Redskins QB Griffin III (Concussion) Expected To Practice Wednesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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9 Vikings-Redskins Storylines To Watch

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 10, 2012 – 6:18 am

It’s Wednesday, and in the NFL you know what that means. The calendar flips from digesting last week’s win to previewing this week’s matchup. For the Vikings, that means preparing for the Washington Redskins. The Vikings will travel to the Beltway this weekend, marking their third trip to the Nation’s Capital in as many years.

This Vikings-Redskins matchup has several intriguing subplots, so we’ll get you started by briefly discussing nine of them right here…

RG3’s Status Unclear After Week 5 Concussion
This now marks the third consecutive week a team scheduled to play the Vikings begins its week of preparation not knowing if their starting QB will be available on Sunday. Redskins QB Robert Griffin III, selected by Washington with the 2nd overall pick last April, took a nasty hit from Falcons LB Sean Weatherspoon mid-way through the 3rd quarter last week that left the talented passer with a concussion. Per the NFL’s concussion protocol, doctors ruled Griffin III out for the remainder of the game, and now he’s required to undergo and pass a series of tests before he’s allowed to practice or play.

This is obviously a significant factor for both teams because Griffin III is the Redskins most dynamic offensive weapon. He’s the League’s 5th-highest rated passer (101.0) and ranks #1 in completion percentage (69.1%). Griffin III also has 8 total TDs – 4 passing and 4 rushing – and averages 5.7 yards per rush on 42 carries.

Since the injury, Washington has not released any information that lends an idea as to whether Griffin III will be ready to suit up on Sunday. The next indication of the rookie’s status will come Wednesday afternoon when the Redskins are required to submit their initial injury report of the week. If Griffin III is unable to play, the Redskins will turn to either rookie Kirk Cousins or veteran Rex Grossman.

Can Redskins Contain MVP Candidate Percy Harvin?
Yes, I said it. Percy Harvin is an MVP candidate – in my eyes anyway. He doesn’t play QB and he’s not leading the NFL in points or TDs. But can you name a player who produces as much and in as many ways as Harvin does for the Vikings? Harvin leads the NFL in total yardage (814) and yards after catch (242), he’s 2nd in receptions (38), and he’s just the 3rd player in NFL history – joining Gale Sayers and Timmy Brown – with a rushing, receiving and kick return TD in 3 consecutive seasons.

But this headline to watch is not an MVP campaign for Harvin. It’s to point out that, in order increase their chances of winning, the Redskins are going to have to find a way to contain Harvin. The Lions were able to do it, as Harvin had just 6 offensive touches for 34 yards. But the Titans, just one week later, were not able to duplicate it last week, as Harvin exploded for 116 yards and 2 TDs (1 rushing, 1 receiving) on 10 offensive touches.

How Serious is Jerome Simpson’s Injury?
Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier explained the injury situation surrounding Jerome Simpson on Monday during his customary day-after-the-game press conference. While Frazier’s discussion of the situation provided some clarity on what happened over the course of last Sunday, the discussion did not provide clarity on Simpson’s status for this Sunday. In fairness, much was still to be learned even for the Vikings as of Monday, as Simpson was scheduled to undergo more tests.

So as the Vikings begin on-field preparations for the Redskins on Wednesday, there seems to be more ambiguity than clarity on Simpson’s status. Perhaps Frazier will clear the air after the team’s morning walk-thru on Wednesday. Or maybe not. That’s why it’s a storyline to watch this week.

Adrian Peterson, Alfred Morris Pace Powerful Ground Attacks
One of the storylines to watch we identified in last week’s Vikings-Titans matchup was that of the pending showdown between Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson, two of the most explosive and productive running backs of the past 5 seasons or so. As Johnson continues to labor through a second consecutive substandard season, including just 24 yards on 15 carries against the Vikings, it turns out that a better RB vs. RB matchup will unfold in Washington D.C. this Sunday.

