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.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Antoine Winfield, Blair Walsh, Chad Greenway, Christian Ponder, Everson Griffen, Harrison Smith, Jamarca Sanford, Jared Allen, Jasper Brinkley, Jerome Simpson, Letroy Guion, Marcus Sherels, Percy Harvin
Posted in All | 72 Comments »
Percy Harvin has been an invaluable player for the Vikings offense in 2012. To open Sunday’s game at Ford Field in Detroit, Harvin reminded everyone just how invaluable he is on special teams, too.
Harvin returned the opening kickoff 105 yards for a TD, staking the Vikings to an early 7-0 lead. The Lions responded on their first series, using a 56-yard pass interference penalty to set them up for a FG. Blair Walsh tacked on a pair of FGs in the 1st half and Detroit also got another one in the 2nd quarter, and the Vikings led 13-6 at halftime.
The Vikings defense held Detroit’s offense to just 15 yards rushing in the 1st half, but Matthew Stafford kept the Lions offense in motion with 116 yards on 12 of 17 passing. Stafford’s counterpart – Vikings QB Christian Ponder – was 10 of 15 in the opening 2 quarters for 59 yards. But the Vikings passing offense was more productive than the numbers indicated. WR Jerome Simpson, playing in his first regular season game as a Viking, drew a pair of long pass interference penalties to help the Vikings move the ball.
Also helping the Vikings move the ball in the first 2 quarters was superstar RB Adrian Peterson, who broke tackles constantly and had 52 rushing yards on just 7 carries.
Aside from the pair of FGs, one of which was 49 yards, Walsh is also impressing in Detroit with 3 touchbacks on kickoffs. He now has 18 touchbacks on the season, an incredible number considering the Vikings had just 19 all of last year.
The key for the Vikings in the 2nd half will be to keep the Lions passing game at bay while turning those FG tries into TDs.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Blair Walsh, Christian Ponder, Percy Harvin
Posted in All | 239 Comments »
The Vikings may be coming off a momentum-generating win last week against the San Francisco 49ers, but they have redemption on their mind this week. This weekend the Vikings will travel to Detroit for a battle against the Lions, a team that swept the season series from them a season ago. The season sweep for Detroit was their first over the Vikings since 1997, and the Lions have now won the past three games against the Vikings.
There’s a lot to talk about in previewing this matchup, and we’ll get it started by pointing out 6 storylines we’ll be chasing this week…
1. Jerome Simpson Debuts For Vikings
The Vikings signed WR Jerome Simpson last April and he immediately developed a rapport with QB Christian Ponder, an encouraging development for the Vikings as they looked to add speed and explosiveness to their passing game. Simpson had to serve a 3-game suspension to begin the season. That suspension is now over, and Simpson was reinstated to the team on Monday. A big question this week is: How will Simpson fit into the Vikings offense?
We saw quite a bit of Simpson during the offseason program and training camp. Then we saw him briefly in the preseason, with the highlight being a 33-yard catch-and-run in Week 2 against the Buffalo Bills in which he caught a quick slant and hurdled a defender before being tackled downfield. That’s the kind of athleticism that has many expecting Simpson to add some flare to this Vikings passing attack. This week we get to see Simpson in the Vikings offense during the regular season for the first time.
2. Vikings First (and last, for a while) Crack At Division Opponent
Sunday’s contest marks the first divisional test for the Vikings, and it’ll be the Lions first game in the NFC North, too. The Lions will jump right back into divisional play in three weeks, with a Monday Night Football matchup against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. But the Vikings won’t see a division opponent again until Week 10, when they host the Lions at Mall of America Field. It’s an odd scheduling quirk for the Vikings, as they play just two divisional games in the first 11 weeks of the season, and both of those divisional games are against the same opponent.
The Vikings are keepers of the NFC North, boasting more division titles since their inception into the League in 1961 than any other franchise. Lately, though, the Vikings have not taken care of business within the division. The Vikings last division win was September 26, 2010 at home against these Lions, and their last road win in the division was on November 1, 2009 at Lambeau Field against the Green Bay Packers. This week the Vikings have a chance to start regaining supremacy within the division.
3. Can Ponder Keep It Going vs. Lions Pass Defense?
Vikings QB Christian Ponder is off to a solid start in 2012. He’s completing 70.1% of his passes, good for 2nd in the NFL, and he has generated a passer rating of 104.9, good for 5th in the NFL. On the flip side, only four teams are allowing opposing QBs to complete a higher percentage of their passes than the Lions, and only three teams have yielded a higher opponents’ passer rating that the Lions. Can Ponder keep it going against Detroit? Don’t be surprised if the game comes down to that question. Granted, Vikings RB Adrian Peterson has a per-carry average of 5.2 yards and 8 rushing TDs against Detroit in 9 games, so a large focus for both teams when the Vikings have the ball will be on the running game. But whether it’s because the Vikings want to be aggressive, the Lions slow down the Vikings ground game, or the Vikings need a quick score late in the game, there’s a good chance Ponder will have an opportunity to test this Lions pass defense.
