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Final Thoughts: Rushing Offense, Pass Rush Key Vikings Victory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It didn’t work out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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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Vikings Ride Defense, Harvin To 30-7 Win Over Titans

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 7, 2012 – 6:58 pm

The Vikings used a consistent dose of body blows from their defense and several stunning jabs from Percy Harvin to knock out the Tennessee Titans on Sunday afternoon at Mall of America Field, coming away with a 30-7 victory when all was said and done that moved them to 4-1 on the season. The win was the Vikings third of the season at home and it keeps them in a 1st-place tie atop the NFC North with the Chicago Bears.

Tennessee began the game with the ball, and used a 17-yard gain on 3rd and 5 followed by a 12-yard gain on the following play to push the ball inside of Vikings territory. After that, though, the Vikings defense bowed up and forced a Titans punt. That was as good as it would get for the Titans offense until it was too late. That first drive went 7 plays and 33 yards before stalling out, and the Titans were not able to run more than five plays or gain more than 26 yards in any of the next eight series. Tennessee’s first nine drives ended in the following ways: punt, punt, fumble, interception, punt, punt, end of half, punt, punt.

While the Vikings defense was pitching a shutout for three-plus quarters, the Vikings offense was slowly putting together an insurmountable lead, with WR Percy Harvin as the lynchpin and QB Christian Ponder as the triggerman. Harvin was up to his old tricks, serving as a lethal and versatile threat throughout the game. He had 2 rushes for 8 yards, including a 4-yard TD, and caught 8 passes for 108 yards and another TD. Ponder threw his first 2 INTs of the season, but he was able to bounce back in a big way. He finished going 25 of 35 for 258 yards with 2 TDs to go along with the INTs. His second TD went to Kyle Rudolph in the 4th quarter and essentially ended any thought of an improbable Titans comeback.

As they’ve been able to do during their wins, the Vikings ran the ball with enough effectiveness to keep the opposing defense off-balance. Adrian Peterson carried the ball 17 times for 88 yards while Toby Gerhart logged 41 yards on 6 carries. As a team, the Vikings gained 175 rushing yards on 31 carries, good for a 5.6-yard average and good enough to allow the play-action pass to be effective. The Vikings picked up 25 first downs during the game, with nine of them coming on the ground, 13 through the air and another three via penalty.

But make no mistake, the foundation of Sunday’s Vikings win was a suffocating defensive performance that kept RB Chris Johnson frustrated and QB Matthew Hasselbeck uncomfortable. Johnson was held to just 24 yards on 15 carries (1.6 yards per carry) and Hasselbeck was sacked twice while going 26 of 43 for 200 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT. Those numbers a bit deceiving, though, because Hasselbeck had just 83 yards passing by the end of the 3rd quarter and picked up the rest while the Vikings played a conservative defense that forced Tennessee to methodically march down the field instead of striking quickly.

In the 1st half, though, the Vikings defense was anything but conservative. They sacked Hasselbeck twice, Antoine Winfield intercepted him once and they forced two fumbles with fumble recovery. The Titans were just 1 of 7 on 3rd downs in the first two quarters and Johnson had just 12 yards rushing on 8 attempts. Behind the stellar defensive performance, Harvin’s rushing TD and 2 Blair Walsh FGs, the Vikings led 13-0 at halftime.

The Vikings pushed their lead to 23-0 after another Walsh FG – he was 3-of-3 on the afternoon – and Harvin’s 10-yard TD catch before the Titans finally got on the board with a 10-yard TD pass from Hasselbeck to TE Jared Cook. Ponder and Co. wasted no time responding to Tennessee’s only score, though, driving 43 yards in just 6 plays on the following drive to score on a 15-yard Ponder-to-Rudolph connection, giving the Vikings their final 30-7 advantage.

The Vikings defense didn’t collect a bunch of sacks on the afternoon, but they were constantly pestering Hasselbeck and forcing him to either throw too quickly or throw inaccurately. The Vikings defensive line was also credited with 3 passes defensed, an indication that even when they didn’t get to Hasselbeck they were still able to disrupt him. Unofficially, LB Chad Greenway was credited with 9 tackles to lead the team and CB Josh Robinson was second on the team with 6 tackles. Greenway had 1 tackle for loss and 1 pass defensed, while S Jamarca Sanford (2), DT Kevin Williams (2), LB Jasper Brinkley (1), Winfield (1), CB Chris Cook (1) and DE Jared Allen (1) had the other pass break-ups. LB Erin Henderson had 2 tackles for loss and DE Brian Robison and Allen each had 1.

