A Closer Look: What Is “Vikings” Football?

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 19, 2012 – 1:15 pm

It may be wise to take with a grain of salt what NFL head coaches say during press conferences at this late stage of the season. And you can hardly blame a NFL coach for falling into patterns of hyperbole and coach speak given how frequently they’re required to meet with reporters and speak about their team.

With that being said, it’s not uncommon for a head coach to carry to press conferences the same theme(s) he promotes to his team. As an example, we’ve heard Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier emphasize repeatedly that he wants his team to play “smart, tough, disciplined” football. Whether speaking to his team in a meeting room or after the game in the locker room, or speaking with reporters at a press conference, Frazier calls this brand of play “Vikings football.”

Here’s a closer look at what defines Frazier’s brand of “Vikings Football”…

The Vikings game plans against St. Louis were clever. Bill Musgrave and the offensive staff mixed in play-action bootlegs early in the game to find holes in a Rams defense that was selling out to stop the run. St. Louis had some success neutralizing the run early – Adrian Peterson had just 8 yards on his first 8 carries – but eventually they had to account for the crossing routes and rollouts. Once they did that, the running game took over.

Defensively, Alan Williams and the Vikings defensive staff mixed blitzes, pressures and even zone blitzes into the game plan. Everson Griffen came away with a pick-6, Marcus Sherels and Antoine Winfield pressured the QB, and Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson registered sacks. When all was said and done, the Vikings had 5 pass breakups, 4.0 sacks and a fumble recovery. Greenway led the team in tackles (again) and role players such as Christian Ballard (1.0 sack), Griffen and Sherels all made an impact

The essence of blocking and, consequently, of running the football is moving the opponent in a direction against their will. The Vikings offensive line has been able to do that with regularity this season. It’s no secret the Vikings come into each game prioritizing the run game, and it’s also no secret that opponents come into each game with the top priority being stopping the run. The Vikings have seen defenses put as many as 9 players in the box, and yet Peterson and the Vikings offense still find a way to run the ball with effectiveness.

And how about the Vikings special teams? The combination of kick and coverage on kickoffs has been sensational for the Vikings this season. Blair Walsh has set a single-season record for touchbacks, but many times he’s asked to put hang time under his kicks so the coverage team can run down and, well, cover. The Vikings rank 6th in opponent’s average starting field position after a kickoff and they also rank 7th in opponent’s average punt returns.

It’s not often discussed or written about, but one of the Vikings most significant areas of improvement this season has been in the penalty department. Last season, the Vikings ranked 23rd in penalties accepted against (109). This year, the Vikings rank 4th with just 75 accepted penalties against them. The Vikings and Atlanta Falcons are the only two teams who’ve avoided double-digits in holding + offsides/false start penalties. Frazier credited two sources for this drastic improvement – his players and ownership.

“For us to be in the top five this season, credit to our players,” Frazier said. “We really emphasized in the offseason, but that’s not unlike any other year that we’ve emphasized it. Once again, our ownership really buying into some things that I talked with them about this offseason. I was talking with some other coaches around the League, trying to get some ideas. One of the coaches I talked with mentioned that they had tried to use officials in practice. And he saw a dramatic decrease in their penalties. I talked to our ownership about it because those guys (officials) aren’t going to volunteer their time, and they (ownership) were willing to support it. I think having those officials there has helped us, along with our players being more conscious. But they’re probably more conscious because those officials are there and they will call penalties in practice.”

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6 Vikings-Texans Storylines To Watch

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 19, 2012 – 7:24 am

The Vikings will travel south this weekend for a matchup against the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium on Sunday. The matchup features plenty of sizzle, with several players chasing individual records and with major playoff implications on the line for both teams.

