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5 Vikings-Bears Storylines To Watch This Week

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 5, 2012 – 7:32 am

The Vikings rugged post-bye schedule continues this week as they prepare to conclude their season series against the Chicago Bears by hosting them at Mall of America Field on Sunday. Both the Vikings (6-6) and Bears (8-4) are coming off losses last week, but both are very much in the NFC playoff hunt.

Chicago won the earlier matchup between these two teams back on November 25, a 28-10 victory that was never really in question after the 1st quarter. The Vikings figure to put forth a better effort this week as they return to play at home for the first time since November 11 and as they look to gain ground on a division opponent and keep pace with a handful of other teams vying for playoff positioning.

Here are 5 Vikings-Bears storylines to chase this week…

1. Pressure On Christian Ponder Mount
Christian Ponder completed 75% of his passes for 221 yards with 2 TDs and no INTs the last time he played at home – a 34-24 victory over the Detroit Lions. In two road games since then, Ponder is just 35 of 68 (51.4%) for 278 yards with 2 TDs and 3 INTs. Last week in Green Bay, Adrian Peterson ran for 210 yards and the Vikings defense and special teams groups played well enough to win, yet a sputtering passing game prevented the Vikings from putting the game out of reach and the Packers were able to log a comeback victory. Pressure is mounting on Ponder to snap out of his drought and show the signs of promise he displayed earlier in the season when he wasn’t turning the ball over and was one of the League’s highest-rated passers. The Bears will surely go “all-in” to stop the Vikings elite rushing attack, which means they’ll dare Ponder to beat them.

2. Key Players From Both Teams On The Injury Report
It’s not uncommon for injury reports to fill up this time of year, and the Vikings and Bears will most certainly not be exceptions this week. Percy Harvin has missed the last 3 games due to an ankle injury and his status bears monitoring all week. Also, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier disclosed on Monday that DE Jared Allen underwent an MRI for a back ailment. Expect other odds and ends to show up on the report as well, such as the shoulder injuries LB Jasper Brinkley and TE Kyle Rudolph have been dealing with, knee swelling for RT Phil Loadholt and a rib injury for C John Sullivan.

The Bears are no different. Three players – WR Earl Bennett (concussion), LB Brian Urlacher (hamstring) and CB Tim Jennings (shoulder) – left last week’s loss to Seattle; Urlacher is expected to miss 2-4 weeks. Three other starters – WR Devin Hester (concussion), WR Alshon Jeffery (knee) and G Chris Spencer (knee) – missed last week’s game but are hopeful to return this week in Minnesota. LB Lance Briggs and RB Matt Forte both played last week but are both dealing with ankle injuries, CB Charles Tillman is battling an ankle injury as well, and both DT Stephen Paea and G/C Edwin Williams are playing through shoulder injuries.

3. Vikings Must Contain Bears WR Brandon Marshall
He didn’t get into the end zone against the Vikings two weeks ago, but don’t let that fool you – Brandon Marshall was a thorn in the Vikings side all game. Several times the Vikings had Chicago in unfavorable 3rd-down spots, and several times Marshall bailed the Bears out with a great grab in traffic or a few extra yards after the catch. Marshall had 12 catches against the Vikings two weeks ago and he had another 10 for 165 yards last week against Seattle. Two numbers that illustrate Marshall’s importance to the Bears passing game are 91 and 138: Marshall has 91 receptions in 138 targets this season, while the next highest Bears receiver in each category is 30 receptions for Forte and 43 targets for Bennett.

4. Bear Trap: Can Chicago Stop Adrian Peterson?
It’s not a good week for Chicago to lose their middle LB because they are set to face the NFL’s best RB at a time when he’s playing at perhaps his highest level. Adrian Peterson is the NFL’s rushing leader by 308 yards, has logged 6 straight 100-yard rushing games, is averaging 6.2 yards per carry and is on pace for 1,928 yards (a career best). He nearly single-handedly defeated the Packers last week, and you can count on him trying to do the same to the Bears this week. Even without Urlacher, the Bears have a formidable run defense and will be up for the challenge to stop Peterson. Yes, the Bears will be up for the challenge. But so is Peterson.

5. Rematch: Vikings DL vs. Bears OL
In the matchup two weeks ago between Minnesota and Chicago, many expected the Vikings defensive line to embarrass the Bears offensive line. The Bears were coming off a Monday Night Football beatdown at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers in which QB Jason Campbell was sacked 6 times. Chicago’s offensive line responded, however, and allowed just 1 sack in Cutler’s return to the lineup. Entering this game, the matchup still favors the Vikings on paper. Only three teams have permitted more sacks than the Bears, and the Vikings pass rush at home can overwhelm teams. As we saw two weeks ago, though, this Bears offensive line has the ability to respond.


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5 Vikings-Packers Storylines To Follow

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 28, 2012 – 7:29 am

The 2012 version of the twice annual border battle rivalry between the Vikings and Green Bay Packers commences this week at Lambeau Field, as the 7-4 Packers will host the 6-5 Vikings. Sunday’s game will be the first of two between the teams in four weeks and it marks the latest in a season that these teams have played the first game in the season series.

