Rick Spielman may prefer to and excel at building his team through the draft. But the Vikings GM has illustrated this year that he also views free agency as an important vehicle to improving his roster. We’re not even a week into the New League Year, and the Vikings have already been one of the NFL’s most active teams when it comes to shuffling the roster and making improvements.
Here’s a quick look at what the Vikings have done so far, and what might be next…
Got Jennings? Vikings do
The Vikings finished the 2012 regular season with the 31st-ranked passing offense, so during the offseason you can be sure that adding talented pass-catchers will be atop the priority list. To that end, the Vikings have already taken a huge step forward by signing WR Greg Jennings. After being a thorn in the Vikings side for the past 7 seasons, Jennings will now be a helping hand to Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave and QB Christian Ponder. The signing of Jennings was met with wild excitement from a Vikings fan base that has watched the former Packers pass-catcher torch them for 63 receptions and 10 TDs in 15 games vs. the Purple.
Loadholt, other UFAs re-signed
Spielman is asked every year what his priority will be in free agency. And every year he responds by saying that re-signing his own free agents is atop his wish list. Early in this year’s free agency, Spielman attacked that wish list. The focal point of that effort was re-signing RT Phil Loadholt, and the Vikings got the job done. Aside from Loadholt, the Vikings were also able to reach agreements with 5 of their other 6 unrestricted free agents (UFAs), including: OL Joe Berger, Pro Bowl FB Jerome Felton, LB Erin Henderson, S Jamarca Sanford and WR Jerome Simpson.
In what may go down as one of this year’s more notable moves across the NFL, the Vikings traded WR Percy Harvin to the Seattle Seahawks, and for doing so received three draft picks – a 1st-rounder (#25) and 7th-rounder this year, and a 3rd-rounder next year. The trade gives the Vikings 11 selections in this year’s draft, including 6 in the first 4 rounds. If the Vikings use both 1st-rounders next month, it will mark the second consecutive year they’ll net a pair of 1st-round picks in a draft. That’s a good way to improve the talent level on your roster.
In a move that is a great illustration of the type of difficult decisions NFL franchises have to make each year, the Vikings released CB Antoine Winfield. At first blush it seems like a startling move, but given Winfield’s salary and given some of the team’s other priorities, it was a decision that was in the best interests of the franchise. It may have set the stage for the Loadholt re-signing and/or the Vikings ability to go out and get Jennings to help the passing game. Spielman did say that the team is open to Winfield returning at some point this offseason.
Calling for backup – Cassel signed
On the same day the Vikings made a big splash in signing Jennings, they also secured another QB to add to the mix behind starter Christian Ponder. The Kansas City Chiefs released Matt Cassel, and the Vikings immediately swooped in to pick him up. Cassel is an experienced passer in the NFL (62 starts) who was Tom Brady’s backup in New England when the Patriots went 16-0 and advanced to the Super Bowl in 2007. Also, when asked to play, Cassel has responded. He guided the Patriots to an 11-5 record after Brady went down with a knee injury in Week 1 of the 2008 season and he was also a Pro Bowler as the Chiefs starter in 2010, passing for 27 TDs and authoring a passer rating of 93.0.
In other developments, the Vikings tendered restricted free agent (RFA) CB AJ Jefferson, so he is set to return for 2013. WR Michael Jenkins was cut and earlier in February the Vikings signed former CFL standout CB Roderick Williams.
– The only UFA the Vikings weren’t able to re-sign was middle LB Jasper Brinkley, who has subsequently signed a two-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals. The Vikings could look to free agency to fill that spot, they could wait until the draft to find a middle LB, they could rely on Audie Cole to win that job, or they could enact one or more of those possibilities in combination.
— Looking at the roster right now compared to the roster at this time of the year in 2012, the Vikings are at or above capacity at most spots on the roster. There are two exceptions: offensive tackle and running back. Last year at this time, the Vikings had 6 running backs and right now they have 5. Last year at this time the Vikings had 5 offensive tackles and this year they have 4. Of course the Vikings could wait until the draft to fill the voids in each spot, they could find a free agent on the open market, or they could do both.
Tags: A.J. Jefferson, Antoine Winfield, Audie Cole, Christian Ponder, Erin Henderson, Greg Jennings, Jamarca Sanford, Jerome Felton, Jerome Simpson, Joe Berger, Matt Cassel, Phil Loadholt, Rick Spielman, Roderick Williams
Posted in All | 207 Comments »
In 2012 the Vikings notched the greatest single-season win improvement in franchise history, moving from 3 wins in 2011 to 10 wins this past season. This offseason the team will look to further improve the roster through the retension and acquisition of free agents and the development of another strong draft class.
