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Vikings Hit The Road To Collect Hardware

Posted by Mike Wobschall on March 4, 2013 – 11:47 am

Adrian Peterson had already won and collected NFL MVP honors earlier this year. But Peterson’s sensational 2012 season continues to collect hardware.

This past weekend Peterson was in Atlantic City to collect The Maxwell Club’s Bert Bell Professional Player of the Year Award. It’s the second time he’s received the award (2008). Also this past weekend, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier and Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave were in Kansas City to accept on Peterson’s behalf the NFL 101 award for NFC Offensive Player of the Year honors.

Peterson rushed his way into the history books in 2012, less than a year removed from a serious knee injury and grueling rehabilitation process. He finished the season with 2,097 yards rushing, the second-highest total in League history and just 9 yards shy of breaking Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson’s NFL record (2,105).

The historic season Peterson authored was instrumental in the Vikings generating the greatest single-season win increase in franchise history, going from 3 wins in 2011 to 10 wins in 2012 in addition to making the playoffs as a Wild Card team.

More on the Maxwell Club
The Maxwell Football Club is an organization involved not only in football at all levels but the community in general, not just once a year, but all year. It’s an organization dedicated to the concept that young people are the potential of this nation.  The Maxwell Football Club wants to help young people realize that potential as leaders now, and as the future leaders of this country.

More on the 101 Awards
Following each National Football League season, a civic organization called “The Committee of 101” hosts the 101 Awards, Kansas City’s Salute to Professional Football. This nationally-renowned event was initiated in 1969 by a group headed by Kansas City businessman Jack O. Wheeler to honor outstanding achievements in professional football. Each year, 101 members of the national media select the Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Coach of the Year in the American Football Conference and National Football Conference.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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A Closer Look: What Is “Vikings” Football?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Early Aggressiveness, Conversions Help Offense Set Tone

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 17, 2012 – 10:07 am

Earlier Monday morning, we discussed a cleverly-crafted defensive game plan featuring an aggressive wrinkle as a key to the Vikings win over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday. We’d be remiss to not mention the aggressive strategy employed by the Vikings offense early in the game as an important factor in the victory as well.

In last week’s win over the Chicago Bears, it was almost as if the Vikings game-planned for the offense to perform around QB Christian Ponder. In Sunday’s win, though, Ponder was instrumental in the offense’s operation. That was especially the case on the Vikings first drive of the game, a series that required poise from Ponder and featured a few clutch conversions along the way.

It started with a “gotcha” moment on the first play, as the Vikings anticipated St. Louis ganging up to stop Adrian Peterson. Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave called for a play-action pass on 1st down, opening the door for Ponder to rollout and find a wide open Kyle Rudolph in the right flat for a 14-yard gain. That was a nice start. After a 4-yard gain by Peterson on the ground, Ponder rolled right once again and fit a precise pass through a tight window to Jerome Simpson on a crossing route – 11 more yards.

At that point, the Vikings were off to a great start. They forced a St. Louis punt after just 4 plays and were now driving deep into Rams territory. But consecutive rushing plays of -2 yards set the Vikings back to a 3rd and 14 from the St. Louis 20. Out of the gun formation, Ponder zipped a quick slant to Stephen Burton for 13 yards, setting up a 4th and short. Rather than take the conservative approach and send the ever-reliant Blair Walsh onto the field for a quick 3-0 lead, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier elected to be aggressive and go for it on 4th down.

“I knew if we got in that situation early, that was exactly what we wanted to be able to do,” Frazier explained after the game. “We wanted to be aggressive. We talked to our players about it all week long, that we were going to be aggressive in every situation. That was a chance to backup what I had said during the week.”

And it worked. Ponder scrambled for 3 yards to pickup the 1st down, plus a defensive holding penalty gave the Vikings an automatic 1st down anyway. Two more rushes for losses came after the 4th-down conversion, setting the Vikings up with a 3rd and goal from the 5. Ponder dropped back, was in the arms of Rams DE Robert Quinn, escaped, found a crease down the left seam, and dove into the end zone for the TD. He capped the play with an emphatic spike in the end zone, and the Vikings offense was rolling.

On the drive, Ponder was 3 of 3 for 38 yards and added 2 rushes for 8 yards and the TD.

More than just staking the Vikings to an early 7-0 lead, that first offensive series and all it entailed – 5 carries for Peterson, play-action bootlegs, clutch completions and conversions, etc. – helped the Vikings offense gain a rhythm, gain a confidence and set a tone.

“It was big,” Frazier said. “That was a part of what we wanted to be able to design to help us against the eight- and nine-man fronts we knew we were going to get. And sure enough, they came in stacking the box, and we wanted to get Christian on the perimeter and hit some plays on crossing routes. We were effective doing that early. It helped us to open up some of the runs a little bit later.”


