VikesCentric is written by Twin Cities football writers Bo Mitchell and Patrick Donnelly of SportsData, and Ted Carlson of TST Media. They are Twin Cities-based Vikings and NFL experts who crunch numbers, watch video and tell you what's on their minds.

Posts about Vikings special teams

VikesCentric: Dumpster fire derails optimism

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly Updated: September 23, 2013 - 12:26 AM

If you do a quick Twitter search on #DUMPSTERFIRE, you'll find multiple Vikings-related outbursts. And only one of them was written by me!

Where else can you go after that debacle on Sunday against the previously winless Browns, a team that had traded its only NFL-caliber running back and was starting its third-string quarterback?

This has to be the worst kind of Monday for a die-hard Vikings fan. I'm not talking about the blind loyalist who slurps the purple Kool-Aid all year long, the type of self-proclaimed "Super Fan" who named his dog Francis and his goldfish Randy and his first-born Tingelhoff (boy or girl), the guy whose wardrobe ranges in color from violet to eggplant. You'll never shake that guy's faith, and God love him for it. That's how scams like PSLs and $12 Budweisers continue to thrive in the NFL.

No, I'm talking about the more realistic Vikings fans, ones who can take the long view and acknowledge the team's flaws and know a thing or two about league-wide trends that have left the Vikings choking in a trail of dust. Those fans are going to have a hard Monday, because against their better judgment, they probably bought into the optimistic view of the Vikings' 2013 season that was being spun last week.

Surely you heard it. The Vikings offense – and Christian Ponder in particular – had figured it out in the second half against the Bears. The schedule gets soft after two tough road games to start the season. Four straight wins – against the Browns, Steelers, Panthers and Giants – seemed likely, starting with a "loser-proof" game against Cleveland.

Well, that optimism has been buried in an avalanche of turnovers, blown assignments, overthrown receivers and brain-dead special teams play that turned a "loser-proof" game into one of the Vikings' most disappointing losses in recent memory. The chances of recovering from an 0-3 start to reach the playoffs are miniscule, rendering the next 14 weeks (don't forget the bye week!) essentially meaningless.

Seriously, what can Ponder do to show that he's a legitimate NFL quarterback after the track record he's compiled? What can Leslie Frazier do to save his job when most observers believed he was in a "playoffs-or-bust" season? How can Adrian Peterson approach his lofty goals with the offensive line playing the way it has?

Oh, we'll figure out a way to cover the season, to glean importance out of each and every game. The takeaway from Sunday's loss is too obvious to require much elaboration, but we'll leave you with this: We agree that Ponder should remain the starting quarterback, because if they put Matt Cassel behind that offensive line, they'll get Cassel killed. He seems like a nice guy and we don't want that on our conscience.

Other than benching Ponder, what quick fixes would you make? Or are the Vikings truly as doomed as they appeared on Sunday? We'll take your suggestions in the comments.

Patrick Donnelly is a contributor to the Vikings Yearbook, and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.

VikesCentric: Four who flashed vs. Tennessee

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly Updated: August 29, 2013 - 11:36 PM

We've started a new feature here at VikesCentric for the hotly awaited 2013 preseason (also known as the NFL's annual festival of gouging season-ticket holders by charging full price for a glorified scrimmage). We're calling it "Four Who Flashed" because "flashing" is our favorite preseason football cliché. No, it has nothing to do with Dino Ciccarelli (but just to be safe, don't read this with your garage door open). It's a buzzword used by the likes of Mike Mayock to describe a player who showed tremendous ability on the football field, perhaps even rising beyond expectations to merit extra attention. And we're limiting it to the preseason because in the regular season we'd have to call it "Adrian Peterson and Three Other Guys" – though we discussed tweaking it in Week 1 and calling it "While You Were Having Your Breath Taken Away by Adrian Peterson" to highlight the work of one of the less-heralded 52 Vikings. Honestly, we're still workshopping it. Stay tuned.

 
So without further delay, here are the Four Who Flashed on Thursday night against the Titans:
 
1. Desmond Bishop – Playing against the Titans' offensive starters, alongside mostly the Vikings' defensive backups, Bishop let it be known that he's ready and able to contribute to the 53-man roster this year. He broke through the line for a couple of big stops, made a game-high seven tackles in his brief time on the field and more or less ensured that he'll be one of the three linebackers in the starting lineup Sept. 8 at Detroit.
 
