We’ve touched on several topics since the Vikings recorded a thrilling 27-24 overtime win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, from the warrior-like performance by Percy Harvin to the quiet dominance of the Vikings defense.
But there’s so much more to talk about and we’ll touch on a few more topics in this blog entry with some help from head coach Brad Childress’ press conference. Childress met with reporters for several minutes early Monday afternoon and he ultimately answered 25 questions. Here are a few important notes we jotted down…
Kluwe Kicking Well
Childress took time to mention specifically that P Chris Kluwe is playing well through the first 8 games.
“The guy that’s playing unbelievably now is Chris Kluwe,” Childress said. “That guy is kicking the ball lights out. It doesn’t make any difference what the numbers show. It’s just a matter of how many they’re getting a chance to legitimately return and how many he’s sticking down there where they have fully 80 or 90 yards to go. You can’t put a premium on that, particularly in field position games like that.”
We’ve discussed Kluwe’s solid play on several occasions here on the vikings.com Blog, but he continues to play well and impress. His gross punting average is 44.5, which is 12th in the NFL, but effective punting in the NFL is about hang time, net average and return yards allowed. I don’t have a way to measure hang time, but Kluwe ranks 3rd in net average at 43.3 yards and the entire punt coverage group ranks #1 in the NFL in allowing just 3.5 yards per return. On top of that, Kluwe has put 18 of his 36 kicks inside the 20, helping the Vikings gain an edge in the field position battle.
No-Huddle Offense Looked Good
I answered a question from a reader in today’s Monday Morning Mailbag about how effective the Vikings offense was in the no-huddle during the 4th quarter and whether the no-huddle might be something the Vikings try against Chicago this week. I don’t know if that’s something the Vikings will try, but Childress did tell reporters on Monday that the no-huddle is something the Vikings practice regularly and it’s also something Favre clearly looks comfortable executing.
Childress was also asked who calls the plays when the team goes no-huddle.
“It’s both,” Childress explained, saying that coaches will send a play to Favre when the ball goes out of bounds. “He has got a menu, as do we, that we practice for the two-minute, and sometimes we’ll trick his memory and there are times where he’s got to do it on his own.”
Childress was asked the status of several injured players, including Harvin and T Phil Loadholt. Harvin has been dealing with the injured ankle, of course, and Childress said Harvin will be sore but is also “no worse for the wear.” Childress said Loadholt is going to be fine; he left the game in the 4th quarter but came right back onto the field. S Jamarca Sanford tweaked a hamstring and Childress indicated that would be a day-to-day situation for this week.
Return of Rice
Perhaps the most asked question the last couple of weeks has been “When is Sidney Rice coming back?” The answer is still “I don’t know.” But it sound like Rice is getting closer and closer.
“He’s had some good practices out here,” Childress commented, “it’s just a matter of can you play wide-open and play in an NFL football game? It’s one thing to practice. It’s another thing when you’re going to get tackled to the ground.”
Rice has looked good in practice the last couple of weeks and he looked sharp while working out in pre-game workouts on Sunday. Time will tell when he can return; I’m cautiously optimistic it’ll be this week against the Bears, but the smart money might be next week at home against Green Bay. Stay tuned.
It was pleasing to see Bernard Berrian become such an important factor in the offense. He had 9 receptions for 89 yards on Sunday and came up with 3 clutch grabs in the 4th quarter and overtime. Childress mentioned on Monday that Berrian had a good practice week leading up to the Arizona game and that his chemistry with Favre looked particularly sharp.
“I saw Brett throwing it as well as he has thrown it all year long in that Thursday practice,” Childress said. “Very live arm, very accurate and then Bernard was kind of right there with him. Not that the other guys weren’t, but you could see him have a good week of practice. Both of those guys. It wasn’t surprising to see it carry over to Sunday.”
Tags: Bernard Berrian, Chris Kluwe, Jamarca Sanford, Percy Harvin, Phil Loadholt, Sidney Rice
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 276 Comments »
Ever since Rick Spielman took the reigns as the Vikings VP of Player Personnel on May 30, 2006, the Vikings have had some very productive players come out their draft picks in which Spielman oversees – All-Pro RB Adrian Peterson in 2007 and 2009 Rookie of the Year Percy Harvin, just to name a couple.
