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6 Vikings-Packers Storylines To Watch

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 2, 2013 – 7:15 am

Another great chapter in the Vikings-Packers border battle will unfold this weekend at Lambeau Field, as the two franchises meet in the Wild Card round of the 2012 NFL playoffs. This is a matchup that sells itself, but while we count down the hours until these teams square-off once again, let’s go over 6 of the Vikings-Packers storylines we’ll be watching this week…

1. Border Battle Moves To The Postseason
The third meeting in five weeks between border rivals Minnesota and Green Bay will take place in the postseason. Remarkably, this is only the second time these two clubs have met in the postseason, with the Vikings winning the first matchup 31-17 as underdogs at Lambeau Field. Saturday night’s game marks the third time in five weeks the Vikings and Packers will square off, and it also marks the 27th playoff season and 46th playoff game in Vikings history.

2. Does Green Bay Have An Answer For Adrian Peterson?
Adrian Peterson had a historic season in 2012, and his performances against the Packers were a significant reason why. Peterson rushed for 409 yards and 2 TDs in 2 games against Green Bay, averaging 7.4 yards per carry on 55 attempts and putting up huge totals of 210 yards at Lambeau Field in Week 13 and 199 yards on a career-high 34 carries in Week 17. Green Bay has proven they can yield a huge number of rushing yards to Peterson and still win – they defeated the Vikings in Week 13 – but you can be sure Green Bay would rather not sweat it out like that. Can the Packers come up with an answer for Peterson? It’s a fun subplot to watch.

3. Can Vikings Contain Aaron Rodgers, Packers Passing Game?
In similar fashion to how Peterson gives the Packers trouble, Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers has dominated the Vikings. In 2012, Rodgers completed 73.3% of his passes against the Vikings for an average of 325.5 yards per game and a TD-INT ratio of 5-1. The Vikings defense did a great job against Rodgers and Co. in the 1st quarter of last week’s game, forcing them to punt three times in three possessions. But after that, Rodgers caught fire and led the Packers to 4 TDs and 2 FGs in the Packers final 8 series. It’s hard to expect the Vikings defense to play for the whole game this Saturday the way they played in the 1st quarter on Sunday, but there has to be some kind of balance the Vikings can strike between the two for the duration of Saturday night’s game that can hold the Packers offense at bay.

4. Winfield’s Status Remains Uncertain
A big part of the Vikings effort to slow down the Packers passing game is the presence of CB Antoine Winfield. Unfortunately, whether or not Winfield will be able to play this weekend is a big question mark. Winfield injured his hand in the Vikings Week 16 win at Houston. He was able to start last week’s game against Green Bay, but was unable to finish the game because of the hand injury. Winfield was held out of practice on Tuesday, and Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said his top CB’s status would be a day-to-day situation all week.

5. Plenty Of Names To Watch On This Week’s Injury Report
Outside of Winfield, there are plenty of names to watch on this week’s injury report – for both teams. The Vikings will monitor shoulder injuries for a pair of starters – DE Brian Robison and S Harrison Smith. Special teams standout Tyrone McKenzie also has a shoulder injury. Peterson has been dealing with an abdomen injury, both WR Jerome Simpson and C John Sullivan were shaken up for a moment during last week’s game, and RT Phil Loadholt has been listed with a knee injury in recent weeks.

For the Packers, there’s plenty of good news on the injury front. WR Randall Cobb is expected to return, which could give Rodgers his full complement of receivers because Greg Jennings is healthy and Jordy Nelson is expected to play. Future Hall of Fame DB Charles Woodson has been cleared for a return to practice from a broken collarbone, LB Clay Matthews left but returned to the last week’s game and will play on Saturday and run-stopper CJ Wilson appears to have come out of last week’s game okay.

6. Freezing Forecast Set For Saturday Night
The weather.com forecast for Green Bay on Saturday shows a high of 26 degrees and a low of 15 degrees for the day, with snow possible and winds predicted to come from the west at 15 mph. It’s not the coldest we’ve seen Lambeau Field, but it’s the coldest game of the season for the Vikings and the elements will definitely be a factor in the game.


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Griffen Steps Up In Big Spot

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 1, 2013 – 7:39 am

Adrian Peterson, Christian Ponder and Blair Walsh all picked a great time to have one of their best – if not the best – performance of the 2012 season. In the game’s biggest moment, those three Vikings registered A+ performances to help lead the Vikings to victory in a true win-or-go-home scenario.