4. Lions vs. Harvin, Vikings vs. Megatron
A wide receiver has been the most dynamic weapon for each of these offenses during the young season. For the Vikings, it’s been Percy Harvin. He leads the NFL with 27 receptions and he’s 7th in receiving yards as well. When you combine his receiving and rushing yards, Harvin has 319 total yards (30% of the Vikings offensive output).
For the Lions, Calvin Johnson has led the way. He’s 3rd in the NFL with 24 receptions and 1st with 369 yards. While he has just 1 TD to this point, Johnson does have 9 plays already of 20+ yards (the next closest Lions has 2) and he has accounted for twice as many 1st downs (18) as any other Lions non-QB.
A big factor in this week’s game, obviously, will be how each team’s defense fares in neutralizing the opponent’s #1 threat. The difficulty for Detroit is how versatile Harvin can be because the Vikings line him up everywhere, from the slot to out wide to in the backfield and then of course as a kickoff returner. The difficulty for the Vikings is Johnson’s size-speed combination. He simply overpowers defenders of all types.
5. Vikings Offensive Line Faces Another Nasty Defensive Line
Not many defensive fronts have been nastier than the San Francisco 49ers the past couple seasons. Last Sunday, though, the Vikings offensive line was even nastier. They paved the way for Vikings rushers to gain 146 yards – the most any team has gained on the ground against the 49ers since 2010 – and offense as a whole generated 344 yards, which is the 5th highest total against the 49ers over their last 19 games. It may have been the offensive line’s best performance over the past two seasons.
The time for looking back on that performance is over, though, because the Vikings offensive line has another tough assignment this week. While the numbers through three games don’t necessarily show it, this is a talented Detroit defensive line. A pair of disruptive DTs – N’Damukong Suh and Cory Williams – anchor the line and then left DE Cliff Avril and right DE Kyle Vanden Bosch come from the edge. Nick Fairley adds good depth at DT as well, and this group of 5 players have accounted for all 7.0 of the Lions sacks this season. The Lions have permitted 13 rushes of 10+ yards this season (3rd worst in the NFL) and they’ve forced just 4 three-and-out drives (tied for fewest in NFL), so there are opportunities for the Vikings offensive line to expose flaws.
6. Is This The Week Adrian Peterson Registers A Breakout Performance?
Adrian Peterson’s comeback from knee surgery has been remarkable. His presence in the lineup for Week 1 was inspirational to both his teammates and fans, and he’s played an important role in both of the Vikings victories this season. But he’s yet to have a trademark Adrian Peterson performance in 2012 – the kind of performance that keeps fans on the edge of their seats the entire game. Peterson has gained 84, 60 and 86 yards in his first three games, and he’s averaging 4.0 yards per carry. Not bad, but again, it’s not the standard Peterson has created over his first five seasons.
This week presents Peterson with a great chance to author a signature performance. The Lions have a talented and deep defensive line, but as we pointed out in headline #5, this is a defense that has allowed 13 explosive runs already this season. On top of that, Peterson has a great track record against the Lions. In 9 career games against Detroit, Peterson has 169 carries for 892 yards (5.2 yards per carry) and 8 rushing TDs. In his second career game against the Lions back in 2007, Peterson ran for 116 yards and 2 TDs on 15 carries, and he followed that up with a pair of 100-yard rushing games in 2008. In November of 2009, Peterson rushed for 133 yards and 2 TDs on 18 attempts, and the next season on September 26 he rushed for 160 yards and 2 more TDs on 23 carries, including his career-long rushing TD of 80 yards.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Christian Ponder, Jerome Simpson, Percy Harvin
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 129 Comments »
First thing tomorrow morning we’ll begin previewing the Vikings upcoming matchup with NFC North rival Detroit. The Vikings and Lions will play at Ford Field in Detroit on Sunday, with kickoff slated for noon CT. Before we do that, though, let’s empty out the notebook from last week’s win over the San Francisco 49ers…
Frazier credits Sanford, calls him the kind of guy “you want on your club”
Jamarca Sanford started 15 games for the Vikings defense a year ago. Through three games this season, Sanford has started none. Rookie Harrison Smith and second-year player Mistral Raymond emerged from training camp with starting jobs, leaving Sanford disappointed heading into the season.
But Frazier explained on Wednesday that Sanford didn’t let that disappointment adversely impact his attitude or preparation. And that attitude paid off for Sanford and the Vikings defense against the 49ers when Raymond went down with an injury in the 2nd quarter.
“Jamarca really had his heart set on being a starter this season,” Frazier explained. “He worked his tail off throughout the offseason. He was really looking forward to it and there’s no doubt there was disappointment when he wasn’t named one of the starters at safety.
