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Final Vikings-Texans Pre-Game Thoughts

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 23, 2012 – 11:36 am

I just finished my weekly appearance on the Vikings Radio Network’s pre-game show. Here are a few of things we addressed, plus several other notes as we get closer to kickoff here at Reliant Stadium between the 12-2 Texans and 8-6 Vikings.

– Pound them with Peterson: Yes, Houston has a tough defense. But the Vikings have a tough run offense, and they have the best RB in the NFL in Adrian Peterson. The Vikings should do what they do best, and that’s run the ball. I don’t believe this Houston defense has been tested against the run the way the Vikings can test teams against the run.

– Pick your spots with Ponder: We’ve seen the Vikings lose despite 210 rushing yards by Peterson. So as good as #28 can be, the Vikings need Ponder and Co. to chip in, too. The Vikings got that last week in St. Louis (3 of 3 for 38 yards on opening drive), and they’ll look for it again today. Keep in mind, Houston has permitted 49 completions of 20+ yards this season, an average of 3.5 per game. Can the Vikings get one or two today?

Find (Arian) Foster: Houston QB Matt Schaub takes care of the ball and WR Andre Johnson is electric, but it starts with stopping Foster. He’s a TD machine and he’s a game-breaker. The Vikings have to stop him in order to stop the rest of Houston’s offense.

Need a “miscellaneous” TD: Whether the TD results directly from this kind of play or whether the offense gets an easy TD set up by this kind of play, the Vikings need a sensational special teams or defensive play to flip this game around. Blocked punt, blocked FG, INT, forced fumble, kickoff/punt return, something to switch the momentum on the road. I’m calling a Robert Blanton blocked punt.

Chris Cook returns: The Vikings will benefit from the return of CB Chris Cook. He’ll be matched up against Andre Johnson at times. This is why the Vikings invested in Cook – to guard big receivers.

Block JJ Watt: The Vikings simply can’t allow this guy to ruin the game. He’s going to get his numbers at times, but don’t allow him to take over. It may be easier said than done, but the Vikings have taken away marquee defensive players in the past, such as the way they neutralized San Francisco DE Justin Smith in Week 3. One way to do this might be to switch up the playcalling to go away from tendencies, scheme against him by using motion and formation shifts, and use his strengths to YOUR advantage by calling a few draws, screens and maybe even running right at him, something he might not be used to seeing.


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Vikings CBs A Hot Topic This Week

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

Not making an appearance in Wednesday’s “8 Vikings-Rams Storylines To Follow” blog entry was the topic of Vikings CBs, but they were a hot topic during Leslie Frazier’s meeting with local reporters. The first five questions of Frazier’s Wednesday press conference focused on various issues surround Vikings CBs, so let’s go over a few things we learned…

A.J. Jefferson could play on Sunday
Since Chris Cook went down with a broken arm during the Vikings Week 8 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, A.J. Jefferson has stepped into an increased role on defense. Near the end of last week’s win over Chicago, though, Jefferson also was injured. He suffered a concussion and was forced out of the game and into the NFL’s return-from-concussion protocol.

On Wednesday, Frazier said Jefferson was “getting closer” to passing all of his tests. The Vikings expect to have a much better idea of Jefferson’s chances to play this Sunday in St. Louis after Thursday’s work.

Next man up
In the event that Jefferson is not able to return in time for Sunday’s game, a few players would be asked to step up. Rookie Josh Robinson would be first on the list, although he’s seen plenty of the field this season while playing in the Vikings nickel package. On Monday, Frazier also mentioned Brandon Burton and Marcus Sherels as guys who may see increased roles on defense should Jefferson sit out.

Sherels to resume kickoff return duties
With Percy Harvin unavailable because of his ankle injury, the Vikings kickoff return role is open for business. Sherels was the first to fill the void and he’s done so adequately. More recently, though, Jefferson took a turn returning kicks. With his availability now in question because of the concussion, Frazier indicated earlier in the week that Sherels will reassume the kickoff return roles. Even if Jefferson does play on Sunday, expect Sherels to take the reps so the Vikings can reduce Jefferson’s exposure to another concussion.

Chris Cook on track
Chris Cook has returned to practice for the Vikings and appears to be on track to return to game action as soon as next week against the Houston Texans. Frazier has been asked about the chances of Cook returning this season and hasn’t been specific about if or when it could happen, but the fact that Cook has returned to practice is a sign of good progress.

