Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.
Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.
Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.
The situation: With the Vikings up 24-9 with 10:30 left in the third quarter, the Eagles attempted a play action pass to wide receiver DeSean Jackson at the Vikings 44-yard line.
The reason: The Eagles had to abandon the run with such a deficit and picked up 13 and 16 yards on pass plays on a drive that started at their own 20. They were looking for a home run play on first down.
The result: Cornerback Shaun Prater incepted quarterback Nick Foles’ pass and returned it 30 yards to the Vikings 35.
"If you had a camera on me this entire week, I’ve spent so much time watching film, stretch, watching more film," Prater said. "Just asking the coaches everything, being a little gnat and it showed."
How it happened:
The Vikings are in a Cover 3 look. Jackson (in red) is in motion pre-snap, which the linebackers adjust their alignment. Safety Jamarca Sanford creeps up to the line to contain a possible run or drop back in coverage.
It's a play action incorporating running back LeSean McCoy. The linebackers and Sanford react by dropping into their assignments. Prater (in yellow) is down the field covering wide receiver Riley Cooper on a post route, but Jackson (in red) is open.
Prater (in yellow) realizes there's help over the top with safety Harrison Smith (in blue), and breaks off to cover Jackson (in red), who heads upfield on his route.
"Usually, that’s a guy who has been playing a while and has been in that situation a number of times and makes that play," head coach Leslie Frazier said. "But his awareness and his acute alertness of what needed to happen was impressive to see. He made some other plays too that shows you he’s a very aware guy and very smart football player."
Foles throws it to Jackson right as Prater (in yellow) breaks off to cover Jackson. Defensive end Jared Allen brought pressure that forced the throw downfield.
Prater makes the interception and does a good job understanding where he's at on the sideline to get both feet in bounds and allow for a return.
"At the last second, I see 10 (Jackson) peel out," Prater said. "With the quarterback throwing it up high, it gave me time to make a play on the football."
The morning after a 48-30 win over the Eagles, we take a look at the Vikings’ snap distribution on offense and defense.
Offense: 75 snaps
QB Matt Cassel – 75 snaps (played 100% on offense)
QB Christian Ponder – DNP
Cassel finished with the fourth most passing yards (382) among quarterbacks on Sunday and the only one in the top seven to win. He went 26 of 35 with two touchdowns and an interception, finishing with a 116.6 passer rating. The Eagles defense was ranked 29th in total defense entering the game, but it was the only team in the NFL that didn’t allow over 21 points since Week 5.
That streak is now history.
RB Matt Asiata – 65 (87%)
FB Jerome Felton – 28 (37%)
RB Joe Banyard – 5 (7%)
The average wasn’t pretty (1.7), but Asiata scored his first three career touchdowns in his first career start. Asiata became the first player in a first career start to rush for three or more touchdowns since former Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper. He remarkably received 30 carries in the game for 51 yards.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
TE Rhett Ellison – 64 (85%)
WR Greg Jennings – 50 (67%)
WR Cordarrelle Patterson – 42 (56%)
WR Jerome Simpson – 36 (48%)
TE Chase Ford – 35 (47%)
WR Jarius Wright – 23 (31%)
WR Joe Webb – 17 (23%)
Jennings had a career-high 11 receptions for 163 yards and a touchdown. He had 13 targets, more than double the receiver with the second most targets (Patterson had six). Cassel has made Jennings worth every dollar the Vikings paid him in the offseason.
C Joe Berger – 75 (100%)
G Charlie Johnson – 75 (100%)
C John Sullivan – 75 (100%)
T Matt Kalil – 75 (100%)
T Phil Loadholt – 75 (100%)
T J’Marcus Webb – 7 (9%)
G Joe Baca – 3 (4%)
Berger filled in at guard for Brandon Fusco, and the offensive line did a good job protecting Cassel for most of the game. A good example was Cassel’s 57 yard touchdown to Jennings. The offensive line bought him enough time to hit Jennings in stride. Cassel was still sacked three times though.
Inactives: QB Josh Freeman, RB Adrian Peterson (foot), RB Toby Gerhart (hamstring), G Brandon Fusco (knee), TE John Carlson (concussion)
The Vikings scored 48 points without Peterson and Gerhart. That says enough about Cassel’s day.
Defense: 69 snaps
DE Jared Allen – 65 (94%)
DE Brian Robison – 58 (84%)
DE Everson Griffen – 42 (61%)
DT Kevin Williams – 37 (54%)
DT Sharrif Floyd – 32 (46%)
NT Letroy Guion – 22 (32%)
NT Fred Evans – 20 (29%)
DT Chase Baker – DNP
Allen and Robison finished with two sacks each and seem to mirror each other in that category down the stretch. They combined for six of the team’s 10 quarterback hits. Williams also had two quarterback hits.
The most impressive aspect of Sunday’s game was how the defense limited Eagles running back LeSean McCoy to eight carries for 38 yards. To put that in perfective, Asiata had 22 more carries than the league’s leading rusher.
