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The Hard Count, Paying Felton’s Fee & A Great Decision In Houston

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 27, 2012 – 1:54 pm

As they do each Thursday before a Sunday game, the three Vikings coordinators met with reporters inside the Winter Park field house. Here are a few of the notable discussion points from each of their conversations…

The Hard Count
One of the nuances fans can pick up by watching games on television is the different cadences of QBs across the NFL. Many QBs have non-descript cadences, but some have a distinct pattern and/or tone. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is one with a distinct cadence, and it caused the Vikings some trouble in the Week 13 game at Lambeau Field.

In going through that game’s play-by-play, I counted 5 times in which the Vikings were flagged for defensive offsides. Some of those penalties were declined, some were accepted. But all of them were because of how good Rodgers is at what they call the “hard count” to try and draw the defense across the line before the snap, sometimes resulting in a “free play” for the offense and often times resulting in a 5-yard penalty.

“You’ll see time and time again the defenses that are jumping offsides in the neutral zone,” Vikings Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams noted on Thursday. “We want to make sure we key the ball and get off on the ball and not any voice reflections and that type of thing.”

Working on this is nothing new for NFL teams. The Vikings have made that a focus of practice every week of the season, it’s just that Rodgers is better than most at drawing opponents offsides.

“He’s one of the masters at it,” Williams said of Rodgers, “and we have to make sure that we hold our water and not jump and shoot ourselves in the foot because we did do that the last time we played them.”

Paying Felton’s Fee
Vikings FB Jerome Felton was named to his first Pro Bowl on Wednesday, a well-deserved honor for the hardworking 5th-year pro. Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave was asked a few questions about his all-star fullback, and within one of the answers he provided a funny story from his time in Jacksonville.

“When I was in Jacksonville, James Harris, our General Manager, used to say you have to pay the fullback’s fee at times for all that blocking that they do,” Musgrave explained. “It’s nice to hand them a belly every once in a while, a dive, throw the ball out there to him in the flat. We haven’t paid Jerome his fee very often and he continues to do a good job.”

No Problem In Houston
A key moment in last week’s win over the Houston Texans came in the 4th quarter, with the Vikings leading 16-6 and facing a 4th and 9 from the Houston 40. For most teams, that’s an automatic punting situation. But with Blair Walsh on the team, the Vikings aren’t most team. Earlier in the game, Walsh blasted a 56-yard FG through the pipes, giving him a NFL-record 9 FGs of over 50 yards on the season.

Had the Vikings decided to trot Walsh and Co. out onto the field from the 40, it would’ve been about a 58-yard try that, if converted, would’ve extended the Vikings lead to 19-6. If it was off the mark or short, Houston would’ve taken over at their own 40 trailing by 10 with roughly 12:30 to play.

The Vikings decided to punt. And the decision paid off.

“Coach (Frazier) and I talked about that,” Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer explained. “And the risk-reward, the risk was higher than the reward at that point in my opinion. The way our defense was playing, he and I talked about it, he made a great call and a great decision on going ahead and punting it there in that situation. Because of the situation, the way our defense was playing, pin them back deep and let’s go. Kluwe had a great punt, Josh Robinson made a really nice play for us.”

Kluwe’s punt landed at around the 5 and Robinson sped down the field to down it at the 1. Houston went 3-and-out, punted the ball away, and the Vikings offense marched onto the field and then marched down the field on a 10-play, 64-yard TD scoring drive that was capped by a 1-yard Toby Gerhart plunge. The score put the Vikings ahead 23-6, the drive took 6:01 off the game clock, and the decision to punt rather than try a 58-yard FG turned out to be the right one.


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A Closer Look: What Is “Vikings” Football?

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 19, 2012 – 1:15 pm

It may be wise to take with a grain of salt what NFL head coaches say during press conferences at this late stage of the season. And you can hardly blame a NFL coach for falling into patterns of hyperbole and coach speak given how frequently they’re required to meet with reporters and speak about their team.

With that being said, it’s not uncommon for a head coach to carry to press conferences the same theme(s) he promotes to his team. As an example, we’ve heard Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier emphasize repeatedly that he wants his team to play “smart, tough, disciplined” football. Whether speaking to his team in a meeting room or after the game in the locker room, or speaking with reporters at a press conference, Frazier calls this brand of play “Vikings football.”