We will have much more analysis and reaction to the Vikings win on Sunday, so stay tuned to vikings.com to stay on top of it all. The Vikings next game is Sunday afternoon at FedEx Field, where they will challenge the Washington Redskins in a game that is scheduled to kick off at 3:25 p.m. CT.

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Hutchinson Returns, Set To Face Former Teammates

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 7, 2012 – 12:05 pm

It’s Sunday and Steve Hutchinson is warming up inside Mall of America Field. For the last severeal seasons, there would be nothing notable about that. But this season, it’s a subplot to today’s Vikings-Titans game because Hutchinson and the Vikings split up this past offseason, leading to his signing in Tennessee.

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). Also in 6 seasons with the Vikings, Hutchinson battled the Vikings interior defensive line – anchored by Kevin Williams – during practices.

Today, he’ll battle Williams and Co. during a game. The Vikings defensive line has gone to more of a rotational strategy this season, and it’s produced results the past two weeks. The Vikings defensive line has 6 of the team’s 8 sacks the past two games, and for the season the Vikings are permitting just 3.3 yards per carry and roughly 85 yards per game.

On most snaps, looks for Hutchinson’s assignment to be either Williams or fellow starting DT Letroy Guion. When the rotation is in play, Hutchinson could see either Christian Ballard or Fred Evans, and in nickel situations it could even be Everson Griffen who lines up opposite Hutchinson.

It may not be the most important matchup or subplot of this game, but given how important Hutchinson was to the Vikings success in recent seasons, it’s certainly one worth watching. And with the Titans best offensive threat being RB Chris Johnson, who had 141 rushing yards last week, it ultimately may end up being one of the key matchups when all is said and done.


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Line Change: Vikings DL Rotation Proved Effective

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 13, 2012 – 12:23 pm

Vikings Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams is new to Minnesota. But it didn’t take him long to find a beloved state pastime to use as an analogy in explaining one of his defensive philosophies.

Williams explained during training camp that he’ll use a rotation at defensive line throughout the season, comparing his substitution patterns to that of a hockey lineup.

“I said before that this is Minnesota, we’re going to have a hockey lineup so we need eight guys to come in and play for us and play well,” Williams said. “We’ll have guys that are rotating and we expect whatever that rotation is for guys to play winning football.”

The philosophy was in play last week in the Vikings season-opening win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Vikings four starting defensive linemen – DEs Jared Allen and Brian Robison and DTs Letroy Guion and Kevin Williams – took the bulk of the snaps, but Christian Ballard, Fred Evans, Everson Griffen and D’Aundre Reed were in the mix as well. Griffen logged 33 defensive snaps, Evans 18, Ballard 17 and Reed 4. The Vikings at one time actually had four defensive ends on the field at once, looking to apply pressure to QB Blaine Gabbert late in the game.

Were Vikings coaches pleased with the production of the defensive line?

“Oh yeah,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said. “And the more I looked at the tape and saw the hits that we put on the quarterback, that was very, very encouraging because over time, generally, that makes a big difference. You’d like to get sacks but you definitely want to get some hits on the quarterback and we got a number of good hits on the quarterback.”

The main critique many had of the Vikings rotation plan was that the starters – namely Allen and Williams – would be off the field too frequently. But on Sunday it appears Vikings coaches found a good mix, as Allen was on the field for 75 snaps and Williams logged 64.

“I thought it was good for us and it’s something we have to continue to grow and develop and make sure the guys we do put in for our starters are really living up to the things that we expect,” Frazier explained. “But it was a good start for us, to be able to get that rotation going in a fashion we think will help us over the long haul.”


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Walsh Comes Up Clutch, Vikings Edge Jaguars 26-23 In Overtime

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 9, 2012 – 3:58 pm

The Vikings hadn’t opened a regular season at home since 2007. They sure made up for lost time on Sunday, opening the season at Mall of America Field in front of a spirited crowd with a dramatic victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars that included the return of Adrian Peterson, a pair of clutch FGs from rookie K Blair Walsh, a new team record established and a try at the new overtime rules.

