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9 Vikings-Packers Storylines To Follow

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 26, 2012 – 8:22 am

It’s Vikings vs. Packers. It’s Week 17. And playoff implications are on the line. It won’t take much effort to drum up excitement for this game. The story will write itself most of the week and on Sunday, but we’ll still stick to our normal Wednesday routine and go over several Vikings-Packers storylines to watch during the week.

1. Major Playoff Implications On The Line
The Vikings can punch their ticket to the postseason with a win over Green Bay on Sunday. It would be their first postseason appearance since 2009 and it would most likely setup a rematch against Green Bay next weekend at Lambeau Field. To do that, the Vikings will have to overcome the Packers best effort because they also have something to play for – a 1st-round bye. If Green Bay wins on Sunday, not only could they knock their border rivals from the playoff picture, they can also secure a spot in the Divisional round.

2. Historic Turnaround
With a win on Sunday the Vikings will notch their 10th victory of the season, which would represent a 7-win turnaround from their 3-13 campaign a season ago. That would be the team’s biggest increase in win totals from one season to the next in team history. From 1997 to 1998, the Vikings increased their win total by 6, going from 9-7 to 15-1.

3. Game Flexed To 3:25; FOX’s #1 Crew Aboard To Broadcast Game
With so much on the line Sunday, the NFL and FOX have decided to the game from a 12:00 CT kickoff to 3:25 p.m. In addition, FOX will send its top broadcast team to Minneapolis for the game, with Joe Buck (play-by-play), Troy Aikman (analyst) and Pam Oliver (sideline reporter) calling the action.

4. Adrian Peterson Chases History
Can he do it? That’s what everyone’s wondering as the final regular season game approaches and Vikings RB Adrian Peterson sits so close to history. Peterson is 102 yards from the 2,000-yard rushing mark and he’s 208 yards from breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards. It’s perhaps the NFL’s top individual story of 2012, with Peterson rushing towards history less than a year removed from a serious knee injury. All the accolades and team success also has Peterson neck-and-neck with Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning for MVP talk. If Peterson tops the 2,000-yard mark, surpasses or even approaches Dickerson’s mark and the Vikings win to clinch a playoff spot, I find it hard to make a case against Peterson for MVP honors.

5. Blair Walsh Chases History, Too
If not for Peterson’s pursuit of such revered records, one could make a solid argument for K Blair Walsh being the Vikings MVP. Walsh, a rookie selected in the 6th round last April, is 32 of 25 (91.4%) on FGs for the season, including a perfect 9 of 9 from 50+. His 9 FGs of 50+ yards is a team and NFL single-season record, his 49 touchbacks on the season rank 4th in the NFL and 1st in team history, he’s already set a new Vikings rookie scoring record, and he’s just 3 made FGs from tying the team record (Gary Anderson – 1998).

6. Injury Report – Who’s In, Who’s Out?
The Packers have dealt with injuries to key players all season, especially over the course of the last two months. Last week, the Packers were without TE Tom Crabtree, RBs Alex Green and James Starks, WR Jordy Nelson, DL CJ Wilson and Jerel Worthy and CB Charles Woodson. WR Greg Jennings has missed significant time this season, several offensive linemen have been in and out of the lineup and LB Clay Matthews missed time because of a groin injury. Now, though, Green Bay is getting healthier. All of the above-mentioned players will have a good shot to be in the lineup this Sunday.

Speaking of injuries to key players, the Vikings will be watching two defensive starters closely this week. DE Brian Robison (shoulder) and CB Antoine Winfield will be on the injury report. Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier expressed confidence that Winfield will make it to Sunday, but was less sure about Robison. Also, Peterson has been dealing with an abdominal injury and will be monitored all week, but Frazier said after Sunday’s win in Houston that Peterson will play on Sunday.

