VikesCentric is written by Twin Cities football writers Bo Mitchell of SportsData, Arif Hasan of Vikings Territory, Aj Mansour, who hosts Minnesota Vikings Overtime on KFAN, and Joe Oberle a long-time Minnesota based writer. The VikesCentric crew crunches numbers, watches video and isn't shy about saying what's on their minds.

VikesCentric: Lions pick and kick their way to a win over the Vikings

Posted by: Joe Oberle Updated: December 15, 2014 - 9:20 AM

The Minnesota Vikings went into Ford Field to get their first divisional win of the season, and had the best chance to grab it. But two Teddy Bridgewater picks and two missed Blair Walsh kicks later, and the Vikings came up short, 16-14.

The visiting Vikings looked in command of the game throughout most of the first half, as the Lions, reportedly suffering from a flu-filled locker room, seemed to sleepwalk through the contest early. But then Bridgewater threw interceptions on two consecutive series and shrunk the Vikings’ two-touchdown lead into a 14-10 halftime score. The Lions were suddenly awake and engaged and did enough to eventually win the game.

"We played well enough to win, but we just didn't win on the scoreboard,” head coach Mike Zimmer told the Star Tribune after the game. But unfortunately the scoreboard is where they tally the wins and losses, and the Vikings came on the short end of another winnable game. Zimmer says there are some positive things to take from the game, but a win wasn’t one of them.

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The Vikings offensive line has taken more than its share of heat this season, so they need to be commended for their performance against the Lions. Going against the one of the toughest lines in the league (one that sacked Bridgewater eight times last time they met), the offensive line played very well—particularly when you consider they were down three starting players. Bridgewater was sacked four times, but not all of them were on a breakdown in the line. It is still too many, but I can’t call the line out for a poor performance this week when the odds were stacked so highly against them.

The Vikings defense had a great bounce back game after last week’s sluggish performance against the New York Jets. They shut down a decent Lions offense, giving up the only touchdown after the offense gifted them with a very short field. The defense gave up 233 total yards and 153 to the Lions’ potent passing attack. The job the secondary did on Calvin Johnson was masterful and really kept the Vikings in the game. This is also a defense without several starters, so it is a good sign for its depth and how Zimmer has the whole unit playing.

Speaking of shutting down Megatron, cornerback Xavier Rhodes gets the lion share of credit. After Zimmer said all week he wasn’t going to do so, he assigned Rhodes to shadow Johnson all game long, and Rhodes rose to the challenge. It was the first time in Rhodes career that he shadowed a player, and he helped hold Johnson to four catches for 53 yards and no touchdowns. The Xavier Rhodes star keeps rising, and I expect him to get a similar assignment in two weeks against Alshon Jeffery of the Bears.

Worth Defending

Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater played like a rookie quarterback against the Lions (the good news is that he didn’t play like rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel). Bridgewater was on top of his game for a quarter and a half, hitting seven different receivers in the first quarter, and leading the team to two scoring drives and a 14-point lead. But then with 7:21 to go in the second quarter he threw a pass to the wrong shoulder of Charles Johnson and nearly gave up a pick six. Just two plays later he threw another one. The Vikings never scored again, and the Lions scored 16 unanswered points.

Teddy gets plenty of praise for building the lead (on the game he was 31 of 41 for 315 yards and a touchdown, plus his 31 completions and his 75.6 completion percentage were both career highs). But he needs to get knocked for the picks and the high throws that crept back into his game on Sunday—one that sailed over Jarius Wright’s head could have put the team in better field position for a game-winning field goal.  I still say he is a rookie and give him a pass. He looked poised and in charge, and didn’t let the picks affect him in the second half. He has to take a heavy does of blame, but I like where he is headed.

Tight end Kyle Rudolph had the kind of game closer to what we were hoping to see all season—seven catches for 59 yards. But his sports hernia earlier in the season prevented that from happening. To his credit, he is still getting back to 100 percent and into game shape the past four weeks, and is trying to play through it. Rudolph even went down with a knee injury against the Lions when a player rolled up on his leg, but he came back in the game. The Vikings will need him back on the field all season next year for the offense to take another step forward.