We know who the Vikings have in their corner. Peterson says he’s still a touch shy of being 100% back to form, but he looks to be the same explosive, powerful and shifty playmaker he’s been for the Vikings since 2007. But it appears the Redskins have a star-in-the-making at RB as well in rookie Alfred Morris. Credit Redskins Head Coach Mike Shanahan for once again finding a diamond-in-the-rough runner in the late rounds of the draft. Morris, a 6th-round pick out of Florida Atlantic this year, ranks 2nd in the NFC and 4th in the NFL with 491 rushing yards, has topped 100 yards rushing in each of the last two weeks and averages an impressive 4.9 yards per carry for the season.

Expect the Vikings to make stopping Morris in his tracks their top priority on defense this week.

Can Vikings Find Continued Success With Defensive Line Rotation?
In somewhat tongue-in-cheek fashion but also with a fair amount of sincerity, Vikings Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams compared his plan for a defensive line rotation to the liberal substitution patterns of hockey teams, where 3-4 players may come off the ice simultaneously to be replaced by players with fresh legs. It caused some consternation at the time, with the worry being that the Vikings best defensive linemen would be off the field at important times.

As it turns out, though, Williams’ strategy is working. The rotation has produced results, from starters as well as reserves. Yes, non-starters such as Christian Ballard, Fred Evans and Everson Griffen are playing more and are producing. But the Vikings four starters along the line are playing well, too. Jared Allen ranks tied for 1st on the team in sacks with Griffen and tied for 2nd on the team in tackles for loss with three others; Kevin Williams has a TFL, fumble recovery, 8 QB hits and 3 pass break-ups (PBUs); Letroy Guion has 2.0 sacks and 3.0 TFLs. The list goes on. And so will the rotation strategy. The question is: Will it continue to work this week against the Redskins?

Josh Robinson Earning More Playing Time
The record from last week’s win over the Tennessee Titans will show that Josh Robinson was a starter at CB for the Vikings along with Chris Cook. Are the Vikings phasing out CB Antoine Winfield? No, Winfield is actually in the midst of a productive season. The 14-year veteran is 2nd on the team in tackles with 41, he has 4.0 TFLs, 6 PBUs and 1 INT. Winfield is playing well and will remain a key part of the defense this season. But Robinson will, too. The 3rd-round rookie is proving to Vikings coaches and scouts that he belongs on the field.

The 5-10, 199-pound CB has 28 tackles on the season, including 15 in the last two games. Robinson also has 5 PBUs already – only 4 Vikings had that many PBUs all of last season. The Vikings pass defense is much improved from a season ago – they’ve improved 13 spots in passing yards allowed and 20 spots in passer rating allowed – and Robinson is a big reason for the improvement.

Don’t be surprised if he’s in the starting lineup again in Washington, and don’t be surprised if he continues to make a profound impact for the Vikings secondary.

The Vikings and Redskins Becoming Quite Familiar Foes
Sunday’s meeting between the Vikings and Redskins will mark their third in as many seasons during the regular season. It’s also interesting to note that these two organizations worked together at this year’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. Leslie Frazier and his staff coached the North squad against a South squad that featured Shanahan and the Redskins staff.

Furthermore, Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave once coached for the Redskins (1995) and he played under Shanahan in San Francisco and Denver. Also, Redskins DBs coach Raheem Morris coached with Vikings DBs coach Joe Woods from 2004-05 in Tampa Bay.

The familiarity extends to the players as well. A pair of Redskins DBs – CB Cedric Griffin and S Madieu Williams – spent time with the Vikings. Griffin was a 2nd-round pick of the Vikings in 2006 and played 80 games (70 starts) in 6 seasons. Williams played for the Vikings from 2008-10 and appeared in 39 games (38 starts). Vikings WR Devin Aromashodu spent the majority of the 2008 season on the Redskins practice squad.

Kicking Highs and Lows
The Vikings and Redskins are going through opposite experiences with their situation at kicker. The Vikings selected theirs with a 6th-round pick last April and he’s come through in a huge way, converting 12 of 13 FGs (3 of 3 from 50+ yards) and blasting 17 touchbacks in 27 kickoffs (Vikings had 19 touchbacks all of last year). The Redskins, on the other hand, just released their kicker – Billy Cundiff – after he went 7 of 12 on FGs to being the season. To replace Cundiff, the Redskins signed Kai Forbath on Tuesday. Forbath entered the NFL as an undrafted college free agent out of UCLA and spent time with Dallas and Tampa Bay before joining Washington.

