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.
Adrian Peterson’s quest for the NFL rushing record has taken center stage. But there is another pretty good running back to watch in this weekend’s Vikings game: Arian Foster.
Entering this week’s games Peterson has a league-best 1,812 rushing yards, and is within Eric Dickerson’s NFL-record 2,105. But Foster, who first came to the Texans as an undrafted free agent, has put up some strong numbers, too.
Foster is fourth in the league with 1,313 yards. Now, to show just how much Peterson has lapped the field this season, those 1,313 are precisely the same number Peterson has had since Week 7.
Still, Foster’s numbers are impressive. His 1,493 yards from scrimmage is fifth in the league – Peterson’s 2,023 is No. 1 – and if Foster scores a TD this week he will become the sixth player in NFL history to score 50 TDs in his first 50 NFL games.
“The scheme they run really fits what he does well,” Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway said of Foster. "He’s really patient, good at finding cut-back lanes. They throw the ball well out of the play-action game and bootleg game, and that serves Foster well in the run game as well.”
The Vikings have seen their share of good running backs this season, going up against five of the top 10 NFL rushers this season in Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch (second), Washington’s Alfred Morris (third), Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin (fifth), Tennessee’s Chris Johnson (seventh) and Frank Gore of San Francisco (ninth). Lynch ran for 124 yards, Morris had 57, Martin 135, Johnson 24 and Gore 63.
And now they get Foster.
Houston coach Gary Kubiak said he saw some similarities between Foster and Peterson.
“The thing about Adrian is that he has the home run speed,” Kubiak said. “Arian is one of those guys where it seems, the more he carries it, the stronger he gets. These are two guys who, the more they touch it, the more difficult it is to tackle them. Just two great players.”
(Almost) no comment
Christian Ponder’s marriage was not something many Vikings players wanted to discuss in the locker room.
Some, like center John Sullivan and guard Brandon Fusco, simply changed the subject.
“My focus right now is just going and grabbing some lunch and relaxing before practice,” safety Mistral Raymond said. “That should be dealt with somewhere else.”
Fullback Raymond Felton said he heard about it in the media like everybody else. Reaction? “I congratulated him,” Felton said. “Several people have congratulated him. So, obviously, whatever makes him happy we want that for him. It was a big day for him, and we’re happy for him.”
Of course, if anyone was going to have a little fun about the situation, it was punter Chris Kluwe, who wondered openly where he might find a gift registry. As for the present he planned on buying?
“Maybe a tea cozy,” he said.
Wins, not records
After winning NFC special teams player of the week honors for the second time this season, Vikings kicker Blair Walsh talked about winning, not records.
Specifically when he was asked whether he thought about making the Pro Bowl in this, his rookie season. “Yeah, it would be awesome, but that’s not my main goal right now.”
Walsh hit all five of his field goals last week, three in the 50-yards-plus range. He is now 8-for-8 from that distance, which ties him with Morten Andersen and Jason Hanson for most field goals of 50 or more yards in a season. He is one away from holding that record alone.
“I’m just wishing we win,” Walsh said. “I don’t’ care about the records. My whole deal with the records is that they’re meant to be broken. It would be nice to have, but I’d rather win.”
Walsh is 29-for-32 on field goals this season and is fourth in the NFC in scoring among kickers. He said the snap and hold has been perfect for every attempt this season, and that his three misses were entirely his fault.
So the question is, in a dome, in ideal circumstances, what does he think his limit is? “I think 65 (yards) and in I can at least give it a realistic shot,” he said.
Doing his part
Felton said he, along with the linemen and the rest of the team, are pulling for Peterson to break Dickerson’s record. But will he feel he earned a part of that record should it happen?
“A little bit,” he said. “I’ll be able to tell my grandkids about it. So, obviously, I think it’s important for our whole team. And the most important thing is getting wins. But when Adrian is successful that helps our team. That’s what we’re focused on.”
Meanwhile, it appears the work Felton has done has probably put to rest the question of whether Peterson prefers a fullback or running out of one-back sets. Felton said he’d seen a stat that indicated the Vikings gain better than 7 yards per rush with a fullback and 3-plus yards out of one-back sets.
The word is out: Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder is now a married man.
Signed, sealed, delivered.
A day after the Vikings scored a decisive 36-22 win in St. Louis, Ponder used part of his “Victory Monday” to venture to a courthouse in Hudson, Wisc., where he tied the knot with ESPN reporter Samantha Steele.
Ponder’s hope in taking the nuptials into Wisconsin?