The week leading up to Vikings vs. Packers is always fun because there is so much on the line on game day, regardless of records or time of year. As we anticipate Sunday’s game, here are five Vikings-Packers storylines to follow this week…

1. Vikings Look To Remain In Playoff Chase
Sunday’s game at Lambeau is not “do or die” for the Vikings with regard to their playoff outlook. But there’s no denying how important a win would be to the Vikings as they look to stay in the hunt for not just a Wild Card berth, but also a division title. Last week’s loss in Chicago dropped the Vikings two games behind the Bears, but there are still five to go (including this week in Green Bay) and the Vikings get one more shot at the Bears. On top of that, the Bears have a tough game against the Seahawks at home this weekend and they also have games remaining against the Packers and at the Detroit Lions.

Regardless of how the Bears do this week against Seattle, the Vikings can move into a tie with the Packers at 7-5 with a win.

2. Packers On The Rebound After Blowout Loss To Giants
Last week’s Sunday Night Football game featured a matchup between the last two Super Bowl champions – the Packers and the NY Giants. But just one of the teams looked super, and it wasn’t Green Bay. The Giants logged a 38-10 victory. As such, the Vikings aren’t the only team in this week’s NFC North showdown coming off a thorough loss. A quick look at the game’s stats doesn’t yield an obvious reason for Green Bay’s lackluster showing, but New York did capitalize on two specific stats that likely led to the final outcome: the Giants were +2 in turnover ratio and Packers QB Aaron Rodgers was sacked 5 times. Expect Green Bay to make those two stats points of emphasis this week as they prepare for the Vikings.

3. Both Teams Dealing With Injuries To Key Players
The Vikings have been missing WR Percy Harvin since he sprained his ankle in a Week 9 loss at Seattle on November 4, and now all eyes will be on TE Kyle Rudolph and S Harrison Smith after they left last week’s loss against Chicago to be evaluated for concussions. In addition to that, both LB Jasper Brinkley and RB Adrian Peterson have shoulder ailments and RT Phil Loadholt is dealing with knee inflammation. None of those players have been ruled out for Sunday’s game, and in fact it’s entirely possible that they’ll all be available, but their statuses do bear monitoring as the week goes.

The Packers are dealing with their own injuries, as well. WR Greg Jennings, LB Clay Matthews and DBs Sam Shields and Charles Woodson all missed last week’s game with injuries. They’ve also lost players such as RB Cedric Benson, starting RT Bryan Bulaga, and LBs Desmond Bishop and Nick Perry to injury for extended periods of time and some even for the season.

4. Can Green Bay Contain Adrian Peterson?
Vikings RB Adrian Peterson is the kind of player that can win a game for his team any week, no matter the matchup. Green Bay ranks 11th against the run this season, giving up 103.8 rushings yards per game. More impressively, though, is the fact that Green Bay has allowed just one 100-yard rusher this season. On the flip side, Peterson has six 100-yard games already this year, including 5 straight. And he’s the NFL’s leading rusher by 172 yards, is on pace for a career-high 1,798 rushing yards and loves running against the Packers.

5. Vikings Pass Rush Must Reemerge vs. Rodgers, Packers Offensive Line
Only one team (Arizona – 46) has allowed more sacks this season than the Packers (37). The bread and butter of the Vikings defense in recent seasons has been their pass rush. Huge advantage for the Vikings, right? You’d think so, but lately the Vikings pass rush has been contained. The Vikings have just 5 sacks in the past four games, and they rank just tied for 13th in sacks this season with 27. If the Vikings want to go into Lambeau Field and pull off this upset, they must get more pass-rushing production from their defense. The man to lead the charge is Jared Allen, who has 13.0 sacks against Green Bay in just nine career games.


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3 Keys To Vikings Improvement Along Offensive Line

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 11, 2012 – 11:02 am

In taking a closer look at the Redskins running attack earlier on Thursday, we referenced the camaraderie generated from playing the same five starters in all five games as one factor that’s led to production. In taking a look at the Vikings offense through five games, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier and QB Christian Ponder have similar sentiments about their front line.

“The offensive line is playing tremendously well,” Ponder said on Wednesday. “You can tell the chemistry they have and the amount of communication they have on the line. They’re doing such a great job and they’re really gelling together, not even just the pass protection, they’re opening up holes in the run game. They couldn’t be playing any better.”

Frazier mentioned communication as a key to the line’s play as well while speaking with reporters on Wednesday.

“I see them at practice, in between, talking to one another about how we have to combo block, what we have to do from a technique standpoint,” Frazier said. “It’s a good chemistry on our offensive line right now and it’s showing up on the field.”

This type of play from the offensive line is refreshing to the Vikings and to those who’ve followed the Vikings in recent seasons. Individuals have played well at various times, but it’s been a couple of seasons since the Vikings offensive line played this well collectively. There are likely several factors behind the improvement. Let’s take a look at three of them.