Zimmer said last week that he probably gave the ball too much to running back Matt Asiata against the Jets, and Asiata appeared spurred on by that slight as he ran with power and passion in the first half the game. His final rushing stats were not huge—11 carries for 36 yards and a touchdown—as the Vikings spread it around in the second half. But Asiata also caught seven passes for 50 yards and was Bridgewater’s dump-off safety valve all game long, and did well in the role. While he is not the flashy running back the Vikings have had in the recent seasons, Asiata showed his value to the team and will get plenty more snaps going forward.

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Placekicker Blair Walsh had another tough day at the ball yard. On the heels of last week against the Jets, where he hit 1 of 3 field goals, he (technically) shows up on the scoring sheet going 0 for 3 against the Lions. Unfortunately, anyone of those kicks could have won the game. The first miss was a 53-yarder that is a kick he has made often in his career, but he pushed it poorly wide right. The second from 27 yards was blocked (and Zimmer says that was not Walsh’s fault). And the third he gets a pass because 68 yards is three yards longer than the NFL record. He has the leg for it, but the odds of it going through are slim. Still, it would have been a fun way to end the game.

The problem is his overall numbers. Walsh’s percentage has been dropping from the 92.1 percent in his Pro Bowl rookie year, to 86.7 percent last season (when he was suffering some from an injury) to 78.6 this season. I am not saying they should start looking for another kicker (the team did move outside this season and will move back inside in a couple years), but Walsh hasn’t been the reliable kicker he has been. Are we spoiled by his rookie success? A little. But when that’s the bar you set, the pressure rises to keep reaching it.

There was a little too much confusion on the sidelines in the final minutes of play. The Vikings could have done better with the clock, better with getting plays in to Bridgewater, better to getting to the line, and maybe even better at calling plays (a pass to the middle of the field to Rudolph on 4th down took too long, and a delay of game penalty was very untimely). Some of that goes on a rookie quarterback trying to negotiate the final frantic minutes, but the last coaching staff wasn’t very good at clock management, and I am hoping this one is better.

Just when we thought we might never see Cordarrelle Patterson do anything again, he almost single-handedly put the team in position to win the game in the last minutes. After seeing his season kickoff return average drop to 24.9 (compared to an NFL-high average of 32.4 yards last season), Patterson broke off a 51-yarder. Then he caught two Bridgewater passes (when Jarius Wright left the game with an injury) to put the team even closer. On a third he got mugged in what looked like pass interference that wasn’t called, but the bottom line is Patterson was contributing to the team like hasn’t really done for weeks.

Perhaps Patterson’s confidence will begin to build again, and even more important maybe the quarterback’s and the coaches’ confidence in Patterson may be on the rise, as well. That doesn’t mean he should start next week against Miami, but I’m hoping we don’t have to see his time in Minnesota completely waste away riding the pine.

Head over to Vikings Journal and check out AJ Mansour's article on the Vikings' missed opportunities in Detroit and then join in the conversation on the Vikings Journal forums, where everything Purple is dissected and discussed. 

Joe Oberle is a senior writer at VikingsJournal.comcovers the NFL for The Sports Post and is managing editor of Minnesota Golfer magazine. He is an author and longtime Minnesota-based writer.

VikesCentric: Vikings have questions to answer at running back

Posted by: Joe Oberle Updated: December 12, 2014 - 1:46 PM

Since 2007, when Adrian Peterson was a rookie for the Minnesota Vikings, the team’s running game was pretty uncomplicated. Hand the ball off to Peterson and let him rack up yards. But in 2014, that completely changed [link]. The Vikings backfield has been in constant flux, full of questions that may not be answered soon.

The most recent head-scratcher came last Sunday when starter Matt Asiata carried the ball for 19 times (and caught three passes), while backups Joe Banyard and Ben Tate carried it for a total of four. Granted Asiata is the starter, and by rights should get the ball the majority of times, but with a rushing average of 2.8 yards per carry, it begs the question of why not try something else.

That question becomes even more relevant when you consider the Vikings are 6-7 and virtually out of the playoffs, and have precious little to play for other than next season. The pre-emptive starter and potential future of the position Jerick McKinnon had been placed on the injured reserve list and Peterson, the legend he replaced, has played just one game this season and may never play again for the Vikings. So we must ask, why not see what you got? Why are Banyard and Tate so limited?

It was good to hear that someone asked the question of head coach Mike Zimmer—specifically wondering if Banyard did something to land in the coach’s doghouse.