7. Can Vikings Pass Rush Get To Aaron Rodgers
Everyone will surely point to pass rush as the key defensively for the Vikings. The Vikings defense has been in top form the past 2 weeks, shutting down the Houston Texans last week and stifling the St. Louis Rams the week prior. Slowing down Aaron Rodgers and Co. is an entirely different matter, however. In 10 games against the Packers, Vikings DE Jared Allen has 15.0 sacks and 4 passes defensed. Can Allen register one of his trademark games against Green Bay? Everson Griffen has a career-high 5.0 sacks this season. Can he add to his total? The Vikings have utilized more pressures (LBs) and blitzes (DBs) to pressure the passer the past 2 weeks. Will the Vikings continue that trend against Green Bay? All interesting questions this week.

8. Vikings Offensive Line Comes Off Dominant Performance vs. Houston
The Vikings have started the same 5 offensive linemen for all 15 games this season, and they are set to make it 16 straight games on Sunday against Green Bay. And if that group plays against Green Bay the way they played against Houston, the Vikings will be in great shape. Here are just a few of the notable accomplishments the Vikings OL registered against a well-regarded Texans defensive front last Sunday: 11 rushing 1st downs, the most Houston has allowed all season; 34:46 time of possession compared to just 25:14 for Houston; previous high for rushing yards allowed by Houston was 158, and the Vikings rushed for 174 yards; Vikings ran the ball 42 times and Houston’s previous high allowed was 33;  Vikings are now one of just three teams to register a rushing TD vs. Houston; just 1 sack allowed against a team that registered 3 per game coming into the contest.

9. Will Vikings Dome-Field Advantage Make A Difference?
The Vikings have traditionally had one of the best home-field advantages in the NFL. Last year, though, they were just 1-7 at home. The tides have quickly changed this year, as the Vikings boast a 6-1 record at home and are looking to make it 7-1 after Sunday. Frazier often mentions the Mall of America Field crowd as being a difference-maker in games, and if the Vikings win on Sunday you can be sure that a raucous home crowd will have been a factor.


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Vikings CBs A Hot Topic This Week

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 13, 2012 – 7:36 am

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.


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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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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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10 Takes Through 10 Games

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 20, 2012 – 11:36 am

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.


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Peterson, 3 Other Vikings Lead In Pro Bowl Voting

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 14, 2012 – 3:04 pm

Adrian Peterson is the leading Pro Bowl vote-getter for the NFC at RB and is 5th among all NFL players, with 5 weeks of voting remaining. Three other Vikings – DE Jared Allen, KR Percy Harvin and LT Matt Kalil – also lead their respective positions in NFC Pro Bowl voting.

It’s great news that 4 Vikings lead their positions in the balloting, but that also means Vikings fans have work to do. Fans can click here to cast their ballots.

Blair Walsh is having the best season among NFC kickers, having converted 23 of 24 FGs (5 of 5 from 50+) and boasting 41 touchbacks already. TE Kyle Rudolph is 2nd among NFC TEs with 6 TD receptions, FB Jerome Felton is lead-blocking for the NFL’s leading rusher, John Sullivan has developed into one of the League’s finest centers, Chad Greenway is the NFL’s leading tackler and Antoine Winfield looks to have found the fountain of youth. Those are just a handful of Vikings who are deserving of Pro Bowl consideration.

Balloting will conclude on Monday, December 17 following the conclusion of Monday Night Football. The teams will be announced at 6:00 p.m. CT Wednesday, December 26 on NFL Network’s “Total Access.”

The AFC and NFC All-Star squads are based on the consensus votes of fans, players and coaches. Each group’s vote counts one-third toward determining the 43-man rosters that represent the American Football Conference and National Football Conference in the Pro Bowl. NFL players and coaches will cast their votes on December 20-21.

The 2013 Pro Bowl will be played on Sunday, January 27, 2013 and televised live on NBC at 6:00 p.m. CT from Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii.