Let’s take a look at 6 of the storylines we’ll be chasing this week on…

1. Playoff Implications Both the Vikings and Texans will enter Sunday’s game looking for a win to improve their playoff standing. The Texans have already qualified for the postseason by virtue of their AFC-best record of 12-2 and subsequent AFC South division title. But they’re looking for a win this week because with a victory over the Vikings they will secure home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. The Vikings, meanwhile, are among a bushel of teams competing for a wild card in the NFC playoffs. Entering Week 16, they are the NFC’s #6 seed, but that’s a bit deceiving. The Vikings do not control their own destiny, and there are so many possible scenarios that the Vikings could in theory win-out and not make it, or lose-out and wind up making it. The bottom line is the Vikings are looking to win their remaining games and then hope for help by way of as many losses as possible from the likes of Chicago, Dallas, New York, Seattle and Washington.

2. Adrian Peterson Pursues History With two games to plan, Adrian Peterson is 188 yards from becoming just the 7th player to rush for 2,000 yards in a season and he’s 294 yards from breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record for 2,105 yards. To top either mark would be an impressive accomplishment with just two games to play. But with Peterson having 8 straight 100-yard games and averaging 164.1 yards per game over that span, you can see why everyone’s eyes will be on Peterson over the next two weeks.

3. The Texans Have a Good RB, Too While everyone else watches Peterson pursue immortality, the Vikings defense is charged with making sure Texans RB Arian Foster doesn’t steal the show. Foster is the Texans all-time leading rusher, he leads the AFC with 1,313 yards rushing this season and he leads the NFL with 16 total TDs this season. He is coming off a 100-yard outing last week against the Indianapolis Colts, he has 3 straight 1,000-yard seasons and with 1 TD will become just the 6th player in NFL history to score 50 TDs in 50 games or less; Sunday will be Foster’s 50th career game.

4. Vikings Look To Become Road Warriors Playing on the road has been a challenge for Vikings teams the past few seasons, but right now Leslie Frazier’s team is trying to turn around their road woes to become road warriors. The Vikings collected a big win earlier this season on the road, defeating the Detroit Lions in Week 4 to move to 3-1. Then last week in St. Louis the Vikings throttled the Rams along the way to their 8th win of the season. If the Vikings can find a way to win at Reliant Stadium on Sunday, they’ll pick up their 3rd road win of the season and will take a big step toward making a postseason appearance just one season removed from going 3-13 (2-6 on the road).

5. Texans DE J.J. Watt Chases the NFL’s Sack Record Last season Vikings fans watched as Jared Allen came excruciatingly shy of breaking the NFL’s single-season sack record of 22.5 sacks (Michael Strahan). Allen had 22.0 sacks last season, dominating opposing offensive linemen on a weekly basis. This season, a pair of defenders are closing in on the mark as well, and one of them will go against the Vikings on Sunday. Texans DE J.J. Watt is in the midst of one of the most impressive seasons by a defender in League history. He’s currently tied for the NFL lead in sacks with 19.5, and he is the only player in NFL history with 15.0 sacks and 15 passes defensed in the same season. To win on Sunday, the Vikings would be wise to make sure Watt doesn’t challenge the NFL’s single-season sack record until next week.

6. Something’s Gotta Give: Vikings Rushing Offense vs. Texans Run Defense The Vikings rank 4th in rushing and they’re featuring the NFL’s best RB in his best season. The Texans boast the NFL’s 5th-ranked rushing defense and they’ve allowed the fewest rushing TDs in the NFL this season. It’s a classic example of strength vs. strength, and on Sunday something will have to give. There’s one angle that favors the Vikings, though. Houston ranks just 12th in yards per attempt allowed (4.1), teams run the ball just 22.5 times per game against them, and they’ve seen an opposing team run the ball 30+ times against them just twice. Meanwhile, the Vikings rank 1st in yards per attempt (5.5), they’ve averaged 29.1 rushes per game and they’ve run the ball 30+ times on 5 occasions this season.

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Frazier’s “Focusing On The Now” Mentality Pays Off For Vikings

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 18, 2012 – 7:37 am

This is the time of year when you want to be talking playoffs. If things have broken your way for most of the season and you’ve been able to collect enough wins, you’re in the playoff conversation and often times it’s hard not to look ahead to figure out who you’ll be playing and where you’ll be playing them once the second season rolls around.

