. In 2008 they went all the way to the Super Bowl, losing a heart-breaker to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The 2012 version of the Cardinals is definitely a Whisenhunt-type of team, rather than the type of team Arizona fielded during that incredible drought from the mid-80s to ‘07. And a big reason for the team’s success recently – they’re 11-4 in their last 15 games – is their stingy defense, particularly their defensive front 7. The talented defensive front 7 is the subject of today’s A Closer Look…

So far, so good
Through the first 6 weeks of the 2012 season, the Cardinals defense ranks tied for 5th in points allowed per game (15.8) and 10th in yards allowed per game (329.3) and passing yards allowed per game (216.0). Their run defense has been stingy, too, as they’ve gone 14 consecutive games without allowing a 100-yard rusher. This season, they’ve held some quality RBs in check – Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch (85 yards); New England’s Stevan Ridley (71); Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy (70); Miami’s Reggie Bush (67); St. Louis’ Steven Jackson (76); and Buffalo’s dual attack of Fred Jackson (53) and CJ Spiller (88). The last player to rush for 100+ yards against them was Jackson in November of 2011.

It all starts up front
So who are these defenders making life tough for opposing offenses? Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier mentioned two of them during a press conference earlier in the week.

“Both (Calais) Campbell and (Darnell) Dockett are guys who, boy, you really have to know where they are. They create havoc for your offensive line,” Frazier said. “They’ve got some (other) guys who can make plays, but Calais Campbell, his size alone creates problems and he has great strength and great athleticism, along with Dockett. Both of those guys are a couple of the reasons why their defense is so stout and so good. They have a very, very good defense.”

Past performances, including their performance so far in 2012, support Frazier’s opinion. Dockett has been one of the best DTs in the NFL since the Cardinals chose him with a 3rd-round pick in 2007. He has 28.5 sacks since 2007, more than any other DT in the NFL. Campbell, who measures in at an incredible 6-8, 300 pounds, was a 2nd-round pick in 2008 and has developed into a monster on Arizona’s defense. He was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against the New England Patriots in Week 2, when he had 2.0 sacks, 10 tackles, 2 TFLs and 3 QB pressures in the Cardinals win. Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave also noted this week that Campbell has a knack for batting passes down, making him a threat even when he doesn’t reach the QB in time.

1st-tier performance at 2nd level
Football terminology defines LBs as being on the 2nd level of the defense. But there’s nothing “2nd level” about this group of Cardinals LBs. The group is led by talented youngster Daryl Washington. The former TCU star who plays inside LB for the Cardinals had a breakout season last year, collecting 111 tackles, 16 TFLs, 5.0 sacks, 2 INTs and 7 pass breakups (PBUs). He’s following that performance with another all-star worthy campaign this year.

Last week, Washington registered 14 tackles and a forced fumble, giving him at least 10 tackles in 3 of 6 games this year. Washington also has 4.0 sacks on the season, making him one of only five NFL defenders who’ve recorded at least 9.0 sacks and 2.0 INTs dating back to 2011.

On the outside, the Cardinals feature Sam Acho and O’Brien Schofield. Now in his 3rd year, Schofield is coming into his own. The 4th-round pick (2010) out of Wisconsin missed much of his rookie season due to injury and was mostly a reserve last year, but this year he’s earning his stripes. Over the last 4 games, Schofield has totaled 23 tackles, 4.0 sacks, 4.0 TFLs and 8 QB pressures.

“They’ve got more explosiveness out there at their outside linebackers, that’s for sure,” Musgrave said on Thursday. “They’re younger, they’ve got more juice, their inside ‘backers are playing well. Paris (Lenon) is a veteran as we know, and the young guy from TCU (Washington) is playing better and better every time he gets on the field.”

The named not yet mentioned in this group of talented LBs is Sam Acho, a 6-2, 262-pound defender chosen in the 4th round out of Texas in 2011. The trio of Acho, Schofield and Washington – who are starting together (along with Lenon) for the first time in their careers – have combined for 97 tackles, 11.0 sacks, 16 TFLs, 4 PBUs, 3 forced fumbles and 25 QB pressures.

Long story longer, these aren’t your father’s Arizona Cardinals. In large part because of their defense, more specifically their defensive front 7, the Vikings will be in for a knock-down, drag-out fight on Sunday when Whisenhunt brings his club to Mall of America Field for a showdown between a pair of angry 4-2 teams coming off losses a week ago.


