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Gerhart, Sullivan, Webb Headline 18th Annual Arctic Blast

Posted by Mike Wobschall on February 7, 2013 – 7:43 am

The 18th annual Vikings Arctic Blast Snowmobile Rally, sponsored by MillerCoors Brewing Co., the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, Total Luxury Limousine and Arctic Cat, will be held at Lake Mille Lacs Saturday and Sunday, February 9-10. The event will feature current and former Vikings players along with coaches and team executives. Viktor the Viking and the Minnesota Vikings Cheerleaders will also be in attendance to help raise money for the Vikings Children’s Fund.

Current Vikings scheduled to attend this year’s Arctic Blast include LBs Jasper Brinkley and Larry Dean, RG Brandon Fusco, RB Toby Gerhart, DE Everson Griffen, C John Sullivan and QB Joe Webb. Vikings alumni scheduled to attend the event include Pete Bercich, Ben Leber, Carl Lee, Walker Lee Ashley, Bob Lurtsema, Doug Sutherland and Robert Tate.

A full schedule of events will surround Arctic Blast XVIII. On Saturday, February 9, there will be giveaways, numerous prizes and games for all ages at Vikings headquarters at the Blue Goose Inn in Garrison. The organization will also provide free arcade play for kids, an ice fishing pond, karaoke and specials at various Blast Points throughout the day.  On Sunday, a prize party will be held with more than $30,000 in prizes to be awarded, including a choice of a new Arctic Cat Snowmobile or ATV.  Also on Saturday at the Blue Goose Inn at 3:00 pm, a special secret guest will be appearing.

Participants can register the day of the event at any of the four Blast Points located in Garrison, Onamia, Isle or Malmo ($35). For the list of Blast Points and more information, call (952) 828-6577 or visit www.vikings.com


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A Win The Size Of Texas: Vikings Top Houston, Win 3rd Straight

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 23, 2012 – 5:41 pm

They say everything is bigger in Texas. And that includes NFL upsets. The Vikings earned a huge one on Sunday in the Lone Star State.

The Vikings marched into Reliant Stadium in Houston as 9-point underdogs to the Texans and proceeded to control the game from start to finish along the way to a convincing 23-6 victory that keeps them very much alive in the NFC playoff race.

After holding the Texans to a FG on their first possession, the Vikings responded by driving 78 yards in 8 plays to capture their first score of the game. The drive included a 20-yard dash by Adrian Peterson on the first play, a 27-yard catch-and-run by TE Kyle Rudolph on the third play and a 32-yard perfectly-placed floater from Christian Ponder to Michael Jenkins on 3rd and 6 from the Houston 34. Ponder found Rudolph from 3 yards out on 2nd and goal to finish the drive, and the Vikings led 7-3 midway through the opening quarter.

The teams exchanged punts on each of their next possessions, and then Houston started putting together another nice series near the end of the 1st quarter. But on 2nd and 7 from the Minnesota 28, RB Arian Foster took a handoff and was popped by Vikings LB Jasper Brinkley. Foster coughed up the ball, and Vikings CB AJ Jefferson was there to recover it. The turnover ruined a scoring chance for Houston and led to a Blair Walsh 56-yard FG roughly 5 minutes later; that FG for Walsh set an NFL record for 50-yard FGs in a season (9).

The Vikings extended their lead to 13-3 before halftime, and carried with them into the locker room momentum that would only grow in the 2nd half.

After driving 52 yards in 8 plays and converting a key 3rd and 10 from midfield, the
Vikings offense stalled at the Houston 21. Walsh came on to salvage the drive, converting his third FG of the game and giving the Vikings a 16-3 lead early in the 2nd half.

Neither offense could muster much production the rest of the 3rd quarter, but the Vikings were okay with that because they held a commanding lead and their defense was a step ahead of Houston’s offense all day. Even after a Vikings turnover on a J.J. Watt strip-sack gave Houston possession near midfield, Matt Schaub and Co. continued to be stymied by the Vikings defense.