Where to begin? How about with the score? After trailing 9-0 after the 1st quarter and 23-20 with just 20 seconds to go in the 4th quarter, the Vikings displayed some resiliency and clutch kicking on the way to upending the visiting Jaguars by a count of 26-23 in overtime.

Both the Vikings and Jaguars were inches from closing out victories in regulation. Blair Walsh, the rookie kicker from Georgia drafted by the Vikings, converted a 42-yard FG with 5:33 to play in the game that gave the Vikings a 20-15 lead. On the ensuing Jaguars possession, the Vikings forced a punt and took possession with 1:51 to play. But the home team could not tally a 1st down to run out the clock, instead punting away to Jacksonville. Facing a 4th and 3 from midfield, Jaguars second-year QB Blaine Gabbert hit rookie WR Justin Blackmon for the conversion to extend the drive. On the next play, Gabbert lofted a pass downfield and WR Cecil Shorts got underneath it to haul in a 39-yard TD, giving Jacksonville a 23-20 lead following a 2-point conversion pass to Blackmon.

It was, at the time, a devastating blow to the Vikings because it appeared the game was over and the Vikings had lost yet another late lead, something that plagued the team last season. But the Vikings had a little magic left up their sleeve. QB Christian Ponder completed consecutive passes to WR Devin Aromashodu for 26 yards and TE Kyle Rudolph for 6 more, putting the Vikings on the Jacksonville 37 with just :04 to play.

Enter: Walsh. The somewhat controversial move the Vikings made to go with a rookie kicker this year paid off big-time. Walsh split the uprights on a 55-yard game-tying FG as time expired in regulation, sending the game into overtime and Mall of America Field into jubilation.

The Vikings won the toss, elected to receive, and began their overtime possession on the 25 after Percy Harvin returned the kickoff 30 yards; Harvin gave the Vikings a sensational performance on the day with 14 total touches (receiving, rushing, returning) for 192 yards. Peterson, who returned to action and started the game after coming back from tearing two knee ligaments last Christmas Eve, grabbed the proverbial bull by the horns in overtime and helped put the Vikings in position to win. He rushed for 10 yards on the first play of the series, hauled in a 3-yard reception on the second play, and then ripped off a 20-yard gain on the third play to put the Vikings inside Jaguars territory. Ponder found Aromashodu for 19 yards and a few plays later hit Toby Gerhart for 8 more, setting up Walsh to hit a 38-yarder that wound up being the game-winner.

Because of the NFL’s new overtime rules, though, that requires a team to score a TD to win the game on the first possession of overtime, Jacksonville had one last chance to pry a victory from the jaws of defeat. The Vikings defense jumped up, however, and sealed the win. Gabbert threw incomplete on 1st down, RB Maurice Jones-Drew ran for 8 yards on 2nd down, Harrison Smith deflected a pass on 3rd down and then Gabbert overthrew WR Laurent Robinson on 4th down, giving the Vikings their victory and throwing the Mall of America Field crowd into a frenzy.

Sunday’s season-opener was a roller-coaster affair for the Vikings, but it finished on a high thanks to some late-game clutch kicking from Walsh, a solid 2nd-half performance from Ponder, an incredible will-to-win resiliency by Peterson and opportunistic playmaking by the Vikings defense. The Vikings are off to a 1-0 start for the first time since 2009, and they’ll celebrate this victory on Sunday night before returning to Winter Park on Monday to review the victory and begin preparations for next week’s challenge on the road in Indianapolis.

Post-Game Notes
– Adrian Peterson finished the day with 84 yards and 2 rushing TDs on 17 carries. His 2-TD performance in a return from a serious knee injury last season was remarkable enough. Making it even more special, however, is the fact that Peterson broke the Vikings all-time rushing record, previously held by Robert Smith (6,818). Peterson is now at 6,836 career rushing yards.

– It may get lost in the shuffle of post-game reaction because he didn’t get in the end zone, but Percy Harvin was magnificent  for the Vikings. He produced 192 combined yards on 14 total touches, impacting the game as a receiver, rusher and returner. Harvin had 5 carries for 20 yards to go along with his 6 receptions for 84 yards, and then he added 88 yards on 3 kickoff returns.

