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Can’t Get Away From Greenway

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 1, 2013 – 3:33 pm

Entering the 2012 season, Chad Greenway had led the Vikings in tackles for four consecutive seasons. Now you can make it five consecutive seasons.

Greenway finished the season with a career-best 184 tackles, 61 more than the next defender – rookie S Harrison Smith with 123. Only Scott Studwell has led the team in tackles for more consecutive seasons (6).

“He’s a very good tackler, those numbers speak to that,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said. “But his effort, as much as anything, has a lot to do with the number of tackles he gets. And then along with his instincts. He’s a very instinctive football player. He’s around the ball a lot, and he’s always hustling. He’s one of those guys going a hundred miles per hour, and he has a nose for the football. There are certain guys that just have a knack for being around the ball and making plays, and he’s one of those guys.”

The numbers support Frazier’s claim. Greenway had 10+ tackles in a game 10 times this season, including four consecutive games with double-digit tackles to start the season and a season-high 18 stops at Green Bay in Week 13. Greenway led the team in tackles in 8 of the team’s 16 regular season games, and he also tallied 8.0 tackles for loss, 8 passes defensed, 3.0 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 forced fumble and 1 INT.

Greenway earned his first career Pro Bowl berth last season following a then career-best 174-tackle season. Although he topped that number this season and added a few splashy plays, Greenway was a snubbed from this year’s Pro Bowl.

But that’s okay. Greenway’s focus for now, as he and his teammates prepare for a playoff game at Lambeau Field on Saturday, is on a different “bowl” game 4.5 weeks.


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Winfield’s Status Uncertain, Peterson And Robison Good To Go

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 1, 2013 – 7:23 am

The Vikings emerged from Sunday’s border battle season finale with a huge win and a berth in the postseason. For the most part, the Vikings also got out of Sunday’s game looking good on the injury front, too. Here are a few notes on injuries for both the Vikings and Green Bay Packers as they begin preparations this week for Saturday’s Wild Card round showdown…

Vikings
– It appears the biggest injury concern for the Vikings will be CB Antoine Winfield. He injured his hand two weeks ago but was able to play in Sunday’s contest against Green Bay. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to finish the game. Winfield left midway through the game and was not able to return, which raises question about whether he’ll be able to play in 5 days when the two teams battle once again in what will surely be frigid conditions at Lambeau Field. “We don’t know what’s going to happen with Antoine [Winfield], we’ll see how he does throughout the week,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said. “He was in quite a bit of pain yesterday, so we’ll have to see how he does during the week and make a decision maybe later on.”

– S Harrison Smith left Sunday’s game with a shoulder injury, but Frazier said he was able to return to the game. It’s expected that Smith will not be a full participant in practice all week, but there’s optimism that Smith will be ready to play on Saturday night.

– Adrian Peterson was listed on the injury report with an abdomen injury last week. But it looks as if he came out of Sunday’s game in pretty good shape. Frazier said that Peterson reported feeling better after the Packers game than he felt a day after the Houton Texans game a week earlier.

– DE Brian Robison missed the December 23 game in Houston because of a shoulder injury, but was able to start and finish Sunday’s game against Green Bay. Frazier said Robison should be available for Saturday’s rematch with the Packers.

Packers
– Late in Sunday’s loss to the Vikings, the Packers lost DL Jerel Worthy to a leg injury. He was carted off the field and, according to this report from packersnews.com, left the locker room on crutches and in a full leg brace. Green Bay Head Coach Mike McCarthy has not yet provided an update on Worthy’s status for Saturday.

– Green Bay held out WR Randall Cobb (ankle) and DB Charles Woodson (collarbone) on Sunday, but there’s a good chance both will return on Saturday. There’s nearly a 100% chance Cobb will return, in fact, and that’s big news for Green Bay because he’s a top-flight returner and he’s also the team’s leader in targets, receptions, receiving yards, and receptions of 20+ yards. As for Woodson, he’s misssed 10 weeks because of the collarbone injury and is still waiting to be cleared for contact. He’s such a saavy veteran, though, that it won’t take him long to get back into the groove once he’s cleared. It won’t be a surprise to see him on the field Saturday.