“No and he’s not,” Zimmer told the Star Tribune. “He’ll probably get some more carries. I think Matt probably had a few too many carries. We’d like to get Ben a few more carries this week as well, so we’ll see. Sometimes you just get in the flow of games and things happen. Unless you pre-script it and say, “This series and this series,” sometimes that’s just the way it goes. Matt probably got a few too many and those other guys probably got a few too less.”

Well, there should be no probably about it. McKinnon is out with a back injury we know little about, Peterson is still in limbo and Asiata’s talents have long been on display. The running game going forward will likely not rely so heavily on Asiata, so why not see what the other players have? Why do you pick up Tate (other than for veteran depth) if you don’t want to give him a chance to show what he can do during games? Banyard has flashed in limited opportunities and we are not even sure what Jerome Felton can do anymore other than block (and jump on a fumble in the endzone).

Against the Jets, Asiata was on the field for 45 offensive snaps, Felton and Tate each got 10 snaps, and Banyard just three snaps, so it is hard to make any kind of game-time determination from that. Certainly Zimmer wants more wins (that has been established), and he sees what Tate, Banyard and Asiata can do in practice everyday, but he should take a better look at them when the bullets are flying.

And to Zimmer’s credit, he is willing to admit when he doesn’t make the right move. But now is he planning to give them all more snaps against the Detroit Lions? The Lions are the second best defense overall in the league and the best in the NFL against the rush at 62.8 yards per carry. Well, it is good to test yourself against the best, but it is difficult to see what might be learned on Sunday at Ford Field.

The Detroit defensive front is going to be coming after quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, and presumably Asiata has often been on the field to help protect the quarterback of the future. So I am going to wait and see how much run someone like Banyard gets (when he has had trouble in pass protection) and Tate, who still may be learning all the protections.

“Well, Joe just needs to make sure that he stays up on the protection parts of things. Ben, when he gets the opportunity, keep showing what he can do as far as that,” Zimmer said. “One of the things we’ve done great, or I think we’ve done great at least recently, is we’ve had great ball security and so we’ve got to make sure that we’re securing the football and not turning the ball over like we did the last time we played these guys. We’ve been pretty solid in that area for quite a while now and that’s been big, making sure they’re doing that.”

Is it possible that Asiata is just a placeholder until next season for McKinnon or perhaps even a return for Peterson? Peterson has expressed a desire to play again this season. On top of that, the Vikings football operations have never waivered in their support of Peterson, with Zimmer saying the following: "All I know of Adrian is that he's always been great with me, always done what I've asked him to do, and I kind of go by what I see." So, what happens if he is somehow reinstated this season?

McKinnon’s long-term health and Peterson’s status going forward are just some of the questions that cloud the clarity of the Vikings running back situation—and more than any others, the answers to those questions are out of the hands of the coaching staff. More snaps for Banyard and Tate, are not however. The sooner, the better for that. 

Head over to Vikings Journal and check out Bo Mitchell's story on offensive tackle Matt Kalil and then join in the conversation on the Vikings Journal forums, where everything Purple is dissected and discussed. 

Joe Oberle is a senior writer at VikingsJournal.comcovers the NFL for The Sports Post and is managing editor of Minnesota Golfer magazine. He is an author and longtime Minnesota-based writer.

VikesCentric: Vikings beat the Jets with the Wright stuff

Posted by: Joe Oberle Updated: December 8, 2014 - 8:23 AM

In one of the most unconventionally played and scored games in recent memory, the Minnesota Vikings beat the visiting New York Jets 30-24 in overtime at TCF Bank Stadium. Jets receiver Percy Harvin did his best to spoil the home fans’ afternoon, but in the end he left the game with injury and the Vikings left with the win.

The victory pulled the Vikings to within one game of .500 at 6-7, but not before fans witnessed a pick six on the opening play from scrimmage, a safety, a fumble recovery in the endzone for a touchdown, a terribly missed Blair Walsh field goal and an 87-yard game-winning touchdown reception that sent the crowd home happy despite the sleet and snow.

The Vikings did not look great in finally beating the Jets in overtime, but they made enough plays to ultimately get the job done and now have a two-game winning streak heading to Detroit next week. They have been eliminated from playoff contention, but can still salvage the season with a .500 (or above) record and have plenty to build on into next season.

