Peering Into The Future With Ponder At The Helm

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 19, 2011 – 11:05 am

When the Vikings selected Christian Ponder with their first-round pick (No. 12 overall) in last April’s draft, the thinking was he’d be the quarterback of the future. Fast-forward to Week 7 of the 2011 season, and the future is here.

Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier announced on Wednesday that Ponder will make his first NFL start on Sunday, with the defender Super Bowl-champion Green Bay Packers coming to town for their annual visit to Mall of America Field.

Ponder saw his first regular season action last Sunday night in the Vikings loss to Chicago, as he came on in relief for Donovan McNabb in the second half. In one quarter of action, Ponder was 9 of 17 or 99 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions; he also had one rushing attempt for eight yards. On Sunday, though, Ponder will take the field from the start and try to energize a Vikings team that has battled through a rough start to the season and a Vikings fan base that is starving for a young, franchise-caliber QB to emerge.

Questions about McNabb’s standing as the starting quarterback surfaced early in the season after the Vikings stumbled out of the gate to a 0-4 start. McNabb’s subpar outings early in the season were certainly not the only deficiency for the Vikings, but in the NFL it’s the quarterbacks who receive most of the credit in times of prosperity and most of the blame in times of adversity.

Ultimately, with the Vikings slipping to 1-5 after last week’s loss to the Bears, the time came for Frazier and the Vikings to make a switch. Will the switch to Ponder set the stage times of prosperity in the future? The first step in the long process of making that determination begins on Sunday.

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Frazier Explains Decision To Play Ponder

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 19, 2011 – 11:03 am

It’s easy for those who don’t sit in meeting rooms or cross paths in the hallways with players to shout out from the mountain top that changes need to be made after a slow start to the season. When you’re the one in the corner office at the end of the hallway and in charge of leading an NFL team to victory, it’s not as easy to make those changes.

But that’s the position Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier found himself in this week, and he announced on Wednesday morning that he will indeed make a change at the QB position. Christian Ponder will replace Donovan McNabb as the team’s starting QB starting this Sunday, and the expectation is that Ponder will remain the starter for the balance of the 2011 season, and hopefully well beyond.

Frazier said he informed those involved of his decision on Tuesday, and then addressed the team as a whole on Wednesday morning.

“I had a chance to talk with both Christian and Donovan on Tuesday and just went through some of my thinking and why myself and the coaching staff came to this conclusion,” Frazier said. “Donovan was terrific, he’s a class individual, as all of you know if you’ve had a chance to speak with him. A true pro in every sense of the word. He’s a competitor. He wanted to be able to finish things, but he understood why we were doing what we were doing. Christian is as excited as you can imagine. He’s extremely excited about this opportunity. He’s looking forward to his first start in the National Football League.”

Frazier stressed several times during the press conference that struggles at the QB position were not the only reason the Vikings have just 1 win in their first 6 games. He said the team must play better around Ponder in order for the rookie to play effectively. Ultimately, though, Frazier said the decision of whom to start at QB this week was based on who gave the team the best chance to win.

“When I talked with our team, I expressed to them that some of the things that went into this decision,” Frazier said. “We’re 1-5. I think there’s a lot of football left to be played. It does not mean that I am giving up on the 2011 season. The decision was made purely based on what will give us the best chance to win on Sunday. That’s why the decision was made. I didn’t feel or sense that staying status quo was going to get us a win on Sunday. Based on that, along with some other things that I looked at, just decided that this is the direction we need to go at this point in our season.”

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Peterson, Vikings Defense Run Over Cardinals In 34-10 Victory

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 9, 2011 – 3:18 pm

Leslie Frazier earned his first victory as Vikings Head Coach on Sunday at Mall of America Field, as his team ran over the Arizona Cardinals to log a 34-10 win. And the Vikings did it the old fashioned way, with a relentless rushing attack and a punishing defensive effort that yielded only 3.8 yards per play and produced 4 turnovers.

