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Final Thoughts: Rushing Offense, Pass Rush Key Vikings Victory

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 23, 2012 – 6:20 am

The Vikings have a quick turnaround this week, as they’re slated to play on Thursday night in a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. We’ll turn our full attention to the Vikings-Buccaneers matchup later on Tuesday. But first, here are a few final thoughts from the Vikings 21-14 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

Getting Home With Four
We identified rushing four defensive linemen and dropping seven defenders into coverage as the defensive key to the game in last week’s Verizon Wireless Winning Formula. The Vikings identified the same strategy as the way to contain Arizona’s offense, and it worked. Cardinals QB John Skelton was sacked 7 times in the game and was constantly under duress. That disrupted the Cardinals passing game and it prevented superstar WR Larry Fitzgerald from ever becoming a factor.

“That was the goal, to go into this game and be able to generate a pass rush without having to bring five or six guys,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said on Monday. “Our D-line stepped up to challenge. They dominated just like we hoped they would. It really took a lot of pressure off our secondary and helped them to play a very good game as well. It was great execution, but it started with our guys up front.”

Of the Vikings 7 sacks, 6.0 of them came from defensive linemen. DE Brian Robison had 3.0, DE Jared Allen had 2.0 and DT Kevin Williams had 1.0. The other sack went to CB Antoine Winfield (more on that play later). The pressure generated by the Vikings front four allowed the Vikings secondary and LBs to focus on Arizona’s receivers, specifically Fitzgerald. Only one other team this year (New England Patriots) has held Fitzgerald to fewer catches and receptions than the Vikings, who held the former Holy Angels (Richfield, MN) star to 4 receptions for 29 yards.

Run It, All Day
When you play the Vikings, you know you have to buckle it up and get ready to stop Adrian Peterson. But then, when you’re able to shut down the Vikings passing game almost entirely, you surely know Peterson will be coming at you. Even so, Arizona could not stop the best RB in the NFL. Peterson had his best day on the field since returning from his knee injury, carrying the ball 23 times for 153 yards and 1 TD. On the Vikings two TD drives, Peterson carried the ball a total of 8 times for 87 yards.

Perhaps most impressive about the Vikings rushing performance was the fact that they did it despite Arizona consistently stacking the box to try and slow #28.

“For our running back, Adrian Peterson, who is the premier back, to know they’re going to be in eight-man fronts, nine-man fronts at a time, and be able to rush for 153 yards, that’s the formula for success if you’re in a tough situation throwing the football,” Frazier said. “Credit our guys for buying into that philosophy and finding a way to get a win.”

What I also loved to see was the way the Vikings finished the game. The Vikings were in a precarious situation, holding on to a 7-point lead with :14 to play in the game and a 4th and 5 from the Arizona 33. There was too much time remaining to kneel again because that would give the Cardinals the ball on about the 35 with 12 or so seconds to go. They could use one quick pass to the sideline to put themselves in position to throw a hail mary. Trying a FG was an option, but a miss would give the Cardinals the ball at the spot of the hold, with a chance at a hail mary on the following play. So what did the Vikings do? They gave it to Peterson.

The result was good – an 8-yard gain up the middle for the 1st down, permitting the clock to tick down to zero.

Key Play: Antoine Winfield’s 4th-Down Sack
A key moment in the game came at the 7:47 mark in the 3rd quarter, with Arizona facing a 4th and 2 from the Minnesota 18. The Vikings just took a 21-7 lead on the previous series when Harrison Smith returned an INT 31 yards for a touchdown. With a makeable distance to go on 4th down inside the red zone, Arizona decided a FG wasn’t going to do much for them, so they decided to go for it.

It didn’t work out.

Skelton took the snap and rolled to his right, looking for a receiver in the right flat. That receiver was blanketed by Winfield, so Skelton tucked the ball and attempted to run for the 1st down. Being chased by Robison, Skelton sprinted toward the sideline and the 1st down marker, which prompted Winfield to come off his coverage at the just the right time and administer a crushing blow to Skelton before he could reach the 1st down marker – before he could even get back to the line of scrimmage. Robison got there a split-second later to increase the punishment, and the Cardinals turned the ball over on downs.

It was one of those signature plays from Winfield, a defender who plays with a unique blend of calculation and tenacity.

