Rick Spielman may prefer to and excel at building his team through the draft. But the Vikings GM has illustrated this year that he also views free agency as an important vehicle to improving his roster. We’re not even a week into the New League Year, and the Vikings have already been one of the NFL’s most active teams when it comes to shuffling the roster and making improvements.
Here’s a quick look at what the Vikings have done so far, and what might be next…
Got Jennings? Vikings do
The Vikings finished the 2012 regular season with the 31st-ranked passing offense, so during the offseason you can be sure that adding talented pass-catchers will be atop the priority list. To that end, the Vikings have already taken a huge step forward by signing WR Greg Jennings. After being a thorn in the Vikings side for the past 7 seasons, Jennings will now be a helping hand to Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave and QB Christian Ponder. The signing of Jennings was met with wild excitement from a Vikings fan base that has watched the former Packers pass-catcher torch them for 63 receptions and 10 TDs in 15 games vs. the Purple.
Loadholt, other UFAs re-signed
Spielman is asked every year what his priority will be in free agency. And every year he responds by saying that re-signing his own free agents is atop his wish list. Early in this year’s free agency, Spielman attacked that wish list. The focal point of that effort was re-signing RT Phil Loadholt, and the Vikings got the job done. Aside from Loadholt, the Vikings were also able to reach agreements with 5 of their other 6 unrestricted free agents (UFAs), including: OL Joe Berger, Pro Bowl FB Jerome Felton, LB Erin Henderson, S Jamarca Sanford and WR Jerome Simpson.
In what may go down as one of this year’s more notable moves across the NFL, the Vikings traded WR Percy Harvin to the Seattle Seahawks, and for doing so received three draft picks – a 1st-rounder (#25) and 7th-rounder this year, and a 3rd-rounder next year. The trade gives the Vikings 11 selections in this year’s draft, including 6 in the first 4 rounds. If the Vikings use both 1st-rounders next month, it will mark the second consecutive year they’ll net a pair of 1st-round picks in a draft. That’s a good way to improve the talent level on your roster.
In a move that is a great illustration of the type of difficult decisions NFL franchises have to make each year, the Vikings released CB Antoine Winfield. At first blush it seems like a startling move, but given Winfield’s salary and given some of the team’s other priorities, it was a decision that was in the best interests of the franchise. It may have set the stage for the Loadholt re-signing and/or the Vikings ability to go out and get Jennings to help the passing game. Spielman did say that the team is open to Winfield returning at some point this offseason.
Calling for backup – Cassel signed
On the same day the Vikings made a big splash in signing Jennings, they also secured another QB to add to the mix behind starter Christian Ponder. The Kansas City Chiefs released Matt Cassel, and the Vikings immediately swooped in to pick him up. Cassel is an experienced passer in the NFL (62 starts) who was Tom Brady’s backup in New England when the Patriots went 16-0 and advanced to the Super Bowl in 2007. Also, when asked to play, Cassel has responded. He guided the Patriots to an 11-5 record after Brady went down with a knee injury in Week 1 of the 2008 season and he was also a Pro Bowler as the Chiefs starter in 2010, passing for 27 TDs and authoring a passer rating of 93.0.
In other developments, the Vikings tendered restricted free agent (RFA) CB AJ Jefferson, so he is set to return for 2013. WR Michael Jenkins was cut and earlier in February the Vikings signed former CFL standout CB Roderick Williams.
– The only UFA the Vikings weren’t able to re-sign was middle LB Jasper Brinkley, who has subsequently signed a two-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals. The Vikings could look to free agency to fill that spot, they could wait until the draft to find a middle LB, they could rely on Audie Cole to win that job, or they could enact one or more of those possibilities in combination.
— Looking at the roster right now compared to the roster at this time of the year in 2012, the Vikings are at or above capacity at most spots on the roster. There are two exceptions: offensive tackle and running back. Last year at this time, the Vikings had 6 running backs and right now they have 5. Last year at this time the Vikings had 5 offensive tackles and this year they have 4. Of course the Vikings could wait until the draft to fill the voids in each spot, they could find a free agent on the open market, or they could do both.
