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Uncharacteristic Miscues Cost Vikings In Playoff Loss

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 7, 2013 – 3:01 pm

A quick glance at the box score might lead one to conclude that the disparity in production at QB led to the outcome of Saturday night’s Wild Card game playoff between the Vikings and Green Bay Packers. Green Bay came out a winner by a 24-10 count behind a 274-yard, 1-TD performance from QB Aaron Rodgers, while the Vikings offense struggled with backup QB Joe Webb under center.

It’s true that a big difference in play at QB was a determining factor in the game. But mistakes in other areas of the game were contributing factors as well. Just as frustrating for the Vikings as not having their starting QB available for the biggest game of the season was the fact that many of the costly mistakes committed by the Vikings were uncharacteristic of the way the team played down the stretch, when they won four consecutive games to qualify for the postseason.

Consider the following costly miscues committed by the Vikings:

– Leading 3-0 midway through the 1st quarter, the Vikings held Green Bay to a 3-and-out on its first possession and then stopped them on 3rd and 2 on their second possession. But an offsides penalty against veteran DT Kevin Williams extended Green Bay’s drive, and RB DuJuan Harris made the Vikings pay several minutes later when he scored from 8 yards out.

– On the first drive of the 3rd quarter, Green Bay was stopped again on 3rd down and was forced to bring their FG team out onto the field to salvage a score. But the Vikings had 12 men on the huddle due to a miscommunication from the sideline, and Green Bay was awarded a 1st down. On the next play, Rodgers found FB Jon Kuhn for a 9-yard TD, giving the Packers a commanding 24-3 lead.

– With 14:12 to play in the 4th quarter, the Vikings forced a punt from Green Bay and were poised to take possession while trailing by 21 points. But Marcus Sherels, who had been solid as the team’s punt returner all season, muffed the punt and it was recovered by the Packers. Green Bay was forced to punt again just 3 plays later, but they burned 2 more valuable minutes before doing so.

The last mistake did not result in a Green Bay score, but the previous two mistakes resulted in two Green Bay TDs. Keep in mind, the winning margin for Green Bay in the game was 14 points.

“To give up fourteen points after we should’ve been off the field, it is uncharacteristic,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said after the game. “We’ve done a good job with penalties this year. Marcus has been great catching punts. We never had to worry about him fielding punts.

“Those are things you don’t want to see happen – unforced errors in a game like this. It’ll kill you, that’s a good football team. For whatever reason it happened to us tonight.”

Despite the mistakes and the effort that resulted in a 14-point loss and early exit from the playoffs, Frazier reiterated during his press conference that he was proud of his team’s effort over the course of the season. No one is proud of the result, but that doesn’t preclude one from appreciating the effort and results that came from a successful 2012 season for the Vikings.

“I thought our guys played hard,” Frazier said. “We just didn’t always play the way we are capable of playing in some instances.

“I’m extremely proud of our football team, and the way they worked throughout this year to represent our organization, to represent our state. The effort that they have every single week throughout the course of this season, including tonight, those guys never let anyone put limitations on what they could achieve and they played as hard as they could and tried to do the very best they could to give us a chance to win. Tough loss, not the way we wanted our season to end. But because of the character of the men on this football team, there are a lot of things that we can learn from this 2012 season.”


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Packers Injury Report: CB Woodson Ruled Out, But DL Getting Healthier

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 27, 2012 – 8:00 am

Future Hall of Fame CB Charles Woodson did not play in the first Vikings-Packers matchup of the season because of a broken collarbone suffered against the St. Louis Rams in Week 7. And he won’t play in the second Vikings-Packers matchup, either, because of the injury.

Sunday will mark the 9th game Woodson has missed because of the injury. The Packers were hopeful that Woodson would make his return this week for the season finale, hoping the game would serve as a tune-up for the team’s postseason run.

“We were hopeful this was going to be the game,” Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “This is his fourth week now going through practice. I know he’s disappointed. This is a game he’d really like to play in.”