That’s not the case for the Vikings, however. They have indeed played well enough and collected enough wins to be one of the teams involved in the playoff conversation, but Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier has determined that in order to stay there, his team must keep its focus on the “now” instead of on what might happen if the Vikings can fight their way into the postseason.

“We did talk about scenarios, but the most important thing we talked about was the Rams and what we had to do to win that game and it won’t be a whole lot different this week,” Frazier explained. “We’ll talk at length about what it will take to beat the Texans in Houston. They’re a very good football team. That’s where our conversation and our focus has to be, on the team that we’re playing.”

If the last two weeks are any indication, Frazier’s philosophy is paying off. The Vikings have won two straight games, defeating a Chicago Bears team that came in with a superior record and then hitting the road to blitz a St. Louis Rams team that was also fighting to stay alive in the NFC playoff chase.

“That win yesterday was huge for our team in the month of December,” Frazier said. “To go on the road, and as we all know, we’ve struggled on the road this season, to go out and play as well as our team played against a team that was fighting for a playoff spot just like we are, for our guys to go out and jump out early the way we did, made all of us very proud of our players. The effort they put into the week’s practice and their preparation as well. It really paid off.”

Since taking over as head coach of the Vikings, Frazier has preached to his team the importance of playing smart, tough and disciplined football. The kind of football most playoff teams feature this time of the season. And that’s the kind of football the Vikings have played coming down the stretch.

“One of the things I was most impressed with about our football team [Sunday] was the discipline they showed throughout,” Frazier said. “We talk all the time about what our team characteristics should be and what we want to look like for opponents and fans as well, but to play smart, tough, disciplined football, that was something we needed to do on the road and we got that done. It was truly Viking football in so many ways.

“Kudos to this group of guys for just focusing on the now and not the past or the future, just the now, which is good.”

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Early Aggressiveness, Conversions Help Offense Set Tone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cleverly-Crafted Defensive Game Plan Key In Vikings Win

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 17, 2012 – 7:46 am

In football there’s a fine line between staying true to your identity and taking calculated risks. On Sunday in St. Louis, the Vikings struck that balance beautifully.

Since Leslie Frazier was hired as defensive coordinator of the Vikings in 2007, the Vikings defense has been predicated on a 4-man rush from the defensive line and 7 defenders dropping in coverage to keep everything in front of them. On Sunday, though, Frazier and his defensive staff mixed in a few wrinkles to their game plan, and it wound up making a huge impact on the game.

At various times, guys such as Chad Greenway, Erin Henderson, Marcus Sherels and Antoine Winfield could be spotted rushing Rams QB Sam Bradford. The cleverly-crafted defensive game plan paid big dividends midway through the 2nd quarter, when DL Everson Griffen broke the game wide open.

With the Rams facing a 3rd and 9 from their own 21, Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams decided to switch it up. What resulted was Griffen dropping in coverage in the middle of the field, where he found himself in perfect position to grab an INT on a pass intended for TE Lance Kendricks. Griffen hauled in the pass, broke to his left toward the sideline, and out-sprinted the rest of the Rams offense for a 29-yard TD that put the Vikings ahead 24-7.

It’s perhaps the best illustration of the Vikings design to be aggressive versus St. Louis because it represents a time when the Vikings executed a strategy the opposing team didn’t see coming.

“That was part of the game plan, to mix in some pressures with our four-man rush,” Frazier explained after the game. “We were able to, early on especially, get some effective pressures. The interception that Everson had came off of a pressure. We were able to hurry a throw and make him see something that wasn’t there. Everson did a terrific job of dropping in coverage. Good call by Alan to bring pressure when they were anticipating coverage, and it worked out well for us. And great run at the end of the catch by Everson as well.”

The Vikings defensive game plan resulted in more than flashy, game-breaking plays. A glance at the final stat sheet also shows that role players made a difference. Christian Ballard recorded a sack in the 2nd half and Letroy Guion registered a pass defensed.