One thing to keep in mind on this topic: this will be Walsh’s first regular season game kicking outdoors. The Vikings have played three games inside the friendly confines of Mall of America Field, and their two road games have been indoors as well – at Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium and Detroit’s Ford Field.

Adrian Peterson Returns to Site of Knee Injury
This is a storyline that has no real practical implications on the Vikings-Redskins matchup, but I’m not sure that anyone close to Adrian Peterson or anyone who was watching these teams play last year can avoid thinking about it. The last time we saw Peterson at FedEx Field, he was writhing in pain on the playing surface like a wounded animal after a Redskins defender crashed into and severely injured his left knee.

The injury happened on Christmas Eve. Just over 8 months later, Peterson opened the 2012 regular season in the Vikings starting lineup, capping a remarkable rehabilitation that began immediately after the injury and wouldn’t have been possible without Peterson’s unmatched determination to improve and tremendous support from the Vikings medical staff. And 9 months later, Peterson is set to return to FedEx Field in an attempt to help his team record its 5th win on the young season.

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Musgrave Mixing It Up Well For Vikings Offense

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 9, 2012 – 2:48 pm

Second-guessing playcalls and strategy is as much a part of the NFL as tailgating and fantasy football. And that’s okay. The passion from which that second-guessing originates is what drives the popularity of the NFL, and, consequently, a big reason why many coaches and players are compensated handsomely. But win or lose, there are a lot of good offensive coordinators out there.

Well, there’s a pretty good offensive coordinator at Winter Park, too. Bill Musgrave, in his second season with the Vikings, is in a groove right now. His second-year QB (Christian Ponder) is completing 69% of his passes (good for 2nd in the NFL), his best offensive player (Percy Harvin) leads the NFL in all-purpose yardage and is 2nd in the NFL with 38 receptions, and his offensive line is paving the way for Adrian Peterson to average 4.4 yards per carry. The playcalling has been balanced, as only 4 teams have a run-pass play ratio closer to 50%.

There have been speed bumps along the way, such as the game in Detroit where Harvin had just 6 offensive touches for 34 yards and the Vikings didn’t score an offensive TD. But those have been few and far between. Musgrave has been creative in getting Harvin the ball, has put Ponder in position to succeed and has coordinated an offense that has 27 explosive plays (runs of 10+ yards, completions of 20+ yards) and Top 10 rankings in scoring and 1st-down efficiency.

Just as important as finding a way to be explosive while striking a balance, NFL playcallers must know when it’s time to go for the jugular. Musgrave has demonstrated that instinct. Against Detroit late in the 4th quarter, the Vikings were clinging to a 7-point lead and faced a 2nd and 11 from their own 19. Musgrave had a choice: call a run that likely would not result in a 1st down but would tempt the Lions to use their final timeout, or get aggressive and call a pass that could result in a 1st down and even more time coming off the clock. Musgrave chose the latter, and the result was a 27-yard connection from Ponder to Jerome Simpson down the left sideline and, ultimately, the Vikings first road division win since 2009.

Another instance of Musgrave being aggressive came last week against Tennessee. The Vikings led 23-7 and the Titans were looking for a small opening to attempt an improbable comeback. The Vikings faced a 2nd and 5 from the Tennessee 15 with 6:45 to play and the clock running. Obvious run situation, right?

“I had just talked to our coaches on the headset about using the clock [being] more important than a touchdown,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier explained after the game. “Then Bill [Musgrave] said, ‘Well we got a touchdown on this play, we can get it’. Okay, call it, and we scored. I turned around and looked at him and said, ‘Good job Bill.’ So much for using clock and running the ball. But it was a great play by Christian [Ponder] and Kyle, and a great job by Bill and the rest of the offensive staff.”

All offensive coordinators – not just Musgrave – take plenty of heat for playcalling. And that’s okay because fans have the right to voice their displeasure. Plus there are times when they’re right.

But when the heat dissipates and the dust settles on analysis of Musgrave’s performance through the first 5 games of 2012, what I see is an offensive coordinator that is mixing it up well.

