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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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Late Griffin III TD Run Ends Vikings Comeback Bid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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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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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Rookie CB Robinson Earning Trust, Playing Time

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 9, 2012 – 6:42 am

Matt Kalil is dominating on a weekly basis at LT, Harrison Smith is reminding Vikings fans what a playmaking safety looks like and Blair Walsh continues to validate the team’s decision to select him in the draft. But there’s another rookie who has been just as impressive to Vikings coaches and scouts – CB Josh Robinson.

The Vikings selection of Robinson last April was notable because the Central Florida product was the fastest timed player at the Combine (clocked a 4.29 in the 40-yard dash). But from the moment the Vikings selected Robinson, Vikings GM Rick Spielman explained he was as enamored with other parts of Robinson’s skill set as he was with his straight line speed.

“Extremely talented athlete,” Spielman conceded to vikings.com last April. “But when you look at his tape, he has some unique cover skills. He’s more than willing enough to come up in (run) support, too.”

Robinson is proving Spielman prophetic. The 5-10, 199-pound CB has 28 tackles on the season, including 15 in the last two games. Robinson also has 5 pass break-ups (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 alloweed – and Robinson is a big reason for the improvement.

The record from last week’s win over Tennessee will show Robinson as a starting CB along with Chris Cook. This does not mean a demotion for Antoine Winfield, but it is another indication of the confidence the Vikings have in their rookie CB.

“I don’t know if that will eventually be the case in 2012,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said of Robinson potentially being a full-time starter at CB. “We know at some point, we’re hoping that Josh develops to the point where he can be our starting corner. That’s why we drafted him when we did. We want him to eventually be a starting corner for us.”

All the talk of Robison seeing more time on the field aside, make no mistake that Winfield is having another solid season. He ranks 2nd on the team in tackles with 41 and is tied for second in tackles for loss (TFLs) with 4.0. Winfield also has one of the team’s two INTs – Robinson has the other. Frazier explained that the Vikings know what they have in the veteran Winfield. The additional playing time for Robinson is about reducing the wear and tear on Winfield while also continuing the steady development of Robinson.

“We know what we’re going to get from Antoine,” Frazier explained. “He’s been playing great ball for us in these first five weeks of the season and we’re going to need him throughout the year. Part of what we’re doing is just trying to take some snaps off of Antoine, along with developing Josh and we’re hoping that Josh continues to come along. He’s been playing well for us.”


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Vikings Ride Defense, Harvin To 30-7 Win Over Titans

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 7, 2012 – 6:58 pm

The Vikings used a consistent dose of body blows from their defense and several stunning jabs from Percy Harvin to knock out the Tennessee Titans on Sunday afternoon at Mall of America Field, coming away with a 30-7 victory when all was said and done that moved them to 4-1 on the season. The win was the Vikings third of the season at home and it keeps them in a 1st-place tie atop the NFC North with the Chicago Bears.

Tennessee began the game with the ball, and used a 17-yard gain on 3rd and 5 followed by a 12-yard gain on the following play to push the ball inside of Vikings territory. After that, though, the Vikings defense bowed up and forced a Titans punt. That was as good as it would get for the Titans offense until it was too late. That first drive went 7 plays and 33 yards before stalling out, and the Titans were not able to run more than five plays or gain more than 26 yards in any of the next eight series. Tennessee’s first nine drives ended in the following ways: punt, punt, fumble, interception, punt, punt, end of half, punt, punt.

While the Vikings defense was pitching a shutout for three-plus quarters, the Vikings offense was slowly putting together an insurmountable lead, with WR Percy Harvin as the lynchpin and QB Christian Ponder as the triggerman. Harvin was up to his old tricks, serving as a lethal and versatile threat throughout the game. He had 2 rushes for 8 yards, including a 4-yard TD, and caught 8 passes for 108 yards and another TD. Ponder threw his first 2 INTs of the season, but he was able to bounce back in a big way. He finished going 25 of 35 for 258 yards with 2 TDs to go along with the INTs. His second TD went to Kyle Rudolph in the 4th quarter and essentially ended any thought of an improbable Titans comeback.

