Chip Scoggins is a Star Tribune sports columnist. He has temporarily returned to cover the Minnesota Vikings. He had the beat from 2008-2011 after covering college football for five years. Chip has been with the Star Tribune since January 2000. He can be followed on twitter at @chipscoggins.Find Chip on Facebook.
Mark Craig has covered football and the NFL the past 20 years, including the Browns from 1991-95 and the Vikings and the NFL since 2003. Since 2008, Craig has served as one of the 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. He can be followed on Twitter at @markcraignfl.
Vikings running backs Adrian Peterson (groin/foot) and Toby Gerhart (hamstring) were two of six players that did not participate in Wednesday’s practice.
Guard Brandon Fusco (knee) and cornerback Xavier Rhodes (ankle) did not practice, though Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier said they’re day-to-day. Tight end John Carlson (concussion) has not passed the NFL concussion protocol.
Cornerback Josh Robinson (chest) isn’t expected to practice this week as he recovers from a fractured sternum. He tried to return this week after starting workouts and conditioning last week, but Robinson wasn’t ready. He had a CT scan on Friday that showed no setbacks however.
Linebacker Larry Dean (knee) was limited.
For the Eagles, linebacker Najee Goode (hamstring) was the only player that didn’t participate in practice. Safety Earl Wolff (knee) was limited.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said injured running backs Adrian Peterson (foot sprain) and Toby Gerhart (hamstring) will not practice today and probably won't practice until Friday, if at all. He also said he's more hopeful that Gerhart will be able to practice on Friday than Peterson.
Frazier said Peterson already has assured him that he'll be ready to play, but added that the team will "err on the side of caution," keeping in mind Peterson's long-term value and the fact that the team is mathematically eliminated from the playoff picture at 3-9-1. Frazier also said Peterson would have to practice on Friday before the team would play him in the game on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Frazier officially announced Matt Cassel as the starting quarterback for Sunday's game against the Eagles at Mall of America Field. It will be Cassel's fourth start of the season and second straight start. It will be the first time he's started after losing a start the previous week. But his turnover-free effort in the wild 29-26 loss at Baltimore on Sunday was enough to earn a second straight starting opportunity. Cassel is 1-2 as a starter, but did play the second half of the comeback win over the Bears two weeks ago.
Christian Ponder, who has been cleared from the concussion that sidelined him last week, will serve as the backup. Josh Freeman will be the No. 3 QB.
In other news, tight end John Carlson still has not passed the concussion protocol and cannot practice until he does.
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes (ankle) and guard Brandon Fusco (knee) are day-to-day, Frazier said.
Here is the updated practice/injury report:
Vikings: TE John Carlson (concussion), RB Adrian Peterson (foot), RB Toby Gerhart (hamstring), G Brandon Fusco (knee), CB Xavier Rhodes (ankle) and CB Josh Robinson (chest) did not practice. LB Larry Dean (knee) was limited. LB Chad Greenway (wrist) was a full participant.
Eagles: LB Najee Goode (hamstring) did not practice. S Earl Wolff (knee) was limited. CB Brandon Boykin (hip) was a full participant.
The situation: Up 19-15 with 1:27 left against the Ravens, the Vikings attempted to kick away from Jacoby Jones with a short kick (also known as a mortar kick).
The reason: The Vikings wanted to avoid a similar situation last week when they kicked to Devin Hester, who was contained all game but returned a kick to midfield with 20 seconds left in a tie game.
The kickoff cover unit did a good job bottling Jones all game, but Frazier and special teams coach Mike Priefer didn’t want to risk it again.
“So rather than have another very good returner, Jacoby Jones, a guy who's scored several touchdowns on returns, return the ball for a touchdown, we wanted to make sure we put it in someone else's hands, let someone else catch the ball, let's go down and cover it, similar to what we did with Hester,” Frazier said.
The result: Jones fielded the mortar kick and returned it 77 yards to give the Ravens a 22-19 lead with 1:16 left.
How it happened:
Jones (circled in yellow) and the Ravens' kickoff return unit (emphasis on the four circled in red) expect a mortar kick the entire time before Blair Walsh even kicks it and begin moving into place. The Vikings attempted the same kick to start overtime to Hester.