The Vikings have done a nice job of covering up his absence with Jefferson and Robinson, but having Cook return to action would be a big plus for the Vikings in terms of their ability to cover bigger receivers and in terms of their depth both on defense and on special teams.

Winfield held out of Wednesday practice
Veteran Antoine Winfield did not practice on Wednesday, but that is not worthy of alarm. The Vikings have been diligent about monitoring Winfield’s reps, and it is paying big dividends this season. Winfield, in his 14th season, is having another stellar campaign and his health is a big reason for the Vikings increased performance against the pass. Frazier did mention that Winfield’s knee was bothering him a bit, and that added to the team’s decision to hold him out on Wednesday. It’s expected that Winfield will return to practice on Thursday.


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Emptying Out The Vikings-Bears Notebook

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 11, 2012 – 4:51 pm

On Wednesday morning the NFL calendar is going to flip from Week 14 to Week 15, which means now is the time to empty out the notebook from last weekend’s victory over the Chicago Bears. Here are a few of my final thoughts…

Jared Allen’s Effort
In the NFL, it’s not often that we feel compelled to credit a player for giving maximum effort. But that’s what I’m going to do here. The Bears had a 1st and 10 from their 15, and they handed the ball of to RB Matt Forte. Going wide right, Forte turned the corner and began sprinting down the right (Vikings) sideline. Jared Allen, having lined up on the opposite side of where the play was heading, saw Forte break contain and began sprinting. He took an aggressive angle, and after several moments of all-out sprinting, Allen finally angled Forte off and pushed him out of bounds. Unfortunately, Forte had stepped out of bounds an instant before Allen shoved him, so the officials flagged him for unnecessary roughness and enforced a 15-yard penalty. But you can hardly blame Allen, after sprinting about 60 yards across the field, to not have the wherewithal to stop on a dime and refrain from pushing Forte out of bounds after catching him.

It was a great play by Allen because he could easily have never taken off to try and catch Forte and instead relied on a teammate closer to Forte to take a less aggressive angle and still catch him before he broke away. Instead, Allen took it upon himself to be the one to catch Forte. The end result was nowhere near ideal because the 15-yard penalty tacked on to the 36-yard run set the Bears up with a 1st and 10 from the Vikings 34, but Allen and Co. were able to force a punt just 3 plays later. Plus, the effort Allen gave is a good indication that this team is playing hard and giving everything it has to make a late-season push.

Final Word (For Now) On Ponder
I basically explained this in the Monday Morning Mailbag, but it’s my belief that the hyper-analysis on Ponder and the angst over whether he can be the QB of the future in Minnesota should subside momentarily to the more team-centric and relevant issue of the Vikings push to the playoffs. There’s no question Ponder needs to improve his play – he will be the first to acknowledge that. The sub 100-yard passing outings are hard for fans to stomach given the fact that Ponder was the 12th overall pick and is being groomed to be a franchise quarterback. But if you can refrain from analyzing Ponder through that lens and instead focus on what Ponder and the Vikings need to do to win games this season, you’ll be a happier Vikings fan and you’ll be better able to A) appreciate the season Adrian Peterson is having and B) appreciate the fact that the Vikings are playing meaningful games in December for the first time since 2009.

AP For 2K?
Can he get to 2,000? Adrian Peterson has 1,600 yards rushing through 13 games and needs to average 133.3 yards per game over the final 3 to reach the 2,000-yard mark. Only 6 other RBs in NFL history have done it. I think Adrian will get there, and if he does it will be an impressive accomplishment on a number of levels. Obviously he’s coming back from the knee injury. But also, he’s doing it while the Vikings have struggled to move the ball through the air and while Percy Harvin has been unavailable due to injury. And, if Peterson reaches 2,000, he’ll have done it after facing 3 consecutive Top 15 rushing defenses over the final few weeks of the season.

Jerome Felton Having a Pro Bowl-Caliber Season
A couple of big-name free agent acquisitions haven’t worked out according to plan for the Vikings. But there’s another free agent the team acquired this past offseason who has worked out better than most imagined.

It’s FB Jerome Felton. The guy is playing out of his mind and is having a Pro Bowl-caliber season. He’s worthy of your Pro Bowl vote.

I was glad to see Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier mention Felton in his press conference on Monday.