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Frazier Discusses Jerome Simpson’s Condition

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 8, 2012 – 4:20 pm

Being able to make on-the-fly adjustments is a necessary skill for NFL teams that want to be successful. The Vikings went through that drill with Jerome Simpson after their speedy receiver experienced discomfort in his leg before Sunday’s victory over the Tennessee Titans. The injury did not prevent Simpson from playing in the game, but it did limit his ability to impact the game.

Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier held his customary day-after-the-game press conference at Winter Park on Monday and was asked about the situation. He explained that Simpson first experienced the ailment when he woke up on Sunday morning.

“We didn’t know anything was wrong until the morning of the game,” Frazier explained. “I got a call yesterday (Sunday), I got a call, a text actually from (Head Athletic Trainer) Eric Sugarman saying there was something wrong with Jerome. Then when I got to the stadium and he (Sugarman) comes in my office and explains to me what’s going on, it wasn’t the conversation I was expecting to have on a day of the game.”

Frazier described the issue as “numbness, some weakness” in the leg and that Simpson was fine walking but wasn’t able to push off. After observing Simpson workout before the game, doctors and coaches determined that Simpson was at no further risk by playing. So Simpson dressed for the game, but he was unable to make an impact. Simpson was targeted three times and didn’t catch a pass.

“We had a big package for Jerome in this game,” Frazier said. “We really felt like there were some things we could utilize his abilities and make some plays for us.”

The question now is: Will Simpson be able to make any plays for the Vikings any time soon?

“We’ll learn more, as I mentioned, throughout the day,” Frazier said. “But from everything I’ve been told, we shouldn’t be afraid to the point where we’re going to lose him for a long period of time. But everything is not conclusive as we speak.”

While ambiguity remains on Simpson’s condition, nothing Frazier said on Monday should sound any alarms about long-term problems. We’ll keep you posted on the issue and provide updates when appropriate.

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8 Vikings-Titans Storylines To Follow

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 3, 2012 – 6:42 am

Coming off a 20-13 victory over the Detroit Lions last week, the Vikings flip their calendars to Week 5 on Wednesday and prepare to embark on the second quarter of the 2012 regular season. To do so, they return to Mall of America Field on Sunday to take on their third AFC South opponent of the season – the Tennessee Titans.

Here are 10 Vikings-Titans storylines to chase this week…

1. Hasselbeck Likely To Start In Place Of Injured Locker
For the second consecutive week, the starting QB of the Vikings upcoming opponent is dealing with an injury that could prevent him from playing. Last week, it was Matthew Stafford with a hip injury. This week, it’s Jake Locker and his left shoulder. Stafford’s status for the game was technically in question, but it was a foregone conclusion very early in the week that he’d be able to play. That is not the case with Locker, however.

According to Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean, Locker is unlikely to play on Sunday. If the Titans choose to rest Locker, it will be Matt Hasselbeck who makes the start against the Vikings. Hasselbeck is a 14-year veteran who knows the ropes. And while it may sound appealing to have the opponent’s starting QB on the mend and off the field, one could argue that Hasselbeck, who has 147 career starts in the NFL and last started against the Vikings in 2009, gives the Titans just as good a chance to win on the road in a tough environment.

At this point, count on Hasselbeck starting and the talk this week being about how his experience perhaps better equips him to play the Vikings this week.

2. What a Rush – Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson Go Toe-to-Toe
Sunday’s game features two of the most explosive running backs in the NFL. The Vikings, of course, boast Adrian Peterson, who has more rushing yards (7,084) than any other player since 2007. The Titans offense features Chris Johnson, who rushed for 2,006 yards in 2009 and has more rushing yards (5,831) than any other player since entering the League in 2008.

Both Peterson and Johnson come into this week’s matchup off 100-yard outings last week, with Peterson pounding the Lions defense for 102 yards on 21 carries and Johnson slicing through the Houston Texans defense to the tune of 141 yards on 25 carries. Those big-time performances are significant moments for both players and their teams because there’s a sense that the superstar RBs are regaining their form after facing adversity a season ago – a holdout for Johnson led to his least productive NFL season and Peterson is returning from a knee injury.

Peterson faces a Titans defense that ranks 27th in the NFL and allows 136.5 yards per game on the ground, while Johnson will go up against a Vikings run defense that has been stout in 2012 and is allowing just 85.3 yards per game, good enough for 7th in the NFL.

3. Eye On Special Teams
The Vikings and Titans both have solid special teams groups, just ask the Detroit Lions. In Week 3 against the Lions, Tennessee scored on a 65-yard punt return and a 105-yard kickoff return en route to a wild 44-41 victory. The following week, the Vikings did the same thing to Detroit, scoring on Percy Harvin’s 105-yard kickoff return and Marcus Sherels’ 77-yard punt return on the way to a 20-13 win. The Vikings and Titans are the only NFL teams with kickoff return TDs on the season, and they are both among just 7 NFL teams with punt return TDs.

Each team has been solid in the kicking game, too. Titans K Rob Bironas has made 91.3% of his FGs the past two seasons and is 6 of 8 so far this year, while Vikings K Blair Walsh is off to a hot start in his first NFL season with 9 makes in 10 attempts and 3 FGs of 50+ yards already. Also, both Bironas and Walsh have been impressive on kickoffs. Bironas has 10 touchbacks on 18 kickoffs and is reaching the end zone on 94.4% of his kicks, while Walsh has 12 touchbacks already on 20 attempts and is reaching the end zone 95% of the time.

The special teams battle will be a fun one to watch this week because both teams are solid in all phases and both teams have the experience already this season of having their special teams group make a profound impact in victory.

4. Vikings Offensive Line: Keep Rolling
The Vikings offensive line is coming off consecutive impressive performances. Against a very good San Francisco 49ers defense, the Vikings offensive line paved the way for 146 rushing yards, 24 points and a 7-minute advantage in time of possession. The following week was good for the offensive line, too. Frazier said the offensive line generated its best performance of the season against Detroit, as Peterson ran for 102 yards on 21 carries and QB Christian Ponder was not sacked.

If the Vikings offensive line continues to execute well this Sunday, they should win their matchup against the Titans defensive front. There is plenty of talent on the Titans defensive line, there’s no question about that, but there’s something to be said for an offensive line that is playing with confidence and a nasty attitude. Plus, this is a Titans defense that ranks just 27th in run defense (allowing 136.5 rushing yards per game), has allowed a NFL-high 10 drives of 5+ minutes and has generated just 6 sacks in 4 games.

5. Will Tennessee Have A Good “Plan For Percy?”
Percy Harvin has been the Vikings most dynamic weapon in 2012, as evidenced by the fact that he ranks 3rd in the NFL with 30 receptions on 38 targets and ranks 1st in the NFL with 698 combined yards (345 return yards, 299 receiving yards, 54 rushing yards). Last week against vs. Detroit, though, Harvin was held in check on offense (not on special teams, though, as Harvin tallied a 105-yard kickoff return TD). He had 3 receptions for 22 yards and 3 rushes for 12 yards. After the game, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier acknowledged that the Lions had “a good plan for Percy.”

The NFL is often described as a “copy cat” league, so you can expect the Titans to take some notes from the Lions plan and apply that to their own strategy for handling Harvin. The Vikings offensive staff will also be hard at work this week on that topic, though, as they’ll surely find creative ways to get Harvin the ball. This will be an interesting chess match to watch unfold this week.

As good of a season as Harvin is having, don’t be surprised if he and the Vikings offensive coaches find a way to get the diminutive playmaker back on track.

6. Kenny Britt Expected Back
The Titans have been without arguably one of their most talented players for most of the season, but after sitting out last week’s game he’s expected to be ready to go for this Sunday. Britt was a 1st-round pick of Tennessee’s back in 2009 and he began his career with 84 receptions and 12 TDs in his first 28 games. That production, along with his size (6-3, 215 pounds) and speed combination, had many thinking he was a player on the rise.

A serious knee injury last season that cost him 13 games and then a suspension for Week 1 of this season has slowed his progress some. But he’ll try to get back on track this week against a Vikings secondary that has been vulnerable in the past, but steadily improving over the course of the season. The Vikings held Calvin Johnson to 5 catches for 54 yards last week, and they’ll be challenged again this week by another big, physical and fast receiver in Britt.

