Vikings Free Agency: What’s Happened? What’s Next?

Posted by Mike Wobschall on March 18, 2013 – 5:18 am

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.

Harvin traded
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.

Winfield cut
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.

What’s next?
– 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.

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Who’s In, Who’s Out? Vikings Busy On First Day Of League Year

Posted by Mike Wobschall on March 13, 2013 – 5:42 am

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.”

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Free Or Not To Be Free? A List Of Vikings Free Agents

Posted by Mike Wobschall on March 11, 2013 – 5:31 am

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 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

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Monday Morning Mailbag Extra: Free Agency Primer

Posted by Mike Wobschall on March 6, 2013 – 7:54 am

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.

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6 Vikings-Packers Storylines To Watch

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 2, 2013 – 7:15 am

Another great chapter in the Vikings-Packers border battle will unfold this weekend at Lambeau Field, as the two franchises meet in the Wild Card round of the 2012 NFL playoffs. This is a matchup that sells itself, but while we count down the hours until these teams square-off once again, let’s go over 6 of the Vikings-Packers storylines we’ll be watching this week…

1. Border Battle Moves To The Postseason
The third meeting in five weeks between border rivals Minnesota and Green Bay will take place in the postseason. Remarkably, this is only the second time these two clubs have met in the postseason, with the Vikings winning the first matchup 31-17 as underdogs at Lambeau Field. Saturday night’s game marks the third time in five weeks the Vikings and Packers will square off, and it also marks the 27th playoff season and 46th playoff game in Vikings history.

2. Does Green Bay Have An Answer For Adrian Peterson?
Adrian Peterson had a historic season in 2012, and his performances against the Packers were a significant reason why. Peterson rushed for 409 yards and 2 TDs in 2 games against Green Bay, averaging 7.4 yards per carry on 55 attempts and putting up huge totals of 210 yards at Lambeau Field in Week 13 and 199 yards on a career-high 34 carries in Week 17. Green Bay has proven they can yield a huge number of rushing yards to Peterson and still win – they defeated the Vikings in Week 13 – but you can be sure Green Bay would rather not sweat it out like that. Can the Packers come up with an answer for Peterson? It’s a fun subplot to watch.

3. Can Vikings Contain Aaron Rodgers, Packers Passing Game?
In similar fashion to how Peterson gives the Packers trouble, Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers has dominated the Vikings. In 2012, Rodgers completed 73.3% of his passes against the Vikings for an average of 325.5 yards per game and a TD-INT ratio of 5-1. The Vikings defense did a great job against Rodgers and Co. in the 1st quarter of last week’s game, forcing them to punt three times in three possessions. But after that, Rodgers caught fire and led the Packers to 4 TDs and 2 FGs in the Packers final 8 series. It’s hard to expect the Vikings defense to play for the whole game this Saturday the way they played in the 1st quarter on Sunday, but there has to be some kind of balance the Vikings can strike between the two for the duration of Saturday night’s game that can hold the Packers offense at bay.

4. Winfield’s Status Remains Uncertain
A big part of the Vikings effort to slow down the Packers passing game is the presence of CB Antoine Winfield. Unfortunately, whether or not Winfield will be able to play this weekend is a big question mark. Winfield injured his hand in the Vikings Week 16 win at Houston. He was able to start last week’s game against Green Bay, but was unable to finish the game because of the hand injury. Winfield was held out of practice on Tuesday, and Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said his top CB’s status would be a day-to-day situation all week.

5. Plenty Of Names To Watch On This Week’s Injury Report
Outside of Winfield, there are plenty of names to watch on this week’s injury report – for both teams. The Vikings will monitor shoulder injuries for a pair of starters – DE Brian Robison and S Harrison Smith. Special teams standout Tyrone McKenzie also has a shoulder injury. Peterson has been dealing with an abdomen injury, both WR Jerome Simpson and C John Sullivan were shaken up for a moment during last week’s game, and RT Phil Loadholt has been listed with a knee injury in recent weeks.

For the Packers, there’s plenty of good news on the injury front. WR Randall Cobb is expected to return, which could give Rodgers his full complement of receivers because Greg Jennings is healthy and Jordy Nelson is expected to play. Future Hall of Fame DB Charles Woodson has been cleared for a return to practice from a broken collarbone, LB Clay Matthews left but returned to the last week’s game and will play on Saturday and run-stopper CJ Wilson appears to have come out of last week’s game okay.