As they’ve been able to do during their wins, the Vikings ran the ball with enough effectiveness to keep the opposing defense off-balance. Adrian Peterson carried the ball 17 times for 88 yards while Toby Gerhart logged 41 yards on 6 carries. As a team, the Vikings gained 175 rushing yards on 31 carries, good for a 5.6-yard average and good enough to allow the play-action pass to be effective. The Vikings picked up 25 first downs during the game, with nine of them coming on the ground, 13 through the air and another three via penalty.

But make no mistake, the foundation of Sunday’s Vikings win was a suffocating defensive performance that kept RB Chris Johnson frustrated and QB Matthew Hasselbeck uncomfortable. Johnson was held to just 24 yards on 15 carries (1.6 yards per carry) and Hasselbeck was sacked twice while going 26 of 43 for 200 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT. Those numbers a bit deceiving, though, because Hasselbeck had just 83 yards passing by the end of the 3rd quarter and picked up the rest while the Vikings played a conservative defense that forced Tennessee to methodically march down the field instead of striking quickly.

In the 1st half, though, the Vikings defense was anything but conservative. They sacked Hasselbeck twice, Antoine Winfield intercepted him once and they forced two fumbles with fumble recovery. The Titans were just 1 of 7 on 3rd downs in the first two quarters and Johnson had just 12 yards rushing on 8 attempts. Behind the stellar defensive performance, Harvin’s rushing TD and 2 Blair Walsh FGs, the Vikings led 13-0 at halftime.

The Vikings pushed their lead to 23-0 after another Walsh FG – he was 3-of-3 on the afternoon – and Harvin’s 10-yard TD catch before the Titans finally got on the board with a 10-yard TD pass from Hasselbeck to TE Jared Cook. Ponder and Co. wasted no time responding to Tennessee’s only score, though, driving 43 yards in just 6 plays on the following drive to score on a 15-yard Ponder-to-Rudolph connection, giving the Vikings their final 30-7 advantage.

The Vikings defense didn’t collect a bunch of sacks on the afternoon, but they were constantly pestering Hasselbeck and forcing him to either throw too quickly or throw inaccurately. The Vikings defensive line was also credited with 3 passes defensed, an indication that even when they didn’t get to Hasselbeck they were still able to disrupt him. Unofficially, LB Chad Greenway was credited with 9 tackles to lead the team and CB Josh Robinson was second on the team with 6 tackles. Greenway had 1 tackle for loss and 1 pass defensed, while S Jamarca Sanford (2), DT Kevin Williams (2), LB Jasper Brinkley (1), Winfield (1), CB Chris Cook (1) and DE Jared Allen (1) had the other pass break-ups. LB Erin Henderson had 2 tackles for loss and DE Brian Robison and Allen each had 1.

We will have much more analysis and reaction to the Vikings win on Sunday, so stay tuned to vikings.com to stay on top of it all. The Vikings next game is Sunday afternoon at FedEx Field, where they will challenge the Washington Redskins in a game that is scheduled to kick off at 3:25 p.m. CT.

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Frazier Lauds Defensive Depth, Credits Vikings Scouting

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 2, 2012 – 10:53 am

This season the Vikings defense has committed to more of a rotation during games with their defensive line, has a starting linebacker who has missed two complete games and a starting safety who has missed the past 7 quarters of action.

Through it all, the Vikings defense has performed well and has demonstrated a significant improvement from a season ago. Over the past two weeks, in fact, the Vikings have allowed just 26 total points and they’re yielding only 3.3 yards per rush (5th in the NFL) and 6.5 yards per pass attempt (6th) for the season.

Frazier explained to reporters on Monday that he’s not surprised his defense has been able to perform well despite a few adverse circumstances.

“Not completely because that was one of the goals,” Frazier said. “I know when Rick (Spielman) and the personnel department talked about what we were trying to get accomplished from a roster standpoint, that was one of the major conversations, improving our depth.”