The best RB in the NFL looked the part on Sunday, as the Vikings used three Adrian Peterson rushing TDs in the 1st quarter, along with a TD scamper by QB Donovan McNabb and a suffocating performance by the Vikings defense, to build a 28-0 lead before the 1st quarter came to a close. Arizona got on the board with a 2nd-quarter FG and then tacked on a TD in the 3rd quarter, but a rock-solid defensive effort, a commitment to the running game and two FGs by Ryan Longwell in the 2nd half helped the Vikings salt away their first victory of the season.

With a sold-out Mall of America Field crowd behind them, the Vikings defense played lights out for most of the game. But they were particularly sensational in the early going, forcing the following outcomes on Arizona’s first 6 drives: punt, punt, INT, fumble, punt, punt. There was a trio of three-and-out drives, and the Vikings converted both turnovers into TDs. Peterson scored from 4 yards out after the second Arizona punt and then dashed in from 24 yards out just one play after the INT. McNabb scampered in from 4 yards out after the fumble and then Peterson tallied his third rushing score of the day late in the 1st quarter after yet another Arizona punt.

All told in the 1st quarter, the Vikings scored 28 points, outgained Arizona 108-53, forced two turnovers and had an average drive start at the Arizona 40. Meanwhile, the Cardinals average drive start was their own 18, they converted zero of four 3rd-down attempts and they had nearly as many sacks and turnovers (3) as pass completions (4).

With CB Antoine Winfield sidelined because of a neck injury, it was imperative that the young Vikings secondary step up. And they did. Asher Allen grabbed the 1st quarter-INT, while S Jamarca Sanford collected two of his own to close out the game. The rest of the Vikings secondary played well also, as star WR Larry Fitzgerald was held in check with just 4 receptions for 66 yards. QB Kevin Kolb completed just 21 of 42 attempts for 232 yards with 0 TDs and 2 INTs; backup QB Richard Bartel threw the 3rd INT.

Aiding the young secondary in their effort was a tremendous pass rush, paced once again by perennial Pro Bowler Jared Allen, who had a pair of sacks. Fellow starting DE Brian Robison also had 2.0 sacks on the day, and now the duo has combined for 13.0 sacks this season – Allen has 8.5 and Robison has 4.5.

The Vikings special teams group deserves a nod, too, as they generated an average starting field position for the offense of the MN 42, while creating an average starting field position for Arizona of their own 24. Marcus Sherels had 45 punt return yards on just 2 tries, while P Chris Kluwe allowed zero returns in 4 punts and had two of his punts downed inside the 20, one of which was downed at the Arizona 3. K Ryan Longwell was 4 of 4 on PATs, 2 of 3 on FG tries (including a 53-yarder in the 4th quarter) and had two touchbacks.

The win improves the Vikings to 1-4 on the season and it gets them moving in the right direction as they embark on a road trip to Chicago next weekend and then return home for a date with the Green Bay Packers.

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Shiancoe, Rudolph Emerge In Passing Game

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 4, 2011 – 8:23 am

Head Coach Leslie Frazier said on Monday that, after watching tape of last weekend’s game with his entire coaching staff, he feels the Vikings are “on the verge of getting things headed in the right direction.” It’s not an easy thing for fans to hear after the disappointing start to the season, but it will be interesting to see if Frazier is indeed correct when the Vikings return to Mall of America Field for a game against the Arizona Cardinals this Sunday.

Beyond citing the fact that this weekend’s game is at home, Frazier didn’t go into specifics for why he felt a turnaround was in store for his team. But one reason I have to believe Frazier feels improvement is imminent is that we finally saw the Vikings get their TEs involved in the passing game. Both Kyle Rudolph and Visanthe Shiancoe were factors in the passing game against Kansas City, and hopefully that will prime the pump for Donovan McNabb going forward.

Shiancoe had his best outing of the season against Kansas City, hauling in 6 receptions for 56 yards; he had just 4 receptions for 36 yards and a TD over the first 3 games of the season. In addition, Rudolph caught 3 passes for 44 yards, giving the TE duo more than half of the team’s production from pass catchers.