2. Matt Asiata – In a classic "playing for your job" game, the third-year running back showed plenty of burst with Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart watching from the sidelines. Asiata carried the ball eight times for 32 yards and scored the Vikings' first touchdown on a 1-yard dive. And although second-year man Joe Banyard was impressive in a much longer look (13 carries for 62 yards and 7 receptions for 54 yards and a touchdown) it looks like Asiata did enough to hang onto his job for another year.
 
3. Joe Webb – If the Vikings have to decide between Webb and Stephen Burton, the converted quarterback picked a good time to showcase his skills. Webb caught five passes for 38 yards (although he dropped an easy grab in the flat), threw some key blocks on special teams and generally was a presence whenever he was on the field. He also caught a break in that McLeod Bethel-Thompson didn't set the world on fire in his extended duty, meaning the Vikings could hang onto Webb as their emergency third quarterback and roll the dice with Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel under center.
 
4. Marcus Sherels – Everybody's favorite underdog had himself a big night, with a 109-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and an interception while playing cornerback. After missing Sunday's game at San Francisco due to the death of his father, Sherels' NFL career might have been riding on his performance Thursday. His roster spot seemingly solidified late in the game when fellow bubble cornerback/return man Bobby Felder was carted to the locker room with an ankle injury.
 
 
 
Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData, a contributor to the Vikings Yearbook, and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.
 
 

VikesCentric: Four Who Flashed vs. Buffalo

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly Updated: August 16, 2013 - 10:59 PM

We've started a new feature here at VikesCentric for the hotly awaited 2013 preseason (also known as the NFL's annual festival of gouging season-ticket holders by charging full price for a glorified scrimmage). We're calling it "Four Who Flashed" because "flashing" is our favorite preseason football cliché. No, it has nothing to do with Dino Ciccarelli (but just to be safe, don't read this with your garage door open). It's a buzzword used by the likes of Mike Mayock to describe a player who showed tremendous ability on the football field, perhaps even rising beyond expectations to merit extra attention. And we're limiting it to the preseason because in the regular season we'd have to call it "Adrian Peterson and Three Other Guys" – though we discussed tweaking it in Week 1 and calling it "While You Were Having Your Breath Taken Away by Adrian Peterson" to highlight the work of one of the less-heralded 52 Vikings. Honestly, we're still workshopping it. Stay tuned. 

So without further delay, here are the Four Who Flashed on Friday night against the Bills: 

1. Jeff Locke – Last week the rookie punter put up some pedestrian numbers (38.2-yard average on five kicks), mostly because he was usually kicking from midfield and trying to pin the Texans deep in their own territory. Still, he had a couple of chances to show off his big leg and didn't really come through. On Friday, the offense's struggles gave him more opportunities to prove special teams coordinator Mike Priefer right, and he came through with a big night. Locke punted seven times for a 48.9-yard average, dropped three punts inside the 10 and had a couple of bombs, including a 61-yarder. Blair Walsh showed last year that having elite special teams can help a good-but-not-great team overachieve. Locke could be the latest rookie to push the Vikings' kicking game over the top. 

2. Bobby Felder – The rookie free agent from Nicholls State is probably going to have a hard time cracking the 53-man roster, but if he keeps playing special teams like he did on Friday, the Vikings might have to find a spot for him. He calmly downed two of Locke's punts inside Buffalo's 5-yard line, and when the Vikings needed a big return to set up their final possession, he fielded a punt inside his own 10 (usually a no-no, but this is the preseason, where a guy like Felder is trying to make a name for himself) and brought it back 37 yards to set the offense up near midfield. Add in six tackles and suddenly you've got a guy who might be picking up some steam as we head to roster cutdown day. 