“That’s what you need on the road,” Frazier said. “It’s hard to win if you just say ‘We’re going to be Adrian Peterson.’ We need contribution from a lot of people, and we got it today (Sunday).”

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Vikings Go Old-School In 36-22 Win Over Rams

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 16, 2012 – 6:10 pm

Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier has an affinity for old-school football after playing on one of the best defenses of all-time (the 1985 Chicago Bears) and with one of the greatest RBs of all-time (Walter Payton). As you can imagine, then, Frazier was quite pleased with his team following their big victory Sunday.

It’s a non-traditional final score, but the Vikings 36-22 win over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome was about as old-school as it gets. Another historic day by Adrian Peterson and a cleverly-crafted defensive game plan paced the Vikings winning effort, as they moved to 8-6 on the season and remained alive in the NFC playoff chase.

Peterson, who has been forward about his desire to break Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards, looked like a man on a mission against the Rams. Constantly pushing through and dashing around Rams defenders, Peterson muscled and sprinted his way to 212 rushing yards and 1 TD on 24 carries. He had 2 runs of 50+ yards, including an 82-yard TD in the 1st half, and then his 54-yard outburst late in the game all but sealed the Vikings win.

As good as Peterson was on the day, he didn’t deliver the Vikings a victory on his own. The Vikings defense, which has come on of late, played perhaps its best game against the Rams. Defensive coordinator Alan Williams and his staff put together a game plan that held St. Louis to just 7 points in the 1st quarter and just 5.6 yards per play for the game.

Rather than relying on a 4-man rush from the defensive line and dropping 7 in coverage, the Vikings mixed up their calls and kept the Rams guessing. A quick glance at the stat sheet will illustrate the way the Vikings varied their defensive attack: defensive linemen Letroy Guion and Kevin Williams each had a pass defensed; linebackers Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson each had a sack; and Everson Griffen dropped into coverage and came away with a 29-yard INT return.

When all was said and done, the Vikings had 5 pass breakups, 4 sacks and a fumble recovery. Greenway led the team in tackles (again) and role players such as Christian Ballard (1.0 sack), Griffen and Marcus Sherels all had an impact on defense.

The Vikings running game and defense were key in the victory, but credit also goes to QB Christian Ponder for a well-managed game. Ponder was efficient and careful, connecting on 17 of 24 passes for 131 yards with no TDs or INTs; he also had a 5-yard rushing TD in the 1st quarter. Blair Walsh also played a key role, hitting a NFL record 3 FGs of 50+ yards and going 5 of 5 on the day.

It was a huge win for the Vikings because it keeps them alive in the NFC playoff chase and improves their record in the NFC should that come into tie-breaking procedures. Now the team will sit back, watch the rest of the NFC games unfold late Sunday, and prepare for a game against one of the AFC’s best next week – the Houston Texans.

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Vikings CBs A Hot Topic This Week

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 13, 2012 – 7:36 am

Not making an appearance in Wednesday’s “8 Vikings-Rams Storylines To Follow” blog entry was the topic of Vikings CBs, but they were a hot topic during Leslie Frazier’s meeting with local reporters. The first five questions of Frazier’s Wednesday press conference focused on various issues surround Vikings CBs, so let’s go over a few things we learned…

A.J. Jefferson could play on Sunday
Since Chris Cook went down with a broken arm during the Vikings Week 8 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, A.J. Jefferson has stepped into an increased role on defense. Near the end of last week’s win over Chicago, though, Jefferson also was injured. He suffered a concussion and was forced out of the game and into the NFL’s return-from-concussion protocol.

On Wednesday, Frazier said Jefferson was “getting closer” to passing all of his tests. The Vikings expect to have a much better idea of Jefferson’s chances to play this Sunday in St. Louis after Thursday’s work.

Next man up
In the event that Jefferson is not able to return in time for Sunday’s game, a few players would be asked to step up. Rookie Josh Robinson would be first on the list, although he’s seen plenty of the field this season while playing in the Vikings nickel package. On Monday, Frazier also mentioned Brandon Burton and Marcus Sherels as guys who may see increased roles on defense should Jefferson sit out.