7. Can The Vikings Utilize Simpson Well Once Again?
The Vikings wasted no time incorporating Jerome Simpson back into the lineup last Sunday. Coming off a 3-game absence, Simpson returned against Detroit and immediately made an impact on the game. He came away from the game as the Vikings leading receiver with 4 receptions for 50 yards, and also drew a pair of pass interference penalties in the 1st half that both led to points. Simpson’s 27-yard reception on a crucial play late in the game was vital to the Vikings efforts, too, because it allowed for more time to run off the clock.

With another week of practice to devise plans and schemes, it will be fun to see how the Vikings use Simpson this week against a Titans pass defense that is yielding the NFL’s highest passer rating (118.3) and has also allowed 16 completions of 20+ yards.

8. Hutch Returns to Minnesota
Steve Hutchinson will make his return to Mall of America Field for the first time since leaving the Vikings this past offseason via free agency. Hutchinson was originally drafted by the Seattle Seahawks with a 1st-round pick in 2001, but signed with the Vikings as a free agent in 2005. In 6 seasons with the Vikings, Hutchinson played in 89 games and helped the Vikings advance to the playoffs twice (2008, 2009).

Now with the Titans, Hutchinson is once again blocking for an explosive RB in Johnson, and he’s also blocking for a young QB in Locker (although Locker may not play in this game).

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Emptying Out The Vikings-Lions Notebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 for more coverage.

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Vikings Welcome Simpson Back To Lineup Today vs. Lions

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 30, 2012 – 9:22 am

You may have seen him at training camp or even briefly during the preseason. But you haven’t seen WR Jerome Simpson during the regular season.

Until today.

Simpson makes his Vikings regular season debut today against the Detroit Lions amid much fanfare and anticipation.

A 2nd-round pick of the Bengals in 2008, Simpson had his best season a year ago when he hauled in 50 receptions for 725 yards and 4 TDs. That production, along with his tremendous athleticism, appealed to the Vikings this past offseason as they looked to add explosiveness to the passing game. The design is for Simpson to provide the Vikings offense with the outside, field-stretching explosiveness it needs to complement a strong running game that features Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart and also a pair of other pass-catching playmakers in wide receiver Percy Harvin and tight end Kyle Rudolph.

“It adds another chapter to our offense,” Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave said. “He’s got more burst and more top-end speed than any of the receivers we have on the roster right now. We’ll look to utilize his strengths and add him into the mix.”

Often times coaches will downplay the addition of a new player to the plan, with the intention of disguising strategy and decreasing the pressure for that player to live up to external expectations. But the Vikings did not shy away from explaining the impact they expect from Simpson’s return to the lineup.

“We’re going to use him quite a bit,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier explained. “We want to get him involved and a lot of it will depend on how he does this week in practice, his first action back, but we definitely want to get him involved.”

Added Musgrave: “We’re expecting big things out of Jerome. He has had a good offseason. He had a terrific training camp in Mankato. We’re hoping that translates to more production on game day.”

The Vikings signed Simpson last April and he immediately developed a rapport with QB Christian Ponder. Simpson flashed frequently during the offseason program and training camp. Then he gave the Vikings a glimpse of what he can provide during Week 2 of the preseason. Against the Buffalo Bills in the second exhibition game, Simpson caught a quick slant, hurdled a Bills defensive back and sprinted downfield for a 33-yard gain.  That’s the kind of athletic, game-breaking play that has many expecting Simpson to add flare to this Vikings passing attack.

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Don’t Miss Vikings Radio, Television Programming Today

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 30, 2012 – 7:13 am

It’s game day for the Vikings and for Vikings fans, and the action isn’t limited to the time between kickoff and the clocking striking 00:00. Here’s a quick rundown of all the Vikings programming you can check out today…

Vikings GamePlan
Airs: Sunday, 10:00 a.m. on KARE11 and 10:30 a.m. on Fox Sports North
Summary: This is Vikings Entertainment Network’s (VEN) pre-game show and is hosted by Vikings Radio Network play-by-play extraordinaire Paul Allen. The show features interviews with current players, game film review with Head Coach Leslie Frazier, expert analysis and more.