Exchanged punts continued in the 3rd and early stages of the 4th quarter, finally setting the stage for Ponder to dagger the Texans. The Vikings took possession at their own 36 following a 65-yard punt by Houston. Ponder hit Rudolph for 9 yards on 1st down, then scrambled for 29 yards two plays later to bring the Vikings to the Houston 27. Peterson and Toby Gerhart carried the ball on the Vikings next 5 plays, and then Ponder found Jarius Wright on a shallow crossing pattern to convert a key 3rd-down conversion. A facemask penalty was tacked on, giving the Vikings a 1st and goal from the 3. Gerhart plunged in from there on the next play, finishing a 10-play, 64-yard drive and essentially finishing the Texans for the day.

The Vikings forced a fumble on the next series when Harrison Smith punched the ball from QB T.J. Yates, who had come on to replace starter Matt Schaub. The Vikings recovered and were able to run out the clock from there.

Ponder finished the day with a box score of 16-30 for 174 yards with 1 TD and 0 INTs. He played efficient, smart football, often times avoiding the disastrous play and frequently making a clutch throw to pick up a 1st down or take advantage of busted coverage. Peterson, who entered the game 294 yards from breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing mark of 2,105 yards, finished the day with 86 tough yards on 25 grinding carries. He is now 102 yards from the 2,000-yard mark and 207 yards from Dickerson’s record.

The Vikings defense put forth a sensational, dominating effort in limiting a Houston offense that averaged 25.5 points per game coming into the contest to no TDs and just 6 points during the entire game. Schaub was frustrated and ineffective all day, completing 18 of 32 passes for 178 yards with no TDs or INTs. Foster, the AFC’s leading rusher, finished the day with 15 yards on 10 carries; he left the game due to an irregular heartbeat, according to the Texans, and did not return. Smith was the Vikings leading tackler and he also had a forced fumble, while he, Jared Allen, Fred Evans and Antoine Winfield collected sacks.

A key moment in the game came late in the 3rd quarter and was registered by the Vikings defense. A 12-yard completion from Schaub to Kevin Walter put Houston on the Vikings 1. From there, though, Houston was unable to punch it in. Schaub threw incomplete on 1st down, #2 RB Ben Tate was stonewalled by Chad Greenway and Kevin Williams on 2nd down, and then Evans sacked Schaub on 3rd down. Houston had to settle for a FG, but it was a momentous victory for the Vikings at that point to surrender just the 3 points. The Texans never got closer than their own 40-yardline from there on out as the Vikings professionally put away their 3rd straight win.

The win is the Vikings 9th of the season, an impressive number considering they were 3-13 a year ago. With the win, the Vikings began their trek back to Minnesota with an extra bounce in their step and knowing they’ll have a shot to make the playoffs next week with a win over the Green Bay Packers at Mall of America Field and perhaps a little help from other teams in the NFC.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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9 Vikings-49ers Storylines To Follow

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 19, 2012 – 5:52 am

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.


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From The Ground Up: Vikings Offense Paced By Ground Attack

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 14, 2012 – 6:42 am

It’s no secret. The NFL is a passing league. In 2011, only 3 teams (Denver, Houston, San Francisco) ran the ball more frequently than they passed it, and nearly 33% of NFL teams threw the ball in excess of 60% of the time. Also in 2011, 3 NFL QBs (Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford) threw for 5,000+ yards and 3 had (Brees, Stafford, Aaron Rodgers) 40+ TD passes.

While it’s no question the preferred method of moving the ball in the NFL is through the air, there are still teams and coaches who place a tremendous value on running the ball. The Vikings and Head Coach Leslie Frazier fall into that category. And it’s for good reason. Since 2007 when the Vikings drafted Adrian Peterson and hired Frazier as defensive coordinator, the Vikings have been the NFL’s best rushing team. They rank first over that span in total rushing yards (11,272), per-carry average (4.7), rushing TDs (92) and runs of 10+ yards (333).