– Both LB Clay Mathews and WR Jordy Nelson left Sunday’s game at one point or another, but both players are expected to play and start on Saturday.


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Ponder Produces Best Game In Biggest Moment

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 31, 2012 – 7:36 am

Sunday’s win-and-in, season finale against the Green Bay Packers was a big moment for the Vikings organization. Having won just 9 of their previous 32 games entering the 2012 season, the Vikings won 9 games in 2012 alone and needed a 10th victory in the season’s final week to qualify for the postseason.

They did it. The Vikings registered a thrilling, instant classic 37-34 victory that included a walk-off 29-yard FG from their rookie Pro Bowl kicker – Blair Walsh. The game also included a historic performance from RB Adrian Peterson, as he rushed for 199 yards and a TD on 34 carries. In the effort, Peterson became just the 7th player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards.

In mentioning the individuals who were instrumental in guiding the Vikings to victory, Peterson and Walsh should be near the top of the list. At the top of the list, though, you’ll find QB Christian Ponder. He’s been much-maligned at times in Minnesota, producing uneven results in 25 career starts entering Sunday. He’s had ups and downs. He’s been criticized plenty. Some say he cost the Vikings a victory earlier in the season at Lambeau Field with costly 2nd-half interceptions that spoiled a 210-yard rushing output by Peterson.

But on Sunday, in what was the biggest moment yet in his young career, Ponder gave us his best performance. He was 16 of 28 for 234 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs, good for a 120.2 passer rating. He took just one sack, had no turnovers, and made clutch throws in crucial moments. On 3rd downs, Ponder was 8 of 11 for 87 yards with 1 TD, no sacks and no INTs. Of the 8 completions on 3rd downs, 6 resulted in 1st downs.

“He made so many big plays at the quarterback position, some of the throws,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said. “He’s playing at a high, high level at this point. We needed that today against a high powered offense with an excellent quarterback. He did a terrific job. He’s playing very good football at the right time for us.”

The key moment of the game came at the 2-minute warning, and all the pressure was on Ponder. Facing a 3rd and 11 from the Minnesota 27 with 2:00 to play and the game knotted at 34, Ponder dropped back, pump faked, and found WR Michael Jenkins in between defenders for a 25-yard completion. That led to the eventual game-winning FG by Walsh. Earlier in the 4th quarter with the game tied at 27, it was Jenkins who was on the receiving end of a 3-yard TD toss from Ponder after the QB had avoided pressure and scrambled to his left to buy time. That Ponder-to-Jenkins TD play also came on a 3rd down.

“He’s grown a lot,” Jenkins, a 9-year veteran, said in the locker room after the game. “A lot of people outside of this locker room have written him off. That was tough to see him kind of go through that, but he persevered through that. He battled. It was probably his best game today.”

It was definitely his best game. As I wrote in the Monday Morning Mailbag, Sunday was certainly a Top 3 performance for Ponder when you look at the raw numbers. He’s thrown for more yards on seven occasions, but he’s never had a higher single-game passer rating (120.2) and the performance against Green Bay is the 2nd time he’s had 3-plus TD passes in the game. But when you consider the circumstances in concert with the raw numbers, there’s no question that Sunday’s win over Green Bay was the best performance of Ponder’s career. Given what transpired before the Vikings even kicked off, with both Chicago and the NY Giants winning, the Vikings were in a true win-and-in scenario, where there was no way for them to qualify for the postseason with a loss.

This game will go down as one game in his entire body of work as the Vikings evaluate him going into the offseason. But the quarterback position, more than any other, is evaluated with careful consideration to “clutch moments,” and Sunday’s game against Green Bay represented as clutch a moment as Ponder has seen in his career. Ponder played his best game in the biggest moment.