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Winfield’s Influence Not Lost On Alan Williams, Teammates

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 18, 2012 – 11:16 am

Vikings CB Antoine Winfield missed 11 games in 2011 due to injury. The Vikings defense finished the season ranked last in passer rating allowed, third-last in points allowed, 28th in passing yards allowed and 21st in total defense.

Winfield has played in every game this season. The Vikings defense has made significant improvement in each of those categories, jumping up 17 spots in points allowed and passer rating allowed, 13 spots in yards allowed and 12 spots in passing yards allowed.

It’s no coincidence that the improvement corresponded with Winfield’s return. Certainly other factors have contributed to the defense’s improvement, such as an infusion of youth into the group, a defensive line rotation that is keeping starters fresh through the game, LB Chad Greenway leading the League in tackling, plus more. But Winfield’s presence in the lineup ranks up near the top when it comes to reasons the Vikings defense has improved this season.

Through 6 games, Winfield is 2nd on the team with 50 tackles, 3rd in pass breakups and 1st in both tackles for loss (7.0) and INTs (2). His best performance of the season came last week in Washington, where he led the team with 9 tackles, had 3.0 TFLs and registered an INT.

While meeting with reporters on Thursday, Vikings Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams said that’s “as good as I’ve seen anyone play in a long time.”

As mentioned above, a big reason for the Vikings big improvement on defense this season has been the play of younger players. Williams pointed out that Winfield has made a positive impact on those young players.

“It has a huge impact,” Williams said of Winfield’s leadership on the defense. “It’s good because he’s an older guy that comes out to practice, the way he prepares, the way he practices, the way he goes about his business, you look at him and say, ‘You know what? That’s what a professional looks like. That’s how a professional prepares. And these are the results of the way a guy prepares.’ I think it has an impact, not just on the young guys, but the older guys, too.”

What They Say
Williams pointed out that both young and veteran players respect Winfield as a leader. A pair of defensive starters supported Williams’ assertion.

After the team’s Week 2 loss to Indianapolis, Winfield felt compelled to speak to the team. His message was heard loud and clear.

“He’s one of the leaders on the team, the oldest guy on the team, so what he had to say was very pertinent,” DE Jared Allen said. “We’ll leave it at that. What’s said in that team room is for our ears only. But it was good.”

Rookie S Harrison Smith spoke about his respect for the 14-year veteran, too.

“There’s not one guy on this team who doesn’t respect Antoine and look to him for how he does things,” Smith said. “So when he tells us what he sees, we’re going to listen with the understanding that he knows best.”


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Jerome Simpson On Track To Play Sunday?

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 18, 2012 – 5:51 am

When healthy and playing in games, WR Jerome Simpson has been a productive player for the Vikings. Against the Detroit Lions in Week 4, he was the team’s leading receiver with 4 receptions for 50 yards, plus he drew a pair of pass interference penalties downfield that led to scores.

The only problem is that’s really the only game Simpson was healthy and on the field. He missed the first three games due to a suspension, returned for Week 4, and then woke up with leg numbness/weakness the morning of the Vikings Week 5 contest against Tennessee. The leg condition limited Simpson’s impact in the Titans game, and it subsequently limited him in practice all week leading up to last Sunday’s game in Washington.

Simpson was listed as questionable for the Redskins game, but made the trip with his teammates and was hopeful of being in the lineup. Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier decided against it, though, and instead deactivated him for the game. The Vikings could’ve used some extra juice in the passing game against the Redskins, and Simpson is capable of providing it.

“Just that Thursday and Friday when he worked, I just, even in talking with him, realized he couldn’t push off the way he wanted to,” Frazier said on Wednesday. “He wasn’t comfortable mentally completely with where he was. Just wanted to be smart, give him a little bit more time. It’s a long season, and he feels good today (Wednesday) and that’s good sign, so we’ll see how he does in practice.”

Simpson did well in practice, at least according to the injury report. He was listed as a full participant in practice, a status he never accomplished last week while preparing to play the Redskins. Being a full participant in practice on Wednesday is a big first step in being given the green light to play on Sunday. But work remains, coaches and the Vikings medical staff will be curious to see how Simpson’s body responds to the first day of practice.

“Oh, no question,” Frazier responded when asked if he was still looking for a step forward from Simpson this week in practice. “Don’t want to put him in a situation where you feel like he can’t protect himself or do the things he needs to do to play at the level he wants to play at and that we want him to play at, for sure.