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Bring Out The Brooms! Vikings Win 34-24, Sweep Lions

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 11, 2012 – 4:10 pm

After a two-game losing streak fanned the flames of a hot 5-2 start, the Vikings reignited their season on Sunday at Mall of America Field with a fiery 34-24 victory over the Detroit Lions that featured a bounce-back performance from QB Christian Ponder, another dominating performance from RB Adrian Peterson and timely ferocity from the defense.

Before a blow-by-blow recap of how the Vikings won, here’s a quick summary of the stand-out performers…

– Peterson continues to display why he’s the best RB in the NFL. Coming off 3 consecutive 100-yard games, Peterson ran through the Lions as well. He rushed for 171 yards and 1 TD on 27 carries, including a game-breaking and victory-clinching 61-yard dash in the 4th quarter. The Vikings are now 27-12 when Peterson carries the ball 20+ times. Peterson has 1,128 yards on the season, which averages out to 112.8 yards per game and puts him on pace for a career-high 1,804 yards. Not bad for a guy coming off knee surgery.

– Ponder critics were out in full force the past three weeks, but they’ll have to take a couple weeks off after Sunday’s outing. Ponder was 24 of 32 on the afternoon, throwing for 221 yards and 2 TDs with 0 INTs for a passer rating of 114.2. He took just 1 sack on the day and pulled the ball down to run 7 times, gaining 15 yards. Ponder hit 10 different receivers on the day (including himself) and leaned heavily on TE Kyle Rudolph (7 receptions, 64 yards, 1 TD).

– LB Chad Greenway is the NFL’s leading tackler. He was up to his usual tricks again on Sunday, but he put a stamp on this week’s performance by grabbing a 1st-quarter INT. His big play led to a Blair Walsh FG and a 10-0 Vikings lead.

– S Jamarca Sanford has stepped up big time for the Vikings this season. He forced yet another fumble on a Calvin Johnson reception. He has 5 forced fumbles on the season. Antoine Winfield recovered the fumble, which set up yet another Walsh FG.

– We should mention Walsh here because he had a fantastic day. Walsh was 4 for 4 on FGs, connecting from 48, 23 (twice) and 33 yards. He also blasted 6 touchbacks and now is the Vikings single-season record holder in that category. P Chris Kluwe was also a standout performer on the afternoon, flipping field position with ease and often times pinning Detroit deep in their own territory.

Fans left the game talking about Peterson and Ponder, but in the early stages it was rookie receiver Jarius Wright who created a buzz. Active for his first regular season game with fellow receiver Percy Harvin sidelined due to an ankle injury, Wright got the party going early by dashing through the heart of the Lions defense on his team’s fifth play from scrimmage and hauling in a 54-yard reception from Ponder that set the Vikings up with a 1st and goal from the 1. Just two plays later, Ponder went back to Wright to cap the drive with a 3-yard TD to give the Vikings an early 7-0 lead.

The Vikings took a 13-3 lead into the locker room at halftime, and then extended that lead to 16-3 early in the 2nd half when Blair Walsh hit his 3rd FG of the game, that one from 23 yards out. The Lions responded immediately with a quick 4-play, 81 drive that culminated in a 16-yard TD reception by TE Brandon Pettigrew. Ponder and Co. showed resiliency, though, and answered the Pettigrew score with a TD pass to their starting TE – Kyle Rudolph. Ponder found his buddy for a 20-yard score and Peterson bulled his way into the end zone for the 2-point conversion, giving the Vikings a 24-10 lead early in the 4th quarter.

QB Matthew Stafford and the Lions would not go away, though. Explosive plays and Vikings penalties put the Lions on the Vikings goal line in just 6 plays, and Stafford found WR Titus Young for the TD to pull his team to within 7 points midway through the 4th quarter. The Vikings went 3-and-out on their next drive, but the defense responded by forcing a Lions punt as well.

That set the stage for Peterson to dagger Detroit. He exploded through the Lions defensive front for 19 yards on 1st down, and then dazzled the home crowd on his next carry with a 61-yard exclamation point, giving the Vikings a 31-17 lead. Johnson fumbled on the Lions first play after the Peterson TD and Walsh tacked on another FG to move the Vikings lead to 34-17. The Lions found Johnson for a late TD, but it was too little, too late for the Lions.