 

 


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Vikings Power Past Packers To Playoffs With 37-34 Win

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 30, 2012 – 8:29 pm

Game Highlights >>
Box Score >>
Game Photos >>
Postgame Pressers (Frazier / Ponder / Peterson) >>

A Vikings team that’s proven resilient throughout the 2012 regular season needed every ounce of it they had left to qualify for the postseason. When all was said and done, the Vikings defeated a high-powered Green Bay Packers team that showed no quit themselves by a count of 37-34 in front of a frenzied Mall of America Field Crowd on Sunday.

“Just a great job by our football team,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said moments after the game. “I’m so proud of our guys. A complete team effort all the way across against a very good football team. For our guys to be as resilient as they were throughout this ballgame…our fans were terrific throughout this game. It’s the first time in a long time I felt like, playing against Green Bay and being at home, we truly had home-field advantage because our fans were loud, they made it hard for their team to really function at times, and we needed that. I’m very, very grateful to our fans that really had an impact on this ballgame at Mall of America Field.”

There’s no question the Vikings heart and their home crowd’s noise made a difference in Sunday’s outcome. But the Vikings also needed firepower to get the job done, and that came from the arm of QB Christian Ponder, the legs of RB Adrian Peterson and the right foot of rookie Pro Bowl K Blair Walsh. Ponder, playing in the biggest game of his young career, came up big by completing 16 of 28 passes for 234 yards with 3 TDs and no INTs – good for a passer rating of 120.2.

“He’s playing at a high, high level at this point,” Frazier said. “And we needed that today going against a high-powered offense with an excellent quarterback. He did a terrific job. He’s playing very good football at the right time for us.”

As for Peterson, he’s been the heart and soul of the Vikings all season, and was in Sunday’s win as well. The best RB in the NFL carried the ball 34 times and continuously pounded a game Packers defense. He finished with 199 yards rushing and 1 TD, while also adding a receiving TD to his box score. Peterson became just the 7th player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in a single season and he came up 9 yards short of breaking the NFL single-season rushing mark.

Defensively, the Vikings had a hard time containing Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay’s explosive passing game. Rodgers finished going 28 of 40 for 365 yards with 4 TDs and 0 INTs, good for a 131.8 passer rating. But there were moments when the Vikings defense combined with a raucous Mall of America Field crowd to come up big. Green Bay was forced to punt after their first three possessions, and that allowed the Vikings to build up a 13-0 lead.

On top of that, Rodgers was pressured for much of the day. The Vikings registered 5 sacks of Rodgers, with 3.0 of them coming from Everson Griffen and 1.0 each coming from Jared Allen and Brian Robison. It was Robison who sacked Rodgers and forced a fumble in the 3rd quarter that led to a TD pass from Ponder to Peterson and a 27-17 lead. LB Erin Henderson led the Vikings in tackles with 7 and Kevin Williams had a big pass defensed early in the game on a 3rd down.

The most important sequence of the game came at the end, following a cold-blooded offensive series by Rodgers and the Packers that resulted in a 2-yard TD toss to WR Jordy Nelson and a tied game at 34 with 2:54 to play. Marcus Sherels returned the ensuing kickoff 29 yards to the Minnesota 28, setting up Ponder and Co. with a 1st and 10 and an opportunity to march for a game-winning score.

And that’s exactly what happened, thanks in large part to a crucial 3rd-down throw by Ponder. After bouncing a pass incomplete to Peterson on 1st down and then Peterson losing a yard on a 2nd-down carry, the Vikings faced a 3rd and 11 at the 2-minute warning. The worst-case scenario for the Vikings was an incomplete pass that forced them to punt the ball to Rodgers, who could put together a game-winning drive of his own. Rodgers never got that chance, though, and it’s because of a perfectly-placed pass by Ponder to WR Michael Jenkins down the left sideline that yielded 25 yards, a 1st down, and hope within the stadium.

From that point on, the Vikings wisely rode the legs of Peterson, giving it to him 4 times and watching him rip off 37 yards to put the Vikings on the Green Bay 11. Walsh, who had already hit from 54 and 37 earlier in the game, handled things from there, converting a 29-yard game-winner as time expired to give the Vikings their 37th point, their 10th win, and their first trip to the playoffs since 2009.