Sherels to resume kickoff return duties
With Percy Harvin unavailable because of his ankle injury, the Vikings kickoff return role is open for business. Sherels was the first to fill the void and he’s done so adequately. More recently, though, Jefferson took a turn returning kicks. With his availability now in question because of the concussion, Frazier indicated earlier in the week that Sherels will reassume the kickoff return roles. Even if Jefferson does play on Sunday, expect Sherels to take the reps so the Vikings can reduce Jefferson’s exposure to another concussion.

Chris Cook on track
Chris Cook has returned to practice for the Vikings and appears to be on track to return to game action as soon as next week against the Houston Texans. Frazier has been asked about the chances of Cook returning this season and hasn’t been specific about if or when it could happen, but the fact that Cook has returned to practice is a sign of good progress.

The Vikings have done a nice job of covering up his absence with Jefferson and Robinson, but having Cook return to action would be a big plus for the Vikings in terms of their ability to cover bigger receivers and in terms of their depth both on defense and on special teams.

Winfield held out of Wednesday practice
Veteran Antoine Winfield did not practice on Wednesday, but that is not worthy of alarm. The Vikings have been diligent about monitoring Winfield’s reps, and it is paying big dividends this season. Winfield, in his 14th season, is having another stellar campaign and his health is a big reason for the Vikings increased performance against the pass. Frazier did mention that Winfield’s knee was bothering him a bit, and that added to the team’s decision to hold him out on Wednesday. It’s expected that Winfield will return to practice on Thursday.

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Double Trouble: Vikings Preparing For Rams Pass Rush, Crowd Noise

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 12, 2012 – 1:33 pm

Since Leslie Frazier joined the Vikings as defensive coordinator in 2007, he’s seen his team thrive at home thanks in part to a lethal pass rush and a significant home-field advantage that is derived largely from deafening crowd noise at Mall of America Field. This week, though, Frazier and the Vikings hit the road for a game in St. Louis, and the Vikings head coach says his team is preparing for those factors to work in concert against his team.

“It’ll be a big challenge,” Frazier said on Wednesday. “They’re second in the League in sacks. I know that place will be loud on Sunday, so we’ll have to really work hard here in practice on trying to simulate that noise, similar to what people experience when they come to our place.”

The Rams are 4-2 in their home building this year, and they’ve collected 21 of their 39 total sacks in those 6 home contests. They sacked Arizona QBs 9 times on October 4 and more recently tallied 3 sacks against both the NY Jets and San Francisco 49ers at home. The key to the Rams pass rush is their DEs, as starters Chris Long and Robert Quinn have combined for 17.0 sacks. On top of that, DT Michael Brockers, a 1st-rounder from the 2012 NFL Draft, has 4.0 sacks in 10 games rushing from the inside.

“Both Robert Quinn and (Chris) Long are outstanding pass rushers,” Frazier acknowledged. “They give them (the Rams) great edge rush on both edges, so they’re guys we’re going to have to contend with. We’ll have to do some different things to kind of offset what they’re capable of doing.

“But our tackles, they’ve got a big challenge ahead of them. They have good defensive tackles as well, so it’s a good (defensive) front.”

Aside from personnel on the field, the Vikings have a couple more factors working in their favor. First, their defensive line coach – Brendan Daly – spent the previous three seasons on the Rams staff, so he has some familiarity with St. Louis’ personnel. Secondly, Frazier pointed out that this Vikings team has some experience playing in hostile environments, as all NFL teams do, so the adverse environment won’t catch the offense by surprise.

“It’ll be a big challenge for our offensive line, there’s no question about it,” Frazier said, “and for our offense in general trying to function in that environment. We’ve been in some tough environments in the past, and this is one where we’ll have to rise to the challenge.”