The Vikings came away with the victory, giving them a series sweep of their division rivals and moving them to a perfect 2-0 within the NFC North. The win snapped their 2-game losing streak and sends them into their bye with optimism, as a grueling 6-game stretch awaits them. The Vikings will come out of their bye week with consecutive road games against the Bears and Packers, and then will host the Bears on December 9 before hitting the road for consecutive games once again (at St. Louis and at Houston). The Vikings will conclude their regular season schedule with border rival Green Bay on December 30.


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7 Vikings-Buccaneers Subplots

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 23, 2012 – 11:44 am

The Vikings and Buccaneers are fast at work preparing for their Thursday night showdown at Mall of America Field. Both teams had quick turnarounds after playing home games on Sunday.  Here are a few subplots to watch this week…

1. Quick Turnaround, Short Week
The Vikings and Buccaneers are both coming off 7-point games that will have concluded just 4 days prior to kickoff of their matchup in Minnesota. The short week presents challenges for both teams as they prepare for the game. But there’s an additional challenge for the Buccaneers because they’ll jump on a plane Wednesday afternoon, spending  valuable time during the short week up in the air and away from home.

According to Mike Garafolo of USA Today, since the NFL Network started its late-season Thursday broadcasts in 2006, road teams are 20-35 in the games. Garafolo notes that the figure includes Thanksgiving games (the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions are a combined 5-7 as home teams) but excludes season openers because they’re not played on short weeks. It also includes a New York Jets victory against the Buffalo Bills in Toronto that was a neutral-site matchup, not a true away game.

2. Looking For A Bounce-Back Performance From Ponder
There’s no hiding from the fact that Vikings QB Christian Ponder is coming off a poor outing against the Arizona Cardinals. Ponder himself was critical of his own performance following the game, and you can sense from listening to him speak with reporters that it bothers him to no end. The key now is to do something about it.

Past performances indicate that Ponder will indeed bounce back. We’ve seen Ponder bounce back from poor moments in games to lead the Vikings to points. Ponder had two INTs in the middle of the Titans game in Week 5, but responded in the 2nd half with a pair of TDs in leading the Vikings to victory.

You can count Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier as one who believes Ponder will respond on Thursday night following the effort on Sunday.

“When you look at moments where he’s struggled, and then you’ve seen him bounce back, even after the first interception to come back and take us down for a score when he threw the pass to Percy [Harvin] for a touchdown, those are signs that he’s maturing as a quarterback,” Frazier said. “He’s able to put bad plays behind him and that’s what you have to be able to do at that position. That’s important to our team, it’s important to him. I am. I’m confident that he’ll just continue to get better as time goes on.”

3. Strength vs. Strength: Vikings Rushing Offense vs. Buccaneers Rushing Defense
Adrian Peterson showed on Sunday against Arizona that 8- and 9-man fronts weren’t enough to slow him down. The Cardinals presented that road block for much of the game, yet Peterson still ran for 153 yards and 1 TD on 23 carries. Expect the Buccaneers to devise a plan to slow down #28.

Tampa Bay has done a good job of stopping opponents from the running the ball this season. They’ve allowed just one opposing rusher – Washington’s Alfred Morris – to top 100 yards this season and they rank #1 in the NFL by allowing just 3.1 yards per carry. Also, no team registered more opponent’s rushes of negative yards than Tampa Bay (37).

Although it’s not a tangible factor you can assess during the game, preparing for an opponent on a short week – with travel thrown in for Tampa Bay – and then playing two games within 4 days of one another is a significant subplot to this matchup.