1. Coach Davidson
There’s no better place to start than with Vikings OL coach Jeff Davidson. This is his second year on the job, and the veteran coach with multiple Super Bowl rings and NFL playing experience to his credit is starting to see results. It’s often said that a head coach or even defensive/offensive coordinator needs time to incorporate his scheme. A new position coach faces a similar challenge working with his subset of players, and therefore it’s fair to grant that position coach time as well. Davidson has put plenty of time in, and it’s beginning to pay off.

2. Buying the right groceries
If Davidson is the chef concocting the recipe for success along the offensive line, Vikings GM Rick Spielman and his personnel staff are responsible for buying the groceries from which Davidson creates the recipe. You may hate the analogy, but the point remains that Spielman has punched the right buttons when it comes to personnel decisions along the offensive line.

John Sullivan, whom Spielman selected with a 6th-round pick in 2008, has turned into one of the best centers in the NFL. Phil Loadholt, a 2nd-round pick in 2009, has taken a big step forward in 2012 and is in a contract year. The Vikings saw something they liked in Brandon Fusco, a 6th-round pick in 2011, and their decision to award him a starting job after training camp has turned into the right one. And you can’t talk about draft picks along the offensive line without mentioning Matt Kalil, the Vikings 4th overall pick this past April. He’s dominated the opposition at LT so far this season and looks every bit the part of a 4th overall choice. The selection of Kalil allowed the Vikings to move Charlie Johnson, last year’s LT, to his more natural position – guard.

3. You win with players
It’s only fair to credit coaching and personnel decisions when credit is due, so the first two points remain applicable. But the bottom line is that players have to go out and do their jobs. And that is what’s happening for the Vikings along the offensive line, through the first five games. There’s a lot of season to play, and the players will be the first to admit there are improvements to be made, but so far their ability to communicate and play well together has made a big difference for the Vikings offense.

“I like how they’re working together collectively,” Frazier said. “That is what you need as a unit to be effective on an offensive line and those guys are helping one another. I can see Matt [Kalil] working with Charlie [Johnson] and Charlie helping him. Then I see what John [Sullivan] is doing with Brandon [Fusco],who’s a young guy who is early in his career and helping him. And then Phil [Loadholt] is much more consistent. So each guy playing a little bit better and what it has created is a solid offensive line.”


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Offensive Line Paved Path To Victory For Vikings Over 49ers

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 25, 2012 – 2:06 pm

Did the Vikings offensive line have their best performance of the season in Sunday’s win over the San Francisco 49ers? It sure looked like it, and Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier thought so, too.

“I think, collectively, yeah. And when you consider the front they were going up against, that’s a very good front,” Frazier said.

Frazier credited LG Charlie Johnson for a solid performance against 49ers All-Pro Justin Smith, and he also noted that Matt Kalil fared well against standout pass rusher Aldon Smith. Brandon Fusco and Phil Loadholt anchored down on the right  side of the offense, and the lynchpin of it all is C John Sullivan. Credit should also be given to the Vikings coaching staff, who used a creative blocking scheme at times to create opportunities for the offense. Loadholt shifted to the left side of the formation on at least one snap to give San Francisco a different look, and the club also found a way to get rookie Rhett Ellison in on the action.

“It was a good performance across the board,” Frazier said. “As a group, to rush for 146 yards on that defensive line or that defense, it’s pretty impressive.”

Having any success against the 49ers on the ground is impressive. Gaining 146 yards? Over the past two seasons, that’s nearly unheard of. San Francisco hadn’t allowed that many rushing yards since November of 2010, and the 344 total yards the Vikings amassed on Sunday is 5th best against the 49ers over their last 19 games. Also, the Vikings collected 25 1st downs – #1 against San Francisco over the last19 games – and they logged 33:28 in time of possession – #2 against the 49ers over that same span.

A few other notes on the offensive line’s performance against the very good 49ers defense:
– The 49ers have only been held without a sack one other time since the start of 2011 (19 games) – against Baltimore in 2011.
– The 49ers did not have an INT, and they’ve been held without an INT just four times in that same span.
– The 49ers have only been held without a SACK and INT one other time in that span – the Baltimore game in 2011.


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Three Takeaways From Vikings Preseason Debut

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 11, 2012 – 3:10 am

The Vikings made their 2012 preseason debut on Friday night, dropping a 17-6 decision to the San Francisco 49ers at a blustery Candlestick Park. Rookie K Blair Walsh capped the game’s opening drive with a 39-yard FG that cut straight through the 20 mph gusts that swirled inside the stadium, but that was the only lead the Vikings would have for the evening.

San Francisco answered with a TD later in the 1st quarter to take a 7-3 and eventually took a 17=6 lead into the locker room at halftime. Neither team scored in the 2nd half.

For the Vikings, QB Christian Ponder was good-not-great, completing 4 of 9 passes for 80 yards. RB Toby Gerhart was solid and strong, rushing the ball 5 times and gaining 31 yards, with a long rush of 16 yards. The Vikings defense struggled stopping the 49ers ground game, allowing over 100 rushing yards in the 1st half and 260 in the game.