Vikings Neutralize Patrick Peterson
When it comes to punt returners in the NFL, Patrick Peterson has been Superman. He had a record-setting season returning punts last year as a rookie, scoring 4 TDs and totaling 699 yards on 44 returns. The 4 return TDs tied the NFL single-season record and set a franchise record, and the 699 return yards established an NFL rookie record and ranks as the 2nd-highest single-season total in NFL history (Desmond Howard, 875, 1996).

But when it comes to defending punt returners in the NFL, the Vikings have been Peterson’s Kryptonite. In last year’s matchup, Peterson had zero return yards on 4 Vikings punt. In Sunday’s matchup, Peterson had 7 total return yards on another 4 Vikings punts. Credit goes to Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer, P Chris Kluwe and the team’s punt coverage crew for finding a way to neutralize the explosive and dynamic Peterson.

Harrison Smith’s Temperament Impresses
Vikings rookie S Harrison Smith is off to a fantastic start. Even before his 31-yard pick 6 this past Sunday, Smith was having a great season. Add in that play, which was ultimately the game-winning score, and you can’t be anything but completely excited about how much of an impact player Smith will be for this Vikings defense.

Smith plays the safety position in a way we haven’t seen very much in Minnesota. He’s been fined for illegal hits and he’s been penalized for mixing it up after a play. But the penalties and/or fines that Smith has received after a couple of big-time hits have not caused Smith to temper his aggressiveness. He’s learning to modify his play so that he can remain aggressive while playing within the rules.

“Sometimes when you get fined as often as he’s gotten fined in these first seven games, it can temper your emotions and make you start playing a little tentatively,” Frazier explained. “And that hasn’t been the case with him. He’s been aggressive. He’s still in-tune with everything we’re trying to get done. He doesn’t seem to be sidetracked by anything that happened.

“I remember explaining to him about horse collaring and what happened a week ago against Washington and talking him through it again, although we’ve covered this before. And he said, ‘Okay, I understand.’ Then he just moved on, and that’s the attitude you want to see.”

Now Smith adds a defensive touchdown to his body of work in the NFL. Typically, players who bring that much to the table are emotional and volatile by nature. But that’s not the case with Smith, and that’s impressed Frazier as well.

“His resiliency, his maturity is very, very impressive,” Frazier said. “He’s a bright guy and very athletic but his maturity and just not letting stuff hang on to him that can be negative, that’s impressive.”


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Adrian Peterson, Harrison Smith Up For Weekly Awards

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 23, 2012 – 6:05 am

Adrian Peterson and Harrison Smith both logged sensational performances in the Vikings 21-14 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, and for doing so they’ve been nominated for a pair of weekly awards. You have a chance to bring the award home by voting for each of them.

In rushing for 153 yards and 1 TD on 23 carries, Peterson has been named a finalist for FedEx Ground NFL Player of the Week honors. Also named as finalists for the award were Pittsburgh’s Jonathan Dwyer (122 yards on 17 carries) and Tennessee’s Chris Johnson (195 yards and 2 TDs on 18 carries).

After grabbing his first career INT and returning it 31 yards for a TD to go along with 5 tackles, Smith has been named a finalist for Pepsi Max NFL Rookie of the Week honors. Also named as finalists for the award were New England’s Dont’a Hightower, Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin and Washington’s Alfred Morris.

Fans can vote for Petreson by going to NFL.com/FedEx from 9 a.m. EST on Tuesday through 3 p.m. EST on Friday. The winner in this category will be announced Friday on NFL Total Access on NFL Network and on NFL.com.

Fans can vote for Smith by going to NFL.com/rookies beginning Tuesday at 9 A.M. ET and ending on Friday at 3 P.M. ET. The winner in this category will be announced Friday on NFL Total Access on NFL Network and on NFL.com.


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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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Winfield’s Influence Not Lost On Alan Williams, Teammates

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 18, 2012 – 11:16 am

Vikings CB Antoine Winfield missed 11 games in 2011 due to injury. The Vikings defense finished the season ranked last in passer rating allowed, third-last in points allowed, 28th in passing yards allowed and 21st in total defense.

Winfield has played in every game this season. The Vikings defense has made significant improvement in each of those categories, jumping up 17 spots in points allowed and passer rating allowed, 13 spots in yards allowed and 12 spots in passing yards allowed.

It’s no coincidence that the improvement corresponded with Winfield’s return. Certainly other factors have contributed to the defense’s improvement, such as an infusion of youth into the group, a defensive line rotation that is keeping starters fresh through the game, LB Chad Greenway leading the League in tackling, plus more. But Winfield’s presence in the lineup ranks up near the top when it comes to reasons the Vikings defense has improved this season.