The Purple have 2 draft picks in the 2nd round (#34 and #62) coming within the next couple of hours, so, let’s take a look at which players have come out of the 2nd round under Spielman’s supervison…
2007 – Sidney Rice (44), WR, South Carolina: Rice has solidified himself as an every-down threat to opposing defenses. Rice had a career-year last season, pulling in 83 receptions for 1,312 yards and 8 TDs.
2008 – Tyrell Johnson (43), S, Arkansas State: Many Vikings fans may have been upset with Johnson’s production over the past 2 seasons, here’s his 2009 numbers – 15 GP/GS, 57 tackles (48 solo, 9 ast.) and 1 INT. The jury is still out but remember he became a full-time starter in just his 2nd year.
2009 – Phil Loadholt (54), T, Oklahoma: Loadholt had an immediate impact on the Vikings offense in the 2009 season. The 6-8, 343-pounder started in every game but 1, helping Adrian Peterson rush for over 1,000 yards and Brett Favre throw for over 4,000 yards and 33 TDs.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, Phil Loadholt, Sidney Rice, Tyrell Johnson
Posted in All, CJ Siewert | 30 Comments »
Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress met with reporters for his season-ending press conference on Tuesday afternoon, addressing a bevy of topics ranging from the disappointment that remains after Sunday night’s NFC title loss to the future of Brett Favre to building a championship organization.
The Vikings head coach didn’t hide from the fact that coming up one game short of the Super Bowl has harvested gut-wrenching disappointment from the Vikings fan base. But he also pointed out, appropriately so, that the disappointment is also felt within the walls of Winter Park.
“We didn’t achieve our ultimate goal, which is to go to the Super Bowl and win it,” Childress said. “You saw Sunday night how tough those guys took it. I know that everybody in town here takes it tough. We as a coaching staff and players and the organization take it extremely hard, too.”
Childress did a nice job of conveying the underlying sentiment and emotions that currently define the Vikings and their following. But, as a person in his position is called to do, Childress also outlined the positives his team and fan base can take into the coming months and 2010 season.
“It’s a bitter pill to swallow and I don’t know that it completely goes away right away,” Childress said. “But as the leader of this football team, it’s important from my standpoint to point out to our guys all the positive things that we accomplished this year, whether it’s in terms of the wins and losses, the division, offense improved, defense improved and I thought we improved in the special teams area. It’s important to point those things out because I think those things get flushed under and really it ends up happening with everybody that’s not the Super Bowl champion; that’s the tough part of this business.”
The Vikings did indeed continue to improve under Childress. The team’s record has improved each year since 2006, including jumping to 12-4 this year after a solid 10-6 campaign in 2008. The Vikings won their 2nd consecutive division title in 2009 and also earned the NFC’s #2 seed, which gave them a 1st-round bye in the conference playoffs and played a pivotal role in the Vikings smashing the Dallas Cowboys 34-3 in the Divisional Round.
The Vikings also improved in several statistical areas, leading the league in sacks with 48 and producing the NFL’s 2nd-highest scoring offense at 29.4 points per game, a massive leap from the 23.7 points per game they registered in 2008. Also, the Vikings kick coverage and kickoff return units saw drastic improvement.
Other significant statistical jumps included the 2009 defense allowing 1.3 fewer points per game and the offense jumping from 17th to 5th in total offense and 25th to 8th in passing offense.
The addition of QB Brett Favre was the impetus behind much of the offensive improvement and it gave the Vikings a heightened sense of legitimacy as they cruised to an undefeated home season, sensational 13-4 record and an appearance in a conference championship game on the road in a difficult environment that saw them in position to win it with just 19 seconds left.
Along with the addition of a 19-year veteran future Hall of Famer at QB, though, Childress also pointed out that a number of young players were involved in the 2009 improvement. C John Sullivan and S Tyrell Johnson both progressed in their 1st full year as starters and rookies LB Jasper Brinkley, WR Percy Harvin and OT Phil Loadholt played key roles in starting positions.
