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 Vikings have a 7-0 lead at halftime over the Lions in the finale game at the Metrodome. The Vikings have outgained the Lions 235-56
The good: Cordarrelle Patterson’s only season in the Metrodome has created for some memorable plays. The latest from the wide receiver: a 50-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. It’s the longest touchdown run for a wide receiver in franchise history.
It’s Patterson’s third rushing touchdown this season, breaking Percy Harvin’s single-season record for a wide receiver.
Defensive end Jared Allen also recorded a sack in the first half to give him 10.5 this season. He’s recorded double digit sack totals for seven straight seasons now and sits alone for 13th all-time with 127.5 sacks.
The bad: Allen also took a snap on offense and missed a shot at a touchdown. Everyone knew Allen would likely get the ball once he was announced as an eligible receiver, but he was still wide open on the play action pass. Quarterback Matt Cassel rolled out of the pocket and missed Allen badly, nailing a photographer behind the end zone. Cassel threw an interception two plays later.
The ugly: While the Metrodome is closing, this game has the feel of two teams eliminated from the playoffs with coaches on the hot seat. Some may say it’s a fitting way to say goodbye, but it surely isn’t pretty to watch.
A good example: the Lions had the fourth best run defense in the NFL entering this game. Running back Matt Asiata, who started for the injured Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart, has nine carries for 57 yards.
Need another one? Both teams have punted nine times.
Vikings defense end Jared Allen could play his final game in purple on Sunday, but he’s more focused in taking part of the final game at the Metrodome at the moment.
“I'm trying to go out the way I want in this Metrodome and have this last game be something special,” Allen said. “Kevin [Williams] and I talked about it earlier this week, saying we just want to let loose and make it a game to remember, from a win standpoint, from our performances, the crowd, the energy level, all of that.”
Allen will be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason and did spend time discussing the uncertainty around his career. The 10th year veteran wants to play again next year, but the free agency process will be less stressful.
“When you’re younger you’re trying to figure out all this craziness, and when you look back you realize there’s a plan and it’s better than any kind I could’ve hatched,” Allen said. “So I’m just enjoying the ride, honestly. If this ends up being my last game here, then it’s been one of the greatest rides I’ve ever been on. It’s been a great six years.”
Allen has yet to play in a Super Bowl however, and he said that will play a big factor into what occurs in the offseason. He’s had four postseason appearances in his career, reaching the conference championship game once with the Vikings in 2009.
“Heck, everybody would love to retire like Ray [Lewis] and [Michael] Strahan, right?” Allen said. “Win a Super Bowl and call it quits. So that’ll be on my mind, and that’ll definitely be a place when you get older, like I said, the later you get in your career that becomes more the main focus of how do you get to a championship.”
Here's the injury update from both teams:
Vikings: LB Audie Cole (ankle), RB Toby Gerhart (hamstring), DT Letroy Guion (quadriceps) and CB Shaun Prater (ankle) and G Charlie Johnson (not injury related) did not practice Thursday. RB Adrian Peterson (groin/foot), RB Matt Asiata (ankle), LB Larry Dean (knee), DT Fred Evans (knee), CB Chris Cook (knee), S Harrison Smith (foot/groin) and CB Xavier Rhodes (ankle) were limited participants. FB Jerome Felton (knee), G Brandon Fusco (knee), WR Cordarrelle Patterson (chest) and CB Marcus Sherels (shoulder) were full participants.
Lions: TE Dorin Dickerson (concussion) and TE Brandon Pettigrew (ankle) went on injured reserve. CB Bill Bentley (concussion), S Louis Delmas (knee), WR Calvin Johnson (knee), LB DeAndre Levy (foot), S John Wendling (ankle), CB Chris Houston (toe), G Dylan Gandy (illness) and T LaAdrian Waddle (ankle) did not practice. S Louis Delmas, RB Joique Bell (knee), CB Jonte Green (shoulder), DE Israel Idonije (neck) and CB Darius Slay (knee) were limited participants.
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.
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