The thrill of victory and agony of defeat take a back seat in the preseason, though, as teams are looking to find “wins” within the exhibition games. There are position battles to be settled and roster spots to be won, and that is the focus for NFL teams and their followers during the preseason.

With that in mind, here are three takeaways on my mind as I sit on the team’s charter flight back to Minneapolis…

Blair Walsh impresses in first NFL game
I’ve been a big supporter of Blair Walsh’s since the Vikings selected him in the 6th round. His leg strength was never questioned, and I didn’t find his dip in accuracy during his senior season at Georgia as concerning as others did. The kid was an 88.8% kicker as a sophomore and junior, and most of his misses during his senior year came on FGs from 40 or 50+ yards.

Regardless, there were no concerns about Walsh’s accuracy on Friday night. He converted both of his FG attempts, the first from 39 yards and the second from 26. Keep in mind, the nasty wind gusts did nothing to help matters, either. In addition to his accuracy on FG tries, Walsh’s leg strength was on display during kickoffs. He logged one touchback on a kick that was blasted through the endzone, and then his other two kickoffs were 6 and 8 yards into the endzone. During the regular season, teams will not be taking those kicks out of the touchback area.

The benefit of Walsh’s touchbacks – opponents’ average drive start will be closer to their own 20 – will far outweigh any accuracy issues he has on FGs. As any defensive player or coordinator and they’ll tell you that pinning a team at or inside the 20 is a big-time advantage for the defense. With Walsh, the Vikings will be doing much more of that in 2012 than they have in recent seasons (Vikings ranked 31st in opponents’ average drive start in 2011).

Run defense missed Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Antoine Winfield
The Vikings held out DE Jared Allen, DT Kevin Williams and CB Antoine Winfield on Friday night, giving the veterans a break from the action while also giving younger players more opportunity. And the absence of three quality run stoppers showed, with San Francisco gashing the Vikings defense on the ground seemingly at will in the 1st half.

One part of you gets frustrated when the opponent is able to run the ball so easily. But the other part of you knows that without Allen, Williams and Winfield in the mix, the defense is much more vulnerable. It would’ve been nice to see other players step up and stymie the 49ers ground game, but I’m not worried about the Vikings run defense just yet. If the Buffalo Bills and San Diego Chargers are able to do in the next two weeks what the 49ers did this week, then we’ll have some concerns.

Offensive line displays improvement
I was pleased with the performance of the Vikings first-team offensive line. RB Toby Gerhart averaged 6.2 yards per carry on 5 attempts and neither Ponder nor Joe Webb were sacked while the first-team offensive line was in the game. Several times Ponder was able to settle into a pocket after dropping back, and on his52-yard pass to WR Stephe Burton Ponder was afforded the time and space to step up into the pocket to deliver the throw.

First-round pick LT Matt Kalil looked solid in his debut. He will be the first to admit there’s room for improvement, but it was a good beginning for Ponder’s new blindside protector. C John Sullivan had no issues with snaps and RT Phil Loadholt was sound in his technique and discipline.


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Roster Rundown: Offensive Line

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 24, 2012 – 7:00 am

Few position groups will be as heavily scrutinized early this season more than the offensive line. The Vikings have been one of the NFL’s best rushing teams over the past several seasons, but the combination of a need for improvement in pass protection and multiple new starters in the group will have many keeping close tabs on the men up front.

The offensive line is the subject of today’s Roster Rundown…

The Vikings will bring 15 offensive linemen with them to training camp, probably a standard number in League circles. While we can be fairly certain on four of the five starters heading into training camp, there will still be plenty of competition up and down the line in both the starting lineup and especially for the reserve spots.

John Sullivan is solid at center and has developed into one of the best five or so players at his position in the entire League. Sullivan began his career as Matt Birk’s understudy and eventually rose to starter status, where he snapped to Brett Favre in his first season as the starter and has progressed nicely ever since. There are two other players listed as centers on the Vikings roster who will compete for a backup role behind Sullivan - Joe Berger and Quentin Saulsberry. Berger is a returning veteran with seven seasons of experience and Saulsberry is an undrafted college free agent out of Mississippi State.

The Vikings should be set at both OT positions as well. Phil Loadholt returns at RT and should be sufficiently motivated in a contract year. Fans have grown tired of his penalties and occasional pass protection letdown, but my sense is Loadholt is sitting on a nice season. At LT the Vikings of course have 1st-round pick Matt Kalil. Sullivan has described Kalil as a “freak” athletically. Other OTs listed on the Vikings roster are: Pat Brown, Levi Horn, DeMarcus Love, Geoff Schwartz and Darrion Weems. Brown and Love are returning from last year’s team, Schwartz was a free agent pickup for the Vikings this offseason and could compete for the starting RG spot, and both Horn and Weems are undrafted college free agents.