Sunday’s win and the subsequent postseason berth is a remarkable accomplishment for a team coming off a 3-13 season a year ago. This is a team that, prior to the season starting, many thought would be an afterthought by this time. But these Vikings are anything but an afterthought at the moment.

They’re a playoff team.


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Fast Starts A Strength For Both Vikings Offense, Packers Defense

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 28, 2012 – 11:39 am

One objective every team has for every game in every sport is to “start fast.” But of course it’s one thing to say you want to do it, and it’s an entirely different thing to actually go out and do it.

The Vikings offense has been one of the NFL’s best at registering an early score. They rank 3rd in the NFL with 48 points scored on opening drives and 3rd in TDs scored with 6. Of late, the Vikings have been especially sharp on opening drives, scoring TDs on the first offensive series in each of the last 3 games – all wins.

“It’s been impressive,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said. “It’s exactly what we’ve needed. We talked all along about being able to start fast on offense and defense and we’ve gotten that done as of late. We’re going to need it again against a high powered offense and a very good defense. We’ve always put the time in trying to come up with what we think would be a good way to start games, it just so happens we’ve been clicking of late. We’re going to need it again this Sunday.”

The trouble this week, though, is that the Green Bay Packers defense has been one of the NFL’s best at preventing opposing offenses from registering an early score. Green Bay ranks 4th in points allowed on an opponent’s first offensive possession, and they rank 1st in opponent’s punts on the first possession. Also, Green Bay is one of just 4 teams to not even allow a FG attempt on an opening possession this season.

It’s a strength vs. strength scenario in this regard on Sunday when the Vikings and Packers conclude their regular seasons with another Border Battle. The team that can execute better in this phase will have an early advantage at Mall of America Field.

 


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Ponder’s Play Improving As Rematch With Packers Looms

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 26, 2012 – 4:01 pm

The flight to and from Green Bay is the shortest trip of every season for the Vikings. But, given how things unfolded in Week 13, you wouldn’t be surprised if this year’s trip home from Green Bay felt like the longest of the season for Christian Ponder and the Vikings.

The Vikings had their way with Green Bay’s defense as Adrian Peterson pranced around Lambeau Field to the tune of 210 yards through three quarters. The Vikings defense was playing well, too, holding Green Bay’s high-powered offense to just 10 points through halftime and much of the 3rd quarter.

But it was a costly interception thrown by Ponder early in the 3rd quarter that turned out to be the tipping point. Peterson ripped off a 48-yard run on the first play of the 2nd half, setting up the Vikings with a 1st and 10 from the Green Bay 12. The Vikings were poised to go up 21-10 early in the 2nd half, and given the way the Vikings were running the ball and playing defense, that lead would likely have been insurmountable for the Packers.

Two plays after the 48-yard Peterson run, though, Ponder threw an interception that served as a turning point for the game. Rather than being up 21-10, the Vikings lead was cut from 14-10 to 14-13, and Green Bay eventually pulled away for a 23-14 win.

The good news, though, is that Ponder’s play has steadily improved since that game. The Vikings haven’t lost since, and Ponder has been an important part of each win. Against Chicago the next week, he converted several critical 3rd-down throws and in wins over the St. Louis Rams and Houston Texans Ponder was able to capitalize on the opposing defense’s commitment to stopping Peterson.

“A lot of it has to do with Christian just growing as a quarterback,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said on Wednesday. “He’s gone through some challenges over the course of this season, and he responded extremely well over the last few weeks.

“It was a tough day in a lot of ways in our first game against Green Bay. He bounced back from that with a very efficient game against Chicago, and he’s continued that progression right on through. We worked on some things from that Green Bay game that we wanted to improve on, and we’ve seen some improvement in his play.”

Frazier didn’t stop there in analyzing why Ponder has improved over the last three weeks. He also credited the guys playing around Ponder for their improved play as well.