It all adds up to a team that fell short of its goal this year but is also part of an organization that is striving to win a championship.
“I think the message has been consistent – we’re attempting to build a championship organization here and we continue to get closer,” Childress said. “I know it’s unsatisfying, but I know that there’s a number of different guys getting involved. The younger guys, whether it’s the Loadholts, the Harvins, we’re continuing to build that thing.
“This was a fun, fun group to coach and they remained that way, all the way through the season. It’s fun to watch guys compete with each other and for each other. And it’s rare in this business of individuals that you see guys come together and play that way for the whole season. I just acknowledge that everyone’s hurting and at the end of the day a lot of good things that we’re going to take away and build off of.”
Tags: Jasper Brinkley, Percy Harvin, Phil Loadholt
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 56 Comments »
With a solid corps of veteran players and with a return trip to the playoffs this season after making it last season, the Vikings are not short on playoff experience. In fact, 36 Vikings have either played or been active in at least one playoff game and 25 of those 36 Vikings have started at least 1 postseason game.
With that being said, however, there are several young Vikings who will be in key spots today against the Dallas Cowboys. Their youth and inexperience might be perceived as a disadvantage, but the fact that a division-winning team with a 12-4 record feels comfortable enough to rely on them also goes to their credit.
Here’s a brief look at the young Vikings who will be getting their first taste of playoff action while in primary roles…
LB Jasper Brinkley: A rookie 5th rounder, Brinkley was solid for the Vikings on special teams all season and then he was thrust into a starting role on defense when E.J. Henderson was lost for the year in Week 13. Brinkley has played well against the run and is improving against the pass. He’ll be on the field today primarily in run situations and the Vikings will sub in an extra DB on passing downs.
WR Percy Harvin: The 2009 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, Harvin set a new Vikings franchise record for all-purpose yardage and he also set a new team record for rushing yards by a WR. In addition, Harvin was fantastic as a kick returner and he tied for the lead among rookie WRs for receptions with 60. The Vikings would love to have a typical all-around performance from the outstanding rookie play-maker today.
S Tyrell Johnson and S Jamarca Sanford: Johnson will remain the starter at safety, along with Madieu Williams, but Sanford will also see time on defense. Sanford has been outstanding for the Vikings this season on special teams and toward the end of the season he also saw time on defense. Both players will see the field plenty today.
RT Phil Loadholt: The Vikings ability to contain Dallas’ pass rush is a key factor in today’s game and Loadholt, a 2nd rounder from last April’s draft, is a key factor in that effort. He’ll be primarily facing Cowboys OLB Anthony Spencer.
WR Sidney Rice: Though in his 3rd season, we include Rice in this category because he’s healthy and at the top of his game for the first time. Rice had a breakout season in 2009, often times becoming unstoppable with QB Brett Favre lofting passes his way. Dallas will have to find a way to contain him.
C John Sullivan: A lot of attention has been focused on Dallas edge rushers, but the Cowboys can push the pocket from the middle, too, thanks to Pro Bowl DT Jay Ratliff. One man who’ll be responsible for blocking Ratliff is Sullivan. Although he’s not a rookie either, Sullivan will be playing in his first playoff game as a starting center.
Tags: Jamara Sanford, Jasper Brinkley, John Sullivan, Percy Harvin, Phil Loadholt, Sidney Rice, Tyrell Johnson
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 3 Comments »
One of the main subplots in this weekend’s Vikings-Cowboys Divisional Round playoff game on Sunday is the matchup between Dallas’ pair of outstanding edge rushers – LBs DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer – and the Vikings bookend OTs – Bryant McKinnie and Phil Loadholt.
And that matchup shouldn’t be ignored. Ware and Spencer combined this regular season for 17.0 sacks and they already have 3.0 in the playoffs. Although McKinnie has played well this season and earned his 1st Pro Bowl appearance, he did struggle against Panthers DE Julius Peppers last month and Loadholt will be making his 1st playoff start on Sunday.
Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress acknowledged on Wednesday while meeting with reporters that the Cowboys ability to pressure from the edge is something the Vikings will need to address.
But he also indicated he and his offensive staff will be mindful of Dallas’ ability to bring pressure from the middle of the defense, too.
“With that said, a guy like (Keith) Brooking – they feature him blitzing,” Childress explained. “He does a great job of timing up his A-gap blitzes. And then I look at the nose guard (Jay Ratliff) can bring pressure any way you want it. He can walk the center back, he can make a quick move and beat you with quickness in there, and then they wave people in and have some pretty good people they can bring in the game in their nickel situations.”
There’s no denying that Dallas possesses the talent and scheme to pressure QBs and disrupt offenses. They ranked 7th in the NFL in QB sacks with 42 and they also boast the league’s 4th-ranked rushing defense, a bad statistical combination for opposing offenses.
But there are ways the Vikings can try to deny the Cowboys attempt to bring that pressure. Childress mentioned several tactics, including chipping with RBs and TEs. More important than figuring out one form of effective protection, though, is being sure to use several different tactics to keep the Cowboys defense off-balance.
“You have to mix it,” Childress said, “because people are too good if you’re only showing one kind of protection…typically they’re going to break a protection down.”
Tags: Phil Loadholt
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 21 Comments »
A pair of division winners with top 10 offenses and defenses will clash at Mall of America Field on Sunday when the Vikings host the Dallas Cowboys in the Divisional Round of the NFC Playoffs. With 15 Pro Bowlers on these 2 rosters, there is no shortage of star power and fans will be treated to an explosive football game featuring 2 divisions winners from the conference.
The Vikings got here by virtue of their 1st-round bye, which was earned after going through their schedule and winning 12 of 16 games. A week of rest and rejuvenation is valuable at this time of year and the Vikings should benefit from fresh legs up and down the lineup.
On the flip side, the Cowboys enter this contest with a bunch of momentum, having won their last 4 games. Their last 2 wins came against division rival Philadelphia – a 24-0 Week 17 win to capture the NFC East crown and then a 34-14 victory last week to advance to the Divisional Round.
Dallas used an explosive passing game and productive running game to score 58 points against the Eagles the past 2 weeks. QB Tony Romo threw for 527 yards in the 2 wins and the Cowboys rushing game racked up 377 net yards. While Marion Barber III is the team’s workhorse, 2008 1st round draft choice Felix Jones can step in at RB and contribute in the running game as well as the passing game. Jones had 272 total yards and 2 TDs against the Eagles over the past 2 weeks.
During the regular season, the Cowboys offense ranked #2 in yards per game thanks to an explosive passing offense led by Romo and a 3-pronged rushing attack that included Tashard Choice along with Barber III and Jones. Dallas recorded 61 passing plays of 20+ yards on the season – 3rd best in the NFC – and they have a talented corps of receivers led by Pro Bowlers Miles Austin and Jason Witten and complemented by a big, physical target in Roy Williams and another slasher in Patrick Crayton.
Defensively, Dallas has a constant, heavy pass rush and stout run defense. OLB DeMarcus Ware registered 11.o sacks on the season and his bookend teammate – Anthony Spencer – had 6.0 sacks of his own. That fierce pass rush is complemented by a solid run defense that is the NFL’s 4th best and features a Pro Bowl NT in Jay Ratliff, who is constantly a disruptive force in the running game but also had 6.0 sacks on the season.
Against Philadelphia the last 2 weeks, this crew in the Cowboys front 7 dominated. Dallas registered 8 sacks of Eagles QB Donovan McNabb over the 2-game stretch and they held Philadelphia to just 93 total rushing yards. Dallas also played well in the back end of their defense, as CB Terence Newman led a secondary that for the most part contained the Eagles explosive passing game.
As you can see, the Vikings have a lot with which to contend from a personnel standpoint this week. But the Cowboys won’t be without their challenges, either. A few more subplots to consider when looking at this matchup…
– The Vikings have the advantage of playing this game at home, where their defense gains an edge thanks to the noise that makes it more difficult for the opposing offense to work. It’s important for the Mall of America crowd to be loud when DE Jared Allen and Co. are on the field and then it’s vital that the Vikings defense rises to the occasion and plays well against a powerful offense.