More important than just the sheer numbers for Shiancoe and Rudolph were the situations in which McNabb leaned on them. McNabb favored Shiancoe on critical downs, as the two hooked up for two completions on 3rd downs and another on 4th down. In fact, all 6 of Shiancoe’s receptions resulted in 1st downs.

Also, McNabb found Rudolph down the left sideline for 41 yards when the Vikings were backed up on their own 15-yardline early in the 2nd quarter. That drive ended in a turnover, but until that point Rudolph’s long reception looked to be the key play in what would become a scoring drive that would’ve increased the Vikings lead to double digits.

Click here to watch a video highlight of Rudolph’s catch.

It’s a negative situation to start the season 0-4, but in looking for a bright spot here and there you can’t help but notice the improvement from Shiancoe and Rudolph in the passing game. It will be interesting to see how Arizona defends this aspect of the Vikings offense, and what other areas of the Vikings offense will open up as a result.

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Aromashodu Impresses With Diving 1st-Quarter TD Catch

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 3, 2011 – 6:55 am

Prior to this season, the only memory Vikings fans had of WR Devin Aromashodu was of him sprinting under a Jay Cutler-thrown pass to haul it in and score a TD in overtime to defeat the Vikings at Soldier Field during the 2009 season. But now, Vikings fan can replace that memory with a better one.

Aromashodu did to the Chiefs what he did to the Vikings back in 2009, except it wasn’t a game-winning score in overtime. It was a 34-yard pass from Donovan McNabb in the 1st quarter that gave the Vikings an early 7-3 lead. Click here to watch a video replay of the TD.

On the play, Aromashodu was lined up wide on the left side of the field, with CB Brandon Carr lined up in coverage. The Chiefs were playing with a single high safety. McNabb was under center, took the snap, gave a little play-action fake to Peterson and saw that Aromashodu flew right past Carr. McNabb lofted a pass into the end zone and Aromashodu caught up to the pass, left his feet fully extended and was able to catch and maintain possession as he fell to the ground.

Even in a game that resulted in another Vikings loss, that play by Aromashodu is encouraging. And it makes you wonder what other kinds of plays the 4-year veteran can make if he’s given a chance. Aromashodu was a standout on special teams during the preseason, and I fully appreciate his value there. But I must also say it would be a welcomed addition to the offense if Aromashodu can find ways to make plays in the passing game, too.

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Vikings Drop 22-17 Road Decision To Chiefs

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 2, 2011 – 4:25 pm

The Vikings went to Kansas City this weekend looking for their first win of the 2011 season, but they came up short in their attempt as the Chiefs defeated them 22-17 at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday afternoon. It’s another frustrating loss for the Vikings because they held advantages in TDs scored, 1st downs, red zone scoring efficiency, rushing yards and time of possession, yet came away with their 4th consecutive loss.

Another solid outing from the Vikings defense kept Kansas City’s offense in check for much of the afternoon. The Chiefs entered the red zone three times on the afternoon, yet never scored when threatening. K Ryan Succop was called upon to convert a career-high 5 FG attempts, and he also nailed a career-high 54-yarder along the way. The Chiefs only TD came on a 52-yard bomb from QB Matt Cassel to playmaking WR Dwayne Bowe.

The Vikings offense, meanwhile, did find the end zone twice on Donovan McNabb TD tosses to Devin Aromashodu early and Michael Jenkins late, but they were unable to outscore the Chiefs. Kansas City’s #1 defensive priority was clearly to stop RB Adrian Peterson - he had 80 yards on 23 carries – but that allowed the Vikings to attack creatively in other areas, such as with Percy Harvin on end-arounds and with TE Visanthe Shiancoe through the air. Harvin had 67 rushing yards on 4 carries and Shiancoe had 6 receptions for 58 yards.

Ultimately, though, the Vikings couldn’t drive for a TD late in the game and Kansas City was able to pickup a 1st down when they needed it most, allowing them to run out the clock on the Vikings defense. The Chiefs came away with the win, their first of the season. The loss for the Vikings dropped them to 0-4 on the season as they return home this week to prepare for a contest against the Arizona Cardinals next Sunday at Mall of America Field.