6. Freezing Forecast Set For Saturday Night
The forecast for Green Bay on Saturday shows a high of 26 degrees and a low of 15 degrees for the day, with snow possible and winds predicted to come from the west at 15 mph. It’s not the coldest we’ve seen Lambeau Field, but it’s the coldest game of the season for the Vikings and the elements will definitely be a factor in the game.

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Early Aggressiveness, Conversions Help Offense Set Tone

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 17, 2012 – 10:07 am

Earlier Monday morning, we discussed a cleverly-crafted defensive game plan featuring an aggressive wrinkle as a key to the Vikings win over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday. We’d be remiss to not mention the aggressive strategy employed by the Vikings offense early in the game as an important factor in the victory as well.

In last week’s win over the Chicago Bears, it was almost as if the Vikings game-planned for the offense to perform around QB Christian Ponder. In Sunday’s win, though, Ponder was instrumental in the offense’s operation. That was especially the case on the Vikings first drive of the game, a series that required poise from Ponder and featured a few clutch conversions along the way.

It started with a “gotcha” moment on the first play, as the Vikings anticipated St. Louis ganging up to stop Adrian Peterson. Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave called for a play-action pass on 1st down, opening the door for Ponder to rollout and find a wide open Kyle Rudolph in the right flat for a 14-yard gain. That was a nice start. After a 4-yard gain by Peterson on the ground, Ponder rolled right once again and fit a precise pass through a tight window to Jerome Simpson on a crossing route – 11 more yards.

At that point, the Vikings were off to a great start. They forced a St. Louis punt after just 4 plays and were now driving deep into Rams territory. But consecutive rushing plays of -2 yards set the Vikings back to a 3rd and 14 from the St. Louis 20. Out of the gun formation, Ponder zipped a quick slant to Stephen Burton for 13 yards, setting up a 4th and short. Rather than take the conservative approach and send the ever-reliant Blair Walsh onto the field for a quick 3-0 lead, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier elected to be aggressive and go for it on 4th down.

“I knew if we got in that situation early, that was exactly what we wanted to be able to do,” Frazier explained after the game. “We wanted to be aggressive. We talked to our players about it all week long, that we were going to be aggressive in every situation. That was a chance to backup what I had said during the week.”

And it worked. Ponder scrambled for 3 yards to pickup the 1st down, plus a defensive holding penalty gave the Vikings an automatic 1st down anyway. Two more rushes for losses came after the 4th-down conversion, setting the Vikings up with a 3rd and goal from the 5. Ponder dropped back, was in the arms of Rams DE Robert Quinn, escaped, found a crease down the left seam, and dove into the end zone for the TD. He capped the play with an emphatic spike in the end zone, and the Vikings offense was rolling.

On the drive, Ponder was 3 of 3 for 38 yards and added 2 rushes for 8 yards and the TD.

More than just staking the Vikings to an early 7-0 lead, that first offensive series and all it entailed – 5 carries for Peterson, play-action bootlegs, clutch completions and conversions, etc. – helped the Vikings offense gain a rhythm, gain a confidence and set a tone.

“It was big,” Frazier said. “That was a part of what we wanted to be able to design to help us against the eight- and nine-man fronts we knew we were going to get. And sure enough, they came in stacking the box, and we wanted to get Christian on the perimeter and hit some plays on crossing routes. We were effective doing that early. It helped us to open up some of the runs a little bit later.”

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Sullivan, Teammates Visit VA Medical Center To Thank Veterans On Election Day

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 6, 2012 – 11:38 am

As voters head to the polls on Tuesday to exercise one of many great American rights, John Sullivan and many of his teammates will visit those who dedicated much of their lives to fighting and protecting that freedome. Sullivan, along with Christian Ballard, McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Everson Griffen, Marvin Mitchell, Mistral Raymond, Jerome Simpson and the Minnesota Vikings Cheerleaders and Viktor the Viking visited the VA Medical Center on Tuesday morning.

The players visited the community living room and spinal cord injury center multi-purpose room. As part of the visit, UnitedHealthcare executives donated a Ride 2 Recovery Stealth road bike to the Patient Recreation Program to be used soldiers who come through the program.