Vikings: Beyond The Gridiron
Airs: Saturday, 12:00 p.m. KARE11 and re-airs Sunday, 10:00 a.m. Fox Sports North
Summary: This is VEN’s new show and features a documentary-style format that focuses on the rare inside access that a team network can provide. Vikings: Beyond the Gridiron uses voice narration as well as the topic interview subjects to tell each story rather than a traditional show “host.”

Verizon Wireless Winning Formula
For more in-depth pre-game analysis, check out our Verizon Wireless Winning Formula segment, which is hosted by PA. This segment is part of Vikings GamePlan, but we also post each week’s segment on its own. Click here to watch this week’s segment.

Vikings Radio Network Game Broadcast
You can also catch today’s Vikings-Lions game on the Vikings Radio Network – KFAN-FM 100.3/KTCN-AM 1130 locally. Paul Allen and Pete Bercich will call the action from the booth and Greg Coleman will handle sideline reporting duties. The Vikings Radio Network pregame show, with Mike Mussman as host, begins at 10:00 a.m. CT and features yours truly at around 11:20 each week.

Vikings-Lions TV Broadcast
Thom Brennaman will handle play-by-play duties and former Vikings Offensive Coordinator and Baltimore Ravens Head Coach Brian Billick will provide the analysis. Laura Okmin will provide reporting from the sidelines.

Team Hotel Interview – Jerome Simpson
Each road trip we have a tradition of conducting a hotel room interview, where we find a Vikings-relevant guest immediately after arriving at the team hotel and ask that guest about the next day’s game. This week we tracked down WR Jerome Simpson to speak with him about being back with the team, what he adds to the offense and more. Click here to watch the Simpson interview.

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6 Vikings-Lions Storylines To Watch This Week

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 26, 2012 – 6:30 am

The Vikings may be coming off a momentum-generating win last week against the San Francisco 49ers, but they have redemption on their mind this week. This weekend the Vikings will travel to Detroit for a battle against the Lions, a team that swept the season series from them a season ago. The season sweep for Detroit was their first over the Vikings since 1997, and the Lions have now won the past three games against the Vikings.

There’s a lot to talk about in previewing this matchup, and we’ll get it started by pointing out 6 storylines we’ll be chasing this week…

1. Jerome Simpson Debuts For Vikings
The Vikings signed WR Jerome Simpson last April and he immediately developed a rapport with QB Christian Ponder, an encouraging development for the Vikings as they looked to add speed and explosiveness to their passing game. Simpson had to serve a 3-game suspension to begin the season. That suspension is now over, and Simpson was reinstated to the team on Monday. A big question this week is: How will Simpson fit into the Vikings offense?

We saw quite a bit of Simpson during the offseason program and training camp. Then we saw him briefly in the preseason, with the highlight being a 33-yard catch-and-run in Week 2 against the Buffalo Bills in which he caught a quick slant and hurdled a defender before being tackled downfield. That’s the kind of athleticism that has many expecting Simpson to add some flare to this Vikings passing attack. This week we get to see Simpson in the Vikings offense during the regular season for the first time.

2. Vikings First (and last, for a while) Crack At Division Opponent
Sunday’s contest marks the first divisional test for the Vikings, and it’ll be the Lions first game in the NFC North, too. The Lions will jump right back into divisional play in three weeks, with a Monday Night Football matchup against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. But the Vikings won’t see a division opponent again until Week 10, when they host the Lions at Mall of America Field. It’s an odd scheduling quirk for the Vikings, as they play just two divisional games in the first 11 weeks of the season, and both of those divisional games are against the same opponent.

The Vikings are keepers of the NFC North, boasting more division titles since their inception into the League in 1961 than any other franchise. Lately, though, the Vikings have not taken care of business within the division. The Vikings last division win was September 26, 2010 at home against these Lions, and their last road win in the division was on November 1, 2009 at Lambeau Field against the Green Bay Packers. This week the Vikings have a chance to start regaining supremacy within the division.