“It’s just a combination of what our coaches are doing with him and what he’s doing,” Frazier said. “Also, the guys around him. It’s a collective effort. We’ve got a lot of other guys…our receivers are doing a better job in some of the things they’re doing. Christian obviously is doing a better job. Our pass pro (protection) is a little bit better. And what we’re doing schematically has helped us as well.”

Asked if Sunday’s rematch against the Packers would be important in determining where Ponder stands in the organization as the quarterback of the future, Frazier deflected the matter and instead turned the focus to the current team and its objectives.

“The best thing he can do is a lead us to a win,” Frazier said. “That would be huge for our football team. Just do a great job at the quarterback position like he’s done over the last few weeks, and for the most part through the season. Lead us to victory. That would be terrific.

“That being said, we have to have a lot of guys playing well on Sunday against a very good football team. Twelve straight wins in our division, eleven wins this season, they’re a good team. So we need not only Christian playing well, but a lot of other people playing well also.”


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Frazier Cites Senior Bowl Experience As Turning Point For Coaching Staff

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 26, 2012 – 12:11 pm

Evaluating the performances of coaches can be tricky. When a team is losing, it’s easy to criticize game plans and second-guess playcalling. When a team is winning, all of a sudden the game plans look brilliant and the playcalling is perfect. It just goes with the territory of being a coach, in any sport and at every level.

The Vikings have won their last three games, and externally the coaches are receiving a lot of praise. Deservedly so, too, given how dominant the defense has been and how efficient the offense has become. In reflecting on his staff’s performance of late, though, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier doesn’t look at the three-game winning streak. He goes as far back as last February, when the Vikings staff was responsible for coaching the North team.

“When I look back at our experience at the Senior Bowl, as a staff, that was a big deal for us as far as camaraderie and coming together,” Frazier explained. “We didn’t have that rookie camp the year before where we could come together as a staff and work through some things. We had to hit the ground running. But that experience at the Senior Bowl was good for our coaching staff.”

Both Frazier and General Manager Rick Spielman have in the past cited the team’s experience at the Senior Bowl as reasons for feeling so strongly about players such as Harrison Smith and Audie Cole. On Wednesday, though, Frazier talked about how the Senior Bowl experience was also important from a synergy standpoint for the coaching staff.

“Not only what we were able to find out personnel-wise about college players, but that time together that we had, we kind of built on that over the offseason,” Frazier said. “By the time our players got into the building, we were concrete on what we needed to get done and how we wanted to get certain things taught. Having an offseason where we could spend some quality time together and not trying to figure out ‘Are we going to be playing football? Are we not going to be playing football? When are we going to be playing football?’ We could just concentrate on what happened in the past, what we need to fix, personnel-wise as well as scheme, and come together as a group where you can not only work together but trust one another. We’ve had that through an offseason and it’s paid dividends for us.”


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9 Vikings-Packers Storylines To Follow

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 26, 2012 – 8:22 am

It’s Vikings vs. Packers. It’s Week 17. And playoff implications are on the line. It won’t take much effort to drum up excitement for this game. The story will write itself most of the week and on Sunday, but we’ll still stick to our normal Wednesday routine and go over several Vikings-Packers storylines to watch during the week.

1. Major Playoff Implications On The Line
The Vikings can punch their ticket to the postseason with a win over Green Bay on Sunday. It would be their first postseason appearance since 2009 and it would most likely setup a rematch against Green Bay next weekend at Lambeau Field. To do that, the Vikings will have to overcome the Packers best effort because they also have something to play for – a 1st-round bye. If Green Bay wins on Sunday, not only could they knock their border rivals from the playoff picture, they can also secure a spot in the Divisional round.

2. Historic Turnaround
With a win on Sunday the Vikings will notch their 10th victory of the season, which would represent a 7-win turnaround from their 3-13 campaign a season ago. That would be the team’s biggest increase in win totals from one season to the next in team history. From 1997 to 1998, the Vikings increased their win total by 6, going from 9-7 to 15-1.

