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1st-Down Run Defense The Key To Containing Packers Passing Attack

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 30, 2012 – 8:45 am

Containing Aaron Rodgers and the passing game is likely Task #1 for defenses when they prepare to face the Green Bay Packers. That’s the task at hand for the Vikings this week, as they are nearly set to make their annual visit to Lambeau Field to renew their rivalry with the Packers.

To do that, though, the key may actually be to perform better against the run. No, Green Bay does not typically unleash a pounding ground game against the adversary. But a deeper analysis of their offensive performance this year could lead one to conclude that their ability to run the ball on 1st down leads to more production from their passing game and success on the NFL’s most important down – 3rd down.

The Packers possess one of the NFL’s top passing attacks when they’re hitting on all cylinders, but they actually run more (52%) than they pass on 1st down. And they are fairly efficient at doing so. Green Bay averages 4.1 yards per carry on 1st down, which ranks just 21st. But because their passing offense can be so lethal, that per carry average leads to favorable conditions on 3rd down. The Packers are in 3rd-and-5 or less on 43.4% of their 3rd downs. Consequently, Green Bay ranks 8th in the NFL with a 42.1% 3rd-down conversion rate.

That’s a lot to digest, but the bottom line is Green Bay can be an efficient running team (on 1st down) and it’s part of the reason the passing attack is so successful. And here’s the good news: the Vikings rank 2nd in the NFL in 1st-down rushing defense, surrendering an average of just 3.56 yards per rush. Leslie Frazier’s defense will need similar or better production in this area on Sunday if they are to hold off an explosive Packers passing attack.

Coming off last week’s loss in Chicago where the Vikings gave up a 1st down on 57.8% of 3rd downs, everyone will be watching to see if the Vikings defense improves in that area. A great way to begin improving the 3rd-down defense is to stop the run on 1st down.


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Packers May Be Without Run-Stopper CJ Wilson vs. Peterson, Vikings

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 29, 2012 – 7:42 am

The Packers have several high-profile players dealing with injuries leading up to this week’s game against the Vikings. LB Clay Matthews is trying to nurse a hamstring injury back to health, DBs Sam Shields and Charles Woodson may not play, TJ Lang has moved from LG to RT to replace the injured Bryan Bulaga, and star WR Greg Jennings is looking to return from a groin injury.

There’s another member of the Green and Gold who may not play this week, and while he doesn’t have as high a profile as the others listed above, he is an important piece of the Packers puzzle. His name is C.J. Wilson, a starting DE for Green Bay who specializes in stopping the run. Wilson was a 7th-round pick out of East Carolina University in 2010. He’s played in every game but two over the last three seasons, and along the way has been a key player in the DL rotation; he’s started 7 of the 10 games he’s played in this season.

Wilson has been all but ruled out by Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy, meaning someone else on Green Bay’s defensive line is going to have to step up on Sunday when the NFL’s best RB comes to town.

“We’re going to miss C.J. He’s a real good run player,” fellow DE Ryan Pickett explained. “I think he gets overlooked. A lot of times he doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He can play the run real good.”

And so can the Packers. Known more for an opportunistic and playmaking defense, the Packers are actually very good against the run. They rank 11th in rushing yards allowed (103.8 per game) and 15th in yards per carry allowed (4.1), but they’re tied for 5th-fewest runs of 10+ yards allowed and they’ve allowed just one 100-yard rusher this season.

The absence of Wilson comes at an inopportune time for Green Bay, with Adrian Peterson coming to town on Sunday. Peterson is the NFL’s leading rusher by 172 yards, he has six 100-yard games this season (including 5 straight) and he’s averaging an incredible 5.8 yards per carry. The silver lining for Green Bay is the fact that they’re accustomed to overcoming injuries. If GM Ted Thompson and McCarthy can find a key cog in their run-stuffing defensive line with a 7th-round pick, they can also likely find a way to patchwork something together for this week. The question is, will it be enough?

We’ll find out on Sunday.


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Walsh Closing In On Vikings Rookie Scoring Mark

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 28, 2012 – 3:54 pm

Fan balloting for this year’s Pro Bowl is not reflecting it (yet), but Blair Walsh is having a Pro Bowl-caliber season. Among NFC kickers, Walsh ranks 3rd in FGs made (24), 2nd in FG% (92.3%) & 1st in 50+ FG% (5 for 5). Plus, he made a game-tying 55-yarder and game-winning 38-yarder to beat Jaguars in Week 1, and he already holds the Vikings touchback record with 41.