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A Closer Look: Arizona’s Defensive Front 7

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 19, 2012 – 6:25 am

There was a period of time recently in which the Arizona Cardinals were one of the least-feared teams in the NFL. They registered just one winning season from 1985-2007. Just one in that entire span of years. Ken Whisenhunt took over as head coach in 2007, and since then the Cardinals have been a tough team to beat. In 2008 they went all the way to the Super Bowl, losing a heart-breaker to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The 2012 version of the Cardinals is definitely a Whisenhunt-type of team, rather than the type of team Arizona fielded during that incredible drought from the mid-80s to ‘07. And a big reason for the team’s success recently – they’re 11-4 in their last 15 games – is their stingy defense, particularly their defensive front 7. The talented defensive front 7 is the subject of today’s A Closer Look…

So far, so good
Through the first 6 weeks of the 2012 season, the Cardinals defense ranks tied for 5th in points allowed per game (15.8) and 10th in yards allowed per game (329.3) and passing yards allowed per game (216.0). Their run defense has been stingy, too, as they’ve gone 14 consecutive games without allowing a 100-yard rusher. This season, they’ve held some quality RBs in check – Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch (85 yards); New England’s Stevan Ridley (71); Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy (70); Miami’s Reggie Bush (67); St. Louis’ Steven Jackson (76); and Buffalo’s dual attack of Fred Jackson (53) and CJ Spiller (88). The last player to rush for 100+ yards against them was Jackson in November of 2011.

It all starts up front
So who are these defenders making life tough for opposing offenses? Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier mentioned two of them during a press conference earlier in the week.

“Both (Calais) Campbell and (Darnell) Dockett are guys who, boy, you really have to know where they are. They create havoc for your offensive line,” Frazier said. “They’ve got some (other) guys who can make plays, but Calais Campbell, his size alone creates problems and he has great strength and great athleticism, along with Dockett. Both of those guys are a couple of the reasons why their defense is so stout and so good. They have a very, very good defense.”

Past performances, including their performance so far in 2012, support Frazier’s opinion. Dockett has been one of the best DTs in the NFL since the Cardinals chose him with a 3rd-round pick in 2007. He has 28.5 sacks since 2007, more than any other DT in the NFL. Campbell, who measures in at an incredible 6-8, 300 pounds, was a 2nd-round pick in 2008 and has developed into a monster on Arizona’s defense. He was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against the New England Patriots in Week 2, when he had 2.0 sacks, 10 tackles, 2 TFLs and 3 QB pressures in the Cardinals win. Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave also noted this week that Campbell has a knack for batting passes down, making him a threat even when he doesn’t reach the QB in time.

1st-tier performance at 2nd level
Football terminology defines LBs as being on the 2nd level of the defense. But there’s nothing “2nd level” about this group of Cardinals LBs. The group is led by talented youngster Daryl Washington. The former TCU star who plays inside LB for the Cardinals had a breakout season last year, collecting 111 tackles, 16 TFLs, 5.0 sacks, 2 INTs and 7 pass breakups (PBUs). He’s following that performance with another all-star worthy campaign this year.

Last week, Washington registered 14 tackles and a forced fumble, giving him at least 10 tackles in 3 of 6 games this year. Washington also has 4.0 sacks on the season, making him one of only five NFL defenders who’ve recorded at least 9.0 sacks and 2.0 INTs dating back to 2011.

On the outside, the Cardinals feature Sam Acho and O’Brien Schofield. Now in his 3rd year, Schofield is coming into his own. The 4th-round pick (2010) out of Wisconsin missed much of his rookie season due to injury and was mostly a reserve last year, but this year he’s earning his stripes. Over the last 4 games, Schofield has totaled 23 tackles, 4.0 sacks, 4.0 TFLs and 8 QB pressures.

“They’ve got more explosiveness out there at their outside linebackers, that’s for sure,” Musgrave said on Thursday. “They’re younger, they’ve got more juice, their inside ‘backers are playing well. Paris (Lenon) is a veteran as we know, and the young guy from TCU (Washington) is playing better and better every time he gets on the field.”

The named not yet mentioned in this group of talented LBs is Sam Acho, a 6-2, 262-pound defender chosen in the 4th round out of Texas in 2011. The trio of Acho, Schofield and Washington – who are starting together (along with Lenon) for the first time in their careers – have combined for 97 tackles, 11.0 sacks, 16 TFLs, 4 PBUs, 3 forced fumbles and 25 QB pressures.