“It’s big for our team,” Frazier said of the running game. “In a League where passing the football has become first for so many teams, we’ve taken a little bit different approach and featuring a guy who we think is the best running back in pro football in Adrian Peterson and because of that, it takes a lot of pressure off our young quarterback as well as our passing game.”

The Vikings understand the importance of being able to move the ball through the air, too. That’s why they signed free agents such as TE John Carlson and Jerome Simpson, and that’s why they used draft picks on the likes of LT Matt Kalil and a pair of WRs in the 4th round (Jarius Wright, Greg Childs). The development of young QB Christian Ponder was priority A for the Vikings this past offseason, and everyone at Winter Park knows Ponder’s progress will be key to future success. Frazier’s contention, though, is that the presence of a productive running game will ease the pressure on Ponder because opponents are forced to figure out a way to contain Peterson and Gerhart before they think about defending the Vikings passing attack.

“Having a guy like the guy that we do have makes us very unique from an offensive standpoint,” Frazier explained, “but it helps us to achieve our goals as a football team, having a good running game and establishing the run for us to run our offense and really win the way we want to win.”

As he’s explained, Frazier wants the Vikings running game to set the tone and allow Ponder and Co. to operate with more freedom. Additionally, being able to run the ball well can shorten a game for a team when it has the lead. But Frazier also explained that his desire to run the ball well is not about being a conservative team that looks to shorten the game and win close contests. Frazier sees the Vikings running game as one with explosion and scoring capability.

“For us, that’s exactly the approach we take but we also believe that we can also get explosive plays through the running game because of who we have at the halfback position,” Frazier said. “It’s not just ground and pound. We have a guy who can break the 20-yard run, the 60-yard run. Most people have to get that throwing the football down the field, and we want to be able to do the same. That’s one of the reasons we made the offseason acquisition of Jerome (Simpson) and try to feature Percy the way we do. But being able to have a balanced attack and still feature our run game is who we are.”

Side Note
Peterson and Gerhart get most of the credit for the Vikings productive running attack. On Sunday in the season opener, though, another member of the backfield was key to the Vikings ground game – FB Jerome Felton. Both Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave mentioned how well Felton played in his first regular season game as a Viking.

Said Frazier: “He played extremely well and that was a lot of snaps for him. There wasn’t one time a season ago we had that many snaps with our fullback on the field and a lot of it had to do with the way he played and what’s happening when he is on the field. It was really encouraging for all of us to see him dominate the way he did. There may be more opportunities for him as we go forward.”

Said Musgrave: “Jerome Felton played really well. He was a presence out there. He was also a presence on the sideline in terms of being the leader. He suggested a couple of amendments to our game plan during the game and we took them to heart and they really paved the way for good runs there in the second half.”


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10 Vikings-Colts Storylines To Follow This Week

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 12, 2012 – 6:46 am

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.


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Walsh Comes Up Clutch, Vikings Edge Jaguars 26-23 In Overtime

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 9, 2012 – 3:58 pm

The Vikings hadn’t opened a regular season at home since 2007. They sure made up for lost time on Sunday, opening the season at Mall of America Field in front of a spirited crowd with a dramatic victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars that included the return of Adrian Peterson, a pair of clutch FGs from rookie K Blair Walsh, a new team record established and a try at the new overtime rules.

Where to begin? How about with the score? After trailing 9-0 after the 1st quarter and 23-20 with just 20 seconds to go in the 4th quarter, the Vikings displayed some resiliency and clutch kicking on the way to upending the visiting Jaguars by a count of 26-23 in overtime.

Both the Vikings and Jaguars were inches from closing out victories in regulation. Blair Walsh, the rookie kicker from Georgia drafted by the Vikings, converted a 42-yard FG with 5:33 to play in the game that gave the Vikings a 20-15 lead. On the ensuing Jaguars possession, the Vikings forced a punt and took possession with 1:51 to play. But the home team could not tally a 1st down to run out the clock, instead punting away to Jacksonville. Facing a 4th and 3 from midfield, Jaguars second-year QB Blaine Gabbert hit rookie WR Justin Blackmon for the conversion to extend the drive. On the next play, Gabbert lofted a pass downfield and WR Cecil Shorts got underneath it to haul in a 39-yard TD, giving Jacksonville a 23-20 lead following a 2-point conversion pass to Blackmon.