Jones begins the play from the end zone but by the time Walsh kicks the ball, he's already at the eight-yard line and still running.
Jones slows down to field the ball at the 23-yard line and his blockers are in place. The Vikings (in blue) only have five guys on that side compared to the six Ravens blockers (in red), and you can see the start of the seam Jones runs through between his blockers.
That small seam turns into a runway for Jones and his lead blocker, fullback Kyle Juszczyk. The Vikings can't break out of their blocks, and Juszczyk helps contain the right side so Jones can break off down the sideline.
Which leaves it all up to the kicker, a returner's dream knowing it's usually the last man to beat. Walsh's poor attempt to push Jones out of bounds becomes the last line of defense for the Vikings. Jones maintains his balance and stays inbounds (running on his own sideline, we should add, so there isn't an opposing coach in his way). Cornerback Shaun Prater tries to catch Jones from behind, but he's at least five yards behind Jones the entire way.
Reaction: “And lo and behold, Jacoby comes up, catches it, and scores,” Frazier said. “So, tough one. We were trying to keep the ball away from him, let someone else have a chance to field it and take some time off the clock. That didn't happen."
It's easy to see it was a bad decision after Jones blows past the kick cover unit. The decision to try and kick away from Jones was a smart idea, but the Ravens had film from the previous week of the same kick and seemed well prepared for the situation.
The Vikings jumped back into the top five with their loss to the Ravens, but their odds at the top overall keep continue to decrease.
They have a 3.1 percent chance of landing the top overall selection, down from 4.3 last week, according to Football Outsiders.
The Texans have by far the best odds to grab the top pick at 66.5 percent. They've lost 11 straight. The Redskins are second with 14.9 percent, which the pick will be sent to the Rams. The Falcons are third with a 10.8 percent chance at the top pick at the moment.
The Vikings have the fifth best chance at a top three pick at the moment at 34.3 percent. With Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota returning to school, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will likely be the only quarterback taken within the top five picks. Out of the three teams ahead of the Vikings at the moment, the Texans have a huge need at quarterback.
ESPN's Scouts Inc. has Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles ranked 14th and the second best quarterback prospect, followed by Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel at 20th.
Only five months till the NFL Draft...
Every Tuesday morning, we take a look at where the Vikings would pick in the 2014 NFL Draft if the season ended today.
Note: The first tiebreaker is strength of schedule where the team with the worst strength of schedule percentage wins the tiebreaker and gets a better pick. Strength of schedule is based off the win percentage of a team’s opponents, so there’s two ways to calculate it during the season. One would be to factor in a team’s entire 16-game schedule, or the other method would be to tally the records of games already played (the method used in this blog). At the end of the year, both methods will result in the same SOS percentage.
The Vikings suffered a brutal 29-26 loss to the Ravens on Sunday, but their draft selection did improve over the weekend.
With wins from the Jaguars and Bucs, the Vikings jumped two spots and back into the top five with three games remaining. Here’s how the draft order looks right now (records and strength of schedule, if necessary, in parentheses):
1. Texans (2-11)
2. Rams [via Redskins] (3-10) (.544)
3. Falcons (3-10) (.559)
4. Vikings (3-9-1)
5. Raiders (4-9) (.473)
(Raiders hold strength of schedule tiebreaker over the Jaguars, Bucs, Browns and Bills, who are all 4-9, at the moment)
There’s more separation now within the top five with the Texans remarkably losing 11 straight. After that, there’s two 3-10 teams, which could’ve been the Vikings’ record if they lost to the Packers in Week 12. So here’s our weekly hypothetical look at where the team would pick if they didn’t tie:
1. Texans (2-11)
2. Vikings (3-10) (.508)
3. Rams [via Redskins] (3-10) (.544)
4. Falcons (3-10) (.559)
5. Raiders (4-9)
The Vikings would have the second pick in the draft at the moment in this situation. The Raiders are the only team in the top five with a worse strength of schedule percentage, but it won’t matter for the Vikings unless another bottom feeding team gets a rare tie in the final three games.
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