But those three weren’t working alone on Sunday. Another Vikings player also registered a season’s-best performance on Sunday, and that performance was a huge factor in the team’s win. Everson Griffen played like a man possessed, and Packers QB Aaron Rodgers paid for it.

In his 3rd season out of USC, Griffen had arguably the best game of his career Sunday. He sacked Rodgers three times for a loss of 20 yards, hit Rodgers another time, and tallied 4 total tackles on the day.

Griffen’s first sack came late in the 2nd quarter on a 2nd-and-10 from the Minnesota 38 with Green Bay driving for what looked like could be a TD right before the half. The sack resulted in a loss of 9 yards and all but eliminated the opportunity for Green Bay to score a TD and instead forced them to position themselves for a long FG try. Griffen’s 2nd sack came on the Packers first drive of the 2nd half and resulted in a loss of 3 yards on a 1st-and-10 play from the Minnesota 45. Griffen’s third and final sack came in the 4th quarter on a 1st-and-10 from the Green Bay 34. It backed Green Bay up 8 yards and eventually forced them into a 4th down, which they converted on a completion to Jarrett Boykin.

For the regular season, Griffen finished 3rd on the Vikings with 8.0 sacks, just a half-sack behind Brian Robison and 4.0 sacks behind Jared Allen. Griffen also ranked 4th on the team with 10.0 tackles for loss, 2nd on the team with 25 QB hurries, and he added 7 tackles and a forced fumble on special teams.


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Winfield’s Status Uncertain, Peterson And Robison Good To Go

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 1, 2013 – 7:23 am

The Vikings emerged from Sunday’s border battle season finale with a huge win and a berth in the postseason. For the most part, the Vikings also got out of Sunday’s game looking good on the injury front, too. Here are a few notes on injuries for both the Vikings and Green Bay Packers as they begin preparations this week for Saturday’s Wild Card round showdown…

Vikings
– It appears the biggest injury concern for the Vikings will be CB Antoine Winfield. He injured his hand two weeks ago but was able to play in Sunday’s contest against Green Bay. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to finish the game. Winfield left midway through the game and was not able to return, which raises question about whether he’ll be able to play in 5 days when the two teams battle once again in what will surely be frigid conditions at Lambeau Field. “We don’t know what’s going to happen with Antoine [Winfield], we’ll see how he does throughout the week,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said. “He was in quite a bit of pain yesterday, so we’ll have to see how he does during the week and make a decision maybe later on.”

– S Harrison Smith left Sunday’s game with a shoulder injury, but Frazier said he was able to return to the game. It’s expected that Smith will not be a full participant in practice all week, but there’s optimism that Smith will be ready to play on Saturday night.

– Adrian Peterson was listed on the injury report with an abdomen injury last week. But it looks as if he came out of Sunday’s game in pretty good shape. Frazier said that Peterson reported feeling better after the Packers game than he felt a day after the Houton Texans game a week earlier.

– DE Brian Robison missed the December 23 game in Houston because of a shoulder injury, but was able to start and finish Sunday’s game against Green Bay. Frazier said Robison should be available for Saturday’s rematch with the Packers.

Packers
– Late in Sunday’s loss to the Vikings, the Packers lost DL Jerel Worthy to a leg injury. He was carted off the field and, according to this report from packersnews.com, left the locker room on crutches and in a full leg brace. Green Bay Head Coach Mike McCarthy has not yet provided an update on Worthy’s status for Saturday.

– Green Bay held out WR Randall Cobb (ankle) and DB Charles Woodson (collarbone) on Sunday, but there’s a good chance both will return on Saturday. There’s nearly a 100% chance Cobb will return, in fact, and that’s big news for Green Bay because he’s a top-flight returner and he’s also the team’s leader in targets, receptions, receiving yards, and receptions of 20+ yards. As for Woodson, he’s misssed 10 weeks because of the collarbone injury and is still waiting to be cleared for contact. He’s such a saavy veteran, though, that it won’t take him long to get back into the groove once he’s cleared. It won’t be a surprise to see him on the field Saturday.

– Both LB Clay Mathews and WR Jordy Nelson left Sunday’s game at one point or another, but both players are expected to play and start on Saturday.


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Vikings Power Past Packers To Playoffs With 37-34 Win

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 30, 2012 – 8:29 pm

Game Highlights >>
Box Score >>
Game Photos >>
Postgame Pressers (Frazier / Ponder / Peterson) >>

A Vikings team that’s proven resilient throughout the 2012 regular season needed every ounce of it they had left to qualify for the postseason. When all was said and done, the Vikings defeated a high-powered Green Bay Packers team that showed no quit themselves by a count of 37-34 in front of a frenzied Mall of America Field Crowd on Sunday.