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Lions Leave Minnesota With 3-Point OT Victory

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 25, 2011 – 3:35 pm

For the third consecutive week the Vikings built up a commanding lead by halftime and for the third consecutive week they watched as that lead evaporated in the 2nd half and left a disappointing defeat in its place. The Vikings led 20-0 at halftime of Sunday’s NFC North showdown with the Detroit Lions and when they returned to the locker room after the game they were dealing with a heart-breaking 26-23 overtime loss.

Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson paced the Vikings offensive effort in the 1st half, with the duo combining for 146 yards and 1 TD on 17 touches. QB Donovan McNabb was helping the cause, too, completing 12 of 18 passes for 103 yards and a TD too to TE Visanthe Shiancoe. Defensively, the Vikings were suffocating QB Matthew Stafford and the Lions offense. Detroit accumulated just 50 yards of total offense, tallied just 4 first downs and scored zero points.

As has been the case for the Vikings every game this season, though, everything changed for the worse in the 2nd half. Stafford found a rhythm in the passing game, finding TE Brandon Pettigrew regularly in the middle of the field and then hitting superstar WR Calvin Johnson over the top and on quick slants whenever a big play was needed. For the game, Johnson and Pettigrew combined for 18 receptions, 220 receiving yards and 1 TD.

Just as influential in the outcome of Sunday’s game were mistakes made by the Vikings. A 4th-and-inches play fell short in the 4th quarter as the Vikings nursed a 3-point lead, a penalty on a punt late in the 4th quarter ruined what would’ve been outstanding field position for the Vikings as they tried to pull out a late win, and the team was penalized 10 times on the afternoon.

Increasing the frustration level in this loss is the fact that the Vikings did many of the things they needed to do to win. They sacked Stafford 5 times (he hadn’t been sacked coming into the game), they held the Lions to 20 rushing yards, and McNabb had a season-high in completions and yards.

The Vikings will regroup tomorrow and throughout the week as they must prepare for a tough road test at Kansas City. The Chiefs are having as disappointing a season as the Vikings, but Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City always yields a tough environment for the visiting team, and it’ll be the Vikings challenge to correct what’s gone wrong in 3 games and find their first win of the season while on the road.

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In Red Zone And 2nd Half, Vikings Need To Finish The Job

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 19, 2011 – 7:53 am

The biggest source of frustration for the Vikings and fans coming off a pair of disappointing losses to open the season is the fact that the Vikings held leads at halftime of both games. The inability to finish games in the 2nd half has cost the Vikings two losses against two very good teams.

Yes, the Vikings need to do a better job of finishing games in the 2nd half. Before that, though, the Vikings need to do a better job of finishing off drives in the 1st half.

Against the Chargers in Week 1, the Vikings began a drive late in the 1st quarter on their own 8-yardline. They drove down to the San Diego 19 and had a 1st-and-10. From there, though, the Vikings gained just 4 yards and had to settle for a FG. Against the Buccaneers on Sunday, the Vikings had four 1st-and-goal situations but were able to score TDs on just two of those opportunities.

Do the math in all three of those situations, and you can see how easily the outcomes in both games could’ve been different had the Vikings executed properly in the red zone and near the goal line.

“That’s one that gets frustrating for us because getting in the red zone area is big for us and everything that we did to get there we need to solidify by scoring touchdowns instead of field goals,” QB Donovan McNabb said after the game. “It would have been a different ballgame if we were able to score a touchdown instead of kicking field goals in the second half.”

The good news is the Vikings have the personnel in place to execute on the goal line. We know Adrian Peterson can bang his way through for scores – he did it twice on Sunday. And we know Michael Jenkins can wiggle open in the end zone and make a play - he did that against the Chargers in Week 1. Now it’s a matter of the Vikings working on this facet of their offense and going out this weekend against Detroit and making plays.

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Vikings Lose Control Late, Drop Home Opener To Bucs 24-20

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 18, 2011 – 2:47 pm

It was like re-living a bad dream. The Vikings opened up with a strong 1st half, took a lead into the locker room at halftime and then watched their lead slowly slip away and turn into a deficit during the 2nd half. That’s what happened to the Vikings last week in San Diego and it happened again on Sunday in the home opener, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers providing the heartbreak this time.

Donovan McNabb and Adrian Peterson came out looking sharp in the opening half, with McNabb going 11 of 17 for 153 yards and Peterson looking nearly unstoppable on 15 carries for 83 yards and 2 TDs. The Vikings outgained Tampa Bay 284-62, held a 17-3 advantage in 1st downs and possessed the ball for almost 10 more minutes. The result of that 1st half domination was a 17-0 halftime lead and a home crowd that was buzzing.

But then the Vikings opened the 2nd half by going 3-and-out, punting to Tampa Bay and then watching the Buccaneers go 44 yards in just 2 plays to cut into the lead and make the score 17-7. The Buccaneers then got wise and successfully attempted an onsides kick. Vikings S Husain Abdullah ended the ensuing drive with an INT in the endzone, but by that point it was already apparent that this Buccaneers team wasn’t going away easily.

It was all Buccaneers the rest of the way. They kept the Vikings out of the endzone after a 12-play, 69-yard drive and Ryan Longwell came on to convert his second FG attempt of the day. But FGs weren’t going to be enough to stave off Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers scored the final 14 points of the game, with the final score coming on a LaGarrette Blount TD run with just 35 seconds to play in the game, giving the Buccaneers a 4-point lead and ultimately the win.

Peterson finished the game with 120 yards rushing on 25 carries, which is a good box score under normal circumstances. But the Vikings went to Peterson just 10 times in the 2nd half and it amounted to 37 yards. McNabb finished going 18 of 300 for 228 yards with no TDs or INTs. The top receiving target for Minnesota was Percy Harvin, who had 7 receptions for 76 yards.

Defensively, the Vikings were led in tackles by Antoine Winfield (11). DEs Jared Allen and Everson Griffen both tallied a QB sack and Abdullah had an INT.

The loss drops the Vikings to 0-2 on the season and they’ll try to right the ship next Sunday when they host their first NFC North game of the year, as the Detroit Lions come to Mall of America Field.

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After (Film) Review: Offensive Line

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 29, 2011 – 6:19 am

We’re going to debut a weekly feature here on the Blog today called “Weekly Review.” The day after each Vikings game, I’ll watch film to focus on one aspect of the team and then provide a report here on the Blog. For the premier edition of After (Film) Review, we’ll focus on the offensive line.

With an off-day between Saturday’s game and the posting of this report, the Star Tribune’s Mark Craig beat me to the punch a little bit on analyzing the offensive line’s performance against the Cowboys. But it looks like we came to the same basic conclusion: the offensive line showed improvement. Specifically, the return of starting RG Anthony Herrera to the lineup was a big boost for the offensive line. While Craig was also complementary of LT Charlie Johnson, I was actually as impressed and maybe a touch more impressed with C John Sullivan.

For what it’s worth, we should temper somewhat the enthusiasm because this was just a preseason game and Dallas didn’t exactly come after the Vikings offense with a blitz-heavy attack. As 1500ESPN’s Tom Pelissero notes, Dallas “rushed more than four men three times in 18 dropback passes (16.7%) and rushed three on six occasions (33.3%), while the Vikings used at least one chip or extra protector eight times (44.4%), not including four bootleg plays.”

All in all, though, I thought the offensive line’s performance on Saturday was encouraging. This group has been much-maligned over the last 12 months, but I have a feeling that they will be much improved in 2011. Let’s get to a few specific examples of solid play from the first-team offensive line…