Tags: A.J. Jefferson, Antoine Winfield, Audie Cole, Christian Ponder, Erin Henderson, Greg Jennings, Jamarca Sanford, Jerome Felton, Jerome Simpson, Joe Berger, Matt Cassel, Phil Loadholt, Rick Spielman, Roderick Williams
Posted in All | 207 Comments »
The first day of the New League Year did not disappoint. It was a hectic day full of signings, reports of signings, cuts, trades and roster shuffling. The Vikings were in on the mix for much of it. Here’s a rundown of what the Vikings accomplished on Tuesday, with another busy day possibly in store for the organization on Wednesday…
– The Percy Harvin trade was finalized. After 4 seasons of receptions, returns and runs for the Vikings, Harvin was shipped to Seattle in exchange for a 1st-round pick and a 7th-round pick in April’s draft plus a 3rd-round pick in the 2013 NFL. That’s a nice haul for the Vikings, who now have 11 selections in this year’s draft and will have a pair of 1st-round picks in back-to-back seasons (Matt Kalil-Harrison Smith in 2012, #23 and #25 overall in 2013).
– Phil Loadholt re-signed with the Vikings and is looking to “finish what we started in Minnesota.” Securing Loadholt allows the Vikings to carry continuity along the offensive line into the 2013 season, as all 5 starters from last year will return in 2013. The average age of the 5 starters is just 25.8 years old.
– While investing in youth by securing three more draft choices and re-signing Loadholt, the Vikings parted (for now) with 15-year veteran CB Antoine Winfield. It was a hard decision, said Vikings GM Rick Spielman, but one the team made with the best interest of the team in mind. Spielman did not rule out a return for Winfield to the roster.
– Spielman was asked about a report that the team and TE John Carlson restructured the contract they agreed to a year ago, but the Vikings GM declined to get into specifics of the restructurings.
– Pro Bowl FB Jerome Felton, LB Erin Henderson, special teams ace and safety Jamarca Sanford, and WR Jerome Simpson all used Twitter to announce that they’ve reached deals to remain with the Vikings. Reports also surfaced on Tuesday that OL Joe Berger re-signed with the Vikings. No official word yet from the club, but this is good news given how much of a priority Spielman and the Vikings front office put on re-signing their own free agents.
– Spielman described the Vikings as being “in good shape” from a salary cap standpoint even after reportedly re-signing 6 of their own free agents, including what figures to be a significant multi-year deal for the road-grading Loadholt. Great work by the Vikings front office.
– Agree with him or disagree (I agree with him), Spielman is steadfast in his opinion of how to best build a roster that can sustain long-term success – through the draft and by retention of core players. Free agency has a place, no question, but it’s a limited place. This quote from Spielman during his press conference on Tuesday sums up the philosophy well: “Well we think we’re going to compete next year, there’s no doubt about that because we were a playoff team last year. By keeping your own and continuing to build through the draft and the success we’ve had the last couple of years with this draft and feel very strong about this draft class coming up, that that’s the approach and philosophy that we believed in and it’s showing that we are having success with that philosophy.”
Tags: Antoine Winfield, Erin Henderson, Jamarca Sanford, Jerome Felton, Jerome Simpson, Joe Berger, Phil Loadholt, Rick Spielman
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 58 Comments »
In 2012 the Vikings notched the greatest single-season win improvement in franchise history, moving from 3 wins in 2011 to 10 wins this past season. This offseason the team will look to further improve the roster through the retension and acquisition of free agents and the development of another strong draft class.
The first step in that process has already begun, as the Vikings front office is in the process of evaluating its own class of free agents as well as the large group of players scheduled to become free agents on Tuesday, the first day of the new League Year. Before a team delves into the free agent market, it must first address the status of its own free agents. Will the Vikings re-sign most of their free agents? We don’t know that yet. But we do know which Vikings players are scheduled to become free agents.
Below is a list of the Vikings restricted free agents (RFAs) and unrestricted free agents (UFAs). Also, click here to check out the vikings.com 2013 Free Agent Glossary.
