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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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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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Late Griffin III TD Run Ends Vikings Comeback Bid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Sunday’s Pre-Game Notebook

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 14, 2012 – 9:51 am

It’s another late-afternoon kickoff for the Vikings, as they’re slated to kick off against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland at 4:25 p.m. ET (3:25 p.m. CT). It’s the Vikings second consecutive late-afternoon kickoff, with last week’s win over the Tennessee Titans also beginning at 3:25 p.m. CT.

While you’re trying to burn an extra few hours before kickoff, take a look at a few Vikings-related pre-game notes…

Robert Griffin III Expected To Start
To the surprise of no one, Redskins QB Robert Griffin III is expected to start today. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the news on Sunday morning, citing “a League source.” Griffin III sustained a concussion in the 3rd quarter last week against Atlanta, causing some to question whether or not he’d be ready to go against the Vikings. But Griffin III practiced each day this week and has passed the necessary tests under the NFL’s mandated concussion protocol. He was listed as questionable on the week’s final injury report, but it looks like he’ll be on the field today.

From The Ground Up
Both the Vikings and Redskins have talented young QBs in Christian Ponder and Griffin III, respectively. But make no mistake, the first battle to be waged in today’s game will be on the ground.

The Redskins rank 4th in the NFL in rushing yards, and they have a talented rookie RB in Alfred Morris who is causing opposing defenses plenty of trouble. 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. But the Vikings rank #6 in rushing defense and they are one of just three teams who have yet to allow a rush of 20+ yards. In fact, the longest rush the Vikings have allowed this year is 15 yards.

On the flip side, the Vikings of course feature Adrian Peterson. He returns to the field where he injured his knee on Christmas Eve last year. Peterson has 190 rushing yards the past two weeks and he’s just one 100-yard game away from tying the Vikings all-time record for career 100-yard rushing games (Robert Smith – 29). The Vikings have 7 rushes of 20+ yards, which is 2nd-most in the NFL this season.

Broadcast Information
Today’s Vikings-Redskins game will be televised by FOX, with Dick Stockton handling play-by-play and John Lynch providing analysis. Jennifer Hale will be the sideline reporter.

Of course you can catch the game on the Vikings Radio Network, too. The game will be on KFAN-FM 100.3/KTCN-AM 1130 locally. Paul Allen and Pete Bercich will call the action from the booth and Greg Coleman will handle sideline reporting duties. The Vikings Radio Network pre-game show, with Mike Mussman as host and yours truly joining about 40 minutes prior to kickoff, begins at 1:00 p.m. CT.

9 Vikings-Redskins Storylines
In case you missed it earlier in the week, we went over 9 Vikings-Redskins storylines to watch. Many of them still apply today, which is the point of that weekly blog entry. Check them out.

Looking Ahead
NFL teams can’t afford to look ahead to upcoming games, but we can. The Vikings will return to Mall of America Field next week for consecutive home games just 4 days apart. On Sunday, the Vikings will host the Arizona Cardinals. On the following Thursday, the Vikings will host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a game that will be televised by the NFL Network.


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Redskins QB Griffin III (Concussion) Expected To Practice Wednesday

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 10, 2012 – 9:45 am

As we mentioned right off the bat in Wednesday morning’s “9 Vikings-Redskins Storylines To Follow,” Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III is currently recovering from a concussion he suffered in last week’s game against the Atlanta Falcons and his status for this week’s game against the Vikings is uncertain. Early reports out of Washington, however, suggest that the Redskins rookie passer is on track to return to the field in time to start against the Vikings.

Griffin III took a nasty – but clean – hit from Falcons LB Sean Weatherspoon in the 3rd quarter of last week’s game, forcing the Redskins to pull him from the game. He was diagnosed with a concussion and is now going through the NFL’s mandated concussion protocol. Long story longer, Griffin III must take and pass a series of tests before he’s permitted to return to the field for practice or a game.

The Redskins have not commented publicly on when Griffin III may return. According to this Washington Post report from Mark Maske, though, it’s expected that Griffin III will return as soon as Wednesday to practice with his teammates. While Maske cites a person close to the situation as his source for the report, he also notes that Griffin III’s participation in practice does not guarantee his availability for Sunday. The NFL and its teams are careful in dealing with injuries, particularly head injuries, and the protocol that exists actually takes the decision out of the hands of the individual team and puts it into the hands of independent medical experts.

The bottom line is, this is a story that will persist all week as the Vikings and Redskins prepare to face one another. Early indications are that Griffin III will be ready to play.