3. Can Ponder Keep It Going vs. Lions Pass Defense?
Vikings QB Christian Ponder is off to a solid start in 2012. He’s completing 70.1% of his passes, good for 2nd in the NFL, and he has generated a passer rating of 104.9, good for 5th in the NFL. On the flip side, only four teams are allowing opposing QBs to complete a higher percentage of their passes than the Lions, and only three teams have yielded a higher opponents’ passer rating that the Lions. Can Ponder keep it going against Detroit? Don’t be surprised if the game comes down to that question. Granted, Vikings RB Adrian Peterson has a per-carry average of 5.2 yards and 8 rushing TDs against Detroit in 9 games, so a large focus for both teams when the Vikings have the ball will be on the running game. But whether it’s because the Vikings want to be aggressive, the Lions slow down the Vikings ground game, or the Vikings need a quick score late in the game, there’s a good chance Ponder will have an opportunity to test this Lions pass defense.

4. Lions vs. Harvin, Vikings vs. Megatron
A wide receiver has been the most dynamic weapon for each of these offenses during the young season. For the Vikings, it’s been Percy Harvin. He leads the NFL with 27 receptions and he’s 7th in receiving yards as well. When you combine his receiving and rushing yards, Harvin has 319 total yards (30% of the Vikings offensive output).

For the Lions, Calvin Johnson has led the way. He’s 3rd in the NFL with 24 receptions and 1st with 369 yards. While he has just 1 TD to this point, Johnson does have 9 plays already of 20+ yards (the next closest Lions has 2) and he has accounted for twice as many 1st downs (18) as any other Lions non-QB.

A big factor in this week’s game, obviously, will be how each team’s defense fares in neutralizing the opponent’s #1 threat. The difficulty for Detroit is how versatile Harvin can be because the Vikings line him up everywhere, from the slot to out wide to in the backfield and then of course as a kickoff returner. The difficulty for the Vikings is Johnson’s size-speed combination. He simply overpowers defenders of all types.

5. Vikings Offensive Line Faces Another Nasty Defensive Line
Not many defensive fronts have been nastier than the San Francisco 49ers the past couple seasons. Last Sunday, though, the Vikings offensive line was even nastier. They paved the way for Vikings rushers to gain 146 yards – the most any team has gained on the ground against the 49ers since 2010 – and offense as a whole generated 344 yards, which is the 5th highest total against the 49ers over their last 19 games. It may have been the offensive line’s best performance over the past two seasons.

The time for looking back on that performance is over, though, because the Vikings offensive line has another tough assignment this week. While the numbers through three games don’t necessarily show it, this is a talented Detroit defensive line. A pair of disruptive DTs – N’Damukong Suh and Cory Williams – anchor the line and then left DE Cliff Avril and right DE Kyle Vanden Bosch come from the edge. Nick Fairley adds good depth at DT as well, and this group of 5 players have accounted for all 7.0 of the Lions sacks this season. The Lions have permitted 13 rushes of 10+ yards this season (3rd worst in the NFL) and they’ve forced just 4 three-and-out drives (tied for fewest in NFL), so there are opportunities for the Vikings offensive line to expose flaws.

6. Is This The Week Adrian Peterson Registers A Breakout Performance?
Adrian Peterson’s comeback from knee surgery has been remarkable. His presence in the lineup for Week 1 was inspirational to both his teammates and fans, and he’s played an important role in both of the Vikings victories this season. But he’s yet to have a trademark Adrian Peterson performance in 2012 – the kind of performance that keeps fans on the edge of their seats the entire game. Peterson has gained 84, 60 and 86 yards in his first three games, and he’s averaging 4.0 yards per carry. Not bad, but again, it’s not the standard Peterson has created over his first five seasons.

This week presents Peterson with a great chance to author a signature performance. The Lions have a talented and deep defensive line, but as we pointed out in headline #5, this is a defense that has allowed 13 explosive runs already this season. On top of that, Peterson has a great track record against the Lions. In 9 career games against Detroit, Peterson has 169 carries for 892 yards (5.2 yards per carry) and 8 rushing TDs. In his second career game against the Lions back in 2007, Peterson ran for 116 yards and 2 TDs on 15 carries, and he followed that up with a pair of 100-yard rushing games in 2008. In November of 2009, Peterson rushed for 133 yards and 2 TDs on 18 attempts, and the next season on September 26 he rushed for 160 yards and 2 more TDs on 23 carries, including his career-long rushing TD of 80 yards.

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