Restricted Free Agents
CB AJ Jefferson
Unrestricted Free Agents
WR Devin Aromashodu
OL Joe Berger
LB Jasper Brinkley
FB Jerome Felton
LB Erin Henderson
RT Phil Loadholt
LB Marvin Mitchell
S Jamarca Sanford
OL Geoff Schwartz
WR Jerome Simpson
Tags: 2013 Free Agency, A.J. Jefferson, Devin Aromashodu, Erin Henderson, Geoff Schwartz, Jamarca Sanford, Jasper Brinkley, Jerome Felton, Jerome Simpson, Joe Berger, Marvin Mitchell, Phil Loadholt
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 39 Comments »
While putting together a few questions and answers for next week’s Monday Morning Mailbag, I came across a good question that required a thorough answer. The answer became complicated enough that I thought it would be too long-winded for the Mailbag. So, I thought we could make a blog entry out of it and let the readers take it from there.
Take a look at the question and my answer. Then be sure to leave your thoughts on the matter by utilizing the comments section below the blog entry.
I know the Vikings new direction is to draft players instead of pick them up from free agency. I agree wholeheartedly with their direction. However, what type of contract deal does Mike Wallace want? What are the chances of the Vikings picking him up? Are there any free agents that you would personally like the Vikings to go after?
— Derek P.
Pearl Harbor, HI
Building the team through the draft as opposed to free agency is not a new direction for the Vikings. This has been GM Rick Spielman’s philosophy during his tenure in Minnesota. It may feel new to some fans because they are starting to see the wisdom in that philosophy given the Vikings recent success in the draft, but it’s nothing new for veteran NFL GMs.
I’m not sure what kind of contract Wallace will demand once free agency opens on Tuesday, but my sense is his camp will be seeking top-end type of money – something in the neighborhood of what Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald and Detroit’s Calvin Johnson are making. Whether that’s what he deserves or not is irrelevant. What is relevant is what the market bears. That’s why free agency can be dangerous, and that’s why teams prefer to use the draft as the primary tool to build their roster. In free agency, you’re not paying players based on their ability to perform. Rather, you’re paying them based on supply and demand. Those are two entirely different propositions.
The Vikings are a run-oriented team that features the NFL’s best running back and one of the League’s top run-blocking offensive lines. As such, it’s fair to wonder whether it makes sense then for the Vikings to invest such a large amount of money in a single receiver. If you’re a team that can run the ball effectively up to 30-35+ times per game, are you also a team that wants to pay a free agent wide receiver upwards of $15 million a season? I’m not saying the answer is yes or no in the Vikings particular case, I’m just suggesting it’s a question every team must ask itself when it comes to drawing up a plan for free agency.
As for free agents I’d like to see the team pursue, I don’t have anyone in particular in mind. Of course it’d be great to add a receiver the caliber of Wallace or Greg Jennings. But to me, the Vikings had a good plan in free agency last season. Spielman and Co. waited for the high-priced free agents to fly off the shelf early in free agency, and then once the second and third wave of free agency came along the Vikings picked up a few. While the additions of tight end John Carlson and Jerome Simpson didn’t work out as planned, the book on both of their Vikings tenures may not be over yet. Also, the signing of fullback Jerome Felton was brilliant. At the time, the Felton signing was an under-the-radar move that didn’t yield much more than a sentence or two buried at the bottom of the lead story. In the end, though, it turned out to be one of the better offseason additions and it resulted in a Pro Bowl berth for Felton following the best season of Adrian Peterson’s career.
Long story longer, the key to free agency is not making the biggest splash or identifying the best players at each position and then pursuing them. The key to free agency is identifying and signing players who fit the scheme and can be obtained with reasonable salaries. That leaves cap space and cash for the best kind of free agent signing – the re-signing of your own free agents whom you know fit with your team, which in the Vikings case could be players such as right tackle Phil Loadholt, safety Jamarca Sanford and even a future free agents such as Everson Griffen.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Everson Griffen, Jamarca Sanford, Jerome Felton, Jerome Simpson, John Carlson, Phil Loadholt, Rick Spielman
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 174 Comments »
After a two-game losing streak fanned the flames of a hot 5-2 start, the Vikings reignited their season on Sunday at Mall of America Field with a fiery 34-24 victory over the Detroit Lions that featured a bounce-back performance from QB Christian Ponder, another dominating performance from RB Adrian Peterson and timely ferocity from the defense.