Elsewhere, though, Green Bay is getting healthier. That is especially the case along the defensive line, where starter CJ Wilson returned to practice after missing the past 4 games and rookie DE Jerel Worthy also returned to work after missing last week’s game. Wilson is one of Green Bay’s top run stoppers, and his absence from the first border battle was a plus for Adrian Peterson and the Vikings as they ran up and down Lambeau Field. Worthy is a high-performing member of the DL rotation and one of several contributors from the Packers 2012 draft class.

Green Bay has 13 players listed on its injury report. Listed as out was Woodson. Listed as non-participants in practice were K Mason Crosby, G Josh Sitton and RB James Starks. Listed as limited participants in practice were WR Randall Cobb, G Evan Dietrich-Smith, CB Davon House, Wilson, Worthy and C Jeff Saturday. Full participants were TE Tom Crabtree, RB Alex Green and WR Jordy Nelson.

For the Vikings, DE Jared Allen, RB Adrian Peterson and CB Antoine Winfield did not practice. DE Brian Robison was limited, and P Chris Kluwe, RT Phil Loadholt and CB Marcus Sherels were full participants.


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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”…

Smart
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

Tough
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.

Disciplined
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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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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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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Harvin Listed As Doubtful; Jarius Wright Will Be Active Sunday

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 23, 2012 – 1:06 pm

Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier met briefly with reporters after practice on Friday and provided an update on the probability of WR Percy Harvin returning from his ankle injury in time for this Sunday’s game in Chicago. The chances are not good that Harvin will play, as Frazier said his star WR will be listed as doubtful on the week’s final injury report.

Harvin injured his ankle against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 9 and has been rehabbing and recovering since. The ankle has improved, but he’s yet to be able to participate in a practice since the injury. Harvin’s final status for the game likely won’t be declared until 90 minutes prior to kickoff, which is when teams are required to submit their list of inactive players.

Regardless of what happens with Harvin, Frazier did say that WR Jarius Wright will be active. The rookie 4th-rounder played in his first NFL regular season game two weeks ago against Detroit with Harvin sidelined. Wright responded with 3 receptions for 65 yards and 1 TD. He’ll have another chance to contribute in Chicago this weekend.

Frazier said Wright does not figure to fill in for Harvin in the kickoff return role. Marcus Sherels, AJ Jefferson and Josh Robinson (in that order) are listed as backups to Harvin in the kickoff return role.


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7 Vikings-Lions Storylines To Follow

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 7, 2012 – 7:32 am

The Vikings began this season with wins in four out of their first five games. Since then, however, they’ve lost three of their last four and two in a row. It’s time to get back on the winning track, and to do so the Vikings will have to upend division rival Detroit for the second time this season.

It’s only Wednesday, so we have plenty of time to breakdown the matchups and analyze the trends. Here are seven Vikings-Lions storylines we’ll be chasing this week.

1. Harvin’s Ankle, Megatron’s Knee
Two of the NFL’s best WRs reside within this Vikings-Lions matchup, and they are both dealing with injuries. Vikings WR Percy Harvin leads the NFL in receptions with 62, but he injured his ankle in last week’s loss to Seattle. Harvin wouldn’t rule himself out for Sunday’s game, but he also called himself a “long shot” to play. Detroit’s Calvin Johnson is widely regarded as the best receiver in the NFL, and he looked every bit the part in last week’s win over Jacksonville. Johnson had 7 receptions for 129 yards on the day, making a profound impact on the game even though he didn’t get into the end zone. Johnson missed practice all of last week with a knee injury, and although he doesn’t seem to be in jeopardy of missing the game on Sunday, it’ll be interesting to see how the knee ailment impacts his practice time this week and then his performance on Sunday.

2. Can Ponder Shake His Slump?
A beautiful beginning to the season, highlighted by a solid outing against San Francisco in which he generated 3 TDs, has turned into a dreadful slump for Vikings 2nd-year QB Christian Ponder. The slumping Ponder has thrown for fewer than 100 yards twice in the last three games and he now has 8 INTs in nine games after going through the first four games of the season without throwing it to the opposing team. I believe Ponder will emerge from his slump in a big way, and it could happen on Sunday.