It was, at the time, a devastating blow to the Vikings because it appeared the game was over and the Vikings had lost yet another late lead, something that plagued the team last season. But the Vikings had a little magic left up their sleeve. QB Christian Ponder completed consecutive passes to WR Devin Aromashodu for 26 yards and TE Kyle Rudolph for 6 more, putting the Vikings on the Jacksonville 37 with just :04 to play.

Enter: Walsh. The somewhat controversial move the Vikings made to go with a rookie kicker this year paid off big-time. Walsh split the uprights on a 55-yard game-tying FG as time expired in regulation, sending the game into overtime and Mall of America Field into jubilation.

The Vikings won the toss, elected to receive, and began their overtime possession on the 25 after Percy Harvin returned the kickoff 30 yards; Harvin gave the Vikings a sensational performance on the day with 14 total touches (receiving, rushing, returning) for 192 yards. Peterson, who returned to action and started the game after coming back from tearing two knee ligaments last Christmas Eve, grabbed the proverbial bull by the horns in overtime and helped put the Vikings in position to win. He rushed for 10 yards on the first play of the series, hauled in a 3-yard reception on the second play, and then ripped off a 20-yard gain on the third play to put the Vikings inside Jaguars territory. Ponder found Aromashodu for 19 yards and a few plays later hit Toby Gerhart for 8 more, setting up Walsh to hit a 38-yarder that wound up being the game-winner.

Because of the NFL’s new overtime rules, though, that requires a team to score a TD to win the game on the first possession of overtime, Jacksonville had one last chance to pry a victory from the jaws of defeat. The Vikings defense jumped up, however, and sealed the win. Gabbert threw incomplete on 1st down, RB Maurice Jones-Drew ran for 8 yards on 2nd down, Harrison Smith deflected a pass on 3rd down and then Gabbert overthrew WR Laurent Robinson on 4th down, giving the Vikings their victory and throwing the Mall of America Field crowd into a frenzy.

Sunday’s season-opener was a roller-coaster affair for the Vikings, but it finished on a high thanks to some late-game clutch kicking from Walsh, a solid 2nd-half performance from Ponder, an incredible will-to-win resiliency by Peterson and opportunistic playmaking by the Vikings defense. The Vikings are off to a 1-0 start for the first time since 2009, and they’ll celebrate this victory on Sunday night before returning to Winter Park on Monday to review the victory and begin preparations for next week’s challenge on the road in Indianapolis.

Post-Game Notes
– Adrian Peterson finished the day with 84 yards and 2 rushing TDs on 17 carries. His 2-TD performance in a return from a serious knee injury last season was remarkable enough. Making it even more special, however, is the fact that Peterson broke the Vikings all-time rushing record, previously held by Robert Smith (6,818). Peterson is now at 6,836 career rushing yards.

– It may get lost in the shuffle of post-game reaction because he didn’t get in the end zone, but Percy Harvin was magnificent  for the Vikings. He produced 192 combined yards on 14 total touches, impacting the game as a receiver, rusher and returner. Harvin 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.

– Christian Ponder was unspectacular in the 1st half, going into the locker room at intermission with a stat line of 7 of 11 for 78 yards with no TDs or INTs. Not terrible, but not up to standard, either. Ponder finished very well, though, ending the day completing 20 of 27 passes for 270 yards with no TDs or INTs.