Before a blow-by-blow recap of how the Vikings won, here’s a quick summary of the stand-out performers…
– Peterson continues to display why he’s the best RB in the NFL. Coming off 3 consecutive 100-yard games, Peterson ran through the Lions as well. He rushed for 171 yards and 1 TD on 27 carries, including a game-breaking and victory-clinching 61-yard dash in the 4th quarter. The Vikings are now 27-12 when Peterson carries the ball 20+ times. Peterson has 1,128 yards on the season, which averages out to 112.8 yards per game and puts him on pace for a career-high 1,804 yards. Not bad for a guy coming off knee surgery.
– Ponder critics were out in full force the past three weeks, but they’ll have to take a couple weeks off after Sunday’s outing. Ponder was 24 of 32 on the afternoon, throwing for 221 yards and 2 TDs with 0 INTs for a passer rating of 114.2. He took just 1 sack on the day and pulled the ball down to run 7 times, gaining 15 yards. Ponder hit 10 different receivers on the day (including himself) and leaned heavily on TE Kyle Rudolph (7 receptions, 64 yards, 1 TD).
– LB Chad Greenway is the NFL’s leading tackler. He was up to his usual tricks again on Sunday, but he put a stamp on this week’s performance by grabbing a 1st-quarter INT. His big play led to a Blair Walsh FG and a 10-0 Vikings lead.
– S Jamarca Sanford has stepped up big time for the Vikings this season. He forced yet another fumble on a Calvin Johnson reception. He has 5 forced fumbles on the season. Antoine Winfield recovered the fumble, which set up yet another Walsh FG.
– We should mention Walsh here because he had a fantastic day. Walsh was 4 for 4 on FGs, connecting from 48, 23 (twice) and 33 yards. He also blasted 6 touchbacks and now is the Vikings single-season record holder in that category. P Chris Kluwe was also a standout performer on the afternoon, flipping field position with ease and often times pinning Detroit deep in their own territory.
Fans left the game talking about Peterson and Ponder, but in the early stages it was rookie receiver Jarius Wright who created a buzz. Active for his first regular season game with fellow receiver Percy Harvin sidelined due to an ankle injury, Wright got the party going early by dashing through the heart of the Lions defense on his team’s fifth play from scrimmage and hauling in a 54-yard reception from Ponder that set the Vikings up with a 1st and goal from the 1. Just two plays later, Ponder went back to Wright to cap the drive with a 3-yard TD to give the Vikings an early 7-0 lead.
The Vikings took a 13-3 lead into the locker room at halftime, and then extended that lead to 16-3 early in the 2nd half when Blair Walsh hit his 3rd FG of the game, that one from 23 yards out. The Lions responded immediately with a quick 4-play, 81 drive that culminated in a 16-yard TD reception by TE Brandon Pettigrew. Ponder and Co. showed resiliency, though, and answered the Pettigrew score with a TD pass to their starting TE – Kyle Rudolph. Ponder found his buddy for a 20-yard score and Peterson bulled his way into the end zone for the 2-point conversion, giving the Vikings a 24-10 lead early in the 4th quarter.
QB Matthew Stafford and the Lions would not go away, though. Explosive plays and Vikings penalties put the Lions on the Vikings goal line in just 6 plays, and Stafford found WR Titus Young for the TD to pull his team to within 7 points midway through the 4th quarter. The Vikings went 3-and-out on their next drive, but the defense responded by forcing a Lions punt as well.
That set the stage for Peterson to dagger Detroit. He exploded through the Lions defensive front for 19 yards on 1st down, and then dazzled the home crowd on his next carry with a 61-yard exclamation point, giving the Vikings a 31-17 lead. Johnson fumbled on the Lions first play after the Peterson TD and Walsh tacked on another FG to move the Vikings lead to 34-17. The Lions found Johnson for a late TD, but it was too little, too late for the Lions.