3. Game Flexed To 3:25; FOX’s #1 Crew Aboard To Broadcast Game
With so much on the line Sunday, the NFL and FOX have decided to the game from a 12:00 CT kickoff to 3:25 p.m. In addition, FOX will send its top broadcast team to Minneapolis for the game, with Joe Buck (play-by-play), Troy Aikman (analyst) and Pam Oliver (sideline reporter) calling the action.

4. Adrian Peterson Chases History
Can he do it? That’s what everyone’s wondering as the final regular season game approaches and Vikings RB Adrian Peterson sits so close to history. Peterson is 102 yards from the 2,000-yard rushing mark and he’s 208 yards from breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards. It’s perhaps the NFL’s top individual story of 2012, with Peterson rushing towards history less than a year removed from a serious knee injury. All the accolades and team success also has Peterson neck-and-neck with Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning for MVP talk. If Peterson tops the 2,000-yard mark, surpasses or even approaches Dickerson’s mark and the Vikings win to clinch a playoff spot, I find it hard to make a case against Peterson for MVP honors.

5. Blair Walsh Chases History, Too
If not for Peterson’s pursuit of such revered records, one could make a solid argument for K Blair Walsh being the Vikings MVP. Walsh, a rookie selected in the 6th round last April, is 32 of 25 (91.4%) on FGs for the season, including a perfect 9 of 9 from 50+. His 9 FGs of 50+ yards is a team and NFL single-season record, his 49 touchbacks on the season rank 4th in the NFL and 1st in team history, he’s already set a new Vikings rookie scoring record, and he’s just 3 made FGs from tying the team record (Gary Anderson – 1998).

6. Injury Report – Who’s In, Who’s Out?
The Packers have dealt with injuries to key players all season, especially over the course of the last two months. Last week, the Packers were without TE Tom Crabtree, RBs Alex Green and James Starks, WR Jordy Nelson, DL CJ Wilson and Jerel Worthy and CB Charles Woodson. WR Greg Jennings has missed significant time this season, several offensive linemen have been in and out of the lineup and LB Clay Matthews missed time because of a groin injury. Now, though, Green Bay is getting healthier. All of the above-mentioned players will have a good shot to be in the lineup this Sunday.

Speaking of injuries to key players, the Vikings will be watching two defensive starters closely this week. DE Brian Robison (shoulder) and CB Antoine Winfield will be on the injury report. Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier expressed confidence that Winfield will make it to Sunday, but was less sure about Robison. Also, Peterson has been dealing with an abdominal injury and will be monitored all week, but Frazier said after Sunday’s win in Houston that Peterson will play on Sunday.

7. Can Vikings Pass Rush Get To Aaron Rodgers
Everyone will surely point to pass rush as the key defensively for the Vikings. The Vikings defense has been in top form the past 2 weeks, shutting down the Houston Texans last week and stifling the St. Louis Rams the week prior. Slowing down Aaron Rodgers and Co. is an entirely different matter, however. In 10 games against the Packers, Vikings DE Jared Allen has 15.0 sacks and 4 passes defensed. Can Allen register one of his trademark games against Green Bay? Everson Griffen has a career-high 5.0 sacks this season. Can he add to his total? The Vikings have utilized more pressures (LBs) and blitzes (DBs) to pressure the passer the past 2 weeks. Will the Vikings continue that trend against Green Bay? All interesting questions this week.

8. Vikings Offensive Line Comes Off Dominant Performance vs. Houston
The Vikings have started the same 5 offensive linemen for all 15 games this season, and they are set to make it 16 straight games on Sunday against Green Bay. And if that group plays against Green Bay the way they played against Houston, the Vikings will be in great shape. Here are just a few of the notable accomplishments the Vikings OL registered against a well-regarded Texans defensive front last Sunday: 11 rushing 1st downs, the most Houston has allowed all season; 34:46 time of possession compared to just 25:14 for Houston; previous high for rushing yards allowed by Houston was 158, and the Vikings rushed for 174 yards; Vikings ran the ball 42 times and Houston’s previous high allowed was 33;  Vikings are now one of just three teams to register a rushing TD vs. Houston; just 1 sack allowed against a team that registered 3 per game coming into the contest.