Other Injury Notes
– Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier disclosed on Monday that RB Adrian Peterson had a slight ankle sprain in last week’s win over the Titans. Frazier said Peterson was able to play through the injury and that he expects Peterson to play on Sunday, but that the injury may limit what the Vikings ask Peterson to do in practice this week.

– As of early Wednesday morning, there’s nothing new to report on Jerome Simpson’s leg condition. Frazier indicated on Monday that the injury may have something to do with Simpson’s back. Frazier will certainly be asked about this on Wednesday morning during his regular press conference.

– It’s expected that LB Marvin Mitchell (calf) and S Andrew Sendejo (ankle) will return to practice this week.

– Frazier said QB Christian Ponder moved around just fine on Sunday and that there doesn’t appear to be a problem with his knee.


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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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Little Acclaim, Big Results: 3 Vikings Flying Under The Radar

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 8, 2012 – 1:38 pm

The Vikings are off to a fast 4-1 start in 2012, and their good fortune is the result of many great individual efforts. Many of those individuals, such as leading tackler Chad Greenway and do-everything playmaker Percy Harvin, are rightfully receiving acclaim for their contributions.

But as anyone who follows the game of football realizes, team success is also a function of outstanding individual effort that merits little or no acclaim. The Vikings early-season success is not exempt from this rule. So let’s take a moment to recognize three Vikings who are performing well but have not been in the headlines very much.

TE Rhett Ellison
The Vikings have received outstanding contributions from their 2012 draft class to this point, with CB Josh Robinson and S Harrison Smith infusing the secondary with energy and talent, LT Matt Kalil (more on him below) helping to shore up the offensive line, and Blair Walsh off to a tremendous start. Many may not know it, but TE Rhett Ellison should be included in that group as well. He’s played in all 5 of the Vikings regular season games and has been a contributor on special teams as well as offense.

A lot of what Ellison does will not show up in the box score. For example, he was a vital component to the Vikings blocking scheme against San Francisco 49ers DE Justin Smith. A 3-time Pro Bowler, Smith was held in check against the Vikings and finished the game with just 3 tackles. In Sunday’s win over the Titans, though, some of what Ellison can do to help the team did show up in the box score. He had 2 catches for 35 yards, including a 29-yarder late in the 3rd quarter that led to a Vikings TD three plays later.

Ellison can block. He can catch and run. And he can cover kicks or block for returners. That’s why Vikings GM Rick Spielman selected him in the 4th round last April, and that’s why he’s one of three players we’ve identified as a top “under the radar” performer for the Vikings this season.

FB Jerome Felton
It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it. That’s perhaps the best way to characterize the contributions of FB Jerome Felton to the Vikings offense. He’s not asked by the team to carry the ball much or run routes. He’s basically an extended family member of the offensive line, paving the way for RB Adrian Peterson and solidifying the pocket for QB Christian Ponder. Some have speculated in the past that Peterson doesn’t like running behind a FB, but I’m going to guess he doesn’t mind running behind Felton. Peterson is averaging 4.4 yards per carry and the Vikings rank 9th in the NFL in rushing yards per game. Felton is a big reason why.

“I think Jerome Felton is a guy who hasn’t gotten a lot of recognition,” Vikings QB Christian Ponder said, “but watching him on tape, he’s done a heck of a job lead-blocking for Adrian.”

LT Matt Kalil
In much the same way it’s hard to measure the effectiveness of a FB such as Felton or a “blocking” TE such as Ellison, it can be tricky gauging the performance of an offensive lineman because there’s no box score metric that directly applies to the position. But you don’t need a box score metric or even a bunch of film study to realize how dominant Kalil has been through 5 games. He’s gone against several formidable DEs and he’s held his water without problem. Also, according to one statistical study, the Vikings have run to the left (Kalil’s side) with success – 44 carries for 199 yards (4.5 yards per carry).


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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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Allen, Ponder Listed As Probable For Vikings; Titans Rule QB Locker Out, WR Britt Questionable

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 5, 2012 – 1:36 pm

The Vikings and Tennessee Titans have released their final injury reports for the week, and there were no big surprises for either team. Here are a few of the details…

– Vikings DE Jared Allen (groin) and QB Christian Ponder are listed as probable. Allen did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday and Ponder was limited on those days, but both guys were full participants on Friday.
– Listed as probable for the Vikings are LG Charlie Johnson (low back), CB Marcus Sherels (quadriceps) and CB Antoine Winfield (knee).
– LB Erin Henderson (concussion) and WR Michael Jenkins (rib) are listed as questionable.
– LB Marvin Mitchell (calf) is doubtful and both S Mistral Raymond (ankle) and S Andrew Sendejo are out.