The first step in that process has already begun, as the Vikings front office is in the process of evaluating its own class of free agents as well as the large group of players scheduled to become free agents on Tuesday, the first day of the new League Year. Before a team delves into the free agent market, it must first address the status of its own free agents. Will the Vikings re-sign most of their free agents? We don’t know that yet. But we do know which Vikings players are scheduled to become free agents.
Below is a list of the Vikings restricted free agents (RFAs) and unrestricted free agents (UFAs). Also, click here to check out the vikings.com 2013 Free Agent Glossary.
Restricted Free Agents
CB AJ Jefferson
Unrestricted Free Agents
WR Devin Aromashodu
OL Joe Berger
LB Jasper Brinkley
FB Jerome Felton
LB Erin Henderson
RT Phil Loadholt
LB Marvin Mitchell
S Jamarca Sanford
OL Geoff Schwartz
WR Jerome Simpson
Tags: 2013 Free Agency, A.J. Jefferson, Devin Aromashodu, Erin Henderson, Geoff Schwartz, Jamarca Sanford, Jasper Brinkley, Jerome Felton, Jerome Simpson, Joe Berger, Marvin Mitchell, Phil Loadholt
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 39 Comments »
Not making an appearance in Wednesday’s “8 Vikings-Rams Storylines To Follow” blog entry was the topic of Vikings CBs, but they were a hot topic during Leslie Frazier’s meeting with local reporters. The first five questions of Frazier’s Wednesday press conference focused on various issues surround Vikings CBs, so let’s go over a few things we learned…
A.J. Jefferson could play on Sunday
Since Chris Cook went down with a broken arm during the Vikings Week 8 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, A.J. Jefferson has stepped into an increased role on defense. Near the end of last week’s win over Chicago, though, Jefferson also was injured. He suffered a concussion and was forced out of the game and into the NFL’s return-from-concussion protocol.
On Wednesday, Frazier said Jefferson was “getting closer” to passing all of his tests. The Vikings expect to have a much better idea of Jefferson’s chances to play this Sunday in St. Louis after Thursday’s work.
Next man up
In the event that Jefferson is not able to return in time for Sunday’s game, a few players would be asked to step up. Rookie Josh Robinson would be first on the list, although he’s seen plenty of the field this season while playing in the Vikings nickel package. On Monday, Frazier also mentioned Brandon Burton and Marcus Sherels as guys who may see increased roles on defense should Jefferson sit out.
Sherels to resume kickoff return duties
With Percy Harvin unavailable because of his ankle injury, the Vikings kickoff return role is open for business. Sherels was the first to fill the void and he’s done so adequately. More recently, though, Jefferson took a turn returning kicks. With his availability now in question because of the concussion, Frazier indicated earlier in the week that Sherels will reassume the kickoff return roles. Even if Jefferson does play on Sunday, expect Sherels to take the reps so the Vikings can reduce Jefferson’s exposure to another concussion.
Chris Cook on track
Chris Cook has returned to practice for the Vikings and appears to be on track to return to game action as soon as next week against the Houston Texans. Frazier has been asked about the chances of Cook returning this season and hasn’t been specific about if or when it could happen, but the fact that Cook has returned to practice is a sign of good progress.
The Vikings have done a nice job of covering up his absence with Jefferson and Robinson, but having Cook return to action would be a big plus for the Vikings in terms of their ability to cover bigger receivers and in terms of their depth both on defense and on special teams.
Winfield held out of Wednesday practice
Veteran Antoine Winfield did not practice on Wednesday, but that is not worthy of alarm. The Vikings have been diligent about monitoring Winfield’s reps, and it is paying big dividends this season. Winfield, in his 14th season, is having another stellar campaign and his health is a big reason for the Vikings increased performance against the pass. Frazier did mention that Winfield’s knee was bothering him a bit, and that added to the team’s decision to hold him out on Wednesday. It’s expected that Winfield will return to practice on Thursday.