“He says he’s fine so he’ll get a chance to practice today (Wednesday) and go through everything so we’ll reassess it after practice, but he feels like he’s ready to go.”

While Frazier and the Vikings demonstrated last week that they won’t take any chances with a player’s health by putting him in a game before he’s ready, the sense coming from Winter Park on Wednesday is that Simpson came a step closer to being in the lineup this Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals. No one is making any promises yet, but so far the indications are good.

“I hope so,” Frazier said. “As I mentioned on Monday, he’s a competitor, he’s a guy who wants to be out there and we want him out there as well. He’s a weapon that we sorely would love to have on the field. He has big-play capability and we want to utilize his abilities.”


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Vikings Fans Encouraged to Help Tackle Hunger This Sunday

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 18, 2012 – 5:44 am

Vikings coaches and players will be hard at work on Sunday at Mall of America Field trying to defeat the Arizona Cardinals and move to 5-2 on the season. Before the game, though, the Vikings are encouraging fans to help them team with UnitedHealthcare in the effort to defeat hunger.

The Vikings and UnitedHealthcare will host a Food & Fund Drive before this Sunday’s game. UnitedHealthcare volunteers will greet fans attending the game at all entrances to Mall of America Field and will collect food and funds for Second Harvest Heartland to help in the fight against hunger in the heartland. Donated foods can include non-perishable and non-breakable items such as canned soups, canned vegetables, canned fruits, canned meat, boxed pasta, rice, and peanut butter.

Hunger has doubled in Second Harvest Heartland’s service area over the past five years. Today, more than half a million men, women, children, and seniors in Minnesota miss an estimated 100 million meals every year.

The Vikings Food & Fund Drive is part of UnitedHealthcare’s “Do Good. Live Well.” employee volunteer initiative, a national effort to prevent hunger, diabetes and obesity. For more information on UnitedHealthcare and its “Do Good. Live Well.” campaign, visit www.dogoodlivewell.org. For more information on Second Harvest Heartland, visit www.2harvest.org.

Kluwe Kicks In
For the second year, members of the Vikings and 180 volunteers from UnitedHealthcare provided “double coverage” in the fight against hunger in the heartland by teaming up to pack food for hungry Minnesotans. The event, which supports Second Harvest Heartland, the Upper Midwest’s largest hunger relief organization, is also a part of UnitedHealthcare’s Do Good. Live Well. employee volunteer initiative.

Minnesota Vikings cheerleaders, Viktor the Viking, executives and players, including Chris Kluwe, were joined by the UnitedHealthcare volunteers and representatives from Second Harvest Heartland for the event.


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Dual Threat, Take Two: Vikings Have Eye On Patrick Peterson

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 17, 2012 – 11:04 am

Last week the Vikings defense had to deal with a dual threat on the Washington Redskins offense in QB Robert Griffin III. Entering the game, RG3 had 8 total TDs – 4 receiving and 4 rushing – and he was able to tack on 3 more against the Vikings, with 2 coming on the ground and another one through the air.

The Vikings opponent this week – the Arizona Cardinals – also has an extremely talented athlete who poses as a dual threat. This time, though, it will be the Vikings offense and special teams that will have to deal with the threat.

The player is Patrick Peterson. He is a starting CB for the Cardinals defense and he’s one of the NFL’s best punt returners. Arizona selected Peterson with the 5th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, and it didn’t take Peterson long to make a profound impact on the League.

Peterson started all 16 games at CB for Arizona’s defense and recorded 2 INTs and 13 passes defensed. His most notable impact, though, came on special teams. He had a record-setting season returning punts, scoring 4 TDs and totaling 699 yards on 44 returns. The 4 return TDs tied the NFL single-season record and set a franchise record, and the 699 return yards established an NFL rookie record and ranks as the 2nd-highest single-season total in NFL history (Desmond Howard, 875, 1996).

For those efforts, Peterson was selected to the Pro Bowl as a kick returner, becoming the first Cardinal rookie since Anquan Boldin (2003) to earn Pro Bowl honors. He also earned 1st-Team All-Pro recognition as a kick returner and was the only rookie named to the team.

“He’s a good player,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said on Wednesday. “Good corner and has good cover ability. They’ve been playing him in some man situations, he’s good in zone situations. And then as a punt returner, he’s in a whole class by himself.

