VikesCentric is written by Twin Cities football writers Bo Mitchell of SportsData and Patrick Donnelly, who has written on a variety of Minnesota sports topics. Mitchell and Donnelly are Twin Cities-based Vikings and NFL experts who crunch numbers, watch video and tell you what's on their minds.

Posts about Chris Kluwe

VikesCentric: Is the dreaded 'moral victory' the Vikings' only hope?

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: September 20, 2012 - 4:28 PM

Unfortunately, Minnesota sports fans suffering from a lack of enough actual victories have become all too accustomed to moral victories the last couple years. I loathe moral victories as much as the next guy. Legitimate contenders for anything played with a ball or puck should never be satisfied with moral victories and you will never get any Vikings player or coach to admit that some kind of moral victory is ever good enough.

 
On paper, however, a victory of the moral variety looks like the Vikings' best chance at anything associated with the word "victory" when they clash with the 2-0 San Francisco 49ers this Sunday.
 
Jim Harbaugh's troops are going for three straight against the NFC North after beating up the Packers in Week 1 and toying with the Lions in Week 2. The 49ers have won 15 of 18 regular season games since Harbaugh took over and are the favorite of many to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl in February.
 
The Vikings have matchup problems all over the place.
 
Let's start with the most obvious one: the Vikings' offense is predicated to a large extent on the exploits of Adrian Peterson, but there is no better team in the NFL against the run than the 49ers. Amazingly, Peterson is feeling good after his first two games post-knee surgery and he always feels good at home, where he has rushed for 13 touchdowns in his last nine games. However, the Niners have ceded just one 100-yard effort to a running back in their last 39 games and have allowed just two rushing touchdowns to running backs in their last 19 games. That's defensive dominance teetering on the absurd.
 
Assuming Peterson has nowhere to run this Sunday, Christian Ponder's early-season accuracy (he currently leads the NFL with a 75.8 completion percentage) will be put to the test in many third-and-long situations. Of course, Ponder's lowest completion percentage and quarterback rating, by down, is on (you guessed it) third down.
 
Ponder has yet to throw an interception this season, which is great. But beating the Niners in the turnover department has proven tough to do during the Harbaugh Era. The 49ers' plus-28 turnover differential in 2011 was the second-best in NFL history, behind only the 1983 Washington Redskins (plus-43). Their quarterback Alex Smith has thrown 216 straight passes without getting intercepted. Of course, the Vikings have an NFL-low eight interceptions since the start of 2011. Thus, don't look for turnovers to turn the tide in favor of the Purple on Sunday.
 
The Vikings' issues against the pass are well-chronicled, and while the announcers and fans in attendance preoccupy themselves with the return of Randy Moss to the Metrodome to play against the Vikings for the first time in a regular season game, the Vikings' biggest problem will be in containing Vernon Davis, the Niners' Pro Bowl tight end. The Vikings have allowed six tight end touchdowns in their last eight games Meanwhile, Davis has caught an NFL-leading three touchdown passes this season and, going back to last year's playoffs, has seven touchdowns in his last three games. Matchup nightmare.
 
Are the 49ers unbeatable? No, obviously not. If the Cardinals – who had lost 13 of their last 15 road games -- can go to New England and beat the Patriots – who had won 24 of their last 25 home games – as they did last Sunday, anything can happen.
 
The last time the 49ers lost a game that mattered was the NFC Championship game last winter, in overtime to the eventual Super Bowl-champion Giants. That game was lost on a fumbled punt return, so maybe Chris Kluwe, Percy Harvin, Jamarca Sanford or Marcus Sherels can pull something out of their sleeves on special teams and upset the Niners.
 
Or maybe the Vikings' only real chance of victory is the dreaded moral victory. Maybe Peterson can score a touchdown or somehow run for 100 yards. Perhaps they can end Smith's string of passes without an interception or figure out a way to keep Davis from scoring. Maybe they can stay within a touchdown of the Niners, unlike the Packers or Lions who both lost to them by eight. Maybe the media will be able to get the condescending Harbaugh to answer a question in the post-game press conference.
 