Tags: A.J. Jefferson, Antoine Winfield, Brandon Burton, Chris Cook, Josh Robinson, Leslie Frazier, Marcus Sherels
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 225 Comments »
On Wednesday morning the NFL calendar is going to flip from Week 14 to Week 15, which means now is the time to empty out the notebook from last weekend’s victory over the Chicago Bears. Here are a few of my final thoughts…
Jared Allen’s Effort
In the NFL, it’s not often that we feel compelled to credit a player for giving maximum effort. But that’s what I’m going to do here. The Bears had a 1st and 10 from their 15, and they handed the ball of to RB Matt Forte. Going wide right, Forte turned the corner and began sprinting down the right (Vikings) sideline. Jared Allen, having lined up on the opposite side of where the play was heading, saw Forte break contain and began sprinting. He took an aggressive angle, and after several moments of all-out sprinting, Allen finally angled Forte off and pushed him out of bounds. Unfortunately, Forte had stepped out of bounds an instant before Allen shoved him, so the officials flagged him for unnecessary roughness and enforced a 15-yard penalty. But you can hardly blame Allen, after sprinting about 60 yards across the field, to not have the wherewithal to stop on a dime and refrain from pushing Forte out of bounds after catching him.
It was a great play by Allen because he could easily have never taken off to try and catch Forte and instead relied on a teammate closer to Forte to take a less aggressive angle and still catch him before he broke away. Instead, Allen took it upon himself to be the one to catch Forte. The end result was nowhere near ideal because the 15-yard penalty tacked on to the 36-yard run set the Bears up with a 1st and 10 from the Vikings 34, but Allen and Co. were able to force a punt just 3 plays later. Plus, the effort Allen gave is a good indication that this team is playing hard and giving everything it has to make a late-season push.
Final Word (For Now) On Ponder
I basically explained this in the Monday Morning Mailbag, but it’s my belief that the hyper-analysis on Ponder and the angst over whether he can be the QB of the future in Minnesota should subside momentarily to the more team-centric and relevant issue of the Vikings push to the playoffs. There’s no question Ponder needs to improve his play – he will be the first to acknowledge that. The sub 100-yard passing outings are hard for fans to stomach given the fact that Ponder was the 12th overall pick and is being groomed to be a franchise quarterback. But if you can refrain from analyzing Ponder through that lens and instead focus on what Ponder and the Vikings need to do to win games this season, you’ll be a happier Vikings fan and you’ll be better able to A) appreciate the season Adrian Peterson is having and B) appreciate the fact that the Vikings are playing meaningful games in December for the first time since 2009.
AP For 2K?
Can he get to 2,000? Adrian Peterson has 1,600 yards rushing through 13 games and needs to average 133.3 yards per game over the final 3 to reach the 2,000-yard mark. Only 6 other RBs in NFL history have done it. I think Adrian will get there, and if he does it will be an impressive accomplishment on a number of levels. Obviously he’s coming back from the knee injury. But also, he’s doing it while the Vikings have struggled to move the ball through the air and while Percy Harvin has been unavailable due to injury. And, if Peterson reaches 2,000, he’ll have done it after facing 3 consecutive Top 15 rushing defenses over the final few weeks of the season.
Jerome Felton Having a Pro Bowl-Caliber Season
A couple of big-name free agent acquisitions haven’t worked out according to plan for the Vikings. But there’s another free agent the team acquired this past offseason who has worked out better than most imagined.
It’s FB Jerome Felton. The guy is playing out of his mind and is having a Pro Bowl-caliber season. He’s worthy of your Pro Bowl vote.
I was glad to see Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier mention Felton in his press conference on Monday.
“Jerome at the fullback position is an unsung hero,” Frazier said. “We’re playing a lot more two-back than we played a season ago and it’s really helped us. We went into this offseason saying that we wanted to be able to find a fullback to really be a lead blocker for Adrian because we felt like some of his best runs have come when he had a lead blocker. Now he might differ from that, but you put the tape on and you see that’s true. Jerome has done a terrific job of doing everything we’ve asked him to do as a lead blocker and he’s had a lot to do with the success we’ve had running the football.”
Sherels, Burton To Step Up If Jefferson Can’t Go
CB A.J. Jefferson suffered a concussion near the end of Sunday’s win over the Bears, leaving the Vikings even more short-handed at the position. Starter Chris Cook is already out, of course, so that means Brandon Burton and Marcus Sherels will have to step up if Jefferson isn’t able to play on Sunday in St. Louis. As for Cook, he can start practicing with the team on a more regular basis and could return as soon as next week against the Houston Texans.