“He’s incredible…four touchdowns over eighty yards a year ago and set an NFL record. So he’s a special guy when it comes to punt return. We talked about him in our meeting and what we’ve got to do to keep him corralled. He can definitely change a game as a punt returner, and even as a defensive back. Outstanding player.”

So far in 2012, Peterson has already surpassed his INT total (he has 3 already). But he’s yet to take a punt return to the house and is averaging 10.1 yards per return on 22 tries. In last year’s matchup with the Cardinals, the Vikings were able to minimize Peterson’s impact. He collected 4 tackles on defense and was forced to take 3 fair catches on 4 Chris Kluwe punts. Kluwe had an impressive day against the Cardinals, with a net average of 47.5, no return yardage for Peterson and 2 punts downed inside the 20, one of which was downed at the 3.

It will take another outstanding effort by Kluwe and the rest of the Vikings to keep another outstanding dual threat at bay.


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7 Vikings-Cardinals Storylines To Watch

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 17, 2012 – 6:28 am

It’s Wednesday, and you know what that means: Flip the calendar from last week to this week. Wednesday also means it’s time to preview several storylines we’ll be chasing all week here on vikings.com and within the various platforms of the Vikings Entertainment Network.

A pair of 4-2 teams will battle at Mall of America Field in an attempt to carve out 1st-place standing in their respective divisions, with the Vikings set to host the NFC West’s Arizona Cardinals. Both teams were out of the gates quickly this season with 4-1 starts, but both teams also lost last week. The Vikings dropped a 38-26 decision at Washington while Arizona fell to Buffalo by a 19-16 margin in overtime at home.

Here are 7 storylines to watch this week…

Cardinals QB Carousel Spins Skelton For Matchup With Vikings
For the 4th consecutive week, a Vikings opponent is dealing with an injury to their starting QB. This week it’s the Cardinals and Kevin Kolb. There will be no “Will he or won’t he?” discussion this week with Kolb, as the Cardinals official website has disclosed that he has cartilage damage in his ribs and a SC joint sprain that will keep him out an “unspecified period of time.” ESPN’s Adam Schefter went a step further, citing a team source for the Cardinals and reporting that Kolb will be out on Sunday in Minnesota and is expected to miss “several weeks.”

With Kolb out, the Cardinals will turn to John Skelton. Losing your starting QB is never a good thing, but in turning to Skelton this Sunday the Cardinals are actually turning to the QB they named the starter to open the season. Skelton beat out Kolb during a training camp and preseason competition, but then injured his ankle in the season opener and lost the starting job to Kolb.

Skelton was a 5th-round pick of Arizona in 2010 out of Fordham. He measures in at 6-5, 243 pounds and could be described more as a pocket passer than a guy who thrives while getting outside of the pocket. In 3 seasons, Skelton has played in 15 games with 12 starts and has completed 51.7% of his passes with a 13-18 TD-INT ratio.

Will Vikings Pass Rush Overwhelm Cardinals?
With a fairly inexperienced QB coming to town, this could be a good opportunity for a productive Vikings defensive line to change the game by pressuring the passer. The Vikings have more sacks (65) than any other team since the start of 2011, while the Cardinals have allowed the most sacks (82) since the start of 2011 and they’ve allowed the most sacks (28) so far this season. On top of that, the Vikings best pass rusher – Jared Allen – is starting to get hot, as he’s registered 1.0 sack in each of the last 4 games.

In last year’s matchup against the Vikings at Mall of America Field, the Cardinals allowed 4 sacks to the Vikings while completing just 47.9% of their passes and throwing 3 INTs.

The Cardinals are fairly experienced along their offensive line, with rookie RT Bobbie Massie the least experienced and no other starter with fewer than 7 seasons to their credit. The matchup to watch will be Allen against Cardinals LT D’Anthony Batiste. Allen had 2.0 sacks against the Cardinals last year, but he didn’t go against Batiste. In fact, only 2 of the Cardinals current starting offensive linemen started last year’s game between these two teams (LG Daryn Colledge and C Lyle Sendlein).

Two other factors to consider here are the Vikings depth along the defensive line and the advantage the Vikings defense has playing at Mall of America Field.

Vikings In The Red Zone
This has been talked about ad nauseam over the last three days after the Vikings settled for 3 FGs on their first 3 possessions and ultimately scored just 2 TDs in 7 red zone trips against Washington last week. The Vikings rank middle of the road in red zone TD efficiency, but this offense is solid in so many other areas and has enough talent that the expectation is for the offense to be more efficient in the red zone.