The Vikings came away with the victory, giving them a series sweep of their division rivals and moving them to a perfect 2-0 within the NFC North. The win snapped their 2-game losing streak and sends them into their bye with optimism, as a grueling 6-game stretch awaits them. The Vikings will come out of their bye week with consecutive road games against the Bears and Packers, and then will host the Bears on December 9 before hitting the road for consecutive games once again (at St. Louis and at Houston). The Vikings will conclude their regular season schedule with border rival Green Bay on December 30.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Antoine Winfield, Blair Walsh, Chad Greenway, Chris Kluwe, Christian Ponder, Jamarca Sanford, Jarius Wright, Kyle Rudolph
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 205 Comments »
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.”
Tags: Alan Williams, Erin Henderson, Everson Griffen, Harrison Smith, Jamarca Sanford, Jared Allen, Joe Woods, Marvin Mitchell, Mistral Raymond, Robert Blanton
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 32 Comments »
This season the Vikings defense has committed to more of a rotation during games with their defensive line, has a starting linebacker who has missed two complete games and a starting safety who has missed the past 7 quarters of action.
Through it all, the Vikings defense has performed well and has demonstrated a significant improvement from a season ago. Over the past two weeks, in fact, the Vikings have allowed just 26 total points and they’re yielding only 3.3 yards per rush (5th in the NFL) and 6.5 yards per pass attempt (6th) for the season.
Frazier explained to reporters on Monday that he’s not surprised his defense has been able to perform well despite a few adverse circumstances.
“Not completely because that was one of the goals,” Frazier said. “I know when Rick (Spielman) and the personnel department talked about what we were trying to get accomplished from a roster standpoint, that was one of the major conversations, improving our depth.”
Perhaps the best example of the Vikings defensive depth paying dividends is S Jamarca Sanford. He replaced an injured Mistral Raymond in Week 3 against San Francisco and then started the Vikings Week 4 game at Detroit. In those two games, Sanford collected 10 tackles, 1 pass defensed, 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery. He was also involved in a play with fellow safety Harrison Smith where the Vikings defenders caused Lions WR Calvin Johnson to drop a TD pass.
Other examples of the Vikings depth coming through include DE Everson Griffen, who has 8 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks and 1 forced fumble, and LB Marvin Mitchell, who has filled in capably for an injured Erin Henderson.
“We know we’re going to have some injuries,” Frazier said. “We’ve experienced injuries here in the past couple of years, in the secondary in particular, so that was a point of emphasis, to improve our depth, to upgrade it to the point where if there was an injury, there wouldn’t be such a big drop-off that we’ve witnessed here in the past.
“And I credit our scouting department for doing a good job in that area so now when we rotate defensive linemen, you don’t feel as handcuffed as you would in the past. You lose a guy at linebacker, you don’t feel as strained as you do in the past and the same is true in our secondary.”
The Vikings have had success on defense thanks to standout performances from starters such as DE Jared Allen, (10 QB hits, 2.0 sacks), LB Chad Greenway (team-high 55 tackles) and CB Antoine Winfield (DBs-leading 34 tackles). But depth has played an important role, too. And, as Frazier pointed out, the nature of the game of football is such that injuries will happen and teams have to be able to adapt.
“You hope that you don’t have injuries,” Frazier said. “But they do occur, and depending on where that injury occurs, it could really have a major impact on your team if you don’t have quality depth. Fortunately for us, I think we have pretty good depth.”
Tags: Antoine Winfield, Chad Greenway, Everson Griffen, Jamarca Sanford, Jared Allen, Leslie Frazier, Marvin Mitchell
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 53 Comments »
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.
Tags: Harrison Smith, Jamarca Sanford, Leslie Frazier
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 25 Comments »
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.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Antoine Winfield, Blair Walsh, Chad Greenway, Christian Ponder, Everson Griffen, Harrison Smith, Jamarca Sanford, Jared Allen, Jasper Brinkley, Jerome Simpson, Letroy Guion, Marcus Sherels, Percy Harvin
Posted in All | 72 Comments »
First thing tomorrow morning we’ll begin previewing the Vikings upcoming matchup with NFC North rival Detroit. The Vikings and Lions will play at Ford Field in Detroit on Sunday, with kickoff slated for noon CT. Before we do that, though, let’s empty out the notebook from last week’s win over the San Francisco 49ers…
Frazier credits Sanford, calls him the kind of guy “you want on your club”
Jamarca Sanford started 15 games for the Vikings defense a year ago. Through three games this season, Sanford has started none. Rookie Harrison Smith and second-year player Mistral Raymond emerged from training camp with starting jobs, leaving Sanford disappointed heading into the season.