– The Titans ruled Jake Locker (shoulder) out for Sunday. Matt Hasselbeck, a 14-year veteran, will start for Locker.
– TE Jared Cook (shoulder) is probable.
– The following players are listed as questionable: LB Patrick Bailey (hand), WR Kenny Britt (ankle), DE Scott Solomon (hamstring), LB Colin McCarthy (ankle) and T Mike Otto (finger/knee).


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Emptying Out The Vikings-Lions Notebook

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 2, 2012 – 3:09 pm

The Vikings will begin on-field preparations for Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans on Wednesday, and that means we’ll begin previewing the matchup on Wednesday as well. But it also means we have several more hours to digest last Sunday’s win.

Before we move on to Vikings-Titans, let’s empty out the Vikings-Lions notebook…

Handling Success
Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier disclosed an interesting observation following his team’s victory over the San Francisco 49ers two weeks ago.

“The way we prepared this week, you knew we were going to play good football,” Frazier said immediately after the 49ers win. “I didn’t say that about our team before we played Indy. We did not handle the success against Jacksonville the right way, and I mentioned that to our players. We came back this week and our guys were locked in and focused throughout the week, and it showed the way we played.”

With Frazier making that observation about his team, it was interesting to see how the Vikings responded to their second victory of the season during the week of preparation for the Lions game. The team was focused all week, and it showed as they put together a solid win at Ford Field. In fact, Frazier said in his post-game comments in Detroit that he thought the team’s practice on Friday was their best Friday practice of the season.

“We’ve been hitting on it,” Frazier said, “from that Indy game on, just how important the focus and the preparation have to be every single week.”

Simpson’s Deep Impact
Jerome Simpson returned to the lineup amid much fanfare on Sunday. The Vikings offense has moved the ball efficiently for most of the season, but many are still clamoring for more downfield production from the Vikings passing attack. While Simpson didn’t haul in a long TD reception, he was still able to use his explosive athletic ability to be a factor in the passing game.

Simpson drew a pair of pass interference penalties on passes deep down the side line in the 1st half – one for 26 yards and another for 31 yards – and both penalties eventually led to points for the Vikings. Then late in the game with the Vikings trying to gain a 1st down to help run out the clock, QB Christian Ponder lofted a pass down the left sideline and Simpson out-jumped a defender to make the catch and give the offense some breathing room.

When all was said and done, Simpson finished as the Vikings leading receiver with 4 receptions for 50 yards.

Said Frazier of Simpson’s impact: “Those PI (pass interference) penalties, to give us the field position they gave us, the threat that he gives us vertically, that catch he made late in the fourth quarter, that’s a big time catch. Great throw by Christian but that was pretty good coverage by that defensive back, but to make the play on the ball the way he did, we need that. Very, very impressed with some of the things he did in the short time we’ve had him.”

No Hitch For Peterson
Adrian Peterson looked in prime form at Ford Field. He’s historically done well against Detroit, and he only added to his impressive totals vs. the division rival on Sunday. Peterson gained 102 yards on 21 carries, giving him his 28th career 100-yard rushing game and his 6th such game against the Lions.

Peterson displayed the extra gear, burst and elusiveness that he’s always had, and Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier spoke about it on Monday.

“He looked more like the Adrian of old than at any point in this young season,” Frazier said. “He had some runs that showed the strength, the power, the elusiveness that we’ve seen in the past and it was just great to see. There was no hitch anywhere. He looked good.”

Peterson’s 28 career 100-yard rushing games is just one shy of the Vikings franchise record of 29, which is held by Robert Smith. Also, Peterson is now just 6 TDs away from passing Chuck Foreman for 4th on the Vikings all-time TDs list.

Ponder Protecting The Ball
The biggest improvement in Ponder’s play through the first 4 games of 2012 is the command he demonstrates in directing the Vikings offense. He does not look hesitant or unsure, he doesn’t panic in the face of pressure or when he can’t find a receiver, and he doesn’t make irresponsible throws.

A season ago, that was not the case. Ponder had as many INTs (13) as TD passes (13), and he completed just 54.3% of his passes. This season is a different story. Ponder has completed 68.3% of his passes and he’s yet to throw an INT; Ponder has not thrown an INT in his last 124 pass attempts.

NFL defenses are good, so eventually they get to even the best of the best passers. Mistakes are bound to happen at this level of play, but Ponder has shown that A) he has the ability to limit mistakes, and B) he has the proper mindset to bounce back quickly when a mistake does happen.


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