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Speaking of making plays, wide receiver Jarius Wright made two of them late in the game that first gave the Vikings a chance to win the game in regulation and then by making the game-winning touchdown in overtime. Wright went up with a defender for a pass late in regulation, and it looked like the defender picked off the pass. But as they fell to the ground, Wright wrestled the ball away and helped set up a potential game-winning field goal.

On the touchdown reception, he broke a tackle near the right sideline and raced for 87 yards untouched to end the game. On the afternoon, Wright had four catches for 123 yards and one rush on a reverse for 23 yards. With all the problems that Cordarrelle Patterson has had getting on the field, it is good to see Wright giving Bridgewater another target and making the most of his opportunities.

Wide receiver Charles Johnson is doing the same, as he was confirmed as the starting X receiver this week in place of Patterson. Johnson continues to excel in the role and is working his way into becoming the team’s No. 1. Receiver. Johnson had four catches for a 103 yards and a touchdown. He nearly had a second touchdown reception but fumbled before crossing the goal line (Jerome Felton recovered it for the score). Clearly, Johnson is becoming Bridgewater’s go-to guy and making it very hard for Patterson to win his position back.

Speaking of Teddy Bridgewater, the Vikings quarterback had another fine afternoon. He was 19 of 27 for 309 yards, two touchdown passes and an interception. He was a Charles Johnson fumble at the goal line away from a third touchdown pass and the pick was a harmless failed Hail Mary just before halftime. His quarterback rating of 117.7 could have been even higher without those two stats that really had nothing to do with the play.

Bridgewater was poised, despite being on the run from a pretty good, but occasionally leaky, offensive line (they gave up three sacks, six quarterback hits and a safety in the first quarter). He made good decisions on when to stick in the pocket and when to run. And his deep ball passing has definitely improved, particular the beautiful strike he laid in to Johnson for a 46-yard score late in the game.

Worth Defending

After a huge game last week against the Panthers (with two blocked kicks for touchdowns), the Vikings special teams did not follow it up with a decent performance. The special teams gave up 109 yards in kick returns (104 of it to Harvin), Cordarrelle Patterson fumbled the first kickoff he got his hands on (leading to a Jets field goal), bobbled the next one and then let go of a third (which wasn’t ruled a fumble). Blair Walsh missed a 39-yard field goal and a 56-yarder that would have won the game (he miss-hit the kick and it came up way short and wide). The coverage unit also missed a chance to recover a muffed punt that could have virtually ended the game, but Antone Exum, Jr. could not fall on the ball. The unit had difficulties all over the field and after contributing mightily to the win last week, they did little to further the team’s effort this week.

The Vikings rushing defense continues to struggle, as Chris Ivory (16 carries for 73 yards) and Chris Johnson (16 carries for 53 yards) had success much of the afternoon. Jets quarterback Geno Smith did some damage himself (6 for 33), as the Vikings struggled to keep him in the pocket.

Certainly Minnesota expected New York to run the ball, but the Jets had success in the passing game (254 passing yards), as well. The loss of Sharrif Floyd to a knee injury didn’t help, and the Vikings defense did ultimately hold the line (the Jets were 0-5 for touchdowns in the red zone), often bending rather than breaking, but the rushing defense needs to improve—as does the defense as a whole--or heads might roll.

“Honestly we put a lot of effort into playing the run this week but when [Harvin] was starting to catch balls, we had to change and start concentrating on him a lot more,” coach Mike Zimmer told the Star Tribune. “That was a disappointing thing to me that we did not cover, we didn’t cover anybody. Let’s be honest, guys were wide open. That’s not the kind of pass defense I want to teach around here.”

Gerald Hodges stepped into a starting outside linebacker spot for the injured Anthony Barr, and took the ball and ran with it—literally. On the first play from scrimmage, he made a leaping interception and raced to the house for a 27-yard pick six. Hodges, who had eight tackles and two passes defended (one of the flashy diving variety), was very active on Sunday afternoon. Barr, who has been bothered by a bum knee the past few weeks, had been slumping, but Hodges picked up the slack and more.

“Best play in my life. That was my first pick-six ever,” Hodges told the Star Tribune. “It was great, but it was the first play of the game, so I still had three more quarters to play plus that quarter. It was a good memory, but just had to put it away and keep playing.”

Should be Ending

Starter Matt Asiata got the majority of the carries and he banged into the defense to presumably loosen them up a bit for the faster backs, but he is employed in the offense like he is Adrian Peterson. Perhaps they are setting up the defense by slamming them in the first three quarters with Asiata and bringing in Joe Banyard and Ben Tate to race by them in the later stages, but the plan doesn’t seem to be getting the offense anywhere.

Asiata’s rushing average of 2.8 yards (and a cloud of black rubber particles) just doesn’t seem to be getting the job done—particularly when Tate gets 5.0 and Banyard gets 9.0. Granted, the backups’ carries are on much fewer rushes (a total of four compared to Asiata’s 19) but that’s the point—let’s see what the faster backups can do with a few more carries.

The blocking in the back penalty is easily one of the more frustrating in the game. It seems to be part of most big punt returns, and perhaps there is good reason for that, the fouls help break a returner. But the ticky-tack block in the back penalties need to be called better.

Audie Cole was called for a penalty on a 19-yard return by Marcus Sherels, but it didn’t appear that he touched the defender. He had his arms up and was basically grazed him at best—with his own backside. It appeared the defender felt him and then fell over to draw the call when he saw he couldn’t make the tackle.

The frequency of the calls are undoubtedly made to prevent injury, which is fine, but there has to be some better judgment made on the play. In order to block someone, you need to hit them. If you are simply brushing the back of their uniform as you go by it is not blocking.

“Revenge games” are hurting the Vikings and need to stop. It’s not the first time a former Vikings player has had a good game against his old team. Jared Allen got only his second sack of the season against Minnesota a few weeks ago, and now Harvin records his first touchdown pass in two years against his former teammates.

The Vikings fans booed Harvin lustily every time Harvin’s name was mentioned, but his 115 yards receiving and a touchdown gave him the upper hand—at least that’s what he acted like after he scored. There aren’t many big name former Vikings on the Lions and Dolphins, who are next on the Vikings schedule, but Allen is coming back the final game of the season, and it would not be fun seeing him end his very down season on a high note at The Bank.

Head over to Vikings Journal and check out AJ Mansour's look at the fading star of Cordarrelle Patterson and then join in the conversation on the Vikings Journal forums, where everything Purple is dissected and discussed. 

Joe Oberle is a senior writer at VikingsJournal.comcovers the NFL for The Sports Post and is managing editor of Minnesota Golfer magazine. He is an author and longtime Minnesota-based writer.

VikesCentric: Filling In The Gaps

Posted by: AJ Mansour Updated: December 6, 2014 - 8:34 AM

When Mike Zimmer was hired to be the 9th head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, he looked each and every one of us media members in the eye and told us that after reviewing the roster he didn’t have all the players he would need to do exactly what he wanted. Some of the players fit the new coaches scheme and some of them didn’t. But he told us that it was his job, until they can get the players that he needs for the scheme, to “fill in the gaps” and make it work the best he can.

Some of that gap filling came in the form of free agency and the 2014 NFL Draft. With Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner getting their first chance and acquiring talent for this football team, the Vikings went out and turned some heads with the high-dollar signings of Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph and the drafting of an unknown commodity in Anthony Barr with the 8th overall selection. 13 games into the season, with hindsight set at 20/20, you can clearly see the vision that Zimmer has coming to fruition. Everson is likely on his way to the Pro Bowl and Anthony Barr, before injuries, was the front-runner for defensive rookie of the year.

But what about the rest of the roster? You couldn’t possibly fill all the gaps of a wholesale change in the course of one offseason.

While admittedly, some gaps do remain unfilled, others have been temporarily filled with the spackle that is the “willing” players on roster. I say “willing” because not all players are willing to sacrifice their numbers and their style of play for the betterment of the team. Those players are the ones that you see losing playing time and sticking out like a sore thumb while everybody else is doing their job.

For the willing, they bought in to what the new coaching staff was selling and many of them are running to the bank with it. For instance, look at Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes defensively. Harrison, the commander of the defensive secondary understands what former defensive backs coach Mike Zimmer expects out of his players. For Rhodes, it was the grasping of a subtle intricacy that puts Xavier’s physical play into the “legal” category as opposed to drawing pass interference and holding flags on a regular basis.

Flip over to the offensive side of the ball and let’s look at the way that Greg Jennings has filled the gap while one of his cohorts in the wide receivers room has done just the opposite. Jennings, always a professional, has visibly taken hold of Norv Turner’s offensive schemes and his hard work has aided the progression of younger wide receivers as well as rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The way that Greg Jennings executes his responsibilities so accurately, showcases the success this offense can have.

On the other hand, you have Cordarrelle Patterson. By his own admission, a guy who doesn’t work hard in practice and has skated by with his God-given talents up until now. His sloppiness on the field has landed him 3 snaps in last week’s win and a benching the week after.

Then there were the injuries.

Injuries are a big part of the NFL, but nobody can predict them. There’s no telling who they will affect, how long they will last or when they will come. But the one thing we know is they will come, to varying degrees. For the Vikings this season, that’s been a pretty heavy degree.

With Matt Cassel, Adrian Peterson, Kyle Rudolph and Brandon Fusco all missing a considerable amount of time this season, Zimmer and his staff along with the help of General Manager Rick Spielman, have had to come up with creative and effective ways to fill the gaps that the injury bug left on this roster over the season. That’s where Zimmer drafting “Zimmer guys” comes into effect again.

When Adrian went to be away from the team for most of the season, a Zimmer/Turner guy, Jerick McKinnon filled in with some success despite being a rookie in a vulnerable, physical position. The same can be said for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. While most people expected Teddy to take over the starting role at some point in time, there weren’t too many who thought it would be this season and under these circumstances. Three weeks in and Teddy was thrust into action. It’s been a learning curve, but again, a player who fits the system and buys into the system at the same time is starting to find success on the field.

Here’s the point. As Mike Zimmer continues to fill the gaps and continues to develop the players that are currently on his roster, you can already see signs that he is the right guy for this job. Despite having his hands tied with the players already on roster, despite being bitten by the injury bug in a heavy way, Zimmer already has this team winning the same number of games that they did last year with Adrian Peterson and Matt Cassel...and there’s still four more games to play!

It may seem that his main responsibility in his first year as head coach has been that of a “gap filler”, the signs are already there that tell us once he has the ability to get out from under that umbrella, this team will flourish.

This offseason might be one of the more important ones in the history of the Minnesota Vikings. The blueprint is there and the framework has already been laid. With another crack at the market and another run through the draft, you should really start to see some of the vision coming together in 2015.

How Does Teddy Compare? - Version 2.0

Posted by: AJ Mansour Updated: December 4, 2014 - 8:47 AM

Last week we dove into the stats book and compared the first seven starts of Teddy Bridgewater’s career up against those of one of the most maligned Vikings quarterbacks in recent memory, Christian Ponder (CLICK HERE to read that article).

With one more start under his belt, let’s take another look at Teddy’s progression and how it shakes out against quarterbacks of Vikings past.

Through eight games started Teddy Bridgewater is sitting with a 61% completion percentage, 1,827 yards passing, 8 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. A quarterback rating of 79.0 was bumped up last weekend against the Panthers when Bridgewater passed for 138 yards, 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions for a career high 120.7 passer rating.

This week’s comparison quarterback manned the helm for six seasons as Vikings quarterback passing for a total of 20,162 yards, 135 touchdowns while rushing for another 2,470 yards and 29 touchdowns. The subject of “How Does Teddy Compare 2.0”, three time Pro Bowler and runner up in 2004 offensive MVP race, Daunte Culpepper.

Drafted out of Central Florida by the Minnesota Vikings with the 11th overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft, Culpepper came to Minnesota to back up Jeff George and Randall Cunningham but his role as starter was expedited in 2000 when a 23 year-old second year player started all 16 games for the Minnesota Vikings.

Physically speaking, the pair couldn’t be much more opposite.  Standing at 6’4”, 264 lbs, Culpepper was a tank with a loaded cannon and the ability to run over the opponent if he decided to tuck and run. At 6’2” and weighing in a cool 50 lbs lighter, Teddy has a bit of a different skill set.

But how do the stats match up?

Looking specifically at his first 8 starts (again Teddy’s first 8 read 1,827 yards, 8 TDs and 7 INTs, 79.0 rating), Daunte passed for 1,984 yards, completed 61% of his passes while throwing for 15 TDs, 9 INTs and a passer rating of 91.6. Daunte also rushed for 312 yards and 4 touchdowns averaging 5.11 yards per carry.