“What he did on special teams, what he has done, in absence of being a starter, just a great example for the rest of our team. Those are the kind of guys you want on your club. Everybody wants to start but we talk to them all the time that everybody can’t start. You have to be willing to accept your role in order for our team to have a chance to be successful, and he’s an example of that.”
Sanford finished the game with 6 tackles on defense and, in what should come as no surprise, 1 tackle on special teams, too.
Vikings correct discipline, penalty issues from a week ago
In last week’s loss to the Indianapolis Colts (it hurts to even type that), the Vikings were uncharacteristically undisciplined. When all was said and done, the Vikings had 11 penalties enforced against them for a total of 105 yards, with several of them coming at inopportune times to extend Colts drives and/or negate positive plays by the Vikings offense. In his post-game press conference that day, Frazier was the first to acknowledge those mistakes, and was determined to correct them the following week.
It was mission accomplished on that front in the victory over San Francisco, as the Vikings were penalized just once for 10 yards. The next step in the discipline category is to keep the penalties down again this week against Detroit while also securing the ball much better. The Vikings had 4 fumbles (2 lost) against the 49ers and were fortunate that they didn’t come back to haunt them. Fumbling that many times on the road and giving the potent Lions offense extra chances will put a lot of pressure on the Vikings defense.
A good day’s work for rookie CB Josh Robinson
Josh Robinson did something we haven’t seen much of from the Vikings defense in the past year – he intercepted a pass. And Robinson’s INT against the 49ers came at an opportune time. Trailing 24-13 with 2:38 to play in the game, the 49ers advanced the ball across midfield to the Vikings 48. On 2nd and 10, 49ers QB Alex Smith dropped back to pass and lofted a pass toward Michael Crabtree. But Robinson was there to pick it off and return it 24 yards to the 49ers 44.
Also, San Francisco returner Kyle Williams broke loose a couple of times against the Vikings – once to open the 3rd quarter on a 94-yard kickoff return to the Vikings 14 and then again in the 4th quarter on a 50-yard kickoff return to the 49ers 43. Robinson, who possesses great speed, teamed with Sanford to chase Williams down on the 94-yard return and then it was Robinson who caught Williams in the 4th quarter before he could do even more damage.
A player is expected to pursue until the whistle, so we won’t give him credit for doing what he should be doing, but we will give him credit for having the speed to run down a very good returner and help save a TD at least once.
Red zone rushing
The Vikings put forth a clean performance offensively, so to point out any “concerns” here is nit-picking a bit. One area where the execution could’ve been a touch cleaner was red zone rushing. Keep in mind, though, that the Vikings were 2 for 2 in red zone scoring, so this concern is really not that significant.
According to my count, the Vikings ran 11 red zone plays – 6 rushes and 5 passes. Christian Ponder was 3 of 5 for 13 yards with 2 TDs through the air. On the ground, though, the Vikings weren’t as efficient. The Vikings 6 rushes were for 5, 1, 0, 9, -1 and 2 yards. Adrian Peterson ran 5 times for 7 yards and Percy Harvin had 1 carry for 9 yards. Given how the Vikings were able to stick with the running game all afternoon against a stout 49ers defense, I’m not concerned in the least with the rushing totals inside the red zone. In fact, the Vikings were balanced in the red zone and scored a pair of TDs when knocking on the door, so the positives far out-weight the negatives on this one.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Jamarca Sanford, Josh Robinson, Leslie Frazier, Percy Harvin
Posted in All | 46 Comments »
Percy Harvin has yet to score a TD during the 2012 season. But make no mistake, Harvin has been one of the Vikings most valuable players to this point. He put together another solid outing on Sunday and helped the Vikings upend the heavily-favored San Francisco 49ers by a count of 24-13.
In the game, Harvin caught 9 of the 11 passes thrown his way and collected 89 receiving yards. For the season, Harvin has caught 27 of the 32 passes thrown his way for 277 yards. Six of Harvin’s 10 offensive touches on Sunday resulted in 1st downs, and one of the touches that didn’t was a quick 5-yard gain at the end of the 1st half that set up Blair Walsh for a 52-yard FG.
On top of his offensive production, Harvin also registered 3 kickoff returns for 74 yards and 1 rush for 9 yards against San Francisco. Add it all up, and you get 12 touches that generated 172 yards against a 49ers defense that ranks as one of the fiercest in the NFL.
For the season, Harvin has 43 touches and 559 combined yards, which amounts to 13.0 yards per touch. Also, Harvin’s 319 total offensive yards amount to 30% of the Vikings total offensive output on the season, and Harvin has generated 17 first downs for the Vikings offense.
Harvin’s value to the Vikings offense is not lost on its triggerman – QB Christian Ponder.
“It’s huge,” Ponder responded when asked about having Harvin as a weapon. “Again, when you can throw a short, little bubble route or a swing to him and he gets 15 or 20 yards on it pretty much every time, I mean it’s something that you can just rely on, and that’s a big part of this offense and also in the running game. When you start seeing San Francisco start doubling him, you’re taking away a defender on the run game when they’re worried about Percy Harvin. And he’s such a big part of this offense, and we’re going to keep giving him the ball and he’s going to keep making plays for the rest of the season.”
Tags: Christian Ponder, Percy Harvin
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 27 Comments »
Not many teams looked better than the San Francisco 49ers through the first two weeks of the 2012 season, but the Vikings prepared all week to change that. On Sunday at Mall of America Field, the Vikings preparation paid off in a big way. After jumping out to an early 7-0 lead, the Vikings never looked back as they blitzed the heavily-favored 49ers and came away with a thorough 24-13 victory.
“Our preparation this week was on point,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said after the game. “The way we prepared this week, you knew that we were going to play good football. I didn’t say that to our team before we played Indy (last week). We did not handle the success against Jacksonville the right way. And I mentioned that to our players during the week prior to Indy. We came back this week and our guys were locked in. They were focused throughout the week and it showed in the way we played.”
The Vikings outstanding preparation definitely showed right off the bat, as Christian Ponder and the offense methodically drove down the field on the game’s opening drive. When all was said and done, Ponder found TE Kyle Rudolph for a 1-yard TD on 4th and goal to cap a 16-play, 82-yard drive that took 7:40 off the clock. The drive featured balanced playcalling, with 8 rushes and 8 passes, and it included only three 3rd-down plays.
San Francisco QB Alex Smith and his offense couldn’t match the execution on their first possession, as they were forced to punt away after just one 1st down. It was clear at that point that San Francisco was in for a day-long battle against the Vikings. The Vikings and 49ers exchanged punts after that, and then San Francisco got on the board with a 29-yard FG by David Akers.
Ponder, in the midst of perhaps his best game as a pro, responded following the 49ers FG. He drove the Vikings offense once again through the fierce 49ers defense, this time going 80 yards in 11 plays and capping the drive with a 23-yard TD sprint right through the heart of the 49ers defense. That score gave the Vikings a 14-3 lead with just 5:39 to play in the 1st half.
The 49ers offense gained some rhythm on the following drive and looked as if they’d be able to help the team carry some momentum into the locker room at halftime. They drove from their own 24-yardline to the Vikings 25 in 11 plays to set up Akers for a FG with just a minute play in the half. But the Vikings got a fantastic push up the middle and DT Letroy Guion extended his arms to block the kick, which gave Ponder and Co. possession on their own 33-yardline. Eight plays later, Blair Walsh came on to salvage a late-half score by splitting the uprights on a 52-yard kick. Walsh’s FG – the 3rd consecutive game he’s converted a FG of 50+ yards (Vikings record) – gave the Vikings a 17-3 lead at halftime.
San Francisco came out fast in the 3rd quarter, as Kyle Williams returned the opening kickoff 94 yards to the Minnesota 14-yardline. But the Vikings defense rose to the occasion, forcing the 49ers to settle for a 29-yard FG. The Vikings went 3-and-out on their next drive, and the 49ers filled the building with anxiety by driving 86 yards in 9 plays to score on a 1-yard TD from Alex Smith to TE Vernon Davis, making the score 17-13 in favor of the Vikings.
As they did most of the day, though, Ponder and the Vikings fought through the 49ers defense to produce points. Ponder found Rudolph for another TD – this time from 2 yards out – to cap a 12-play, 86-yard drive that took 7 minutes off the clock. At that point, the lead was 24-13, and the Vikings defense took it from there.
The 49ers following 5 drives ended in a lost fumble that was forced by S Jamarca Sanford and recovered by LB Marvin Mitchell, two punts, an INT by CB Josh Robinson and then another lost fumble that was forced by DE Jared Allen and recovered by DE Brian Robison. After the sack-forced-fumble by Allen, the Vikings offense took the field in the victory formation.
The Vikings defense was paced all day by LB Chad Greenway, who finished with 13 tackles and 2.0 sacks. CB Antoine Winfield was credited with 8 tackles, and both Sanford and fellow S Harrison Smith had 6 stops each. Sanford came in to replace starter Mistral Raymond, who went down with a leg injury early in the game.
Ponder finished the day going 21 of 35 for 198 yards with 2 TDs and 0 INTs (94.7 passer rating). Percy Harvin was Ponder’s favorite target, as he hauled in 9 of the 11 passes thrown his way for 89 yards. Rudolph had the 2 TDs on 5 receptions for 36 yards. It may not have been sensational, but the Vikings running game was solid against one of the best run defenses the NFL has seen in recent memory. Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart, Harvin and Ponder combined for 146 rushing yards on 41 carries.
The win moves the Vikings to 2-1 on the season as they prepare for a road contest against the Detroit Lions this week.
Tags: Blair Walsh, Brian Robison, Christian Ponder, Jamarca Sanford, Jared Allen, Kyle Rudolph, Leslie Frazier, Letroy Guion, Marvin Mitchell, Percy Harvin
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 99 Comments »
The Vikings got off to a fast start on Sunday at Mall of America Field and they kept it going through the first half. The result was a 17-3 lead over the 2-0 San Francisco 49ers at halftime.
A 16-play, 82-yard drive to open the game netted the Vikings a TD when QB Christian Ponder found TE Kyle Rudolph in the corner of the end zone on 4th and goal from the 1. The Vikings and 49ers exchanged punts after that, and then San Francisco got on the board with a 29-yard FG by David Akers.
Ponder, who was 15 of 23 for 143 yards with 1 TD in the 1st half, responded after the 49ers FG by driving the Vikings 80 yards on the ensuing drive and capping the drive with a 23-yard TD sprint that included two broken tackles and a desperate lunge at the end of the play to get into the end zone. That made the score 14-3 late in the 1st half.
San Francisco responded by driving down the field to set up Akers for another FG try. This time, though, the Vikings got a great push up the middle and DT Letroy Guion blocked the kick. Ponder and Co. came out and drove across midfield to set up Blair Walsh for a 52-yard try, which he nailed to send the Vikings to the locker room at halftime with a 17-3 advantage.
Adrian Peterson finished the 1st half with 14 carries for 29 yards and Percy Harvin had 5 receptions for 45 yards in the opening 2 quarters. Kyle Rudolph chipped in with 4 grabs 34 yards, including the 1-yard TD. Devin Aromashodu had 2 grabs for 24 yards as well.
Chad Greenway leads the way for the Vikings defensively. Unfortunately, starting S Mistral Raymond suffered a serious leg injury early in the game and was carted off the field.
The Vikings finished the 1st half with 15 1st downs, 206 total yards and 0 turnovers. More to come, so stay tuned.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Blair Walsh, Christian Ponder, Devin Aromashodu, Kyle Rudolph, Percy Harvin
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 146 Comments »
For team’s that suffered through a defeat on Sunday, the following Wednesday can’t come soon enough. Wednesday is the day NFL teams officially flip their calendars from one week to the next and begin on-field preparations for the upcoming opponent.
The Vikings upcoming opponent is the 2-0 San Francisco 49ers, the defending champions of the NFC West who were just moments away from a berth in last year’s Super Bowl before losing to the NY Giants at home in the NFC Championship Game. San Francisco is a team with impressive wins at Green Bay in Week 1 and then at home against the Detroit Lions in Week 2.
Here are a few storylines we’ll be chasing this week as the Vikings prepare to battle the 49ers at Mall of America Field on Sunday…
1. 49ers Defense Poses Nasty Challenge
In their two early-season wins, this 49ers defense held Green Bay – last year’s highest-scoring offense at 35.0 points per game – to just 7 points through three quarters of play, and they held Lions QB Matthew Stafford – a 5,000-yard passer a season ago – to just 230 passing yards and one touchdown. Justin Smith and Aldon Smith team to form a stout presence against the run and effective pass rushing from the edge of the 3-4 alignment, inside linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis roam the middle of the defense, and both CB Carlos Rogers and S Dashon Goldson hold down a secondary with sound coverage ability and a physical presence against the run.
The Vikings have weapons to go at this defense. Percy Harvin – more on him in a bit – is good enough to produce against any defense, Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart won’t be afraid to challenge the run defense, and it will be fun to watch TE Kyle Rudolph battle these talented and fierce LBs. This is a very good 49ers defense, no doubt, but the Vikings won’t back down just because many think they’re outmatched.
2. How Will The 49ers Defend Percy Harvin?
This just in: Percy Harvin is really good. He has been the heart and soul of the Vikings offense, and he will surely be a focal point for the 49ers this week in their preparations. But that doesn’t mean he’ll be neutralized. Coming off his performance in Week 1 – 192 combined yards on 14 total touches – Harvin was certainly priority #1 for the Colts last week. It didn’t matter. Harvin had a career-high 12 receptions last Sunday, and he’s now hauled in 18 of the 21 passes Christian Ponder has sent his way. There’s no question the 49ers will focus on Harvin this week and on Sunday. The question is, how will they try to take him out of the game? And more importantly for the Vikings, how will Harvin be utilized against this talented defense?
3. How Will The Vikings Defend Vernon Davis?
The Vikings have surrendered TDs to TEs in each of the first two games, with Mercedes Lewis finding paydirt in Week 1 and Dwayne Allen striking early last week. If the Vikings don’t fix that issue by Sunday, Vernon Davis could wreck the game. In two games this season, Davis has 8 receptions for 116 yards and 3 TDs. He has the body and strength of a TE, but he runs and catches like a WR. It’s entirely possible that Davis is the top priority – in conjunction with stopping the run (always a top priority in the NFL) – for the Vikings defense heading into this game.
4. Willis Is San Francisco’s Man in the Middle
The 49ers defense features plenty of talented players, one of which is arguably the best inside LB in the NFL – Patrick Willis. On multiple occasions, I’ve heard Vikings RB Adrian Peterson explain that Willis is one of the fiercest hitters in the League and one of the players Peterson respects the most. The Vikings found Peterson – the cornerstone of their offense – with the 7th pick of the 2007 draft, and the 49ers found Willis – the cornerstone of their defense – with the 11th pick in the same draft. On Sunday they’ll square off once again, the third time the Vikings and 49ers have met since each player’s rookie season (the Vikings are 2-0 in those games).
5. Are There Any Parallels Between Alex Smith And Christian Ponder?
San Francisco QB Alex Smith was much maligned early in his career, as the former No. 1 overall pick labored through his first six NFL seasons. Smith endured a seemingly countless number of coaching and coordinator changes, and it took him five seasons to complete 60% of his passes or register a passer rating over the pedestrian rate of 75.0. But the 49ers patience and belief in Smith has paid off. Smith has blossomed into a calculated-but-cunning passer. Last season while guiding San Francisco to a 13-3 record, Smith completed 61.3% of his passes and boasted a clean 17-5 TD-INT ratio. His rock-solid play has shifted the perception others have of him from a passer who just manages the game to a passer who helps the 49ers win games.
Ponder, also a 1st-round pick, is only 13 games into his career – not even a full season of playing experience yet – so it’s premature to compare his path to the one Smith took. Ponder is completing a League-high 75.8% of his passes and has a passer rating of 110.6, so it’s unlikely it will take him six seasons to reach the 60% completion rate and 75.0+ passer rating milestones mentioned above. And we certainly hope Ponder enjoys the synergy of a coaching staff with little change. The point here is a more general one – have patience and confidence in your young 1st-round passer. Allowing him to develop will pay dividends if you can build a solid team around him. I think the Vikings are on the right track with Ponder.
6. Vikings Must Be Buttoned Up In Kick Coverage
The 49ers put up an incredible statistic in 2011 – they had 37 offensive drives that started at midfield or in plus territory. Thirty-seven. A big reason for that are San Francisco’s tremendous return teams. The 49ers ranked 1st in kickoff return average at 27.2, with Ted Ginn handling the bulk of those (29 returns for 800 yards – a 27.6-yard average), and they ranked 4th in average drive start (23.9-yardline). Also, the 49ers ranked 5th in punt return average (12.4 yards), with Ginn handling most of those as well. Ginn remains the 49ers return man, so the Vikings kick coverage groups have their work cut out for them. Here’s the good news: the Vikings rank 4th in opponents average drive start after a kickoff (19.4-yardline), and they rank 6th in opponents punt return average (6.2). This will be a good battle to watch all game.
7. Vikings Defensive Line To Face Solid 49ers Offensive Line
Speaking of a good battle to watch all day, don’t forget to check out Vikings DE Jared Allen going against San Francisco LT Joe Staley. Both are Pro Bowlers – Allen has 4 and Staley made his 1st appearance last year – and both are nasty. Allen will be angry, as he’s still looking for his first sack of the season. Staley will be determined to keep it that way and let the Detroit Lions worry about giving up Allen’s first sack of 2012. Aside from Allen vs. Staley, though, there is a good matchup in the trenches. Playing next to Staley at LG is Mike Iupati, a 2010 1st-round pick out of Idaho, playing at center is Jonathan Goodwin (151 career games, 78 starts) and anchoring the right side at tackle is another former 1st-rounder, Anthony Davis.
8. Using The Dome-Field Advantage
Historically the Vikings have been tough to beat at home. They are 158-88 (.642) all-time at Mall of America Field, and when the Vikings give their fans something to cheer about, that building gets loud. The noise can make it difficult for opposing teams to operate. It’s common for coaches or players who join the Vikings from other teams to tell the rest of us how hard it is to play at Mall of America Field when the place is rocking. Last year, though, the Vikings didn’t play well at home – they were 1-7 at Mall of America Field – and that decreased their advantage in the building. If the Vikings are to pull an upset this week, they’ll need to play well early to encourage the crowd to be loud and make it tougher on Alex Smith and Co.
9. Randy Moss Returns To Minnesota
49ers receiver Randy Moss spent plenty of time on the Vikings sideline at Mall of America Field, playing for the Purple from 1998-2004 and again in 2010. On Sunday, though, Moss will appear in the stadium as a member of the visiting 49ers. It will be interesting to observe the home crowd’s reaction to Moss, from the time Moss appears on the field for pre-game warm-ups to the time the 49ers leave the field following the game. What will Moss do if he scores? What will he do if he doesn’t? You just never know with Moss.
One thing you do know, though, is that Moss will go down as one of the greats in Vikings history. He was always a fan favorite – and remains the favorite of some fans to this day – and he ranks second in Vikings history behind Cris Carter with 587 receptions, 9,316 receiving yards and 92 touchdowns.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Christian Ponder, Jared Allen, Kyle Rudolph, Percy Harvin, Toby Gerhart
Posted in All | 66 Comments »
The Vikings Athletic Training Staff, along with Devin Aromashodu, Larry Dean, Percy Harvin, Michael Jenkins, Tyrone McKenzie and Jamarca Sanford, host a “Play 60” clinic at Catholic Charities-St. Joseph’s Home for Children on Tuesday.
Approximately 50 youth from St. Joseph’s Home for Children were led through a series of drills designed to teach the basics of football. Players delivered a positive message to the children about the importance of perseverance and teamwork, and they stressed the importance of being active every day.
NFL Play 60 is the NFL movement for an active generation and is aimed at getting children active for at least 60 minutes a day.
For the sixth consecutive year, the Vikings Athletic Training staff participated in support of the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation. St. Joseph’s Home for Children is recognized by the NFL’s Ed Block Courage Award Foundation as serving as a “Courage House” for the Minnesota Vikings. The Ed Block Courage Award Foundation is dedicated to heightening awareness of the plight of abused and neglected children. St. Joe’s provides shelter and intake services for Hennepin County children removed from their homes due to abuse or instability.
Since 1998 the Vikings have partnered with Catholic Charities St. Joseph’s Home for Children on numerous community events. The Catholic Charities program annually assists more than 2,000 children.
Tags: Deviin Aromashodu, Jamarca Sanford, Larry Dean, Michael Jenkins, Percy Harvin, Tyrone McKenzie
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 30 Comments »
Wednesday is the day NFL teams flip their calendars from last week to the upcoming week, as review of the recent game has concluded and on-field preparations for the next opponent begins. Vikings players will return to Winter Park on Wednesday to begin digesting the game plan Vikings coaches have devised over the past two days and the team will hold its first practice of the week in the afternoon.
Also, both Head Coach Leslie Frazier and QB Christian Ponder will hold press conferences on Wednesday. We’ll stream those press conferences live on vikings.com, so be sure to tune in at about 11:25 to watch.
While you’re waiting for all of that to transpire, take a look at 10 Vikings-Jaguars storylines to follow this week…
1. Young QBs Ponder, Luck Square Off
One of the storylines last week was a clash of QBs from the Class of 2011, as #10 pick Blaine Gabbert and the Jaguars visited #12 pick Christian Ponder and the Vikings. This week, the two starting QBs were not selected in the same draft, but they are both 1st-round picks. In the second start of his second season, Ponder will lead the Vikings to Indianapolis, a team once led by #1 overall pick Peyton Manning and now led by 2012 #1 overall pick Andrew Luck. In his NFL debut last week in Chicago, Luck was 23 of 45 for 309 yards with 1 TD and 3 INTs. Soldier Field is a tough place to play for any QB, especially a rookie QB making his first start, so expect a bit of a bounce back for Luck this week at home. But the Vikings have to make sure the bounce back isn’t significant enough to yield a victory. Interestingly, the Vikings boast a 3-0 record since 2009 vs. rookie QBs selected with the #1 overall pick – 2-0 against Matthew Stafford in 2009 and they beat Cam Newton a year ago.
2. Adrian Peterson And The Vikings Running Game
Adrian Peterson’s return was a big storyline last week leading up to the season-opener, and it turned out to be a major factor in the game as well. Peterson started the game and scored 2 TDs along the way to helping lead the Vikings to victory. Entering the game, most expected he would play. But most also expected he’d see limited action. As it turned out, though, Peterson carried the ball 17 times for 84 yards and was the team’s workhorse in the 4th quarter and overtime. As a team, the Vikings rushed for 123 yards on 29 carries (4.2 yards per carry), and they’ll need similar success on the ground with Peterson and Toby Gerhart again this week if they’re to log a victory over the Colts on the road in Week 2.
3. Vikings Performance On 3rd Down
The Vikings did win last week, so the feeling was good in the locker room after the game and there is positive momentum heading into Week 2. But there are also facets of their performance that the Vikings will look to improve in Week 2. Perhaps the most important is 3rd-down performance – for both the offense and defense. Offensively, the Vikings had just 10 3rd-down opportunities, which is a good sign. A low number of 3rd-down opportunities means you’re having success on 1st and 2nd down. But of those 10 3rd downs, the Vikings converted just 2 of them into 1st downs. That number must increase, especially playing on the road. Defensively, the Vikings yielded a 50% conversion rate to the Jaguars on 3rd down (9 of 18). The Vikings defense did a great job of stepping up at a few important moments against the Jaguars, and that was good to see. But the Vikings defense must do a better job of getting off the field on 3rd down to turn the ball over to Ponder, Peterson and the Vikings offense.
4. Figuring Out The Colts 3-4 Defense
Under long-time head coach Tony Dungy and then under Dungy successor Jim Caldwell, the Colts ran a traditional 4-3 defensive scheme. But new head coach Chuck Pagano has brought with him from Baltimore a 3-4 front, which the Vikings saw a few times in the preseason and will see a few times in the regular season. The San Diego Chargers did a few things with their 3-4 defense against Ponder and the Vikings in the preseason that caused problems, so the Vikings offense will need to diagnose those issues from the preseason and apply them to their preparations for this week’s game against the Colts. It will be important for Ponder and C John Sullivan to be sharp in their communication so they can identify which players will bring pressure each play.
5. Containing Dwight Freeney And Robert Mathis
For many seasons, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis formed a lethal and productive pass-rushing duo at DE for the Colts. But in the new 3-4 scheme under Pagano, Freeney and Mathis are standup outside LBs. Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave and his staff will have to figure out how they want to attack the Colts defense with Freeney and Mathis in different positions. Yes, Freeney and Mathis will still rush the passer nearly every down, but they’re coming from different spots on the field and their pre-snap positioning and movement will be different. Freeney played in just 9 snaps a week ago before injury and Mathis actually had 2.0 sacks.
6. Keep An Eye On WR Reggie Wayne
While the Vikings offensive staff will have to neutralize Freeney and Mathis, the defensive staff will have to keep an eye on Reggie Wayne. Yes, Wayne is 33 and is in his 12th season. But if last week is any indication, the 5-time Pro Bowler and 3-time All-Pro can still play and will still be relied upon by his offense. Luck targeted Wayne 18 times in the season-opener, and Wayne hauled in 9 receptions for 135 yards. Look for Chris Cook to be matched up with Wayne frequently.
7. Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams Goes Against His Former Team
In trying to defend Wayne, the Vikings will have one advantage: the presence of Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams. From 2002-11, Williams tutored the Colts DBs as a part of Tony Dungy’s and Jim Caldwell’s staffs. He worked with Frazier on the Colts staff for two seasons as well. While the offensive system is much different now than when Williams was around, there’s no doubt that Williams has detailed knowledge of the way Wayne approaches the game and the things he does well.
8. Turn Percy Loose
Peterson returned from injury to score 2 TDs and become the Vikings all-time leading rusher, Ponder turned things around in the 2nd half to become one of the offensive heroes, and Blair Walsh nailed a 55-yarder to send the game to overtime and then nailed a 38-yarder to ultimately provide the winning margin. Much of the post-game reaction skewed the way of those individuals. But there’s no question that Percy Harvin was a pivotal part of the Vikings victory last Sunday, even though he didn’t get into the end zone or the post-game headlines. Harvin produced 192 combined yards on 14 total touches, impacting the game as a receiver, rusher and returner. He had 5 carries for 20 yards to go along with his 6 receptions for 84 yards, and then he added 88 yards on 3 kickoff returns. If the Vikings defense is to operate well and produce on the road, Harvin must surely be a big part of the equation.
9. Jared Allen vs. Anthony Castonzo
It didn’t take long for Jared Allen to get his first sack of the 2012 season. Unfortunately it was negated because of a penalty. The Jaguars did everything they could to neutralize Allen from that point forward. The Jaguars kept him off the stat sheet, but Vikings defensive coaches and players were saying after the game that Allen had a profound impact on the outcome. Even still, Allen wants to be in the stat sheet – he wants sacks. The man responsible for keeping Allen away from Luck on Sunday will be Anthony Castonzo, a 1st-round pick from the 2011 NFL Draft. The Allen vs. Castonzo matchup is one of this game’s most important.
10. Playing The Colts At Lucas Oil Stadium In Their Home Opener
There’s no denying it – there is extra juice in the building on the home opener. The Vikings felt that and benefited from that last week at Mall of America Field. This week, the Vikings will be on the other end of it at Lucas Oil Stadium, as the Colts play their first home regular season game against the Vikings on Sunday. Nothing neutralizes a home-field advantage more than a sound running game and creating turnovers. Those could be listed as the keys to victory each week regardless of where the game is being played, but those are tasks that, if accomplished by the Vikings, could take the sting out of the Lucas Oil Stadium crowd. Interestingly, the Vikings have never played a regular season game at Lucas Oil Stadium, and they’re 0-10 against the Colts all-time on the road. Sunday seems like a good time to notch that first win at Lucas Oil and the first road win against the Colts.
Tags: Alan Williams, Bill Musgrave, Christian Ponder, John Sullivan, Leslie Frazier, Percy Harvin, Toby Gerhart
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 6 Comments »