– We’ve got to give some love to the defense. There were breakdowns, particularly in the 1st half and then at the end of regulation when Gabbert hit Shorts for the go-ahead TD with just 20 seconds to play. But there were also times when the Vikings defense stepped up to the challenge. Jacksonville had it 1st and goal from the 5 on their first possession of the game, but the Vikings stood their ground and forced a FG. Down 9-0 late in the 1st half, the Vikings punted away to Jacksonville, giving the Jaguars a chance to blow the game open. The Vikings defense responded, forcing a 3-and-out and setting up the Vikings offense for a drive that ended in a TD right before halftime. Kevin Williams recovered a fumble on Jacksonville’s first drive of the 2nd half, setting up the Vikings for another TD drive on the ensuing possession. Jacksonville began a possession on the Minnesota 16 following a Ponder fumble, but they were forced into a FG try after going 3-and-out. After the Vikings hit a FG on their first possession in overtime, the Vikings defense came on the field and forced a 4-and-out, ending the game.

– Vikings outside LBs Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson cleaned up, combining for 23 total tackler, 1.0 sack and 2 passes defensed. Greenway led all defenders in the game with 13 tackles.

– Both Henderson and CB Chris Cook registered sacks on the afternoon.

There’s much, much more to cover in terms of post-game reaction, including quotes from Vikings players and Head Coach Leslie Frazier. We’ll also review the performance of some other Vikings rookies in the season opener, most notably 1st-rounders Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith. All of that and more will come later tonight and tomorrow, so stay tuned to vikings.com for more.


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Gerhart Poised For Increased Role In 2012

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 20, 2012 – 11:06 am

The big news in the Vikings RB stable this offseason was the rehab of Adrian Peterson from a knee injury. Though Peterson’s rehab has been executed to plan, conventional wisdom suggested that the Vikings would lean on backup Toby Gerhart a bit more in 2012 while Peterson worked his way back to form.

Gerhart is indeed poised for an increased role in the Vikings offense this season, but it’s becoming apparent that the increased role is more a function of Gerhart’s improvement than it is of Peterson’s recovery from injury. In two preseason games this year, Gerhart has 11 carries for 61 yards (5.5 yards per carry) and 1 reception for 19 yards. He looks the part of a starting-caliber NFL RB. Aside from that production, Gerhart has displayed his improvement in other areas as well.

“Toby has made strides in the pass protection realm of his game,” Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave explained. “He’s always been smart, but I think his technique is better this year. He’s playing with lower pad level. Running the ball, too, he seems to be more assertive. A little bit quicker to hit the hole.”

Gerhart occupying a prominent role in the offense may be new to Vikings fans, but to those who’ve followed his career, it’s commonplace. He was a standout player at Stanford over four seasons, and during his time there he was a unanimous All-American, won the 2009 Doak Walker Award (honors nation’s top college RB) and was a runner-up in Heisman voting in 2009 as well.

That kind of recognition is in the rear view mirror, now, and ahead of him is another shot at a productive season.


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Pair Of Rookies, Ponder Push Vikings To Victory Over Bills

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 17, 2012 – 10:53 pm

Vikings GM Rick Spielman and Head Coach Leslie Frazier are in the midst of reforming the Vikings roster into a young group of individuals who will play together for a long time. Such a strategy cuts both ways – a young team is prone to mistakes born from inexperience, and a young team is capable of jumping up suddenly and displaying what can happen when things begin to click.

If Friday night’s preseason game at Mall of America Field is an indication of what’s to come from this young Vikings team, the 2012 season and many campaigns after that should be full of excitement. Paced early by second-year QB Christian Ponder and third-year RB Toby Gerhart, late by rookie LB Audie Cole and all throughout the game by rookie K Blair Walsh, the Vikings logged a lopsided 36-14 victory over the AFC East’s Buffalo Bills.

The action started with Ponder and Co. taking first possession. And they didn’t mess around. Ponder found WR Percy Harvin for a 21-yard gain on the second play from scrimmage and then two plays later he found speedster Jerome Simpson for a 33-yard burst on a play that saw Simpson showcase his athleticism by hurdling a would-be tackler to extend the play. Gerhart ripped off a 16-yard a few moments later and before you knew it, Ponder floated a pass to FB Jerome Felton for a TD and early lead.