The Vikings offensive coaches and players are out to improve in this area, and my guess is you’ll see a big jump forward on Sunday. But, the Vikings will be tested in this aspect because the Cardinals rank 5th in red zone defense, having allowed just 6 TDs in 17 opponents’ red zone possessions.

Can Adrian Peterson Get Back On Track?
Adrian Peterson is not having a bad season by any reasonable standard. He ranks 3rd in the NFC and 6th in the NFL with 499 yards. But as well all know, Peterson’s self-established standards are sky-high. So from that perspective, he’s looking to get back on track. In coming back from his knee injury, Peterson was off to a fast start with 2 rushing TDs in Week 1 and then his first 100-yard rushing performance of the season in Week 4. Outside of those two outings, though, Peterson has rushing totals of 60, 86, 88 and 79 yards. Again, reasonable numbers for most RBs, but not good enough for him.

Peterson has a chance to get back on track this week against the Cardinals. In last year’s game, Peterson rushed for 122 yard and 3 TDs on 29 carries in pacing the Vikings to their first win of the season. You can bet Peterson will be looking for a similar outing – plus more – against Arizona this week.

Jerome Simpson’s Status
After missing the first three regular season games, coming back for Week 4, being limited because of leg weakness/numbness in Week 5 and then being held out of Week 6, Jerome Simpson is anxious to play. And the Vikings are anxious to have him out on the field. The Vikings were hopeful last week that Simpson would be able to play in Washington, but things didn’t pan out that way. His status will be talked about all week, and it’s unlikely we’ll know with much certainty whether he’ll play or not before Friday afternoon – it could even be a game-time decision.

There’s no question his presence on the field gives the Vikings offense an added dimension. We saw that in Week 4 at Detroit, when Simpson drew a pair of pass interference calls down the field and then hauled in a clutch 27-yard reception late in the game to help the Vikings take time off the clock and flip field position.

Fitzgerald And Floyd Come Home
Since being selected with the 3rd overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald has returned to his home state of Minnesota to play the Vikings four times. He grew up in the Minneapolis area and attended Holy Angels Academy in Richfield before attending the University of Pittsburgh. Fitzgerald, 29, has been the consummate professional for the Cardinals, and last week he joined Randy Moss as the only receivers in NFL history to reach 10,000 receiving yards before turning 30.

As Fitzgerald leads the Cardinals back to Mall of America Field for a 5th time since entering the NFL, he brings with him yet another Minnesota native who is catching passes for Arizona – Michael Floyd. The Cardinals selected Floyd, who attended Cretin-Derham Hall and then Notre Dame, with the 13th overall pick this past April, giving them a pair of tall, fast and physical pass-catchers who will try to challenge the Vikings secondary.

Dome Field Advantage Returning?
A key to the Vikings early-season success in 2012 has been their performance at home, as they’ve won their first 3 games at Mall of America Field. The Vikings have had a significant home-field advantage since moving into Mall of America Field in 1982, winning 64.5% of their games in the building. Last year, though, it was a different story. A 3-13 record included an atypical 1-7 mark at home. As the Vikings have gotten off to a solid 4-2 start in 2012, it’s no surprise that a big reason for the fast start has been a 3-0 record at home. Sunday gives the Vikings an opportunity to move to 4-0 at home and continue their return to form as a dominant team at home.


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Expect Rotation With Schwartz To Continue

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 16, 2012 – 9:40 am

When the Vikings signed Geoff Schwartz this past offseason, the thinking was he could perhaps compete for a starting position at right guard while also providing depth on each side of the offensive line as a swing tackle. An injury slowed his progression during training camp, though, so the Vikings didn’t get a great look at the free agent signing before the season started.

With the season in full swing now, though, the Vikings are starting to take a closer look at the reserve lineman. They rotated Schwartz into Sunday’s game at Washington, inserting him into the lineup at right guard for several snaps.

“We wanted to be able to take a look at Geoff (Schwartz) yesterday and get him some game action,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said on Monday. “Yesterday allowed us to do that, and we want to be able to do it periodically. We felt like that was a good game to do it and it worked out pretty good to get him, I think he had about 11 snaps, so we got some good game-action tape that we couldn’t get in the preseason to evaluate him and we’ll see where it goes from there.”

So, how did Schwartz do in his first extended regular season action as a Viking?