But Frazier explained on Wednesday that Sanford didn’t let that disappointment adversely impact his attitude or preparation. And that attitude paid off for Sanford and the Vikings defense against the 49ers when Raymond went down with an injury in the 2nd quarter.
“Jamarca really had his heart set on being a starter this season,” Frazier explained. “He worked his tail off throughout the offseason. He was really looking forward to it and there’s no doubt there was disappointment when he wasn’t named one of the starters at safety.
“What he did on special teams, what he has done, in absence of being a starter, just a great example for the rest of our team. Those are the kind of guys you want on your club. Everybody wants to start but we talk to them all the time that everybody can’t start. You have to be willing to accept your role in order for our team to have a chance to be successful, and he’s an example of that.”
Sanford finished the game with 6 tackles on defense and, in what should come as no surprise, 1 tackle on special teams, too.
Vikings correct discipline, penalty issues from a week ago
In last week’s loss to the Indianapolis Colts (it hurts to even type that), the Vikings were uncharacteristically undisciplined. When all was said and done, the Vikings had 11 penalties enforced against them for a total of 105 yards, with several of them coming at inopportune times to extend Colts drives and/or negate positive plays by the Vikings offense. In his post-game press conference that day, Frazier was the first to acknowledge those mistakes, and was determined to correct them the following week.
It was mission accomplished on that front in the victory over San Francisco, as the Vikings were penalized just once for 10 yards. The next step in the discipline category is to keep the penalties down again this week against Detroit while also securing the ball much better. The Vikings had 4 fumbles (2 lost) against the 49ers and were fortunate that they didn’t come back to haunt them. Fumbling that many times on the road and giving the potent Lions offense extra chances will put a lot of pressure on the Vikings defense.
A good day’s work for rookie CB Josh Robinson
Josh Robinson did something we haven’t seen much of from the Vikings defense in the past year – he intercepted a pass. And Robinson’s INT against the 49ers came at an opportune time. Trailing 24-13 with 2:38 to play in the game, the 49ers advanced the ball across midfield to the Vikings 48. On 2nd and 10, 49ers QB Alex Smith dropped back to pass and lofted a pass toward Michael Crabtree. But Robinson was there to pick it off and return it 24 yards to the 49ers 44.
Also, San Francisco returner Kyle Williams broke loose a couple of times against the Vikings – once to open the 3rd quarter on a 94-yard kickoff return to the Vikings 14 and then again in the 4th quarter on a 50-yard kickoff return to the 49ers 43. Robinson, who possesses great speed, teamed with Sanford to chase Williams down on the 94-yard return and then it was Robinson who caught Williams in the 4th quarter before he could do even more damage.
A player is expected to pursue until the whistle, so we won’t give him credit for doing what he should be doing, but we will give him credit for having the speed to run down a very good returner and help save a TD at least once.
Red zone rushing
The Vikings put forth a clean performance offensively, so to point out any “concerns” here is nit-picking a bit. One area where the execution could’ve been a touch cleaner was red zone rushing. Keep in mind, though, that the Vikings were 2 for 2 in red zone scoring, so this concern is really not that significant.
According to my count, the Vikings ran 11 red zone plays – 6 rushes and 5 passes. Christian Ponder was 3 of 5 for 13 yards with 2 TDs through the air. On the ground, though, the Vikings weren’t as efficient. The Vikings 6 rushes were for 5, 1, 0, 9, -1 and 2 yards. Adrian Peterson ran 5 times for 7 yards and Percy Harvin had 1 carry for 9 yards. Given how the Vikings were able to stick with the running game all afternoon against a stout 49ers defense, I’m not concerned in the least with the rushing totals inside the red zone. In fact, the Vikings were balanced in the red zone and scored a pair of TDs when knocking on the door, so the positives far out-weight the negatives on this one.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Jamarca Sanford, Josh Robinson, Leslie Frazier, Percy Harvin
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