Whether Walsh will surpass San Francisco 49ers K David Akers in Pro Bowl balloting remains to be seen is largely out of Walsh’s control. What we might see very soon and what is in his control, though, is Walsh eclipsing the Vikings rookie scoring record. Randy Moss had one of the best rookie seasons in NFL history in 1998, and when all was said and done he set a new Vikings rookie scoring record with 106 points (17 TDs, 2 2-point conversions).

Through 11 games, Walsh is already at 94 points (24 FGs, 22 PATs) and is on pace to finish his rookie season with 137 points. If Walsh maintains his pace, he’ll surpass Moss’ record by 31 points.

That makes you wonder, how long until Walsh’s rookie scoring mark is broken? It looks as if Walsh will be the Vikings kicker for a long time, so it’s unlikely that the team will be relying on another rookie kicker anytime soon (kickers have the best chance to break the scoring mark). As good of a rookie season as Adrian Peterson had (13 TDs), he finished with 78 points. And even if another Randy Moss-type rookie season unfolds, that will come up well short of Walsh’s record.

The Vikings 2012 draft class will go down as one of the best in team history, and Walsh is a big reason why.


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5 Vikings-Packers Storylines To Follow

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 28, 2012 – 7:29 am

The 2012 version of the twice annual border battle rivalry between the Vikings and Green Bay Packers commences this week at Lambeau Field, as the 7-4 Packers will host the 6-5 Vikings. Sunday’s game will be the first of two between the teams in four weeks and it marks the latest in a season that these teams have played the first game in the season series.

The week leading up to Vikings vs. Packers is always fun because there is so much on the line on game day, regardless of records or time of year. As we anticipate Sunday’s game, here are five Vikings-Packers storylines to follow this week…

1. Vikings Look To Remain In Playoff Chase
Sunday’s game at Lambeau is not “do or die” for the Vikings with regard to their playoff outlook. But there’s no denying how important a win would be to the Vikings as they look to stay in the hunt for not just a Wild Card berth, but also a division title. Last week’s loss in Chicago dropped the Vikings two games behind the Bears, but there are still five to go (including this week in Green Bay) and the Vikings get one more shot at the Bears. On top of that, the Bears have a tough game against the Seahawks at home this weekend and they also have games remaining against the Packers and at the Detroit Lions.

Regardless of how the Bears do this week against Seattle, the Vikings can move into a tie with the Packers at 7-5 with a win.

2. Packers On The Rebound After Blowout Loss To Giants
Last week’s Sunday Night Football game featured a matchup between the last two Super Bowl champions – the Packers and the NY Giants. But just one of the teams looked super, and it wasn’t Green Bay. The Giants logged a 38-10 victory. As such, the Vikings aren’t the only team in this week’s NFC North showdown coming off a thorough loss. A quick look at the game’s stats doesn’t yield an obvious reason for Green Bay’s lackluster showing, but New York did capitalize on two specific stats that likely led to the final outcome: the Giants were +2 in turnover ratio and Packers QB Aaron Rodgers was sacked 5 times. Expect Green Bay to make those two stats points of emphasis this week as they prepare for the Vikings.

3. Both Teams Dealing With Injuries To Key Players
The Vikings have been missing WR Percy Harvin since he sprained his ankle in a Week 9 loss at Seattle on November 4, and now all eyes will be on TE Kyle Rudolph and S Harrison Smith after they left last week’s loss against Chicago to be evaluated for concussions. In addition to that, both LB Jasper Brinkley and RB Adrian Peterson have shoulder ailments and RT Phil Loadholt is dealing with knee inflammation. None of those players have been ruled out for Sunday’s game, and in fact it’s entirely possible that they’ll all be available, but their statuses do bear monitoring as the week goes.

The Packers are dealing with their own injuries, as well. WR Greg Jennings, LB Clay Matthews and DBs Sam Shields and Charles Woodson all missed last week’s game with injuries. They’ve also lost players such as RB Cedric Benson, starting RT Bryan Bulaga, and LBs Desmond Bishop and Nick Perry to injury for extended periods of time and some even for the season.