3. Vikings Looking For Pass Rush Re-Emergence
No team has more sacks than the Vikings (74) since the start of 2011, but the Vikings also have just 2 sacks over the past two games. In order to slow down this Lions passing attack, the Vikings must pressure Lions QB Matthew Stafford. In five career games against the Vikings, Stafford has been sacked 20 times, including three times in each of the last three games. Last year, Vikings DE Jared Allen registered 6.0 sacks by himself against the Lions. On the flip side, the Lions have improved their pass protection this season and have allowed just 15 sacks through eight games, 10th-best in the League.

4. More Special Teams Fireworks?
The Vikings defeated the Lions earlier this year by a score of 20-13 in a game that was dominated by special teams. The Vikings won the game, yet didn’t score an offensive TD. Both Vikings TDs were on returns, with Harvin registering a 105-yard kickoff return and Marcus Sherels darting through and around the Lions coverage group for a 77-yard punt return TD on his birthday. At that point, the Lions had surrendered both a kickoff return TD and a punt return TD in back-to-back games. Since then, though, the Lions have not allowed a return TD. Can the Vikings find a way to gouge the Lions coverage groups again?

5. Peterson Gunning For 4th Straight 100-Yard Game
Adrian Peterson has given the phrase “back and better than ever” a whole new meaning. Just over 10 months removed from a major knee injury, Peterson is leading the NFL in rushing with 957 yards and also leads the NFL in yards per carry (5.7) among players with 100+ carries. And Peterson isn’t slowing down. He rushed for a season-high 182 yards last week in Seattle, giving him his third consecutive 100-yard rushing game. Can he make it four straight?

6. Glancing At The Standings
While it’s still too early to attach the “must-win” tag to this game, there’s no disputing this game’s importance to both Detroit and Minnesota’s playoff hopes. The loser of this game will be looking up at the three other teams in the NFC North and will do so with a losing record in the NFC. Both teams are 3-3 in NFC play, an important metric for tie-breaking purposes when it comes to awarding playoff spots after the regular season. Regardless of who wins and loses this game, both the Vikings and Lions have enough division games remaining that they control their own destinies. Even still, the fact remains that Sunday’s game is a big one in terms of placement in the NFC North standings.

7. Salute To Service
The NFL will continue its long history of honoring veterans and active duty members of the military with its annual Salute to Service campaign. For every point scored during the NFL’s 32 designated Salute to Service games, the League will donate $100 to each of its three core military non-profit partners – Pat Tillman Foundation, USO and the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP).

The Vikings will participate in the Salute to Service campaign during Sunday’s game by incorporating several pre-game, in-game and halftime elements in its game production. Here are just a few examples…

The Honorary Viking will be Betty Strohfus, one of just over 1,000 American women who flew military aircraft during World War II; the Honorary Captain will be Sergeant Brian Neill, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom who served in the Minnesota National Guard for a period of 23 years; a traditional riderless horse will cross through the end zone during a moment of silence and remain there through the National Anthem; during the National Anthem, the entire stadium will participate in a card stunt. The stunt will display a patriotic message and stars/stripes graphics. Fans should be in their seats 15 minutes prior to kickoff to ensure full-stadium participation;


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Special Teams Make Profound Impact For Vikings In Victory

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 1, 2012 – 8:45 am

Given how the imbalance of attention devoted to defense/offense over special teams, the number of special teams snaps in a given NFL game comes as a surprise to many. For instance, in the Vikings victory over Detroit on Sunday there were 28 special teams snaps. With that being the case, it’s easy to see why special teams has such a direct impact on the outcome of each NFL game.

Let’s take a look at several key moments for the Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer’s group in Sunday’s win…

Percy Harvin returns opening kickoff 105 yards for a TD: Percy Harvin has been an invaluable player for the Vikings offense in 2012. To open Sunday’s game against Detroit, he reminded everyone just how invaluable he is on special teams, too. Harvin fielded the opening kick 5 yards deep and started the return going to the left before veering quickly to the right. Setting up his blocks perfectly, which he does so well, Harvin gained the corner of the blocking scheme and outsprinted the Lions coverage group down the sideline.