– Christian Ponder was unspectacular in the 1st half, going into the locker room at intermission with a stat line of 7 of 11 for 78 yards with no TDs or INTs. Not terrible, but not up to standard, either. Ponder finished very well, though, ending the day completing 20 of 27 passes for 270 yards with no TDs or INTs.

– We’ve got to give some love to the defense. There were breakdowns, particularly in the 1st half and then at the end of regulation when Gabbert hit Shorts for the go-ahead TD with just 20 seconds to play. But there were also times when the Vikings defense stepped up to the challenge. Jacksonville had it 1st and goal from the 5 on their first possession of the game, but the Vikings stood their ground and forced a FG. Down 9-0 late in the 1st half, the Vikings punted away to Jacksonville, giving the Jaguars a chance to blow the game open. The Vikings defense responded, forcing a 3-and-out and setting up the Vikings offense for a drive that ended in a TD right before halftime. Kevin Williams recovered a fumble on Jacksonville’s first drive of the 2nd half, setting up the Vikings for another TD drive on the ensuing possession. Jacksonville began a possession on the Minnesota 16 following a Ponder fumble, but they were forced into a FG try after going 3-and-out. After the Vikings hit a FG on their first possession in overtime, the Vikings defense came on the field and forced a 4-and-out, ending the game.

– Vikings outside LBs Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson cleaned up, combining for 23 total tackler, 1.0 sack and 2 passes defensed. Greenway led all defenders in the game with 13 tackles.

– Both Henderson and CB Chris Cook registered sacks on the afternoon.

There’s much, much more to cover in terms of post-game reaction, including quotes from Vikings players and Head Coach Leslie Frazier. We’ll also review the performance of some other Vikings rookies in the season opener, most notably 1st-rounders Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith. All of that and more will come later tonight and tomorrow, so stay tuned to vikings.com for more.


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Three Takeaways From Vikings Preseason Debut

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 11, 2012 – 3:10 am

The Vikings made their 2012 preseason debut on Friday night, dropping a 17-6 decision to the San Francisco 49ers at a blustery Candlestick Park. Rookie K Blair Walsh capped the game’s opening drive with a 39-yard FG that cut straight through the 20 mph gusts that swirled inside the stadium, but that was the only lead the Vikings would have for the evening.

San Francisco answered with a TD later in the 1st quarter to take a 7-3 and eventually took a 17=6 lead into the locker room at halftime. Neither team scored in the 2nd half.

For the Vikings, QB Christian Ponder was good-not-great, completing 4 of 9 passes for 80 yards. RB Toby Gerhart was solid and strong, rushing the ball 5 times and gaining 31 yards, with a long rush of 16 yards. The Vikings defense struggled stopping the 49ers ground game, allowing over 100 rushing yards in the 1st half and 260 in the game.

The thrill of victory and agony of defeat take a back seat in the preseason, though, as teams are looking to find “wins” within the exhibition games. There are position battles to be settled and roster spots to be won, and that is the focus for NFL teams and their followers during the preseason.

With that in mind, here are three takeaways on my mind as I sit on the team’s charter flight back to Minneapolis…

Blair Walsh impresses in first NFL game
I’ve been a big supporter of Blair Walsh’s since the Vikings selected him in the 6th round. His leg strength was never questioned, and I didn’t find his dip in accuracy during his senior season at Georgia as concerning as others did. The kid was an 88.8% kicker as a sophomore and junior, and most of his misses during his senior year came on FGs from 40 or 50+ yards.

Regardless, there were no concerns about Walsh’s accuracy on Friday night. He converted both of his FG attempts, the first from 39 yards and the second from 26. Keep in mind, the nasty wind gusts did nothing to help matters, either. In addition to his accuracy on FG tries, Walsh’s leg strength was on display during kickoffs. He logged one touchback on a kick that was blasted through the endzone, and then his other two kickoffs were 6 and 8 yards into the endzone. During the regular season, teams will not be taking those kicks out of the touchback area.

The benefit of Walsh’s touchbacks – opponents’ average drive start will be closer to their own 20 – will far outweigh any accuracy issues he has on FGs. As any defensive player or coordinator and they’ll tell you that pinning a team at or inside the 20 is a big-time advantage for the defense. With Walsh, the Vikings will be doing much more of that in 2012 than they have in recent seasons (Vikings ranked 31st in opponents’ average drive start in 2011).