VikesCentric followers, let's hear from you. The Vikings have what appear to be some winnable games in the weeks ahead, but do they have a chance against the 49ers? What would constitute a moral victory for the Vikings against the 49ers? Better yet, what is the Vikings' blueprint for actually pulling off the upset this Sunday? 
 
 
Bo Mitchell is the VP of Content at SportsData and co-host of the Fantasy Football Weekly radio show on KFAN 100.3 FM.
 
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

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.

VikesCentric: The error of their ways

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly Updated: September 20, 2011 - 11:28 AM

 

After watching five-plus months of dismal defense across town at Target Field, Minnesota sports fans have probably had their fill of errors from the hometown team. But the second half of the Vikings loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday played out like a Twins infield of Brian Buscher, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Todd Walker and Craig Kusick.

(Pardon the blatant cross-promotion but we're trying to create some synergy with our big brothers in the TwinsCentric crew. If VikesCentric can capture a even a fraction of their loyal audience in Upper Blogistan, we'll feast like kings on those crumbs.)

To wit: Beginning at 15:00 of the third quarter, here's a list of plays that left the purple-helmeted warriors a bit red in the face: 

  • 14:18 – OT Phil Loadholt jumps the snap, turning a 3rd-and-3 into 3rd-and-8
  • 13:10 – RB Adrian Peterson commits a holding penalty in pass protection (sure, it was kind of a shaky call, but we're not here to complain about the officials … today)
  • 12:02 – P Chris Kluwe hits a line-drive punt just 38 yards, allowing Preston Parker to return it 11 yards to the Vikings 44
  • 10:59 – After a two-play touchdown drive, Tampa Bay surprises the Vikings with an onside kick. LB Kenny Onatolu can't recover it. The Bucs can, and do.
  • 3:41 – DE Brian Robison jumps offside, negating a Vikings fumble recovery at the Tampa Bay 11
  • Fourth quarter, 7:07 – DE Jared Allen is flagged for roughing the passer
  • 6:39 – KR Lorenzo Booker decides to return a kickoff from six yards deep in his end zone and is stuffed at the Vikings 9
  • 4:19 – DE Everson Griffen jumps the snap on a Vikings punt, pushing them back 5 yards
  • 0:31 – KR Percy Harvin botches an eminently returnable kickoff, leaving the Vikings to start their last-gasp drive at their own 10

That's nine brain cramps in the span of two quarters. And we're not even talking about physical errors – incomplete passes, blown coverages, missed tackles – or Leslie Frazier's curious decision to hang onto three timeouts while the Bucs drove for the winning touchdown (as my colleague Christian Peterson so ably chronicled yesterday).

For instance, we've left out Tyrell Johnson's dropped interception that would have thwarted Tampa Bay's game-winning drive – tough play, maybe, but an NFL safety has to hang onto that ball. We're leaving out Donovan McNabb's many miscues – passes thrown at the feet of his targets, wide open receivers inexplicably ignored, another pass batted down at the line even though he's FOUR WHOLE INCHES taller than Doug Flutie!

We're leaving out those physical errors because every team commits physical errors – some more than others, sadly. But every team has to overcome physical errors. The difference between championship teams and teams that find themselves updating their draft boards two games into the season is the elimination of mental errors

Well, that and talent, I suppose. But when you're a talent-challenged team, you can ill afford to dig the hole even deeper by giving your opponents free yards and extra possessions.

Maybe we're overreacting a bit here – that's par for the course in the NFL, where you spend three hours playing a game and the next 165 hours (over-)analyzing it. But it sure looks like Leslie Frazier has more on his plate than a budding quarterback controversy in his first full season as head coach.

He'll need to exorcise the ghosts of Todd Walker at the Metrodome.

Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData, contributor to the Maple Street Press Vikings 2011 Annual (on newsstands now!), and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press.

 

You can follow Patrick on Twitter at @donnelly612.

 

      

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