Here’s a closer look at what defines Frazier’s brand of “Vikings Football”…

Smart
The Vikings game plans against St. Louis were clever. Bill Musgrave and the offensive staff mixed in play-action bootlegs early in the game to find holes in a Rams defense that was selling out to stop the run. St. Louis had some success neutralizing the run early – Adrian Peterson had just 8 yards on his first 8 carries – but eventually they had to account for the crossing routes and rollouts. Once they did that, the running game took over.

Defensively, Alan Williams and the Vikings defensive staff mixed blitzes, pressures and even zone blitzes into the game plan. Everson Griffen came away with a pick-6, Marcus Sherels and Antoine Winfield pressured the QB, and Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson registered sacks. When all was said and done, the Vikings had 5 pass breakups, 4.0 sacks and a fumble recovery. Greenway led the team in tackles (again) and role players such as Christian Ballard (1.0 sack), Griffen and Sherels all made an impact

Tough
The essence of blocking and, consequently, of running the football is moving the opponent in a direction against their will. The Vikings offensive line has been able to do that with regularity this season. It’s no secret the Vikings come into each game prioritizing the run game, and it’s also no secret that opponents come into each game with the top priority being stopping the run. The Vikings have seen defenses put as many as 9 players in the box, and yet Peterson and the Vikings offense still find a way to run the ball with effectiveness.

And how about the Vikings special teams? The combination of kick and coverage on kickoffs has been sensational for the Vikings this season. Blair Walsh has set a single-season record for touchbacks, but many times he’s asked to put hang time under his kicks so the coverage team can run down and, well, cover. The Vikings rank 6th in opponent’s average starting field position after a kickoff and they also rank 7th in opponent’s average punt returns.

Disciplined
It’s not often discussed or written about, but one of the Vikings most significant areas of improvement this season has been in the penalty department. Last season, the Vikings ranked 23rd in penalties accepted against (109). This year, the Vikings rank 4th with just 75 accepted penalties against them. The Vikings and Atlanta Falcons are the only two teams who’ve avoided double-digits in holding + offsides/false start penalties. Frazier credited two sources for this drastic improvement – his players and ownership.

“For us to be in the top five this season, credit to our players,” Frazier said. “We really emphasized in the offseason, but that’s not unlike any other year that we’ve emphasized it. Once again, our ownership really buying into some things that I talked with them about this offseason. I was talking with some other coaches around the League, trying to get some ideas. One of the coaches I talked with mentioned that they had tried to use officials in practice. And he saw a dramatic decrease in their penalties. I talked to our ownership about it because those guys (officials) aren’t going to volunteer their time, and they (ownership) were willing to support it. I think having those officials there has helped us, along with our players being more conscious. But they’re probably more conscious because those officials are there and they will call penalties in practice.”


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Cleverly-Crafted Defensive Game Plan Key In Vikings Win

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 17, 2012 – 7:46 am

In football there’s a fine line between staying true to your identity and taking calculated risks. On Sunday in St. Louis, the Vikings struck that balance beautifully.

Since Leslie Frazier was hired as defensive coordinator of the Vikings in 2007, the Vikings defense has been predicated on a 4-man rush from the defensive line and 7 defenders dropping in coverage to keep everything in front of them. On Sunday, though, Frazier and his defensive staff mixed in a few wrinkles to their game plan, and it wound up making a huge impact on the game.

At various times, guys such as Chad Greenway, Erin Henderson, Marcus Sherels and Antoine Winfield could be spotted rushing Rams QB Sam Bradford. The cleverly-crafted defensive game plan paid big dividends midway through the 2nd quarter, when DL Everson Griffen broke the game wide open.

With the Rams facing a 3rd and 9 from their own 21, Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams decided to switch it up. What resulted was Griffen dropping in coverage in the middle of the field, where he found himself in perfect position to grab an INT on a pass intended for TE Lance Kendricks. Griffen hauled in the pass, broke to his left toward the sideline, and out-sprinted the rest of the Rams offense for a 29-yard TD that put the Vikings ahead 24-7.

It’s perhaps the best illustration of the Vikings design to be aggressive versus St. Louis because it represents a time when the Vikings executed a strategy the opposing team didn’t see coming.