Perhaps the best example of the Vikings defensive depth paying dividends is S Jamarca Sanford. He replaced an injured Mistral Raymond in Week 3 against San Francisco and then started the Vikings Week 4 game at Detroit. In those two games, Sanford collected 10 tackles, 1 pass defensed, 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery. He was also involved in a play with fellow safety Harrison Smith where the Vikings defenders caused Lions WR Calvin Johnson to drop a TD pass.

Other examples of the Vikings depth coming through include DE Everson Griffen, who has 8 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks and 1 forced fumble, and LB Marvin Mitchell, who has filled in capably for an injured Erin Henderson.

“We know we’re going to have some injuries,” Frazier said. “We’ve experienced injuries here in the past couple of years, in the secondary in particular, so that was a point of emphasis, to improve our depth, to upgrade it to the point where if there was an injury, there wouldn’t be such a big drop-off that we’ve witnessed here in the past.

“And I credit our scouting department for doing a good job in that area so now when we rotate defensive linemen, you don’t feel as handcuffed as you would in the past. You lose a guy at linebacker, you don’t feel as strained as you do in the past and the same is true in our secondary.”

The Vikings have had success on defense thanks to standout performances from starters such as DE Jared Allen, (10 QB hits, 2.0 sacks), LB Chad Greenway (team-high 55 tackles) and CB Antoine Winfield (DBs-leading 34 tackles). But depth has played an important role, too. And, as Frazier pointed out, the nature of the game of football is such that injuries will happen and teams have to be able to adapt.

“You hope that you don’t have injuries,” Frazier said. “But they do occur, and depending on where that injury occurs, it could really have a major impact on your team if you don’t have quality depth. Fortunately for us, I think we have pretty good depth.”


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Vikings Defeat Detroit 20-13, Claim Spot Atop NFC North

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 30, 2012 – 6:31 pm

A sensational special teams performance that included two return TDs carried the Vikings to a 20-13 victory over the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on Sunday, the team’s first division win since 2010 and their first division win on the road since 2009. A sound defensive effort and a relentless ground attack complemented the return TDs, allowing the Vikings to fly home Sunday afternoon with a 3-1 record and a seat atop the NFC North standings.

Not all aspects of the victory were pretty, but there are no style points in the rough and tough NFC North. The Vikings defense kept a high-octane Lions offense out of the end zone until the end of the game, and the offense relied on superstar workhorse Adrian Peterson to move the ball on the ground. Peterson traditionally fares well against Detroit, and he did so on Sunday with his best outing of 2012 – 102 yards rushing on 21 carries. While the offense generated just 111 yards passing and didn’t find the end zone, it should also be noted that they did not turn the ball over and they put WR Jerome Simpson – in his first regular season game with the Vikings – in a position to make an impact.

But make no mistake, the story of Sunday’s win was the performance by the Vikings special teams. Percy Harvin fielded the opening kick 5 yards deep in the end zone, started left and then veered right, using a perfectly executed blocking scheme to gain the corner and outsprint the Lions coverage group. The result was a 105-yard return TD and a quick 7-0 Vikings lead.

The Lions responded on their opening series, sending All-Pro WR Calvin Johnson deep and drawing a 56-yard pass interference penalty on their first offensive snap. But the Vikings defense, in a sign of what was to come, withstood that initial shot and forced Detroit to kick a 40-yard FG just 3 plays later. The teams exchanged punts on each of their next possessions, and then Blair Walsh salvaged a Vikings scoring drive by converting a 49-yard attempt, increasing the Vikings lead to 10-3 with 1:21 to play in the 1st quarter.

The Vikings defense forced a Lions 3-and-out on the next series, and Walsh hit another FG – this one from 27 yards – to increase the Vikings lead to 13-3. The Lions tacked on a FG late in the half to make the score 13-6 in favor of the Vikings heading into the locker room at halftime.

Just as they did in the 1st half, the Vikings scored a TD in the 2nd half without their offense seeing the field. Detroit opened the 3rd quarter with a 16-yard connect from QB Matthew Stafford to TE Tony Scheffler. The Vikings defense stonewalled the Lions on the following three plays, though, and Nic Harris punted away to Marcus Sherels. On his 26th birthday, Sherels fielded the Harris punt and danced his way through the Lions coverage group to score a 77-yard TD, riling up the Vikings sideline and giving the visitors a commanding 20-6 lead that would not be relinquished.

After the Sherels return TD, the teams exchanged two more punts each, setting the stage for the Vikings defense to put their stamp on the game. On 3rd and 8 from their own 45, the Lions looked to have something going when Stafford found RB Mikel Leshoure coming out of the backfield. Leshoure advanced well past midfield, but then Vikings S Jamarca Sanford hit him and jarred the ball loose. Sanford also recovered the fumble, giving the ball back to the Vikings and killing the small bit of momentum Detroit was trying to build. The Vikings missed a FG try on the ensuing drive, giving the ball back to Detroit on their own 36 with 13:15 to play in the game.

Stafford drove Detroit 57 yards in 10 plays, setting up a 4th and 5 from the Minnesota 7. With the game virtually on the line, Vikings Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams dialed up an aggressive blitz that the Lions couldn’t cover up. DE Everson Griffen came untouched across the line of scrimmage and smashed an unsuspecting Stafford, ending the drive and giving the Vikings offense the ball.

A Vikings punt gave the Lions the ball back with 6:08 to play, trailing by 14. Stafford drove his team down for a TD, pulling to within 20-13, but the Vikings would give no more ground. The game ended with another sack by Griffen as Stafford was setting up for a desperation heave toward the end zone. The Lions were forced to begin their last drive on their own 2 after a perfect punt by Chris Kluwe was downed by Robert Blanton before going into the end zone.

Outside of Peterson’s 100-yard rushing performance, the 28th of his career and the 6th he’s logged against the Lions, the Vikings offense didn’t include any standout, signature moments or performances from skill position players. But it was apparent that the Vikings offensive line played well, as they pushed back a stout Lions defensive front to the tune of 127 yards rushing on 28 attempts. QB Christian Ponder finished with modest numbers – 16 of 26 for 111 yards with no TDs – but he took care of the ball and still has not thrown an INT this season. Simpson was the team’s leading receiver with 4 grabs for 50 yards, but his impact was even greater because he drew a pair of long pass interference penalties through the game as well.

Defensively, LB Chad Greenway led the team in tackles with 11. LB Jasper Brinkley and CB Antoine Winfield each had 10 stops. Griffen tallied a pair of sacks, as did DT Letroy Guion. Jared Allen also got to Stafford once, registering his 2nd sack of the season. Credit goes to the Vikings starting safeties, too, as Sanford and Harrison Smith did a good job of roaming the middle of the field to defend the end zone. The combined to knock a TD catch out of Johnson’s hands in the end zone, and overall Johnson was held in check with 5 catches for 54 yards.

The Vikings returned home Sunday afternoon to enjoy their win, and they’ll begin preparations this week to host the AFC South’s Tennessee Titans on Sunday. We’ll have more reaction to Sunday’s game tonight and this week, so be sure to stay tuned to vikings.com for more coverage.


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Three Takeaways From Vikings Preseason Debut

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 11, 2012 – 3:10 am

The Vikings made their 2012 preseason debut on Friday night, dropping a 17-6 decision to the San Francisco 49ers at a blustery Candlestick Park. Rookie K Blair Walsh capped the game’s opening drive with a 39-yard FG that cut straight through the 20 mph gusts that swirled inside the stadium, but that was the only lead the Vikings would have for the evening.

San Francisco answered with a TD later in the 1st quarter to take a 7-3 and eventually took a 17=6 lead into the locker room at halftime. Neither team scored in the 2nd half.