4. Playing At Home, Can Vikings Defense Slow Down Freeman-to-Jackson Combo
Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman has played as well as any QB in the NFL the past two weeks, throwing for 748 yards with 6 TDs and just 1 INT the past two games. He’s taken just 2 sacks and has 8 completions of 25+ yards in that same span. While you certainly don’t anticipate Tampa Bay abandoning the run on Thursday night, it also wouldn’t be surprising to see them try to attack through the air with a QB who is on a roll.

Freeman’s top target this season has been his newest target – free agent signing Vincent Jackson. The 6-5, 230-pound pass-catcher is one of the League’s best, and Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said on Wednesday that his route running is one thing that stands out about him. Jackson leads the Buccaneers in targets (60), receptions (27), receiving yards (586), receptions of 20+ yards (10) and receiving TDs (5). When Freeman goes to Jackson, it’s for the big play. He had a 95-yard grab last week against the Saints, and 25 of Jackson’s 27 catches have gone for a 1st down or TD.

The Vikings have done a nice job of neutralizing top threats. They held Detroit’s Calvin Johnson to 5 receptions for 54 yards and zero TDs in Week 4, Tennessee’s Chris Johnson to 24 yards on 15 carries, and Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald to 4 receptions for 29 yards. Defending Freeman-to-Jackson will be as tough a task as they’ve had this season.

5. Can Tampa Bay Slow Vikings Pass Rush?
The Vikings pass rush relentless pursued (and sacked) Cardinals QB John Skelton last Sunday. The defensive line was particularly productive, registering 6.0 of the Vikings 7 sacks on the day. DEs Brian Robison (3.0) and Jared Allen (2.0) got to him often, DT Kevin Williams tallied a key sack late in the game and then CB Antoine Winfield got a big on a 4th and 2 in the 2nd half.

Can Tampa Bay slow the NFL’s 3rd best pass-rushing defense? The Vikings have 22 sacks on the season, tied for 3rd, and no team has more sacks than their 72 since the beginning of 2011.

But Tampa Bay can pass protect. They have a mammoth offensive line, as their smallest lineman is C Jeremy Zuttah at 6-4, 308 pounds. Three others are 6-5 and their RT – Demar Dotson – is 6-9, 315 pounds. On top of that, Freeman is a big, strong athlete in the pocket and can be hard to bring down. The Buccaneers have permitted just 9 sacks through the first 6 games, which ranks tied for 4th best in the NFL.

6. Vikings In Prime Time
Most coaches and veterans will insist that a prime time game is “just another game.” Frazier explained to reporters on Tuesday that Thursday’s game is important to him because it’s the next game, not because it’s a prime time game.

That’s the prudent way for coaches and players to frame the game. But we don’t have to be prudent about framing the game. We can be excited to watch the Vikings play in prime time.

Thursday’s matchup between the Vikings and Buccaneers is one that features former NFC Central rivals. The Vikings and Buccaneers battled as division opponents from 1977-2001. As for playing on Thursday night, the Vikings own a 5-6 record in such games, are hosting their 1st NFL Network game in team history, and are playing in only their 2nd ever game on NFL Network, with the 1st being at Green Bay in December of 2006. This game will also mark the 1st prime time game at Mall of America Field since Green Bay visited in October of 2009.

The Vikings are 57-55 all-time in prime time games.

7. Matt Blair Goes Into Vikings Ring of Honor
It will have no bearing on Thursday’s game, but it’s appropriate to mention that former linebacker Matt Blair will become the 20th member of the Vikings Ring of Honor on Thursday night during a halftime ceremony honoring his career.

Blair played 12 seasons (1974-85) with the Vikings and ranks 2nd in franchise history with 1,452 tackles. He was a 2nd-round pick out of Iowa State and immediately made an impact on the Vikings defense, helping the team to Super Bowl IX as a rookie. Blair played on 2 Super Bowl teams with the Vikings, and the club won NFC Central Division titles and went to the playoffs in 6 of his first 7 seasons in the League. Blair had a knack for being in the right place at the right time, illustrated by his 20 blocked kicks. Alan Page (nine) is the only defensive player in club history with more Pro Bowls to his credit.