Through 6 games, Winfield is 2nd on the team with 50 tackles, 3rd in pass breakups and 1st in both tackles for loss (7.0) and INTs (2). His best performance of the season came last week in Washington, where he led the team with 9 tackles, had 3.0 TFLs and registered an INT.

While meeting with reporters on Thursday, Vikings Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams said that’s “as good as I’ve seen anyone play in a long time.”

As mentioned above, a big reason for the Vikings big improvement on defense this season has been the play of younger players. Williams pointed out that Winfield has made a positive impact on those young players.

“It has a huge impact,” Williams said of Winfield’s leadership on the defense. “It’s good because he’s an older guy that comes out to practice, the way he prepares, the way he practices, the way he goes about his business, you look at him and say, ‘You know what? That’s what a professional looks like. That’s how a professional prepares. And these are the results of the way a guy prepares.’ I think it has an impact, not just on the young guys, but the older guys, too.”

What They Say
Williams pointed out that both young and veteran players respect Winfield as a leader. A pair of defensive starters supported Williams’ assertion.

After the team’s Week 2 loss to Indianapolis, Winfield felt compelled to speak to the team. His message was heard loud and clear.

“He’s one of the leaders on the team, the oldest guy on the team, so what he had to say was very pertinent,” DE Jared Allen said. “We’ll leave it at that. What’s said in that team room is for our ears only. But it was good.”

Rookie S Harrison Smith spoke about his respect for the 14-year veteran, too.

“There’s not one guy on this team who doesn’t respect Antoine and look to him for how he does things,” Smith said. “So when he tells us what he sees, we’re going to listen with the understanding that he knows best.”


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ESPN’s Jaworski Praises Harrison Smith, Vikings “Harmony” On Defense

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 12, 2012 – 11:20 am

The Vikings defense is off to a great start in 2012. Vast improvements have been made in pass defense. Opposing quarterbacks are completing 61.8% of their passes (down 6.4% from last year)for an average of 6.08 yards per attempt (down 2.03 yards) and their rating is just 84.6 (down 23.0 points).

On top of that, the Vikings stout run defense has returned. The Vikings are #2 in yards per carry allowed (3.2) and #6 in yards per game allowed (78.6), and the Vikings have a League-best long run allowed of just 15 yards. In the last three games, the Vikings have allowed fewer than 300 yards of total offense and just 11.0 points per game.

The big-time improvement by the Vikings defense has been appreciated locally by fans, and now it’s gaining national attention as well. Or at least the attention of one well-respected ESPN NFL analyst.

In his appearance on ESPN Radio’s Mike and Mike in the Morning, which was broadcasting live from Notre Dame’s campus on Friday morning, Ron Jaworski praised the Vikings defense by explaining that several veterans were playing well and are being complimented by one rookie who has been impressive through his first five games.

“Defensively, when I watched them this week, they just jumped out at me,” Jaworski said. “Obviously they have Jared Allen, Kevin Williams playing great inside. I mean Chad Greenway is flying around making plays all over the field. Antoine Winfield is a wily, old veteran that is healthy this year.

“But that guy that flashed to me, and I know you’re at Notre Dame this morning, but Harrison Smith has been making plays all over the field. A tremendous leader, plays with great discipline.”

Jaworski didn’t stop after praising individuals from the Vikings defense. He also praised the group’s synergy, which is an indirect compliment to those responsible for the construction of the Vikings defense – GM Rick Spielman, Head Coach Leslie Frazier and Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams.

“And when I look at defense, I always use this word: harmony. When you have eleven guys working together, making great music, you have harmony. And that’s what I see out of this Minnesota Vikings defense right now.”

Hopefully the Vikings defense makes sweet music in Washington D.C., this weekend, too.


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Blanton The Latest To Thrive In “Next Man Up” Philosophy

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 12, 2012 – 6:11 am

The Vikings defense has played a prominent role in the team’s current three-game winning streak. Over the past three games, the Vikings have allowed fewer than 300 yards of total offense and just 11.0 points per game. Big-time performances from big-time defenders such as Chad Greenway and Antoine Winfield have paced this impressive string of defensive performances.

There’s another factor that has played a significant role as well: depth at several positions.

