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.
And you thought Blair Walsh and Randy Moss didn't have anything in common ...
Multiple winners of an NFC player of the week award:
This is the time of year when a lot of people in NFL circles talk about the "rookie wall" and how those first-year guys stop producing because their bodies are so used to the football season being over or in pre-bowl mode by now.
"Hitting the wall is something I think most rookies to go through," Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. "I think that is a real phenomena in terms of guys getting tired or disinterested."
The Vikings, however, are coming off a critical victory in which a pair of rookies helped lead the way. Safety Harrison Smith returned an interception 56 yards for a touchdown, while cornerback Josh Robinson returned another one 44 yards to set up a 5-yard touchdown drive in a 21-14 win over the Bears.
"Both of those guys are coming along very well," Williams said. "Harrison has been consistent from Day 1 and has never played like a rookie. And Josh is starting to play consistent football with the number of reps that he's getting. We're pleased that both guys are making plays and not hurting you. Most rookies hurt you when they play and ours are not. They're actually helping us and contributing to us winning football games."
Williams said he preaches keeping a set routine before and after practice to help break through the rookie wall. One thing he's not willing to do is give them time off in practice, similar to what he does for the veterans over 30.
"You have to pay your dues to get that time off," Williams said.
Same old Chris
Cornerback Chris Cook, who is on injured reserve but can return for next week's game at Houston, is in his second week of practice since breaking his right arm against Tampa Bay on Oct. 25.
"He looked good [on Wednesday]," Williams said. "He put his hands on some balls. He looked like the same old Chris that we saw when he got hurt. I think he's come along well."
As the Vikings prepare for Sunday’s Week 15 game with St. Louis at the Edward Jones Dome, here’s a look at a handful of eye-opening figures and facts.
Draft picks, in total, acquired by St. Louis this spring in return for the No. 2 selection in April’s draft. It started with a blockbuster trade with Washington, which moved up four slots to No. 2. The Redskins, of course, used that second pick on star quarterback Robert Griffin III. In return, the Rams received first round picks in 2012, ’13 and ’14 and a second-round pick (No. 39) this year as well. With the 2012 picks acquired from Washington, St. Louis traded the No. 6 selection to Dallas for the 14th and 45th picks. The Rams drafted defensive tackle Michael Brockers at 14, then traded the 45th pick for Chicago’s No. 50 and No. 150 selections. With the 39th pick, the Rams took cornerback Janoris Jenkins. At 50, they selected running back Isaiah Pead. And with the 150th pick, they grabbed guard Rokevious Watkins.
Combined wins by the Vikings and Rams this season, through Week 14. The two teams will face each other Sunday afternoon at the Edward Jones Dome, both coming off impressive wins. The Vikings used Peterson’s big day plus two pivotal interceptions by rookies Josh Robinson and Harrison Smith to upset Chicago 21-14. St. Louis rallied to beat Buffalo 15-12 on a last-minute Sam Bradford to Brandon Gibson touchdown pass
Combined wins by the Vikings and Rams in 2011. The Rams finished 2-14 while the Vikings skidded to a 3-13 season.
Games this season in which Adrian Peterson has rushed for more than 150 yards. Peterson had 154 yards in Sunday’s 21-14 win over the Bears. Add that to a 2012 resume that also includes a 210-yard outing at Green Bay, 182 at Seattle, 171 versus Detroit and 153 against Tampa Bay.
Games this season in which Christian Ponder has thrown for fewer than 150 yards. On Sunday, he was 11-for-17 for 91 yards and an interception. Add that to a 2012 resume that also includes a 58-yard effort against Arizona, 63 yards at Seattle, 111 yards at Detroit and 119 yards at Green Bay.
Games this season in which the Vikings haven’t trailed. They took the lead for good Sunday just 3:07 into the game when Adrian Peterson scored on a 1-yard run to cap an 80-yard touchdown march. The Vikings also have victories this season over San Francisco, Detroit (twice), Tennessee and Arizona in which they never trailed. On the season, the Vikings are 6-1 when leading after the first quarter.