Tags: A.J. Jefferson, Adrian Peterson, Brandon Burton, Chris Cook, Christian Ponder, Jared Allen, Jerome Felton, Leslie Frazier, Marcus Sherels
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 203 Comments »
The Bears acquired WR Brandon Marshall this past offseason, thinking he was the missing link in a passing game that needed a big-time WR to complement the strong arm and gunslinging mentality of QB Jay Cutler. Through Marshall’s first 12 games in the Windy City, the Bears thinking is right on.
Marshall ranks 2nd in the NFL with 91 receptions and 1,182 yards, and he’s on pace to break the Bears single-season record for receptions and yards. No other Bears player has more than 30 receptions, and Marshall has been targeted by Cutler 95 more times than the next Bears receiver. Against the Vikings in Week 12, Marshall was targeted by Cutler 17 times and he came away with 12 receptions for 92 yards. While he didn’t get into the end zone against the Vikings, he was still a crucial factor in the game. Several times the Vikings had Chicago in unfavorable 3rd-down spots, and several times Marshall bailed the Bears out with a great grab in traffic or a few extra yards after the catch.
Adding to the frustration of Marshall’s production that day was the fact that often times he was guarded to near perfection by Vikings DBs, but he still came away with the catch. Cutler was able to fit the ball into tight windows, and even when a Vikings defender was in position to make a play, Marshall was able to make the better play.
So, what can the Vikings rely on to slow down the Cutler-to-Marshall tandem on Sunday at Mall of America Field? Let’s take a closer look at three things that should work…
Pressure the passer
Perhaps the best way for the Vikings to keep Marshall in check is to disrupt the man charged with delivering the ball to the tall, fast pass-catcher – Cutler. To do that, the Vikings must re-energize their pass rush to take advantage of a Bear defensive line that is missing starters and has dealt with inconsistent play. As Leslie Frazier explained on Wednesday while meeting with reporters, pressuring the passer isn’t all about sacks. Even if a defender doesn’t register a sack, hitting the QB and disrupting his timing can be just as good.
“They’ve changed their philosophy offensively to cut down on the sacks. They realized what their problems were and they made a smart move. We have to offset that with some of the things we’re going to try to do,” Frazier explained. “We may not get the sacks, because of what they’re doing now with the short passing game, but we have to hit that quarterback. We have to find a way to hit him and make him aware that our defense is on the field. Might not get the sack numbers, but we have to find a way to hit him.”
The ball will bounce your way
It’s important for a defense to maintain its aggressiveness. But it’s also important for a defense to trust itself and know that if they keep doing the right thing at the right time, the ball will eventually bounce the right way. It actually happened that way for the Vikings secondary in Soldier Field a couple weeks ago. Yes, Marshall kept finding ways to make plays even though AJ Jefferson, Josh Robinson and Antoine Winfield were constantly in the right place at the right time. Finally, though, the Vikings caught a break when one of Cutler’s passes to Marshall was tipped and wound up in the hands of Winfield.
The Vikings finished last season with a total of 64 passes defensed. This season through 12 games, they’ve already surpassed that total by 14 – they have 78 passes defensed heading into Sunday’s game. If the Vikings continue being sound in coverage, and especially if the Vikings can put pressure on Cutler while he’s in the pocket, the ball will bounce the Vikings way eventually.
More than most other teams in the NFL, the Vikings have proven that the play isn’t over once an opposing runner breaks through the line of scrimmage or an opposing receiver secures a catch. The Vikings rank tied for 6th in the NFL with 27 forced fumbles and 3rd in the NFL with 23 fumble recoveries dating back to the start of the 2011 season. So even once Marshall hauls in a pass from Cutler, watch for Vikings DBs to try and strip the ball from the receiver as he’s trying to gain extra yardage.
Tags: A.J. Jefferson, Antoine Wiinfield, Josh Robinson, Leslie Frazier
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 308 Comments »
Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier met briefly with reporters after practice on Friday and provided an update on the probability of WR Percy Harvin returning from his ankle injury in time for this Sunday’s game in Chicago. The chances are not good that Harvin will play, as Frazier said his star WR will be listed as doubtful on the week’s final injury report.
Harvin injured his ankle against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 9 and has been rehabbing and recovering since. The ankle has improved, but he’s yet to be able to participate in a practice since the injury. Harvin’s final status for the game likely won’t be declared until 90 minutes prior to kickoff, which is when teams are required to submit their list of inactive players.