3. Toby Gerhart – The Vikings know what they have in Gerhart: a no-nonsense back who can do a little bit of everything but rarely gets to show his skills because of that Peterson fellow. This preseason is Gerhart's chance to audition for other teams – he's in his walk year and there's likely no way the Vikings bring him back, barring something catastrophic happening to Peterson that we hesitate to even write about so let's just forget we even said anything. On Friday, Gerhart showcased his pile-driving ability with a 9-yard run that was pretty much two yards of running and seven yards of shoving the defense backward just by keeping his feet moving. On the next play, Gerhart nimbly side-stepped a would-be tackler and converted a third-and-1 to move the chains on the first-team offense's only scoring drive. Gerhart's agent would do well to send that two-play snippet to any GM wondering about his client's versatility. 

4. Kyle Rudolph – The term "catch radius" was invented with Rudolph in mind. Basically, you throw it anywhere within five yards of this guy and he's going to find a way to catch it. He hauled in three balls from Christian Ponder including a leaping grab on the run that he took downfield for 25 yards. In fact, the one ball that hit him in the gut was the only one he dropped. He's such a unique talent – the trick will be making sure Ponder has enough time to find him (he usually didn't on Friday) and enough accuracy to get the ball somewhere remotely near his favorite tight end. Rudolph will take care of the rest.  

 

Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData, a contributor to the Vikings Yearbook, and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.

VikesCentric: The Blair Walsh Project

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly Updated: August 17, 2012 - 11:45 PM

The development of Blair Walsh is one of the most closely monitored storylines of the Vikings' 2012 preseason. And if not for the magical night of Audie Cole, he probably would have been the story of the game on Friday after the Purple took down the Buffalo Bills 36-14.

The Vikings used a sixth-round draft pick in April to secure the services of the former Georgia Bulldog – the first time they've drafted a kicker since they selected the immortal Mike Wood in the eighth round of the 1978 draft. They quickly released stalwart Ryan Longwell, essentially handing the job to the unproven Walsh.

Quick aside: I have a friend who lives in Atlanta and follows the SEC closely. When I saw him last weekend, he said, "I can't (redacted) believe the Vikings drafted that Walsh kid from Georgia!"

My friend's skepticism is warranted. Last season, Walsh converted on just 21 of 35 field goals, including a dismal 5-for-12 effort from 40-to-49 yards. However, Walsh hit on 40 of 45 attempts as a sophomore and junior, and the Vikings thought they saw a flaw in his mechanics during his senior season, a flaw they were convinced they could fix.

Two (preseason) games into Walsh's professional career, the Vikings' hunch appears to be paying off. Last week, he went 2-for-2 on field goals of 26 and 39 yards and handled kickoff duties with aplomb in the notoriously kicker-unfriendly Candlestick Park.

And on Friday night, Walsh moved indoors and had his coming-out party.

He went 5-for-6 on field goal attempts, connecting from 22, 47, 45, 40, and 30 yards out while missing a 49-yarder that he pushed wide right after a shaky snap/hold combination from Cullen Loeffler and Chris Kluwe.

Meanwhile, without another kicker on the roster, Walsh had to handle all nine Minnesota kickoffs, and that's where he really shone. Let's take a closer look at his kickoffs:

1 – 6 yards deep, returned to the 18
2 – squib to 2, returned to the 29
3 – 5 yards deep, returned to the 11
4 – through the end zone
5 – 8 yards deep, not returned
6 – 9 yards deep, not returned
7 – bounced at the 6, picked up 1 yard deep, returned to the 11
8 – fielded at the 4, returned to the 26
9 – through the uprights

Yes, you read that right – his final kickoff went through the uprights, a 75-yard bomb that split the posts and sent the few remaining fans into a frenzy. What made that even more impressive is that it was his third kickoff in about 10 minutes of actual clock time, thanks to Cole's touchdowns on consecutive plays.

He also hit all three of his extra-point attempts. And he did it all without the benefit of Mitch Berger's performance-enhancing Snickers.

After the game, Walsh told KFAN sideline reporter Greg Coleman that he took his eyes off the ball on his second kickoff, resulting in a squib kick that yielded Buffalo's best return of the night. A rookie mistake – hey, he's human – but on the other eight kickoffs he proved to be a weapon who will help the Vikings in the crucial field-position battle all season long.

It might be too early to start chiseling Walsh's bust in Canton, but given the team's myriad other concerns, Leslie Frazier and his staff have to be breathing a bit more easily when they ponder the team's kicking game.

Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData, a contributor to the 2012 Vikings Yearbook, and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press.

      

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT