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Adrian Peterson Dominates, But Vikings Fall In Seattle

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 5, 2012 – 1:13 am

Adrian Peterson was in prime form on Sunday afternoon, rushing hard and fast for 182 yards and 2 TDs on 17 carries. But his Herculean effort, which included a 74-yard run on the second play of the game, was not enough to overcome several Vikings shortcomings. The end result was a 30-20 victory for the Seahawks over the Vikings at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.

From the opening kick through the 4th quarter, Peterson ran over and danced around a formidable Seattle defense and reminded everyone why he’s the best running back in the NFL. He averaged 10.7 yards per carry and had runs of 15, 16, 24, 28 and 74 yards, breaking multiple tackles on a play with regularity and showing no signs of a player who incurred such a serious knee injury last December.

The Vikings were off to a quick start thanks to Peterson’s 74-yard gallop on the game’s opening series. Two plays later, Peterson plunged in from a yard out to give the Vikings a 7-0 lead. But it unraveled from there, as Seattle RB Marshawn Lynch and rookie QB Russell Wilson capitalized on short fields (thanks to Seattle takeaways) and second chances (thanks to Vikings penalties).

The Seahawks got on the board following a Percy Harvin fumble on the Vikings second drive of the game, with Wilson finding WR Golden Tate for a 6-yard strike. The Vikings punted on their ensuing drive, and Seattle took a 14-7 lead with Wilson-to-Sidney Rice TD strike.

The Vikings responded, with Ponder driving his team 80 yards in 11 plays to watch Peterson score from 4 yards out to tie the game at 14. Blair Walsh tacked on 3 more points with a 36-yard FG that salvaged a drive after a sack on 3rd and 7 from the Seattle 11. The Vikings led 17-14 at that point, but saw that lead disappear after a masterful 12-play, 80 drive by Wilson and the Seattle offense that was capped by another Tate TD reception, the 3rd TD throw of Wilson’s day. The extra point was blocked by Kevin Williams, so Seattle took a 20-17 lead into the locker room at halftime.

Seattle used a 4-point edge in the 3rd quarter thanks to a Lynch TD (Walsh had a 55-yard FG, too) to take a 27-20 lead into the 4th quarter. The teams exchanged punts at the beginning of the 4th quarter, Seattle K Steven Hauschka split the uprights on a 40-yard try to make it 30-2-, and then the Vikings weren’t able to inch any closer for the remainder of the game.

Wilson finished going 16 of 24 for 173yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs. Lynch, the NFL’s 2nd-leading rusher behind Peterson, rushed for 124 yards and 1 TD on 24 carries.

While the Vikings were next to unstoppable on the ground, they struggled throwing the ball. QB Christian Ponder was 11 of 22 for 63 yards with no TDs and 1 INT. LBs Jasper Brinkley and Chad Greenway each registered 13 tackles and DEs Jared Allen and Brian Robison were each credited with a .5 sack.

The loss drops the Vikings to 5-4 on the season as they get set this week to host the Detroit Lions at Mall of America Field before heading into their bye week.


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Vikings, Seahawks High Performers On Special Teams

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 31, 2012 – 9:57 am

There are a lot of interesting subplots to this week’s Vikings-Seahawks matchup – the NFL’s two leading rushers (Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch) go toe-to-toe, a pair of up-and-coming QBs (Christian Ponder and Russell Wilson) look to keep progressing, two of the NFL’s best pass-rushers (Jared Allen and Chris Clemons) go against two of the NFL’s best LTs (Matt Kalil and Russell Okung), etc.

We detailed those three as well as five additional storylines on Wednesday morning.

But one subplot we didn’t mention that is certainly noteworthy is the matchup between the Vikings and Seahawks special teams groups. All NFL clubs take special teams seriously, but some groups are consistently among the NFL’s best. In recent seasons, the Vikings and Seahawks could be included in this group.

There’s no question Mike Priefer has made a difference in the Vikings special teams performnace since he joined Leslie Frazier’s staff prior to the 2011 season. Percy Harvin has continued to be arguably the NFL’s top kickoff returner and K Blair Walsh has made a quick and profound impact in his rookie season. Seattle Special Teams Coordinator Brian Schneider is now in his 3rd season on Pete Carroll’s staff, and under his guidence the Seahawks have led the NFL in blocked kicks the past two seasons.

Mike Priefer

Both coordinator’s have found success once again in 2012, and it’s making a difference for their teams. The special teams group that can outperform the other in Sunday’s game will contribute significantly to the outcome of the game. It will be a fun subplot to watch.

Here are a few facts about how the Vikings and Seahawks special teams have fared so far in 2012…

– The Vikings are one of just three teams to register both a kickoff return TD (Percy Harvin) and a punt return TD (Marcus Sherels) this season.

– The Vikings rank #2 (25.3) and the Seahawks rank #9 (23.6) in average starting position after a kickoff.

– Harvin ranks #2 (35.7) in the NFL and Seattle returner Leon Washington ranks #5 (29.8) in the NFL in kickoff return average.

– Walsh is tied for 1st in the NFL with 31 touchbacks.

– Seattle ranks #1 in the NFL in opponents average starting position after kickoff (19.4).

– Seattle ranks #4 in opponents kickoff return average (20.6).

– The Vikings rank #7 in opponents punt return average (6.2).


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8 Vikings-Seahawks Storylines To Follow

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 31, 2012 – 6:39 am

Wednesday is finally here, which means the NFL calendar flips from last week to this week. For the Vikings, who are coming off a disappointing loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home last Thursday night, that’s a good thing.

This weekend the 5-3 Vikings travel to Seattle for a contest against the 4-4 Seahawks. Both teams are hungry for a win after losses in Week 9. Here are a few storylines we’ll be chasing this week…

1. Can Vikings Contain “Lynchpin” of Seahawks Offense?
Ordinarily the Vikings are a great run-stopping defense. Over the last three games, though, poor gap integrity and shoddy tackling have plagued the Vikings. The Vikings will have serious problems on Sunday if they don’t fix those issues because Marshawn Lynch will have no mercy. Lynch is the NFL’s 2nd-leading rusher behind Adrian Peterson and he’s not an easy guy to tackle. At 5-11, 215 pounds, Lynch has a combination of speed and power that causes defenses fits.

2. All Eyes on Ponder
Fair or not, the blame for the Vikings recent woes in the passing game has generally fallen on the shoulders of QB Christian Ponder. After opening the season with 0 INTs through four games, the 2nd-year passer now has 7 INTs in his last four outings and he’s completed just 51.9% of his passes for 309 yards in his last two games. We know Ponder can get the job done by playing well and moving the ball through the air, and now all eyes will be on Ponder to see if he can get things turned around after a few extra days off following the Thursday night loss to Tampa Bay.

3. Familiar Foes
Both the Vikings and Seahawks have players on their team who were significant figures with the other franchise. A trio of former Vikings – Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell, LB Heath Farwell and WR Sidney Rice – will face their former team in the regular season for the first time since leaving the team after the 2010 season. The three helped the Vikings reach the NFC Championship Game after the 2009 season and both Farwell and Rice were named to the Pro Bowl that season.

On the flip side, TE John Carlson left Seattle to come home and join the Vikings via free agency in 2012. In Seattle, Carlson caught 106 passes and 12 touchdowns in his first two seasons, and in 2010 he helped the 7-9 Seahawks upset the defending champion New Orleans Saints in the first round of the playoffs with a pair of touchdown catches.

4. Defending Russell Wilson
Speaking of familiar faces, the Vikings will see one under center for Seattle. Rookie QB Russell Wilson has been a pleasant surprise in the NFL. The 3rd-round pick in last April’s draft beat out high-priced free agent Matt Flynn for the starting job coming out of training camp and he’s played well in the first half of the season. Vikings coaches are familiar with Wilson because he was the starting QB for Frazier’s North squad down in Mobile, Alabama at the Senior Bowl. In order to win the game, the Vikings will now need their defensive linemen to become familiar with Wilson by pressuring him constantly and bringing him to the ground.

5. Overcoming the Loss of CB Chris Cook
The Vikings improvement in pass defense was a big reason they jumped out to an impressive 5-3 start in the first half of the season. The presence of Chris Cook, who missed 12 games last year, was a big reason for that improvement. But now, with Cook expected to miss 6-8 weeks with a broken arm, the Vikings will rely on their depth to overcome his loss. Expect Josh Robinson and A.J. Jefferson to get most of the looks, and expect them to play well in Cook’s stead.

6. Strength vs. Strength: Battle For Field Position
CenturyLink Field in Seattle is known as one of the toughest places to play for visitors. A big part of overcoming the disadvantage this week for the Vikings will be to win the field position battle. Both the Vikings and Seahawks do things to help them win the field position battle. Percy Harvin (35.7) and Seattle’s Leon Washington (29.8) rank 1st and 2nd, respectively, in kickoff return average. Also, the Vikings rank 2nd in average starting field position after kickoff (25.3-yardline) and K Blair Walsh is tied for 1st in touchbacks with 31.

7. What a Rush!
A sneaky-good subplot to this Vikings-Seahawks matchup is a pair of battles that will happen between very good LTs and very good DEs. Vikings DE Jared Allen has a sack in six straight games, and on Sunday he’ll go against Seattle LT Russell Okung. The Seahawks took Okung 6th overall in 2010 and he’s rounding into a great player on their offensive line. Another outstanding performer for Seattle has been DE Chris Clemons. The 6-3, 254-pound pass-rushing ace has 7.0 sacks this season and had 11.0 sacks in each of the last two years entering 2012. He’ll go against 4th overall pick Matt Kalil, who has made a rookie mistake here and there but has generally played extremely well for the Vikings.

8. Second Half of the Season Begins
The Vikings were a surprise team in the NFL through the first half of the season, winning five of eight games and upsetting a pair of playoff teams from a season ago – Detroit and San Francisco. The second half of the season begins for the Vikings, and the attitude inside Winter Park should be that there’s no reason they can’t be a surprise team in the second half of the season, too. Sure, four of the Vikings final six games are against division opponents and are on the road, but the Vikings have proven they can play with anybody when they play well.


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Buccaneers Beat Up Vikings 36-17

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 25, 2012 – 11:08 pm

The Vikings didn’t play sound football in any phase, Tampa Bay rookie RB Doug Martin had his breakout performance and Tampa Bay QB Josh Freeman remained on a roll. It all combined for a disappointing night at Mall of America Field, as the Buccaneers came away with a 36-17 victory over the Vikings on NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football.

Martin and Freeman paced the Buccaneers offensive attack. Martin, selected 31st overall by Tampa Bay last April, racked up 214 yards of offense (135 rushing, 79 receiving) and 2 TDs against a Vikings defense that was coming off a dominant performance against Arizona a week ago. Freeman, who came into this contest on fire, turned up the heat in Minnesota by passing for 262 yards and 3 TDs. Over the last 3 games, Freeman has thrown for 1,010 yards with a 9-1 TD-INT ratio.

As if battling those two playmakers wasn’t enough, the Vikings defense was constantly forced back onto the field because the Vikings offense couldn’t stay on it. The Buccaneers claimed a 15:30 time of possession advantage over the Vikings, as QB Christian Ponder and Co. failed to get into a rhythm. Their first three drives ended in three-and-outs and then punts, and then they were forced to punt three more times in the second half while they also saw drives end in a fumble, INT and on downs.

Ponder was 19 of 35 for 251 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT. He threw a beautifully thrown pass to WR Percy Harvin for the TD, striking from 18 yards out to make the score 13-7 in the middle of the 2nd quarter. The Vikings also scored a TD on the ground, with Adrian Peterson breaking two tackles and then out-sprinting the Buccaneers defense to the end zone for a 64-yard score that introduced thoughts of a late-game comeback.

The late-game comeback was not to be, however, as Freeman put together a cold-blooded drive to open the 4th quarter that put the game out of reach for the Vikings.

Following Peterson’s long TD jaunt, his 3rd rushing score of the season, the Vikings and Buccaneers exchanged two punts a piece. Tampa Bay had a tenuous 30-17 lead with just over a quarter to play, and off the long Peterson run and a rejuvenated Vikings defense the atmosphere at Mall of America Field was such that a comeback seemed to be in the offing. But Freeman dashed those dreams by putting together a 16-play, 87 yard drive that ended in a 1-yard Martin plunge for a TD. The drive included 5 conversions on 3rd down, three of which were for 9 yards or longer and the last of which was the 1-yard TD run.

That made the score 36-17 with just a little over 7 minutes to play. The Vikings drove the ball 66 yards on the ensuing drive, but they were unable to convert a 4th and 7 from the Tampa Bay 19 and ultimately turned the ball over to the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay took a few more minutes off the clock before punting it back to the Vikings. Ponder threw his only INT of the game 4 plays into the next drive, which allowed the Buccaneers to kneel on the ball and run out the rest of the clock.

The win improves Tampa Bay to 3-4 on the season and it’s the first road win since they won here in Minnesota early last season. The loss drops Minnesota to 5-3 on the season and is their first at home of the 2012 campaign. The Vikings will regroup on Friday and this weekend, and then will turn their attention to the Seattle Seahawks. The Vikings and Seahawks will play in Seattle a week from Sunday.

Vikings Leaders
– Peterson had 15 carries for 123 yards and 1 TD. He now holds the Vikings career record for 100-yard rushing games (30) and is also the NFL’s leading rusher with 775 yards.

– Harvin had 7 receptions for 90 yards and 1 TD. He currently leads the NFL in receptions with 70.

– Chad Greenway and Harrison Smith were both credited with 13 tackles to lead the team.

– Jared Allen had the only Vikings sack of the game and now has a sack in six consecutive contests.


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Frazier Optimistic Simpson Will Practice This Week, Play On Sunday

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 10, 2012 – 2:51 pm

About the only reservation the Vikings had coming away from their win last Sunday over the Tennessee Titans was the leg condition WR Jerome Simpson experienced on Sunday morning. Numbness and weakness in his leg didn’t keep him from playing, but it did prevent him from making the kind of impact he and the team envisioned.

Ambiguity about the condition persisted on Monday when Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier met with reporters, as he disclosed that more was to be learned about the condition after Simpson underwent more testing.

The Vikings and Simpson have gained some clarity since, according to Frazier. While speaking with reporters on Wednesday, Frazier explained that the problems Simpson experienced on Sunday were actually attributed to a back ailment of some kind. The inexactness of the injury naturally causes some uneasiness, and even though Frazier said the Vikings would hold Simpson out of practice on Wednesday, the Vikings are hopeful that their speedy WR will return to practice this week and perhaps even play on Sunday.

“We don’t think it’s anything long-term,” Frazier said. “We just want him to continue to go through some of the exercises that (Head Athletic Trainer) Eric Sugarman and his staff will take him through today (Wednesday). We may get him back at practice tomorrow, hopefully for sure on Friday. But he may be back tomorrow.

“The good news is there’s no surgery required or anything like that. He should be fine over time.”

Asked specifically by reporters if Simpson could play on Sunday, Frazier again expressed optimism.

“Yeah, all indications are there’s a very good chance,” he said. “We’ll know more, how he responds to some of the treatment they give him today. Hopefully we’ll get him back out at practice tomorrow. We don’t think it’s anything long-term at all.”

A look at the Vikings season stats would not lead one to believe that Simpson’s absence is significant to the Vikings offense. But the numbers don’t tell the whole story. In his first game back after missing the opening three contests, Simpson led the Vikings in receiving with 4 receptions for 50 yards. More than just those 4 receptions, though, Simpson’s value to the team is also reflected in how opposing defenses defend him.

“You saw in that Detroit game, the impact he had when he got single coverage,” Frazier explained. “He’s a tough guy to defend. And even when you have pretty good coverage, like that last play (vs. Detroit) when he caught that 27-yarder, his athletic ability sometimes overrides the coverage. You need a guy like that who can make that difficult catch even though he may seem to be covered.”

Frazier also pointed out that the Vikings are seeing a lot of single-high safety looks from opposing defenses, a strategy designed to slow down the Vikings ground game. But having a receiver who can win vs. coverage downfield causes defenses to mix in more two-high safeties, making it easier for the Vikings to run the ball.

“Of late, we’ve seen a lot of single-high safety,” Frazier said. “So one of the reasons Percy was able to get down the sidelines in that game on Sunday was they chose to play single-high, [and] he was able to behind the guy and make a great play for us. But Jerome will hopefully help us to be able to get more two-high safeties than what we’re currently getting, and so we look forward to having him back full-speed.”


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9 Vikings-Redskins Storylines To Watch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Musgrave Mixing It Up Well For Vikings Offense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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8 Vikings-Titans Storylines To Follow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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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