“That was part of the game plan, to mix in some pressures with our four-man rush,” Frazier explained after the game. “We were able to, early on especially, get some effective pressures. The interception that Everson had came off of a pressure. We were able to hurry a throw and make him see something that wasn’t there. Everson did a terrific job of dropping in coverage. Good call by Alan to bring pressure when they were anticipating coverage, and it worked out well for us. And great run at the end of the catch by Everson as well.”

The Vikings defensive game plan resulted in more than flashy, game-breaking plays. A glance at the final stat sheet also shows that role players made a difference. Christian Ballard recorded a sack in the 2nd half and Letroy Guion registered a pass defensed.

“That’s what you need on the road,” Frazier said. “It’s hard to win if you just say ‘We’re going to be Adrian Peterson.’ We need contribution from a lot of people, and we got it today (Sunday).”


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Vikings Go Old-School In 36-22 Win Over Rams

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 16, 2012 – 6:10 pm

Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier has an affinity for old-school football after playing on one of the best defenses of all-time (the 1985 Chicago Bears) and with one of the greatest RBs of all-time (Walter Payton). As you can imagine, then, Frazier was quite pleased with his team following their big victory Sunday.

It’s a non-traditional final score, but the Vikings 36-22 win over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome was about as old-school as it gets. Another historic day by Adrian Peterson and a cleverly-crafted defensive game plan paced the Vikings winning effort, as they moved to 8-6 on the season and remained alive in the NFC playoff chase.

Peterson, who has been forward about his desire to break Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards, looked like a man on a mission against the Rams. Constantly pushing through and dashing around Rams defenders, Peterson muscled and sprinted his way to 212 rushing yards and 1 TD on 24 carries. He had 2 runs of 50+ yards, including an 82-yard TD in the 1st half, and then his 54-yard outburst late in the game all but sealed the Vikings win.

As good as Peterson was on the day, he didn’t deliver the Vikings a victory on his own. The Vikings defense, which has come on of late, played perhaps its best game against the Rams. Defensive coordinator Alan Williams and his staff put together a game plan that held St. Louis to just 7 points in the 1st quarter and just 5.6 yards per play for the game.

Rather than relying on a 4-man rush from the defensive line and dropping 7 in coverage, the Vikings mixed up their calls and kept the Rams guessing. A quick glance at the stat sheet will illustrate the way the Vikings varied their defensive attack: defensive linemen Letroy Guion and Kevin Williams each had a pass defensed; linebackers Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson each had a sack; and Everson Griffen dropped into coverage and came away with a 29-yard INT return.

When all was said and done, the Vikings had 5 pass breakups, 4 sacks and a fumble recovery. Greenway led the team in tackles (again) and role players such as Christian Ballard (1.0 sack), Griffen and Marcus Sherels all had an impact on defense.

The Vikings running game and defense were key in the victory, but credit also goes to QB Christian Ponder for a well-managed game. Ponder was efficient and careful, connecting on 17 of 24 passes for 131 yards with no TDs or INTs; he also had a 5-yard rushing TD in the 1st quarter. Blair Walsh also played a key role, hitting a NFL record 3 FGs of 50+ yards and going 5 of 5 on the day.

It was a huge win for the Vikings because it keeps them alive in the NFC playoff chase and improves their record in the NFC should that come into tie-breaking procedures. Now the team will sit back, watch the rest of the NFC games unfold late Sunday, and prepare for a game against one of the AFC’s best next week – the Houston Texans.


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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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ESPN’s Jaworski Praises Harrison Smith, Vikings “Harmony” On Defense

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 12, 2012 – 11:20 am

The Vikings defense is off to a great start in 2012. Vast improvements have been made in pass defense. Opposing quarterbacks are completing 61.8% of their passes (down 6.4% from last year)for an average of 6.08 yards per attempt (down 2.03 yards) and their rating is just 84.6 (down 23.0 points).

On top of that, the Vikings stout run defense has returned. The Vikings are #2 in yards per carry allowed (3.2) and #6 in yards per game allowed (78.6), and the Vikings have a League-best long run allowed of just 15 yards. In the last three games, the Vikings have allowed fewer than 300 yards of total offense and just 11.0 points per game.

The big-time improvement by the Vikings defense has been appreciated locally by fans, and now it’s gaining national attention as well. Or at least the attention of one well-respected ESPN NFL analyst.

In his appearance on ESPN Radio’s Mike and Mike in the Morning, which was broadcasting live from Notre Dame’s campus on Friday morning, Ron Jaworski praised the Vikings defense by explaining that several veterans were playing well and are being complimented by one rookie who has been impressive through his first five games.

“Defensively, when I watched them this week, they just jumped out at me,” Jaworski said. “Obviously they have Jared Allen, Kevin Williams playing great inside. I mean Chad Greenway is flying around making plays all over the field. Antoine Winfield is a wily, old veteran that is healthy this year.

“But that guy that flashed to me, and I know you’re at Notre Dame this morning, but Harrison Smith has been making plays all over the field. A tremendous leader, plays with great discipline.”

Jaworski didn’t stop after praising individuals from the Vikings defense. He also praised the group’s synergy, which is an indirect compliment to those responsible for the construction of the Vikings defense – GM Rick Spielman, Head Coach Leslie Frazier and Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams.

“And when I look at defense, I always use this word: harmony. When you have eleven guys working together, making great music, you have harmony. And that’s what I see out of this Minnesota Vikings defense right now.”

Hopefully the Vikings defense makes sweet music in Washington D.C., this weekend, too.


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Blanton The Latest To Thrive In “Next Man Up” Philosophy

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 12, 2012 – 6:11 am

The Vikings defense has played a prominent role in the team’s current three-game winning streak. Over the past three games, the Vikings have allowed fewer than 300 yards of total offense and just 11.0 points per game. Big-time performances from big-time defenders such as Chad Greenway and Antoine Winfield have paced this impressive string of defensive performances.

There’s another factor that has played a significant role as well: depth at several positions.

Starting S Mistral Raymond went down with an ankle injury early in Week 2, so Jamarca Sanford stepped in and the defense didn’t miss a beat. Starting LB Erin Henderson missed 2 games due to a concussion, so Marvin Mitchell stepped in to start in the base defense and Jasper Brinkley assumed a role in the team’s nickel package. Jared Allen was forced out of action for one play deep in Vikings territory during the 4th quarter at Detroit, so Everson Griffen answered the bell and registered a key sack of Matthew Stafford.

“We tell all the guys, ‘You’re a play away from being in there starting and starting for a long time and playing for a long time.’ All the coaches get their guys ready to play and we’re not going to make excuses for rookies or first-year, second-year players going in,” Vikings Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams said. “We still have to play winning football and I think that’s the mentality of the team, of the guys and of the coaches, that no matter who’s in the ball game, we’re not going to dumb it down, we’re not going to water it down.”

The latest example of this for the Vikings? Robert Blanton, who was suddenly thrust into action during last week’s game against the Tennessee Titans when starting S Harrison Smith was ejected from the game. Previously, the reserves who stepped into a more prominent role were veterans. Williams was asked if he had to say anything in particular to Blanton before sending him into the game because he’s a rookie.

“Not a word,” Williams said. “Our expectations are the next guy, if one guy’s down, the next guy goes in, nothing needs to be said. There’s nothing that’s needed to be said, guys are expected to go in and not do anything special. Do your job. There’s no extra pressure, you don’t have to be the guy that you’re replacing. Do your job and that’ll be good enough for us to win.”

And that’s what Blanton did. He jumped right into the action and, once again, the Vikings defense didn’t miss a beat. The Vikings held Tennessee scoreless until the 4th quarter and came away with a resounding 30-7 victory. Blanton finished with 5 tackles, 1 tackle for loss and 1 pass break up.

Asked what stood out to him about Blanton’s performance, Williams said: “The poise, the calmness, the plays that he made. He didn’t look like a rookie, but that’s a credit to him as well as Coach [Joe] Woods, in terms of getting Blanton ready.

“We’re going to keep moving and guys are going to have to do what they’re capable of doing and that’s what Blanton did.”


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9 Vikings-Redskins Storylines To Watch

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 10, 2012 – 6:18 am

It’s Wednesday, and in the NFL you know what that means. The calendar flips from digesting last week’s win to previewing this week’s matchup. For the Vikings, that means preparing for the Washington Redskins. The Vikings will travel to the Beltway this weekend, marking their third trip to the Nation’s Capital in as many years.