1st Offensive Series
– On the Vikings first 3rd-down play, Herrera pulled to take out LB Anthony Spencer and RT Phil Loadholt blocked to his inside and took out DE Igor Olshansky to open up a hole for Adrian Peterson to pickup 7 yards and the 1st down.
– On 3rd and 1 a few plays later, LT Charlie Johnson cleared out and sealed DE Kenyon Coleman and a pulling Steve Hutchinson finished off CB Orlando Scandrick to allow Peterson to pickup 5 yards and another 1st down.
– On the next play, McNabb went play-action fake to Peterson and was given a perfect pocket. This enabled WR Bernard Berrian time to make a double-move and run past the Dallas secondary. McNabb hit him in stride for a 49-yard TD.
– Totals for the drive: Peterson 5 carries, 29 yards; McNabb 2 for 2, 54 yards, TD)

2nd Offensive Series
– The Vikings picked up 13 yards on the first play of the series with a Percy Harvin reception, then on the second play of the series Peterson gained 9 yards on the ground. LT Charlie Johnson and TE Jeff Dugan double-teamed DE Jason Hatcher and FB Ryan D’Imperio and Harvin took care of Spencer, which gave Peterson room to dance around both James and Scandrick to gain 9 on the ground going wide left.
– On 2nd and 1, Sullivan handles NT Jay Ratliff long enough and Herrera seals off Olshansky so Peterson can cutback from the left to the right and pick up 5 yards and the 1st down.
– On 1st and 10 from the Minnesota 47-yardline, the Vikings featured a two-TE set. The line provided a solid pocket for McNabb, but the QB couldn’t find an open receiver, so he fled to the right and then found Berrian, who broke open and caught McNabb’s pass for a gain of 15 yards.
– Totals: Peterson 2 carries, 14 yards; McNabb 4 for 5, 37 yards)

3rd Offensive Series
On 2nd and 7 from the MN 17, McNabb changed the play at the line of scrimmage and the Vikings ran wide left with Peterson. TE Kyle Rudolph was just good enough to seal off LB Sean Lee and Sullivan got to the second level to block James from the play, which is ultimately why Peterson was able to dash forward for a 15-yard gain. Hutchinson pulled on the play to take out Elam.
– On 2nd and 10, Booker carried and went up the middle to gain 10 yards. Johnson sealed Spencer off immediately, Sullivan handled Ratliff, Hutchinson took care of Lee and Herrera came off his initial block to prevent James from making a stop early in the play.
– On 1st and 10 from the DAL 47, McNabb made his best throw of the night. McNabb was in the gun, with Booker and Kleinsasser in the backfield as protectors. McNabb rifled a pass into WR Michael Jenkins on a slant for a gain of 17. There was a nice pocket for McNabb and #5 got rid of the ball quickly. Preseason TV analyst Mike Mayock said: “For anyone who thinks that Donovan McNabb doesn’t have it (anymore), take a snapshot of this throw.”
– Totals: Peterson 2 carries, 18 yards; Booker 1 carry, 11 yards; McNabb 2 for 4, 25 yards, INT)

4th Offensive Series
– On the first play of the series, Peterson ran behind the LG for a 5-yard gain. Johnson and Kleinsasser combined for a kickout block on DE Sean Lissemore and Sullivan sealed NT Josh Brent out of the play.
– Peterson gained 3 yards on a pitch wide right. The play was actually blocked well, but OLB DeMarcus Ware chased the play down from the back end; he was intentionally left unblocked because the play was going to the opposite side. But that’s why Ware is a perennial Pro Bowler. However, this was the first time Ware was a factor in the game (5:00 to play in 1st half).
– Totals: Peterson 2 carries, 8 yards; McNabb 1 for 3, 6 yards.

5th Offensive Series
– McNabb hit Booker for a 12-yard gain on 1st down, but the Vikings went 3-and-out after that; gave up a sack on 2nd down.

End of 1st half: Vikings had 216 yards (157 for Dallas), 12 first downs (9 for Dallas) and 89 rushing yards (22 for Dallas).

6th Offensive Series
– On 3rd and 4 out of the gun formation, McNabb was protected great against a 4-man rush and he lofted a pass for Jenkins down the right side; Jenkins won the one-on-one matchup against CB Mario Butler to make the catch for a gain of 26 yards and the 1st down.
– Totals: Peterson 3 carries, 12 yards; McNabb 1 for 3, 26 yards

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