“In those plays, I thought he did a good job, good enough to where we feel comfortable if something were to happen, we could get him in there,” Frazier said. “But there are some other things we want to be able to see from him, but we’ll continue to evaluate him as we go forward.”

Frazier stopped short of saying the right guard competition was suddenly open for competition. Brandon Fusco is the starter there, and the second-year player out of Slippery Rock is playing well so far. More than illustrating displeasure in Fusco’s performance or trying to shake things up along the offensive line, the Vikings goal in rotating Schwartz in seems to be exactly what Frazier stated – just to get a look at a player who hasn’t seen much action on the offensive line since signing in Minnesota.

Frazier intimated the Vikings may continue to rotate Schwartz in during games, though he didn’t say if it’d be at right guard or a different position.

Schwartz measures in at 6-6, 340 pounds and is in his 5th season out of the University of Oregon. He was a 7th-round pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2008 and played in 32 games with 19 starts. He missed all of last season with an injury. Schwartz’ young brother, Mitchell, was a 2nd-round pick of the Cleveland Browns last April.


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Frazier Says Vikings Will Go Through Red Zone Offense With “Fine-Toothed Comb”

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 16, 2012 – 6:17 am

One of the main takeaways from the Vikings 38-26 loss to the Washington Redskins on Sunday was how different the game could’ve been had the Vikings been able to convert more of their red zone opportunities into touchdowns rather than field goals, particularly three drives in the 1st quarter that all resulted in field goals of 27 yards or less.

The Vikings have not been horrible in the red zone this season. They’ve made 22 trips inside the opponent’s 20-yardline, and have come away with 21 scores. The only issue is that just 11 of those 22 trips to the red area have resulted in touchdowns. The Vikings rank middle of the road (tied for 17th) in red zone (TD) scoring efficiency (50%), so there’s no cause for panic on the issue. But on Monday while meeting with reporters, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier did emphasize the importance of the Vikings scoring more touchdowns in the red zone.

“We really stress not kicking field goals and trying to get touchdowns,” Frazier said. “Even if we get one touchdown in one of those three situations (against Washington in the 1st quarter), it’s probably going to affect the way they’re going to call the game on the other side at that point. But it didn’t happen, so yes, we’re going to go through it with a fine-toothed comb on what we could have better.”

The immediate reaction many outside the team had to the Vikings red zone woes on Sunday was to blame the playcalling. It’s a convenient complaint to register because fans and other outside observers can more distinguish the difference between a run and a pass than they can analyze the blocking performance of a lineman or the route-running technique of a receiver. But Frazier wasn’t willing to pin the issue on one aspect of his team, preferring instead to take a more global look and make comprehensive improvements.

“When that happens, when you get thwarted like we did in the red zone, you look at everything,” Frazier said. “What we’re calling, the plays that we’re running, how we’re running those plays.

“We did some things that we thought would give us the best chance to be successful. We go through our red zone study each week and we put together some plays that we think will help us get the results that we want. It didn’t happen yesterday. We’ll continue to do the things we have to do to try to improve but you can always come back and say ‘maybe you should have done this, should have done that.’ We thought we had a good plan. They did a good job on defense of keeping us out of the end zone.”

And if all goes according to plan moving forward, it will be the Vikings who have a good plan in the red zone and opponents who will be saying the opposition did a good job of getting into the end zone. This week is a good week for the Vikings to improve in this area because on Sunday they’ll play an Arizona Cardinals defense that ranks 5th in red zone defense.


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Upcoming Back-To-Back Home Games Provide Bounce Back Opportunity

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 15, 2012 – 6:14 am

After each of the Vikings four wins so far this season, Head Coach Leslie Frazier insisted his team keep their focus centered on preparing for the next challenge rather than basking in the glory of victory.

It only makes sense, then, that after his team’s loss to the Washington Redskins on Sunday, Frazier was just as adamant that his team turn their focus to preparing for next Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals, rather than anguishing in the misery of the 38-26 defeat.

The Vikings must take ownership of their most recent loss, but it’s also true that this most recent loss does not define the Vikings. Frazier’s team has proven tough to defeat so far in 2012, and that was the case once again on Sunday. But Washington found a way to do it.