This Vikings-Redskins matchup has several intriguing subplots, so we’ll get you started by briefly discussing nine of them right here…

RG3’s Status Unclear After Week 5 Concussion
This now marks the third consecutive week a team scheduled to play the Vikings begins its week of preparation not knowing if their starting QB will be available on Sunday. Redskins QB Robert Griffin III, selected by Washington with the 2nd overall pick last April, took a nasty hit from Falcons LB Sean Weatherspoon mid-way through the 3rd quarter last week that left the talented passer with a concussion. Per the NFL’s concussion protocol, doctors ruled Griffin III out for the remainder of the game, and now he’s required to undergo and pass a series of tests before he’s allowed to practice or play.

This is obviously a significant factor for both teams because Griffin III is the Redskins most dynamic offensive weapon. He’s the League’s 5th-highest rated passer (101.0) and ranks #1 in completion percentage (69.1%). Griffin III also has 8 total TDs – 4 passing and 4 rushing – and averages 5.7 yards per rush on 42 carries.

Since the injury, Washington has not released any information that lends an idea as to whether Griffin III will be ready to suit up on Sunday. The next indication of the rookie’s status will come Wednesday afternoon when the Redskins are required to submit their initial injury report of the week. If Griffin III is unable to play, the Redskins will turn to either rookie Kirk Cousins or veteran Rex Grossman.

Can Redskins Contain MVP Candidate Percy Harvin?
Yes, I said it. Percy Harvin is an MVP candidate – in my eyes anyway. He doesn’t play QB and he’s not leading the NFL in points or TDs. But can you name a player who produces as much and in as many ways as Harvin does for the Vikings? Harvin leads the NFL in total yardage (814) and yards after catch (242), he’s 2nd in receptions (38), and he’s just the 3rd player in NFL history – joining Gale Sayers and Timmy Brown – with a rushing, receiving and kick return TD in 3 consecutive seasons.

But this headline to watch is not an MVP campaign for Harvin. It’s to point out that, in order increase their chances of winning, the Redskins are going to have to find a way to contain Harvin. The Lions were able to do it, as Harvin had just 6 offensive touches for 34 yards. But the Titans, just one week later, were not able to duplicate it last week, as Harvin exploded for 116 yards and 2 TDs (1 rushing, 1 receiving) on 10 offensive touches.

How Serious is Jerome Simpson’s Injury?
Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier explained the injury situation surrounding Jerome Simpson on Monday during his customary day-after-the-game press conference. While Frazier’s discussion of the situation provided some clarity on what happened over the course of last Sunday, the discussion did not provide clarity on Simpson’s status for this Sunday. In fairness, much was still to be learned even for the Vikings as of Monday, as Simpson was scheduled to undergo more tests.

So as the Vikings begin on-field preparations for the Redskins on Wednesday, there seems to be more ambiguity than clarity on Simpson’s status. Perhaps Frazier will clear the air after the team’s morning walk-thru on Wednesday. Or maybe not. That’s why it’s a storyline to watch this week.

Adrian Peterson, Alfred Morris Pace Powerful Ground Attacks
One of the storylines to watch we identified in last week’s Vikings-Titans matchup was that of the pending showdown between Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson, two of the most explosive and productive running backs of the past 5 seasons or so. As Johnson continues to labor through a second consecutive substandard season, including just 24 yards on 15 carries against the Vikings, it turns out that a better RB vs. RB matchup will unfold in Washington D.C. this Sunday.

We know who the Vikings have in their corner. Peterson says he’s still a touch shy of being 100% back to form, but he looks to be the same explosive, powerful and shifty playmaker he’s been for the Vikings since 2007. But it appears the Redskins have a star-in-the-making at RB as well in rookie Alfred Morris. Credit Redskins Head Coach Mike Shanahan for once again finding a diamond-in-the-rough runner in the late rounds of the draft. Morris, a 6th-round pick out of Florida Atlantic this year, ranks 2nd in the NFC and 4th in the NFL with 491 rushing yards, has topped 100 yards rushing in each of the last two weeks and averages an impressive 4.9 yards per carry for the season.

Expect the Vikings to make stopping Morris in his tracks their top priority on defense this week.

Can Vikings Find Continued Success With Defensive Line Rotation?
In somewhat tongue-in-cheek fashion but also with a fair amount of sincerity, Vikings Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams compared his plan for a defensive line rotation to the liberal substitution patterns of hockey teams, where 3-4 players may come off the ice simultaneously to be replaced by players with fresh legs. It caused some consternation at the time, with the worry being that the Vikings best defensive linemen would be off the field at important times.