The Vikings organization has marked the November 11th Vikings-Lions matchup, on Veterans Day, as their “Salute to Service” game.

This is the 12th consecutive year the Vikings and Minnesota Department of Veterans of Foreign Wars have partnered for a community outreach project.

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Jerome Simpson On Track To Play Sunday?

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 18, 2012 – 5:51 am

When healthy and playing in games, WR Jerome Simpson has been a productive player for the Vikings. Against the Detroit Lions in Week 4, he was the team’s leading receiver with 4 receptions for 50 yards, plus he drew a pair of pass interference penalties downfield that led to scores.

The only problem is that’s really the only game Simpson was healthy and on the field. He missed the first three games due to a suspension, returned for Week 4, and then woke up with leg numbness/weakness the morning of the Vikings Week 5 contest against Tennessee. The leg condition limited Simpson’s impact in the Titans game, and it subsequently limited him in practice all week leading up to last Sunday’s game in Washington.

Simpson was listed as questionable for the Redskins game, but made the trip with his teammates and was hopeful of being in the lineup. Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier decided against it, though, and instead deactivated him for the game. The Vikings could’ve used some extra juice in the passing game against the Redskins, and Simpson is capable of providing it.

“Just that Thursday and Friday when he worked, I just, even in talking with him, realized he couldn’t push off the way he wanted to,” Frazier said on Wednesday. “He wasn’t comfortable mentally completely with where he was. Just wanted to be smart, give him a little bit more time. It’s a long season, and he feels good today (Wednesday) and that’s good sign, so we’ll see how he does in practice.”

Simpson did well in practice, at least according to the injury report. He was listed as a full participant in practice, a status he never accomplished last week while preparing to play the Redskins. Being a full participant in practice on Wednesday is a big first step in being given the green light to play on Sunday. But work remains, coaches and the Vikings medical staff will be curious to see how Simpson’s body responds to the first day of practice.

“Oh, no question,” Frazier responded when asked if he was still looking for a step forward from Simpson this week in practice. “Don’t want to put him in a situation where you feel like he can’t protect himself or do the things he needs to do to play at the level he wants to play at and that we want him to play at, for sure.

“He says he’s fine so he’ll get a chance to practice today (Wednesday) and go through everything so we’ll reassess it after practice, but he feels like he’s ready to go.”

While Frazier and the Vikings demonstrated last week that they won’t take any chances with a player’s health by putting him in a game before he’s ready, the sense coming from Winter Park on Wednesday is that Simpson came a step closer to being in the lineup this Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals. No one is making any promises yet, but so far the indications are good.

“I hope so,” Frazier said. “As I mentioned on Monday, he’s a competitor, he’s a guy who wants to be out there and we want him out there as well. He’s a weapon that we sorely would love to have on the field. He has big-play capability and we want to utilize his abilities.”

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7 Vikings-Cardinals Storylines To Watch

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 17, 2012 – 6:28 am

It’s Wednesday, and you know what that means: Flip the calendar from last week to this week. Wednesday also means it’s time to preview several storylines we’ll be chasing all week here on and within the various platforms of the Vikings Entertainment Network.

A pair of 4-2 teams will battle at Mall of America Field in an attempt to carve out 1st-place standing in their respective divisions, with the Vikings set to host the NFC West’s Arizona Cardinals. Both teams were out of the gates quickly this season with 4-1 starts, but both teams also lost last week. The Vikings dropped a 38-26 decision at Washington while Arizona fell to Buffalo by a 19-16 margin in overtime at home.

Here are 7 storylines to watch this week…

Cardinals QB Carousel Spins Skelton For Matchup With Vikings
For the 4th consecutive week, a Vikings opponent is dealing with an injury to their starting QB. This week it’s the Cardinals and Kevin Kolb. There will be no “Will he or won’t he?” discussion this week with Kolb, as the Cardinals official website has disclosed that he has cartilage damage in his ribs and a SC joint sprain that will keep him out an “unspecified period of time.” ESPN’s Adam Schefter went a step further, citing a team source for the Cardinals and reporting that Kolb will be out on Sunday in Minnesota and is expected to miss “several weeks.”