The Vikings Ring of Honor recognizes Vikings legends for their contributions to the success of the team on and off the field. Members of the Ring of Honor are recognized with a banner on the facade of Mall of America Field’s upper deck, forever living in Vikings lore.


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Final Thoughts: Rushing Offense, Pass Rush Key Vikings Victory

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 23, 2012 – 6:20 am

The Vikings have a quick turnaround this week, as they’re slated to play on Thursday night in a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. We’ll turn our full attention to the Vikings-Buccaneers matchup later on Tuesday. But first, here are a few final thoughts from the Vikings 21-14 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

Getting Home With Four
We identified rushing four defensive linemen and dropping seven defenders into coverage as the defensive key to the game in last week’s Verizon Wireless Winning Formula. The Vikings identified the same strategy as the way to contain Arizona’s offense, and it worked. Cardinals QB John Skelton was sacked 7 times in the game and was constantly under duress. That disrupted the Cardinals passing game and it prevented superstar WR Larry Fitzgerald from ever becoming a factor.

“That was the goal, to go into this game and be able to generate a pass rush without having to bring five or six guys,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said on Monday. “Our D-line stepped up to challenge. They dominated just like we hoped they would. It really took a lot of pressure off our secondary and helped them to play a very good game as well. It was great execution, but it started with our guys up front.”

Of the Vikings 7 sacks, 6.0 of them came from defensive linemen. DE Brian Robison had 3.0, DE Jared Allen had 2.0 and DT Kevin Williams had 1.0. The other sack went to CB Antoine Winfield (more on that play later). The pressure generated by the Vikings front four allowed the Vikings secondary and LBs to focus on Arizona’s receivers, specifically Fitzgerald. Only one other team this year (New England Patriots) has held Fitzgerald to fewer catches and receptions than the Vikings, who held the former Holy Angels (Richfield, MN) star to 4 receptions for 29 yards.

Run It, All Day
When you play the Vikings, you know you have to buckle it up and get ready to stop Adrian Peterson. But then, when you’re able to shut down the Vikings passing game almost entirely, you surely know Peterson will be coming at you. Even so, Arizona could not stop the best RB in the NFL. Peterson had his best day on the field since returning from his knee injury, carrying the ball 23 times for 153 yards and 1 TD. On the Vikings two TD drives, Peterson carried the ball a total of 8 times for 87 yards.

Perhaps most impressive about the Vikings rushing performance was the fact that they did it despite Arizona consistently stacking the box to try and slow #28.

“For our running back, Adrian Peterson, who is the premier back, to know they’re going to be in eight-man fronts, nine-man fronts at a time, and be able to rush for 153 yards, that’s the formula for success if you’re in a tough situation throwing the football,” Frazier said. “Credit our guys for buying into that philosophy and finding a way to get a win.”

What I also loved to see was the way the Vikings finished the game. The Vikings were in a precarious situation, holding on to a 7-point lead with :14 to play in the game and a 4th and 5 from the Arizona 33. There was too much time remaining to kneel again because that would give the Cardinals the ball on about the 35 with 12 or so seconds to go. They could use one quick pass to the sideline to put themselves in position to throw a hail mary. Trying a FG was an option, but a miss would give the Cardinals the ball at the spot of the hold, with a chance at a hail mary on the following play. So what did the Vikings do? They gave it to Peterson.

The result was good – an 8-yard gain up the middle for the 1st down, permitting the clock to tick down to zero.

Key Play: Antoine Winfield’s 4th-Down Sack
A key moment in the game came at the 7:47 mark in the 3rd quarter, with Arizona facing a 4th and 2 from the Minnesota 18. The Vikings just took a 21-7 lead on the previous series when Harrison Smith returned an INT 31 yards for a touchdown. With a makeable distance to go on 4th down inside the red zone, Arizona decided a FG wasn’t going to do much for them, so they decided to go for it.

It didn’t work out.