Run defense missed Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Antoine Winfield
The Vikings held out DE Jared Allen, DT Kevin Williams and CB Antoine Winfield on Friday night, giving the veterans a break from the action while also giving younger players more opportunity. And the absence of three quality run stoppers showed, with San Francisco gashing the Vikings defense on the ground seemingly at will in the 1st half.

One part of you gets frustrated when the opponent is able to run the ball so easily. But the other part of you knows that without Allen, Williams and Winfield in the mix, the defense is much more vulnerable. It would’ve been nice to see other players step up and stymie the 49ers ground game, but I’m not worried about the Vikings run defense just yet. If the Buffalo Bills and San Diego Chargers are able to do in the next two weeks what the 49ers did this week, then we’ll have some concerns.

Offensive line displays improvement
I was pleased with the performance of the Vikings first-team offensive line. RB Toby Gerhart averaged 6.2 yards per carry on 5 attempts and neither Ponder nor Joe Webb were sacked while the first-team offensive line was in the game. Several times Ponder was able to settle into a pocket after dropping back, and on his52-yard pass to WR Stephe Burton Ponder was afforded the time and space to step up into the pocket to deliver the throw.

First-round pick LT Matt Kalil looked solid in his debut. He will be the first to admit there’s room for improvement, but it was a good beginning for Ponder’s new blindside protector. C John Sullivan had no issues with snaps and RT Phil Loadholt was sound in his technique and discipline.


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Defense Dials It Up; Notes From Monday’s Practice

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 6, 2012 – 5:19 pm

There is a natural ebb and flow to training camp practices – some days the offense is better, some days the defense stands out. The Vikings offense got off to a fast start at 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp and capped off a good first 10 days with a sound showing in Saturday night’s practice.

Come Monday, though, the defense jumped up. After a day off on Sunday, the Vikings returned to the practice fields for their customary morning walk-thru followed by an afternoon practice, working under hot and windy conditions that did nothing to help the offense’s cause.

DE Brian Robison was a standout performer for the defense, providing a steady pass rush off the edge in the base 4-3 defense and then sliding inside on occasion to play DT in the nickel package. Robison teamed up with a fellow lineman twice during a drill versus the offensive linemen to execute an effective stunt. On the first play, Robison lined up on the outside and stunted inside, with Kevin Williams looping outside. The maneuver was enough for Robison to slip inside past a pair of offensive linemen. On the second play, Robison used a similar stunt in tandem with fellow DE D’Aundre Reed to create a pressure.

During the team’s live goal line period, LB Chad Greenway and DT Letroy Guion teamed up to halt the first-team offense on the initial snap, and second-team middle LB Tyrone McKenzie also burst through the line later in the period to make a splash play. McKenzie was another player who stood out during Monday’s practice. He takes care of a leadership role on the Vikings second-team defense and also possesses the athleticism to be a productive linebacker in nickel packages.

LB Marvin Mitchell and S Mistral Raymond each tallied INTs at various points in the practice as well. Mitchell has run with McKenzie at times in the second-team nickel package while Raymond has spent most of his time with the first team and second team at safety.

A few other notes…

Childs has knee surgery Monday
The road to recovery for Greg Childs after he tore the patellar tendon in both knees Saturday night has begun. Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said Childs was to undergo surgery on Monday.

“So, we don’t know what the long-term prognosis is, but we are all hoping for the best,” Frazier said. “But our players, it was hard for them, obviously it is hard for Greg and his family. We’re all pulling for him through this situation.”

Gerhart looks good
Toby Gerhart is the Vikings starting RB and Frazier says the third-year pro has looked good so far in camp. Gerhart will likely get the start in Friday’s preseason game at San Francisco, but don’t expect him to get too many carries.

“He’s been looking well,” Frazier said. “He’s practicing well, has great confidence in what we’re doing, what we’re asking of him. He doesn’t seem like a guy who is ready to settle for being a backup running back, which is a good thing.”

Who will handle return duties?
At this point in training camp, charting the guys who are included in the kickoff and punt return rotation is nearly a full-time job. On Monday, I saw WR Stephen Burton, CB Chris Carr, DB Reggie Jones, CB Josh Robinson, CB Marcus Sherels, WR Kerry Taylor, WR Bryan Walters and WR Jarius Wright all take turns in the punt return rotation.