Maybe the biggest thing to note, the team’s record through Daunte’s first 8 games was 7-1 on their way to an 11-5 season and two game run into the playoffs.

While the stats can speak for themselves, the record even more so, the biggest difference between 23 year old Daunte Culpepper and 22 year old Teddy Bridgewater was confidence. Daunte, already physically imposing himself, came into the league and was ready to rumble. He wasn’t afraid of defensive lineman, he wasn’t about to slide when running the ball, he was ready to run through the opponent on his way into the endzone.

Daunte’s tenure as Vikings quarterback ended prematurely after a knee injury stifled his mobility and cracked into his psyche. After 7 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, Daunte was shipped off to Miami for a second round draft pick where he played for one season before trying his hand in Oakland and ending his career with two seasons in Detroit.

Still a revered figure in Minnesota sports history, the feeling of “what could have been “ for Daunte will never go away. In two seasons, Culpepper went from a near historic season (39 TDs in 2004) and a near MVP victory to a has-been retread getting shipped from team to team to end his career.

I think we all hope that Teddy avoids the injury bug that plagued Culpepper late in his career, but if he brings the same productivity, I think Vikings fans would be pleased.

VikesCentric: Vikings block the Panthers’ path to victory

Posted by: Joe Oberle Updated: December 1, 2014 - 8:20 AM

The Minnesota Vikings defeated the Carolina Panthers 31-13 at The (frozen) Bank on Sunday, putting Carolina’s season on ice, while the Vikings warmed the hearts of their fans with the win.

It was the 7th coldest Vikings home game in team history (which is saying quite a bit), but the Vikings dominated the Panthers early and did enough in the second half to salt away the victory. The offense, (thanks to a very efficient Teddy Bridgewater), the defense (with another solid performance) and special teams (with two touchdowns of their own) all contributed to the win.

Head coach Mike Zimmer said he was looking for a win all week and reiterated that to his players before the game, and they delivered. The Panthers are not world-beaters by any stretch of the imagination, despite still being eligible to win their division, but the Vikings needed a win to show some progress and that’s exactly what they did.

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The frigid temps at The Bank on Sunday (12 degrees at game time that felt like below zero), stirred memories of the good old days of dominant Vikings defense and specials teams. And the Vikings play reinforced those memories even more, as they blocked two punts against the Panthers and returned them both for touchdowns--overwhelmingly the key to the Vikings’ win.

It has been since 2006 that the Vikings blocked a punt and 1986 since they have returned one for a TD. (They blocked a punt for a safety in 1989.) In fact, only 11 players on the active roster were alive the last time the Vikings returned a blocked punt for a touchdown.

What the Vikings special teams did on Sunday was pretty special. The last time the Vikings blocked two punts in a game was Dec. 11, 1983 versus Chicago--Rick Bell and Randy Holloway blocked the punts. The fact they returned both for touchdowns in one game is certainly unprecedented for the Vikings, but it was only the fourth time it has occurred in NFL history.

Everson Griffen’s 43-yard return (of a punt blocked by Jasper Brinkley) for a touchdown was the longest in team history. Prior to that, the record belonged to Adam Thielen for his 30-yarder in the first quarter (the first ever touchdown scored in the NFL by MSU-Mankato Maverick). He didn’t hold the record very long.

Teddy Bridgewater was sick before the game with a temperature over 100, and there was no threat of him overheating at the Bank on Sunday. He had one of his best games as a pro, putting up decent stats, showing requisite poise and demonstrating good decision-making. He ran when he should have, most of his check downs were the right plays (and not habitual) and he hit his receivers in stride—including some deep throws. Bridgewater was 15 of 21 passing for 138 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. His quarterback rating of 120.7 is the highest of his career. On top of that, his throws were void of the high passes that were becoming all too familiar this season.

Bridgewater wasn’t under pressure to score a lot of points, thanks to the incredible play of the Vikings special teams, but he had great command in the two scoring drives at the beginning and end of the first half, which led to him being serenaded once again with chants of “Teddy” for the rest of the game. It is the confidence builder that Bridgewater needed for the final month of his rookie season.