The addition of Kalil at LT allows the Vikings to move Charlie Johnson over to LG, perhaps his more natural position. Johnson has the athleticism to play OT, but Vikings GM Rick Spielman explained to me earlier this offseason that his arm length is not ideal for the position. Moving him inside to LG will put Johnson is a better position to succeed, and it will allow Johnson to help Kalil transition to the NFL game. The RG position is up for grabs at this point. I expect Brandon Fusco to open camp as the starter, but both Schwartz and Chris DeGeare should have their sights set on winning the job as well. The two other OGs listed on the Vikings roster are Tyler Holmes and Austin Pasztor, a pair of undrafted college free agents.

A lot of names to go over there, but it just means more competition for the position group as a whole. The top three aspects of the offensive line I’ll be watching at training camp are…

– Who looks the best at RG? Fusco has the early edge based on the offseason program, but both DeGeare and Schwartz are in the mix as well.

– How does Kalil adjust to the NFL? Going against Jared Allen every day will help Kalil a ton if the 1st-round pick can strike a balance between taking his medicine from Allen and others on defense while also establishing himself as Ponder’s blindside protector.

– Does Loadholt take a big step forward this year? He was solid as a rookie in 2009 when he helped the club go 12-4 and play in the NFC title game, but since then he’s produced mixed results. Loadholt is one of my favorite guys on the team and I know he takes pride in his game, so I expect him to take a big step forward in his second year working with well-respected OL coach Jeff Davidson.


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An Economical, Long-Term Plan For The Offensive Line

Posted by Mike Wobschall on March 13, 2012 – 6:06 am

Accustomed to watching a top tier running game since 2007 and tired of watching their brand-new franchise QB run for his life, Vikings fans are anxious to see the team make moves to improve the offensive line. But even with USC LT Matt Kalil expected to be the Vikings 1st-round pick next month, Vikings fans want more.

And it’s understandable. Christian Ponder was sacked 30 times in just 11 games, plus the Vikings released RG Anthony Herrera and LG Steve Hutchinson this past weekend, opening up a pair of vacancies in the starting lineup.

As a result, Ben Grubbs and Carl Nicks – a pair of OGs who have 3 Pro Bowls and 2 All-Pro selections between them – are in high demand among Vikings fans. Both are scheduled to become free agents at 3:00 p.m. CT today, and both play positions of need for the Vikings.

While both players would serve as upgrades at their position, don’t expect the Vikings to enter the bidding for their services. The Vikings do have a considerable amount of salary cap space, but signing Nicks would eat much of it up and the Vikings have more than just one player on their wish list; Grubbs will likely command an expensive salary as well. With other needs on the roster, the Vikings would be better-served, in my view, to use their free agency money on other positions, such as CB or WR.

A big part of my opinion on the matter is the plan I’d like to see the Vikings put into place this offseason to improve the offensive line. No, there may not be high-priced and Pro Bowl-caliber free agent signings on the horizon, but I still foresee the Vikings solving their offensive line woes. And I see them solving it by going young. Hear me out…

– Take Kalil in the 1st round, which will provide a starting LT and yield a replacement for Hutchinson at LG with Charlie Johnson sliding over. He will play better and will feel more comfortable at LG.
– John Sullivan has emerged as a Top 5-7 center in the NFL according to those who know more about it than me, and the Vikings locked him up to a contract extension last season. He becomes the leader of this young group, especially with Hutchinson no longer in the picture.
– At RG the Vikings can lean on veteran Joe Berger and 2nd-year player Brandon Fusco. I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews from coaches and players about Fusco’s progress last year and his prospects for the future.
– To round out the line, Loadholt will be back as the starting RT. He had a down year in 2011 and he’ll be the first to acknowledge that. But 2012 is a contract year for him, he’s been around Winter Park for much of the offseason, and OL coach Jeff Davidson is determined to help him improve. I like that situation.
– Lastly, other youngsters such as Chris DeGeare and Pat Brown can compete for playing time along the line should one of the proposed 5 starters falter or suffer an injury.

Are there questions here? Certainly. And there’s no guarantee my proposed solution will work. But for this Vikings team, coming off a 3-13 record with several holes to fill in the starting lineup – particularly the wide receiver position to help Ponder – I believe a young and affordable offensive line with some upside is a better group than a veteran, expensive collection of veterans who are being paid more for past production than they are for expectation.

Nicks and Grubbs are names most fans recognize, and I understand why Vikings fans demand the team pursue them. But you can’t have All-Pros at every position, or at least you can’t sign All-Pros in free agency at every position. I have confidence in the plan I laid out above, and more importantly I have confidence in the young players on the roster and the experience and tutelage Davidson can bring to the meeting room.

What do you say, Vikings fans? Are you okay with the team going young on the offensive line so they can pursue more talented players at other important positions? Let us know what you think by leaving your thoughts in the comments section below this entry.


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After (Film) Review: Offensive Line

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 29, 2011 – 6:19 am

We’re going to debut a weekly feature here on the vikings.com Blog today called “Weekly Review.” The day after each Vikings game, I’ll watch film to focus on one aspect of the team and then provide a report here on the vikings.com Blog. For the premier edition of After (Film) Review, we’ll focus on the offensive line.