Yards per game allowed by the Rams this season, fourth best in the NFL. Only the 49ers (275.5), Bears (301.7) and Seahawks (314.2). St. Louis is getting significant contributions throughout their defense. Ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long have combined for 17 sacks. Linebacker James Laurinaitis has a team-best 119 tackles. And cornerbacks Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins have six interceptions, including three returned for touchdowns.
Year the Vikings last visited St. Louis. During a magical season, the Vikings delivered their second most decisive victory of the year. The 38-10 win saw Adrian Peterson score on runs of 5 and 7 yards while defensive end Jared Allen contributed a 52-yard fumble recovery touchdown.
As the Vikings prepare for Sunday’s Week 14 game with Chicago at Mall of America Field, here’s a look at a handful of eye-opening figures and facts.
Rushing yards by Adrian Peterson over the past six games. Peterson has averaged 7.8 yards per carry over that span. For perspective, only eight other NFL running backs have run for 947 yards all season.
Rushing yards needed by Peterson over the final four games for him to become the seventh back in NFL history to reach 2,000. Peterson would need to average 138.5 yards per contest to achieve that milestone. He’s averaging 120.5 yards per game for the season and 157.8 over the past six games.
Catches by Vikings receivers in the first 56 minutes of Sunday’s loss in Green Bay. Jerome Simpson contributed two catches for 25 yards in the final 4 minutes and rookie Jarius Wright had a 13-yard grab on the game’s final play. That allowed the Vikings to avoid becoming the first team since the Houston Texans in Week 14 of 2002 to go an entire game without a completion to a receiver. (Houston lost to Pittsburgh 24-6 with David Carr completing only three passes all day, all to tight end Billy Miller).
Catches this season by seven Vikings players who were either signed as free agents in the offseason or drafted in April. That includes Jerome Simpson (14 grabs for 163 yards), John Carlson (five for 26), Devin Aromashodu (11-182), Jerome Felton (2-18) and Matt Asiata (1-2). Also add in rookies Jarius Wright (11-127) and Rhett Ellison (5-60).
Catches this season by Bears receiver Brandon Marshall, who seems well on his way to a return trip to Honolulu for the Pro Bowl. Marshall has had six consecutive seasons with 1,000 yards. His 1,182 yards this season rank second in the NFL, behind only Calvin Johnson (1,429).
Year in which the Bears last had a player record 100 catches. That was Marty Booker, who had a franchise-record 100 catches for 1,071 yards in ’01, doing most of his damage with Jim Miller as his quarterback. Marshall should reach the 100-catch milestone for the fourth time in his career, perhaps as early as Sunday. He had 102 catches in 2007 and 104 in 2008 with Cutler as his quarterback in Denver. He also had 101 grabs in 2009 with Kyle Orton throwing his way.
Passing yards per game, combined, by the Vikings and Bears this season. The Vikings are averaging 180.6 yards per game, dead last in the NFL. Chicago is only one slot up, averaging 181.2 yards per game.
Games this season in which Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder has thrown for more than 250 yards. He had 270 yards against Jacksonville (win), 258 against Tennessee (win), 352 at Washington (loss) and 251 versus Tampa Bay (loss). Ponder also has four games this season in which he’s thrown for fewer than 120 yards, including Sunday’s 12-for-25, 119-yard effort in Green Bay.
Career games, out of 22 starts, in which Ponder has had multiple turnovers. The Vikings are 2-7 in those contests.
As the Vikings prepare for Sunday’s game with Washington at FedEx Field, we asked Mike Jones, the Redskins beat writer for the Washington Post, to give us his up-close-and-personal scouting report. Here are four things you need to know …
1.Believe the hype. Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III is quickly emerging as a big-time difference maker.
Jones points first to Griffin’s 69.1 completion percentage through five games, tops in the NFL. Then there’s the fact that the rookie quarterback has thrown only one interception in 139 pass attempts.
Indeed, the intelligence NFL folks raved about before the draft is being shown.