For the Vikings, QB Christian Ponder was good-not-great, completing 4 of 9 passes for 80 yards. RB Toby Gerhart was solid and strong, rushing the ball 5 times and gaining 31 yards, with a long rush of 16 yards. The Vikings defense struggled stopping the 49ers ground game, allowing over 100 rushing yards in the 1st half and 260 in the game.

The thrill of victory and agony of defeat take a back seat in the preseason, though, as teams are looking to find “wins” within the exhibition games. There are position battles to be settled and roster spots to be won, and that is the focus for NFL teams and their followers during the preseason.

With that in mind, here are three takeaways on my mind as I sit on the team’s charter flight back to Minneapolis…

Blair Walsh impresses in first NFL game
I’ve been a big supporter of Blair Walsh’s since the Vikings selected him in the 6th round. His leg strength was never questioned, and I didn’t find his dip in accuracy during his senior season at Georgia as concerning as others did. The kid was an 88.8% kicker as a sophomore and junior, and most of his misses during his senior year came on FGs from 40 or 50+ yards.

Regardless, there were no concerns about Walsh’s accuracy on Friday night. He converted both of his FG attempts, the first from 39 yards and the second from 26. Keep in mind, the nasty wind gusts did nothing to help matters, either. In addition to his accuracy on FG tries, Walsh’s leg strength was on display during kickoffs. He logged one touchback on a kick that was blasted through the endzone, and then his other two kickoffs were 6 and 8 yards into the endzone. During the regular season, teams will not be taking those kicks out of the touchback area.

The benefit of Walsh’s touchbacks – opponents’ average drive start will be closer to their own 20 – will far outweigh any accuracy issues he has on FGs. As any defensive player or coordinator and they’ll tell you that pinning a team at or inside the 20 is a big-time advantage for the defense. With Walsh, the Vikings will be doing much more of that in 2012 than they have in recent seasons (Vikings ranked 31st in opponents’ average drive start in 2011).

Run defense missed Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Antoine Winfield
The Vikings held out DE Jared Allen, DT Kevin Williams and CB Antoine Winfield on Friday night, giving the veterans a break from the action while also giving younger players more opportunity. And the absence of three quality run stoppers showed, with San Francisco gashing the Vikings defense on the ground seemingly at will in the 1st half.

One part of you gets frustrated when the opponent is able to run the ball so easily. But the other part of you knows that without Allen, Williams and Winfield in the mix, the defense is much more vulnerable. It would’ve been nice to see other players step up and stymie the 49ers ground game, but I’m not worried about the Vikings run defense just yet. If the Buffalo Bills and San Diego Chargers are able to do in the next two weeks what the 49ers did this week, then we’ll have some concerns.

Offensive line displays improvement
I was pleased with the performance of the Vikings first-team offensive line. RB Toby Gerhart averaged 6.2 yards per carry on 5 attempts and neither Ponder nor Joe Webb were sacked while the first-team offensive line was in the game. Several times Ponder was able to settle into a pocket after dropping back, and on his52-yard pass to WR Stephe Burton Ponder was afforded the time and space to step up into the pocket to deliver the throw.

First-round pick LT Matt Kalil looked solid in his debut. He will be the first to admit there’s room for improvement, but it was a good beginning for Ponder’s new blindside protector. C John Sullivan had no issues with snaps and RT Phil Loadholt was sound in his technique and discipline.


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10 Vikings Off To Fast Starts At Training Camp

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 2, 2012 – 4:28 pm

The Vikings are now a week into training camp and it’s full speed ahead for the team as they begin preparing for the 2012 season. Now that we’re gaining a better understanding of the roster after six days of practice, let’s take a look at 10 players who are off to fast starts at 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp.

TE Kyle Rudolph
Rudolph’s combination of size, strength and speed is unique, and it presents big-time mismatch problems for the defense. QB Christian Ponder is not afraid to look Rudolph’s way, and until someone finds a way to slow the 6-6, 258-pound beast, he’s going to keep catching passes.