9. Will Vikings Dome-Field Advantage Make A Difference?
The Vikings have traditionally had one of the best home-field advantages in the NFL. Last year, though, they were just 1-7 at home. The tides have quickly changed this year, as the Vikings boast a 6-1 record at home and are looking to make it 7-1 after Sunday. Frazier often mentions the Mall of America Field crowd as being a difference-maker in games, and if the Vikings win on Sunday you can be sure that a raucous home crowd will have been a factor.


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Watt’s The (Real) Deal? Texans DE Having Historic Season

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 21, 2012 – 7:37 am

No offensive player in the NFL is having a more impressive season than Adrian Peterson. He’s the NFL’s leading rusher by a 433-yard margin over Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch, he’s set to challenge Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards over the season’s final two games, and he’s on a string of 8 consecutive 100-yard games and has rushed for the same number of yards (1,313) in that time that Houston’s Arian Foster has the entire season.

The Vikings are going to need the NFL’s best offensive player to be at his best on Sunday, though, because they are heading to Houston to take on the Texans. No defensive player in the NFL is having a more impressive season than Texans DE J.J. Watt. He is tied for the NFL lead with 19.5 sacks, and he’s the first player in NFL history to record 15.0 sacks and 15 passes defensed in the same season.

“His domination. He really dominates,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said when asked what stands out about Watt. “He’s hard to block one-on-one, he has outstanding quickness, he plays hard all the time and, not only is he good against the run, but he’s an excellent pass rusher with the sacks that he’s gotten and the way he bats down balls. He’s just a very, very good player who can take over a game. You don’t often see those guys and he’s one of them.”

Watt’s ability to dominate is best illustrated by pointing out the variety of statistical categories he leads for his team. Aside from sacks, Watt leads the Texans in tackles (100), tackles for loss (33), QB hits (38), passes defensed (15), forced fumbles (3) and fumble recoveries (2). According to information released by the Texans, Watt has been a part of 84 plays this season that have resulted in zero or negative yards. And it’s not just the number of impact plays he can make, it’s the situation(s) in which he makes them. Of those 84 zero or negative-yardage plays, 51  have come on passing plays, 33 on rushing plays, 25 inside FG range and 6 have come in overtime. Also, 42 of them have come on 1st down, which puts the opposing offense at a severe disadvantage on 2nd and 3rd down.

“He’s one of the best players in the NFL, especially at his position,” Vikings QB Christian Ponder said. “They’re going to put him in different spots to create plays, and whether he is inside at the tackle position or outside on the end and standing up or he’s down, he’s creating a lot of plays, obviously. He’s getting pressure but he’s also knocking balls down and he’s a guy that we definitely have to account for.”

On this week’s edition of Vikings Live From Winter Park, C John Sullivan called Watt the best defensive player the Vikings will see this season and stressed the importance for Vikings offensive linemen to stick with their blocks on Watt each play to prevent him from finding a way to impact the game.

As if defending Watt wasn’t enough, the Texans defense is filled with a bunch of other playmakers, especially along the defensive line. Shaun Cody is a run-stuffing nose tackle, Antonio Smith is an 8-year veteran at DE with 21.0 sacks in 62 games as a Texan, and both NT Earl Mitchell and DE Jared Crick provide more than adequate depth and production. Behind the talented front 7, the Texans feature a secondary that plays a lot of man coverage, and does it very well.

“We expect them to play man coverage and the defensive backs are good at it and we’re going to have to win outside,” Ponder said. “Obviously, I think their number one goal is going to be to stop Adrian (Peterson), obviously. So, we’re going to have to take advantage of that in the passing game and we’ll see what they end up doing.”

All-in-all, it’s a big challenge for the Vikings offense, and a challenge they’ll be up for on Sunday with so much on the line.