“Just a great job by our football team,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said moments after the game. “I’m so proud of our guys. A complete team effort all the way across against a very good football team. For our guys to be as resilient as they were throughout this ballgame…our fans were terrific throughout this game. It’s the first time in a long time I felt like, playing against Green Bay and being at home, we truly had home-field advantage because our fans were loud, they made it hard for their team to really function at times, and we needed that. I’m very, very grateful to our fans that really had an impact on this ballgame at Mall of America Field.”

There’s no question the Vikings heart and their home crowd’s noise made a difference in Sunday’s outcome. But the Vikings also needed firepower to get the job done, and that came from the arm of QB Christian Ponder, the legs of RB Adrian Peterson and the right foot of rookie Pro Bowl K Blair Walsh. Ponder, playing in the biggest game of his young career, came up big by completing 16 of 28 passes for 234 yards with 3 TDs and no INTs – good for a passer rating of 120.2.

“He’s playing at a high, high level at this point,” Frazier said. “And we needed that today going against a high-powered offense with an excellent quarterback. He did a terrific job. He’s playing very good football at the right time for us.”

As for Peterson, he’s been the heart and soul of the Vikings all season, and was in Sunday’s win as well. The best RB in the NFL carried the ball 34 times and continuously pounded a game Packers defense. He finished with 199 yards rushing and 1 TD, while also adding a receiving TD to his box score. Peterson became just the 7th player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in a single season and he came up 9 yards short of breaking the NFL single-season rushing mark.

Defensively, the Vikings had a hard time containing Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay’s explosive passing game. Rodgers finished going 28 of 40 for 365 yards with 4 TDs and 0 INTs, good for a 131.8 passer rating. But there were moments when the Vikings defense combined with a raucous Mall of America Field crowd to come up big. Green Bay was forced to punt after their first three possessions, and that allowed the Vikings to build up a 13-0 lead.

On top of that, Rodgers was pressured for much of the day. The Vikings registered 5 sacks of Rodgers, with 3.0 of them coming from Everson Griffen and 1.0 each coming from Jared Allen and Brian Robison. It was Robison who sacked Rodgers and forced a fumble in the 3rd quarter that led to a TD pass from Ponder to Peterson and a 27-17 lead. LB Erin Henderson led the Vikings in tackles with 7 and Kevin Williams had a big pass defensed early in the game on a 3rd down.

The most important sequence of the game came at the end, following a cold-blooded offensive series by Rodgers and the Packers that resulted in a 2-yard TD toss to WR Jordy Nelson and a tied game at 34 with 2:54 to play. Marcus Sherels returned the ensuing kickoff 29 yards to the Minnesota 28, setting up Ponder and Co. with a 1st and 10 and an opportunity to march for a game-winning score.

And that’s exactly what happened, thanks in large part to a crucial 3rd-down throw by Ponder. After bouncing a pass incomplete to Peterson on 1st down and then Peterson losing a yard on a 2nd-down carry, the Vikings faced a 3rd and 11 at the 2-minute warning. The worst-case scenario for the Vikings was an incomplete pass that forced them to punt the ball to Rodgers, who could put together a game-winning drive of his own. Rodgers never got that chance, though, and it’s because of a perfectly-placed pass by Ponder to WR Michael Jenkins down the left sideline that yielded 25 yards, a 1st down, and hope within the stadium.

From that point on, the Vikings wisely rode the legs of Peterson, giving it to him 4 times and watching him rip off 37 yards to put the Vikings on the Green Bay 11. Walsh, who had already hit from 54 and 37 earlier in the game, handled things from there, converting a 29-yard game-winner as time expired to give the Vikings their 37th point, their 10th win, and their first trip to the playoffs since 2009.

Sunday’s win and the subsequent postseason berth is a remarkable accomplishment for a team coming off a 3-13 season a year ago. This is a team that, prior to the season starting, many thought would be an afterthought by this time. But these Vikings are anything but an afterthought at the moment.

They’re a playoff team.


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Packers Injury Report: CB Woodson Ruled Out, But DL Getting Healthier

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 27, 2012 – 8:00 am

Future Hall of Fame CB Charles Woodson did not play in the first Vikings-Packers matchup of the season because of a broken collarbone suffered against the St. Louis Rams in Week 7. And he won’t play in the second Vikings-Packers matchup, either, because of the injury.