Skelton took the snap and rolled to his right, looking for a receiver in the right flat. That receiver was blanketed by Winfield, so Skelton tucked the ball and attempted to run for the 1st down. Being chased by Robison, Skelton sprinted toward the sideline and the 1st down marker, which prompted Winfield to come off his coverage at the just the right time and administer a crushing blow to Skelton before he could reach the 1st down marker – before he could even get back to the line of scrimmage. Robison got there a split-second later to increase the punishment, and the Cardinals turned the ball over on downs.

It was one of those signature plays from Winfield, a defender who plays with a unique blend of calculation and tenacity.

Vikings Neutralize Patrick Peterson
When it comes to punt returners in the NFL, Patrick Peterson has been Superman. He had a record-setting season returning punts last year as a rookie, scoring 4 TDs and totaling 699 yards on 44 returns. The 4 return TDs tied the NFL single-season record and set a franchise record, and the 699 return yards established an NFL rookie record and ranks as the 2nd-highest single-season total in NFL history (Desmond Howard, 875, 1996).

But when it comes to defending punt returners in the NFL, the Vikings have been Peterson’s Kryptonite. In last year’s matchup, Peterson had zero return yards on 4 Vikings punt. In Sunday’s matchup, Peterson had 7 total return yards on another 4 Vikings punts. Credit goes to Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer, P Chris Kluwe and the team’s punt coverage crew for finding a way to neutralize the explosive and dynamic Peterson.

Harrison Smith’s Temperament Impresses
Vikings rookie S Harrison Smith is off to a fantastic start. Even before his 31-yard pick 6 this past Sunday, Smith was having a great season. Add in that play, which was ultimately the game-winning score, and you can’t be anything but completely excited about how much of an impact player Smith will be for this Vikings defense.

Smith plays the safety position in a way we haven’t seen very much in Minnesota. He’s been fined for illegal hits and he’s been penalized for mixing it up after a play. But the penalties and/or fines that Smith has received after a couple of big-time hits have not caused Smith to temper his aggressiveness. He’s learning to modify his play so that he can remain aggressive while playing within the rules.

“Sometimes when you get fined as often as he’s gotten fined in these first seven games, it can temper your emotions and make you start playing a little tentatively,” Frazier explained. “And that hasn’t been the case with him. He’s been aggressive. He’s still in-tune with everything we’re trying to get done. He doesn’t seem to be sidetracked by anything that happened.

“I remember explaining to him about horse collaring and what happened a week ago against Washington and talking him through it again, although we’ve covered this before. And he said, ‘Okay, I understand.’ Then he just moved on, and that’s the attitude you want to see.”

Now Smith adds a defensive touchdown to his body of work in the NFL. Typically, players who bring that much to the table are emotional and volatile by nature. But that’s not the case with Smith, and that’s impressed Frazier as well.

“His resiliency, his maturity is very, very impressive,” Frazier said. “He’s a bright guy and very athletic but his maturity and just not letting stuff hang on to him that can be negative, that’s impressive.”


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Vikings Ride Defense, Peterson To 21-14 Win Over Cardinals

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 21, 2012 – 3:46 pm

A familiar combination of ingredients proved to be the winning recipe for the Vikings on Sunday, as they used their stout defense as a base and sprinkled in plenty of Adrian Peterson for good measure along the way to a 21-14 victory at Mall of America Field. The win was the Vikings 5th of the season and their 4th at home.

The Vikings defense continually repelled Arizona’s offense despite the Cardinals frequently obtaining favorable field position. The Cardinals began a series in Vikings territory 4 times during the 1st half, but came away with just 7 points in those drives. The Cardinals had 7 possessions in the 2nd half and scored a TD on the final one to move the score to 21-14, but the Vikings defense dominated in the first 6 possessions, forcing drives to end in a turnover once, downs twice and a punt 3 times.