As it turns out, though, Williams’ strategy is working. The rotation has produced results, from starters as well as reserves. Yes, non-starters such as Christian Ballard, Fred Evans and Everson Griffen are playing more and are producing. But the Vikings four starters along the line are playing well, too. Jared Allen ranks tied for 1st on the team in sacks with Griffen and tied for 2nd on the team in tackles for loss with three others; Kevin Williams has a TFL, fumble recovery, 8 QB hits and 3 pass break-ups (PBUs); Letroy Guion has 2.0 sacks and 3.0 TFLs. The list goes on. And so will the rotation strategy. The question is: Will it continue to work this week against the Redskins?

Josh Robinson Earning More Playing Time
The record from last week’s win over the Tennessee Titans will show that Josh Robinson was a starter at CB for the Vikings along with Chris Cook. Are the Vikings phasing out CB Antoine Winfield? No, Winfield is actually in the midst of a productive season. The 14-year veteran is 2nd on the team in tackles with 41, he has 4.0 TFLs, 6 PBUs and 1 INT. Winfield is playing well and will remain a key part of the defense this season. But Robinson will, too. The 3rd-round rookie is proving to Vikings coaches and scouts that he belongs on the field.

The 5-10, 199-pound CB has 28 tackles on the season, including 15 in the last two games. Robinson also has 5 PBUs already – only 4 Vikings had that many PBUs all of last season. The Vikings pass defense is much improved from a season ago – they’ve improved 13 spots in passing yards allowed and 20 spots in passer rating allowed – and Robinson is a big reason for the improvement.

Don’t be surprised if he’s in the starting lineup again in Washington, and don’t be surprised if he continues to make a profound impact for the Vikings secondary.

The Vikings and Redskins Becoming Quite Familiar Foes
Sunday’s meeting between the Vikings and Redskins will mark their third in as many seasons during the regular season. It’s also interesting to note that these two organizations worked together at this year’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. Leslie Frazier and his staff coached the North squad against a South squad that featured Shanahan and the Redskins staff.

Furthermore, Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave once coached for the Redskins (1995) and he played under Shanahan in San Francisco and Denver. Also, Redskins DBs coach Raheem Morris coached with Vikings DBs coach Joe Woods from 2004-05 in Tampa Bay.

The familiarity extends to the players as well. A pair of Redskins DBs – CB Cedric Griffin and S Madieu Williams – spent time with the Vikings. Griffin was a 2nd-round pick of the Vikings in 2006 and played 80 games (70 starts) in 6 seasons. Williams played for the Vikings from 2008-10 and appeared in 39 games (38 starts). Vikings WR Devin Aromashodu spent the majority of the 2008 season on the Redskins practice squad.

Kicking Highs and Lows
The Vikings and Redskins are going through opposite experiences with their situation at kicker. The Vikings selected theirs with a 6th-round pick last April and he’s come through in a huge way, converting 12 of 13 FGs (3 of 3 from 50+ yards) and blasting 17 touchbacks in 27 kickoffs (Vikings had 19 touchbacks all of last year). The Redskins, on the other hand, just released their kicker – Billy Cundiff – after he went 7 of 12 on FGs to being the season. To replace Cundiff, the Redskins signed Kai Forbath on Tuesday. Forbath entered the NFL as an undrafted college free agent out of UCLA and spent time with Dallas and Tampa Bay before joining Washington.

One thing to keep in mind on this topic: this will be Walsh’s first regular season game kicking outdoors. The Vikings have played three games inside the friendly confines of Mall of America Field, and their two road games have been indoors as well – at Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium and Detroit’s Ford Field.

Adrian Peterson Returns to Site of Knee Injury
This is a storyline that has no real practical implications on the Vikings-Redskins matchup, but I’m not sure that anyone close to Adrian Peterson or anyone who was watching these teams play last year can avoid thinking about it. The last time we saw Peterson at FedEx Field, he was writhing in pain on the playing surface like a wounded animal after a Redskins defender crashed into and severely injured his left knee.

The injury happened on Christmas Eve. Just over 8 months later, Peterson opened the 2012 regular season in the Vikings starting lineup, capping a remarkable rehabilitation that began immediately after the injury and wouldn’t have been possible without Peterson’s unmatched determination to improve and tremendous support from the Vikings medical staff. And 9 months later, Peterson is set to return to FedEx Field in an attempt to help his team record its 5th win on the young season.