“The way he’s been able to read defenses and take care of the ball has been impressive,” Jones said. “We knew of his great athleticism and knew he’d be able to make plays with his legs. But there was a question on whether he’d be dangerous right away with his arm. Now he’s come out and hasn’t been limited in the passing game at all.”
Griffin reached 1,000 yards passing in his fourth NFL start, a feat only two other rookies in league history have accomplished. He was also named the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Month in September.
2.That RG3 charm that you’ve heard so much about over the last year has been well received in Washington.
It’s not just Griffin’s magnetic smile and natural charisma. He’s also shown a superb work ethic and a sincere willingness to learn. That has only heightened the respect he’s gained from the Redskins.
“His teammates have embraced him,” Jones said. “They all will tell you that even though this kid has become a star overnight, he doesn’t act like it. He has a laid-back but confident manner. And that’s had guys rallying behind him.”
The biggest fear with Griffin is that his ability to make plays on the run will expose him to too many brutal hits. That was evidenced against Atlanta on Sunday when a kill shot from Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon forced Griffin out of the game with a concussion.
A week earlier, the Bengals sacked Griffin six times and delivered countless big hits as Griffin ran a flurry of option plays as well.
Said Jones: “The thing he’s still learning is that in college, you could carry out some of those fakes and still make that option pitch and be OK. Well, in the NFL, defenders are so much faster, they’re going to get to you sooner. So I think he’s learning to not sell those fakes quite as hard.”
The beating Griffin has taken has also maybe put the Redskins coaching staff on higher alert.
“Since then they seem to have gone to a much more vanilla approach,” Jones said, “much more in line with the traditional Mike Shanahan-Kyle Shanahan offense. So you can guess that they’re trying to protect him a little bit more.”
3.Running back Alfred Morris has had a surprise breakout as a rookie.
In April, 11 running backs were drafted before Morris was taken in the sixth round with the No. 173 overall pick. Even the reporters in Washington saw an uphill battle for the power back out of Florida Atlantic to make the roster considering the Redskins had Tim Hightower, Roy Helu and Evan Royster in the mix.
“We were thinking Morris was a practice squad guy,” Jones said.
Then the preseason arrived. Hightower was slow in recovering from the torn ACL he suffered last October and was eventually released.
Helu was bothered by toe and Achilles tendon injuries. (He’s now on injured reserve.) And Royster developed knee soreness that kept him out for spurts.
So an opening was there and Morris pounced to win the starting job.
“He runs hard. He’s incredibly physical. He doesn’t dance around,” Jones said. “He just hits the hole and drives his legs. This is a guy who squats 645 pounds. He has a ton of power and he just doesn’t mess around.”
RG3 + Morris = jackpot.
“That’s two huge building blocks for an offense,” Jones said.
4.The Redskins defense has been hindered greatly by injuries.
Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Orakpo was lost for the season in Week 2 with a torn pectoral muscle. Defensive end Adam Carriker also suffered a season-ending injury in that game, tearing the quad tendon in his right leg.
Brandon Merriweather, who was supposed to be the starter at strong safety, injured his left knee in the preseason and has yet to return. And fellow safety Tanard Jackson has been sidelined by a suspension related to his latest violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
No wonder the Redskins have had such difficulty defending the pass.
They’ve allowed an average of 328.6 passing yards per game and 13 touchdowns. Plus they have only eight sacks.
Defensive linemen Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield have stabilized the defense against the run. But with Orakpo out, Rob Jackson and Chris Wilson haven’t supplied nearly the same pass rush from the edge.
And Ryan Kerrigan has drawn added attention on the other side of Washington’s 3-4 defense.
“Kerrigan was the Robin to Orakpo’s Batman,” Jones said. “But now he’s having to step up and be the leading pass rusher. And that means he’s the one drawing the double-teams now.”
Oh, and that familiar face on the back end of the Washington defense? That’s nine-year vet Madieu Williams, who spent three seasons with the Vikings (2008-10) but has been just OK for Washington.
"He’s a very smart guy,” Jones said. “But he’s still limited in pass coverage and gets beat on double moves and things like that too often.”
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