With an off-day between Saturday’s game and the posting of this report, the Star Tribune’s Mark Craig beat me to the punch a little bit on analyzing the offensive line’s performance against the Cowboys. But it looks like we came to the same basic conclusion: the offensive line showed improvement. Specifically, the return of starting RG Anthony Herrera to the lineup was a big boost for the offensive line. While Craig was also complementary of LT Charlie Johnson, I was actually as impressed and maybe a touch more impressed with C John Sullivan.

For what it’s worth, we should temper somewhat the enthusiasm because this was just a preseason game and Dallas didn’t exactly come after the Vikings offense with a blitz-heavy attack. As 1500ESPN’s Tom Pelissero notes, Dallas “rushed more than four men three times in 18 dropback passes (16.7%) and rushed three on six occasions (33.3%), while the Vikings used at least one chip or extra protector eight times (44.4%), not including four bootleg plays.”

All in all, though, I thought the offensive line’s performance on Saturday was encouraging. This group has been much-maligned over the last 12 months, but I have a feeling that they will be much improved in 2011. Let’s get to a few specific examples of solid play from the first-team offensive line…

1st Offensive Series
– On the Vikings first 3rd-down play, Herrera pulled to take out LB Anthony Spencer and RT Phil Loadholt blocked to his inside and took out DE Igor Olshansky to open up a hole for Adrian Peterson to pickup 7 yards and the 1st down.
– On 3rd and 1 a few plays later, LT Charlie Johnson cleared out and sealed DE Kenyon Coleman and a pulling Steve Hutchinson finished off CB Orlando Scandrick to allow Peterson to pickup 5 yards and another 1st down.
– On the next play, McNabb went play-action fake to Peterson and was given a perfect pocket. This enabled WR Bernard Berrian time to make a double-move and run past the Dallas secondary. McNabb hit him in stride for a 49-yard TD.
– Totals for the drive: Peterson 5 carries, 29 yards; McNabb 2 for 2, 54 yards, TD)

2nd Offensive Series
– The Vikings picked up 13 yards on the first play of the series with a Percy Harvin reception, then on the second play of the series Peterson gained 9 yards on the ground. LT Charlie Johnson and TE Jeff Dugan double-teamed DE Jason Hatcher and FB Ryan D’Imperio and Harvin took care of Spencer, which gave Peterson room to dance around both James and Scandrick to gain 9 on the ground going wide left.
– On 2nd and 1, Sullivan handles NT Jay Ratliff long enough and Herrera seals off Olshansky so Peterson can cutback from the left to the right and pick up 5 yards and the 1st down.
– On 1st and 10 from the Minnesota 47-yardline, the Vikings featured a two-TE set. The line provided a solid pocket for McNabb, but the QB couldn’t find an open receiver, so he fled to the right and then found Berrian, who broke open and caught McNabb’s pass for a gain of 15 yards.
– Totals: Peterson 2 carries, 14 yards; McNabb 4 for 5, 37 yards)

3rd Offensive Series
On 2nd and 7 from the MN 17, McNabb changed the play at the line of scrimmage and the Vikings ran wide left with Peterson. TE Kyle Rudolph was just good enough to seal off LB Sean Lee and Sullivan got to the second level to block James from the play, which is ultimately why Peterson was able to dash forward for a 15-yard gain. Hutchinson pulled on the play to take out Elam.
– On 2nd and 10, Booker carried and went up the middle to gain 10 yards. Johnson sealed Spencer off immediately, Sullivan handled Ratliff, Hutchinson took care of Lee and Herrera came off his initial block to prevent James from making a stop early in the play.
– On 1st and 10 from the DAL 47, McNabb made his best throw of the night. McNabb was in the gun, with Booker and Kleinsasser in the backfield as protectors. McNabb rifled a pass into WR Michael Jenkins on a slant for a gain of 17. There was a nice pocket for McNabb and #5 got rid of the ball quickly. Preseason TV analyst Mike Mayock said: “For anyone who thinks that Donovan McNabb doesn’t have it (anymore), take a snapshot of this throw.”
– Totals: Peterson 2 carries, 18 yards; Booker 1 carry, 11 yards; McNabb 2 for 4, 25 yards, INT)

4th Offensive Series
– On the first play of the series, Peterson ran behind the LG for a 5-yard gain. Johnson and Kleinsasser combined for a kickout block on DE Sean Lissemore and Sullivan sealed NT Josh Brent out of the play.
– Peterson gained 3 yards on a pitch wide right. The play was actually blocked well, but OLB DeMarcus Ware chased the play down from the back end; he was intentionally left unblocked because the play was going to the opposite side. But that’s why Ware is a perennial Pro Bowler. However, this was the first time Ware was a factor in the game (5:00 to play in 1st half).
– Totals: Peterson 2 carries, 8 yards; McNabb 1 for 3, 6 yards.

5th Offensive Series
– McNabb hit Booker for a 12-yard gain on 1st down, but the Vikings went 3-and-out after that; gave up a sack on 2nd down.

End of 1st half: Vikings had 216 yards (157 for Dallas), 12 first downs (9 for Dallas) and 89 rushing yards (22 for Dallas).

6th Offensive Series
– On 3rd and 4 out of the gun formation, McNabb was protected great against a 4-man rush and he lofted a pass for Jenkins down the right side; Jenkins won the one-on-one matchup against CB Mario Butler to make the catch for a gain of 26 yards and the 1st down.
– Totals: Peterson 3 carries, 12 yards; McNabb 1 for 3, 26 yards


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A Look At Rounds 2 Through 7 Under Spielman And Co.

Posted by Mike Wobschall on March 2, 2011 – 5:18 pm

In the previous blog entry about G Chris DeGeare, we made the point that: “There’s no doubt that hitting home runs with 1st-round picks is key to success in the NFL. But if you do some research, you’ll see that selections in rounds 2-7 and also the signing of undrafted rookie free agents are just as important.”

In the previous blog entry, we also said we’d take a closer look at some of those 2nd- through 7th-round picks in the next posting. While the group isn’t full of Pro Bowlers or future Hall of Famers (yet), it is a group of players that represent at least a part of the core of the current roster. There are 10 players who’ve started games for the Vikings on the list and obviously there will be many, many more starts from this list in the years to come.

Here we go…

CB Asher Allen - A 3rd-round pick in 2009, Allen struggled at times as a starter in 2010. But over his 2 Vikings seasons, Allen has flashed some potential. With the return of Cedric Griffin in 2011, Allen will be in a position to contribute in the nickel and dime packages where he’ll be more successful.

LB Jasper Brinkley - A 5th-round pick in 2009, Brinkley stepped in as the starter when E.J. Henderson went down to injury at the end of the 2009 season. It’s easy to take this for granted, but keep in mind the Vikings had the NFL’s top-ranked defense and Brinkley was a rookie starting in the middle of the defense. The Vikings defense missed Henderson, but Brinkley was solid in his place and the Vikings advanced to the NFC Championship Game. On top of that, Brinkley has been a solid special teams contributor during his career in Minnesota.

CB Chris Cook - A 2nd-round pick in 2010, Cook had a tremendous offseason and training camp heading into his rookie season. But then a pair of knee injuries that both required surgery slowed and eventually halted his rookie season. Cook is a big, physical CB who fits what head coach Leslie Frazier wants his defense to do. The upside on Cook is big and the Vikings defense will benefit from his return.

FB Ryan D’Imperio - A lot of factors were working against D’Imperio during his rookie season in 2010. He was a 7th-round pick (#237 overall), he switched positions from college LB to NFL FB and he had an established starter in front of him on the depth chart. But D’Imperio impressed enough to stick around and was a member of the practice squad in 2010. During the offseason and training camp this year he’ll have a chance to earn a spot on the 53-man roster.

G Chris DeGeare - The blog entry below this one tells DeGeare’s story.

RB Toby Gerhart - At first I think Vikings fans are quick to point out disappointment in Gerhart’s rookie season, but I don’t see it that way. He had a tough go during training camp and the early part of the season, but he continued to improve as the season went along and he had an impressive showing in a start against the Bears in Week 15 when he rushed for 77 yards on 16 carries. For the season, Gerhart average 4.0 yards per carry. Given how productive he was in college and how aggressive the Vikings were in trading up to select him in the 2nd round last year, I’m willing to give Gerhart more time to develop into a productive NFL RB.

DE Everson Griffen - A prospect with 1st-round talent who dropped to the 4th round because of off-field concerns, Griffen flashed potential on defense and productivity on special teams as a rookie. He’s in line to get more playing time on defense in 2011, especially if the Vikings are unable to reach contract agreements with either Ray Edwards or Brian Robison.

DT Letroy Guion - When the Vikings used a 5th-round pick on Letroy Guion in 2008, he was only 20 years old. He came in and didn’t produce right away, but now he’s progressed into a member of the defensive line rotation. As is the case with Griffen, Guion may be in line for even more playing time depending on what happens with potential free agents ahead of him on the depth chart.

WR Jaymar Johnson - Another 7th-round pick (2008) who remains on the roster, Johnson was in the midst of another solid offseason and training camp when he injured his wrist and was put on Injured Reserve before the 2010 season got going. Johnson will be in another battle to make the roster this offseason, but his return capabilities will help him.

S Tyrell Johnson - A 2nd-round pick in 2008, Johnson has moved in and out of the starting lineup during his 3 seasons in Minnesota. With the safety position still a bit in flux, Johnson has a chance to reclaim a starting spot if he can perform well in the offseason and in training camp. He’s a tremendous athlete who needs to polish his skills in coverage.

RT Phil Loadholt - Another 2nd-round pick, Loadholt stepped into the starting lineup as a rookie in 2009 and was one of the team’s best offensive linemen. The Vikings offense averaged 29.4 points per game during Loadholt’s rookie seasan and the 6-8, 343-pound mauler showed that he could be a talented player in this league for a long time.