With Kolb out, the Cardinals will turn to John Skelton. Losing your starting QB is never a good thing, but in turning to Skelton this Sunday the Cardinals are actually turning to the QB they named the starter to open the season. Skelton beat out Kolb during a training camp and preseason competition, but then injured his ankle in the season opener and lost the starting job to Kolb.

Skelton was a 5th-round pick of Arizona in 2010 out of Fordham. He measures in at 6-5, 243 pounds and could be described more as a pocket passer than a guy who thrives while getting outside of the pocket. In 3 seasons, Skelton has played in 15 games with 12 starts and has completed 51.7% of his passes with a 13-18 TD-INT ratio.

Will Vikings Pass Rush Overwhelm Cardinals?
With a fairly inexperienced QB coming to town, this could be a good opportunity for a productive Vikings defensive line to change the game by pressuring the passer. The Vikings have more sacks (65) than any other team since the start of 2011, while the Cardinals have allowed the most sacks (82) since the start of 2011 and they’ve allowed the most sacks (28) so far this season. On top of that, the Vikings best pass rusher – Jared Allen – is starting to get hot, as he’s registered 1.0 sack in each of the last 4 games.

In last year’s matchup against the Vikings at Mall of America Field, the Cardinals allowed 4 sacks to the Vikings while completing just 47.9% of their passes and throwing 3 INTs.

The Cardinals are fairly experienced along their offensive line, with rookie RT Bobbie Massie the least experienced and no other starter with fewer than 7 seasons to their credit. The matchup to watch will be Allen against Cardinals LT D’Anthony Batiste. Allen had 2.0 sacks against the Cardinals last year, but he didn’t go against Batiste. In fact, only 2 of the Cardinals current starting offensive linemen started last year’s game between these two teams (LG Daryn Colledge and C Lyle Sendlein).

Two other factors to consider here are the Vikings depth along the defensive line and the advantage the Vikings defense has playing at Mall of America Field.

Vikings In The Red Zone
This has been talked about ad nauseam over the last three days after the Vikings settled for 3 FGs on their first 3 possessions and ultimately scored just 2 TDs in 7 red zone trips against Washington last week. The Vikings rank middle of the road in red zone TD efficiency, but this offense is solid in so many other areas and has enough talent that the expectation is for the offense to be more efficient in the red zone.

The Vikings offensive coaches and players are out to improve in this area, and my guess is you’ll see a big jump forward on Sunday. But, the Vikings will be tested in this aspect because the Cardinals rank 5th in red zone defense, having allowed just 6 TDs in 17 opponents’ red zone possessions.

Can Adrian Peterson Get Back On Track?
Adrian Peterson is not having a bad season by any reasonable standard. He ranks 3rd in the NFC and 6th in the NFL with 499 yards. But as well all know, Peterson’s self-established standards are sky-high. So from that perspective, he’s looking to get back on track. In coming back from his knee injury, Peterson was off to a fast start with 2 rushing TDs in Week 1 and then his first 100-yard rushing performance of the season in Week 4. Outside of those two outings, though, Peterson has rushing totals of 60, 86, 88 and 79 yards. Again, reasonable numbers for most RBs, but not good enough for him.

Peterson has a chance to get back on track this week against the Cardinals. In last year’s game, Peterson rushed for 122 yard and 3 TDs on 29 carries in pacing the Vikings to their first win of the season. You can bet Peterson will be looking for a similar outing – plus more – against Arizona this week.

Jerome Simpson’s Status
After missing the first three regular season games, coming back for Week 4, being limited because of leg weakness/numbness in Week 5 and then being held out of Week 6, Jerome Simpson is anxious to play. And the Vikings are anxious to have him out on the field. The Vikings were hopeful last week that Simpson would be able to play in Washington, but things didn’t pan out that way. His status will be talked about all week, and it’s unlikely we’ll know with much certainty whether he’ll play or not before Friday afternoon – it could even be a game-time decision.

There’s no question his presence on the field gives the Vikings offense an added dimension. We saw that in Week 4 at Detroit, when Simpson drew a pair of pass interference calls down the field and then hauled in a clutch 27-yard reception late in the game to help the Vikings take time off the clock and flip field position.