Walsh salvaged the next drive with a 22-yard FG to give the Vikings a 10-0 lead in the 2nd quarter. That concluded the action for Ponder and Gerhart. Ponder finished going 10 of 13 for 136 yards with 1 TD and 0 INTs, hitting 8 different receivers on the night. Gerhart’s line was 6 carries for 30 yards, bringing his preseason total to 11 carries for 61 yards.

As for Walsh, he missed his next attempt. It was a 49-yarder and sailed wide right. But that was his lone blemish on the evening. Walsh came on to hit FGs from 45 and 47 yards in the 2nd quarter and then he was good from 40 yards in the 3rd quarter and 30 yards in the 4th quarter. Walsh was also solid on his kickoffs during the game, with Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer asking Walsh to execute a variety of different approaches on those kickoffs. In total, Walsh was 5 of 6 on FG tries and 3 of 3 on PATs.

Walsh’s 4th-quarter FG from 30 yards pushed the Vikings lead to 22-14 midway through the final period. But any thoughts Buffalo had of mounting a late-game rally to steal a victory were quickly eliminated by another Vikings rookie. In back-to-back plays late in the 4th quarter, LB Audie Cole sealed the Vikings victory and took a huge step in sealing a roster spot for himself.

Cole intercepted a pass and returned it for a TD – twice – in the game’s final moments, giving the Vikings their winning 36-14 cushion. The first INT came on a 2nd and 10 play from the Buffalo 11-yardline. Former Vikings QB Tyler Thigpen dropped back and quickly threw a pass intended for WR Naaman Roosevelt, but Cole jumped the route to grab the INT and sprinted toward the goal line. On the ensuing Bills drive, Brad Smith replaced Thigpen at QB and Cole intercepted his first pass, another quick throw intended for Roosevelt. This time Cole sprinted to the end zone uncontested and was greeted by a throng of teammates in the back of the end zone.

The daily double INT-for-TD from Cole capped an exciting night at Mall of America Field that saw the Vikings play in front of their fans for the first time since last season and also log their first win of the preseason. The Vikings are now 1-1 this preseason, and next week they’ll remain at home to host the AFC West’s San Diego Chargers.


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Ponder, 1st-Team Offense Sharp vs. Bills

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 17, 2012 – 7:54 pm

Once the regular season begins, Vikings coaches will want to see the Vikings 1st-team offense this sharp for four quarters. On Friday night against the Buffalo Bills at Mall of America Field, though, a quarter and a half was enough.

After putting up 6 points in two drives a week ago against the San Francisco 49ers, starting QB Christian Ponder and Co. found the end zone once and settled for a FG another time against the Bills. Ponder was sharp in the outing, completing 10 of 13 passes for 136 yards with 1 TD and 0 INTs. The TD toss went to FB Jerome Felton on a 1st and goal from the 1-yardline. The scoring play to Felton capped an 8-play, 59-yard drive, the first of the game, and included a 21-yard gain to Percy Harvin and a 33-yard burst to WR Jerome Simpson in which Simpson hurdled a would-be tackler to extend the play.

The highlight-caliber play by Simpson energized the crowd and set up RB Toby Gerhart for a 16-yard rush two plays later that ultimately set up the Ponder-to-Felton score. Gerhart finished the night with 30 yards on 6 carries, bringing his two-game preseason total to an impressive 11 caries for 61 yards.

On the next drive, Ponder rallied the offense for 12 plays to get down to the Buffalo 4-yardline, but the drive stalled there after a pair of incompletions in the end zone (passes intended for TE Kyle Rudolph and Simpson). K Blair Walsh, who had another impressive night, came on to salvage the drive and give the Vikings a 10-0 lead late in the 1st quarter. Through halftime, Walsh was 2 of 3 on FGs, hitting from 45 and 47 yards and missing from 49; he also had a touchback and was 1 of 1 on PAT tries.

In all, it was a very good outing for the Vikings starters and an improvement on what was also a solid outing a week ago against the 49ers. The 1st-team offense has 4 preseason drives and has scored on each of them (1 TD, 3 FGs).


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