WR Sidney Rice - The 2nd-round picks keep rolling in. Rice was a 2nd-rounder in 2007 and exploded for a career season in 2009 with Brett Favre under center. A hip injury slowed his 2010 season and now Rice will look to bounce back in 2011 with another strong showing. His leaping ability and sure hands are his best qualities, and they’re qualities a rookie QB would love to have in a starting WR.

DE Brian Robison – An All-Rookie honoree who was 3rd among all NFL rookies with 4.5 sacks in 2007, Robison has been a productive player for the Vikings and figures to be an important member of the defensive line rotation in 2011. He was a 4th-round pick in 2007 out of the University of Texas and one of the great aspects of his game is that he can slide inside to play DT in certain situations.

S Jamarca Sanford – With Heath Farwell, Sanford is one of the most valuable special teams contributors for the Vikings, specifically in the kick and punt coverage units. He has also logged playing time on defense and has also been a starter at safety. Considering Sanford was the SEC’s leading tackler during his 4 years at Ole Miss, it’s hard to believe Rick Spielman and Co. found him in the 7th round. But that’s what they did, and that makes Sanford one of the more under-rated Vikings draft picks in recent years.

C John Sullivan – Sullivan’s 2nd year was better than his 3rd, but I’m guessing his 4th year will be the best yet. He sat behind Matt Birk as a rookie in 2008, then stepped into the starting lineup at center for the 2009 season and helped the Vikings offense to a 29.4 points-per-game average. In 2010 Sullivan’s season was disrupted by injuries and he dealt with the passing of his father. Certainly Sullivan won’t use those as excuses, but you have to think it impacted him in some form or another.  Sullivan should enter the 2011 season in full health and he’ll have a shot to solidify his standing as the team’s anchor in the middle.


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Emptying Out The Notebook From Thursday’s Combine Action

Posted by Mike Wobschall on February 25, 2011 – 7:20 am

We’re all settled into the media center at Lucas Oil Stadium for Day 2 of the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine, but before we get rolling too quickly here today let’s empty out the notebook from yesterday’s action.

Specifically, I wanted to share a few more thoughts from Rick Spielman’s meeting with reporters. Here we go…

– Spielman said that he and Vikings VP of Football Operations Rob Brzezinski were schedule to meet with player agents on Thursday afternoon. On-field workouts don’t get rolling until later today, so Spielman and Brzezinski had time to talk business with the agents of players currently on the Vikings roster. NFL teams are prohibited from talking to agents about players from other teams, but there is enough to talk about regarding players on their own teams, especially with the current labor situation complicating matters.

– Speaking of the labor situation, Spielman was asked if reaching a contract extension with RB Adrian Peterson was a priority for the Vikings. Spielman said that the club and Peterson’s representatives would likely wait until a new CBA is reached before they talk turkey on a new contract. Spielman also said that Peterson is a crucial component of the team, indicating that indeed the Vikings will be interested in locking him up to an extension as soon as possible.

– Spielman has led an effort over the last few weeks to get the Vikings prepared not only for the draft at the end of April but also for restricted and unrestricted free agency, which will begin at a date to be determined later. Part of that process is also evaluating the current roster, which is a bit more complex this year because the Vikings have several new coaches on staff. Through it all, though, Spielman said it’s been great working with new head coach Leslie Frazier. With the way the Vikings are structured, communication between Spielman and the head coach is key. Spielman said Frazier has been a clear communicator and is doing a nice job leading the coaching staff in the offseason.

– Every draft has a different identity. Some years the draft is very top heavy, with several elite-level players but not much depth in the later rounds. Some years the draft is stocked with offensive talent but is low on defensive stars. It sounds like this year’s draft is an especially deep one at many positions. This could play into the Vikings hands because Spielman is known for a propensity to trade back in order to accumulate additional picks and collect talented pieces.

This could be a strategy the Vikings employ this year, especially because they hold a relatively high 1st-round pick (#12 overall) that has high trade value and because the Vikings don’t have a 3rd-round pick (Randy Moss trade); Spielman has been vocal in saying he wants to get a 3rd-round pick back somehow.

“We want to have depth everywhere, especially with the roster turnover we’re probably going to have,” Spielman said on Thursday. “And that’s why when you look at the draft and look at the potential of moving out of the 12th pick and accumulating more picks, because I think it’s a really good draft, very deep draft. There are some positions in this draft that are extremely intriguing to say the least and that position (defensive line) is pretty intriguing.”

– Lastly, Spielman was asked about the status of the Vikings offensive line, a unit that endured much scrutiny last season. He spoke very highly of 3 young players in particular, saying RT Phil Loadholt has a lot of promise and C John Sullivan is poised to bounce back in 2011 after a tumultuous and injury-plagued season in 2010. Spielman also had a lot to say about G Chris DeGeare, the team’s 5th-round pick last year. We’ll have more on what Spielman said about DeGeare later this weekend.

Ultimately, Spielman said the Vikings have good, young talent along their offensive line but he also acknowledged the Vikings must continue to add youth and depth to the position.


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