– Who will make a play on special teams? Austin and Jones are talented kick returners for Dallas, but the Vikings can counter with Percy Harvin and Darius Reynaud, along with solid coverage units. K Ryan Longwell has been solid for the Vikings all season.
– Will the Vikings be able to protect QB Brett Favre? Dallas has a great pass rush but the Vikings counter with a pair of solid OTs in Bryant McKinnie and Phil Loadholt. It’s not fair to expect these 2 players to contain the Cowboys pass rushers, so what will the Vikings do from a schematic standpoint to counter the rush? Screen passes, draws, chip blocks, double teams, fading the guard, etc. All of these are possibilities.
– The middle of the field will be key for both offenses. Dallas would like to get Austin and Witten the ball in space and make the Vikings tackle them, something the Vikings defense has struggled with at times this season. Conversely, can the Cowboys cover Harvin and TE Visanthe Shiancoe down the middle?
– We’ve mentioned some of Dallas’ offensive play-makers, but what about the Vikings? RB Adrian Peterson would love to be a difference-maker against the team he grew up loving. WR Sidney Rice had a breakout regular season in 2009 and the Cowboys will need to find a way to contain him.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, Phil Loadholt, Ryan Longwell, Sidney Rice, Visanthe Shiancoe
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 9 Comments »
The Vikings tied a franchise low with 5 draft selections during the 2009 NFL Draft. But while the franchise’s most recent draft class is small in numbers, its impact was big.
All 5 members of the draft class made the Vikings 53-man roster coming out of training camp. That’s an accomplishment on its own. But all 5 members of the draft class also started at least 1 game and all 5 were regular contributors throughout the regular season.
Here’s a brief look at each member of the 2009 draft class and how exactly they made their mark on the team this regular season:
Round 1 – #22 Overall
Percy Harvin, WR, Florida
Harvin was the most exciting player in college football during his time at Florida and he brought that flare and swagger with him to the Vikings. He played in 15 games and contributed both as a kickoff returner and a WR. Harvin finished the season with 60 receptions for 790 yards and 6 TDs while also adding 42 kickoff returns for 1,156 yards and 2 TDs, becoming the 1st Viking to ever record 2 kickoff return TDs in a season and in a career. Harvin set a franchise record for all-purpose yardage and also for rushing yards by a WR.
Round 2 – #54 Overall
Phil Loadholt, RT, Oklahoma
The 6-8, 343-pound RT became just the 5th rookie tackle in Vikings history to start a season opener and he went on to play and start in 15 games during the regular season.
Round 3 – #86 Overall
Asher Allen, CB, Georgia
Allen was inactive for the Vikings first 6 games, but he was called upon once CB Antoine Winfield went down with a foot injury and the rookie CB from Georgia came up big. In 10 games played and 1 started, Allen registered 18 tackles, 1.0 sack, 1 INT, 1 FF and 2 passes defensed. He was also a regular contributor on special teams and tallied 4 tackles.
Round 5 – #150 Overall
Jasper Brinkley, LB, South Carolina
There’s simply no way to replace a player such as E.J. Henderson, but Brinkley, a player who has been through injury issues of his own, took some of the sting away with his ability to step into the starting lineup late in the season. Brinkley played in all 16 regular season games and started 4 contests once Henderson was placed on IR. He tallied 24 tackles and 1 tackle for a loss on defense while also adding 11 special teams tackles.
Round 7 – #231 Overall
Jamarca Sanford, S, Mississippi
Sanford led the SEC in tackles during his 4-year career and he had no problem bringing his aggressive style to the next level. He played in 14 games, including 1 start on defense, and tallied 17 special teams tackles, 15 tackles on defense and 1 forced fumble.
Tags: Asher Allen, Jamarca Sanford, Jasper Brinkley, Percy Harvin, Phil Loadholt
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 8 Comments »
Though it’s an exercise with no practical purpose, one can’t help but enjoy it. SI.com’s Don Banks has published his annual re-do of the NFL Draft.