Sunday will mark the 9th game Woodson has missed because of the injury. The Packers were hopeful that Woodson would make his return this week for the season finale, hoping the game would serve as a tune-up for the team’s postseason run.

“We were hopeful this was going to be the game,” Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “This is his fourth week now going through practice. I know he’s disappointed. This is a game he’d really like to play in.”

Elsewhere, though, Green Bay is getting healthier. That is especially the case along the defensive line, where starter CJ Wilson returned to practice after missing the past 4 games and rookie DE Jerel Worthy also returned to work after missing last week’s game. Wilson is one of Green Bay’s top run stoppers, and his absence from the first border battle was a plus for Adrian Peterson and the Vikings as they ran up and down Lambeau Field. Worthy is a high-performing member of the DL rotation and one of several contributors from the Packers 2012 draft class.

Green Bay has 13 players listed on its injury report. Listed as out was Woodson. Listed as non-participants in practice were K Mason Crosby, G Josh Sitton and RB James Starks. Listed as limited participants in practice were WR Randall Cobb, G Evan Dietrich-Smith, CB Davon House, Wilson, Worthy and C Jeff Saturday. Full participants were TE Tom Crabtree, RB Alex Green and WR Jordy Nelson.

For the Vikings, DE Jared Allen, RB Adrian Peterson and CB Antoine Winfield did not practice. DE Brian Robison was limited, and P Chris Kluwe, RT Phil Loadholt and CB Marcus Sherels were full participants.


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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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Adrian Peterson Dominates, But Vikings Fall In Seattle

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 5, 2012 – 1:13 am

Adrian Peterson was in prime form on Sunday afternoon, rushing hard and fast for 182 yards and 2 TDs on 17 carries. But his Herculean effort, which included a 74-yard run on the second play of the game, was not enough to overcome several Vikings shortcomings. The end result was a 30-20 victory for the Seahawks over the Vikings at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.

From the opening kick through the 4th quarter, Peterson ran over and danced around a formidable Seattle defense and reminded everyone why he’s the best running back in the NFL. He averaged 10.7 yards per carry and had runs of 15, 16, 24, 28 and 74 yards, breaking multiple tackles on a play with regularity and showing no signs of a player who incurred such a serious knee injury last December.

The Vikings were off to a quick start thanks to Peterson’s 74-yard gallop on the game’s opening series. Two plays later, Peterson plunged in from a yard out to give the Vikings a 7-0 lead. But it unraveled from there, as Seattle RB Marshawn Lynch and rookie QB Russell Wilson capitalized on short fields (thanks to Seattle takeaways) and second chances (thanks to Vikings penalties).

The Seahawks got on the board following a Percy Harvin fumble on the Vikings second drive of the game, with Wilson finding WR Golden Tate for a 6-yard strike. The Vikings punted on their ensuing drive, and Seattle took a 14-7 lead with Wilson-to-Sidney Rice TD strike.

The Vikings responded, with Ponder driving his team 80 yards in 11 plays to watch Peterson score from 4 yards out to tie the game at 14. Blair Walsh tacked on 3 more points with a 36-yard FG that salvaged a drive after a sack on 3rd and 7 from the Seattle 11. The Vikings led 17-14 at that point, but saw that lead disappear after a masterful 12-play, 80 drive by Wilson and the Seattle offense that was capped by another Tate TD reception, the 3rd TD throw of Wilson’s day. The extra point was blocked by Kevin Williams, so Seattle took a 20-17 lead into the locker room at halftime.

Seattle used a 4-point edge in the 3rd quarter thanks to a Lynch TD (Walsh had a 55-yard FG, too) to take a 27-20 lead into the 4th quarter. The teams exchanged punts at the beginning of the 4th quarter, Seattle K Steven Hauschka split the uprights on a 40-yard try to make it 30-2-, and then the Vikings weren’t able to inch any closer for the remainder of the game.

Wilson finished going 16 of 24 for 173yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs. Lynch, the NFL’s 2nd-leading rusher behind Peterson, rushed for 124 yards and 1 TD on 24 carries.

While the Vikings were next to unstoppable on the ground, they struggled throwing the ball. QB Christian Ponder was 11 of 22 for 63 yards with no TDs and 1 INT. LBs Jasper Brinkley and Chad Greenway each registered 13 tackles and DEs Jared Allen and Brian Robison were each credited with a .5 sack.

The loss drops the Vikings to 5-4 on the season as they get set this week to host the Detroit Lions at Mall of America Field before heading into their bye week.


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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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