“We are going to make sure that we use the right guys and the guys that we think have the best chance,” Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer said. “If a guy is on the bubble, will he make it (the roster) because he is a good punt returner or kickoff returner? That will be key Friday night (preseason game vs. San Francisco). Hopefully we can make them punt a few times and we’ll go out there and get some reps for our guys.”


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Roster Rundown: Defensive Line

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 26, 2012 – 9:29 am

Vikings players report to 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp today and their first walk-thru and practice will be tomorrow, so it’s time for us to complete our Roster Rundown series. There are three position groups to go, and we’ll knock off the largest group right now – the defensive line.

Let’s split this up into DEs and DTs, without regard to who’s playing right DE compared to left DE and without regard to who’s playing the three-technique and who’s playing nose. Here we go…

Defensive Ends
For my money, the Vikings have the best DE in the NFL. Jared Allen comes off a 22.0-sack season a year ago, and no player has more sacks than Allen’s 105.0 since he entered the League in 2004. It’s not a stretch in the least to think Allen can have another sensational season in 2012. Yes, teams will be focusing on neutralizing him, but teams have been trying to neutralize him for years with no avail. As a bookend at DE, Brian Robison is the favorite to hold a starting position on the defense as he comes off a career-high 8.0-sack season in 2011.

Behind starters Allen and Robison, the Vikings have high hopes for Everson Griffen this season. Griffen has been a standout special teams player during his two-year career, and he’s gotten to the point now where the team will try to find more snaps for him on defense. Because of his versatility, those snaps could come at either DE or DT, and there’s also been talk of him getting into the mix at LB. Another reserve who could take a step forward this year is D’Aundre Reed. He was a 7th-round pick out of Arizona last season and didn’t play in a game, but coaches are excited about his athleticism and potential.

Other DEs on the roster who will fight to add depth to the group are: Jeff Charleston, Trevor Guyton, Anthony Jacobs, Eric Latimore, Ernest Owusu and Nick Reed. Charleston and Reed are veterans, Guyton was a 7th-round pick this year, and Jacobs (Minnesota), Latimore (Penn State) and Owusu (California) are undrafted college free agents.

Expect Allen and Robison to emerge from camp with starting spots, with Griffen pushing Robison for playing time and the two perhaps playing on a rotational basis. D’Aundre Reed has a big training camp ahead of him and could take a huge step forward. The rest of the group is a nice blend of veterans and youngsters, and they have a chance to provide some depth at what is a very strong position for the Vikings.

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Defensive Tackle
Teammates call him The Big Ticket. Kevin Williams is the leader of the Vikings DTs and has been changing games for the Purple since 2003. Williams played better than most people realize a year ago, and there’s no reason to expect a slowdown from Ticket in 2012.

This year, Williams is looking for a running mate to start next to him. The Vikings have been missing that aspect of their defense since Pat Williams’ decline and eventual departure from the team. Perhaps the team doesn’t need a Pat Williams clone – there is only one Pat Williams, after all – but the team does need another impact player at DT, and training camp is just the place to find that player.

Letroy Guion is a good, young option for the Vikings. Guion is only 25, but he’s entering his 5th season out of Florida State already and the Vikings would benefit greatly if he could step up and earn a starting position. Another returning veteran on the roster is Fred Evans, a six-year veteran who joined the Vikings in 2007.

Earlier this offseason, we identified Christian Ballard as one of eight Vikings poised for a breakout season in 2012. A rotational player in 2011 as a rookie, Ballard trained hard this offseason and is committed to earning more playing time for 2012. Perhaps Ballard’s biggest asset will be versatility because he can line up at defensive end or defensive tackle.

The Vikings have two undrafted college free agents at DT - Chase Baker (Boise State) and Tydreke Powell (North Carolina). Baker was a standout to me at this year’s Senior Bowl (Leslie Frazier and his staff had Baker on their North squad), and Powell will impress because of his size (6-3, 310 pounds).

Williams is obviously solidified as the starter at the three-technique, but a great opportunity exists for the rest of the DTs to earn a starting spot next to Williams. This will be a fun position battle to monitor during training camp. Don’t be surprised if this situation is ultimately resolved with a by-committee approach, but it also wouldn’t be surprising – and would be quite pleasant – if someone emerged from camp with a firm grasp on the job.


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