Starting S Mistral Raymond went down with an ankle injury early in Week 2, so Jamarca Sanford stepped in and the defense didn’t miss a beat. Starting LB Erin Henderson missed 2 games due to a concussion, so Marvin Mitchell stepped in to start in the base defense and Jasper Brinkley assumed a role in the team’s nickel package. Jared Allen was forced out of action for one play deep in Vikings territory during the 4th quarter at Detroit, so Everson Griffen answered the bell and registered a key sack of Matthew Stafford.

“We tell all the guys, ‘You’re a play away from being in there starting and starting for a long time and playing for a long time.’ All the coaches get their guys ready to play and we’re not going to make excuses for rookies or first-year, second-year players going in,” Vikings Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams said. “We still have to play winning football and I think that’s the mentality of the team, of the guys and of the coaches, that no matter who’s in the ball game, we’re not going to dumb it down, we’re not going to water it down.”

The latest example of this for the Vikings? Robert Blanton, who was suddenly thrust into action during last week’s game against the Tennessee Titans when starting S Harrison Smith was ejected from the game. Previously, the reserves who stepped into a more prominent role were veterans. Williams was asked if he had to say anything in particular to Blanton before sending him into the game because he’s a rookie.

“Not a word,” Williams said. “Our expectations are the next guy, if one guy’s down, the next guy goes in, nothing needs to be said. There’s nothing that’s needed to be said, guys are expected to go in and not do anything special. Do your job. There’s no extra pressure, you don’t have to be the guy that you’re replacing. Do your job and that’ll be good enough for us to win.”

And that’s what Blanton did. He jumped right into the action and, once again, the Vikings defense didn’t miss a beat. The Vikings held Tennessee scoreless until the 4th quarter and came away with a resounding 30-7 victory. Blanton finished with 5 tackles, 1 tackle for loss and 1 pass break up.

Asked what stood out to him about Blanton’s performance, Williams said: “The poise, the calmness, the plays that he made. He didn’t look like a rookie, but that’s a credit to him as well as Coach [Joe] Woods, in terms of getting Blanton ready.

“We’re going to keep moving and guys are going to have to do what they’re capable of doing and that’s what Blanton did.”


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Sanford, Smith Step Up For Vikings Defense

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 2, 2012 – 6:37 am

The Vikings entered their contest versus Detroit last week with a rookie (Harrison Smith) and a backup (Jamarca Sanford) starting at safety.  The Lions entered the game with the NFL’s top-ranked passing offense, a 5,000-yard passer from a season ago (Matthew Stafford) and the most dominant receiver in the game (Calvin Johnson).

On paper, the advantage was clearly in favor of Detroit. On the field throughout the game, though, the advantage shifted quickly to Smith and Sanford. The Vikings safety duo was active all game, combining for 4 passes defensed. And even when they couldn’t make a play on the ball, they made Lions receivers pay for making the catch. Smith and Sanford combined for 9 tackles on the day, and on at least two occasions they combined to make hits that forced a Lions offensive player to drop the ball.

The first instance came on 2nd and goal from the Minnesota 13 late in the 2nd quarter. Stafford dropped back to pass and had a clean pocket. He delivered a strike to Johnson in the back of the end zone. Johnson had the ball in his hands, but then was hit by both Smith and Sanford simultaneously, causing him to drop the ball and remain on the ground for a few moments after the play. The Lions were forced to kick a FG two plays later.

The second instance came in the 3rd quarter, with the Lions driving into Vikings territory. RB Mikel Leshoure caught a pass from Stafford and turned upfield. He was met by Smith, who stopped his progress, and then Sanford came in with a hit that caused Leshoure to fumble. Sanford emerged from the pile with the ball, tallying a forced fumble and a fumble recovery on the same play.

Those are the types of plays that Vikings fans have long desired to see from the team’s safeties. And those are the types of plays that can make opponents think twice about attacking the middle of the field.

“I think it definitely sends a message,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said on Monday. “I mean, the hits that Jamarca (Sanford) delivered yesterday along with what Harrison did, both of those safeties did a real good job of putting some stuff on tape that opposing offenses will look at and hopefully, think twice about going in those areas. I think it does send a message.”

To develop the kind of reputation that will truly make opposing offenses adjust their plans when facing the Vikings, Smith and Sanford will need to string together impressive performances. They’re off to a good start right now. Over the last two games, they’ve combined for 24 tackles, 5 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery.


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Vikings Defeat Detroit 20-13, Claim Spot Atop NFC North

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 30, 2012 – 6:31 pm

A sensational special teams performance that included two return TDs carried the Vikings to a 20-13 victory over the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on Sunday, the team’s first division win since 2010 and their first division win on the road since 2009. A sound defensive effort and a relentless ground attack complemented the return TDs, allowing the Vikings to fly home Sunday afternoon with a 3-1 record and a seat atop the NFC North standings.