4. Can Green Bay Contain Adrian Peterson?
Vikings RB Adrian Peterson is the kind of player that can win a game for his team any week, no matter the matchup. Green Bay ranks 11th against the run this season, giving up 103.8 rushings yards per game. More impressively, though, is the fact that Green Bay has allowed just one 100-yard rusher this season. On the flip side, Peterson has six 100-yard games already this year, including 5 straight. And he’s the NFL’s leading rusher by 172 yards, is on pace for a career-high 1,798 rushing yards and loves running against the Packers.

5. Vikings Pass Rush Must Reemerge vs. Rodgers, Packers Offensive Line
Only one team (Arizona – 46) has allowed more sacks this season than the Packers (37). The bread and butter of the Vikings defense in recent seasons has been their pass rush. Huge advantage for the Vikings, right? You’d think so, but lately the Vikings pass rush has been contained. The Vikings have just 5 sacks in the past four games, and they rank just tied for 13th in sacks this season with 27. If the Vikings want to go into Lambeau Field and pull off this upset, they must get more pass-rushing production from their defense. The man to lead the charge is Jared Allen, who has 13.0 sacks against Green Bay in just nine career games.


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Peterson Extends Rushing Lead In 5th Straight 100-Yard Game

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 27, 2012 – 7:12 am

Adrian Peterson continued his remarkable season in Sunday’s loss to Chicago by registering his first 100-yard outing against the Bears since 2008. While 100-yard outings are tough to come by against the Bears stingy defense, Peterson has been hitting that threshold with regularity against opponents this season.

Against the Bears, Peterson carried the ball 18 times and ran for 108 yards, giving him his 6th 100-yard outing of the season and his 5th such performance in a row. He’ll have a chance to break the team record for consecutive 100-yard rushing games – which he shares with Robert Smith – this week in Green Bay. The Packers do rank 11th in the NFL against the run, but Peterson has also averaged 103.3 rushing yards per game against Green Bay. Peterson already holds the Vikings franchise record for career 100-yard games with 32 – Smith was the previous record-holder at 27.

With Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch held to 46 yards and Houston’s Arian Foster rushing for 102 yards, Peterson extended his NFL rushing lead and is now 172 yards ahead of the 2nd-place rusher (Foster). Entering this past week’s games, Peterson held a 123-yard lead over Lynch. Through 11 games, Peterson has 1,236 rushing yards, which averages out to 112.3 yards per game and puts him on pace for a career-high 1,798 yards.

It will be interesting to watch this final 5-game stretch in the NFL for many reasons, mostly to see which teams can get hot and make a run through the playoffs. But there are plenty of other subplots to watch, as well, and a couple Vikings fans should keep an eye on is the MVP race and the Comeback Player of the Year race. Peterson should be considered a candidate for both right now, and I think it comes down to Peterson and Peyton Manning in the Comeback Player of the Year race.


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A Closer Look: 5 Decisive Moments In Vikings-Bears Game

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 26, 2012 – 3:39 pm

Following his team’s 28-10 loss to the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on Sunday, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier was asked during his post-game press conference what the turning point in the game was in his mind. Frazier didn’t identify one moment where the game turned around, and instead spoke broadly about how the game unfolded.

After a day reflecting on the game, I agree with Frazier that it’s hard to define a moment that changed the course of the game. So rather than hyper-analyze a moment or two that contributed to Sunday’s outcome, let’s take a look at five moments in the game that shaped what turned out to be the Vikings 5th loss of the season.

Matt Forte fumbles, Chad Greenway recovers (13:12, 1st quarter)
The very first moments of the game were not great for the Vikings. QB Christian Ponder was sacked on the first play of the game and the Vikings went 3-and-out. But it looked as if early momentum would swing back to the Vikings when Bears RB Matt Forte fumbled on Chicago’s first offensive snap. Chad Greenway recovered the fumble, and the Vikings offense set up shop on the Bears 28.

Chicago dodged a bullet, though, and forced the Vikings to bring Blair Walsh on the field for a 40-yard FG after just three plays. The rookie kicker converted and the Vikings led 3-0, but it was a “win” for the Bears because they didn’t allow a TD after the Vikings started with such great field position.