“Jerome at the fullback position is an unsung hero,” Frazier said. “We’re playing a lot more two-back than we played a season ago and it’s really helped us. We went into this offseason saying that we wanted to be able to find a fullback to really be a lead blocker for Adrian because we felt like some of his best runs have come when he had a lead blocker. Now he might differ from that, but you put the tape on and you see that’s true. Jerome has done a terrific job of doing everything we’ve asked him to do as a lead blocker and he’s had a lot to do with the success we’ve had running the football.”

Sherels, Burton To Step Up If Jefferson Can’t Go
CB A.J. Jefferson suffered a concussion near the end of Sunday’s win over the Bears, leaving the Vikings even more short-handed at the position. Starter Chris Cook is already out, of course, so that means Brandon Burton and Marcus Sherels will have to step up if Jefferson isn’t able to play on Sunday in St. Louis. As for Cook, he can start practicing with the team on a more regular basis and could return as soon as next week against the Houston Texans.


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10 Takes Through 10 Games

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

On Wednesday we’ll throw our entire focus toward Sunday’s contest against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Before we do that, though, let’s take one last chance to reflect on what’s happened over the first 10 games of the Vikings season.

This was the topic of last week’s Wobcast, as I explained my 10 takes through 10 weeks…

10. Vikings are in the playoff hunt!
A strong 4-1 start and a key win against Detroit heading into the bye has placed the Vikings in the mix for a playoff spot in the NFC. It’s quite a treat for Vikings fans to be in this position after watching their team go 9-23 the past 2 seasons. Kudos to GM Rick Spielman and Head Coach Leslie Frazier for turning this organization around and heading in the right direction. The Vikings are 6-4 overall, 2-0 in the division and 4-3 in the NFC. If the playoffs started right now, the Vikings would miss it because of tie-breakers to Seattle and Tampa Bay. But the playoffs don’t start right now, so we’ll get to see if the Vikings can overcome a few teams over the next 6 weeks.

9. Dome-field advantage has returned
The Vikings were just 1-7 at home last year and suffered to a 3-13 season. This year, the Vikings dome-field advantage has returned. They are 4-1 in home games, and a big reason for that is the Mall of America Field crowd. Frazier compliments Vikings fans after each game and is genuine in his praise. He’s coached against and played against the Vikings in that building and respects the difference the home crowd can make. Good job, fans. Thanks for helping us gain that incredible dome-field advantage.

8. Youth, health has led to improvement in pass defense
The Vikings pass defense has taken a huge step forward in 2012. They were 26th in yards allowed last season and were 14th in that category after 10 games this season. What’s been the key? It’s been health and youth. CBs Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook missed 21 games combined last season, but this year they both started and remained healthy for most of the team’s first 10 games. Cook is dealing with an arm injury now, but young guys are stepping up in his absence. AJ Jefferson and this year’s 3rd-round pick – Josh Robinson – have filled the void well. Also, Harrison Smith is playing the safety position like we haven’t seen in years from a Vikings safety.

7. Percy has no mercy on opposing defenses
Simply put, I think Percy Harvin is the most dangerous offensive weapon among non-QBs in the NFL. He has 100 touches through 10 games – that’s receptions, rushes and returns – and he’s averaging 13.4 yards per touch with 5 TDs. Harvin is the best kickoff returner in the NFL, one of the best receivers in the NFL, and a good runner. There are not many (any?) better all-around threats in the NFL.

6. Vikings special teams have been outstanding, and deserve more credit
– Often times special teams is the neglected phase of football. But special teams has not been neglected by the Vikings, and in fact I’d submit that special teams has been key to the Vikings success this year. Heck, the Vikings special teams basically single-handedly won a game this year – Detroit – Week 4. A bunch of credit goes to Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer and assistant special teams coach Chris White for the work they’ve done together over the past two seasons. Through 10 games, the Vikings ranked 2nd in average drive start, 4th in kickoff return, 2nd in touchbacks on kickoffs and 9th in punt return. Special teams is something fans complain about when it’s going poorly, but forget about when it’s going well. Let’s take a moment during to appreciate the Vikings special teams play to this point. Bravo, guys.

To see the final 5 takes, which includes bold talk about Adrian Peterson and Blair Walsh, check out last week’s Wobcast.


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8 Vikings-Seahawks Storylines To Follow

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 31, 2012 – 6:39 am

Wednesday is finally here, which means the NFL calendar flips from last week to this week. For the Vikings, who are coming off a disappointing loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home last Thursday night, that’s a good thing.