Wide receiver Charles Johnson is slowly becoming an integral (or even bigger) part of the of the Vikings offense. Week by week his role has been growing in the Vikings offense, and game by game he has delivered. Against Carolina, he was targeted four times (second to only Greg Jenning’s six targets) and he caught two passes—one of them for 24 yards that set up the Vikings first score. He nearly caught a deep pass from Bridgewater that was broken up by borderline pass interference. But the bottom line is that the longer Cordarrelle Patterson sits (see below), the bigger role Johnson will get. And he is making the most of it.

Worth Defending

We are going to give the offensive line decent marks in this game—particularly if you are grading on a scale of all their performances. They kept Bridgewater pretty clean in the first half (one sack), ultimately surrendering two quarterback hits and three sacks in the game. The offensive line’s performance is even more remarkable since they adjusted to new personnel, as Mike Harris got his first start for the Vikings, filling in for the injured Phil Loadholt. In addition, Matt Kalil had one of his better games of the season—perhaps he needed his older brother in the game to create some competition.

Cornerback Xavier Rhodes—appears to be getting better every week and he stood out with his defense against the taller Panthers receivers—in particular, the 6 foot 5 Kelvin Benjamin. Benjamin is a rookie, but is tough to cover, and Rhodes played very well against him—nearly picking off a pass in front of him on one play.

Rhodes is the Vikings tallest member of the secondary, and should expect this kind of assignment. Against the Chicago Bears, who have two tall receivers, the Vikings saw their opponents picking on the shorter Josh Robinson most of the game. The Panthers did not repeat that, and Rhodes made them pay by being in position all game long and recording three pass defenses. His increasingly good play bodes well for the Vikings defense going forward.

We would like to compliment the Vikings defense in general, as they shut down the Panthers in the first half and helped secure the win. But there were plenty of breakdowns in the second half, and the rushing defense is not were the team needs it to be. They average 118.9 yards per game, but gave 178 to the Panthers. Granted, 49 of those yards went to quarterback Cam Newton and usually occured after a play had been well defensed downfield, but running back Jonathan Stewart ran for 85 yards and had 25 yards receiving. The Vikings were missing Sharrif Floyd and Anthony Barr for parts of the game, but they need to do much better stopping the run.

Should be Ending

Cordarrelle Patterson—one target no catches. Something is amiss with him. He is either so deep in Zimmer’s doghouse or else he is injured and can’t do what it takes to get on the field. Charles Johnson is getting his snaps and making the most of the opportunity. Zimmer was asked about what Patterson has to do to get back on the field.

“He’s really starting to do a lot of better things in practice, so we just have to keep going there,” Zimmer told the Star Tribune. “I think Charles Johnson is doing a good job playing the same position; Charles is doing some good things. It’s just, continually, first off you have to be at practice, then you have to do stuff when you’re there.”

Zimmer told KFAN radio that Patterson missed practice this week because he had to attend a funeral, so he wasn’t able to get the practice reps he needed to get more snaps. You also don’t get the feeling he makes the most of his own opportunities and that he is not ingratiating himself to the head coach.

The Vikings running game has been sputtering recently. Matt Asiata returned from being out with a concussion and Jerick McKinnon didn’t play due to a lower back injury, so they are patching things together. But they have a Joe Banyard who has done well in a limited role, and we are still waiting to see more of Ben Tate. Tate had five carries for 15 yards, which isn’t a whole lot of to get excited about, but why not get him going even more. He does have to learn the offense to be fully involved, but the Vikings really need to see what they have in him before the season ends or Adrian Peterson gets back on the field. Give Tate the rock.

Speaking of Adrian Peterson, his appeal will be heard on Tuesday of this week. On the heels of the Ray Rice indefinite suspension being overturned, he may have some traction for things turning around for him. Of course, the Rice decision could cause Roger Goodell to dig in deeper himself and try for a win somewhere else. Whether you think Peterson should be reinstated (as at least one purple No. 28 jersey at today’s game read) or not, it will be worth watching the proceedings this week.

Head over to Vikings Journal and check out AJ Mansour's latest coverage on Teddy Bridgewater's progress and then join in the conversation on the Vikings Journal forums, where everything Purple is dissected and discussed. 

Joe Oberle is a senior writer at VikingsJournal.comcovers the NFL for The Sports Post and is managing editor of Minnesota Golfer magazine. He is an author and longtime Minnesota-based writer.

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