Long story longer, these aren’t your father’s Arizona Cardinals. In large part because of their defense, more specifically their defensive front 7, the Vikings will be in for a knock-down, drag-out fight on Sunday when Whisenhunt brings his club to Mall of America Field for a showdown between a pair of angry 4-2 teams coming off losses a week ago.


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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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Musgrave Mixing It Up Well For Vikings Offense

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 9, 2012 – 2:48 pm

Second-guessing playcalls and strategy is as much a part of the NFL as tailgating and fantasy football. And that’s okay. The passion from which that second-guessing originates is what drives the popularity of the NFL, and, consequently, a big reason why many coaches and players are compensated handsomely. But win or lose, there are a lot of good offensive coordinators out there.

Well, there’s a pretty good offensive coordinator at Winter Park, too. Bill Musgrave, in his second season with the Vikings, is in a groove right now. His second-year QB (Christian Ponder) is completing 69% of his passes (good for 2nd in the NFL), his best offensive player (Percy Harvin) leads the NFL in all-purpose yardage and is 2nd in the NFL with 38 receptions, and his offensive line is paving the way for Adrian Peterson to average 4.4 yards per carry. The playcalling has been balanced, as only 4 teams have a run-pass play ratio closer to 50%.

There have been speed bumps along the way, such as the game in Detroit where Harvin had just 6 offensive touches for 34 yards and the Vikings didn’t score an offensive TD. But those have been few and far between. Musgrave has been creative in getting Harvin the ball, has put Ponder in position to succeed and has coordinated an offense that has 27 explosive plays (runs of 10+ yards, completions of 20+ yards) and Top 10 rankings in scoring and 1st-down efficiency.

Just as important as finding a way to be explosive while striking a balance, NFL playcallers must know when it’s time to go for the jugular. Musgrave has demonstrated that instinct. Against Detroit late in the 4th quarter, the Vikings were clinging to a 7-point lead and faced a 2nd and 11 from their own 19. Musgrave had a choice: call a run that likely would not result in a 1st down but would tempt the Lions to use their final timeout, or get aggressive and call a pass that could result in a 1st down and even more time coming off the clock. Musgrave chose the latter, and the result was a 27-yard connection from Ponder to Jerome Simpson down the left sideline and, ultimately, the Vikings first road division win since 2009.

Another instance of Musgrave being aggressive came last week against Tennessee. The Vikings led 23-7 and the Titans were looking for a small opening to attempt an improbable comeback. The Vikings faced a 2nd and 5 from the Tennessee 15 with 6:45 to play and the clock running. Obvious run situation, right?

“I had just talked to our coaches on the headset about using the clock [being] more important than a touchdown,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier explained after the game. “Then Bill [Musgrave] said, ‘Well we got a touchdown on this play, we can get it’. Okay, call it, and we scored. I turned around and looked at him and said, ‘Good job Bill.’ So much for using clock and running the ball. But it was a great play by Christian [Ponder] and Kyle, and a great job by Bill and the rest of the offensive staff.”

All offensive coordinators – not just Musgrave – take plenty of heat for playcalling. And that’s okay because fans have the right to voice their displeasure. Plus there are times when they’re right.

But when the heat dissipates and the dust settles on analysis of Musgrave’s performance through the first 5 games of 2012, what I see is an offensive coordinator that is mixing it up well.


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Vikings Welcome Simpson Back To Lineup Today vs. Lions

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 30, 2012 – 9:22 am

You may have seen him at training camp or even briefly during the preseason. But you haven’t seen WR Jerome Simpson during the regular season.

Until today.

Simpson makes his Vikings regular season debut today against the Detroit Lions amid much fanfare and anticipation.

A 2nd-round pick of the Bengals in 2008, Simpson had his best season a year ago when he hauled in 50 receptions for 725 yards and 4 TDs. That production, along with his tremendous athleticism, appealed to the Vikings this past offseason as they looked to add explosiveness to the passing game. The design is for Simpson to provide the Vikings offense with the outside, field-stretching explosiveness it needs to complement a strong running game that features Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart and also a pair of other pass-catching playmakers in wide receiver Percy Harvin and tight end Kyle Rudolph.

“It adds another chapter to our offense,” Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave said. “He’s got more burst and more top-end speed than any of the receivers we have on the roster right now. We’ll look to utilize his strengths and add him into the mix.”

Often times coaches will downplay the addition of a new player to the plan, with the intention of disguising strategy and decreasing the pressure for that player to live up to external expectations. But the Vikings did not shy away from explaining the impact they expect from Simpson’s return to the lineup.

“We’re going to use him quite a bit,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier explained. “We want to get him involved and a lot of it will depend on how he does this week in practice, his first action back, but we definitely want to get him involved.”