Marcus Sherels weaves his way to 77-yard punt return TD: On the day he celebrated his 25th birthday, Marcus Sherels stood underneath a Detroit punt early in the 3rd quarter with the Lions coverage group bearing down on him. With teammate Percy Harvin having already registered a return TD of his own, Sherels would not be outdone. He caught the punt, immediately took a hit below the knees from a Lions defender, kept his balance and then began weaving his way up the gut of the Lions coverage team. After darting in and out several times and bouncing away from another defender, Sherels made one last cut to the left and sprinted down the Vikings sideline to register a 77-yard return that was ultimately the game-winning score.

Kluwe flips field position: The power of a punter. You wouldn’t think they have much, but because of their ability to flip the field position battle, they do. And Kluwe used his power judiciously against the Lions. There are two punts in particular that standout to me because they had the combination of result and timing that profoundly impacted the game. The first punt came at the end of the 2nd quarter, with the Vikings leading 13-6 and trying to get to the locker room with the lead. Kluwe booted the ball with around 29 seconds to play, plenty of time for Lions QB Matthew Stafford to put his team in position for a last-second FG. But Kluwe’s punt sailed 52 yards from the Vikings 26 to the Lions 22. On top of that, it had enough hang time for the Vikings coverage team to run down and tackle punt returner Stefan Logan for a loss of 1 yard. The Lions were then unable to try a last-second scoring attempt to close the half. The second standout punt came at the end of the game, with the Vikings leading 20-13 and 1:53 to go, again plenty of time for Stafford and Co. to drive down and score. Kluwe’s punt was high and 47 yards deep. It landed inside the 10, took a left-hand turn, and was downed by the Vikings coverage team at the 2. That made it tough for the Lions to dig out of their own territory, and ultimately Stafford ran out of time at the end of the game.

Touchbacks: Rookie K Blair Walsh had looked nothing like a rookie through his first three games, and his performance in Detroit fell in line as well. While he did miss a 46-yard try wide left, Walsh was 2 of 3 on the day and hit FGs of 49 and 27 yards to salvage scoring drives. Just as importantly, though, has been Walsh’s performance on kickoffs. That continued in Detroit as well. Walsh kicked off 5 times in the game, and all 5 resulted in touchbacks. Walsh now has 12 touchbacks on the season, an impressive number considering the Vikings had 19 in all of 2012.


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Vikings Defeat Detroit 20-13, Claim Spot Atop NFC North

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 30, 2012 – 6:31 pm

A sensational special teams performance that included two return TDs carried the Vikings to a 20-13 victory over the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on Sunday, the team’s first division win since 2010 and their first division win on the road since 2009. A sound defensive effort and a relentless ground attack complemented the return TDs, allowing the Vikings to fly home Sunday afternoon with a 3-1 record and a seat atop the NFC North standings.

Not all aspects of the victory were pretty, but there are no style points in the rough and tough NFC North. The Vikings defense kept a high-octane Lions offense out of the end zone until the end of the game, and the offense relied on superstar workhorse Adrian Peterson to move the ball on the ground. Peterson traditionally fares well against Detroit, and he did so on Sunday with his best outing of 2012 – 102 yards rushing on 21 carries. While the offense generated just 111 yards passing and didn’t find the end zone, it should also be noted that they did not turn the ball over and they put WR Jerome Simpson – in his first regular season game with the Vikings – in a position to make an impact.

But make no mistake, the story of Sunday’s win was the performance by the Vikings special teams. Percy Harvin fielded the opening kick 5 yards deep in the end zone, started left and then veered right, using a perfectly executed blocking scheme to gain the corner and outsprint the Lions coverage group. The result was a 105-yard return TD and a quick 7-0 Vikings lead.