Now the Vikings must find a way to bounce back. The opportunity will be there. After opening the first quarter of the season 3-1, the Vikings now sit at 4-2 overall after going 1-1 to begin the second quarter of the season. The Vikings will play two home games in a matter of four days next week, hosting the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday and then the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the following Thursday night. If the Vikings, who are 3-0 at home this season, hold serve at home over the next 10 days, they’ll do in the second quarter of the season what they did in the first quarter – go 3-1.

That will give the Vikings a 6-2 record after half the season, not a bad place to be in the rough and tough NFC North and the very deep NFC. Off this most recent loss, though, Vikings coaches and players will be the first to acknowledge there are improvements that must be made before the next game.

Those improvements will begin in earnest this week.


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Late Griffin III TD Run Ends Vikings Comeback Bid

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 14, 2012 – 9:39 pm

The Redskins had lost eight consecutive home games heading into Sunday’s showdown with the Vikings, and Robert Griffin III decided that was enough. The Redskins rookie quarterback – taken second overall in last April’s draft – passed and ran all over FedEx Field in leading Washington to a 38-26 victory over the Vikings, ending Minnesota’s three-game winning streak.

Griffin III, who was listed as questionable on the injury report after being limited in practice most of the week, showed no ill-effects from the concussion he suffered in last week’s home loss to the Atlanta Falcons. He accounted for 320 yards of offense and three touchdowns, proving to be most lethal on the ground with 13 carries for 138 yards and two touchdowns, including a 76-yard scoring dash down the Redskins sideline that daggered the Vikings with 2:43 to play in the game.

The long touchdown jaunt came on the heels of 14 unanswered points by the Vikings and all but eliminated the road team’s chance to complete an improbable comeback. After opening up a 9-0 lead in the 1st quarter, the Vikings surrendered 24 consecutive points and didn’t score again until late in the 3rd quarter on yet another Blair Walsh field goal. The offensive drought and the defense’s inability to keep Griffin III off the field led to a 12-point deficit as the 4th quarter begin.

But in an instant, that 12-piont hole became a 19-point mountain because former Vikings safety Madieu Williams intercepted a Christian Ponder pass and returned it 24 yards for a touchdown, giving the Redskins a 31-12 lead.

That’s when Ponder began a Vikings comeback, taking his offense down the field for a pair of back-to-back scores. One touchdown was a 9-yard completion to WR Michael Jenkins followed by a 2-point conversion to TE Kyle Rudolph, and the other was a 1-yard toss to Rudolph that cut into Washington’s lead and made the score 31-26.

But three plays after the Rudolph touchdown, with the Vikings defense smelling a punt and looking to give Ponder and Co. the ball back again with a shot at the game-winning drive, Griffin III threw the FedEx Field crowd into a frenzy with his game-clinching sprint to paydirt.

Griffin III’s counterpart – Ponder – had an up-and-down day, finishing the game going 35 of 52 for 352 yards with 2 TDs and 2 INTs. Percy Harvin was Ponder’s most frequent target, collecting 11 receptions for 133 yards. Adrian Peterson looked explosive but wasn’t able to break loose, finishing the day with 17 carries for 79 yards; he was also a factor in the passing game with 7 receptions for 50 yards.

The offense will come away from the game wondering what could’ve been, though, as they were unable to score a touchdown on three trips inside the red zone in the 1st quarter, and finished the game scoring two touchdowns in seven total trips to the red area. The Vikings were good on 3rd downs (8 of 17), collected 27 first downs, racked up 421 yards of total offense and showed some spark late in the game, but that Ponder-led comeback, which featured plenty of Harvin as well, came up just short.

The Vikings return to Minnesota with just their second loss of the season, moving to 4-2. They will return to Mall of America Field next weekend for two home games over the course of four days, hosting the Arizona Cardinals next Sunday and then the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the following Thursday.

There’s much more to go over from Sunday’s Vikings-Redskins game, so be sure to stay tuned to vikings.com for more summary and reaction to the game.

Notes
– Antoine Winfield led the Vikings defense with 10 tackles (unofficially), and he also grabbed his 2nd INT of the season.
— Ponder completed passes to eight different receivers during the game.
— Blair Walsh continued his impressive season, converting all 4 of his FG tries and also collecting 7 touchbacks to bring his total to 24 on the season.
— The Vikings held Alfred Morris, the NFL’s 4th-leading rusher heading into the game, to just 47 yards on 16 carries.
— The Vikings rotated Geoff Schwartz in at RG during the game. Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier explaining after the game that the team wanted to get some tape on Schwartz during game action.


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