“We tried to limit the attention on us,” he said during his regular weekly press conference Wednesday.
Well, so much for that.
This is, of course, another odd twist in a high-profile relationship that began earlier this season. And Ponder no longer has any hope of dodging the barrage of public attention that inevitably comes with this news.
Word of the marriage spread across the Internet early Wednesday, prompting the expected outside speculation and rush to judgment.
Certainly, the timing is peculiar. The marriage comes during a week in which the Vikings are facing a stiff road test in Houston, a game that will have huge ramifications on their playoff hopes. And Ponder himself continues to refer to this weekend’s game as the biggest of the year and of his career. So he was asked Wednesday why he chose this week to legally complete his union with Steele.
“It was important for us to get it done before the holidays,” he said. “A lot of personal reasons that went in to it.”
Ponder insisted that his marriage this week, a quick and easy legal procedure that went down without any family or friends, would not be a distraction.
“It hasn’t deterred from what I did with my routine every Monday and Tuesday,” Ponder said. “I was in here and got my film work in. And obviously, it was a big deal. But it wasn’t a distraction at all.”
To lighten the mood, one reporter asked Ponder how tying the knot with Steele compared with being drafted in the first round in 2011. Ponder laughed.
“That’s a tough question,” he replied. “I mean I liked being drafted No. 1. We’ll see how this marriage thing goes.”
Center John Sullivan, a close friend of Ponder’s, refused to answer any questions about his quarterback’s marriage. “Just focused on Houston,” he said.
As for coach Leslie Frazier, he was asked whether he received an invite to the wedding. Frazier, too, seemed uncomfortable answering questions on Ponder’s personal life.
“I’m happy for him,” Frazier said. “Happy that he’s no longer single. I mean, he’s a young man. I’m sure he put a lot of thought in it and consulted with the right people. So, I’m happy for him. … I knew it was on the radar. Didn’t know when. So he got it done.”
Ponder blushed throughout his discussion of the event. Certainly, he had to know that a move of the magnitude was going to draw significant attention, didn’t he?
Update: Defensive end Everson Griffen and linebacker Jasper Brinkley were fined for plays in last Sunday's loss to the Packers in Green Bay. Griffen was fined $15,750 for roughing Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on Sunday. Brinkley was fined $7,875 for a facemask of receiver Randall Cobb. Brinkley wasn't flagged on the play.
The only other fine from the game came to Green Bay's Tramon Williams, fined $21,000 for unnecessary roughness on a helmet-to-helmet hit on a deep pass to running back Toby Gerhart.
Griffen was flagged for roughing Rodgers on a second-quarter play that nullified an interception by teammate Jared Allen. Williams hit Toby Gerhart helmet-to-helmet on a third quarter pass by Christian Ponder. On the next play, with the Vikings trailing 20-14, Ponder threw an interception from the Packers' 25.
Update II: The Vikings have promoted offensive tackle Troy Kropog from the practice squad to the 53-man roster. He takes the roster spot that opened when Percy Harvin was placed on injured reserve on Wednesday.
Except for Percy Harvin and Chris Cook, the Vikings are expected to have everyone who was on their opening day roster availble to them when they play the Bears on Sunday at Mall of America Field in what essentially is a playoff game for the Vikings.
Defensive end Jared Allen (shoulder/back) had full participation in today's practice after missing practice on Wednesday and Thursday. He has been listed as probable.
Also listed as probable after having full participation in today's practice are: tight end Kyle Rudolph (shoulder), linebacker Jasper Brinkley (shoulder), center John Sullivan (ribs/knee), right tackle Phil Loadholt (knee), punter Chris Kluwe (knee) and nose tackle Letroy Guion (shin). Listed as probable after being limited on Friday is cornerback Antoine Winfield (knee).
Running back Adrian Peterson, who was rested on Thursday, was taken off the injury report today.
The Vikings also worked out three receivers today. One of them was former Chargers receiver Bryan Walters, who was with the Vikings in training camp this season. The Vikings have a roster spot open since placing receiver Percy Harvin on injured reserve on Wednesday.
From the Bears' injury report:
Linebacker Brian Urlacher (hamstring), cornerback Tim Jennings (shoulder) and receiver Earl Bennett (concussion) are out.
Listed as questionable are: running back Michael Bush (ribs), defensive tackle Stephen Paea (foot) and guard Chris Spencer (knee). Listed as probable are: offensive lineman Gabe Carimi (hamstring), receiver Devin Hester (concussion) and receiver Alshon Jeffery (knee).