LB Chad Greenway – 69 (100%)
LB Audie Cole – 67 (97%)
LB Erin Henderson – 11 (16%)
LB Marvin Mitchell – 1 (1%)
Henderson saw an increase in snaps, particularly short yardage downs, but the Vikings remained almost exclusively in the nickel. Cole led the unit with seven tackles and a quarterback hit. Greenway had five tackles.
CB Marcus Sherels – 69 (100%)
CB Shaun Prater – 69 (100%)
FS Harrison Smith – 61 (88%)
SS Robert Blanton – 59 (86%)
SS Jamarca Sanford – 47 (68%)
FS Andrew Sendejo – 30 (43%)
CB Robert Steeples – DNP
Smith didn’t start the game but that’d be hard to tell based on the amount of snaps he received. He was rotating with Sendejo, but Smith took over at safety in the second half. He finished tied with a team-high eight tackles with Blanton.
The cornerbacks had a good day without three players although Eagles quarterback Nick Foles finished with 428 yards. Prater got his first career NFL start and an interception against his former team. Sherels finished fourth on the team with six tackles.
Inactives: CB Xavier Rhodes (ankle), CB Chris Cook (knee)
The morning after the Vikings 23-20 overtime win over the Bears, we take a look at the snap distribution on offense and defense
Offense: 86 snaps
QB Matt Cassel – 61 snaps (played 71% on offense)
QB Christian Ponder – 25 (29%)
Ponder left the game due to concussion symptoms right before halftime, but the offense was more effective under Cassel, who’s responsible for all three wins this season.
Cassel went 20 of 33 for 243 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He finished with an 80.7 quarterback rating. Ponder was 3 of 8 for 40 yards.
RB Adrian Peterson – 78 (91%)
FB Jerome Felton – 38 (44%)
RB Toby Gerhart – 7 (8%)
It took the Vikings five possessions to take advantage of the Bears worst-ranked run defense in the NFL. But once they started, they relied heavily on the shoulders of Peterson, who had 35 carries for 211 yards (both season highs).
Peterson was healthy enough where the team didn’t use Gerhart as much compared to last week against the Packers where Peterson played 65 of the team’s 81 snaps (Gerhart spotted him on 14 plays).
Wide Receiver/Tight End
TE John Carlson – 78 (91%)
WR Greg Jennings – 50 (58%)
WR Cordarrelle Patterson – 48 (56%)
TE Rhett Ellison – 45 (52%)
WR Jerome Simpson – 40 (47%)
WR Jarius Wright – 31 (36%)
TE Chase Ford – 10 (12%)
WR Joe Webb – 5 (6%)
Something about Cassel brings out the best in Jennings. He caught his third touchdown this season, all thrown by Cassel, and led the team with seven receptions for 78 yards. Jennings had just one catch for two yards with Ponder. Carlson also had a solid game with four receptions for 61 yards.
Patterson started over Simpson for the third straight week and received a season-high 48 snaps. He’s had over 40 reps in three straight games, but the rookie finished with one catch for four yards. Patterson did, however, score on a 33-yard run in the second quarter
G Charlie Johnson – 86 (100%)
C John Sullivan – 86 (100%)
T Phil Loadholt – 86 (100%)
G Brandon Fusco – 86 (100%)
T Matt Kalil – 86 (100%)
As it’s been for most of the season, the starting unit played the entire game against the Bears. Cassel and Ponder were sacked a combined five times in the game (Bears defensive end Julius Peppers had 2.5 sacks), but the Vikings ran for 283 yards.
Defense: 66 snaps
DE Jared Allen – 58 (88%)
DE Brian Robison – 56 (85%)
DT Kevin Williams – 45 (68%)
DE Everson Griffen – 33 (50%)
NT Letroy Guion – 29 (44%)
NT Fred Evans – 22 (33%)
DT Sharrif Floyd – 21 (32%)
The front line had three of the team’s four sacks (Allen, Robison and Floyd) and hurried Bears quarterback Josh McCown six times.
Guion had five fewer snaps than he did in his return last week against the Packers (34). Evans, who had 17 reps last week, played more as a result.
LB Audie Cole – 66 (100%)
LB Chad Greenway – 64 (97%)
LB Marvin Mitchell – 20 (30%)
LB Larry Dean – 2 (3%)
Although he was suited up on the sideline, linebacker Erin Henderson did not play for a second consecutive game. He missed last week's game due a personal issue, which was revealed Henderson was arrested for an alleged DWI on Nov. 19.
Cole replaced Henderson last week in his first career start and has played the entire game in consecutive weeks. He had nine tackles and a pass deflection.
Greenway left the game during the overtime session due to a wrist injury he’s played through for over a month, but he only missed two plays. He tied for a team-high 10 tackles, three for loss, and a sack.
FS Andrew Sendejo – 66 (100%)
CB Xavier Rhodes – 66 (100%)
SS Jamarca Sanford – 66 (100%)
SS Robert Blanton – 45 (68%)
CB Chris Cook – 43 (65%)
CB Marcus Sherels – 24 (36%)
Rhodes put together another good game with six tackles, one for loss, and a nice pass deflection in the end zone against Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall.