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Frazier Says Henderson Out, Mitchell Starts

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 21, 2012 – 12:21 pm

Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier on Friday ruled LB Erin Henderson out of Sunday’s game. Henderson sat out of practice this week with a concussion. Frazier also said that 6-year veteran Marvin Mitchell will start for Henderson against the San Francisco 49ers.

The Vikings signed Mitchell this past offseason, and a big reason he was appealing to the Vikings was his experience not only on special teams but also on defense. Mitchell started 2 games at LB for the New Orleans Saints in 2009, the year they won the Super Bowl. Vikings Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams was asked about Mitchell on Thursday while meeting with reporters and said he feels comfortable with having Mitchell play a prominent role on defense.

“Marvin has been in ball games as a starter, he’s been in ball games as a backup, he’s played a lot of football so everything that happens is not new to him out there,” Williams said. “That gives me comfort and when he’s been in ball games, he’s performed well so that gives me comfort that it’s not all new to him and we’re not playing guys that have not played a lot of football. Marvin has so I feel good about that.”

With Henderson out, it’s expected that staring middle LB Jasper Brinkley will now stay on the field in nickel situations. Henderson is usual the “MIKE” LB in nickel, with Chad Greenway also on the field in those situations. Additionally, rookie LB Audie Cole stands a good chance of being active for his first NFL regular season game to provide depth on defense and perhaps play a role on special teams as well.

Frazier also ruled DE D’Aundre Reed (calf) out for the game, but said all others listed on the injury report – John Sullivan (ankle), Andrew Sendejo (ankle), CB Chris Cook (biceps), TE Rhett Ellison (ankle), Mitchell (ankle), Brian Robison (elbow) and Jarius Wright (ankle) – will likely be listed as probable.


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Defense Doesn’t Want To Turn 49ers Deep Passing Game, Moss Loose

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 20, 2012 – 11:17 am

The Vikings are not the only team who may be looking to increase the number of downfield completions this week. For as great as the San Francisco 49ers offense has looked in putting up 57 points over the first two games of the season, one element of their offense they’ve yet to put on consistent display is the downfield passing game.

San Francisco is tied for 24th with the Vikings and Houston Texans with 5 completions of 20+ yards this season. And they are not out of form in that ranking – the 49ers ranked tied for 23rd with the Vikings and NY Jets with 41 completions in that same metric in 2011.

A closer look, however, will tell you that San Francisco can move the ball with an explosive passing game when they put their mind to it. The number of completions of 20+ yards will not blow you away, but the 49ers efficiency in doing so does. In 2011, the 49ers were tied for the second fewest passing attempts of 21+ yards, yet they were tied for 9th in completion percentage and averaged 11.72 yards per attempt – more than Atlanta, New England and Philadelphia – on those passes. This year, San Francisco is once again tied for fewest pass attempts of 21+ yards, yet their tied for 3rd in completion percentage (50%) and QB Alex Smith has a 127.1 passer rating on those passing attempts.

“When they do take shots, they are pretty efficient in how they take their shots,” Vikings Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams said on Thursday. “So you want to make sure you’re aware of where guys are and make sure that you’re playing top-to-bottom in the back end and eliminate those shots because we’ll have enough guys to focus on the run. We just have to make sure that the shots the do take, that we shut those shots down.”

This offseason the 49ers made additions to their receiving corps that should provide Smith with even more confidence to throw deep passes. Mario Manningham, the NY Giants hero from last year’s Super Bowl, signed with the team in free agency. The 49ers drafted a receiver – A.J. Jenkins – in the 1st round of this year’s draft, and former 1st-round pick Michael Crabtree has come on strong and leads the team in receiving with 13 receptions for 143 yards. There is also Vernon Davis, one of the best TEs in the NFL and a guy who leads the League in TD receptions this year with 3.

And let’s not forget about another guy who can do a thing or two to improve the down-field passing game. Randy Moss. The 49ers also signed Moss this past offseason to add a spark to the offense. While Moss is in his 14th season already and didn’t play at all last year, you can be sure that he will not be lost by the Vikings defense in this game.

“You never want to turn Moss loose,” Williams said. “That would be a mistake, not to pay attention to Randy Moss. Until he’s turned in his retirement papers, I think every defensive coordinator, every secondary, every defense is going to pay attention to him. We have to.”


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