Regardless of what happens with Harvin, Frazier did say that WR Jarius Wright will be active. The rookie 4th-rounder played in his first NFL regular season game two weeks ago against Detroit with Harvin sidelined. Wright responded with 3 receptions for 65 yards and 1 TD. He’ll have another chance to contribute in Chicago this weekend.
Frazier said Wright does not figure to fill in for Harvin in the kickoff return role. Marcus Sherels, AJ Jefferson and Josh Robinson (in that order) are listed as backups to Harvin in the kickoff return role.
Tags: A.J. Jefferson, Jarius Wright, Josh Robinson, Leslie Frazier, Marcus Sherels, Percy Harvin
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 12 Comments »
On Wednesday we’ll throw our entire focus toward Sunday’s contest against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Before we do that, though, let’s take one last chance to reflect on what’s happened over the first 10 games of the Vikings season.
This was the topic of last week’s Wobcast, as I explained my 10 takes through 10 weeks…
10. Vikings are in the playoff hunt!
A strong 4-1 start and a key win against Detroit heading into the bye has placed the Vikings in the mix for a playoff spot in the NFC. It’s quite a treat for Vikings fans to be in this position after watching their team go 9-23 the past 2 seasons. Kudos to GM Rick Spielman and Head Coach Leslie Frazier for turning this organization around and heading in the right direction. The Vikings are 6-4 overall, 2-0 in the division and 4-3 in the NFC. If the playoffs started right now, the Vikings would miss it because of tie-breakers to Seattle and Tampa Bay. But the playoffs don’t start right now, so we’ll get to see if the Vikings can overcome a few teams over the next 6 weeks.
9. Dome-field advantage has returned
The Vikings were just 1-7 at home last year and suffered to a 3-13 season. This year, the Vikings dome-field advantage has returned. They are 4-1 in home games, and a big reason for that is the Mall of America Field crowd. Frazier compliments Vikings fans after each game and is genuine in his praise. He’s coached against and played against the Vikings in that building and respects the difference the home crowd can make. Good job, fans. Thanks for helping us gain that incredible dome-field advantage.
8. Youth, health has led to improvement in pass defense
The Vikings pass defense has taken a huge step forward in 2012. They were 26th in yards allowed last season and were 14th in that category after 10 games this season. What’s been the key? It’s been health and youth. CBs Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook missed 21 games combined last season, but this year they both started and remained healthy for most of the team’s first 10 games. Cook is dealing with an arm injury now, but young guys are stepping up in his absence. AJ Jefferson and this year’s 3rd-round pick – Josh Robinson – have filled the void well. Also, Harrison Smith is playing the safety position like we haven’t seen in years from a Vikings safety.
7. Percy has no mercy on opposing defenses
Simply put, I think Percy Harvin is the most dangerous offensive weapon among non-QBs in the NFL. He has 100 touches through 10 games – that’s receptions, rushes and returns – and he’s averaging 13.4 yards per touch with 5 TDs. Harvin is the best kickoff returner in the NFL, one of the best receivers in the NFL, and a good runner. There are not many (any?) better all-around threats in the NFL.
6. Vikings special teams have been outstanding, and deserve more credit
– Often times special teams is the neglected phase of football. But special teams has not been neglected by the Vikings, and in fact I’d submit that special teams has been key to the Vikings success this year. Heck, the Vikings special teams basically single-handedly won a game this year – Detroit – Week 4. A bunch of credit goes to Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer and assistant special teams coach Chris White for the work they’ve done together over the past two seasons. Through 10 games, the Vikings ranked 2nd in average drive start, 4th in kickoff return, 2nd in touchbacks on kickoffs and 9th in punt return. Special teams is something fans complain about when it’s going poorly, but forget about when it’s going well. Let’s take a moment during to appreciate the Vikings special teams play to this point. Bravo, guys.
To see the final 5 takes, which includes bold talk about Adrian Peterson and Blair Walsh, check out last week’s Wobcast.
Tags: A.J. Jefferson, Antoine Winfield, Chris Cook, Harrison Smith, Josh Robinson, Leslie Frazier, Mike Priefer, Percy Harvin, Rick Spielman
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 129 Comments »
Earlier this week we listed the 7 Vikings-Lions storylines we’d be following this week, so with Friday upon us and kickoff just two days away, let’s check in on the #1 storyline: Harvin’s Ankle, Megatron’s Knee. Percy Harvin leads the NFL in receptions with 62 and Detroit’s Calvin Johnson is arguable the NFL’s best player at the position. But neither has practiced this week due to injuries, and it will have a profound impact on Sunday’s game.