Fitzgerald And Floyd Come Home
Since being selected with the 3rd overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald has returned to his home state of Minnesota to play the Vikings four times. He grew up in the Minneapolis area and attended Holy Angels Academy in Richfield before attending the University of Pittsburgh. Fitzgerald, 29, has been the consummate professional for the Cardinals, and last week he joined Randy Moss as the only receivers in NFL history to reach 10,000 receiving yards before turning 30.

As Fitzgerald leads the Cardinals back to Mall of America Field for a 5th time since entering the NFL, he brings with him yet another Minnesota native who is catching passes for Arizona – Michael Floyd. The Cardinals selected Floyd, who attended Cretin-Derham Hall and then Notre Dame, with the 13th overall pick this past April, giving them a pair of tall, fast and physical pass-catchers who will try to challenge the Vikings secondary.

Dome Field Advantage Returning?
A key to the Vikings early-season success in 2012 has been their performance at home, as they’ve won their first 3 games at Mall of America Field. The Vikings have had a significant home-field advantage since moving into Mall of America Field in 1982, winning 64.5% of their games in the building. Last year, though, it was a different story. A 3-13 record included an atypical 1-7 mark at home. As the Vikings have gotten off to a solid 4-2 start in 2012, it’s no surprise that a big reason for the fast start has been a 3-0 record at home. Sunday gives the Vikings an opportunity to move to 4-0 at home and continue their return to form as a dominant team at home.

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Frazier Optimistic Simpson Will Practice This Week, Play On Sunday

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 10, 2012 – 2:51 pm

About the only reservation the Vikings had coming away from their win last Sunday over the Tennessee Titans was the leg condition WR Jerome Simpson experienced on Sunday morning. Numbness and weakness in his leg didn’t keep him from playing, but it did prevent him from making the kind of impact he and the team envisioned.

Ambiguity about the condition persisted on Monday when Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier met with reporters, as he disclosed that more was to be learned about the condition after Simpson underwent more testing.

The Vikings and Simpson have gained some clarity since, according to Frazier. While speaking with reporters on Wednesday, Frazier explained that the problems Simpson experienced on Sunday were actually attributed to a back ailment of some kind. The inexactness of the injury naturally causes some uneasiness, and even though Frazier said the Vikings would hold Simpson out of practice on Wednesday, the Vikings are hopeful that their speedy WR will return to practice this week and perhaps even play on Sunday.

“We don’t think it’s anything long-term,” Frazier said. “We just want him to continue to go through some of the exercises that (Head Athletic Trainer) Eric Sugarman and his staff will take him through today (Wednesday). We may get him back at practice tomorrow, hopefully for sure on Friday. But he may be back tomorrow.

“The good news is there’s no surgery required or anything like that. He should be fine over time.”

Asked specifically by reporters if Simpson could play on Sunday, Frazier again expressed optimism.

“Yeah, all indications are there’s a very good chance,” he said. “We’ll know more, how he responds to some of the treatment they give him today. Hopefully we’ll get him back out at practice tomorrow. We don’t think it’s anything long-term at all.”

A look at the Vikings season stats would not lead one to believe that Simpson’s absence is significant to the Vikings offense. But the numbers don’t tell the whole story. In his first game back after missing the opening three contests, Simpson led the Vikings in receiving with 4 receptions for 50 yards. More than just those 4 receptions, though, Simpson’s value to the team is also reflected in how opposing defenses defend him.

“You saw in that Detroit game, the impact he had when he got single coverage,” Frazier explained. “He’s a tough guy to defend. And even when you have pretty good coverage, like that last play (vs. Detroit) when he caught that 27-yarder, his athletic ability sometimes overrides the coverage. You need a guy like that who can make that difficult catch even though he may seem to be covered.”

Frazier also pointed out that the Vikings are seeing a lot of single-high safety looks from opposing defenses, a strategy designed to slow down the Vikings ground game. But having a receiver who can win vs. coverage downfield causes defenses to mix in more two-high safeties, making it easier for the Vikings to run the ball.

“Of late, we’ve seen a lot of single-high safety,” Frazier said. “So one of the reasons Percy was able to get down the sidelines in that game on Sunday was they chose to play single-high, [and] he was able to behind the guy and make a great play for us. But Jerome will hopefully help us to be able to get more two-high safeties than what we’re currently getting, and so we look forward to having him back full-speed.”

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