Not all aspects of the victory were pretty, but there are no style points in the rough and tough NFC North. The Vikings defense kept a high-octane Lions offense out of the end zone until the end of the game, and the offense relied on superstar workhorse Adrian Peterson to move the ball on the ground. Peterson traditionally fares well against Detroit, and he did so on Sunday with his best outing of 2012 – 102 yards rushing on 21 carries. While the offense generated just 111 yards passing and didn’t find the end zone, it should also be noted that they did not turn the ball over and they put WR Jerome Simpson – in his first regular season game with the Vikings – in a position to make an impact.

But make no mistake, the story of Sunday’s win was the performance by the Vikings special teams. Percy Harvin fielded the opening kick 5 yards deep in the end zone, started left and then veered right, using a perfectly executed blocking scheme to gain the corner and outsprint the Lions coverage group. The result was a 105-yard return TD and a quick 7-0 Vikings lead.

The Lions responded on their opening series, sending All-Pro WR Calvin Johnson deep and drawing a 56-yard pass interference penalty on their first offensive snap. But the Vikings defense, in a sign of what was to come, withstood that initial shot and forced Detroit to kick a 40-yard FG just 3 plays later. The teams exchanged punts on each of their next possessions, and then Blair Walsh salvaged a Vikings scoring drive by converting a 49-yard attempt, increasing the Vikings lead to 10-3 with 1:21 to play in the 1st quarter.

The Vikings defense forced a Lions 3-and-out on the next series, and Walsh hit another FG – this one from 27 yards – to increase the Vikings lead to 13-3. The Lions tacked on a FG late in the half to make the score 13-6 in favor of the Vikings heading into the locker room at halftime.

Just as they did in the 1st half, the Vikings scored a TD in the 2nd half without their offense seeing the field. Detroit opened the 3rd quarter with a 16-yard connect from QB Matthew Stafford to TE Tony Scheffler. The Vikings defense stonewalled the Lions on the following three plays, though, and Nic Harris punted away to Marcus Sherels. On his 26th birthday, Sherels fielded the Harris punt and danced his way through the Lions coverage group to score a 77-yard TD, riling up the Vikings sideline and giving the visitors a commanding 20-6 lead that would not be relinquished.

After the Sherels return TD, the teams exchanged two more punts each, setting the stage for the Vikings defense to put their stamp on the game. On 3rd and 8 from their own 45, the Lions looked to have something going when Stafford found RB Mikel Leshoure coming out of the backfield. Leshoure advanced well past midfield, but then Vikings S Jamarca Sanford hit him and jarred the ball loose. Sanford also recovered the fumble, giving the ball back to the Vikings and killing the small bit of momentum Detroit was trying to build. The Vikings missed a FG try on the ensuing drive, giving the ball back to Detroit on their own 36 with 13:15 to play in the game.

Stafford drove Detroit 57 yards in 10 plays, setting up a 4th and 5 from the Minnesota 7. With the game virtually on the line, Vikings Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams dialed up an aggressive blitz that the Lions couldn’t cover up. DE Everson Griffen came untouched across the line of scrimmage and smashed an unsuspecting Stafford, ending the drive and giving the Vikings offense the ball.

A Vikings punt gave the Lions the ball back with 6:08 to play, trailing by 14. Stafford drove his team down for a TD, pulling to within 20-13, but the Vikings would give no more ground. The game ended with another sack by Griffen as Stafford was setting up for a desperation heave toward the end zone. The Lions were forced to begin their last drive on their own 2 after a perfect punt by Chris Kluwe was downed by Robert Blanton before going into the end zone.

Outside of Peterson’s 100-yard rushing performance, the 28th of his career and the 6th he’s logged against the Lions, the Vikings offense didn’t include any standout, signature moments or performances from skill position players. But it was apparent that the Vikings offensive line played well, as they pushed back a stout Lions defensive front to the tune of 127 yards rushing on 28 attempts. QB Christian Ponder finished with modest numbers – 16 of 26 for 111 yards with no TDs – but he took care of the ball and still has not thrown an INT this season. Simpson was the team’s leading receiver with 4 grabs for 50 yards, but his impact was even greater because he drew a pair of long pass interference penalties through the game as well.