Adrian Peterson fumbles, Charles Tillman recovers (10:13, 1st quarter)
Just moments after the Forte fumble, the Vikings returned the favor. And the Bears were able to do what the Vikings could not – they turned it into a TD. Peterson took a handoff on the Vikings first play following a Bears 3-and-out after the Walsh FG, and he was tackled by Bears LB Nick Roach. Peterson fumbled the ball, and Bears CB Charles Tillman fell on it, giving the Bears offense good field position at the Minnesota 34.

Six plays later, RB Michael Bush plunged into the end zone for a 1-yard TD, and the Robbie Gould PAT gave the Bears a 7-3 lead.

Defensive pass interference called against Antoine Winfield in end zone (4:17, 2nd quarter)
Leading 10-3 late in the 2nd quarter, the Bears were driving and had a 1st-and-10 from the Minnesota 25. Jay Cutler dropped back to pass and had no one open, so he escaped the pocket to buy more time. After surveying the field and still seeing no one open, he rifled a pass toward WR Brandon Marshall, who was covered by CB Antoine Winfield. As if he were playing basketball, Marshall posted up on the shorter Winfield and made a play for the ball. The nearest official threw a flag for what appeared to be offensive pass interference. But the call went against Winfield, and the Bears were set up with a 1st-and-goal from the 1.

On the Bears next play, Bush once again plunged in for a 1-yard score, and then Chicago ran a fake Pat to score a 2-point conversion and take an 18-3 lead.

Jay Cutler 13-yard TD pass to TE Matt Spaeth – reviewed and upheld (1:55, 2nd quarter)
Vikings QB Christian Ponder was intercepted by Bears S Chris Conte, and it didn’t take Chicago long to turn the Vikings second turnover of the game into another TD.

On the Bears first play from scrimmage after the INT, Cutler found TE and former University of Minnesota Golden Gopher Matt Spaeth in the corner of the end zone for a 13-yard TD. After catching the ball, Spaeth fell to the ground and was out of bounds. The call on the field was a TD, but the play was reviewed. After review, the officials upheld the original ruling, and after another Gould Pat the Bears led 25-3.

Matt Forte fumbles, Mistral Raymond recovers and returns 52 yards for a TD – play is overturned (6:39, 3rd quarter)
The Vikings had just scored a TD on a Ponder-to-Kyle Rudolph 2-yard connection, making the score 25-10. On their ensuing possession, the Bears were driving and were at midfield. Forte took a handoff and was stopped by a group of Vikings, and then fumbled on his way to the ground after being bent back awkwardly. Vikings S Mistral Raymond wisely scooped up the ball and sprinted 52 yards to the end zone, where the officials ruled the play a TD. After review, though, the play was overturned and the Bears retained possession.

Four plays later, Gould salvaged the drive with a 46-yard FG, increasing the Bears lead to 28-10. The series of plays represented a 10-point swing in which the Vikings could trailed by just 8 points early in the 2nd half but instead wound up trailing by 18 points.


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Not Much Changes In Vikings Playoff Picture

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 26, 2012 – 7:56 am

The bad news is the Vikings fell another game behind the division lead thanks to their loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday. With that loss, the Vikings now sit at 6-5, and with their win the Bears jump to 8-3. A two-game lead with five to play is nice for Chicago, but it’s not comfortable. Three of their remaining games are against division opponents, including a December 9 game at Mall of America Field. The Vikings pre-season goal of winning the NFC North is still attainable, and there’s no reason their sights should be focused on anything else.

If the Vikings are unable to catch the Bears and capture the NFC North title, they’ll hope to fall back on a Wild Card berth. And that’s where the good news comes in. The Vikings lost a game this week, but they did not lose any ground in the Wild Card race. Green Bay, New Orleans, Seattle and Tampa Bay all lost on Sunday as well. Of those teams, only Green Bay (7-4) has more wins than the Vikings. The Vikings do lose the three-way tie-breaker, but there is plenty of time to overcome that with five more games on the dockett.

There’s a lot to breakdown when looking at the NFC playoff picture, but the bottom line is the Vikings must focus on winning their next game. And that next game is against a division rival and another team battling for playoff positioning – the Green Bay Packers.