Added Musgrave: “We’re expecting big things out of Jerome. He has had a good offseason. He had a terrific training camp in Mankato. We’re hoping that translates to more production on game day.”

The Vikings signed Simpson last April and he immediately developed a rapport with QB Christian Ponder. Simpson flashed frequently during the offseason program and training camp. Then he gave the Vikings a glimpse of what he can provide during Week 2 of the preseason. Against the Buffalo Bills in the second exhibition game, Simpson caught a quick slant, hurdled a Bills defensive back and sprinted downfield for a 33-yard gain.  That’s the kind of athletic, game-breaking play that has many expecting Simpson to add flare to this Vikings passing attack.


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Musgrave Discusses Key To Ponder’s Improvement

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 28, 2012 – 5:48 am

Christian Ponder completed 21 of 35 passes for 198 yards with 2 TDs in last week’s victory over the San Francisco 49ers. There have been other games during Ponder’s young career when he has completed more passes (twice) and thrown for more yards (six times) and TDs (once).

But from the sounds of it, there may not have been any other game in which Ponders’ coaches were more pleased with his performance.

Both Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier and Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave intimated on Thursday that Ponder’s performance against the stingy 49ers defense last weekend was the best they’ve seen their young passer. Frazier discussed the topic during Thursday’s taping of Vikings Live From Winter Park, and Musgrave was asked about it while meeting with reporters on Thursday morning.

Musgrave pointed out that Ponder has had gaudier numbers in the past, but that too frequently those impressive statistics were accompanied by mistakes such as fumbles, INTs, penalties and sacks.

“I would say it is, all in all,” Musgrave said when asked if that’s as well as he’s seen Ponder play. “He played well against Green Bay last year, he threw for 381 yards against the Denver defense last year. But there were those mistakes that made it tough for us to get the victory. The quickest way to lose in this League or at any level is to beat yourself. And last year, we did some good things, but we had some untimely mistakes that caused it to be really tough for us to get the outcome that we want. And we want to keep playing at a high level, but number one, we don’t want to beat ourselves.”

The Vikings did not beat themselves last Sunday, which led to them beating the 49ers instead. Ponder threw no INTs and wasn’t sacked, which made the Vikings just the second team in the 49ers last 19 games to hold them without either an INT or a sack. The Vikings also committed just one offensive penalty (for 10 yards).

To beat a tough Lions team on the road this weekend, the Vikings won’t necessarily need gaudy numbers from Ponder. They just need to not beat themselves.


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Vikings Look To Get Explosive In The Running Game, Too

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 21, 2012 – 6:23 am

Since they drafted Adrian Peterson in 2007, no team has run the ball more effectively than the Vikings. They rank first in total rushing yards (11,368), yards per carry (4.7) and runs of 10+ yards (334). Last Sunday, though, the Vikings running game got off track a bit.

The Indianapolis Colts held the Vikings to 3.7 yards per carry on 26 attempts. As a result, the Vikings offensive coaching staff is as much, if not more, concerned about addressing the team’s issues in the running game as they are trying to devise ways to get the ball downfield. After all, if you can’t keep a defense off-balance by running the ball, finding holes in the defense to beat them deep in the passing game will be even tougher.

“We ran the ball a bunch and we didn’t have any explosive runs,” Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave said on Thursday. “We’ve addressed our lack of explosive passes this week, but we also didn’t have any explosive runs against Indianapolis. I think the longest one was for six yards. We’re ready to ramp up all of those departments.”

If the Vikings can find a way to rip off a few explosive runs against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, they might also be able to take a shot or two downfield via the passing game.

“You would like to think that that would be the case,” Musgrave said. “That was something that was definitely missing from the field on Sunday were our chunks, and we don’t want to make a habit of that at all.”

The #1 asset Musgrave has in turning things around in the explosive running game is the best RB in the NFL – Peterson. With him toting the ball, the Vikings have not ranked lower than 8th in any season in runs of 10+ yards. In 2007, Peterson’s rookie year, the Vikings ranked 1st with 87 such runs. They ranked 4th in 2008, 6th in 2009, 8th in 2010 and then last year Musgrave’s offense ranked 3rd with 75 explosive runs.

The kicker this week, though, is that as the Vikings try to get the explosive running game back on track they’ll be going against a defense that doesn’t yield very many of them. Since 2009, the 49ers defense has never ranked lower than 5th in opponent’s explosive runs. Last year, in fact, the 49ers were 1st, allowing just 27 runs of 10+ yards. This year through two games, the 49ers have allowed just 1 run of 10+ yards.

The Vikings rushing offense against the 49ers rushing defense is one of the better matchups within this weekend’s game, and the winner of this matchup will take a big step toward victory.


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