Cornerback Chris Cook returned to practice Thursday afternoon, exactly six weeks after breaking his right arm in a Week 8 home loss to Tampa Bay. The following day, Cook was placed on injured reserve with designation to return, a new label that was implemented this season.
That move required Cook to be out of practice for six weeks following his placement on I.R.
With the designation to return -- which a club can only use on one player per season -- players are not eligible to play in a game until eight weeks after being placed on I.R. That means Cook’s first possible action would come in Week 16 in Houston, which is the Vikings’ current target date for his return.
“That's the goal,” head coach Leslie Frazier said. “It was good to see him out here today moving around. We’ll have to see how progresses.”
In other injury news, both running back Adrian Peterson and defensive end Jared Allen were given Thursday’s practice off. Allen is listed on the injury report with shoulder and back injuries but is expected to return to practice Friday.
Peterson should be back on the field Friday too and was given Thursday’s practice off as a means to rest, according to Frazier.
The Vikings who were limited in practice Thursday were Kyle Rudolph (shoulder), Jasper Brinkley (shoulder), Antoine Winfield (knee), Phil Loadholt (knee) and John Sullivan (ribs/knee).
Defending quarterback Christian Ponder was the general theme of Vikings coach Leslie Frazier’s press conference at Winter Park on Monday, a day after the Packers beat the Vikings 23-14 at Lambeau Field.
Ponder was 12 for 25 for 119 yards and had two critical interceptions in the game, negating a 210-yard rushing performance by Adrian Peterson.
Frazier said he “never really” considered replacing Ponder with backup Joe Webb, but said Ponder would “have to be better” on Sunday when the Vikings play the Bears at the Metrodome.
What does Frazier say to the fans who want Ponder benched?
"When you are in a business where you're judged by results and results for us are based on wins and losses, when you come up short that does create some frustration,” Frazier said, “but we do have confidence that Christian will continue to get better. That was a tough day at times for him yesterday. … We think he's more than capable of being successful. He showed it early in the season, he's played some consistent football for us. We've got to get him back to playing that way.”
Frazier acknowledged that Ponder was tentative at times: “Sometimes you got to throw the ball when guys come out of their breaks. In our league, it's not very often that guys are going to be wide open. So when we say throw it on time, on time means when the guy comes out of his break deliver the football. You've got to be able to make that decision whether you can get it in there or not.”
“I still think he's a very confident quarterback. I really do. We just got to get him to the point where we're making some of those plays that we know he's capable of making. … in our business, so much falls on the quarterback's shoulders. He's the guy who gets a lot of accolades when the team wins and he gets a lot of blame when your team loses. But there are some things he can do better and he knows that.”
Frazier was asked about backup quarterback Joe Webb, and said, “We think Joe can do it. We think he's a quality quarterback. He's our backup now. If he had to step in and play, we have confidence that he would do a good job. But we do have confidence that Christian is going to play better. He knows he has to in order for us to win. But with Joe, we think he's very capable. That's why we kept him on the roster, kept him in the spot that he's in. We know if necessary he'd be able to help us.”
Frazier didn’t seem to rule out pulling Ponder from a game, however. When asked about Vikings players losing faith in Ponder, Frazier said, “When you're struggling at a position, the guys know how we talked about everybody doing their jobs and why it's important for us to have our success. You don't want to send mixed messages at any position. It's important that all the positions do their jobs and function well. The quarterback position is always under that bright light. … There's a lot riding on this next ballgame for our football team and I'm sure there are a lot of guys looking and wondering if we can get it done under the current situation. I believe we can. I believe we'll play better, not only at the quarterback position but at other positions as well.”
Vikings wide receivers did not catch a pass against the Packers until the final minutes, and have come under heavy criticism the past few games for their lack of production.
“They've got to get open,” Frazier said. “They've got to make the catch when the opportunity comes. … We had a number of dropped balls in that Chicago ballgame and it wasn't all just on Christian to get some completions. It's a combination of protection along with guys getting open and making catches when they have an opportunity and the quarterback being able to deliver the football. That's part of having a good passing game. So our receivers know that, our quarterback knows it, our offensive line knows it and now we've got to find a way to be more productive in the passing game."
On the injury front, Frazier said defensive end Jared Allen had back spasms and was having an MRI today, although he suspected Allen would be ready to play Sunday against Chicago. Center John Sullivan (rib contusion) is also likely to play. Percy Harvin (ankle) has missed the past two games, and Frazier said the team would know more about him “as the week goes on.”
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