Of the two receivers, Johnson stands the best chance to play. He’s dealing with a knee injury that kept him out of practice all of last week. The time away from practice didn’t seem to bother the All-Pro, as he came down with 7 receptions for 129 yards against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Johnson has been held out of practice this week, too, but the smart money is on him playing. And if he’s playing, he’s dangerous.
There’s been another element added to this mix of late, though. According to a report from Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Johnson told reporters on Thursday that he’s dealing with nerve damage that is making it harder for him to grip the football. Johnson pointed to a pair of hits from the Lions Week 4 game against the Vikings that is causing the issue.
As for Harvin, he has not been ruled out but he did call himself a “longshot” to play. Harvin suffered an ankle injury last week in Seattle, but was able to finish the game. Harvin spoke with reporters earlier in the week while leaning on crutches, causing many to speculate that the NFL’s leading receiver will be unavailable for Sunday’s game.
I’m not in the business of speculating whether or not a guy will play despite an injury. The Vikings have a bye following this Sunday’s game, so keeping Harvin out of this week’s game would essentially give him nearly three full weeks between his injury and the next ball game. But Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said after practice on Thursday that if Harvin is healthy enough to play, he’ll play. Also keep in mind that Harvin is as tough a player as there is, so if there’s even the slightest bit of chance he can play, Harvin will be angling to get out there.
If he plays, that’s great news for the Vikings. If he doesn’t play, the Vikings will have about 11 touches to distribute to other players. Harvin has 100 touches through 9 games this season, which averages out to 11.1 touches per game. In this week’s Wobcast – where Cris Carter is featured as the guest – I pointed to three players who could see a few more touches if Harvin doesn’t play: WR Jarius Wright and TEs John Carlson and Kyle Rudolph.
Harvin also has a role on special teams as the Vikings kickoff returner, and Vikings Head Coach Mike Priefer said a number of guys could step into that role if Harvin is unable to play. Marcus Sherels, the Vikings starting punt returner, can do it, as can Wright, WR Stephen Burton and CBs A.J. Jefferson and Josh Robinson.
Tags: A.J. Jefferson, Jarius Wright, John Carlson, Josh Robinson, Kyle Rudolph, Leslie Frazier, Mike Priefer, Percy Harvin, Stephen Burton
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 375 Comments »
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.
Tags: A.J. Jefferson, Blair Walsh, Chris Cook, Christian Ponder, Jared Allen, John Carlson, Josh Robinson, Leslie Frazier, Matt Kalil, Percy Harvin
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 93 Comments »
Last weekend while they and all other NFL teams were cutting 20-some players from their rosters to reach the NFL’s mandated 53-man roster limit, the Vikings were also scheming to add a player to their roster.
That player was A.J. Jefferson. The Vikings sent undisclosed draft pick compensation to the Arizona Cardinals last Friday in exchange for Jefferson, a 6-1, 190-pound CB. Jefferson signed with the Cardinals in April of 2010 as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Fresno State and played in 18 games with 7 starts over 2 seasons.
Jefferson’s size makes him a good fit in the Vikings defensive scheme at an outside CB spot, and his addition adds depth to a position that has veterans Chris Cook and Antoine Winfield as starters and youngsters Brandon Burton, Josh Robinson and Marcus Sherels providing depth. He has good speed and, when dialed in, has displayed the ability to be a starting-caliber NFL DB.
While not a household name in Minnesota, Jefferson is a player the Vikings liked enough that they felt compelled to trade for him. Why? Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier spoke on that issue Monday.
“He has the ability to cover man and also play some zone coverage, good press corner, but he can also play off,” Frazier detailed. “He’s a willing tackler, we like that part of his game.”
This past offseason, Frazier had commented on multiple occasions that the Vikings may play more man coverage than they have in the past. That’s a plan that sounds great in theory, but a team must have the appropriate personnel on-hand in order to execute the plan.
Frazier feels Jefferson could give the Vikings just that.
“We wanted a guy who could play some man coverage and he’s shown that he has the strength to do that,” Frazier said.
Frazier noted that Jefferson has kick return abilities as well.
“His speed, his athleticism, he’s a good kickoff return guy as well. He’s a long guy with his size, we liked that as well.
“It was about what guy could fit what we’re trying to get done on defense that would really help us have a chance to win on Sundays. We felt like A.J. gave us some things that we were looking for and that’s why he’s here.”
Tags: A.J. Jefferson
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