Defensively, LB Chad Greenway led the team in tackles with 11. LB Jasper Brinkley and CB Antoine Winfield each had 10 stops. Griffen tallied a pair of sacks, as did DT Letroy Guion. Jared Allen also got to Stafford once, registering his 2nd sack of the season. Credit goes to the Vikings starting safeties, too, as Sanford and Harrison Smith did a good job of roaming the middle of the field to defend the end zone. The combined to knock a TD catch out of Johnson’s hands in the end zone, and overall Johnson was held in check with 5 catches for 54 yards.

The Vikings returned home Sunday afternoon to enjoy their win, and they’ll begin preparations this week to host the AFC South’s Tennessee Titans on Sunday. We’ll have more reaction to Sunday’s game tonight and this week, so be sure to stay tuned to vikings.com for more coverage.


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Rookie Report – Week 1 vs. Jacksonville

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 12, 2012 – 9:15 am

The calendar has flipped from Week 1 to Week 2 in the NFL. But before we get too far into discussing the Vikings Week 2 match-up with the Indianapolis Colts, let’s take a quick look back at how several Vikings rookies performed in the season-opening win against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

A few of the rookies played key roles in the victory, which is part of the reason we’ll have a rookie report this week. But I’m guessing a rookie report will be warranted most weeks given the important role several Vikings draft picks are going to have on this team, namely LT Matt Kalil, S Harrison Smith and K Blair Walsh.

Here’s the Week 1 Rookie Report…

Matt Kalil
Kalil logged 69 total snaps, with 59 coming on offense as the starting LT and 10 coming on special teams. He was solid in the run game and pass protection, but his most notable – or at least most visible – contribution was a blocked PAT in the 1st quarter. In a game that went to overtime, a blocked extra point is obviously huge.

Frazier’s take: “I thought he held his own in the run game, did a very good job in pass protection as well, just a lot of things that we can build on. There were a few errors that we want to correct. There are some things that he knows he has to get better at but that’s going to be a part of his maturing as an offensive tackle as well. But a lot of good things on tape by him.”

Harrison Smith
Smith led all Vikings in total plays with 91 (79 on defense, 12 on special teams), and he was one of the Vikings two starting safeties (Mistral Raymond). Perhaps his best play came in overtime, when he broke up a pass from Blaine Gabbert intended for WR Laurent Robinson on a 3rd and 2 from the Jacksonville 31. The game was over on the next play, also an incompletion. On special teams, Smith PBU in overtime or 4th.

Frazier’s take: “I thought he did a good job. He had maybe one missed tackle but his angles, he had a nice deflection there late in the game, moved around well, was in the right position, made some good plays. When I look at the tape, he brought a smile to my face a few different times because he was where he needed to be and that’s important when you’re a guy who plays in the secondary.”

Josh Robinson
Robinson logged 53 snaps, with 38 coming on defense primarily as the 3rd CB and 15 coming on special teams. He had a solo tackle on special teams and registered 4 more tackles on defense. Starter Chris Cook left the game for a brief period, bumping Robinson up to one of the top 2 CB spots. A.J. Jefferson, whom the Vikings acquired via trade a couple weeks ago, did not play. It will be interesting to see Jefferson’s progress with the team and also the impact his playing time has on Robinson’s. Robinson has shown plenty of signs that he can be an NFL CB, so I expect the Vikings to continue to put him on the field in order to develop his skills.

Rhett Ellison
Ellison played primarily on special teams, with 22 of his 25 total snaps coming with that group. He logged 1 solo tackle.

Blair Walsh
Walsh logged 12 plays and was spectacular from start to finish. He was 4 of 4 on FG tries, including a game-tying 55-yard FG as time expired and the game-winner in overtime from 38 yards. Walsh was good on kickoffs as well, tallying 3 touchbacks and helping hold the Jaguars average starting field position at the 19.5-yardline. Walsh was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance and he’s been named a finalist for Pepsi MAX NFL Rookie of the Week honors as well.

Frazier’s take: “Blair, there is no need to say it but it was outstanding to come away and kick the way he did at the end of regulation and then to hit the game-winning field goal in overtime. As a rookie, it doesn’t get much more pressure than that and to come through for us, it really improved the confidence of our players along with his confidence as time goes on.”

Robert Blanton
Blanton logged 7 total snaps, all of which came on special teams. I expect him to continue in that role for the short-term, but his long-term role will likely be much more significant. He’s still catching up from missing a big chunk of training camp and the preseason with an injury.


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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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