CB Antoine Winfield had another outstanding performance, leading the team in tackles for the second consecutive week with 11 stops. He also had a sack on a key 4th-down play. DE Brian Robison registered a standout performance as well, dominating his matchup up and down the field while tallying 3.0 sacks and a forced fumble. The Vikings leading tackler for the season – Chad Greenway – had a solid outing with 7 tackles and 1 tackle for loss (TFL). As he usually is, DE Jared Allen was a factor in the game, adding 2.0 more sacks to his season total, which has risen to 6.0 after he had no sacks in the opening two games of the season.

The key play of the game came early in the 3rd quarter, when Vikings rookie S Harrison Smith stepped in front of a John Skelton pass and intercepted it. Smith, a running back in high school, used good vision, some nifty maneuvering and then finally straight-line speed to weave around and then out-sprint Cardinals offensive players all the way to the end zone for a 31-yard TD, giving the Vikings a 21-7 lead.

After the Smith TD, both the Vikings and Cardinals defenses dominated the game. Arizona held the Vikings to just 58 net yards in the 2nd half and Arizona, while able to rack up yardage, was unable to penetrate the Vikings defense and score. It wasn’t until a late 7-play, 79 drive that Arizona reached the end zone again. That made it a one-score game at 21-14, but the Vikings were able to run out the clock on 4 Peterson carries after recovering the ensuing onside kick.

Speaking of Peterson, he turned in another signature performance. He carried the ball 23 times and churned out 153 yards, placing him in a 1st-place tie with Robert Smith for career 100-yard rushing games in Vikings history. Peterson showed no signs of being nagged by an ankle injury that has limited his practice time the past two weeks, as he dashed through the Cardinals defense several times and carried multiple Cardinals defenders for extra yardage on multiple occasions as well.

Percy Harvin scored the offense’s other TD on a 3-yard pass from QB Christian Ponder in which the diminutive playmaker came out of the backfield to catch the pass in the right flat before making a defender miss and finding a seam to reach the ball into the end zone. Harvin finished the day with 4 receptions for 37 yards and the TD. Harvin actually returned the opening kickoff the game 103 yards for a TD, but an illegal block in the back penalty nullified the return and forced the Vikings to begin on their own 8.

Outside of the running game – 27 carries for 166 yards (6.1 yards per carry) – the Vikings offense failed to generate much of a rhythm, especially in the 2nd half. Ponder was 8 of 17 on the day for 58 yards with the TD toss to Harvin and 2 INTs. He was sacked 3 times and under duress for much of the day.

But Peterson was good enough and the defense was dominant enough to take care of the Cardinals on Sunday. It should also be noted that the Vikings special teams group did well in their goal of limiting the Cardinals explosive punt returner – Patrick Peterson. The 5th overall pick in 2011, Peterson had 4 punt return TDs a season ago. But in his meeting with the Vikings last season, he was held to zero return yards on 4 punts. On Sunday against the Vikings, he was once again limited. Peterson had just 7 total return yards on 4 opportunities and was forced to call 1 fair catch.

In analyzing the overall offensive performance, the late TD allowed by the defense and the 7 penalties for 35 yards called against them, this isn’t the most impressive win of the season. But in the NFL, you never apologize for winning a game. There are too many times when a team plays well but still winds up on the losing end of the scoreboard.

A win is a win, and the Vikings found their 5th of the 2012 season, moving them to 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the NFC.

“A good win for our football team,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said. “It’s tough to get wins in the National Football League. We played a good football team today, one that I’m sure in December will be battling for a spot in the playoffs. They’ve got some good players. Our guys battled and battled, and found a way to get a win at home.”

Depending on what happens on Monday night in Chicago, where the Bears are slated to host the Detroit Lions, the Vikings could finish the week atop the NFC North standings. The Bears currently sit at 4-1, meaning a loss would drop them below the Vikings in the standings at 4-2, while a win would put them in 1st place.

The Vikings must turn around quickly this week and prepare for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Vikings and Buccaneers, former NFC Central rivals from 1977-2001, will battle at Mall of America Field on NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football.


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