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Miscues Doom Vikings In 28-10 Loss To Chicago

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 26, 2012 – 7:42 am

Soldier Field is a tough place to play for opposing teams, and poor execution combined with plenty of miscues does not help the visitor’s cause in trying to take down the Chicago Bears in their own house. The Vikings, who turned the ball over three times and executed poorly in crucial situations, are the latest to illustrate that point in a 28-10 loss Sunday in the Windy City.

After opening the game with a 3-and-out, the Vikings fortunes took an early turn-for-the-better when RB Matt Forte lost a fumble on Chicago’s first offensive snap of the game. The Vikings were not able to cash in with a TD, but Blair Walsh salvaged the scoring chance with a 40-yard FG. From that point on, though, it would be all Chicago Bears.

Adrian Peterson lost a fumble on the Vikings next series and Christian Ponder was intercepted later in the 2nd quarter. Making the bad news even worse for the Vikings was the fact that Chicago turned both turnovers into TDs and enjoyed a 25-3 lead at halftime.

The Vikings had a brief moment of optimism early in the 3rd quarter thanks to sloppy play from the Bears. CB Antoine Winfield intercepted Bears QB Jay Cutler, and the Vikings scored a TD five plays later when Ponder found TE Kyle Rudolph for a 2-yard score. On the seventh play of the ensuing Bears series, Vikings S Mistral Raymond picked up an apparent Forte fumble and returned it 52 yards for a TD. At that moment, the Vikings were on the comeback trail. But after review, the officials took the Vikings TD away, and Chicago responded four plays later with a FG to extend their lead to 28-10.

That would wind up being the Bears winning margin, as the teams exchanged a series of punts and the Vikings lost another fumble over the remaining quarter-and-a-half. Peterson wound up rushing for 108 yards – his 5th consecutive 100-yard game – on 18 attempts and rookie WR Jarius Wright led the team in receptions with 7 grabs for 49 yards. Those were the only bright spots in a day where the Vikings couldn’t overcome miscues.


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Vikings-Bears Inactives

Posted by Ryan Cardinal on November 25, 2012 – 10:30 am

Here are today’s inactives for the Vikings and the Bears:

Vikings: QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson, WR Percy Harvin, CB Brandon Burton, LB Audie Cole, OL Mark Asper, TE Allen Reisner & DE D’Aundre Reed.

Bears: QB Josh McCown, WR Alshon Jeffery, WR Dane Sanzenbacher, DT Matt Toeaina, DT Amobi Okoye, DE Cheta Ozougwu and OL James Brown.


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Vikings Arrive At Soldier Field

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 25, 2012 – 9:44 am

The Vikings have arrived at Soldier Field and kickoff to today’s Vikings-Bears showdown is approaching. It’s sunny, windy and cold this morning in Chicago, perfect football weather and perfect conditions for an old-school Black and Blue Division battle.

As you’ve surely heard by now, Vikings WR Percy Harvin will not play and the Bears will have Jay Cutler back in the starting lineup after he missed last week’s loss in San Francisco because of a concussion he suffered against the Houston Texans a couple weeks ago. There are other changes and potential changes to both teams’ lineups, and we’ll have all of those finalized about 90 minutes prior to kickoff when both teams are required to submit their list of inactive players and starting lineup changes.

For the game, join us on vikings.com for the Live Chat. We’ll begin the chat about 5 minutes prior to kickoff, and you’ll be able to find it by clicking here. When possible, we try to conduct the chat from the Vikings Radio Network broadcast booth, but the setup here at Soldier Field does not permit us to do that. So we’ll be conducting the chat from the press box with the view illustrated in the photo at the top of this blog entry.

We always have fun during the chat, and we encourage you to join us. As always, the Vikings Radio Network will broadcast today’s game, with Paul Allen (play-by-play), Pete Bercich (analyst) and Greg Coleman (sideline reporter) calling the action. The pre-game show begins at 10:00 a.m. CT, and I’ll join host Mike Mussman to talk Vikings-Bears at about 11:20 a.m. CT.

That’s it for now, but stay tuned to vikings.com and the vikings.com Blog for pre-game updates and of course in-game action and post-game reaction. You can follow the Vikings (@VikingsFootball) and yours truly (@wobby) on Twitter for more updates as well.


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