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Emptying Out The Vikings-Bears Notebook

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 11, 2012 – 4:51 pm

On Wednesday morning the NFL calendar is going to flip from Week 14 to Week 15, which means now is the time to empty out the notebook from last weekend’s victory over the Chicago Bears. Here are a few of my final thoughts…

Jared Allen’s Effort
In the NFL, it’s not often that we feel compelled to credit a player for giving maximum effort. But that’s what I’m going to do here. The Bears had a 1st and 10 from their 15, and they handed the ball of to RB Matt Forte. Going wide right, Forte turned the corner and began sprinting down the right (Vikings) sideline. Jared Allen, having lined up on the opposite side of where the play was heading, saw Forte break contain and began sprinting. He took an aggressive angle, and after several moments of all-out sprinting, Allen finally angled Forte off and pushed him out of bounds. Unfortunately, Forte had stepped out of bounds an instant before Allen shoved him, so the officials flagged him for unnecessary roughness and enforced a 15-yard penalty. But you can hardly blame Allen, after sprinting about 60 yards across the field, to not have the wherewithal to stop on a dime and refrain from pushing Forte out of bounds after catching him.

It was a great play by Allen because he could easily have never taken off to try and catch Forte and instead relied on a teammate closer to Forte to take a less aggressive angle and still catch him before he broke away. Instead, Allen took it upon himself to be the one to catch Forte. The end result was nowhere near ideal because the 15-yard penalty tacked on to the 36-yard run set the Bears up with a 1st and 10 from the Vikings 34, but Allen and Co. were able to force a punt just 3 plays later. Plus, the effort Allen gave is a good indication that this team is playing hard and giving everything it has to make a late-season push.

Final Word (For Now) On Ponder
I basically explained this in the Monday Morning Mailbag, but it’s my belief that the hyper-analysis on Ponder and the angst over whether he can be the QB of the future in Minnesota should subside momentarily to the more team-centric and relevant issue of the Vikings push to the playoffs. There’s no question Ponder needs to improve his play – he will be the first to acknowledge that. The sub 100-yard passing outings are hard for fans to stomach given the fact that Ponder was the 12th overall pick and is being groomed to be a franchise quarterback. But if you can refrain from analyzing Ponder through that lens and instead focus on what Ponder and the Vikings need to do to win games this season, you’ll be a happier Vikings fan and you’ll be better able to A) appreciate the season Adrian Peterson is having and B) appreciate the fact that the Vikings are playing meaningful games in December for the first time since 2009.

AP For 2K?
Can he get to 2,000? Adrian Peterson has 1,600 yards rushing through 13 games and needs to average 133.3 yards per game over the final 3 to reach the 2,000-yard mark. Only 6 other RBs in NFL history have done it. I think Adrian will get there, and if he does it will be an impressive accomplishment on a number of levels. Obviously he’s coming back from the knee injury. But also, he’s doing it while the Vikings have struggled to move the ball through the air and while Percy Harvin has been unavailable due to injury. And, if Peterson reaches 2,000, he’ll have done it after facing 3 consecutive Top 15 rushing defenses over the final few weeks of the season.

Jerome Felton Having a Pro Bowl-Caliber Season
A couple of big-name free agent acquisitions haven’t worked out according to plan for the Vikings. But there’s another free agent the team acquired this past offseason who has worked out better than most imagined.

It’s FB Jerome Felton. The guy is playing out of his mind and is having a Pro Bowl-caliber season. He’s worthy of your Pro Bowl vote.

I was glad to see Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier mention Felton in his press conference on Monday.

“Jerome at the fullback position is an unsung hero,” Frazier said. “We’re playing a lot more two-back than we played a season ago and it’s really helped us. We went into this offseason saying that we wanted to be able to find a fullback to really be a lead blocker for Adrian because we felt like some of his best runs have come when he had a lead blocker. Now he might differ from that, but you put the tape on and you see that’s true. Jerome has done a terrific job of doing everything we’ve asked him to do as a lead blocker and he’s had a lot to do with the success we’ve had running the football.”