They say hindsight is always 20-20, but in terms of judging 1st-round talent during the 2009 NFL Draft, it looks as if the Vikings foresight was pretty good, too.
In Banks’ piece, he re-picks the entire 1st round using what we currently know about this year’s rookie class. And the results show that the Vikings personnel department was on the money last April.
Banks has both WR Percy Harvin, selected 22nd overall by the Vikings, and OT Phil Loadholt, selected 54th overall by the Vikings, going among the first 6 picks, with Harvin going to Kansas City at #3 and Loadholt going to the Bengals at #6.
With both Harvin and Loadholt off the board at pick #22, Banks has the Vikings taking DT B.J. Raji with their 1st round pick. The Vikings would’ve received great value with Raji at #22.
A few more thoughts on Banks’ re-draft:
– He has Bills S Jairus Byrd going to Houston at #15, which is a bit too high in my opinion. Byrd, who has 9 INTs and 45 tackles in his first NFL season, would’ve been a good pick for the Jacksonville Jaguars at #8 or for the Bills at #11.
— The Lions switch their pick from QB Matthew Stafford to OT Michael Oher in the re-draft, which allows the St. Louis Rams to select Stafford at #2 instead of OT Jason Smith.
— The Jets (Mark Sanchez at #5), Broncos (Knowshon Moreno at #12), Buccaneers (Josh Freeman at #17) and Lions (Brandon Pettigrew at #20) all wind up with the same player they selected back in April.
— The Raiders go with Michael Crabtree at #7 instead of Darrius Heyward-Bey.
— Minnesota native James Laurinaitis goes to the Eagles at #19 instead of the Rams in the 2nd round.
Tags: Percy Harvin, Phil Loadholt
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 5 Comments »
Plenty of attention will be focused on today’s battle at Mall of America Field between the NFC North-leading Vikings and the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals. People want to know – can QB Brett Favre and Co. rebound? Will Cedric Benson go for 100 against the Vikings defense? How will Antoine Winfield play in his return from injury?
But another interesting subplot has developed this week. Injuries have fostered circumstances that will put several Vikings rookies in a showcase today.
WR/KR Percy Harvin has been ruled out of today’s game, so he’s one rookie who won’t be showcased. But every other member of the team’s draft class will play an important role in today’s game. Here’s a quick look at each of them:
RT Phil Loadholt – The 2nd rounder will start his 11th game today but he is coming off an injury to his shoulder that he suffered last week in Arizona. Loadholt came back in the game and finished, but it’ll be interesting to see how he responds today against a stout Bengals defensive line.
CB Asher Allen – Antoine Winfield is back in the starting lineup and Cedric Griffin will also go today after injuring his neck last week, but Allen will continue to have a significant role because CB Karl Paymah is inactive. Allen will be on the field often for both special teams duty and defensive snaps.
LB Jasper Brinkley – The injury last week to E.J. Henderson forced the Vikings to place him on injured reserve. As a result, Jasper Brinkley steps into the starting lineup and into the eye of the storm of the Vikings defense. How will he transition? Will the Vikings defense go on without missing a beat? It’s up to this talented 5th rounder.
S Jamarca Sanford – Starter Tyrell Johnson suffered a concussion last week and will not play today. Sanford steps in and will play alongside Madieu Williams. Sanford has been awesome on special teams for the Vikings this season and I’m anxious to see him play as a starter on defense.
Tags: Asher Allen, Jamarca Sanford, Jasper Brinkley, Percy Harvin, Phil Loadholt
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 6 Comments »
The Vikings and Bengals have released their Thursday injury reports and little has changed from the week’s initial report.
There was some good news for the Vikings, though. Both RT Phil Loadholt (shoulder) and RB Adrian Peterson (foot/ankle) were limited participants on Thursday after sitting out last week.
There were no other changes to the Vikings injury report.
For the Bengals, the only change is that CB Morgan Trent (knee) was limited today after sitting out Wednesday.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Phil Loadholt
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 3 Comments »