LT Matt Kalil
You would naturally excuse a rookie – even a third overall choice – if he were making mistakes during training camp. Add in the fact that the rookie is going against the best defensive end in football, and you’d allow even a few more perhaps. But Kalil hasn’t been guilty of many miscues. Sure, Jared Allen is winning his fair share of the matchups, but all things considered, Kalil has looked the part of a player who could develop into a cornerstone LT.

CB Antoine Winfield
We wrote in this space multiple times about how great Antoine Winfield looked during the offseason program. He’s continued to look great during training camp.

“We were talking about that as a staff last night, he really seems to be into this training camp more than any other. You see him out there taking one-on-ones and all of the reps,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said. “We will have to monitor that a little bit, he is not 22 years of age anymore, but he is definitely invigorated in a lot of ways, which is good for our young players in our secondary to see the way he works and how he approaches things. It’s great for them.”

CB Bobby Felder
One of those young players in the secondary is Bobby Felder, an undrafted college free agent out of Nicholls State. I’m asked about Felder more than most players for some reason, but maybe Felder will show us all why he deserves to be noticed. He didn’t have the best day of practice on Wednesday, but other than that he’s been solid. Felder is a player to watch in the preseason.

WRs Percy Harvin and Jerome Simpson
I like what the Vikings have going at WR. Entering the offseason, WR was a position that needed an upgrade. And it got one. The Vikings look much better at the position, and the addition of Jerome Simpson is a big reason for that. Simpson has tremendous speed and is terrific after the catch. He’s not strictly a vertical route receiver, either. Simpson can run intermediate/deep crossing patterns as well, and he’s hard to stop on comeback routes.

Simpson looking so good likely has Percy Harvin upping his game as well. Harvin is already one of the most dynamic receivers in the game, so watching him rise to the challenge in competing with Simpson for passes from Ponder has been great to watch.

DT Letroy Guion
When the defensive coordinator singles you out as having a good camp, you’re going to make this list.

“Letroy has been one that has been phenomenal in camp,” Alan Williams said. “It may not seem to the naked eye but there are some clips of him just getting off blocks, running to the ball and pursuing. Day two he made a play outside of the numbers running to the football so we are very pleased with him.”

LB Chad Greenway
We listed Chad Greenway as a stand out from Tuesday’s practice, largely because of an athletic pass breakup (PBU) he registered on an end zone fade pass to Kyle Rudolph and also because of a couple plays he made in short-yardage and goal line periods. Greenway is a leader on the Vikings defense and will be a three-down player for the Vikings once again this season.

TE Rhett Ellison
During the Vikings rookie minicamp in May, Rhett Ellison emerged as a stand out thanks in large part to his fluid pass-catching skills. Billed as more of a physical, blocking-type of TE, Ellison displayed a natural ability in the passing game during that camp and has continued to do so in training camp. He’s also a physical player in the trenches. That type of all-around ability could yield a long, productive career for the rookie from USC.

RB Derrick Coleman
Undrafted this year and joining the Vikings for their rookie minicamp, not many paid much attention to Derrick Coleman this spring. But it’s hard not to notice him during training camp. He is running with the third-team, so it’s appropriate to temper the enthusiasm. But you can only beat the people put in front of you, and right now Coleman is winning more than he’s losing when he’s on the field. He’ll be another player to watch during the preseason.

GM Rick Spielman
We’re only a week into training camp, but you’ve got to give GM Rick Spielman and his staff, along with head coach Leslie Frazier, credit for attacking the task of reforming this roster over the offseason. The Vikings were coming off consecutive seasons of 6-10 and 3-13, plus they had tough roster decisions to make on valued veteran players. On top of that, the team had 10 draft choices to execute.

The Vikings have had a good training camp to date and the talent level on this roster is going the right way. There is a clear sense of direction the team is heading in, and there’s no question Spielman and Frazier set out to make this roster younger and more talented. Judging by one week of training camp, they did a good job. There’s a lot of work to be done, but the progress is encouraging.


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