Sherels, Burton To Step Up If Jefferson Can’t Go
CB A.J. Jefferson suffered a concussion near the end of Sunday’s win over the Bears, leaving the Vikings even more short-handed at the position. Starter Chris Cook is already out, of course, so that means Brandon Burton and Marcus Sherels will have to step up if Jefferson isn’t able to play on Sunday in St. Louis. As for Cook, he can start practicing with the team on a more regular basis and could return as soon as next week against the Houston Texans.

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A Closer Look: How To Slow Down Bears WR Brandon Marshall

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 6, 2012 – 7:25 am

The Bears acquired WR Brandon Marshall this past offseason, thinking he was the missing link in a passing game that needed a big-time WR to complement the strong arm and gunslinging mentality of QB Jay Cutler. Through Marshall’s first 12 games in the Windy City, the Bears thinking is right on.

Marshall ranks 2nd in the NFL with 91 receptions and 1,182 yards, and he’s on pace to break the Bears single-season record for receptions and yards. No other Bears player has more than 30 receptions, and Marshall has been targeted by Cutler 95 more times than the next Bears receiver. Against the Vikings in Week 12, Marshall was targeted by Cutler 17 times and he came away with 12 receptions for 92 yards. While he didn’t get into the end zone against the Vikings, he was still a crucial factor in the game. Several times the Vikings had Chicago in unfavorable 3rd-down spots, and several times Marshall bailed the Bears out with a great grab in traffic or a few extra yards after the catch.

Adding to the frustration of Marshall’s production that day was the fact that often times he was guarded to near perfection by Vikings DBs, but he still came away with the catch. Cutler was able to fit the ball into tight windows, and even when a Vikings defender was in position to make a play, Marshall was able to make the better play.

So, what can the Vikings rely on to slow down the Cutler-to-Marshall tandem on Sunday at Mall of America Field? Let’s take a closer look at three things that should work…

Pressure the passer
Perhaps the best way for the Vikings to keep Marshall in check is to disrupt the man charged with delivering the ball to the tall, fast pass-catcher – Cutler. To do that, the Vikings must re-energize their pass rush to take advantage of a Bear defensive line that is missing starters and has dealt with inconsistent play. As Leslie Frazier explained on Wednesday while meeting with reporters, pressuring the passer isn’t all about sacks. Even if a defender doesn’t register a sack, hitting the QB and disrupting his timing can be just as good.

“They’ve changed their philosophy offensively to cut down on the sacks. They realized what their problems were and they made a smart move. We have to offset that with some of the things we’re going to try to do,” Frazier explained. “We may not get the sacks, because of what they’re doing now with the short passing game, but we have to hit that quarterback. We have to find a way to hit him and make him aware that our defense is on the field. Might not get the sack numbers, but we have to find a way to hit him.”

The ball will bounce your way
It’s important for a defense to maintain its aggressiveness. But it’s also important for a defense to trust itself and know that if they keep doing the right thing at the right time, the ball will eventually bounce the right way. It actually happened that way for the Vikings secondary in Soldier Field a couple weeks ago. Yes, Marshall kept finding ways to make plays even though AJ Jefferson, Josh Robinson and Antoine Winfield were constantly in the right place at the right time. Finally, though, the Vikings caught a break when one of Cutler’s passes to Marshall was tipped and wound up in the hands of Winfield.

The Vikings finished last season with a total of 64 passes defensed. This season through 12 games, they’ve already surpassed that total by 14 – they have 78 passes defensed heading into Sunday’s game. If the Vikings continue being sound in coverage, and especially if the Vikings can put pressure on Cutler while he’s in the pocket, the ball will bounce the Vikings way eventually.

Forcing fumbles
More than most other teams in the NFL, the Vikings have proven that the play isn’t over once an opposing runner breaks through the line of scrimmage or an opposing receiver secures a catch. The Vikings rank tied for 6th in the NFL with 27 forced fumbles and 3rd in the NFL with 23 fumble recoveries dating back to the start of the 2011 season. So even once Marshall hauls in a pass from Cutler, watch for Vikings DBs to try and strip the ball from the receiver as he’s trying to gain extra yardage.


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