Cook was ejected for making contact with an official after allowing a 46-yard touchdown to wide receiver Alshon Jeffery in the third quarter. It left a thin unit to rely on Sherels, who typically plays a spot corner, to play opposite of Rhodes and Blanton as the nickel corner.
Jeffery broke the Bears’ franchise record with 249 receiving yards. He also had 12 receptions and two touchdowns, both against Cook.
Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said he gets nostalgic with 11-year veteran defensive tackle Kevin Williams on how the NFL used to be when they started their careers.
Allen, in his 10th season in the league, said "hazing" has changed significantly since he started his career with the Chiefs in 2004 and feels the rite of passage message in having veterans establish the atmosphere in the locker room has been lost to a degree.
"From a player’s standpoint, I think some of the younger guys come in and there’s a sense of entitlement, and you lose that work ethic, you lose that true veteran-led locker room sometimes," Allen said. "You got to know who you’re dealing with. You can’t treat everyone the same. You can’t treat every rookie the same. Some guys are more sensitive than others, but it’s a sign of respect."
Allen said he knows Dolphins guard Richie Incognito, who has been suspended by the team as the NFL reviews a harassment complaint from tackle Jonathan Martin, but he doesn't know the details of the situation in Miami. He said it's a terrible situation for Martin, Incognito and the team that's down two offensive linemen.
"Richie has a good heart, he really does," Allen said. "I know he's catching some heat right now, but from what I know of Richie, we've always had a good relationship. He's always been cool with my family. We have mutual friends, so it's a bad deal."
Reports on the hazing issues in Miami mention an instance where the rookies were stuck paying a $30,000 team dinner. Allen recalled during his rookie year driving 20 miles to pick up Popeyes chicken before every team flight with the Chiefs and has heard of first-round picks picking up $50,000-$60,000 tabs at the "rookie dinners" before the NFL implemented a rookie wage scale.
“It just depends on when you came in," Allen said. "Reasonable back in the day? Yeah. I mean, I’ve heard of worse. I’ve heard of less. It depends. That’s usually how it is. But usually it’s a rite of passage you go through, so as a rookie from a football standpoint you go through stuff and that’s what kind of brings you together as a team."
Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier has a policy against hazing with the players, and players have to tread lightly with a rookie.
"We do little things like, ‘Go get me coffee,’" Allen said. "Nothing too crazy, but I appreciate it going through that because I had the respect of the vets. Then when it’s your turn, you don’t feel so bad giving it to someone else."
LONDON -- Here's what we're seeing at halftime as the Vikings lead the Steelers 20-10 at Wembley Stadium:
The Good: Blair Walsh making a 54-yard field goal on the opening drive, salvaging a drive in which Matt Cassel threw incomplete on his final three passes, and extening his streak of 50-yard makes to start a career to 12. Walsh added a 37-yarder in the closing minute of the half. ... Greg Jennings making two defenders miss, splitting Pittsburgh's secondary and then outrunning two DBs, including Troy Polamalu for a 70-yard touchdown run, his seventh career 70-yard reception. ... Adrian Peterson's 60-yard touchdown run, which came with Jerome Felton leading him, and ended a streak of four consecutive three-and-outs by the two teams. ... Two possessions, 10 points to open a "noon" "home" game played at 6 p.m. 4,000 miles from the Metrodome. ... Jared Allen spanking left tackle Mike Adams. Allen has two solo sacks, one that was announced as half a sack with Sharrif Floyd. And he forced a holding call on Adams.
The Bad: Marcus Sherels negating a 67-yard punt return deep into Steelers territory by making a weak fair-catch signal. ... Josh Robinson having a poor first half, including giving up a 36-yard completion to Emmanuel Sanders to set up Pittsburgh's first touchdown. ... Giving up an eight-yard touchdown run to rookie Le'Veon Bell on an easy run around right end. The Steelers came in averaging 3.0 yards per carry, 30th in the NFL. This, however, is Bell's NFL debut after spraining a foot in the preseason.
The Ugly: Giving up two third-and-long situations on the Steelers' field goal drive late in the second quarter. Robinson gave up a 14-yarder to Antonio Brown on third-and-11. But the real killer was a 28-yard pass to Heath Miller. Safety Harrison Smith made that one much worse with a helmet-to-helmet hit that tacked on 15 more yards.
What we learned in the first half: Matt Cassel doesn't look much different than Christian Ponder. He's 0-for-2 on balls thrown farther than 20 yards from the line of scrimmage. Both were bad overthrows of Jerome Simpson. One should have been intercepted in the end zone, but Ike Taylor dropped it. Cassel also misfired on many other passes. and is 6 of 15 for 128 yards, one TD and no turnovers. But at least it appears Cassel's luck is better. He was stripped of the ball while scrambling. The ball shot forward and was recovered by Simpson for a 10-yard gain. The 70-yard TD to Jennings was a pass that traveled only seven yards.
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