“I think everyone is focused,” Ponder said. “You can feel it in the locker room. It’s almost like a playoff atmosphere for us and it’s going to be a hostile environment, obviously, it’s a team with a great record, tough place to play. They’re playing for a lot. They’re playing for a bye and home-field advantage so they have a lot on their plate and we know they’re going to be focused and it’s going to be a fun one. It means a lot for this whole team and it means a lot for me. It’s probably the biggest game of my career and we’re excited for it.”


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Frazier Speaks To Greenway’s Leadership, Griffen’s Growth

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 20, 2012 – 7:18 am

Often times there’s nothing notable about a NFL head coach speaking in glowing terms about his players. Coaches spend countless hours mentoring, teaching and guiding their players to put them in a position to succeed both on the field and away from it, so you can’t blame them for having a positive viewpoint of their players when evaluating their performance.

While meeting with reporters on Wednesday, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier spent several moments talking about a pair of his defensive players – LB Chad Greenway and DE Everson Griffen. Both are timely topics because Greenway is having perhaps his best season as a pro and Griffen is coming off a game in which he replaced an injured Brian Robison at left DE and made a huge play while doing so – a 29-yard INT returned for a TD in the 2nd quarter to break the game wide open.

That Frazier flattered both Greenway and Griffen while speaking about them on Wednesday is not surprising. But in complimenting those two individuals, Frazier did provide an interesting glimpse into how he and, presumably many within the organization’s leadership structure, had previously viewed each individual.

Let’s take a look at what Frazier was asked about each player, what may have led to that question being asked, and then what Frazier said in response…

Greenway
The question: “What stood out to you as you watched Chad Greenway on Sunday?”

The context: Greenway leads the NFL in tackles with 140, and has led the Vikings in tackles in 8 of the team’s 14 games. He did so once again last week in St. Louis with a game-high 14 stops, and he also registered a sack of QB Sam Bradford and a fumble recovery as well. In addition to performing well on the field, Greenway has taken a step forward in the leadership department during his 7th season.

Frazier: “I still go back to how much he’s grown as a leader. I felt like he would get better as a player over time, but what he’s brought to our defense and to our team from a leadership standpoint has really helped us to grow up over the course of the season. That has been big for me and the rest of the staff and our players. The football part, we thought he was going to be a good football player, that’s one of the reasons we franchised him a few years ago. But what he’s provided in the locker room as well as on the sidelines has really helped our team.”

Griffen
The question: “How have you seen Everson Griffen develop from a maturity standpoint since he’s come here?”

The context: The Vikings selected Griffen out of USC with a 4th-round pick (#100 overall) in the 2010 NFL Draft. I remember in the build-up to that draft, Griffen was considered by many to be a potential late 1st-round prospect, but definitely a 2nd-round prospect. But some also had concerns about him from a maturity standpoint, and that’s why his stock dropped a touch. I also remember Vikings Director of College Scouting Scott Studwell being interviewed after the Vikings selected Griffen, and he explained that Griffen had too much talent for the Vikings to pass on him in the 4th round, even despite the concerns some had about him. The Vikings deserve credit for including within their organizational structure a process that helps players mature once they enter the NFL. Having this in place allows the Vikings to consider selecting or signing “at-risk” players who some teams may shy away from because of those maturity concerns despite their immense talent. Griffen is a great example of this.

Frazier: “He’s come so far. I’ve talked to him about it often. Just seeing the maturation, even through this last offseason, being able to manage his free time, understanding what it means to be a pro and act like a pro, both at practice and in games as well, and off the field. He’s one of those guys, as we speak, that has really bought in to the right way of doing things. There are other guys you can talk to about, ‘Hey, this is how it has to be.’ And they’re going to do it their way, but he’s one of those guys who’s paid attention, he’s listened and, we always knew he was a good athlete, but just being able to manage some of the other things that were happening in his life. He’s a great example for a lot of young players that come into our League. He’s really grown up. The tragedy he faced this season, losing his mother, that was hard. But the way he responded, even in the midst of that tragedy, you have to take your hat off to him at how courageous he is. I told him I know his mother would be extremely proud of him and the way he’s handled himself. He’s come a long ways.”


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