This weekend the 5-3 Vikings travel to Seattle for a contest against the 4-4 Seahawks. Both teams are hungry for a win after losses in Week 9. Here are a few storylines we’ll be chasing this week…

1. Can Vikings Contain “Lynchpin” of Seahawks Offense?
Ordinarily the Vikings are a great run-stopping defense. Over the last three games, though, poor gap integrity and shoddy tackling have plagued the Vikings. The Vikings will have serious problems on Sunday if they don’t fix those issues because Marshawn Lynch will have no mercy. Lynch is the NFL’s 2nd-leading rusher behind Adrian Peterson and he’s not an easy guy to tackle. At 5-11, 215 pounds, Lynch has a combination of speed and power that causes defenses fits.

2. All Eyes on Ponder
Fair or not, the blame for the Vikings recent woes in the passing game has generally fallen on the shoulders of QB Christian Ponder. After opening the season with 0 INTs through four games, the 2nd-year passer now has 7 INTs in his last four outings and he’s completed just 51.9% of his passes for 309 yards in his last two games. We know Ponder can get the job done by playing well and moving the ball through the air, and now all eyes will be on Ponder to see if he can get things turned around after a few extra days off following the Thursday night loss to Tampa Bay.

3. Familiar Foes
Both the Vikings and Seahawks have players on their team who were significant figures with the other franchise. A trio of former Vikings – Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell, LB Heath Farwell and WR Sidney Rice – will face their former team in the regular season for the first time since leaving the team after the 2010 season. The three helped the Vikings reach the NFC Championship Game after the 2009 season and both Farwell and Rice were named to the Pro Bowl that season.

On the flip side, TE John Carlson left Seattle to come home and join the Vikings via free agency in 2012. In Seattle, Carlson caught 106 passes and 12 touchdowns in his first two seasons, and in 2010 he helped the 7-9 Seahawks upset the defending champion New Orleans Saints in the first round of the playoffs with a pair of touchdown catches.

4. Defending Russell Wilson
Speaking of familiar faces, the Vikings will see one under center for Seattle. Rookie QB Russell Wilson has been a pleasant surprise in the NFL. The 3rd-round pick in last April’s draft beat out high-priced free agent Matt Flynn for the starting job coming out of training camp and he’s played well in the first half of the season. Vikings coaches are familiar with Wilson because he was the starting QB for Frazier’s North squad down in Mobile, Alabama at the Senior Bowl. In order to win the game, the Vikings will now need their defensive linemen to become familiar with Wilson by pressuring him constantly and bringing him to the ground.

5. Overcoming the Loss of CB Chris Cook
The Vikings improvement in pass defense was a big reason they jumped out to an impressive 5-3 start in the first half of the season. The presence of Chris Cook, who missed 12 games last year, was a big reason for that improvement. But now, with Cook expected to miss 6-8 weeks with a broken arm, the Vikings will rely on their depth to overcome his loss. Expect Josh Robinson and A.J. Jefferson to get most of the looks, and expect them to play well in Cook’s stead.

6. Strength vs. Strength: Battle For Field Position
CenturyLink Field in Seattle is known as one of the toughest places to play for visitors. A big part of overcoming the disadvantage this week for the Vikings will be to win the field position battle. Both the Vikings and Seahawks do things to help them win the field position battle. Percy Harvin (35.7) and Seattle’s Leon Washington (29.8) rank 1st and 2nd, respectively, in kickoff return average. Also, the Vikings rank 2nd in average starting field position after kickoff (25.3-yardline) and K Blair Walsh is tied for 1st in touchbacks with 31.

7. What a Rush!
A sneaky-good subplot to this Vikings-Seahawks matchup is a pair of battles that will happen between very good LTs and very good DEs. Vikings DE Jared Allen has a sack in six straight games, and on Sunday he’ll go against Seattle LT Russell Okung. The Seahawks took Okung 6th overall in 2010 and he’s rounding into a great player on their offensive line. Another outstanding performer for Seattle has been DE Chris Clemons. The 6-3, 254-pound pass-rushing ace has 7.0 sacks this season and had 11.0 sacks in each of the last two years entering 2012. He’ll go against 4th overall pick Matt Kalil, who has made a rookie mistake here and there but has generally played extremely well for the Vikings.

8. Second Half of the Season Begins
The Vikings were a surprise team in the NFL through the first half of the season, winning five of eight games and upsetting a pair of playoff teams from a season ago – Detroit and San Francisco. The second half of the season begins for the Vikings, and the attitude inside Winter Park should be that there’s no reason they can’t be a surprise team in the second half of the season, too. Sure, four of the Vikings final six games are against division opponents and are on the road, but the Vikings have proven they can play with anybody when they play well.


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Vikings Place Cook On IR With Designation To Return

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 26, 2012 – 12:41 pm

Vikings CB Chris Cook knifed his way into the Tampa Bay Buccaneers backfield on the second play of the 3rd quarter on Thursday night, leading to a tackle for loss against RB Doug Martin. Unfortunately, the tackle for loss wasn’t the only loss on the play.

Cook left the game after that play with what appeared to be an arm injury. On Friday during his customary day-after-the-game press conference, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier announced that Cook had a broken arm, that he’ll need surgery to repair the break and that he’ll be out “an extended period of time.”

Exactly how long Cook will be out is unknown at this point, but there is a general timeline given the fact that the Vikings placed Cook on the Reserve/Injured list with the “designated to return” tag. The designated for return tag means Cook is eligible to return to the team for practice in 6 weeks and to the Active List in 8 weeks. Under that time table, Cook is eligible to return to practice the week of the Vikings game at home against Chicago on December 9 and is eligible to return to the Active List the week of the Vikings game at Houston on December 23.

Rookie Josh Robinson will likely step into the starting lineup with Cook out of action, while AJ Jefferson will probably slide into the nickel role. Marcus Sherels also figures to see more time on defense with the injury. The Vikings also have Brandon Burton on the roster and Bobby Felder on their Practice Squad.

Frazier also said the staff could work out some free agents corners over the weekend or early next week.

More on the “designated for return” tag
A club is permitted to designate only one player in the 2012 season as eligible to be returned to its Active List, and that player must be designated for return at the time he is placed on the Reserve/Injured list.

– Cook is ineligible to practice or to participate in team or individual drills (contact or non-contact) while on the list.

– Cook is permitted to attend team meetings, and may also attend practice sessions, provided he does not participate. Cook is not permitted to participate in a walk-through.


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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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Vikings List 8 On Initial Injury Report, All Practice

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 12, 2012 – 2:56 pm

The Vikings listed 8 players on their initial Week 2 injury report, and all of them participated in practice on Wednesday.

Listed as full participants in practice are RB Adrian Peterson (knee) and CB Josh Robinson (hip). Those who were limited in practice were: CB Chris Cook (biceps), LB Marvin Mitchell (ankle), S Andrew Sendejo (ankle), C John Sullivan (ankle), WR Jarius Wright (ankle) and TE Rhett Ellison (ankle).

The Colts listed 6 players on their report. LB Pat Angerer (foot), LB Dwight Freeney (ankle), and G Joe Reitz (knee) did not participate in practice. OT Winston Justice (head) was limited and WR Austin Collie (head) and WR T.Y. Hilton (shoulder) were full participants.


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Walsh Comes Up Clutch, Vikings Edge Jaguars 26-23 In Overtime

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 9, 2012 – 3:58 pm

The Vikings hadn’t opened a regular season at home since 2007. They sure made up for lost time on Sunday, opening the season at Mall of America Field in front of a spirited crowd with a dramatic victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars that included the return of Adrian Peterson, a pair of clutch FGs from rookie K Blair Walsh, a new team record established and a try at the new overtime rules.

Where to begin? How about with the score? After trailing 9-0 after the 1st quarter and 23-20 with just 20 seconds to go in the 4th quarter, the Vikings displayed some resiliency and clutch kicking on the way to upending the visiting Jaguars by a count of 26-23 in overtime.

Both the Vikings and Jaguars were inches from closing out victories in regulation. Blair Walsh, the rookie kicker from Georgia drafted by the Vikings, converted a 42-yard FG with 5:33 to play in the game that gave the Vikings a 20-15 lead. On the ensuing Jaguars possession, the Vikings forced a punt and took possession with 1:51 to play. But the home team could not tally a 1st down to run out the clock, instead punting away to Jacksonville. Facing a 4th and 3 from midfield, Jaguars second-year QB Blaine Gabbert hit rookie WR Justin Blackmon for the conversion to extend the drive. On the next play, Gabbert lofted a pass downfield and WR Cecil Shorts got underneath it to haul in a 39-yard TD, giving Jacksonville a 23-20 lead following a 2-point conversion pass to Blackmon.

It was, at the time, a devastating blow to the Vikings because it appeared the game was over and the Vikings had lost yet another late lead, something that plagued the team last season. But the Vikings had a little magic left up their sleeve. QB Christian Ponder completed consecutive passes to WR Devin Aromashodu for 26 yards and TE Kyle Rudolph for 6 more, putting the Vikings on the Jacksonville 37 with just :04 to play.

Enter: Walsh. The somewhat controversial move the Vikings made to go with a rookie kicker this year paid off big-time. Walsh split the uprights on a 55-yard game-tying FG as time expired in regulation, sending the game into overtime and Mall of America Field into jubilation.

The Vikings won the toss, elected to receive, and began their overtime possession on the 25 after Percy Harvin returned the kickoff 30 yards; Harvin gave the Vikings a sensational performance on the day with 14 total touches (receiving, rushing, returning) for 192 yards. Peterson, who returned to action and started the game after coming back from tearing two knee ligaments last Christmas Eve, grabbed the proverbial bull by the horns in overtime and helped put the Vikings in position to win. He rushed for 10 yards on the first play of the series, hauled in a 3-yard reception on the second play, and then ripped off a 20-yard gain on the third play to put the Vikings inside Jaguars territory. Ponder found Aromashodu for 19 yards and a few plays later hit Toby Gerhart for 8 more, setting up Walsh to hit a 38-yarder that wound up being the game-winner.

Because of the NFL’s new overtime rules, though, that requires a team to score a TD to win the game on the first possession of overtime, Jacksonville had one last chance to pry a victory from the jaws of defeat. The Vikings defense jumped up, however, and sealed the win. Gabbert threw incomplete on 1st down, RB Maurice Jones-Drew ran for 8 yards on 2nd down, Harrison Smith deflected a pass on 3rd down and then Gabbert overthrew WR Laurent Robinson on 4th down, giving the Vikings their victory and throwing the Mall of America Field crowd into a frenzy.

Sunday’s season-opener was a roller-coaster affair for the Vikings, but it finished on a high thanks to some late-game clutch kicking from Walsh, a solid 2nd-half performance from Ponder, an incredible will-to-win resiliency by Peterson and opportunistic playmaking by the Vikings defense. The Vikings are off to a 1-0 start for the first time since 2009, and they’ll celebrate this victory on Sunday night before returning to Winter Park on Monday to review the victory and begin preparations for next week’s challenge on the road in Indianapolis.

Post-Game Notes
– Adrian Peterson finished the day with 84 yards and 2 rushing TDs on 17 carries. His 2-TD performance in a return from a serious knee injury last season was remarkable enough. Making it even more special, however, is the fact that Peterson broke the Vikings all-time rushing record, previously held by Robert Smith (6,818). Peterson is now at 6,836 career rushing yards.

– It may get lost in the shuffle of post-game reaction because he didn’t get in the end zone, but Percy Harvin was magnificent  for the Vikings. He produced 192 combined yards on 14 total touches, impacting the game as a receiver, rusher and returner. Harvin had 5 carries for 20 yards to go along with his 6 receptions for 84 yards, and then he added 88 yards on 3 kickoff returns.

– Christian Ponder was unspectacular in the 1st half, going into the locker room at intermission with a stat line of 7 of 11 for 78 yards with no TDs or INTs. Not terrible, but not up to standard, either. Ponder finished very well, though, ending the day completing 20 of 27 passes for 270 yards with no TDs or INTs.

– We’ve got to give some love to the defense. There were breakdowns, particularly in the 1st half and then at the end of regulation when Gabbert hit Shorts for the go-ahead TD with just 20 seconds to play. But there were also times when the Vikings defense stepped up to the challenge. Jacksonville had it 1st and goal from the 5 on their first possession of the game, but the Vikings stood their ground and forced a FG. Down 9-0 late in the 1st half, the Vikings punted away to Jacksonville, giving the Jaguars a chance to blow the game open. The Vikings defense responded, forcing a 3-and-out and setting up the Vikings offense for a drive that ended in a TD right before halftime. Kevin Williams recovered a fumble on Jacksonville’s first drive of the 2nd half, setting up the Vikings for another TD drive on the ensuing possession. Jacksonville began a possession on the Minnesota 16 following a Ponder fumble, but they were forced into a FG try after going 3-and-out. After the Vikings hit a FG on their first possession in overtime, the Vikings defense came on the field and forced a 4-and-out, ending the game.

– Vikings outside LBs Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson cleaned up, combining for 23 total tackler, 1.0 sack and 2 passes defensed. Greenway led all defenders in the game with 13 tackles.

– Both Henderson and CB Chris Cook registered sacks on the afternoon.

There’s much, much more to cover in terms of post-game reaction, including quotes from Vikings players and Head Coach Leslie Frazier. We’ll also review the performance of some other Vikings rookies in the season opener, most notably 1st-rounders Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith. All of that and more will come later tonight and tomorrow, so stay tuned to vikings.com for more.


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Greenway, Rudolph, Walsh Stand Out On Tuesday; Other Practice Notes

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 31, 2012 – 5:33 pm

The competitive spirit was as thick in the air as the sweltering humidity on Tuesday at 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp, as the Vikings conducted their second padded practice that included a couple periods of live, tackle-to-the ground work. Those periods featured short-yardage and goal line situations, perfect opportunities to jot down some notes.

Here are a few of them from Tuesday’s practice…

One-On-One
A large crowd of scouts, special guests and members of the ownership group gathered around one end of Field #2 to watch the RBs, FBs and TEs go one-on-one against the LBs. The drill is competitive as it is, but the unusually large crowd that gathered near the drill only intensified the atmosphere.

The first part of the drill required the offensive players to pass protect against the defensive players. LB Jasper Brinkley got home on his first three rushes and RB Jordan Todman jumped up and displayed some striking pass protection. Rookie LB Audie Cole got in the mix with a great swim move to get past his blocker in a flash and LB Everson Griffen showed his explosion by winning two of his three matchups.

The offense saw much more success in the pass receiving/coverage portion of the drill. The star of the show was TE Kyle Rudolph, who had no trouble wiggling open and hauling in receptions. He made an inside move on LB Chad Greenway and then broke to the outside, creating plenty of separation for Christian Ponder to loft a pass toward the TE. John Carlson got in on the action, too, utilizing an out-breaking route to separate from Griffen and haul in a pass. Todman also flashed once again, shaking free from Cole to win his matchup.

Goal Line Battles
There was outstanding back-and-forth between the offense and defense in the team’s goal line drill. The drill was setup for the offense to have it 1st-and-goal from the 2-yardline. In all three matchups (first team, second team, third team), the defense stymied the offense on 1st and 2nd down, but yielded a TD on 3rd down.

Greenway made one of the better defensive plays of the day when he registered a pass breakup (PBU) on a fade route from Ponder to Rudolph. On the next play CB Chris Cook, DT Letroy Guion and Greenway combined to stuff RB Lex Hilliard short of the goal line. On 3rd down, though, Hilliard burrowed his way into the end zone.

The second team offense threw an incomplete pass on their 1st down try and then saw Todman get stuffed. On 3rd down, RB Derrick Coleman surged past the defense and into the end zone for the score.

Coleman took a handoff on 1st down for the third team, too, and was stopped by a trio consisting of Cole, Griffen and DE Ernest Owusu. QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson threw an incomplete pass on 2nd down and then he hit FB Ryan D’Imperio for a TD on 3rd down.

Booming Blair Walsh
It’s standard for the Vikings begin practice with a special teams period or two, and today practice began very well for the Vikings. And it was largely because of K Blair Walsh, whose leg strength was on full display. Of the kicks I saw, Walsh booted touchbacks on six of six tries, with two of those kickoffs flying over the goal post and through the uprights.

Walsh also ended practice on a solid note, hitting a 43-yard FG to close the final period.

Fans have expressed concern to me about the potential for Walsh to struggle on FG accuracy during his rookie season. Nothing that I’ve seen suggest Walsh will have that struggle, but even if he does I expect the increase in field position the defense will see this year because of Walsh’s touchbacks will counterbalance the loss in points from missed FGs. The Vikings ranked 31st in opponents’ drive start last season (24.4-yardline), and that statistic will only improve for the Vikings this season with Walsh in the fold. Missed FGs show up in the stat sheet and are directly reflected on the scoreboard, while average drive start for your opponent is a much more subtle influence. But both are equally important to the outcome of a game, and Walsh has shown that he has the ability to improve the Vikings in both areas.


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