The Lions responded on their opening series, sending All-Pro WR Calvin Johnson deep and drawing a 56-yard pass interference penalty on their first offensive snap. But the Vikings defense, in a sign of what was to come, withstood that initial shot and forced Detroit to kick a 40-yard FG just 3 plays later. The teams exchanged punts on each of their next possessions, and then Blair Walsh salvaged a Vikings scoring drive by converting a 49-yard attempt, increasing the Vikings lead to 10-3 with 1:21 to play in the 1st quarter.

The Vikings defense forced a Lions 3-and-out on the next series, and Walsh hit another FG – this one from 27 yards – to increase the Vikings lead to 13-3. The Lions tacked on a FG late in the half to make the score 13-6 in favor of the Vikings heading into the locker room at halftime.

Just as they did in the 1st half, the Vikings scored a TD in the 2nd half without their offense seeing the field. Detroit opened the 3rd quarter with a 16-yard connect from QB Matthew Stafford to TE Tony Scheffler. The Vikings defense stonewalled the Lions on the following three plays, though, and Nic Harris punted away to Marcus Sherels. On his 26th birthday, Sherels fielded the Harris punt and danced his way through the Lions coverage group to score a 77-yard TD, riling up the Vikings sideline and giving the visitors a commanding 20-6 lead that would not be relinquished.

After the Sherels return TD, the teams exchanged two more punts each, setting the stage for the Vikings defense to put their stamp on the game. On 3rd and 8 from their own 45, the Lions looked to have something going when Stafford found RB Mikel Leshoure coming out of the backfield. Leshoure advanced well past midfield, but then Vikings S Jamarca Sanford hit him and jarred the ball loose. Sanford also recovered the fumble, giving the ball back to the Vikings and killing the small bit of momentum Detroit was trying to build. The Vikings missed a FG try on the ensuing drive, giving the ball back to Detroit on their own 36 with 13:15 to play in the game.

Stafford drove Detroit 57 yards in 10 plays, setting up a 4th and 5 from the Minnesota 7. With the game virtually on the line, Vikings Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams dialed up an aggressive blitz that the Lions couldn’t cover up. DE Everson Griffen came untouched across the line of scrimmage and smashed an unsuspecting Stafford, ending the drive and giving the Vikings offense the ball.

A Vikings punt gave the Lions the ball back with 6:08 to play, trailing by 14. Stafford drove his team down for a TD, pulling to within 20-13, but the Vikings would give no more ground. The game ended with another sack by Griffen as Stafford was setting up for a desperation heave toward the end zone. The Lions were forced to begin their last drive on their own 2 after a perfect punt by Chris Kluwe was downed by Robert Blanton before going into the end zone.

Outside of Peterson’s 100-yard rushing performance, the 28th of his career and the 6th he’s logged against the Lions, the Vikings offense didn’t include any standout, signature moments or performances from skill position players. But it was apparent that the Vikings offensive line played well, as they pushed back a stout Lions defensive front to the tune of 127 yards rushing on 28 attempts. QB Christian Ponder finished with modest numbers – 16 of 26 for 111 yards with no TDs – but he took care of the ball and still has not thrown an INT this season. Simpson was the team’s leading receiver with 4 grabs for 50 yards, but his impact was even greater because he drew a pair of long pass interference penalties through the game as well.

Defensively, LB Chad Greenway led the team in tackles with 11. LB Jasper Brinkley and CB Antoine Winfield each had 10 stops. Griffen tallied a pair of sacks, as did DT Letroy Guion. Jared Allen also got to Stafford once, registering his 2nd sack of the season. Credit goes to the Vikings starting safeties, too, as Sanford and Harrison Smith did a good job of roaming the middle of the field to defend the end zone. The combined to knock a TD catch out of Johnson’s hands in the end zone, and overall Johnson was held in check with 5 catches for 54 yards.

The Vikings returned home Sunday afternoon to enjoy their win, and they’ll begin preparations this week to host the AFC South’s Tennessee Titans on Sunday. We’ll have more reaction to Sunday’s game tonight and this week, so be sure to stay tuned to vikings.com for more coverage.


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